August 5, 2009

stormhoek bottles

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[A print idea for #evilplans. Click on image to enlarge etc.]

EUREKA! I had my EVIL PLANS road trip idea, but it was lacking the social object it needed to really work.

Sure, driving around Texas with a video camera and an idea about "Dream Big" was all very well, but it needed something to work as a totem for the Stormhoek wine.

IDEA: Hand-painted wine bottles.

I've drawn on Stormhoek wine bottles before, using painting sticks. They looked kinda cool. While I travel around Texas, I'll be making them to hand out to people who went to all the trouble to support this enterprise. See image above to get a rough idea what it might look like...

This is exciting. The road trip idea is suddenly A LOT More interesting, all of a sudden. Rock on.

[Update: Just added this blog post to EVIL PLANS.]


Posted by hugh macleod at 2:40 PM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

August 2, 2009

boing boing and baked-in sociality etc.

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Boing Boing is one of my favorite blogs. It's also one of the most widely-read blogs in the world, and deservedly so.

So why is it so popular? The most obvious answer, "Great Content" is a no-brainer. Of course it has great content. People wouldn't read it if it didn't.

But "Great Content" is only half the story. The other half is just as important, though a little more subtle. And what is that?

Short Answer: "Sociality".

It's not just that Boing Boing's content is fun to READ. It is. It's also that Boing Boing's content is fun to SHARE.

"Wow. What a cool article. I think I'll email it along to my friends at work. Better yet, I think I'll mention it to my hundreds of Twitter followers. Hell, I'll even blog about it..."

Boing Boing has a lot of "Sociality" baked-in, i.e. its content makes for great "Social Objects" i.e. their blog posts are great "Sharing Devices".

We are primates. We are social creatures. We like to socialize. And we socialize around objects. Boing Boing cranks out "social objects" by the ton, that we can effortlessly pass along to our friends.

And that's where the true value of Boing Boing lies. Will sending your friend, Bob a link to this cool post about Detroit photographers permanently change his life for the better? Probably not.

But giving you something that allows you and Bob to socialize with each other ["Cool post, Dude!!!"] digs deep into what really matters to us primates: Socializing i.e. Sharing ourselves with our fellow species.

And what's true for blogs like Boing Boing is true for any other product. It's not what the product does that matters to us so much, it's how we socialize around it that matters. This is why the iPhone is so successful. Sure, we like having all those cool apps, but being able to talk about and recommend cool apps to our friends ["Cool app as social object", Exactly!], that's what we are genetically hardwired to like even more.

Read Mark Earls if you don't believe me...

[N.B. I didn't coin the term "Social Object"; it was an idea I was turned onto by the brilliant Jyri Engstrom. Here's a great video of Jyri speaking about social objects in 2008.]

[Backstory: About Hugh. Twitter. Newsletter. Book. Interview One. Interview Two. Limited Edition Prints. Private Commissions. Cube Grenades.]

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June 21, 2009

gapingvoid is proud to present: THE WORST MARKETING IDEA EVER!!!!!


[My pal, Jeffro singing at Harry's Tinaja, Alpine, Texas.]

I'm taking to the road. Here are some notes:

1. Now that IGNORE EVERYBODY is done and in the book stores, it's time to do something else. In the last couple of days, I've gotten several emails from people that they saw the book selling in airport bookshops. Wow. It doesn't get any more "mainstream" that that, I'm happy to report. At least I can't accuse it of being "undiscovered". And for me, as a blogger, it's nice to be able to break out of the Web 2.0 echo chamber. Exactly.

2. So I was having a drink with a friend the other day, and he asked me what my next plan was. I told him, in no uncertain terms, that "I'm going to go on the road, and stay on the road, until Stormhoek is the best selling South African wine in Texas."

3. I'm bringing my computer along. I'll be blogging my adventures en route. Hoping to be posting travel-diary videos on YouTube as well.

4. I'll be limiting my travels to the State of Texas. Luckily it's a big State and there's plenty to discover.

5. I'm bringing my computer along. I'll be working on my second book while I'm traveling. I have a vague idea what it's about...

6. I'm bringing my computer along. I hoping to meet other Texan bloggers and Twitters on my travels.

7. Hoping to draw a lot of new cartoons en route as well. Hoping that some new prints will come out of it.

8. I don't really have a plan. But I am leaving as soon as I can get organized. You'll be able to follow my adventure on Twitter easily enough.

9. This idea will probably fail. "Futile Marketing" etc. Rock on.

10. [Update:] Just Twittered this blog post: "@gapingvoid is proud to present: THE WORST MARKETING IDEA EVER!!!!!" Yep. That's about right...

[etc: About Hugh. Interview. Newsletter. Book. Limited Edition Prints. Private Commissions. Cube Grenades. Hughtrain.]

Posted by hugh macleod at 10:11 AM | Comments (16) | TrackBack

June 5, 2009

social object: the "dream big" bumper stcker

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[Click on image to enlarge etc.]

If you walk around Alpine, Texas (my current home), you might start seeing the "Dream Big" bumper stickers everywhere, the ones I made for Stormhoek.

Alpine only has about 6,000 people. We've distributed around 1,000 bumper stickers so far. Plan to do many more. Do the math.

Why can't a small town in west Texas "Dream Big"? Ditto for a small winery in South Africa.

"Dream Big, Alpine, Texas" isn't rocket science. But it seems to resonate with folk.

Yes, the bumper sticker is a "social object".

Watch this space...


Posted by hugh macleod at 3:25 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

May 30, 2009

cube grenades: the pitch to ad agencies

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[Signing the agenciaclick cube grenade a couple of weeks ago...]

Over the last couple of weeks I've been talking with various advertising and PR folk about the Cube Grenade idea. Here are some notes:

1. In terms of the advertising and PR industries, the Cube Grenade is basically conceived as a relatively cheap and effective Social Object to articulate the Purpose-Idea of a brand or company.

2. If the agency has an idea they REALLY want to sell to their client, they might have better luck if they first articulate the idea via a Cube Grenade designed by me, rather than the traditional "agency pitch" model. The agency's idea is somehow articulated as a commissioned print, the print is given out as a gift, to people within the relevant constituency. The print hangs on a wall, other people see it, and if the idea is any good then people will start talking about it. That conversation will lead to other conversations. If the idea is any good, other ideas [and opportunities] will be spawned from it.

3. The Cube Grenade is not a glorified advertising poster. I'm not primarily interested in why people should buy the client's product per se. I'm far more interested in the human dynamic, the collective human drive that makes the client's people want to get up in the morning and go to work. That is where THE REAL VALUE is created.

4. Because the Cube Grenade is given as a gift- an act of love, as it were- AND NOT A DELIVERABLE WANTING TO BE SOLD, it will break through the cultural barriers of the client company a lot more cheaply and quickly than your standard "Big Advertising Idea". The game here is not about "Selling An Ad", the point is to make the client more alive, more human, more aware of their own human potential. Again, this is where is where THE REAL VALUE for the client-agency relationship is created.

5. Whether the Cube Grenade "works" or not in the end, both agency and client will find out if the thought behind it works A LOT sooner and inexpensively than executing your average ad campaign. Like all communication, the idea needs to RISK FAILURE if it's ever to be any good. "Fail cheap, fail often", as the great venture capitalist, Esther Dyson likes to say.

6. As I've said before to the ad agencies: "Guys, you are NOT selling messages anymore. You are selling Social Objects. The work that you create will affect the Cube Grenades and Social Objects, that your clients and their customers use to interact with each other." This is why I'm talking to advertising folk. At the end of the day, we're both in the same business.

7. To get more background reading, please visit my Cube Grenade archive here. You might also want to check out "The Hughtrain" to get a better understanding of where my ideas are coming from.

8. As always, if this idea is of any interest to you, please feel free to contact me at gapingvoid@gmail.com. Or if you know someone in the advertising industry, please send them along to this page [Here's the link]. Thanks!

Posted by hugh macleod at 4:55 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

May 25, 2009

now accepting private commissions for the marfa series, moleskines and cube grenades

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[Privately-commissioned "Cube Grenades" i.e. limited edition, fine art prints that I did for my Brazilian client, agenciaclick. Click on image to enlarge etc.]

I'm currently accepting private commissions for The Marfa Series, Moleskines and Cube Grenades. Please read on for more details, Thanks! [email: gapingvoid@gmail.com]

THE MARFA SERIES


square333A.jpg[Click on image to enlarge etc.]

[Originally posted on the blog, August 27th, 2009]

The plan is to make a series of large, 48"x48" [4 foot-by-4 foot] canvases, i.e. exactly the same height, and one-half the width of desertmanhattan. The wee sketch above should give you an idea what I'm talking about.

I'm thinking of calling these "The Marfa Series", named after Marfa, the next town over from Alpine, 26 miles away. I drive there and back about three or four times a week; it's one of my favorite drives in the world. The drive inspired the idea for the the series in a SERIOUSLY big way.

Some will be cranked out in a couple of days. Some will take a lot longer, even a couple of months. I have no idea where this is taking me, other than I think I'll end up somewhere pretty interesting. Look for them for sale over on the gallery over the next few months or so, or feel free to e-mail me if you're looking to commission one. Thanks.

CUBE GRENADES

"This, I believe, is where my cartoons work the best- 'Cube Grenades'- small social objects that you 'throw' in there in order to cause some damage- to start a conversation, to spread an idea etc."
Probably the job I'm most proud of recently, is when I was hired by a Brazilian ad agency, agenciaclick to create a privately commissioned edition of cube grenades i.e. fine art prints. See photo above.

They didn't want these prints for themselves; they wanted to give these out to their clients, as conversation starters.

"All brands are open brands? Huh? What does that mean? Do you agree with it? Why? What does "open" actually mean? What does "brand" actually mean...?" You get the picture. The same idea that made The Blue Monster so successful. Again, it wasn't about the message, the object. It was all about the social.

My long-term goal is to make more privately-commissioned "Cube Grenades" for more clients like agenciaclick. It was a wonderful working experience for me, and I want to spend more time in that business.

MOLESKINES

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["Moleskine 42" in a nice wooden frame. Click on image to enlarge etc.]



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["Moleskine 42" before the framing, approx 5"x7": Click on image to enlarge etc.]

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[Close-up view]

In May, 2008 I blogged about a new drawing, "Moleskine 42".

Since then I've gotten a lot of requests for them. So I plan to be doing more in future.

As always, feel free to contact me if you find either of these ideas interesting, Thanks!

[The Moleskine archive is here. and The Cube Grenade archive is here..]

Posted by hugh macleod at 8:11 AM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

April 25, 2009

art as 'social marker'

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[Brian Manley kindly just sent me a picture from his Flickr stream of his new "We Need To Talk" print, framed and hanging in his office. Thanks, Brian!]

A while ago, I talked about "Social Markers", a form of "Social Object" that places you in context within a group.

Social Markers are a prime form of social shorthand, that people use to STAKE OUT the ecosystem they're occupying. So why do I find this such a useful term for marketers? Because obviously, if your product is a Social Marker in your industry ecosystem [the way the iPhone is in the mobile world, or Starbucks is in the coffee world, or Amazon is the book world, or Google is in the search world, or Whole Foods is in the supermarket world, or Virgin is in the airline world, or English Cut in the bespoke world etc etc] you will have an AMAZING competitive advantage to call your own.

And if the product your company makes is not a Social Marker, I guess the first question would be, "Why the hell not?" Quit your job and start over.

A few weeks ago I read an article in The Economist about how very rich Russians have suddenly started buying the art of Damien Hirst and other Western Contemporaries in large numbers.

Hirst is very, very famous. His work sells for millions. We could argue his work's artistic merits till the cows come home... his work is cleverly designed to provoke that kind of controversy, anyway. But I'm not here to play art critic. I'm here to talk about something else.

When people buy expensive, famous art, it's not just about the art in question. It's also about the social dynamic that surrounds it.

When you spend a king's ransom on a work of art, you are basically sending a message to the world, "I HAVE ARRIVED".

"I, too, am now a member of a certain elite group. Like my peers, I too can appreciate and afford the likes of Hirst, or Warhol, or Johns, Rauschenberg, Matisse, Picasso etc etc. "

"Art as Social Marker". Exactly.

People buy large yachts for the same reason. Or large apartments in Mayfair or Central Park South. Or deerstalking estates in Scotland. Or golf memberships to Augusta. Or islands in the Caribbean. "Social" drives the purchase just as much as the object's inherent utility, probably more.

As far as I can tell, people don't buy my work to advertise the fact that they've arrived somewhere BIG, like these wealthy Russians buying Damien's work.

It seems more like to me, people buy my work because they ASPIRE to arrive somewhere, one day. Somewhere interesting and meaningful, with any luck.

Wherever that place may be, I can relate. I hope to arrive there one day, too...

Posted by hugh macleod at 11:01 AM | Comments (11) | TrackBack

April 7, 2009

art, the kinetic quality and social objects

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Vinny Warren, a highly respected Creative Director in Chicago [He wrote the Budweiser "Whassup" ad campaign] has kindly hung his new "Bluetrain" print in a key focal point of his agency, the conference room. He blogs about it here.

Fresh from the framing store, it’s one of just 85 signed Hugh MacLeod prints from the first in a series of limited edition prints he’s doing. This was always my favorite cartoon of his. I used to have a b/w printout of it on my office wall. It pretty much sums up how I feel generally. And I love the wildly optimistic yet utterly truthful tone. The text reads: THE MARKET FOR SOMETHING TO BELIEVE IN IS INFINITE.
This advertising connection got me thinking about something I posted back in February, 2004, during the tail end of my own advertising career, called "The Kinetic Quality":

"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.

i.e. a brand is not a thing, but a place.

[...]

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.

-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...?

A good brand is a two-way conversation.

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.

Back when I wrote that, I was an advertising creative i.e. selling other people's stuff. Now I'm selling my own stuff i.e. my prints. And the same rules still apply:
-By interacting with gapingvoid, Vinny Warren [or whoever] becomes...?
The short answer is, roughly: "Better able to articulate his own worldview to himself and to people around him."

That's the idea, at least. Which of course, is THE WHOLE PURPOSE of art in the first place: Self-expression through third-party "Social Objects".

Anyone who's ever owned an iPhone or a Harley Davidson will know exactly what I'm talking about...

[Sign up to the gapingvoid "Crazy, Deranged Fools" Newsletter here.]

Posted by hugh macleod at 9:17 PM | Comments (7) | TrackBack

February 8, 2009

people matter. objects don't.

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[Cartoon inspired by this old blog post....]

Posted by hugh macleod at 5:27 AM | Comments (8) | TrackBack

December 1, 2008

"purpose-ideas are articulated via social objects, not messages"

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[Close-up of DesertManahattan. India Ink on Canvas... gorgeous. Click on image to enlarge etc.]

Let me say it one more time: "Purpose-Ideas are articulated via Social Objects, not Messages."

Click on the links in the above sentence to see what I'm talking about [especially Link Number Three].

Mark Earls says the future of advertising is not in messages. Which means if you're currently in advertising, you'll be asking yourself, what IS the post-message future? At the moment, you get paid to craft messages. So what will you craft in their place?

Short answer: Social Gestures.

As I'm fond of repeating, Social Gestures beget Social Objects.

Exactly.

Posted by hugh macleod at 12:06 PM | Comments (6) | TrackBack

November 26, 2008

stormhoek in the west texas desert

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1. A few weeks back I mentioned that I was back working with Stormhoek, the South African wine.

2. I mentioned that I had painted a billboard:

"Stormhoek. Made in South Africa. Drunk in West Texas."

3. I mentioned that there was no marketing budget to speak of, and that also I lived in West Texas, so with these limitations we were going to have to improvise.

4. Watch the video here to see the story begin to unfold...

Posted by hugh macleod at 10:29 PM | Comments (22) | TrackBack

November 15, 2008

so what’s a crazy-ass cartoonist in alpine, texas going to do about dell, anyway?

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["Edges 6". Part of The Edges Series. Click on image to enlarge etc.]

I've spent a lot of time in the last few days thinking about Dell Computers, a tech hardware company from Round Rock, Texas. Here are some notes:

1. When I developed The Blue Monster idea for Microsoft, a wee voice told me there was a business model in there somewhere. Some kind of post-advertising, Purpose-Idea, social-object, marketing-disruption kind of thing. Something that would scale, something one could turn into a little cottage industry, creating TONS of value for the fraction of the cost of the traditional advertising agency model. Dell liked the idea, and let me have a meeting with them. Since then I've been having this little back-and-forth with them, trying to get know the company better, trying to figure out an "Angle of Alignment" with them that would hopefully allow me to create something interesting.

2. So far it's been a great experience. Working mostly with Richard and Lionel, they've been introducing me to tons of people, while I've been trying to get my head around the company- what they do and why they do it.

3.Though I find it a bit simplistic [nor do I agree with much of it], I love this article from Fake Steve Jobs, "Why Dell Won't Bounce Back"

Bottom line is this: the only innovations worth making are the ones involving product ideas and product design. I mean, Duh. Right? It's pretty obvious. What's amazing to me is how few companies actually seem to realize it. To sustain an edge in any market you must make better products than your competitors, consistently, over and over and over again. Just making the same products as everyone else but taking a little friction out of the system can give you an advantage, but only a temporary one.
The article basically lines up all the most obvious challenges Dell faces. Like I said a while ago, I see Dell's challenges fall into four main categories:
i. Evolution of customer service. Sure, they have a ways to go. Then again, don't we all etc. They've certainly come a long way since Jeff Jarvis and the whole "Dell Hell" episode, which gives me reasons to be cheerful.

ii. Design. Ten years ago, I didn't own a computer. I really didn't. The company I worked for gave me one- a Mac desktop. The internet was still relatively still in its infancy back then, so besides using Word to do my job, sending emails, and surfing the net occasionally, I didn't really have a lot of use for it. Now I can't imagine life without my laptop.

To use a Real Estate allegory: When your company sets you up with a temporary accommodation in a new town, you don't really mind too much that it's Embassy Suites. It serves a function. But let's say you're looking for a new house for you and your spouse and young children to move into, your needs become A LOT more exacting. Not to mention, a lot more expensive in terms of both square footage and decor. There's a reason why commercial real estate tends to be cheaper than residential etc.

More and more people are using their own computers to do their work. Their "Own Homes" for their data, as it were. Dell has long been been in the "Temporary Accommodation" business, for other people's data. And now as the market changes, they're having to make the move from building "Embassy Suites", to building actual "Private Dwellings". There's a contextual headshift to work through. And it won't happen overnight- it's a big company.

iii. India & China. In 2007 for the first time, Dell made more money from outside the USA than from inside it. 50.2% vs 49.8%, I believe are the figures. The question is not about how one get more business from the West Coast, Mac-using hipster crowd. The big question is, how do you get technology into the hands of people who THIS SIMPLY WOULD NOT HAVE BEEN AN OPTION FOR, even a couple of years ago?

iv. Culture. To me this is the biggest issue of the four. You can't thrill your customers until you thrill yourself first. Let's face it, a big part of the Dell schtick is built around processes- sales, manufacturing, controlling costs and all that lovely, corporate back-office stuff. That's fair enough, most big companies operate like this. I would very much like to know, what percentage of Dell employees feel "This is just a paycheck", versus how many feel, "Dammit, we're frickin' changing the world here"...?

4. Somebody at Dell once described his employer as "Ordinary people doing extraordinary things." Though my granny always told me that it's good to remain humble, and to a large extent, I do agree with that sentiment, I did scratch my head a wee bit at that one. Does Microsoft see themselves as "ordinary"? Does Apple? I doubt that they do.

5. Though it's still early days, I think Michael Dell coming back from retirement to captain the company [like Steve Jobs did at Apple] is a big deal. I think the effects are only just beginning to show themselves. Personally, I'm glad to have him there.

6. Part of my motivation for working with Dell is simple patriotism. For 20 million Texans to prosper long-term, we need large, world-class creative powerhouses. Same as every other state in the Union, same with every other nation on Earth. We've done the efficiency thing for three hundred years, and have gotten quite good at it. Like I said in my talk at StartupEmpire the other day, the future of wealth is now all about "Creativity". Embrace it, or die.

7. They're called PCs, they're not called BCs. They're called personal computers, not business computers. That being said, the demands of an affluent, creative American are different from the needs of an IT manager in a large widget factory. As the lines that separate business and personal get ever more blurry, I see all major computer companies [including Gosh! Yes! Apple!] struggle to bridge the gap.

8. I asked somebody at Dell what she thought made the company so special, what separated it from the others. "Basically, we're tenacious sons-of-bitches," she said. Good answer! As I spoke to more and more Dell folk during my many visits to their Round Rock campus in the last 6 months, this "tenacity" started to become easier and easier to sense. I find that encouraging.

9. The Edges cartoon series came directly out of my talking with Dell. They spent the last 20 years "pushing the edges" of manufacturing, supply, distribution and pricing [and the world, frankly, would be a lot poorer had they not done so]. Where else can they push outwards? Design? Customer Service? I have no idea. Only they can answer that. [Note to Dell Employees: If you can shed any light on this question, I want to talk to you. Please feel free to ping me at gapingvoid@gmail.com, Thanks.]

10. "Live on the edges or not at all" are pretty empty words, unless you can actually live by them. Harder than it looks. Maybe "Live on The Edges" is the right choice of words to articulate Dell's Purpose-Idea, maybe it isn't. At the very least, it'll start a conversation internally, maybe externally as well. I don't really care at the moment. All I'm trying to do is get my head one step closer to understanding the collective drive of the company. And I don't mind failing a few times in order to get there.

11. Trying to create a "Blue Monster" for any company, be it Microsoft, Dell, or whoever, is basically an act of futility. That's what makes it interesting. That's what makes it potentially powerful. That's what makes me love doing it.

[Backstory: "Blue Monster: Why Social Objects Are The Future Of Marketing"]

[Written at Harry's Tinaja, Alpine, Texas.]

Posted by hugh macleod at 4:46 PM | Comments (22) | TrackBack

November 14, 2008

"stormhoek. made In south africa. drunk in west texas."

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Stormhoek finally got a distribution deal here in Texas, and so now I'm back on the case.

Two problems: 1. No marketing budget to speak of, and 2. I live in Alpine, Texas, 400 miles west of Austin in the high desert mountains.

Looks like I'm going to have to improvise...

No matter. Like I told the folks at Stormhoek, if I can sell South African wine to West Texas cowboys, I can sell it to anybody.

So last week I got me a 4-by-8-foot piece of masonite, and painted a billboard, which I'll soon be putting up by the roadside.

"Stormhoek. Made In South Africa. Drunk in West Texas."

Expect photos and videos to follow... Rock on.

Posted by hugh macleod at 11:18 AM | Comments (13) | TrackBack

November 9, 2008

blue monster: why social objects are the future of marketing

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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.

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.

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.

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”:

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["The Blue Monster". First blogged in October, 2006.]

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.

The headline works on a lot of different levels:

Microsoft telling its potential customers to change the world or go home.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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[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.]

[From "KULA": June 15th, 2007]

The Guardian's Kevin Anderson [who also attended last night's screening] has a nice synopsis of Jaiku Founder, Jyri Engstrom's "Social Objects" idea.

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.

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".

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.

[Starbuck's Coffee Cup: June, 2007]

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.

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[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.

["Social Gestures beget Social Objects": Novemeber, 2007]

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Chris Schroeder riffs on my whole "Social Object" marketing schtick with this very salient thought:

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.]

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[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.

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[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."

[N.B. "Social Objects" is a term I did not coin myself, but was turned onto by the anthropolgist and Jaiku founder, Jyri Engestrom.]

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[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. They don’t ask your company for the brochure until your product has already jumped through a series of hoops that SIMPLY WERE NOT there twenty years ago.

YOU NO LONGER CONTROL THE CONVERSATION. THEN AGAIN, MAYBE YOU NEVER DID.

Human beings are much better at recognizing the linear, rather than recognizing the random and exponential.

1 Oh No! There’s a sabre-tooth tiger heading my way!
2. Run!

That is linear. Our caveman ancestors found it a most useful quality.

We run an ad. Sales go up. So taking the Caveman cue, we frame it in a linear fashion to explain to ourselves the cause and effect.

“People liked our ad so much, they dropped what they were doing, sped down to Wal-Mart and bought our product!”

If only.

What happened was probably more random. You saw an ad for Brand X. A few days later you’re having coffee over at your friend, Pam's house. She has Brand X on her kitchen counter.

“I saw that ad for it the other day,” you say. “Is the stuff any good?”

“Yeah,” she says. “It’s not bad.”

So the next time you’re in the supermarket, you see the product, and buy it. Ker-chiing.

The ad didn’t make the sale. Your friend made the sale, not the ad. The ad merely started a conversation.

This is what they call “Word-Of-Mouth”. When it works, it works very, very well. The main problem is, it rarely does. The marketer has little control of the outcome.

But the marketer’s boss doesn’t want to hear it. The marketer wants to tell his boss this, even less. So we construct mythologies to disguise the fear. Disguise the unknown. Disguise the random, in the world where UNCERTAINTY AND RANDOMNESS MUST NOT BE ALLOWED TO TAKE OVER THE MATRIX. EVER.

YOU AND PAM, HAVING COFFEE.

Pam just sold you a box of Brand X. Pam doesn’t work for Brand X, Pam gets no commission from Brand X, so why did she make the sale, inadvertently, or otherwise?

Go back to what I said in my last post about Social Objects:

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.
When you and Pam met for coffee, you interacted with each other in the context of what anthropologists call “Object-Centerd Sociality”. In other words, you did not socialize in a vacuum, you socialized around objects, you socialized around things. You talked about the Cubs game last week. You talked about how Billy was doing in Third Grade. You talked about this great movie you just saw. You talked about great Pam’s coffee was. And yes, you talked, however briefly, about Brand X. All these things you talked about, an anthropologist would call “Social Objects”. And the thing is, you came over just to chew the fat with Pam. Talking about Billy or the movie or the Cubs game was not part of any pre-agenda. You could’ve talked about other things- books, records, home furnishings, it doesn’t matter- and you would’ve enjoyed your coffee with Pam just as much.

Yes, a lot of socializing is random. Ergo, yes, a lot of marketing is also random.

SO WHERE DOES SOCIAL OBJECTS FIT IN, FROM NOW ON?

From now on you won’t have the TV Commercials to rely on to start your conversations. People are ignoring you. Mass media has simply gotten too expensive. The only way your product is going to spread is by word of mouth. The only way it’s going to get word of mouth is if there is something in it for the person talking about it.

The person you want talking about is not doing it for the money. She'll only talk about it if it serves as a Social Object. A "hook" to move the conversation along. A hook she can use it as a way to relate to her fellow human beings.

THE BAD NEWS IS, MOST PRODUCTS ARE BORING. THE GOOD NEWS IS, MOST WORD-OF-MOUTH IS BORING.

If you’re an average marketer, chances are that Alas! you don’t sell Mercedes’ or Apple iPods for a living. You probably sell some fairly prosaic, utilitarian product. Like Brand X.

Obviously, if your product is more conversation-worthy, like a Mercedes or an iPod, your job will be easier. Nice work if you can get it.

But let's face it, average people are never going to sit down and have a deep and meaningful conversation about Brand X. But hey, maybe over coffee, a couple of little soon-forgotten sentences from somebody like Pam, is enough to make the sale.

I’m fond of saying, “If your product is not a Social Object, why are you in business?”

But of course, as Pam just proved, your product, Brand X, IS INDEED a social object. Just maybe your team needs to hone its thinking a little bit.

[Bonus Link from Jyri Engestrom:] "Why some social network services work and others don't — Or: the case for object-centered sociality."

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[From "The Social Marker- The Social Object on Steroids etc." January, 2008] You all will be familiar with my writings on Social Objects by now.

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.
Increasingly I've been using a term, "Social Marker" to describe a certain type of Social Object. I've found it especially useful for explaining certain ideas to marketing folk.

When two people meet, the first thing they try to do is place each other in context. A social context. So they insert some hints into the conversation:

"I used to know your Uncle Bob."
"I work at Saatchi & Saatchi's.
"I've been reading Malcolm Gladwell for years."
"I'm a member of Soho House."
"I was reading Doc Searls' blog the other day."
"I was college roommates with your ex-girlfriend."
"I was sampling some fine Islay single malts the other evening."
"I bought some Versace shirts from Barney's last week."
"You're a Red Sox fan too?"
"I think Andy Warhol is overrated."
"I think Led Zeppelin is underrated."
"I was having dinner with some guys from Goldman Sachs."
"My wife thinks the Upper West Side is really good for schools."
"San Tropez is too expensive in February."
Let's say, for sake of argument, that you never heard of me before, but I knew all about you. And let's say, for example, you were also the world's greatest Boston Red Sox fan. And let's say I saw you in a coffee shop. And let's say I went over to your table, like a stalker [You don't know me from Adam, remember].

And let's say the first thing out of mouth was a short list of five names:

"Carl Yastrzemski. Carlton Fisk. Rico Petrocelli. Fred Lynn. Dwight Evans."

Yes, granted, that would be pretty strange behavior. That being said, because you knew every single factoid about the 1975 World Series there was to know, you would know exactly who and what I was talking about. Right away, you would know that we shared a context, even though I had only given you five names and nothing else. Which would make you more likely to invite me to sit down at your table and start a conversation.

Every ecosystem has its own, unique set of social markers- nouns that serve as social shorthand, stuff you use to let other people know ASAP that you know what you're talking about, that you are a fellow "citizen" in a certain space.

When I visit San Francisco I am always surprised how often the name of my friend, Robert Scoble comes up in random conversation, unprompted by myself. Why is that? Why is he so well known? Is his blog REALLY that good? Is he REALLY that smart and interesting?

Well, I could give a whole stack of reasons to explain why I think Robert's success is well-deserved. But one major reason that his blog's traffic is so high, and his name so well-known, is that his personal brand has somehow managed to become a Social Marker inside the Silicon Valley ecosystem. The same could also be said for Mike Arrington, Loic Le Meur or Mark Zuckerberg. Dropping their names into random conversations allows people to quickly and efficiently contextualize themselves.

Something similar happened to me a couple of years ago. A artist friend of mine was hitting on a girl, another artist, in a bar in New York's Lower East Side. For whatever reason, the subject of "Art and the Internet" came up. So my friend started telling the girl about this other friend of his, this guy living over in England, who drew these weird little cartoons on the back of business cards...

"That is SO unoriginal," the girl interrupts, rolling her eyeballs. "Who does he think he is, Hugh MacLeod?"

Heh. Small world. Yes. She was using me as a Social Marker.

Social Markers are a prime form of social shorthand, that people use to STAKE OUT the ecosystem they're occupying. So why do I find this such a useful term for marketers? Because obviously, if your product is a Social Marker in your industry ecosystem [the way the iPhone is in the mobile world, or Starbucks is in the coffee world, or Amazon is the book world, or Google is in the search world, or Whole Foods is in the supermarket world, or Virgin is in the airline world, or English Cut in the bespoke world etc etc] you will have an AMAZING competitive advantage to call your own.

And if the product your company makes is not a Social Marker, I guess the first question would be, "Why the hell not?" Quit your job and start over.

[Update:] Neal makes a really good point in the comments: Really interesting thought, Hugh, but bad products could also be a social marker - "ah, yes, I was ripped off by that building company too" or "oh - you'll be disappointed by that mobile phone as well". I'd suggest there's also a variable here about positive v negative that you should think about before quitting that job :)

[Bonus Link] US News & World Report: "Selling in a Post-Meatball Era- The quest for 'social objects' that create their own Web buzz." Seth Godin in a great interview to plug his new book, Meatball Sundae. "Social Object" given a small mention etc.

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[From "Free Cartoons As Social Objects": May, 2008] When I first started putting up cartoons onto gapingvoid in 2001, they were in a small, 400-pixel-wide format, just like the "Love Letter" cartoon you see above.

Then about 2 years ago, I started posting them in high-resolution, like the "Dinosaur" cartoon below [Click on the image and the high-res version will pop up].

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This meant people could actually download the images and start using them for their own stuff. Like I said in my licensing terms,

Hey, if you want to put the work up on your website, blog, or stick it on paper, t-shirts, business cards, stickers, homemade greeting cards, Powerpoint slides, or whatever, as far as I'm concerned, as long as it's just for your own personal use, as long as you're not trying to make money off it directly, and you're giving me due attribution, I'm totally cool with the idea.

As a "Social Object", a cartoon that one can actually print out and hang on their cube wall, or put on a t-shirt, a business card etc is far more powerful and useful than say, YET ONE MORE IMAGE you can find on the internet and e-mail en masse to your friends.

i.e. The cartoon itself hasn't changed, but the interaction between it and the "End User" is suddenly far more meaningful.

So of course, the next layman's question is, "Yes, but... how do you monetize it?"

And of course, the answer is, "Indirectly".

For example, in October, 2006 I post the Microsoft Blue Monster cartoon. Within a few months Microsoft is somehow paying me a lot of money to do other drawings for them. Without the former, the latter would never have happened. And without the latter, Sun Microsystems would never have approached me. Everything feeds into everything else. Exactly.

In other words, I don't create the online cartoons as "products" to be sold. I create the cartoons as "Social Objects", i.e. "Sharing Devices" that help me to build relationships with.

As with all things, the REAL value comes from the human relationships that are built AROUND the social object, not the object in itself.

I'll quote my friend, Mark Earls one more time. This is from his second book, "Herd":

"Cova is surely right to suggest that much of modern consumer behaviour is social in nature. We do it not just in a social context (tangible and immediately present or over distances) but for social reasons -- that is the object or activity is the means for a group or tribe to form or interact. This also echoes a lot of what Douglas Atkin describes in his study of cult brands -- brands which have developed a cult status (like Apple, and Ford's bestselling pickup) seem to serve an underlying social need within each individual (just as religious cults do): a need to belong. The real draw is probably not the brand but... other people."
And I'll also ask my favorite question, one more time: If your product is not a "Social Object", how on earth do you manage to stay in business?

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(Cartoon taken from The Hughtrain etc.)

Like I said in my interview with Mark Earls, The Blue Monster is a "Purpose-Idea". As Mark, the man who first coined the term explains it:

Put really simply, the Purpose-Idea is the "What For?" of a business, or any kind of community. What exists to change (or protect) in the world, why employees get out of bed in the morning, what difference the business seeks to make on behalf of customers and employees and everyone else? BTW this is not "mission, vision, values" territory - it's about real drives, passions and beliefs. The stuff that men in suits tend to get embarrassed about because it's personal. But it's the stuff that makes the difference between success and failure, because this kind of stuff brings folk together in all aspects of human life.
Real drives, passions and beliefs. Exactly.

The Blue Monster line, "Change The World Or Go Home" is not rocket science or literary brilliance. It just articulates a simple belief, a simple passion, a simple drive THAT ALREADY EXISTED, long before The Blue Monster ever came on to the scene. That's all it was ever meant to do.

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[The Microsoft Blue Monster etc.]

Whether you agree or disagree with it doesn't matter, the important bit is that people within Microsoft believe it. Unlike a conventional ad campaign, it's not about you. It's about them.

Why is something like this potentially valuable to a business? Simply put, if you believe something passionately enough, for long enough, articulate it well enough, and your actions are aligned, credible and consistent with your belief for long enough, it's just a matter of time before other people start believing it, too. And next thing you know, you have an interesting conversation going on, both inside and outside the company. And as Doc Searls famously said, "Markets are conversations". Ker-Chiing.

Again, none of this is rocket science. Talking to people never is.

When people ask me what exactly is a Blue Monster, I tell them, it's not necessarily a cartoon. It's simply a social object that allows one to more easily articulate the Purpose-Idea. No more, no less.

I've been asking myself for years, what comes after conventional, Madison-Avenue-style advertising, now that we live in a post-TV, post-advertising, post-message world? "Creating Blue Monsters" is the closest I've ever come to finding an actual answer.

Besides drawing the cartoons, helping other companies create Blue Monsters is how I intend to spend the remainder of my career.

Cartoons and Blue Monsters. I really do have the world's greatest job. Rock on.

[To Be Continued....]

Posted by hugh macleod at 5:21 PM | Comments (22) | TrackBack

November 3, 2008

"crowd surfing": ten questions for edelman's david brain

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When I lived in London last year, one of my best pals was David Brain, CEO of Edelman Europe [The largest private, global PR firm in the world]. Our schtick was to meet for breakfast about twice a month, and just talk about the crazy world happening around us. Sometimes we'd invite other friends along, like Steve Clayton or Lee Thomas. Other times we'd meet at The Groucho Club after work, drink some beers, and hatch new secret evil plans. It was fun times all round.

"Crowd Surfing": 10 Questions for Edelman's David Brain

1. Let's cut to the chase. You just co-authored a book with Martin Thomas, "Crowd Surfing". Please give us the schpiel.

Martin and I were interested in how companies and organisations were managing to deal with the new empowered consumer. There’s been a lot written about the crowd, but less about how the people inside big companies deal with it. As you know we have some experience of this with Edelman clients, so at the heart of the book is a series of interviews with some interesting people who have to juggle the often conflicting demands of the crowd and the company.

2. What made you want to write this particular book? You're already busy enough, you're already doing well enough professionally, so what was the motive? What was the conversation you wanted to start with people, that wasn't happening already?

Well, someone once told me that a great way to start a conversation was to create a ‘social object’....and to some degree this is my social object. There is something about publishing a book that allows you to have a different type of conversation with clients, colleagues and prospects, and that has proven to be the case. We are now talking to many clients for whom this stuff was in the ‘too difficult’ basket, and somehow talking about case studies from the book has made that easier. I also felt that the corporate side of the story has been underplayed. The heroes of this book are not bloggers or consumer activists but the people inside firms who have changed their companies (sometimes at significant career risk) to better serve the new consumer. People like Microsoft’s Steve Clayton and Dell’s Richard Binhammer.

3. It seems both the Microsoft Blue Monster and the folks I'm currently working with at Dell [Lionel, Richard, Bruce etc] feature heavily in the book. What was it about these stories that sparked your interest?

Sometimes it is easy for an entrepreneur or small business to be in tune with their customers or stakeholders, because their scale (or lack of it) means everyone is close to the customer (an obvious point I know, but size does sometimes matter). The bigger a firm gets the more difficult that becomes . Big companies need robust processes and structures to organise, to do what it is they do, and that can mean that the people inside can sometimes begin to focus on those processes and structures to the exclusion of the customer or the crowd. Dell and Microsoft have both worked really hard to find ways to bring the crowd inside the firm (at the cost of significant disruption) so that they don’t make that mistake. For me, where the crowd meets the organisation is where the real action is.

4. We've had this conversation many times before in private, allow me to take it public: You and I both believe that in this hyper-digital, post-Cluetrain world of ours, the PR industry has a huge opportunity, simply by taking huge chunks of business away from what was traditionally the domain of the large advertising agencies. I'm thinking the work Edelman did for Dove's Campaign For Real Beauty would be a good example of this. Care to elaborate on the business model?

Everything these days is work in progress. Customers and stakeholders know that about the companies and brands that are part of their life, and yet many of those companies still seem to over-use the mass communication vehicles of the industrial age, presenting a perfect ‘image’ or a ‘lifestyle’ and looking for aspiration or approval. So much advertising, direct marketing and promotion (and some PR to be fair) is a one-way street and that just does not fit the world I see around me. PR, or good PR at least, was always about things like relationship, influence and dialogue (in the old days focused more on the elite few maybe, but now with the many as well) and so PR now has an even more central role in helping companies align with stakeholders and customers by properly engaging with them. Thankfully many firms and brands are seeing this and many PR people (in agencies and in-house) are embracing this new mandate and the responsibility that comes with it. Every day the false certainties peddled by the old-school advertising agencies look more and more out of place and time.

5. You weren't always in PR. You also have backgrounds in advertising and journalism. Like you once told me, "Anybody who's any good at this business, usually ended up working in it by accident." What's your story? How did you end up in it?

You have a good memory. It was indeed a distress purchase. I was briefly in journalism but got turfed out by the recession of the mid 80s, and had to parlay my training into something to pay the bills. I have also been in advertising (in Asia in the 90’s) and client side, but have always come back to PR, which I guess shows a lack of imagination to some extent.

6. You're not just a PR flack, you actually run a pretty sizable business. What's the toughest part of your job as CEO?

Finding good people. At Edelman in Europe, Middle East and Africa we now have just under a 1,000 people across wholly owned offices in 14 countries, and we always have vacancies for talent. You have helped us find people in the past as you remember, and one of the best things for us about social media has been the ability to spot talent and people who ‘get it’ by what they say and do online.

7. When we think of PR, we think of the stereotypical smoothie in an Italian suit, schmoozing away at some fancy sponsored event [See "Pickaxe" cartoon above]. But as we both know, Global PR is actually a pretty sophisticated business. Again, back to a conversation we've had more than once, the big challenge for PR firms in the next decade is all about becoming more culturally and technically diverse, AWAY from the typical smoothie archetype, towards something more hardcore, valuable and interesting. How does Edelman Europe see the challenge? Do you see a "new breed" of PR practitioner emerging?

I do see a new breed. PR used to be based on the top-down principle of managing a few relationships with senior journalists or stakeholders. These respected authorities would say good things about your business or firm and the world would gratefully receive their view and act accordingly. Well as you know, that world got blown up and the new democratised world of the enfranchised consumer and the occasional angry crowd has forced businesses (and the PR people and firms that advise them) to open up. It used to be in this business that you could trade on who you know, and now it has swung much more to what you know as well. I can’t imagine hiring people these days who are not actively engaged in the conversation or community in some form . You can’t fake this stuff. And so that means we always look for technical skills, people with a wide set of interests and a passion for something (other than work). Richard Edelman calls this 'Living in Colour....the idea that if you only live for the office and home you become a little grey. And if you cut off from the world in that way, you are much less use to our clients, who are looking for insight and advice and connection.

8. Of all the global players, it seems to me that Edelman got seriously interested in the implications of Web 2.0 sooner than the other big guys. Hence Richard Edelman hiring Steve Rubel etc. What was it about 2.0 that initially got Edelman all excited, where did you see the opportunity for your business, and what was particularly unique about the company that allowed you to arrive there first?

It really was Richard Edelman. He was banging on about this stuff five years ago when I joined the firm, and I was probably the leading naysayer at the time (I may even have expressed the view that blogging was like CB radio). The Trust Study, the big survey we do each year, had given us some clues when it showed that a ‘person like me’ was becoming a credible source of information on companies and organisations. ‘A person like me’ is now globally the number one credible source of information on companies...the CEO is the seventh most credible! And once we got our heads around that and the seismic changes of which that was just one part, the rest was about putting our money where our mouth was. And Richard hired people who got it, like Steve Rubel, and we invested in research and we bought digital agencies for their technical and creative skills, and we adapted their ways into the mainstream of the firm and invited in people like you who addressed our teams and our clients. And of course training, training, training. But we did make some bloody big mistakes along the way as everybody knows, and boy, did we ever learn from them!

9. Edelman is privately-owned. All your big, main competitors [Weber Shandwick etc] are subsidiaries of the large, publicly-owned advertising conglomerates [Interpublic, WPP etc]. Pros? Cons?

Every shareholder is in the firm, and that means that what’s right for the clients, the people and the business is never diluted by Wall Street or some bully-boy advertising suit. When I worked at some of the advertising-company-dominated, publicly-owned firms you could never point out advertising’s limitations...you were muzzled. We can say precisely what we think is right for the client without worry- and no other PR firm of scale is in that position. On the money front, because we don’t have outside shareholders bleeding cash out of the firm, we can re-invest in intellectual property like research, and in new products and training. I really can’t think of any cons.

10. What advice would you give to a bright young thing wanting to break into the PR business? More specifically, what advice would you give today, that you wouldn't have given say, a decade ago? In other words, for a young person just entering the trade, how has the world changed in the last ten years?

Be involved and have a voice. When I got into this business in the early Jurassic period those two things were much more difficult to do. But society has changed and it is easy to express opinions and debate and join with like-minded people to pursue your interests. It does not all have to be online, but obviously much of it is now. And we look for that. Someone who is interested and passionate about something and who contributes. I still expect new joiners to be passionate about news, culture and politics in the traditional senses too, but what you read through your aggregator and via your community is as important as what you can buy at the news stand (OK not the most original point, but you would be amazed how many people still come to interviews with no views on news and no understanding or participation in social media). One other thing that has struck me about people joining the business now, especially in the US and the UK, is that they are amazingly conservative about their careers. Many look to progress through the ranks in small linear steps, I guess because the business has become so big and so structured. One of the most difficult things is to find people who will take a risk and go live in the Middle East or Moscow or China and I find that so hard to understand having lived and worked outside my country for seven years . . . something which broadened my horizons significantly.

Posted by hugh macleod at 12:44 PM | Comments (8) | TrackBack

November 1, 2008

creating blue monsters: "social objects" that articulate the purpose-idea

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(Cartoon taken from The Hughtrain etc.)

Like I said in my interview with Mark Earls, The Blue Monster is a "Purpose-Idea". As Mark, the man who first coined the term explains it:

Put really simply, the Purpose-Idea is the "What For?" of a business, or any kind of community. What exists to change (or protect) in the world, why employees get out of bed in the morning, what difference the business seeks to make on behalf of customers and employees and everyone else? BTW this is not "mission, vision, values" territory - it's about real drives, passions and beliefs. The stuff that men in suits tend to get embarrassed about because it's personal. But it's the stuff that makes the difference between success and failure, because this kind of stuff brings folk together in all aspects of human life.
Real drives, passions and beliefs. Exactly.

The Blue Monster line, "Change The World Or Go Home" is not rocket science or literary brilliance. It just articulates a simple belief, a simple passion, a simple drive THAT ALREADY EXISTED, long before The Blue Monster ever came on to the scene. That's all it was ever meant to do.

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[The Microsoft Blue Monster etc.]

Whether you agree or disagree with it doesn't matter, the important bit is that people within Microsoft believe it. Unlike a conventional ad campaign, it's not about you. It's about them.

Why is something like this potentially valuable to a business? Simply put, if you believe something passionately enough, for long enough, articulate it well enough, and your actions are aligned, credible and consistent with your belief for long enough, it's just a matter of time before other people start believing it, too. And next thing you know, you have an interesting conversation going on, both inside and outside the company. And as Doc Searls famously said, "Markets are conversations". Ker-Chiing.

Again, none of this is rocket science. Talking to people never is.

When people ask me what exactly is a Blue Monster, I tell them, it's not necessarily a cartoon. It's simply a social object that allows one to more easily articulate the Purpose-Idea. No more, no less.

I've been asking myself for years, what comes after conventional, Madison-Avenue-style advertising, now that we live in a post-TV, post-advertising, post-message world? "Creating Blue Monsters" is the closest I've ever come to finding an actual answer.

Besides drawing the cartoons, helping other companies create Blue Monsters is how I intend to spend the remainder of my career.

Cartoons and Blue Monsters. I really do have the world's greatest job. Rock on.

[More Blue Monster background reading here.]


Posted by hugh macleod at 8:00 PM | Comments (13) | TrackBack

notes on russian kettlebells

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For the last few weeks, I've been having fun with my latest hobby- Russian Kettlebells. Here are some random thoughts:

1. They're pretty brutal to play with; the good news is they're great for both cardio and strength. Unlike gyms or exercise classes, they're cheap and don't require huge amounts of time. 30 minutes and a bit of flat grass in the park is all you need.

2. Back in New York in 1998, I was working with free weights and doing Kung Fu classes, pretty much every day (My Kung Fu teacher rocked). I was a monster. I liked it. Since then, I've been looking for that groove again, and failing for the most part. I think the reason is, to train that obsessively for so long is unsustainable. That being said, it was a good coping mechanism for the stress of that city. Now my needs are much simpler.

3. I was turned on to kettlebells by a master blacksmith in Scotland, who makes his own. "A gym in the palm of your hand", is how he described it. Like the "cartoons drawn on the back of business cards" format, the utter simplicity of the idea appealed to me. Life is complicated enough.

4. Kettlebells are easy to hurt yourself with, if you're not good at respecting your limitations. The few few weeks I had them, my initial enthusiasm for my new hobby taught me a few painful lessons. Now I watch my lower back like a laser.

5. Unlike free weights, they have a certain quality that makes training with them rather "Playfull". I like that. So much of modern exercise is sheer drudgery. Instead, here's a fun YouTube video of some guys on a beach, "playing" with kettlebells. It's like watching a bunch of guys tossing around a frisbee, only heavier [No, you don't need to toss them around like the guys on the beach. For the more basic kettlebell moves, go here. And for super-advanced, "Kettlebell Juggling", look at this video.].

6. I use 35-pounders for upper body stuff, 55-pounders for lower body. Doesn't sound too heavy until you try it, then you find out really quickly.

7. There's a wealth of good learning material online, but this book, besides being an amusing read, I found very helpful. My favorite line: "Burn fat without the dishonor of aerobics." Heh.

8. They're called "Russian" kettlebells, although they've been used all over Europe for centuries. They're still used in Scottish Highland games, for instance, but the Russians are the ones who use them the most, it seems. A 55-pounder has been a basic, traditional training tool in the Russian Military for well over a hundred years.

9. Kettlebells are more about "the importance of functional strength, rather than purely aesthetic gains". Hence their appeal to the Russian military.

10. I have no big plans with this. No massive ambition re. feats of strength. I just want an exercise that (A) works for me and (B) easy to do every day. So far, so good.

11. Yes, Russian kettlebells are social objects.

[Update:] To qualify as a RKC Instructor, you have to pass the RKC Snatch Test with a 24 kilo kettlebell. This YouTube video shows what's involved. Harder than it looks etc. Also, Snatch Testing video at the 2007 World Championships in Miami. Ouch.

Posted by hugh macleod at 4:36 PM | Comments (13) | TrackBack

October 31, 2008

mass marketing and the heroic, lone individual

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From my recent 'Ten Questions' with Mark Earls:

7. In "Creative Age", you destroyed a very sacred cow of the agency world, The Brand. With your second book, "Herd", you successfully went after an equally massive agency sacred cow: The Idea of Consumer as "Heroic Individual" [Embodied by cultural icons like The Marlboro Man, or the existential athlete wearing Nike's]. Your message seemed to be, actually guys, we're social animals. We're social primates; we behave more like chimps and gorillas, more than we behave like lone, cigarette-smoking cowboys. Care to explain the idea further?

[Mark's Answer:] Again to simplify: Human beings are to independent action, what cats are to swimming. We can do it if we really have to, but mostly we don't... Instead, we do what we do because of what those around us are doing (Whatever our minds and our cultures tell us).

So if you want to change what I'm doing, don't try to persuade me- don't try to make me- do anything. Instead, enlist the help of my friends...

But not crudely (as in "Recommendation"). That's just persuasion by another name: another "Push" tactic. I'm convinced the answer lies in creating "Pull" (i.e. Social) forces.

When I wrote that question for Mark, I'd been thinking a lot about the "Heroic, Lone Individual" schtick in mass media, particularly with mass marketing.

Most mass-market messages are consumed alone. Most of the ones we see are so unremarkable- think of a late-night TV commercial for a local car dealer, for example- they're not Social Objects, they don't warrant us doing the social, they don't warrant us sharing them with people. Sure, we can gather in groups around the TV and be watching the same commercial, but the commercial is not genuinely addressing us as a group. It's trying trying to pick us off, one by one.

Ergo, the world of mass marketing is basically a lonely place. Which makes the Marlboro Man- think riding the range with no other people for miles around- or the existential athlete- think Tiger Woods, about to make the amazing putt- the perfect citizen for it.

Then along comes the internet. Along comes interactive. Along comes "sharing". Along comes media that actually creates real social behavior, as opposed to just trying to create idealized, theatrical versions of it..

Suddenly Mr. Lonesome Heroic seems a bit out of place.

Posted by hugh macleod at 2:29 PM | Comments (12) | TrackBack

October 17, 2008

note to my "tribe": where are we all headed, anyway?

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Crystal from Ohio sent me this picture last night. Apparently she liked one of my cartoons so much, she went ahead and got it made into a tattoo. Thanks, Crystal! That's a huge compliment.

This is the second time I've seen this happen with my work. The first time was with the Microsoft Blue Monster.

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So if people permanently embellishing their own human skin with my work is anything to go by, it seems my "Tribe" is building (with all these thousands of people seeing my work online every week, I suppose it's to be expected).

And as our mutual friend, Seth says, every tribe needs a leader:

The next frontier of marketing is in leading groups of people who are working together to get somewhere.
I concur. So I'm guessing that "Leader" job now falls down to me.

Don't get too excited. I'm not Gandhi, I'm just a cartoonist in West Texas with a few crazy ideas up my sleeve. I find the prospect of leading a "tribe" a bit daunting, to be honest.

Leadership does not exist in a vacuum, you need somewhere to actually lead your tribe to. Moses had the Land of Milk & Honey. MLK had The Promised Land. Thomas Jefferson had the newly-formed United States. Putin has a strong and proud Russia. Doc Searls has The Cluetrain. Steve Clayton and his friends within Microsoft have The Blue Monster.

Me? I have no idea. Like I said, I'm just a cartoonist...

The good news is, to lead a tribe you don't necessarily have to have a promised land, a utopian vision, or a new world order to lead a tribe. You simply need what my other great marketing friend, Mark Earls calls "The Purpose-Idea", which as a bona fide Social Object, is THE REASON why people are joining together in the first place.

I've been telling my clients for years now, if you're going to have a following, a community, a "tribe", it can't just be about you and your lovely product. It's got to be about something higher than, and beyond... yourself.

What is true for them is, yes, also true for me. Like I told my good friend, James Governor on Twitter the other day,

If I'm to lead a "Tribe", it needs to be for MUCH better reasons than "Please buy my lithographs, they're very nice etc."
Or my original drawings. Or my book. Or my consulting services. Or my speaking gigs. Or whatever.

So WHAT IS my Purpose-Idea, beyond getting people to read my cartoons and hire me for the occasional paid work? In spite of all the advice I'm always giving to other people, I'm not always 100% sure, myself.

Yes, it's still a work in progress, though I DO know that doing what I can to help other people and companies learn "How To Be Creative" figures heavily in the equation.

Posted by hugh macleod at 11:23 AM | Comments (22) | TrackBack

June 30, 2008

social object: "sweaty betty"

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Sweaty Betty. Though I'm not exactly their target market, I love this brand. They have a store next door to one of my regular London watering holes, which is how I first came across them. From the moment I read their sign, I just "got it".

The name is fun, it's memorable, it describes what they're selling perfectly, and it's so... English. It doesn't take itself that seriously. Though Sweaty Betty is going for the upper end of the market, this isn't gym wear for the uptight, self-important crowd.

And yes, it's a social object. Their story is easy to relay at a cocktail party, even after a couple of drinks. Some nicely designed gear, a good vibe and a fun name; sometimes that's all you need.


Posted by hugh macleod at 6:11 AM | Comments (15) | TrackBack

June 25, 2008

creating "blue monsters"

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[BACKSTORY: A year and a half ago, I created the Blue Monster cartoon, which with the help of Microsoft's Steve Clayton, took on a life of its own inside the Microsoft Corp. It was fun, interesting, Steve and I were well pleased etc.]

A few weeks ago, I talked about "Blue Monster 2.0". I alluded to a new direction I was taking; I thought I'd elaborate further:

Creating Blue Monsters, I believe, is a fine way for a marketing guy to spend his time. Especially as I'm fond of saying that Blue Monsters are "The Future of Marketing".

[NB. In its simplest form, a Blue Monster is my pet name for a "Social Object" designed to bring about cultural change within an organization. It certainly worked well enough at Microsoft etc.]

Can another Blue Monster be created? Can lighting strike twice? Can lighting strike outside of Microsoft? I believe it can. Only, there has to be some ground rules. The client in question has to be ready for it, has to want it see it happen.

Ideas within companies are like people within companies. It doesn't matter how good thy are, there has to be a cultural fit or else it's a complete waste of time; you're just fighting a losing battle.

I have an evil plan. Weighing options...

Posted by hugh macleod at 1:19 PM | Comments (8) | TrackBack

May 31, 2008

"think geek"

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[Click on image to enlarge/download/print etc. Licensing terms here etc.]

[From October, 2007:]

My definition of a geek is, “Somebody who socializes via objects.”

When you think about it, we’re all geeks. 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 Bhuddism. 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.

It's hard for me to think of marketing, without thinking in terms of Social Objects. It's hard for me to think of marketing, without thinking how the geeks fit in the equation.

So many people start out trying to market to Mr and Mrs Average. I think they'd have better luck if they thought of the geeks first.

"Think Geek."

[Afterthought:] Someone in the comments asks, "Doesn't the product also need to make sense to non-geeks?"

It would depend on the product, it would depend how "specialist" it is, I suppose. Can you show me an interesting, successful product that the geeks hate, but the non-geeks love?

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May 29, 2008

grain of sand

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[From my Twitter feed. There I go, channeling Seth Godin again...]

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May 18, 2008

free cartoons as "social objects"

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When I first started putting up cartoons onto gapingvoid in 2001, they were in a small, 400-pixel-wide format, just like the "Love Letter" cartoon you see above.

Then about 2 years ago, I started posting them in high-resolution, like the "Dinosaur" cartoon below [Click on the image and the high-res version will pop up].

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This meant people could actually download the images and start using them for their own stuff. Like I said in my licensing terms,

Hey, if you want to put the work up on your website, blog, or stick it on paper, t-shirts, business cards, stickers, homemade greeting cards, Powerpoint slides, or whatever, as far as I'm concerned, as long as it's just for your own personal use, as long as you're not trying to make money off it directly, and you're giving me due attribution, I'm totally cool with the idea.

As a "Social Object", a cartoon that one can actually print out and hang on their cube wall, or put on a t-shirt, a business card etc is far more powerful and useful than say, YET ONE MORE IMAGE you can find on the internet and e-mail en masse to your friends.

i.e. The cartoon itself hasn't changed, but the interaction between it and the "End User" is suddenly far more meaningful.

So of course, the next layman's question is, "Yes, but... how do you monetize it?"

And of course, the answer is, "Indirectly".

For example, in October, 2006 I post the Microsoft Blue Monster cartoon. Within a few months Microsoft is somehow paying me a lot of money to do other drawings for them. Without the former, the latter would never have happened. And without the latter, Sun Microsystems would never have approached me. Everything feeds into everything else. Exactly.

In other words, I don't create the online cartoons as "products" to be sold. I create the cartoons as "Social Objects", i.e. "Sharing Devices" that help me to build relationships with.

As with all things, the REAL value comes from the human relationships that are built AROUND the social object, not the object in itself.

I'll quote my friend, Mark Earls one more time. This is from his second book, "Herd":

"Cova is surely right to suggest that much of modern consumer behaviour is social in nature. We do it not just in a social context (tangible and immediately present or over distances) but for social reasons -- that is the object or activity is the means for a group or tribe to form or interact. This also echoes a lot of what Douglas Atkin describes in his study of cult brands -- brands which have developed a cult status (like Apple, and Ford's bestselling pickup) seem to serve an underlying social need within each individual (just as religious cults do): a need to belong. The real draw is probably not the brand but... other people."
And I'll also ask my favorite question, one more time: If your product is not a "Social Object", how on earth do you manage to stay in business?

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May 8, 2008

"the blue monster is the future of marketing"

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I haven't talked about The Blue Monster for a while.

The Blue Monster, as you will remember, is a cartoon-based "Social Object" that me and my Microsoft buddy, Steve Clayton, unleashed on the good but unsuspecting folk at Microsoft. For those unfamiliar with it, you can find the backstory here on Google.

One of the reasons I haven't talked about it much lately, is simply because there is no longer the need. To paraphrase Steve, "It's already out there, it's already working its magic. It has a life of its own and it no longer needs us."

Exactly. And as my friend, Tara Hunt so rightly pointed out, to push it too hard, especially with Microsoft management giving it a big thumbs-up, would somehow defeat the purpose. If overused, "Subversion as a marketing tool" can be counterproductive, especially if it comes from above.

In 2007, the conversation was all about "THE" Blue Monster. But in 2008, a new conversation seems to be emerging: "A" Blue Monster.

Let me explain:

I've been talking to some companies recently, talking about doing some new business with them. Without any doubt, the question I get asked the most is, "Can you make a Blue Monster for us?"

Obviously, when they're talking about "A" Blue Monster, they're not talking about a wee blue cartoon character with pointy horns, that hails from Redmond, Washington.

What they're talking about, of course, is a "Social Object", not necessarily a cartoon, designed to create what I loosely describe as "Marketing Disruption".

It's not unlike when you're talking about Seth Godin. When you say, "THE" Purple Cow, you're talking about his wonderful and seminal marketing book from a few years ago. But when you talk about "A" Purple Cow, you're just talking a about a product, any product, which from a marketing standpoint has been designed so well, it does not need any traditional marketing per se. It's so "remarkable" for what it is, people can't help but talk about it. And so the word spreads, almost by magic. Seth actually gives a really good example of exactly that here.

So what's the difference between a Purple Cow and a Blue Monster? Well, we could split hairs on that one forever, but for me, the main difference is Purple Cows have their "remarkability" baked into the product. Blue Monsters are more about the "Social", the interesting bit is the interactions that happen AROUND the product. That's what gave our little wine company the edge when marketing Stormhoek. The VAST majority of our conversation was not about the wine in the bottle. The conversation WAS ALL ABOUT the people drinking it. As we were fond of saying, "Wine is the ultimate social object. It's only interesting AFTER the cork is pulled."

So in conclusion, yes, something has recently evolved in my thinking. Though my relationship with Microsoft remains as strong as ever, "Blue Monster" now means something far bigger to me than just cartoons, gapingvoid, Microsoft, Redmond etc. The Blue Monster is all about the Social Object.

I have often said, I believe Social Objects are the future of marketing.

Let me modify that slightly: I believe the Blue Monster is the future of marketing.

[UPDATE:] Steve Clayton sent me the following message on Twitter:

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I replied back:

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[Afterthought:] Understanding the Blue Monster means understanding the need to be "bigger than yourself". Exactly.


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March 23, 2008

"social gestures beget social objects"

When I was last in San Francisco a few weeks ago, my good friend, Shel Israel interviewed me, as part of his new FastCompany.com gig. We talked about "Social Objects", with a heavy emphasis on "Social Markers". It was a fun time. Thanks for the opportunity, Shel!

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January 26, 2008

johnnie moore on social objects

Johnnie Moore, my frequent collaborator on All Things Evil, makes a good point about Social Objects:

So don't let all the talk about social objects make you think that marketing is all about the props. The props are great if they spark relationships, and they may look important as markers of relationships... but they're not the real magic.


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January 16, 2008

the social marker- the "social object" on steroids

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You all will be familiar with my writings on Social Objects by now.

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.
Increasingly I've been using a term, "Social Marker" to describe a certain type of Social Object. I've found it especially useful for explaining certain ideas to marketing folk.

When two people meet, the first thing they try to do is place each other in context. A social context. So they insert some hints into the conversation:

"I used to know your Uncle Bob."
"I work at Saatchi & Saatchi's.
"I've been reading Malcolm Gladwell for years."
"I'm a member of Soho House."
"I was reading Doc Searls' blog the other day."
"I was college roommates with your ex-girlfriend."
"I was sampling some fine Islay single malts the other evening."
"I bought some Versace shirts from Barney's last week."
"You're a Red Sox fan too?"
"I think Andy Warhol is overrated."
"I think Led Zeppelin is underrated."
"I was having dinner with some guys from Goldman Sachs."
"My wife thinks the Upper West Side is really good for schools."
"San Tropez is too expensive in February."
Let's say, for sake of argument, that you never heard of me before, but I knew all about you. And let's say, for example, you were also the world's greatest Boston Red Sox fan. And let's say I saw you in a coffee shop. And let's say I went over to your table, like a stalker [You don't know me from Adam, remember].

And let's say the first thing out of mouth was a short list of five names:

"Carl Yastrzemski. Carlton Fisk. Rico Petrocelli. Fred Lynn. Dwight Evans."

Yes, granted, that would be pretty strange behavior. That being said, because you knew every single factoid about the 1975 World Series there was to know, you would know exactly who and what I was talking about. Right away, you would know that we shared a context, even though I had only given you five names and nothing else. Which would make you more likely to invite me to sit down at your table and start a conversation.

Every ecosystem has its own, unique set of social markers- nouns that serve as social shorthand, stuff you use to let other people know ASAP that you know what you're talking about, that you are a fellow "citizen" in a certain space.

When I visit San Francisco I am always surprised how often the name of my friend, Robert Scoble comes up in random conversation, unprompted by myself. Why is that? Why is he so well known? Is his blog REALLY that good? Is he REALLY that smart and interesting?

Well, I could give a whole stack of reasons to explain why I think Robert's success is well-deserved. But one major reason that his blog's traffic is so high, and his name so well-known, is that his personal brand has somehow managed to become a Social Marker inside the Silicon Valley ecosystem. The same could also be said for Mike Arrington, Loic Le Meur or Mark Zuckerberg. Dropping their names into random conversations allows people to quickly and efficiently contextualize themselves.

Something similar happened to me a couple of years ago. A artist friend of mine was hitting on a girl, another artist, in a bar in New York's Lower East Side. For whatever reason, the subject of "Art and the Internet" came up. So my friend started telling the girl about this other friend of his, this guy living over in England, who drew these weird little cartoons on the back of business cards...

"That is SO unoriginal," the girl interrupts, rolling her eyeballs. "Who does he think he is, Hugh MacLeod?"

Heh. Small world. Yes. She was using me as a Social Marker.

Social Markers are a prime form of social shorthand, that people use to STAKE OUT the ecosystem they're occupying. So why do I find this such a useful term for marketers? Because obviously, if your product is a Social Marker in your industry ecosystem [the way the iPhone is in the mobile world, or Starbucks is in the coffee world, or Amazon is the book world, or Google is in the search world, or Whole Foods is in the supermarket world, or Virgin is in the airline world, or English Cut in the bespoke world etc etc] you will have an AMAZING competitive advantage to call your own.

And if the product your company makes is not a Social Marker, I guess the first question would be, "Why the hell not?" Quit your job and start over.

[Update:] Neal makes a really good point in the comments: Really interesting thought, Hugh, but bad products could also be a social marker - "ah, yes, I was ripped off by that building company too" or "oh - you'll be disappointed by that mobile phone as well". I'd suggest there's also a variable here about positive v negative that you should think about before quitting that job :)

[Bonus Link] US News & World Report: "Selling in a Post-Meatball Era- The quest for 'social objects' that create their own Web buzz." Seth Godin in a great interview to plug his new book, Meatball Sundae. "Social Object" given a small mention etc.

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January 7, 2008

note to marketers: people like treats, dammit!

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It’s now a well-told story. Krispy Kreme doughnuts came out of nowhere, attracted a cult following, spread like wildfire, got over-exposed, then collapsed under its own weight. When I could only get them by making a half-hour pilgrimage across town, I went there all the time. Once they became readily available in my local corner deli, I stopped eating them.

When I was a little kid in central Massachusetts, there was this local, old-style dairy named Pinecroft, that served the best ice cream ever, but only during the summer months. Then the dairy got sold to a bigger company, and the next thing you know they were serving ice cream all year round. It never tasted quite the same after that.

Rosé tastes a lot better in the South of France than it does in London, no matter how much you’re paying.

Lobster is considered a real delicacy, expensive stuff. Back in the 19th Century in New England whaling towns, local boarding houses often had the following sign outside them, in order to attract the sailors' business: “Lobster only served 4 days a week!”

I only listen to my CD of King's College Choir during the Christmas holidays. It preserves the magic.

Scrimping and saving over many months for a $4000 English tailored suit is a much more uplifting experience than buying an entire wardrobe of them with a single swish of a diamond-encrusted credit card.

I rarely eat Barbecue, but it’s usually the first thing I head for when I travel to Texas. When I travel to different places, I always like to sample the local fare. I once tried eating Mexican food in Geneva. Never again.

Though they produced all three Lord of The Rings movies at the same time, they made you wait a year between installments. People flocked to see them all.

One of the things I am most looking forward to in 2008 is the final season of Battlestar Galactica. It will be well after summer till I see here in the UK, on DVD [I don't own a TV]. I'll probably buy it the same day it becomes available, and I'll probably watch the entire series in a single, marathon session. I can’t wait!

Back when Kathy Sierra was blogging, she wouldn’t post very often. Every two weeks, perhaps. But BAM! when she wrote, it was stellar stuff. A real treat to read.

I guess you can already see where this is going: People like treats. People are indifferent to commodities, even when the quality of the latter is high. Your downfall begins the minute people no longer have to wait in line in order to get your product, the minute they no longer perceive it as a treat.

[Update:] David St. Lawrence makes a great comment below: "When they are no longer social objects, they are no longer interesting." Exactly.

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January 6, 2008

hughtrain revisited: finding meaning in marketing

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In June, 2004 I drew the cartoon above, which ended up being called "The Hughtrain", affectionately named after The Cluetrain, of course.

I've re-published it here on this blog more times than I'd care to admit, but what the heck, there's something about it, some sort of marketing ideal that continues to inform my thinking.

It was drawn the month I read The Cluetrain for the first time. It was also the month I read Mark Earl's "Death of Marketing" and Tom Peters' "Re-imagine!" for the first time.

Needless to say, all three books changed my life somewhat [especially Mark's, as it turned out]. One evening after work, sitting at the bar, inspired by all the ideas inside these books, I cranked out the cartoon. And just to make sure people knew what the heck I was talking about, I cranked out what then became known as "The Hughtrain Manifesto".

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.

Some people find the whole "Marketing as Religion" angle a bit squeamish. Some people much prefer the straight-talking "This is what you get, this is how much it costs" way of doing business. I don't see anything wrong with that, if it's working for them.

But one thing I've noticed over time is, the search for personal meaning is a never-ending journey. It's something that all normal, healthy people share. And the way said meaning is found is mostly through Love. And Love is found not just in the intoxicating blur of romantic, sexual love, but in an endless myriad of ways. Most of them pretty ordinary and everyday.

But the ordinary and everyday is full of surprises. As a wise old preacher once told me when I was a kid, "Wherever God is, Love is. And God is Everywhere."

A few years after reading it, I am still moved by Anil Dash re-telling the words of his new father-in-law, told on the day Anil and his wife, Alaina got married.

Among the many things that were said, some of the words that my father-in-law shared with us struck me as the best lesson I learned in getting married. And like I said, it could seem simple, even obvious, when you read it on a screen, because it's so universal. But when you live it and make a public commitment to it, it becomes downright profound.

What he told us is that, in the end, only love matters. Success and fame and wealth and even health all fade in time, and in the end all you have is love. And love is what matters. I hope everyone in the world gets the chance to discover that in the way that I have. I love you, Alaina.

If I have succeeded in marketing in the past, the more I think about it, the more I realize that it was not some form of marketing genius on my part. It was simply because, on some level, I gave a damn. On some level, I cared about the product, I cared about the people making and selling it, and I cared about the people using it. And as I found out, passion is surprisingly easy to share, even with folk you don't know. But it has to be there in the first place, and it's devilishly hard to fake.

Using a "social object" to tap into one's shared humanity with other people, whether it's in the guise of a commercial product or not, is both a great pleasure and a great honor. It's why we're here, after all. To Love.

And that's all marketing really needs to be in the end. An act of Love. An act of the universal human longing- the longing to bring the infinite into the realm of the finite. Four years later, The Hughtrain cartoon remains as relevant to me as ever.

[Bonus Link: The podcast I made with Mark Earls and Johnnie Moore over the weekend is now up on Johnnie's blog..]



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January 3, 2008

early blog marketing: young adam

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(Tilda Swinton and Ewan McGregor in "Young Adam")

Four years ago, I had a go at "blog marketing" my old friend Dave Mackenzie's film, "Young Adam". It went on to achieve cult status, though not for any reason that I could honestly claim credit for. From April, 2004:

Tilda Swinton, the female lead in Young Adam, and I swapped e-mails recently:

Dear Tilda,

I am trying to help my old friend Dave with his film, Young Adam, by promoting it on my website. I thought asking one of the actors about it would be a good idea, hence this e-mail. Thanks so much for helping out.

Here are the questions I've prepared, I've tried to keep it short:

1. David never made a feature film before. But here's you, an internationally well-known actor with a superb reputation, turning up in a debut. Was it an easy sell or did you need a lot of convincing?

2. As an actor, how did you rate playing the part of Ella, the main female lead? Was it a particularly challenging role for you? I imagine it would be quite hard to pull off the very sexual side to it, while also maintaining that grim, joyless, hard edge that Ella had.

3. Both Trainspotting and Young Adam, the two big Scots films of the last few years, are both pretty bleak and existential in nature. Do you think that was coincidence, a sign of the times or a unique symptom of the Scots character?

4. Final Question: How do you find the Americans reacting to the film (the ones who have already seen it, anyway)? I imagine it flies against their perceptions of Scotland quite noticably, even more so than Trainspotting.

Thank you very much,

Best,

Hugh

Dear Hugh,

This comes from a plane from San Francisco to Denver on the all-kicking Free World tour of Young Adam .. David is beside me reading W .. they are bringing us 'shrimp', sauteed and laid over 'mescalin', apparently ..

So:

1 Very little arm-wrestling needed to get me into this agreement to make the film with David. His script was so impressive .. but more: it made me want to talk to him about the film it promised he wanted to make .. once we started talking, we never really stopped .. but the fact that he, or any filmmaker, had no track record would never really figure as a disadvantage for me .. if anything, it's a thing I know very well, the working with first time, or relatively inexperienced, filmmakers - Susan Streitfeld, Sally Potter, Robert Lepage were all in that category .. since Young Adam, I've worked with Mike Mills and Francis Lawrence, both first time feature filmmakers - there is a sort of beginner's mind about people with that fresh vision and atmosphere of adventure .. and absence of battle scars ..

2. All tasks have their particular challenges: my playing Ella had these: that, given the neo-realistic verite sort of atmosphere of the environment, it was clear that the task meant sinking myself into the world of this working class, 50's, Glasgow with as much accuracy as I could. I had a voice, and a way of moving, to find that meant that Ella felt authentic and not enacted. That meant a kind of heaviness in the limbs : in the book, Ella is very specifically and evocatively described as being large and fleshly .. David and I intended that I should be fatter than I am naturally to express that sort of living flesh thing for Joe .. but I found it impossible to get there, so we went for a different kind of lumpenness - something to do with a rawness and a slumping shape, a slackness of body tone and a Stanley Spencer skinny/bruisedness .. Ella's story is so much the story of her body: what it signifies to Joe and how she learns to live in it .. once we had rooted her shape and energy in that way, it became easy to tell her story ..

3. I happen to see what you describe as bleak and existential as a particularly Scottish melody .. not the ONLY one possible, but a speciality, you could say .. certainly in terms of Scottish film, as in our culture in general, I do believe that our roots and tendancies have always married better with an internationalist, specifically European, tradition, than the English cinema's close relationship to the theatre and to the American market pressure to sell its identity through class and romantic comedy ..

4. We can tell you more after the film opens on Friday about the American audience's reaction to the film .. but so far, the journalists we have been speaking to have been extremely supportive and respectful and not particularly surprised .. no one has yet mentioned the lack of castle locations or caber tossing, but we are not in Denver yet, so we'll keep you abreast of all breaking news ..

All best

Tilda

(Young Adam premiers this Friday, the 16th, in the US. Cities include: New York, Chicago, LA, Denver, Dallas, Minneapolis etc.)

Of course, the thought that's going through my head is, how much the Internet has changed since then. And all for the better, if you ask me.

[The Young Adam DVD is here on Amazon. Highly recommended. But I would say that.]

[Yes, "Young Adam" is very much a Social Object etc.]

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January 2, 2008

why the "social object" is the future of marketing

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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. They don’t ask your company for the brochure until your product has already jumped through a series of hoops that SIMPLY WERE NOT there twenty years ago.

YOU NO LONGER CONTROL THE CONVERSATION. THEN AGAIN, MAYBE YOU NEVER DID.

Human beings are much better at recognizing the linear, rather than recognizing the random and exponential.

1 Oh No! There’s a sabre-tooth tiger heading my way!
2. Run!

That is linear. Our caveman ancestors found it a most useful quality.

We run an ad. Sales go up. So taking the Caveman cue, we frame it in a linear fashion to explain to ourselves the cause and effect.

“People liked our ad so much, they dropped what they were doing, sped down to Wal-Mart and bought our product!”

If only.

What happened was probably more random. You saw an ad for Brand X. A few days later you’re having coffee over at your friend, Pam's house. She has Brand X on her kitchen counter.

“I saw that ad for it the other day,” you say. “Is the stuff any good?”

“Yeah,” she says. “It’s not bad.”

So the next time you’re in the supermarket, you see the product, and buy it. Ker-chiing.

The ad didn’t make the sale. Your friend made the sale, not the ad. The ad merely started a conversation.

This is what they call “Word-Of-Mouth”. When it works, it works very, very well. The main problem is, it rarely does. The marketer has little control of the outcome.

But the marketer’s boss doesn’t want to hear it. The marketer wants to tell his boss this, even less. So we construct mythologies to disguise the fear. Disguise the unknown. Disguise the random, in the world where UNCERTAINTY AND RANDOMNESS MUST NOT BE ALLOWED TO TAKE OVER THE MATRIX. EVER.

YOU AND PAM, HAVING COFFEE.

Pam just sold you a box of Brand X. Pam doesn’t work for Brand X, Pam gets no commission from Brand X, so why did she make the sale, inadvertently, or otherwise?

Go back to what I said in my last post about Social Objects:

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.
When you and Pam met for coffee, you interacted with each other in the context of what anthropologists call “Object-Centerd Sociality”. In other words, you did not socialize in a vacuum, you socialized around objects, you socialized around things. You talked about the Cubs game last week. You talked about how Billy was doing in Third Grade. You talked about this great movie you just saw. You talked about great Pam’s coffee was. And yes, you talked, however briefly, about Brand X. All these things you talked about, an anthropologist would call “Social Objects”. And the thing is, you came over just to chew the fat with Pam. Talking about Billy or the movie or the Cubs game was not part of any pre-agenda. You could’ve talked about other things- books, records, home furnishings, it doesn’t matter- and you would’ve enjoyed your coffee with Pam just as much.

Yes, a lot of socializing is random. Ergo, yes, a lot of marketing is also random.

SO WHERE DOES SOCIAL OBJECTS FIT IN, FROM NOW ON?

From now on you won’t have the TV Commercials to rely on to start your conversations. People are ignoring you. Mass media has simply gotten too expensive. The only way your product is going to spread is by word of mouth. The only way it’s going to get word of mouth is if there is something in it for the person talking about it.

The person you want talking about is not doing it for the money. She'll only talk about it if it serves as a Social Object. A "hook" to move the conversation along. A hook she can use it as a way to relate to her fellow human beings.

THE BAD NEWS IS, MOST PRODUCTS ARE BORING. THE GOOD NEWS IS, MOST WORD-OF-MOUTH IS BORING.

If you’re an average marketer, chances are that Alas! you don’t sell Mercedes’ or Apple iPods for a living. You probably sell some fairly prosaic, utilitarian product. Like Brand X.

Obviously, if your product is more conversation-worthy, like a Mercedes or an iPod, your job will be easier. Nice work if you can get it.

But let's face it, average people are never going to sit down and have a deep and meaningful conversation about Brand X. But hey, maybe over coffee, a couple of little soon-forgotten sentences from somebody like Pam, is enough to make the sale.

I’m fond of saying, “If your product is not a Social Object, why are you in business?”

But of course, as Pam just proved, your product, Brand X, IS INDEED a social object. Just maybe your team needs to hone its thinking a little bit.

[Bonus Link from Jyri Engestrom:] "Why some social network services work and others don't — Or: the case for object-centered sociality."

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December 31, 2007

social objects for beginners

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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."

[N.B. "Social Objects" is a term I did not coin myself, but was turned onto by the anthropolgist and Jaiku founder, Jyri Engestrom.]

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December 23, 2007

so what's all this new marketing stuff, anyway?

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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.

[UPDATE:] Robert Scoble leaves an interesting comment:

Friends are going to be the big story in 2008. Here's a post about why it's wrong that I'm a gatekeeper between my friends and you.



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December 2, 2007

stormhoek sponsoring the british comedy awards

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[One of the thirty cartoons chosen to go on the bottles etc.]

Though Stormhoek generally doesn't like to sponsor large events, an interesting opportunity came up.

On December 5th we'll be serving Magnums of Stormhoek on the tables of the British Comedy Awards, which is British Media terms, is a pretty big deal. Lots of celebrities, TV cameras and paparazzi etc.

But rather than just plonk the bottles down on the tables and let the celebs get on with it [i.e. Drink our wine, yet ignore the brand completely- which is what normally happens with these kind of events], we decided to behave a little differently than your average gala sponsor.

We created a range of large bottles [Magnums], each with a different cartoon on it. Thirty cartoons in all.

Because of the event, we decided we didn't have to worry about playing it safe [unlike say, with your average supermarket client]. So out of my collection of 6,000-odd cartoons, we picked 30 cartoon that were relatively edgy. The one above is a good example. Also, some of the cartoons from this page and this page made it into the mix. Generally, we picked cartoons we thought anybody who had spent a lot of time in the Soho/London/media/entertainment/cokewhore/glamorpussy world would click with. You get the idea.

As everybody will have a different cartoon on each table, we're hoping people will check out the different bottles on the other tables. Yeah, you got it. Conversation starters. Exactly. "Social Objects", Baby.

I hope the photographers get some decent pictures...


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November 5, 2007

"social gestures beget social objects"

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Chris Schroeder riffs on my whole "Social Object" marketing schtick with this very salient thought:

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.]

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October 30, 2007

avinash's business card

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A wee cartoon I drew on the back of Avinash Kaushik's business card. Backstory here.


Posted by hugh macleod at 4:23 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

happy birthday blue monster

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The Blue Monster just celebrated its one year anniversary. Microsoft's Steve Clayton reports:

It changed me if not Microsoft. It defines Hugh's Social Object concept. It defines much of how I think about Microsoft and has been the driving force in my desire to change perceptions that have built up over the years. Microsoft isn't perfect, but we're far from the evil that it's become all to easy to portray. Microsoft is made up of smart, passionate, funny and genuine people. I think Blue Monster has done a pretty good job of helping expose that, amongst other things. One year on I feel very good about that.
Rock on, Clayton.

[Update:] James Moody talks about how the Blue Monster affects his business:

I, myself, carry Blue Monster business cards from Street Cards and that has led to some interesting conversations with clients and prospective clients. Having the conversation has definitely led to more project closings (the good kind of closing) for me than not. The little guy has led more of my meetings into a "what do you think about this" type, than the "here’s what I can do, this is how much it will cost" type, which lets me connect more on a personal level with prospective clients. Once most people see how passionate I am about the software I’m recommending, it changes perceptions of the "big bad bully" on the block.


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October 27, 2007

"social objects": blue monster wine update

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For reasons unknown to me, suddenly in the last week the orders for Stormhoek Blue Monster Reserve have started flooding in, especially from Microsoftees in the USA. Rock on.

I'm getting on the case this week... if you've already contacted me about this, expect to be hearing from either me or my colleague, Tessa Soole in the next week or two. Thanks.

Some random thoughts:

1. I came up with the Blue Monster wine idea, as a exercise in creating a "Social Object". What the heck, Theory is all very well, but actual real-life commercial execution is a lot more fun and interesting. I'm just lucky to have the groovy cats at Stormhoek who let me try out these crazy ideas.

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[My friend, Alison with a Blue Monster lithograph in her office.]

2. Earlier this year I created another Blue Monster social object, namely, the limited edition lithographs. I only made a thousand of them, and they went fast. As I didn't want to print more of them [that would've cheapened the first edition], I had to come up with something else, something that could scale beyond one thousand people. Since I'm in the wine business, and since I had already been making cartoon labels for Stormhoek wine, it wasn't too much of a stretch.

3. The Blue Monster wine is also part of the "Smarter Wine" conversation. The main thesis is that it's not the wine per se that is interesting, it's the conversations that happen around the wine that is interesting. And that is true for all social objects. People matter. Objects don't.

4. If the Blue Monster wine idea is interesting, it's because of a most unlikely mash-up between a small, obscure winery in South Africa, and the world's largest software company. But it's this very unlikelihood, this very unlikely swapping of Cultural DNA between two very different companies, that gives it its mojo.

5. Importing different Cultural DNA into an organization is a real balancing act. Too much of it makes it impossible for the company to focus. Too little and the company withers on the vine.

6. BL Ochman has a really good summation of the BM wine story here.

What’s important is that a lone blogger with a good idea was able to get a huge company to listen to him and to adopt one of his fairly radical ideas. It shows that social media is a viable force for change, for marketing, and for the new media than a lot of big companies may now finally begin to take seriously.
7. When thinking about applying social media to companies, "What social media tools should we use" should not be the first question. "How do we wish to talk to people differently" should be the first question. If you don't have an answer to this, quit your job and go find something else.

8. None of this stuff is rocket science. Most of it is glaringly obvious. And sadly for folks working in the social software industry, "The people who get it, don't need us. And the people who need us, don't get it." Which is why being a "blog consultant" or whatever is a lot less lucrative and rewarding than people often think.

9. I recently received the following e-mail:

Hugh,

As much as I like the Blue Monster, does it really matter in the grand scheme of things? I mean, we both know that no matter how big the Blue Monster gets, Microsoft is still going to continue being "evil", and its software is still going to continue to suck. And no blogging cartoonist is ever going to change that.

Any thoughts?

Dave

Well, Dave, your low opinion of Microsoft notwithstanding, I'm not looking at this from the executive level. I'm coming at this from the perspective of a small-time cartoonist with a blog and an internet connection. And from where I'm standing, it seems to me that in a big company like Microsoft, even a small thing like the Blue Monster can create a lot of value for a lot of people. Not getting too carried away in the Expectation Department is what will keep things interesting.

10. No, I have no idea of where all this is going. All I care about these days is drawing cartoons, doing interesting things with interesting people, paying my bills, and keeping my sorry ass out of the hospital, the mental asylum, the morgue etc.

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October 24, 2007

more thoughts on social objects

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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 Bhuddism. 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.

[Written in the departure lounge of Dulles International Airport]

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September 30, 2007

stormhoek blue monster wine update

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[Me and Microsoft's Steve Clayton enjoying the first ever opened bottle of Stormhoek Blue Monster Reserve]

If anybody wants to get their hands on a bottle or two of Stormhoek Blue Monster Reserve, this is how the lay of the land is looking:

1. You have to be a member of the "Friends of Blue Monster" Facebook page.

2. You have to live in the UK and the E.U. [Europe]. America will take a wee bit longer while we sort out the importer. We're hoping to have the first bottles ready to be shipped out by mid-October.

3. You have to be of legal drinking age, obviously.

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4. They'll be available only by the half-case [6 bottles], not individually.

5. Sadly, Stormhoek is just a small wine company, and we can't afford to give them away. We will sell them at £45 per half-case [£7.50 a bottle]. Free shipping is included in the UK, but not Europe.

6. Though certain people inside Microsoft may like what we're doing, this is not a Microsoft gig. This is a Stormhoek gig.

7. Yes, red wine will also be available eventually. Working on it.

8. If you fancy a half-case, please drop us a line at bluemonsterwine@gmail.com. Thanks.

9. And also, a big, huge, massive thanks you to all the groovy cats inside Microsoft who lent their support to making this happen. Rock on.


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September 23, 2007

me yakkin' on about "social objects"


[Neville has the backstory here. About 4-5 minutes long...]

"It's not the object that's important, it's the conversations that go around it".
Mark Earls pipes in:
"The future of marketing" indeed. It's not what you (brand, ad) do to them that matters, it's what they do to each other.

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September 18, 2007

"pants" as social object

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[N.B. in the UK, "pants" means "underpants", as opposed to "trousers".]

This is the best piece of marketing I've seen for a while. Thanks to Eaon Pritchard for sharing.

What makes it so utterly disarming is its simplicity, whimsy and humanity. Nothing more. It's not particularly "clever", which is exactly what makes it so brilliant.

And in case you were wondering, yes, it is indeed a Social Object.


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jyri on the blue monster

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Jyri Engestrom, the anthropologist behind the "Social Object" theory, writes about the Blue Monster. Rock on.

Since its inception by cartoonist Hugh MacLeod, the cartoon has been adopted by microsofties as a symbol of the company's and its people's aspiration to innovate. I've heard Microsoft employees refer to it as the company's unofficial mascot.
[Bonus Link: Adriana has a really good post on Stormhoek Blue Monster. Very thoughtful, as usual, coming from her.]

My understanding is, some pockets at Microsoft COMPLETELY get the Blue Monster, and others don't. I suppose that's to be expected with a company of that size.

That being said, from what I can glean from my limited, outsider perspective, there seems to be a large constituency within the company which strongly believes that Microsoft's entire future rests on how well it talks to people outside the company. I happen to concur. "Porous Membrane", Baby!

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August 21, 2007

there is, however, a vast market for "social gestures"

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Ironies of Ironies: Companies are forever being told "You no longer control the conversation", yet from what my buddies in the PR industry tell me, their industry is utterly thriving.

Actually, that's to be expected. With "conversational control" no longer being the certainty it once was, you're more likely to seek help from the pro's...

1. Problem: Post-Cluetrain Reality- There is no market for "Messages".

2. Opportunity: There is, however, a VAST market for "Social Gestures". As Mark Earls says in his brilliant new book, "Herd", we are, after all, social animals. We are, after all, primates.

3. Execution: Social Objects, Anybody?

P.S. My own particular "Execution" launches September 12th. My blog remains in "Lame Mode" till then. Rock on.

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June 17, 2007

but what if i fail

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[One of the drawings I did for Seth Godin's latest book, "The Dip".]

Social Objects and Homeless People

So I've been thinking some more about Jyri's Five Principles of Social Objects, especially how they apply to gapingvoid:

1. You should be able to define the social object your service is built around.

In gapingvoid's case, that would be the cartoons for the most part. The straight writing part I'm less concerned about.

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.

The verb that springs to mind is "share". Not only do people re-publish them on their blogs, they're also allowed to upload them onto other media for free: posters, t-shirts, stickers, whatever works for them. My licensing terms are pretty open.

3. How can people share the objects?

The key word here is "re-publish". Microsoft's Steve Clayton is probably the most well-known of my "re-publishers", as he's always using the Blue Monster cartoon for different things.

4. Turn invitations into gifts.

Again, the Blue Monster cartoon would serve as a good example. Microsoft employees hand out Blue Monster schwag as an invitation to start a conversation about Microsoft. The Blue Monster's main function is not about the message, the Blue Monster is about the social gesture.

5. Charge the publishers, not the spectators.

D'accord. The people who put the cartoons on their business cards are doing the paying, not the people receiving them.

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.

And of course, the way I market my cartoons and my other various enterprises is not all that dissimilar...

[Bonus Link:] A wonderfully thought-provoking podcast interview of Seth Godin. Disclosure: He kindly gives me a brief mention about 23.15 minutes into it.

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July 19, 2006

ooze: short for "objects of sociability"

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Shel Israel and Stormhoek's Jason Korman met up recently for beers. Shel wrote about it:

Jason wants Stormhoek to be the wine for the rest of us, for everyday people enjoying good times with people they care about. He wants Stormhoek to be your beverage of choice at your next special event and as such he’s making Stormhoek a successful case study for how you can use social media and word of mouth to globally popularize a mass merchandising product.
Thank you Shel, for the kind words.

These days I feel like drawing more cartoons, writing more about my adventures with Stormhoek, and doing less of everything else. The reasons aren't just about my NSPR's [Normal, Shameless, Pimping Reasons]. Actually, the business of marketing Stormhoek and the business of drawing cartoons are getting more and more similar to me. Here's why:

Last night Jason and I had dinner with Johnnie Moore, one of my favorite marketing bloggers [certainly the best one in Britain, anyway]. The highlight of the dinner for me was a discussion about what Johnnie called "Objects of Sociability", a term he attributed to Juri Engstrom's talk at Reboot7.

What is an Object of Sociability [OoS, or "Ooze" for short]? "Ooze" is simply something that allows you to engage with another person. It could be anything. It could a party. It could be a bottle of wine. It could be a hyperlink. It could be a social gesture. It could be social currency. It could be doodling a cartoon on the back of a business card at a bar and giving it to the cute barmaid. You tell me.

As it turns out, Stormhoek has been using a lot of Ooze lately. Sponsoring the recent Valleyschwag party was an example. We didn't really have a "message" per se... it just sounded like a fun and interesting event, so why not join in?

Funny, but this ties in to a conversation I had with Juri about two years ago at a London geek dinner. We were talking about the switch in marketing away from "The Message", towards something that one has no control over i.e. The Ooze.

The metaphor I used at the time was "wave vs particle". At the subatomic level, things are interchangably waves or particles, depending on what instruments you are using to observe them [somebody far more scientific than me, please correct me if I'm wrong]. It might look like a wave one day, a particle the next.

A traditional marketing "message" acts like a wave. In the future, I believe marketing messages will behave more like particles [that is, if they want to succeed]. A wave stays connected to its source, a particle does not. Once the particle leaves you, it is no longer yours. You no longer control it, anymore than a dandelion spore controls the wind.

Where old companies are gettting mixed up with new marketing is, they're trying to treat particles like waves, and failing.

A cartoon is Ooze. Stormhoek paying for gapingvoid's bandwidth is an Ooze. A blog post is an Ooze. As a marketing blogger, this to me is the part of post-Cluetrain marketing that is the most interesting.

Particles are not waves. Particles are Ooze.

And I believe Ooze is the future of marketing.

Posted by hugh macleod at 4:10 PM | Comments (19) | TrackBack