Advertising should be about enabling stories to be told

A few weeks ago I did a talk about the ‘Rebirth of Advertising‘ at TEDxLiege. Rebirth was the theme of the TEDx event that day and I wanted to bring a story that proves it is actually a great time to be in advertising today. That is if you don’t think about advertising as the intrusive, obnoxious thing that interrupts interesting experiences. Here’s how I define advertising:

“Advertising should be about enabling stories to be told. Whether those are brand stories, product stories, consumer stories, … Why would I listen to anyone if it they don’t have something interesting to say?”

Also when I started developing the talk I wanted it to have no advertising in it, I wanted it to excite people about a business I am excited about without showing entertaining work. You can see the 18′ talk in the video below.

Thanks to the team at Duval Guillaume for trying to push the boundaries of advertising every single day and special thanks to Mike Arauz (Undercurrent) whose thinking influenced me quite a bit lately. Thanks Mike!

The age of the micro multinational

“If the late 20th Century was the age of the multinational company, the early 21st will be the age of the micro multinational: small companies that operate globally”

I found this great quote on Neil Perkin’s ‘Only Dead Fish’. It’s a statement from Hal Varian, Google Chief Economist and I can only like what I see here. It supports our own opinion (at Duval Guillaume) that you don’t need to be huge or have offices around the whole world to be able to service clients globally. 

A recent Policy Brief from the Lisbon Council states:

“Traditionally, these small, self-starting, service-driven companies would have been described as small- and medium- sized enterprises, or SMEs, but thanks to the Internet, the emergence of new business platforms and the increased openness of the global economy, these companies can enter markets with a minimum of bureaucracy and overhead. Add to that their unparalleled ability to respond promptly to changing market developments, a collaborative DNA that often translates into superior innovation performance and the lack of the institutional inertia and legacy relationships plaguing larger organizations, and one begins to see the transformative and paradigm-changing potential.”

According the brief the big paradigm shifts that are taking place making all this happen are:

  • Most jobs are created by young companies and start-ups
  • Today technology makes it possible for small companies to gain the reach and traction of big companies at very low cost
  • New platforms and online business services are making it easier for small companies to focus on areas where they add value
  • Internationalization – the key to success for almost all contemporary businesses, large and small – is easier to achieve via the Internet
  • Today’s workforce has changing priorities
  • Experienced and highly skilled individuals are setting out in record numbers to work for themselves

Yet another reason why the future looks bright.

Is your smartphone becoming too smart for its own good?

The feature phone. A ‘new’ name for something that exists for a long time already just so we can differentiate it from the more recent forms or versions, as so called retronym. Because that’s what it is, for people my age we used to refer to the feature phone just as a mobile or cell phone. That’s until the smartphone came along and before we all started using that.

It wasn’t just a phone with a contact list that was stored on your SIM card (and limited to a certain number of people), the smartphone was also a camera and would have a browser to surf the internet etc. And the smartphone only got smarter and smarter over time. Today you can have a phone that is a very good alternative to a lot of digital cameras, it’s packed full with apps that can do the most amazing things like track your running, sync all your documents over the cloud, recognize music, program your DVR, and a whole more.

And it doesn’t look like we have reached the end of all smartphone smartness. The new iPhone has a fingerprint scanner, another step in the process of our phone becoming a key. A key to our data of course, but also a key to our house or our car? It’s only a matter of time. With the right apps and add-ons your smartphone is also becoming a payment device and since it can also already hold your tickets, vouchers, loyalty cards it will replace your wallet. It is also becoming a health appliance, you can use it to geo-locate people or items, etc etc. And of course let’s not forget the camera, a pretty damn good camera these days.

What’s more, it’ll drive most of the content and functionality of your smartwatch, of your smart (Google) glasses, … the smartphone is replacing so many things and powering just as many other things that it is becoming incredibly powerful.

Awesome. And at the same time a problem. Since the battery life of the phone hasn’t evolved as much as the feature set and actually is getting worse with every OS update, the all-in-one promise of the smartphone is a dream. Just like most of you I am using my iPhone for quite simple tasks – calling, email, agenda, todo, a bit of social and the camera. And I cannot make it last a full day. And if I’m at an event at which I do more photography than usual than I’m out of power before 5PM and I cannot make any calls anymore.

So the idea of using the smartphone to its full power is unreal today. And since everything is in there at some point you will lock yourself out of your house and you don’t have the ability to call anyone for help. Nor can you pay anyone to fix your problem. Am I exaggerating? Probably. But the problem is there. How much I love the idea of using the iPhone for all the things mentioned before, the device needs to change drastically before I actually will lock all these things into this one single device.

Your thoughts?

The opportunity called media

Traditional media are dead. Well at least according to plenty of opinion makers they are, and have been so for many years already. And while it’s fair to say that some of them are in trouble, or at least facing a whole new series of challenges it’s clear traditional media are far from dead. I actually believe some of the biggest opportunities in communications today are in media, but it is about time to see some action.

Here’s where I believe the biggest opportunities are today in media and why I believe I think there isn’t enough focus on them today. At least not where I live – and it would be dumb to believe that what happens in Belgium is unique in the world so here we go…

Invent new ways of monetization

Instead of using old ways of making money on new media approaches. Guillaume – one of the founders of the agency I work for – once said that banner advertising is what happens when you bring the worst of traditional advertising into digital media and it’s hard to disagree with that. You don’t have to throw away old rules that proved to be working fine with traditional media and their advertising methods, but they just don’t automatically apply to everything new either. When interactive television was announced (‘click the red button’) I had high hopes for the possibilities that it would give me as a consumer… just to find out after a couple of months that tv channels were charging the exact same price of an SMS to every single interaction possible. It became clear very quickly that they had a business going that they didn’t want to lose and that their innovative development was driven by the protection of that business rather than by re-thinking the user experience in this new context. Second screen, DVR, … with every new evolution the drive to protect the old seems to be focus number 1. That’s not how it should be, no innovation will come out of that. Think first about what how you could maximize the consumer experience given a new technology, and then think of (new) ways of making money with that.

Understanding second, third, … screen

Second screen is most of all linked to the television experience. Which is logical, although I wouldn’t make it something exclusive to television either. But that’s not the point I want to make here. There are plenty of second screen experiences available for television stations all over the world as we speak, and yet most of them seem to resolve around taking some kind of advantage of the Twitter activity around the show, possibly combined with some additional content. Other kinds of interaction? Not so much. I find that amazing, especially because there are examples out there of really cool ideas on how to use the second, third,… screen(s) available.

I’ve written about this before, but Kevin Slavin has probably said some of the smartest things I’ve ever heard about this second screen experience. (He has said some of the smartest thing I have ever heard full stop.) Knowing that he is responsible for some of the coolest second screen (avant la lettre) cases ever, it’s silly no to listen to what he has to say. When he gave is presentation “Laughter from nowhere” some 18 months ago at the IAB Congress, he created a bit of a theoretic frame of what it is consumers are looking for concerning the ‘second screen’. People’s main focus is in the main screen, and you need to think about what additional info/activity you can provide that makes the first screen experience better, without asking for too much focus so it doesn’t stand in the way of the main experience. The Twitter chatter about a tv show is only one – and a really tiny – example of what that could be. Check out the case above, it’s 6 years old and still one of the most remarkable I’ve seen so far.

New ways of distribution

Newspapers are print, and have a website, and a mobile site. You tune in on a radio station with your radio, or via the website. You watch tv on your television or snippets via their website. That’s about it. The traditional way of consumption for all of these channels remains the most important, that’s where the money is made but it’s in decline. So we have to think about new ways of distribution. Again especially with television, opportunities are huge I think.

Why especially for television? Because we have only started to figure out how we can get content to consumers via other means. Today the cable provider (or similar) own most of that distribution and it is a bit of a love/hate relationship between tv channels and the distribution company in many countries. What I don’t get is why media aren’t looking at all these possibilities to bypass those distributors. Think about it: Xbox, Apple tv, Connected TV’s, … there are so many devices in people’s homes that you can use to distribute your content that I really don’t understand why none of the media I have access to are using these.

And it’s not alone for television. I can get the national newspapers on my iPad… and they are updated every day around midnight. For realtime updates I have to go the newspaper’s website. Makes sense to you? Not to me it doesn’t.

Build brands instead of channels

Almost every brand I have ever worked for dreams of using lots of traditional media to build its brand. It still seems the best way to get in front of a lot of people’s faces, the get a lot of attention at the same time. And maybe rightfully so, if used in the right way. Is it then such a big jump to say that this would mean that media brands should actually be the biggest brands then? They can use traditional media all the time, as much as they want, they are the media!

But we know they’re not. Could it be that that’s so because they are building channels more then they are building brands? I think that’s what’s going in. They all have a channel that works/worked really well, and some new ones that are still improving. So they keep the channel that works best, while investing little in the new ones. If they were building brands, and people would really choose for a strong media brand, wouldn’t you think the channel becomes less important? People would look for it and consume it the best way possible? I do think so.

Do you agree? Or maybe not? Or do you want to add an opportunity that you think I missed? Let me know in the comments, I’d love to open up the discussion around the topic.

Why you should be using short-form video in your online communication

I’ve been a close witness to some of the impact short-form video has had on campaigns I was involved in. Small campaigns like the launch of IKKI.be (which most of you will be unfamiliar with) where the video was responsible for creating so much buzz within the target audience that we had reached the platform sign-up target within days instead of months. Or campaigns where the video travelled the world such as we experienced with “Bikers” for Carlsberg or “Push to add drama” for TNT.

All of these (and other) cases made me get a firm believe in short-form video used within online communication strategies. Fast Company believes the same – read “Why Short-Form Video is the Future of Marketing” – where they highlight some key reasons why that is the case:

  1. More and more users are consuming their video entertainment online
  2. Marketers are using video to engage with social media audiences
  3. Barriers to entry are low
  4. Quality is expanding quickly
  5. There are plenty of avenues for dissemination

All true, but apart from the 3rd point, all of these are mostly observations of what is happening and not really reasons of why it is happening. So I agree, but I think they are missing the point a bit.

Video is a very rich audiovisual experience but it allows brands as well to keep control of the story in a time there’s no more control. You can craft a message in such a way (editing, music, …) that you get the maximum effect and when people share it they share it generally for the full 100%. So basically if you’re doing a good job, people will share your video content adding comments etc so taking over control – but not over the message, because when it is consumed again, it will be again exactly how you as a producer crafted it in the first place. That is what makes it very powerful for online communication, the combination of this fact with the knowledge that more and more people consume online video entertainment.

This doesn’t mean video should always be the center piece of your communication online, but try to get video in that communication in some form as much as you can. It’s pretty powerful.

My 2 cents

A lesson from Steve Jobs

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I just finished reading Steve Jobs’ biography. It took me a while to read it but I’m happy I bought it. I wasn’t all that sure in advance, and not because I used to work at Microsoft once, but because I just didn’t want to read a book about how great everything at Apple really is thanks to the genius etc etc.

It’s not at all like that. The book manages to give a very real – at least it feels that way – image of Steve Jobs and very human, much more human than how your regular fanboy will be talking about him. And that made it interesting. You get a better idea of how he really was, about the things that made him great, about the people that have been his mentor, about how he often wasn’t really such a nice person, about the genius, …

I made quite a few notes while reading the book, notes about things and ideas that I recognized or that I should look into a bit more. One of those things was the Apple Marketing Philosophy that was written down by Mike Markkula. Short but crystal clear.

  1. Empathy – that intimate connection with the feelings of the consumer to truly understand their needs better than any other company
  2. Focus – eliminate all of the unimportant opportunities in order to do the best job possible
  3. Impute – a company should convey its values in everything it does, from packaging to marketing because ‘people do judge a book by its cover’

You should read the book. Seriously. Not because you want to find out what an epic genius Steve was or anything like that – but because just like Steve you should steal from the best, see things with new eyes, work hard to make them different and don’t stop until they’re perfect. Respect.

My next book? Indeed – Steal like an artist, by Austin Kleon.

The future belongs to the geeks…

Nobody else wants it.

This is without a doubt one (of many) personal favorites out of all the cartoons Hugh MacLeod has created in the past x years.

I think there’s a lot of simple truth in this one. Every day/week/month I see innovation that impacts the business I am in and which found its origin in technology, software development or something like it. And then I’m not only talking about pure technology innovation but also about innovation of business processes, creative thinking, etc.

An obvious one is about how technology is driving change in the media landscape. And then especially when you think about how long existing ‘traditional’ media are transforming, not just the new media that gets added. Particularly the interactive tv experience is something that fascinates me a lot recently. In this domain several big players are active – television manufacturers, service providers, content networks, … – and yet somehow I believe the main innovation will come from outside, from a few geeks in the corner that will really create a richer tv experience using a tablet device or whatever. They can think without bounderies of current business processes, revenue management, … no old business models to try to protect. There’s a lot of cool stuff out there already.

Another recent example of technology driving change, and this time in business thinking is Agile Strategic Planning, really interesting stuff if you ask me. This whole idea is an answer to changing consumer/brand needs but is based on a concept that has been used (by some) in software development for almost 10 years now. Neil Perkin used the following quote in a recent post while trying to explain the need for this agile thinking:

“Our structures need to be more speedy. Speed used to kill now lack of speed kills. Lets have organizations that can iterate quickly and empower its folks to make decisions. Percolating decisions up and down an organization makes little sense”

Agile strategic development, adaptive marketing, lean planning, … all terms that highlight more or less the same thing. We have to start thinking in ways that allow for much more iterations and changes while the process is ongoing. A new kind of strategic planning that is heavily influenced by concepts developed in software development.

Just 2 examples in my area of interest that came to mind when I saw this cartoon again. But yeah, the future belongs to the geeks, I’m sure of that.

The death of pretty much everything

In September ‘06 I wrote a post called ‘It’s violent out there’ in which I wondered why so many articles online are about companies and web services instantly declared dead when some competition appears. The recent ‘The Web is dead’ post of Wired inspired Harry McCracken of the Technologizer to highlight the same point as I did a few years ago, but much more visually. Enjoy.

“For years, once-vibrant technologies, products, and companies have been dropping like teenagers in a Freddy Krueger movie. Thank heavens that tech journalists have done such a good job of documenting the carnage as it happened. Without their diligent reporting, we might not be aware that the industry is pretty much an unrelenting bloodbath.”

dead

Augmented (hyper)reality

An iPad, why would you be needing that for? Today you hold a little square in front of your webcam, not anymore tomorrow. Sure you are ready for the future? ;)

This looks a bit like it could be Capital 4.0. If you don’t know Capital, check it out below (blogged about this long time ago).

Future vision

Microsoft’s Business Division president Stephen Elop unveiled the latest production from Microsoft Office Labs called “2019″ at the Wharton Business Technology Conference last week. Here’s a video of what our researchers think the future of business might look like:

futurevision

Full story and 5-minute long version of this video ‘i started something’.