A decade of digital: 10 things for 2010

Faris Yakob is the chief innovation officer, MDC Partner, holding company of ad agencies including Crispin Porter Bogusky and kirshenbaum bond senecal partners and the former EVP Chief Technology Strategist at McCann Erickson NY.

A decade has flown by since Y2K arrived without a bug and digital marketing has grown up alongside it.

The emergence of a new media system is typified by a period of transposition, where the behavioural grammar of the previous system remains dominant. The first television shows were radio shows with people talking directly into camera. The first films were stageplays that had been filmed. And the first marketing forays online took what we knew about media and branding from broadcast media and applied it to a whole new space.

But digital is different.

Digital is not a channel. It’s a suite of platforms, channels and tactics that will, ultimately subsume its parents entirely.

Digital marketing is not simply a new place to disperse persuasive symbols, but the emergence of any entirely new behavioural grammar, as companies and their customer begin to engage with each other in entirely new ways in entirely new spaces, where everyone has an equal voice.

In the spirit of which, here are ten behaviours that will hopefully help the century grow into a surly adolescent, and then mature adult.

1. Earn your own attention

The internet is the great dis-intermediator – it connects everything to everything else – so companies can communicate directly with customers, bypassing the traditional media traditionally used. However, this opportunity brings with it a new set of challenges. Previously mass media aggregated attention and brands bought it. To earn your own attention you have to do things, create content, that people elect to spend time with.

2. Stop saying viral

‘Viral’ was the magic bullet of digital marketing – the panacea that saved us from fragmented media and disaffected consumers. But the viral metaphor is unhelpful. It suggests that we can create something that is self-propagating, when in fact what we mean is that lots of people have chosen to pass something around, for their own social reasons. Focusing on those reasons is much more helpful than asking for a ‘viral’ for there is no such thing.

3. Be nice or leave

Social media is going to get more and more important – it presents an entirely new way for companies and customers to interact and comes with many specific challenges and opportunities. The grammar of social media is different from the grammar of commercial media. The rules, the motivations, the etiquette are all social. So learn to be nice or leave. Stop thinking like a company and act like a person.

4. Socialise your mainstream media

People need things to talk about, and often those things appear in other media. In fact, social media breathes life back into the idea of watercooler moments, as backchannels on twitter allow people to discuss what they are watching in real time. Ensuring that your mainstream media feeds and feeds off social is best practice from here on in.

5. Decrease the latency in the system

There is a correlation between the amount of time it takes for information to be transmitted, the amount of time it takes to have an effect, and the corresponding cultural decay rate. The real-time web of twitter and facebook has brought the cultural latency rate down to almost zero. In response, companies must act faster, responding in real time, to keep apace with its customers.

6. Abundance is more interesting than scarcity

Media used to be relatively scarce, which is why we have traditionally compressed things down into the smallest possible units, propositions and 30 second parables. Online, media is not scarce – it is practically infinite. In response companies can create vast reams of content and let it sit online forever until customers find their way to – a complete inversion of the current model of commercial content creation. New Balance launched its 365 range with 365 short films.

7. The audience, isn’t

The one-way direction of mass media led us to think about customers like Victorian children: seen and not heard. Digital culture is intrinsically participatory so, if we want people to engage with us, we should do things that give them a role. It can be as simple as voting or as complex as Nike Plus. People tend to be more interested in things that involve them, vain as we are.

8. Ideas that create content

Historically we have used content to create relationships with consumers, to express our offers and create premium prices points. In a world where the tools of creativity and capture become more democratic everyday, where a generation has grown up that demands to be heard, we should be creating ideas that create content, rather than ideas that are content.

9. Be useful for where they are

The promise of location-based marketing is upon us, as foursquare turns a game for geeks into a platform for loyalty programmes for Starbucks. The dangers are obvious – spamming people with offers as they walk by a store – but the possibilities are endless. The key thing is geotility – making your product, or service or content, useful for wherever they are.

10. Be awesome

In digital spaces, nothing stirs the soul and opens the wallet like awe. Be it Kobe jumping over a speeding car or a system that pulls data from your car and tells you how to drive more efficiently, things that make your jaw drop are the very stuff of marketing. Indeed, a study of the New York Times most emailed articles revealed that readers wanted to share articles that inspired awe. So do something awesome and it may just go ‘viral’ [just don’t call it that].

One reply on “A decade of digital: 10 things for 2010”

These are all useful points but I particularly appreciate no.2. The reference to the word ‘viral’ does seem to have a somewhat magical property. Those who pull off successful viral elements of a campaign are held in high regard but this is the first time I have actually stopped to think about just how effective or useful is it. As you point out, people pass it around for social reasons – yet do the creators have a sufficient insight into the potential target audiences social motivations to be sure that the correct message is coming through. You can measure the number of views on You-Tube but you can’t measure how people interpret what they have seen or how effective it has been.

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