The Digital Future of Magazines?

21 12 2009

UPDATE 2/21/10: New iPad demo from WIRED magazine.

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When we got married 16 years ago, my wife and I subscribed to 7 magazines and read them all cover-to-cover. Plus, we’d buy more at the newsstand.

Today, we subscribe to just two.

Both pile up, unread, for months at a time.  Even The Atlantic Monthly, which I find both brilliant and entertaining. I feel lousy for not keeping up, but at least I’m supporting great journalism with my subscription dollars.

A lot of very smart people are working feverishly to restore the magazine business back to health.  Some friends passed me this intriguing video from a design house that has a slick-looking approach to the problem.

As good-looking as it is, for me it still misses the mark.

The problem isn’t that magazines aren’t slick enough or that they lack digital functionality. The problems is that magazines are a time-killing content medium in an age when we don’t have time to kill, and we’re already drowning in content.

My RSS feeder of free content is overflowing with stuff I can’t get to. I’ll bet yours is, too.

The Design Idea At 7:35

But just when I was getting ready to close the window and abandon the video, something cool happened. It’s at 7:35 in.

Now THERE’S something potentially revolutionary and useful: little intriguing chunks of quick, easily digestible content in a fun interface. That genuinely feels like a fun experience, and doesn’t fall into the trap of “but it has to feel like a magazine”. It reminds me, in a good way, of the Babelgum iPhone app.

The interface idea at 7:35, especially if some of the items were video, feels like it has the potential to be a winner.  What do you think?

UPDATE: Micah Baldwin, a friend of mine from The Internet Oldtimers Foundation, had a smart observation about the design which he has agreed to let me share:

“(this design commits) what I consider to be the cardinal sin of any web app today. It creates a uni-directional relationship. Its between the reader and content, but doesn’t take into account other readers. Basically, the concept of social. The recreation of the water cooler online.

What if the reader allowed for communication and conversation?

Now, the NatGeo piece I read on pygmies could be shared and discussed with my friends that I know are into the subject. Time and speed are now on my side.”





Is It Time For The Chief Brand Integration Officer?

10 12 2009

Once upon a time, marketing was easy.  In fact, Ed or Jimmy or Bubba from sales could handle it.

You didn’t need an MBA: the booming postwar economy made even lousy strategy look like a stroke of genius.

You didn’t even have to understand advertising. You had an ad agency to handle all that Hollywood  junk.  All you had to do was make some phone calls, steer clear of company politics, and have the occasional 12-martini lunch with your pals on Mad Ave.

Fast forward to 2010, and it’s a mess. Your traditional agency still does gorgeous TV, and some of their young guns really do “get” digital. But, maybe their digital offering isn’t as good as agencies that were born digital.

So, how do you manage this?

You can do what most marketers do and work with a crazy-quilt of agencies. You’ll have a traditional agency for TV. Another that does paid search, one that does social media, one that does mobile, one that does PR, digital ad infinitum.  You’ll get best-of-breed thinking, but you’ll spend a lot of time playing coordinator and referee. Oh, and trying to coordinate all the data from these disparate efforts will be a ginormous pain in the shorts.

Or you can go with a “we-do-it-all” interactive agency. They may not be as deep in search as a pure-play search agency, or maybe they’ll be stronger in analytics than in creative.

But at least all your stuff isn’t in silos.

Except… it still is.  If you’re like most marketers, what about the impact of the other 80% or more of your spend that remains in traditional? How does all that integrate with your digital efforts?

The Integration Problem

I’ve worked in traditional, digital and now I’m on the client side. Having seen a 360 degree view of this, I’m more convinced than ever that marketers must take the lead across all these different specialties and integrate them to drive results.

It would be great if you could have your lead agency do this, but you really can’t. No matter how great an agency is, I think it’s impossible to be entirely objective.

Every agency is passionate about their specialty. If they’re not, they can’t be good at it. And as a practical matter, every agency is in business to sell more of what they do. They need to upsell as much as you do.

So the job of integration, of synergizing disparate efforts so that 1+1 adds up to 11, has to be done on the client side. Easy, right? Well… maybe not.

The Overloaded Brand Manager

The job of integration usually gets placed on the shoulders of a brand manager who is already tasked with managing far too much.  Trying to wrap your head around traditional, digital, manufacturing, innovation, social media, competitive threats, private label, and the ugliest roughest retail environment in history all at once ain’t easy.

And, marketing organizations typically lack people who have enough experience across these silos to see the opportunities that exist — and especially not those that can be created.

Is It Time For The Chief Brand Integration Officer?

Marketing organizations now need a senior manager with deep experience in both traditional and digital who is tasked with integrating them.

A strong Tradigital exec who can look at great ideas from different agencies and find the ones that work not just as one-offs, but multiply the power of the overall effort.

Today, 10 years after the dot-com bust, a small number of these people exist. They’re the oldtimers who left successful traditional advertising and marketing gigs to dive headfirst into digital.

What do you think? Does a new position like this make sense? Who ought to do this job, and why? How would this work within a traditional brand management structure?

Comments, please…





Social Media Venn Diagram

23 11 2009

George Bernard Shaw famously said, “When a thing is funny, search it carefully for a hidden truth.”

Today, would he have Tweeted it, put in on Facebook or MySpace or shared it through Google Reader? Or would he try to monetize this news like Rupert Murdoch?

Image via the Huffington Post who (I think) borrowed it from (I think) its original source at Despair.

Social Media Venn Diagram





Is Social Media Too Big For Its Own Good?

18 09 2009

If you believe the buzz, social media will be huge. But is it already too big for its own good?

In marketing, you can’t be all things to all people. It makes it too hard for people to know who you are and what you stand for. Could Social Media be a victim of its own PowerPoint?

How To Learn Social Media In Just 5,000 Easy Lessons

Swhatissocialmedialideshare.com has 5,000 presentations and counting, trying to explain social media. Why?

I suspect it’s because explaining social media is like trying to nail Jell-O to the wall; it won’t stay in one place.

Is Social Media online customer service? Or a way for angry consumers to complain? Both.

Is it online PR? Or online market research and crowdsourcing for innovation? It’s these, too.

Is it a Facebook brand page? Or is it a Facebook-like community, but ONLY for one brand? Yep.

Is it a video sharing page for brand communications?  Or a viral video? Yes, it’s all those.

Or is it one of these 1500 (and counting) examples? Definitely.

It wobbles randomly from PR to customer service, then leans diffidently toward advertising before wobbling back toward market research. The more we struggle to make social media make sense as “all of the above” the less it seems like we know what we’re talking about.

Social Media, Translated

What If Social Media Isn’t An Elephant?

I’m sure you all remember the old parable of the blind marketing MBAs and the elephant?

They thought each individual part was a separate thing and didn’t understand that it was part of a larger animal.

What if each distinct part of what we thought was an elephant turns out to make a lot more sense on its own?

Maybe it’s time to stop treating Social Media like it’s a whole different animal. Maybe we can just incorporate what we’ve learned back into the distinct and easy-to-explain disciplines of PR and market research and customer service.

If we did, we could expend a lot less energy trying to explain what Social Media is, and just get on with it.

What am I missing? What are the drawbacks to this way of seeing the elephant that I’m blind to? Can you offer a better solution?





What If Your CEO Is Right To Be Afraid Of Social Media? (Part Two)

17 08 2009

Continued from an earlier post. Part One is here. Here’s my take on some of the other fears a CEO may have.

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SOCIAL MEDIA FEAR: So much of what’s discussed online is shallow and we have real work to do

BE FEARLESS: Opportunities aren’t always where we think they are.  Encourage the passionate people in your company to find time to learn about social media, without neglecting their current duties. Ask them to report back what they’ve learned.

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SOCIAL MEDIA FEAR: We don’t have the time/resources to contribute and moderate

moneyBE CAUTIOUS: There are ALWAYS a lot of things a company can do, and NEVER enough money and attention to do them all well. Leaders have to choose which activities they believe will have the strongest payout, and focus on those.

Sometimes the fun, sexy stuff is the PERFECT place for a company to focus their efforts. Sometimes not.

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SOCIAL MEDIA FEAR: Our customers don’t use it/It doesn’t fit into current structures

BE FEARLESS: Listen and find out if your customers use social media, and how they do it. Once you know more, you can decide whether it’s smart to overhaul your current structures or not.

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SOCIAL MEDIA FEAR: We are in B2B and who wants to hear about our boring product on a blog or twitter

BE FEARLESS: I think Social media may be stronger for B2B than for B2C, because it’s typically a more intimate sale and the needs are more clearly articulated. Listen first — you may be surprised by what you hear.

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SOCIAL MEDIA FEAR: Traditional media is still bigger, we will use Social Media when it is more mainstream

BE CAUTIOUS: A recent Forrester report says that 80% of the ad spend in 2014 will still be in traditional media.  tvWe’ve been trying to bury TV since the early 1990s, and it refuses to stay dead.  Why?

From a consumer POV, it’s because it’s still pretty good. Have you seen “30 Rock” lately?

From an advertiser’s POV, it’s because it offers scale and message control that social media can’t possibly provide.

It doesn’t mean social media isn’t important. But it’s important to keep its size and role in perspective.

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SOCIAL MEDIA FEARS: No guaranteed results/tools to measure and analyze Social Media aren’t mature enough yet

madoffBE FEARLESS: There are no guaranteed results in business anywhere. Beware of Madoffs who promise you there are.

Also, tools to measure and analyze will NEVER be good enough.  I believe we’ll ultimately learn that it is as difficult to prove ROI for social media as it has been for traditional PR.

But just because something can’t be quantified to the micro-penny doesn’t mean it can’t add value. All business is a bet on the future, and not all bets pay off.

We can’t steer the world by sitting in front of Microsoft Excel. Our what-if scenarios must meet the real world at some point, if they are ever to deliver results. If your gut says social media can help you reach a goal and you understand the risk-reward equation clearly, go for it.

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SOCIAL MEDIA FEAR: We will lose control of our brand and image

BE CAUTIOUS: Gurus love to preach about how “the consumer is in control”, and in many important ways that’s true.  But a company’s brand is a precious asset, and not something that any company can afford to simply turn over to a mob that will seek to damage it just for LULZ.

CEOs and CMOs still have a very real responsibility to grow and protect their brand’s image. There’s a difference between understanding that the customer is boss and abdicating your responsibility for protecting the brand.

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The Bottom Line: Balance

All real growth comes from trying something new and different. But, that’s not the same thing as taking a flying leap into the darkness.tide-loads-of-hope

Companies and brands need to find a way to balance the need for learning with the need for appropriate caution.

I think companies like P&G are doing a good job of immersing their execs in digital culture and testing the waters.

You may not be as big as P&G, but there’s still a lot you can learn from watching how they have approached social media.

How are you finding your balance in social media?





What If Your CEO Is Right To Be Afraid Of Social Media? (Part One)

17 08 2009

UPDATE 9/3/2009: Good related post: “7 Things To Think About Before Jumping In”

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Jeff Bullas recently wrote a smart post: “28 Reasons Why The CEO is Afraid Of Social Media”.

I might have titled it “A Few Questionable Reasons Why The CEO is Afraid of Social Media, and A Bunch Of Really Reasonable Ones.”

kool-aid

Being afraid to turn on the lights in case there are monsters under the bed is pretty silly. But thinking twice before you guzzle Jonestown’s favorite powdered beverage — “gee, when did they start making a cyanide flavor?” — is actually a pretty good idea.

Some CEOs are afraid of social media. Where can you afford to dive in, and where should you be cautious? Every business/brand has their own criteria, but here’s my take.

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SOCIAL MEDIA FEAR: It is detrimental to employee productivity

BE FEARLESS: Employees who waste company time will do it whether you shut down the internet or not. Trust that the improved knowledge and networks of the employees who use social media for the right reasons will more than make up for the slackers.

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SOCIAL MEDIA FEAR: It could damage the company’s reputation

American_Cancer_Society_LogoBE CAUTIOUS: Experimenting with social media is not without risk.

Have you read about the American Cancer Society Facebook debacle? How much hard-won brand equity did this naive mistake cost?

Was it worth it?

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SOCIAL MEDIA FEARS: Security risks, Unwillingness to be transparent

BE CAUTIOUS: It’s easy for social media gurus to preach transparency — there are no real secrets to protect.  But in most businesses, confidential information is a source of competitive advantage. Many secrets — product formulas, new product launches, plans to enter new markets — are important to keep secret.

Careless Tweeting can cost millions of dollars. If social media ‘experts” have sometimes had costly lapses of judgment, time and again, how can a CEO be confident that newbies will do better?

When the risks are clear (see above) and the rewards are not, a responsible CMO or CEO must ask his or her people to go slow. Look before you leap is a hopeless cliche.  But it doesn’t mean it’s bad advice. If your people are passionate about social media, invest in some listening tools. And, set clear goals about what you need to learn.

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SOCIAL MEDIA FEARS: We already have information overload/Terrified of feedback and truth

BE CAUTIOUS: Listening to what consumers say about you isn’t going to hurt you. In fact, good feedback can help you improve.ears

Still, we need to take this with a hefty grain of salt.

I’m intrigued by Tim Marco’s notion of Voluntary Selection Bias. Are we really listening to everybody (e.g. a truly representative sample?), or the ravings of a small but vocal group? More important, are we listening to likely buyers?

If we’re going to treat social media as research, we need to be as rigorous about understanding the sample size and composition as we are when looking at any other consumer research.

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Go On To Part Two.

Photo Credits: “No” Sign from Biscuitmip on Flickr, Ears from Banlon1964 on Flickr





How To Create A Facebook App That Won’t Fall On Its Face

11 08 2009

I like Ben and Jerry’s new Facebook app, a lot. It’s smart and fun.

And, it offers some good lessons about how to get a Facebook app right.

1) Don’t Think Too Much

A smart Facebook app does something different, fun and social.  But, it also has to be really easy for the user to understand and use.

Ben and Jerry’s FlipMyText app lets you create upside down messages, effortlessly.  Different, fun, social, easy.

Ben and Jerry's new app turns social media on its head

2) Be True To The Brand

The app is silly and weird for the sake of being weird. cherrygarcia

This app is pitch-perfect for a brand with a rich history of celebrating weirdness with flavors like Cherry Garcia, Imagine Whirled Peace, and Karamel Sutra.

Ben and Jerry’s has always had a distinctive voice. It’s great to see them have an app that speaks their language.

3) Promote Something Actionable

Flip My Text isn’t a Facebook app for the sake of having a Facebook app. It promotes Ben and Jerry’s Flipped Out Sundaes, which are designed to be tipped upside down before you can eat them.

Weird but true: the app is easier to use than the Sundaes.  There’s at least one website with a tutorial about how to eat one.

benjerryfbook

4) Leverage Something That Already Works

Flip My Text isn’t new. I think it was really smart for Ben and Jerry’s to find something that already works and leverage it in a new and different way. It’s a good deal for everybody, including Flip My Text.

5) Be Worth Talking About

Getting an upside-down message immediately provokes two questions:
  • How did you do that?
  • Can I do it too?

If you’re thinking about creating a Facebook app, think about taking a scoop from Ben and Jerry’s:

  1. Don’t Think Too Much
  2. Be True To The Brand
  3. Promote Something Actionable
  4. Leverage Something That Already Works
  5. Be Worth Talking About







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