We are here to find meaning. We are here to help other people do the same. Everything else is secondary.
We humans want to believe in our own species. And we want people, companies and products in our lives that make it easier to do so. That is human nature.
Product benefit doesn't excite us. Belief in humanity and human potential excites us.
Think less about what your product does, and think more about human potential.
What statement about humanity does your product make?
The bigger the statement, the bigger the idea, the bigger your brand will become.
It's no longer just enough for people to believe that your product does what it says on the label. They want to believe in you and what you do. And they'll go elsewhere if they don't.
It's not enough for the customer to love your product. They have to love your process as well.
People are not just getting more demanding as consumers, they are getting more demanding as spiritual entities. Branding is a spiritual exercise. These are The New Realities, this is the Spiritual Republic we now live in.
The soul cannot be outsourced. Either get with the program or hire a consultant in Extinction Management. No vision, no business. Your life from now on pivots squarely on your vision of human potential.
NOTES ON THE HUGHTRAIN:
The primary job of an advertiser is not to communicate benefit, but to communicate conviction.
Benefit is secondary. Benefit is a product of conviction, not vice versa.
Whatever you manufacture, somebody can make it better, faster and cheaper than you.
You do not own the molecules. They are stardust. They belong to God. What you do own is your soul. Nobody can take that away from you. And it is your soul that informs the brand.
It is your soul, and the purpose and beliefs that embodies, that people will buy into.
Ergo, great branding is a spiritual exercise.
Why is your brand great? Why does your brand matter? Seriously. If you don't know, then nobody else can- no advertiser, no buyer, and certainly no customer.
It's not about merit. It's about faith. Belief. Conviction. Courage.
It's about why you're on this planet. To make a dent in the universe.
I don't want to know why your brand is good, or very good, or even great. I want to know why your brand is totally frickin' amazing.
Once you tell me, I can tell the world.
And then they will know.
: Expressive Capital
From now on if anyone asks me why say, Apple or Harley Davidson are such great brands, all I have to do is show them this "Longing" drawing above.
And of course, if anyone asks me why their brand isn't so hot, again, all I have to do is show them the same drawing.
1. First we had Human Capital. You There! Go to the next village and kill everybody because I'm the Chief of this village and I say so etc.
2. Then came Physical Capital. Land, property, factories etc.
3. Then came Financial Capital. Money, credit, dollars etc.
4. Then came Intellectual Capital. Our widgets are better than your widgets because our engineers are smarter than your engineers etc.
5. Then came Emotional Capital. People love our product more than they love our competitor's product etc. This is the space "Love Marks" plays around with so successfully: "A Love Mark is a brand that is loved by its user beyond reason" etc.
So naturally, I'm thinking, "What next?"
How do you out-Love-Mark the Love Mark?
6. Expressive Capital. Our products make it easier for the end user to find and/or express meaning, narrative, metaphor, purpose, explanation and relevance in his/her own life than our competitor's products.
"Expressive Capital". Has a nice ring to it. Heh.
So, me being the shameless advertising whore that I am, decided to invent my own version of the [*ker-chiiing!*] LoveMark: the brand that is loved beyond all reason yak yak yak, the brand that commands a stunning position on the Love/Respect Axis yak yak yak...
"The HughMark": Any person, company, product, service, brand, pet goldfish etc that makes it easier for the person, customer, end-user etc to believe in his own species.Wow. It took Saatchi's four years to develop the LoveMark concept. Took me all of ten minutes to do mine.
: THE KRYPTONITE FACTOR
This "thriving in markets" cartoon above is one of my favorites. Sure, the line sounds good in a meeting. And yes, the client will invariably ask, "Can you give me a good example of what you mean, exactly?"
Luckily we all now have such an example: I call it "The Kryptonite Factor."
Here's how the drama unfolded:
DAY ONE:So what was the final outcome? How did Kryptonite address the problem? Did they fix the lock in the end? I have no idea. I'm just assuming their locks continue to suck. I suppose I could go visit the company website for more info, but... Eh. I can't be bothered. I'm just assuming it'll have the usual bullshit PR when I get there. Life is short.
KRYPTONITE: Our bike locks are the best.
THE MARKET: Yes, your bike locks are the best.
KRYPTONITE: Our bike locks are the best.
THE MARKET: Yes, your bike locks are still the best.
KRYPTONITE: Our bike locks are the best.
THE MARKET: Ummm... yeah I'm sure they are, but what's all this about some recent video on the net that's supposed to show how you can crack your locks in 10 seconds using a simple Bic ballpoint pen?
KRYPTONITE: Our bike locks are the best.
THE MARKET: Hey, I just saw that video on a friend's website. And I'm kinda ticked off because I just paid $60 for one of your new locks 3 weeks ago, and I'm wondering if a Bic pen can crack my lock or not... does the pen crack all Kryptonite locks or just one or two models?
KRYPTONITE: Our bike locks are the best.
THE MARKET: Hey, I just visited your website and saw no mention of the Bic pens. What the hell are you doing about it? Are you going to fix the locks? Are you going to give me a refund?
KRYPTONITE: Our bike locks are the best.
THE MARKET: No, they're not. You guys are assholes.
One decent, smart, young, credible part-time blogger on $500 a month, writing from the front lines on their behalf could have saved Kryptonite millions of dollars. Not to mention decades of slowly-and-painfully built brand equity.
Without warning, Kyptonite's market got smarter and faster than they did. And it only took a couple of days to unleash the full wrath. Boom!
You have been warned.
: There's only one thing harder than starting a new business: Re-inventing an old one.
Start-ups are fine and dandy, most people reading this will know all about them.
But what about Start-agains? Are they an exercise in futility or a tremendous opportunity?
THOUGHT: the future of advertising is clients increasingly asking their agencies to help re-invent not just their brands, but their actual companies. The future is agencies being increasingly unable to deliver on this.
Out of this wreckage a new industry will emerge...
So how do companies, businesses, brands etc re-invent themselves?
Big, big question. Worth a fortune to know the answer.
Actually, the answer's pretty simple: The same way humans re-invent themselves.
I know. It shouldn't be that simple, but it is.
"The Kinetic Quality": All products are information. The molecules are secondary.
The future of brands is interaction, not commodity. It's not something you buy, but something you paticipate in.
Here's an example: My former agency was pitching Gerber ( the US baby food company) a few years ago. During the pitch I told them "you don't know a lot about babies because you make great products. You make great products because you know a lot about babies."
i.e. a brand is not a thing, but a place.
Think about it. The average 22-year-old new mom doesn't go into a Kentucky Wal-Mart looking for baby food. She goes into Wal-Mart looking for information. She wants any information she can get about how to be a better mother, and she's willing to spend money to get it.
After she has the information, then she wants products that are credible extensions of the information. A good baby-food brand is merely an extension of good paediatric nutrition.... i.e. put the information first, and the products and sales will follow.
So what we pitched was turning their Wal-Mart shelf space into miniature "information centers". We'd sell the products, obviously, but there would be other things as well- books, leaflets, CD-Roms etc etc. Basically, a young mother would leave Wal-Mart a lot more informed about babies than when she entered... and her shopping bags full of Gerber products. This is what I mean about "the kinetic quality" of a brand. A good brand offers immediate and obvious transformation.
If Mom doesn't leave Wal-Mart a better informed mom than when she entered, then somewhere along the line Gerber isn't doing its job.
Of course a good Gerber website/blog would enhance this process. The TV and magazine campaigns would be more informative than 'selling'. All under the umbrella concept of "Healthy Happiness Hints". Giving little parcels of managable information, communicated as "hints".
My point is: the kinetic quality applies as much to package goods (baby food) as it does to media brands (The Economist, The Wall Street Journal etc). A good marketer understands this, and tries to tap into it.
In the old days, the three most important words in advertising were "Unique Selling Proposition". To me, the three most important words are "By Interacting With..."
-By interacting with Gerber, she becomes a better-informed mom.A good brand is a two-way conversation.
-By interacting with The Wall Street Journal, she becomes more tuned into the world of capitalism.
-By interacting with Apple, she brings her entrepreneurial dreams closer to reality.
-By interacting with McDonald's, her busy schedule is made slightly easier by avoiding a lot of fuss over lunch.
-By interacting with Ralston Purina, she becomes more attached to her canine friend.
-By interacting with your brand, she becomes...?
What we bloggers know about the nature of information (a great deal) can be applied far beyond our usual diet of media, politics and journalism. Because all products are information. All products are ideas. The molecules are secondary.
Which is why I believe this is a very exciting time for all of us.
"No man is an island." John Donne, 1624
"No man is a cog." -Hugh MacLeod, 2004
: "Business is the art of getting somebody to where they need to be, faster than they would get there without you."
-Hard to do if nobody's talking.
NOTE TO SELF:
Your job is no longer about selling. Your job is about firing off as many synapses in your client's brain as possible.
The more synapses that are fired off, the more dopamines are released. Dopamines are seriously addictive. The more dopamines you release, the more the client will come back for more. Your client thinks he is coming back to you for sane, rational, value-driven reasons. He is wrong. He is coming back to feed.
: I worked for my current boss for two years before actually meeting him in person. This is why having a good personal blog is so useful- it allows you to convey a lot of essential personal schtick over a great distance.
: Big media is currently having the same problems the Detroit car industry was having in the 70s, but that problem was easy in comparison. All Detroit had to do was start imitating the Japanese until they could finally get with the program. But nowadays Big Media has no-one to imitate.
: The big city is an anachronism. All those skyscrapers, architecturally impressive as they are, were built to house large, tightly controlled, centralized burocracies within a very small area of land, geographically near the other like-minded burocracies they did business with. You wanted to work for Corporation X? You had to buy a house within commuting distance to Corporation X's Central HQ. 90% of the people you needed to talk to on a daily basis were within an elevator ride of your desk. Amazing how dated something so recent can seem. Now e-mail and its spawn are the new elevators.
: Recent Conversation:
Advertising Buddy: "Proctor & Gamble are a pain-in-the-ass client to work for."Me: "Clients with no money are an even bigger pain in the ass.": Every time a new toy arrives on the scene (internet, new media, blogs etc etc), people get really excited.
"This new toy will really let us TALK to our target market yak yak yak..."
"This new toy will really let us INTERACT with our target market yak yak yak..."
"If we become REAL EXPERTS in this new toy our jobs will no longer suck and we won't have to hit the bars so often yak yak yak..."
Everyone knows the maxim, "A bad carpenter blames his tools."
There should be another maxim: "A bad carpenter thinks his shiny, new tools are going to save his sorry ass from oblivion."
: Been recently scouring the net and the bookshops and whatnot. Hot marketing word du jour: "Transparency".
Yep, we're all transparent now. From the guy who cleans your pool to General Frickin' Motors. Rock on.
: "Advertising is Dead." Yep, bastards like me are no longer going to try to sell you anything. You heard it here first.
: "Blogs cure cancer". Yep, so now you can go tell that expensive chemotherapist of yours to go f--k himself.
: "Alternative Advertising" is really hot right now. So instead of advertising on TV or People Magazine like a normal person, you show your boss you're "with it" by hiring one of these 'Alternative' advertising agencies and getting their army of freelance college girls to smear their pert, young titties with your company's product and march around the campus a'giggling. Hopefully "word of mouth" is generated, the media "picks it up" and suddenly you're no longer referred to as "Cube Boy" around the office.
: We're all about "empowerment" these days. We have great need to be constantly reminded by the brands we buy into that we're not the flaccid nonentities we spent most of our lives believing we are. So instead of it saying "Powered by Blogger" on your website (a perfectly reasonable and succinct phrase, in my opinion), you now have "I Power Blogger". So now people are going to laugh at you less. Right.
: What makes the hi-tech/internet/dotcom client attractive to the ad business isn't their actual products, it's their customers.
What is attractive is the idea of selling products made by smart people (e.g. computers, iPods etc) to other smart people (e.g. techies, entrepreneurs, college profs). As opposed to selling products made by smart people (baked beas, candy bars, soap powder) to dumb people (welfare mothers, redneck sports fans), the latter being 90% of what the ad business does to pay its bills.
Selling to people of your own caliber is generally a far more rewarding way to spend one's time than selling to people you wouldn't want to invite into your own house. Which is why the best agencies get to work on these hi-tech accounts, and why hi-tech accounts get more than their fair share of advertising and marketing accolades.
: We seem overly fond of "Zen" imagery these days. Whenever possible we like to design our company logos to resemble sumi ink drawings from 17th century Zen Masters and whatnot.
We like Zen because it has all that comforting, calming, meditative, spiritual schtick without the insistence that we believe in anything too specific or counter-intuitive. Unlike say, Christianity or Islam.
So if your company cannot come up with its own spiritual schtick, Zen is the easiest "big one" to appropriate without appearing too tacky.
: I am not in the factory-owning business. If I have something needing made on a large scale, I'll call somebody up in China or Germany (probably the former). Let them worry about the machine operator's pension fund, I have better things to think about. So do Coca Cola and Nike, which is why most of their stuff is outsourced. I have ideas I want to see expressed. Being paternal on an industrial scale is not one of them. A company's primary role is not to make or do stuff. A company's primary role is to function as an "idea amplifier". Making and doing are mere subsets. (read more here...)
: Merit can be bought. Passion can't. The only people who can change the world are people who want to. And not everybody does.
: The hardest part of a CEO's job is sharing his enthusiasm with his colleagues, especially when a lot of them are making one-fiftieth of what he is. Selling the company to the general public is a piece of cake compared to selling it to the actual people who work for it. The future of advertising is internal.
: Big Media think they're going down the tubes because of "market changes" or whatever. It never occurs to them that maybe, just maybe their own bad manners could have something to do with their own demise.
: Great advertising has far more to do with how great your company is than which ad agency you hire.
: Doc Searls once incisively stated, "There is no market for messages." Agreed. Which is why TV networks had to create TV programs. So you'd watch them. Otherwise they'd just air the commericals.
: Write like you mean the words.
"Being creative" is not the hardest thing in advertising. That's easy. Being able to write about the client's product with conviction, with passion, with genuine humanity is far harder. Most copywriters can't do it. If you can do it, there's always going to be a market for it. Be excited.
Most copywriters "can't do it" for one of three reasons:
1. They're hacks. Hacks cannot write. Not really write. They can futz around, make it look fancy and professional, but they cannot inject it with any resonant human spirit, for they lost all that themselves years ago.
2. Their clients are idiots and won't let them write properly. Any time they try to write like a human being (as opposed to a whipping-boy-for-cash) their client kills what they do and sends him back to his cube for a re-write.
3. Fear. Also commonly known as "practicality". It's a competitive world out there, so to minimize risk and avoid conflict with their paymasters, they pre-emptively rid their work of any human quality, and replace it with dry, blethering, meaningless corporate-speak instead. If you do this often enough it starts to feel normal.
I'm kind of hardcore about this. I think if you're writing meaningless drivel, it's your fault. You chose to work for this guy, you took his money, you cashed the check. It's not his problem, it's your problem. All writers are responsible for their own experience. "The client won't let me" doesn't cut it.
The thing to do is only work with people whose vision and character excites you. The only way to do that is to have vision and character yourself.
: "Smarter Conversations" do not require the input of stupid people.
Why marketeers feel the need to emulate them on such a pathological basis is beyond me.
: The Madison Avenue's Cube Dweller's job is to convince the client that it's 1990. Middle Management's job is to convince the client that that it's 1970. Senior Management's job is to convince the client that it's 1950.
: The word "Brand" has so many meanings now, some more whacked-out than others, that using it has ceased to be useful.
: Ad agencies market themselves as lions; in reality they're more closely related to the hyena.
: The quickest way to lose that corner office is to come up with an original idea.
: Watching the big Madison Avenue agencies trying to get with the program is a bit like watching a middle-aged married man hitting on a co-ed in a bar.
: It's not just the product. People have to love the process as well.
: As long as your marketing remains the domain of your typical suit-wearing marketing jackoff ("Let's call a meeting at 7.30am and talk about nothing for 3 hours!"), your marketing will be jacked-off accordingly.
: The Customer is a human being. The Consumer is a metaphor.
: Cluetrain is basically a wildly uneven, insane rant that makes little sense. Nor does all of it stand up to intellectual scrutiny. But since when has marketing been sane and rational? Since when have people's purchasing habits been sane and rational? If people weren't inherently psychotic, my day job would be a whole lot easier. We need an insane book because insanity is much closer to the truth.
: The "advertising is an art form" schpiel makes for dreary conversation.
: "I believe we are living in the beginning of a new global spiritual awakening." So why is this happening? No, I don't think we're all suddenly taking magic mushrooms, or Jesus has come back for second helpings etc. There are many reasons, a lot of them simple ones- technology bringing people closer together, Baby Boomers getting older and less into sex, materialism etc. etc.
:How to have smarter conversations.
1. Understand why what you're offering to do for other people is interesting, important, meaningful etc then start telling people about it."The Porous Membrane": Why Corporate Blogging Works.
Think about this one. Hard. If you don't know, then how will other people know? Exactly. They won't.
2. Live like you know the difference between remarkable and unremarkable, like it matters to you.
The more "remarkable" matters to you, the more likely that it will appear in the product you're selling. The more likely other people will notice it.
3. Seek out the exceptional minds.
This is my basic mantra. It's a good one to have. Not everybody gets it. Their loss.
4. Start a blog.
Blogs are funny things. Say something smart, people pay attention. Say something dumb, you're ignored. We big media folk just can't seem to get our heads around that concept, for some reason. Regular blogging can help train you to better discern between to discern between smart and dumb. Makes it easier to extend this to the rest of one's business.
5. Ruthlessly avoid working for companies that "don't get it".
Yeah, you may have to turn down a few gigs, and that can really hurt when the rent is due. Still, anything that's easy to get isn't worth having.
6. Ruthlessly avoid working for companies that think they know better than you.
Luckily, if you get the whole "smarter conversations" thing, their "Yes, Buts" will just seem rather empty. Making them easier to "toss out like old furniture".
7. Be nice.
Smarter conversations are fuelled by goodwill. Lose it and die.
8. Be honest.
Again, smarter conversations are fuelled by goodwill etc.
9. Karma is key.
But you already know that. Or you're stupid. No middle ground on this one, sorry.
Tongues are dumber than brains, brains are dumber than ears etc.
The other day somebody asked me to explain why corporate blogging works. Sure, we know it's the hot new thing and people are paying attention to it (including big media)... but why?
Why does it work? Seriously.
So I drew the diagram above.
1. In Cluetrain parlance, we say "markets are conversations". So the diagram above represents your market, or "The Conversation". That is demarkated by the outer circle "y".[AFTERTHOUGHT:] And yes, this works with internal blogs as well, poking holes in the membranes that seperate people within a corporate culture; aligning "the conversation" internally etc.
2. There is a smaller, inner circle "x".
3. So the entire market, the "conversation" is seperated into two distinct parts, the inner area "A" and the outer area "B".
4. Area "A" represents your company, the people supplying the market. We call that "The Internal Conversation".
5. Area "B" represents the people in the market who are not making, but buying. Otherwise know as the customers. We call that "The External Conversation".
6. So each market from a corporate point of view has an internal and external conversation. What seperates the two is a membrane, otherwise known as "x".
7. Every company's membrane is different, and controlled by a host of different technical and cultural factors.
8. Ideally, you want A and B to be identical as possible, or at least, in sync. The things that A is passionate about, B should also be passionate about. This we call "alignment". A good example would be Apple. The people at Apple think the iPod is cool, and so do their customers. They are aligned.
9. When A and B are no longer aligned is when the company starts getting into trouble. When A starts saying their gizmo is great and B is telling everybody it sucks, then you have serious misalignment.
10. So how do you keep misalignment from happening?
11. The answer lies in "x", the membrane that seperates A from B. The more porous the membrane, the easier it is for conversations between A and B, the internal and external, to happen. The easier for the conversations on both side of membrane "x" to adjust to the other, to become like the other.
12. And nothing, and I do mean nothing, pokes holes in the membrane better than blogs. You want porous? You got porous. Blogs punch holes in membranes like like it was Swiss cheese.
13. The more porous your membrane ("x"), the easier it is for the internal conversation to inform and align with the external conversation, and vice versa.
14. Not to mention it makes misalignment, if it happens, a lot easier to repair.
15. Of course this begs the question, why have a membrane "x" at all? Why bother with such a hierarchy? But that's another story.
The other advantage of internal blogging is that it organises conversation into a long-term manageable form. Two people sharing ideas via blogs is a lot more permanent, viral and useful for the company than two people sharing the same information over by the watercooler.
[AFTERTHOUGHT:] Poking holes in membranes subverts hierarchies. Avast, ye scurvies etc.
: A business is either growing, or it's dying.
The conversation is either geting smarter, or getting dumber.
There is no Horizontal Option.
: If a CEO can see his company as primarily an idea amplifier, then he can understand his "brand" properly. Vision doesn't require molecules, it never did. What it requires is something worth believing in.
This is a work in progress. Keep checking back for tweaks, new thoughts etc.
(NB:This thinking was all inspired by Cluetrain, of course, hence the name etc.)
[UPDATE: December, 2008: Added "The Blue Monster" and "Social Object" material below:]
As a marketing blogger, I get asked a lot, "What is the future of marketing?"
I always answer the same: "The Blue Monster".
What's The Blue Monster?
A Blue Monster is a Social Object that articulates a Purpose-Idea.
What's a Social Object? What's a Purpose-Idea?
Sit yourself down, pour yourself another glass of whisky. This might take a while to explain...
1. THE BLUE MONSTER BACKSTORY
In the late 1990’s I was living in New York, working as a mid-level copywriter at a mid-size advertising agency, when for whatever reason I started drawing cartoons exclusively on the back of business cards, just to give me something to do while sitting at the bar. Like I wrote on my blog:
All I had when I first got to Manhattan were 2 suitcases, a couple of cardboard boxes full of stuff, a reservation at the YMCA, and a 10-day freelance copywriting gig at a Midtown advertising agency.I started my blog, gapingvoid.com in 2001. I was back living in the United Kingdom, where I grew up and where my mother and sister still lived.
My life for the next couple of weeks was going to work, walking around the city, and staggering back to the YMCA once the bars closed. Lots of alcohol and coffee shops. Lot of weird people. Being hit five times a day by this strange desire to laugh, sing and cry simultaneously. At times like these, there's a lot to be said for an art form that fits easily inside your coat pocket.
The freelance gig turned into a permanent job. I stayed. The first month in New York for a newcomer has this certain amazing magic about it that is indescribable. Incandescent lucidity. However long you stay in New York, you pretty much spend the rest of your time there trying to recapture that feeling. Chasing Manhattan Dragon. I suppose the whole point of the cards initially was to somehow get that buzz onto paper.
By this time I had accumulated a couple of thousand business-card cartoons, and just started posting them on a semi-daily basis.
Fast Forward to 2006. By this time my blog is pretty well known- one of the largest in Europe-getting over a million unique visitors a month. My cartoons are all over the internet, it seems, especially around the tech blogger scene.
It’s around this time that I meet Steve Clayton, at one of the many “Geek Dinners” that have begun sprouting around the London tech scene.
Steve works for Microsoft, at the time he was running the UK Partner Group [I could tell you what that actually means, but that would take too long. Suffice to say, he’s one very clever and talented chappie].
Steve’s not the first “Microsoftie” I’d met before, but he was the first one I got on really well with. Over the next few months, we start seeing each other around a lot. He’s a really super nice guy, highly intelligent, and fun to hang out with. Good times all round.
Early on, he tells me something that really struck with me: “I could be making a lot more money, and taking a lot less social grief if I worked somewhere else. But I choose not to, simply because at Microsoft, you get to work on some REALLY cool stuff, sooner than anywhere else.”
Why was that so interesting to me? Because I had heard that very same reason cited to me by EVERY single Microsoft employee I had ever met up until that time. Secondly, like every other Microsoft employee I had ever met before, Steve was a really nice, open, fun guy. He did not typify the stereotype “Evil Borg Hive Member” that Microsoftees were often accused of being.
I pondered this for a while. Why did these folk work at Microsoft? It wasn’t the money, it wasn’t the social kudos. Something else was motivating them
So in October, 2006 I posted a cartoon on my blog that tried to express this drive, at least to myself. It went on to be called “The Blue Monster”:
I posted it in high-resolution, the idea being that people at Microsoft who liked the idea, could download it and print it out poster-style, if they wanted. Like I said on my blog:
I just designed this poster for my buddies over at Microsoft [you know who you are]. Feel free to download the high-res version by clicking on the image, and print it out onto - posters, t-shirts etc.What happened next was quite extraordinary. Steve saw the cartoon, and really liked it. He immediately started using the image in his e-mail signature. He stared talking about the cartoon on his blog. Next thing you know, other folk inside Microsoft start doing the same. The “idea-virus” is unleashed.
The headline works on a lot of different levels:Microsoft telling its potential customers to change the world or go home.Microsoft has seventy thousand-odd employees, a huge percentage them very determined to change the world, and often succeeding. And millions of customers with the same idea.
Microsoft telling its employees to change the world or go home.
Microsoft employees telling their colleagues to change the world or go home.
Everybody else telling Microsoft to change the world or go home.
Everyone else telling their colleagues to change the world or go home.
And so forth.
Basically, Microsoft is in the world-changing business. If they ever lose that, they might as well all go home.
I chose the monster image simply because I always thought there is something wonderfully demonic about wanting to change the world. It can be a force for the good, of course, if used wisely. It's certainly a very loaded part of the human condition, but I suppose that's what makes it compelling.
Today, if you’re ever invited onto the Microsoft campus in Redmond, Washington, if you walk around the offices, chances are you’ll see the Blue Monster poster, hanging on somebody’s wall. Or you might very well see someone with a Blue Monster sticker on their laptop, wearing a Blue Monster t-shirt, or handing you their business card with the Blue Monster on the back. Though the Blue Monster wasn’t created by Microsoft, for many people working there, it seems to articulate why they work there. It’s also been written about in the UK National Media, as well as countless tech blogs.
It's not that everybody inside Microsoft "gets" The Blue Monster. It's never been officially endorsed by them. But the ones who do get ito, REALLY get it. For them, it's a cult object. It represents the conversation they INDIVIDUALLY wish to be having with the world about their company and technology in general, not what the corporate "Brand Police" upstairs want to be having with the world. They may be loyal employees of Microsoft, but they're also individuals. Somehow The Blue Monster allows them to express both roles at the same time, allows them to navigate the blurry lines that separate the two.
I was just playing around with a cartoon idea at the time, not really expecting too much to come from it. I never expected the idea to get as big and well-known as it did. Life is full of surprises.
As the months went by and I started to see The Blue Monster story growing and growing, I had another insight: The Blue Monster wasn’t a one-off. The Blue Monster represented a fundamental shift in how marketing will be conducted in the future.
[One of the drawings I did for Seth Godin's latest book, "The Dip".]
[UPDATE:] In order to help me order my thoughts, I decided to put all my favorite social object posts onto a single blog page below. Enjoy.]
Besides being a web 2.0 entrepreneur, Jyri is an anthropologist. So at the London Jaiku geek dinner last Tuesday, I asked him about the connection between Social Objects and its correlation with Malinowski's "Kula" [Malinowski was the father of modern Anthropology, by the way]. Jyri repsonded that this was very much the case. So much so, in fact, that one of his great friends and mentors, the aforementioned Joi Ito bought an island in Second Life and named it "Kula".
Something about sites like Flickr that you will be using these sites for years to come.The sites that work are built around social objects.[...] MySpace. What is the real focal object? Music. Once they lose that focus, it is in trouble.
How does one build a useful service around social objects? Five key principles.
1. You should be able to define the social object your service is built around.
2. Define your verbs that your users perform on the objects. For instance, eBay has buy and sell buttons. It's clear what the site is for.
3. How can people share the objects?
4. Turn invitations into gifts.
5. Charge the publishers, not the spectators. He learned this from Joi Ito. There will be a day when people don't pay to download or consume music but the opportunity to publish their playlists online.
Kula. Social Ojects. Objects of Sociability. Call it what you will, I think so much of what we're trying to understand about the web, the future, and yes, MARKETING, stems from this very profound insight from Malinowski in the early 20th Century, that good folk like Jyri and Joi are now helping to shed new light on.
[Bonus Link:] Video of Jyri's talk on Social Objects at the geek dinner. One of the best talks I've heard for a while.
Somewhere along the line I figured out the easiest products to market are objects with "Sociability" baked-in. Products that allow people to have "conversations" with other folk. Seth Godin calls this quality "remarkablilty".
For example: A street beggar holding out an ordinary paper cup cup won't start a conversation. A street beggar holding out a Starbucks cup will. I know this to be true, because it happened to me and a friend the other day, as we were walking down the street and a guy asked us for some spare change. Afterwards, as we were commenting about the rather sad paradox of a homeless guy plying his trade with a "luxury" coffee cup, my friend said, "Starbucks should be paying that guy."
Actually, my friend is wrong. Starbuck's doesn't need to be paying the homeless guy. Because Starbucks created a social object out of a paper cup, the homeless guy does their marketing for free, whether he knows it or not.
Although I suspect he does. I suspect somewhere along the line the poor chap figured out that holding out a Starbucks cup gets him more attention [and spare change] than an ordinary cup. And suddenly we're seeing social reciprocity between a homeless person and a large corporation, without money ever changing hands. Whatever your views are on the plight of homeless people, this is "Indirect Marketing" at its finest.
[October, 2007:]Anyone who has heard me speak publicly lately will know that I'm currently very focused on the "Social Object" idea, which I was turned onto by Jaiku's Jyri Engestrom. Here's some more thoughts on the subject, in no particular order.
1. The term, "Social Object" can be a bit heady for some people. So often I'll use the term, "Sharing Device" instead.
2. Social Networks are built around Social Objects, not vice versa. The latter act as "nodes". The nodes appear before the network does.
3. Granted, the network is more powerful than the node. But the network needs the node, like flowers need sunlight.
4. My overall marketing thesis invariably asks the question, "If your product is not a Social Object, why are you in business?"
5. Yesterday at the Darden talk I explained why geeks have become so important to marketing. My definition of a geek is, "Somebody who socializes via objects." When you think about it, we're all geeks. Because we're all enthusiastic about something outside ourselves. For me, it's marketing and cartooning. for others, it could be cellphones or Scotch Whisky or Apple computers or NASCAR or the Boston Red Sox or Buddhism. All these act as Social Objects within a social network of people who care passionately about the stuff. Whatever industry you are in, there's somebody who is geeked out about your product category. They are using your product [or a competitor's product] as a Social Object. If you don't understand how the geeks are socializing- connecting to other people- via your product, then you don't actually have a marketing plan. Heck, you probably don't have a viable business plan.
6. The Apple iPhone is the best example of Social Object I can think of. At least, it is when I'm trying to explain it to somebody unfamiliar with the concept.
7. The Social Object idea is not rocket science.
8. How do you turn a product into a Social Object? Answer: Social Gestures. And lots of them.
9. Products, and the ideas that spawn them, go viral when people can share them like gifts. Example: gmail invites in the early days.
10. Social Object can be abstract, digital, molecular etc.
11. The interesting thing about the Social Object is the not the object itself, but the conversations that happen around them. The Blue Monster is a good example of this. It's not the cartoon that's interesting, it's the conversatuons that happen around it that's interesting.
12. Ditto with a bottle of wine.
13. Once I get talking about marketing, it's hard for me to go more than 3 minutes without saying the words, "Social Object".
14. The most important word on the internet is not "Search". The most important word on the internet is "Share". Sharing is the driver. Sharing is the DNA. We use Social Objects to share ourselves with other people. We're primates. we like to groom each other. It's in our nature.
15. I believe Social Objects are the future of marketing.
If your company wants to succeed, it needs to have a social object marketing plan.Amen to that. But note what Chris also says:
I don't know about you, but when somebody walks by with an iPhone, I notice. If I see a kid stroll by me in some limited edition Nikes, that registers with me too.Therein lies the rub. The Social Object idea is easy to get if your product is highly remarkable, highly sociable. An iPhone or the latest pair of Nike's are both fine examples of this.
But I can already hear your inner MBA saying, "Yeah, but what if you don't work for Nike or Apple? What if your product is boring home loans, auto insurance or... [the list of boring products is pretty long].
My standard answer to that is, "Social Gestures beget Social Objects."
Which is another way of saying, maybe the way you relate to somebody as a human being plays a part in all this. Maybe describing the product as "boring" is just one more bullshit lie we tell ourselves in order to make the world seem less complicated and scary. Hey, my product is inherently dull and boring, therefore I get to be inherently dull and boring, too. Hooray!
Nowadays, thanks to folk like Nike, we think of sneakers as "non-boring" brands. This wasn't true when I was a kid. Back then sneakers were those bloody awful $3 plimsolls we wore in Phys Ed. But it took companies like Nike and Adidas to come along and by shear force of will, raise the level of conversation in the sneaker department, before sneakers became bona fide global social objects, bona fide global powerhouse brands.
The decision to raise the level of conversation isn't economic. Nor is it an intellectual decision. It's a moral decision. But whether you have the stomach for it is up to you.
Like I told Thomas almost 3 years ago re. English bespoke tailoring, "Own the conversation by improving the conversation." And hey, it worked. His sales went up 300% in 6 months.
It wasn't the change in product that made Thomas' suits Social Objects. It was changing the way he talked to people. The same applies to Stormhoek, which 3 years ago was an $8 bottle of South African wine nobody had ever heard of. Conversation. Matters.
So all you corporate MBAs out there, here's a little tip. When you planning on how to embrace the brave new world of Web 2.0, the first question you ask yourself should not be "What tools do I use?"
Blogs, RSS, YouTube, Twitter, Facebook- it doesn't matter.
The first question you should REALLY ask yourself is:
"How do I want to change the way I talk to people?"
And hopefully the rest should follow.
Think about it.
[Bonus Link: For a more academic take on social objects, check out this post from Anthropologist, Jyri Engestrom.]
[From "So What's All This New Marketing Stuff, Anyway?": December, 2007] Some people call it "The New Marketing". Some people call it "Marketing 2.0". Whatever name you care to give it, I get asked about it a lot. Here are some random thoughts, in no particular order.
1. "The New Marketing" came about because of two unstoppable forces: [A] The invention of the internet and [B] the beginning of the demise of what Seth Godin calls the "TV-Industrial Complex". Thanks to the internet, as Clay Shirky famously stated in 2004, "the cost and difficulty of publishing absolutely anything, by anyone, into a global medium, just got a whole lot lower. And the effects of that increased pool of potential producers is going to be vast." While this was going on, large companies found out that people were starting to ignore their ads. We have too many choices, too many good choices, and we've gotten too good at ignoring messages.
2. Seth Godin is quite rightly the world's most respected writer on marketing. That being said, a lot of people haven't heard of Mark Earls yet. They're both friends of mine, so I don't want to compare them too much. Seth is a master of taking complicated ideas and presenting them in a way that any Average Joe can understand. Mark is more of a Marketing Geek's geek. His stuff makes uncomfortable reading for anyone in marketing who hasn't been stretching himself lately.
3. The most important asset in The New Marketing is "having something worth talking about". This makes certain marketing people squeamish. A lot of us grew up in an era of flashy commercials for rather uninspiring products, and something in our DNA makes us believe that's the proper way to go about things.
4. If I had one big insight from the last year, is how The New Marketing has everything to do with how your product or service acts as a "Social Object". Kudos to Jyri Engestrom for turning me on to it.
5. My second big insight from this year was learning that, even with a fairly everyday product, you can create social objects simply by using your products to make social gestures. That's what we did with Stormhoek. The message wasn't, "Here's why you should buy our wine". The message was, "We think you're kinda cool, and we like what you're doing. We'd like to be part of it, somehow." And much to everyone's surprise, it worked rather well.
6. Blogs were the big story for 2005. YouTube for 2006. Facebook for 2007. What's the big story for 2008? I have no idea. Nor do I think it matters. For the big story, really, is always going to be the same. Websites comes and go, but "Cheap, Easy, Global, Hyperlinked Media" will be with us forever, save for Nuclear Holocaust.
7. A lot of what fuels The New Marketing is quite simply, the most important word in the English Language: "Love". It's hard to get someone to read your website if you're not passionate about your subject matter.
8. I'm trying to train myself to avoid "Microsmosis" i.e. mistaking of a microcosm for the entire cosmos. If you got all your news from blogs, you'd be forgiven for thinking that there are just two phone companies- Apple and Nokia. But Sony, Motorola, LG and Samsung sell a lot of phones, too. Just not to our friends.
9. My Definition of "Web 3.0": Learning how to use the web properly without it taking over your life. I'm not holding my breath.
10. Why is it so hard to explain The New Marketing to large companies? Because the people who work there are simply not prepared to relinquish the idea of control. Live by metrics, die by metrics etc.
11. I find all this more interesting when I don't take it too seriously. Like all things internet, it's far too easy to get carried away.
[From "Social Objects For Beginners": December, 2007] As y'all will know, I'm fond of talking about "Social Objects" and how they pertain to "Marketing 2.0". Even so, some people still get confused by what a Social Object actually is. So I wrote the following to clarify some more:
The Social Object, in a nutshell, is the reason two people are talking to each other, as opposed to talking to somebody else. Human beings are social animals. We like to socialize. But if think about it, there needs to be a reason for it to happen in the first place. That reason, that "node" in the social network, is what we call the Social Object.
Example A. You and your friend, Joe like to go bowling every Tuesday. The bowling is the Social Object.
Example B. You and your friend, Lee are huge Star Wars fans. Even though you never plan to do so, you two tend to geek out about Darth Vader and X-Wing fighters every time you meet. Star Wars is the Social Object.
Example C. You’ve popped into your local bar for a drink after work. At the bar there’s some random dude, sending a text on this neat-looking cellphone you’ve never seen before. So you go up to him and ask him about the phone. The random dude just LOVES his new phone, so has no trouble with telling a stranger about his new phone for hours on end. Next thing you know, you two are hitting it off and you offer to buy him a beer. You spend the rest of the next hour geeking out about the new phone, till it’s time for you to leave and go dine with your wife. The cellphone was the social object.
Example D. You’re a horny young guy at a party, in search of a mate. You see a hot young woman across the room. You go up and introduce yourself. You do not start the conversation by saying, “Here’s a list of all the girls I've gone to bed with, and some recent bank statements showing you how much money I make. Would you like to go to bed with me?” No, something more subtle happens. Basically, like all single men with an agenda, you ramble on like a yutz for ten minutes, making small talk. Until she mentions the name of her favorite author, Saul Bellow. Halleluiah! As it turns out, Saul Bellow happens to be YOUR FAVORITE AUTHOR as well [No, seriously. He really is. You’re not making it up just to look good.]. Next thing you know, you two are totally enveloped in this deep and meaningful conversation about Saul Bellow. “Seize The Day”, "Herzog", “Him With His Foot In His Mouth” and “Humbolt’s Gift”, eat your heart out. And as you two share a late-night cab back to her place, you're thinking about how Saul Bellow is the Social Object here.
Example E. You’re an attractive young woman, married to a very successful Hedge Fund Manager in New York’s Upper East Side. Because your husband does so well, you don’t actually have to hold down a job for a living. But you still earned a Cum Laude from Dartmouth, so you need to keep your brain occupied. So you and your other Hedge Fund Wife friends get together and organise this very swish Charity Ball at the Ritz Carleton. You’ve guessed it; the Charity Ball is the Social Object.
Example F. After a year of personal trauma, you decide that yes, indeed, Jesus Christ is your Personal Saviour. You’ve already joined a Bible reading class and started attending church every Sunday. Next thing you know, you’ve made a lot of new friends in your new congregation. Suddenly you are awash with a whole new pile of Social Objects. Jesus, Church, The Bible, the Church Picnics, the choir rehearsals, the Christmas fund drive, the cookies and coffee after the 11 o'clock service, yes, all of them are Social Objects for you and new friends to share.
Example G. You’ve been married for less than a year, and already your first child is born. In the last year, you and your spouse have acquired three beautiful new Social Objects: The marriage, the firstborn, and your own new family. It’s what life’s all about.
There. I’ve given you seven examples. But I could give THOUSANDS more. But there’s no need to. The thing to remember is, Human beings do not socialize in a completely random way. There’s a tangible reason for us being together, that ties us together. Again, that reason is called the Social Object. Social Networks form around Social Objects, not the other way around.
Another thing to remember is the world of Social Objects can have many layers. As with any complex creature, there can be more than one reason for us to be together. So anybody currently dating a cute girl who’s into not just Saul Bellow, but also into bowling and cellphones and Star Wars and swish Charity Balls as well, will know what I mean.
The final thing to remember is that, Social Objects by themselves don’t matter in the grand scheme of things. Sure, it’s nice hanging out with Lee talking about Star Wars. But if Star Wars had never existed, you’d probably still enjoy each other’s company for other reasons, if they happened to present themselves. Human beings matter. Being with other human beings matter. And since the dawn of time until the end of time, we use whatever tools we have at hand to make it happen.
[Afterthought:] As I'm fond of saying, nothing about Social Objects is rocket science. Then again, there's nothing about "Love" that is rocket science, either. That doesn't mean it can't mess with your head. Rock on.
[Link:] Mark Earls has some nice thoughts on this, as well. "Things change because of people interacting with other people, rather than technology or design really doing things to people."
[From "Why The Social Object Is The Future Of Marketing": January, 2008]From my previous post:
The Social Object, in a nutshell, is the reason two people are talking to each other, as opposed to talking to somebody else. Human beings are social animals. We like to socialize. But if think about it, there needs to be a reason for it to happen in the first place. That reason, that "node" in the social network, is what we call the Social Object.I've often gone on record with the statement, "Social Objects are the future of marketing". This post will attempt to explain further why i believe that.
THE BAD OLD DAYS: MARKETING IN THE AGE OF HYPER-CLUTTER.
We have just come through a hundred-year long era, called the “Mass Era”.
Mass Media and Mass Production came of age at the same time. We try to separate the two, and we cannot.
A few decades ago, the local car dealers in town gave you a choice of four or five models. Now your choice is in the many dozens. There are well over a dozen varieties of Coca Cola. And thousands of different drink combos you can buy at any Starbucks on any given day.
I can sing you jingles for Nestle chocolate bars, from commercials I haven’t seen in over twenty years. That’s how cluttered my mind is. And yours is probably not that different.
Why would any sane person think that swimming in a polluted sea of commercial messages was fun for people? Messages are not information.
In this hyper-cluttered landscape the mediocre marketer will say, “I know! Let’s add another item of clutter to the cultural landfill! Lets increase the noise-to-signal ratio!!!”
And then he wonders why it doesn’t work.
It doesn’t work because we’re ignoring you now. You had our attention for a while, but as you know, it was more a cultural accident than anything you really had any true control over.
The world has moved on, and there’s not a damn thing you can do about it. Your boss also suspects this may be the case, but thankfully for your career, he hasn’t brought it up in a meeting. Yet.
THEN ALONG CAME THE INTERNET...
I can’t help wondering if the internet coming along at the same time as the Hyper-Clutter Era reaching critical mass was a historical accident, or did the internet evolve as fast as it did in order to circumvent the Hyper-Clutter? I’m guessing the latter. If the purveyors of one-way conversations had offered something more sustainable and satisfying, maybe our need to “talk to real human beings” again would not have been so pronounced.
Now, when you buy something, you don’t phone up the company and order a brochure. You go onto Google and check out what other people- people like yourself- are saying about the product. In terms of communication, the company no longer has first-mover advantage.
[TO BE CONTINUED...]