Who’s social now?

For all the advertising that happens – for all that paid awareness – the true influence has been word-of-mouth. Don’t get me wrong, awareness is a key element in the process of word-of-mouth. But awareness does not close the sale.

Everyday we are surrounded by so many images and messages that they become environmental wallpaper, blending into the background with sublime camouflage. What is it that makes us take notice?

There has been advertising and marketing for a long time. And the arsenal at the disposal of companies moving those messages keeps increasing. From old-school approaches like billboards to new-fangled enterprises like twitter and pinterest. But for all that exposure, it’s word-of-mouth – still.

Interesting that we are moved by our friends using the same platforms. There is a certain disgust, stand-off that happens when we get a paid ad in our Facebook feed. But, if a friend makes a note about a product, service or even a show you are more likely to consider. So word-of-mouth still exists – it will always exist. All that is changing are the megaphones that we use – it was in person, then the phone, now it’s social media.

What will the future of word-of-mouth be?

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Where does your brand start?

Or, more importantly, where does your brand stop?

Years ago buying products meant going to a store (physically) or at least opening up a catalogue (sorry America, that’s how it’s spelled). Side note: it’s weird how when I was a kid the notion of shopping from home seemed either rural, or something that you didn’t want to admit. And now, with this Internet and World Wide Web — it’s almost a trend!

Today, brands are reaching out in so many different ways – both to sell and to create awareness (which eventually creates sales, so I’m told). Whether it be traditional advertising, social/digital marketing, websites or in-store. And in some case, stores. For example, Apple – you may have heard of them. They make a few consumer products. They had a great leader – but he’s dead now. Yeah, that Apple.

Hard to believe that the First one opened in 2001, or that there are 421 (as of this date) worldwide. Apple wanted to have their own experience when showcasing the products. Ultimately they wanted control over that experience – hence the reference to the dead leader, Steve Jobs. I think he understood more than anyone the importance of owning your brand – not just physically, as in the products. But almost spiritually – how the store allowed you to move, how you interacted with the products and overall be in the mindset of Apple.

Above and beyond that Apple has moved to taking that control further. Basically having mini stores in other retailers. It’s not uncommon to find an Apple display in a Best Buy or a  WalMart. It’s part and parcel of having that power – the sales weight combined with an unflinching attitude. But, that approach is slowly seeping into other brands. Now you can be standing in front of a branded sales area for Beats (by Dr Dre) or Bose, or a few more. And the real estate that they take up varies. Depending of course on product depth and how much they’re willing to pay for that space.

It is quite a natural progression for brands that are setting their own tone – through product development, unique product offerings and stand-out company personalities. It’s really just another place to harness and expose a brands wherewithal.

Where will the next level of brand-takeover be?

How small is your brand?

Often, we see the world of brands in terms of large – and derivatives of such. Numbers point to the worldwide retail locations of Apple; burgers sold in a McDonald’s; how many Subway restaurants you can see in one block.

But, big branding is also about small branding.

How often have you looked at the tiny aspects of any product – are they an extension of the brand? Or just some off-the-shelf component. Over the years I’ve been amazed at the attention to detail (and to the brand) so many companies have worked at to convey. The best example I can think of right now (there are countless more) is the Nike logo that appears on the pull-tab, on a zipper, on a my sports bag. This swoosh is maybe 8 points in size (take that metric system!). It is embossed in the plastic – therefore only visible if you look carefully and the light catches it the right way.

There are larger versions of the swoosh on the bag itself. And on this bag they are subtle – being applied as if a version of using Varnish on a print piece. That actually was one of the reasons I purchased the bag. I was not wanting a flashy item, but I did want it to be a Nike.

There are myriad brands around the world that are recognized by a shape (e.g., Coke), colours (e.g., IKEA) and design (e.g., Ferrari). But all of these cases, and many more, the true beauty is in the details that each of these companies put into their iconic artifacts. It’s something that we all could be better at – whether it be a multi-national or a personal brand. How many people put the effort into customizing their social media exposure – twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn pages, etc. Hey I’m the first to admit – I don’t do as much as I should for my own brand.

Do you?

Is advertising an option?

There is a tremendous amount of focus on social and digital media – relative to pushing a brand forward in these turbulent times. Many books have been, and will be, written about this topic – from Seth Godin to Mitch Joel. Including relative newcomers with such lofty titles for their books like Social Media is Bullshit.

It would be great if all the hurdles of marketing could be solved by applying just digital and social media (d&sm). It would be. But ultimately impossible.

There are a lot of positive stories associated with d&sm – kickstarter, warby parker and many more. But the biggest companies are still the biggest companies – Starbucks, McDonalds, Nike – you know the rest of the list. You know the list because they never stop advertising. I’m sure there are people in this world that do not know the companies I’ve listed. There has to be. Surely, somewhere – people don’t know what Nike is, or what they make.

But for the other 98.4%* of this water-based sphere – those companies are ubiquitous. And one of the main reasons – advertising. Sure they are getting busy in the d&sm space – but their world-wide presence is cemented by hard-core advertising.

It’s not just that they advertise – they Advertise. All the time.

And I think the take away on this for all is – whatever your channel of promotion – fill it all the time. The areas of d&sm are like children – and what I clearly remember the judge saying is that children need (read are legally required) to be feed.

*this stat may, or more likely may not be accurate.

The Marketing of …

Computer technology truth Number 1 – if you can’t buy it – is dosen’t exist.

Computer technology truth Number 2 – if you can buy it – it’s out of date.

This was never more truthful than yesterday as SONY presented the PS4. Their new gaming console replacing the (gulp, it’s really been that long – crap I’m getting old) 7-year old PS3. Ultimately SONY presented air. How they were even allowed to get away with that is a testament to our content-based society.

We are so obsessed with content – we are willing to accept it in any form – even if it’s vapour-ware. And the PS4 is the king of vapour-ware. I would not be as upset if there was a box, a hint of what was to come. But nothing.

I know that all the big guys present products to come – Apple, Microsoft – hell it even happens at Auto Shows (with concept cars galore). But at least in all of those cases there is something tangible (even if it’s only tangible for our eyes, it’s at least something). Specs. That’s pretty much what we were offered. A piece of paper with numbers. The actual console won’t be available until later this year – even the date is vapour-ware. It’s like meeting a couple that says they are engaged and have no date for the wedding – guess what – you’re not engaged.

Guess what – there really isn’t a PS4.

There may be one in the future – but now there is not. So, thanks for the tease SONY – but until I see a machine and a delivery date you might as well nickname it Unicorn.

(what is a) User Experience

  • User experience (UX or UE) involves a person’s emotions about using a particular product, system or service. User experience highlights the experiential, affective, meaningful and valuable aspects of human-computer interaction and product ownership. Additionally, it includes a person’s perceptions of the practical aspects such as utility, ease of use and efficiency of the system. User experience is subjective in nature because it is about individual perception and thought with respect to the system. User experience is dynamic as it is constantly modified over time due to changing circumstances and new innovations. As defined on Wikipedia.

I find this a bit confining and misleading.

To hyper define User Experience as completely related to computers is – well – limiting. I believe that any form of communication is, on some level, a user experience. Whether it be a business card or poster, retail outlet or wayfinding. Any time a user has to engage and react to information is a user experience.

When you are looking up that business card for that guy you meet – user experience. All the way.

The act of identifying the card (shape, colour, typeface) is the beginning, but is not remotely the end of the experience. How is the information presented – how easy (or difficult) was it to get the information you required;

  • Phone Number
  • Title
  • Address
  • E-mail

That fact that user experience has been a strong part of design (all disciplines) needs to be considered when looking at User Experience in the modern, computer realm. Understanding how people move through a space, how they retrive information, retain information, etc. bodes well in considering the dynamic aspect of screen design. I’ll call it screen design because saying computer, tablet, mobile, etc. becomes too cumbersome. User Experience in today’s emerging markets can greatly improve with the Disney (Alcoa-originated) approach to problem-solving – Imagineers. A group – blended together from different areas of expertise meant to push the limits of thinking (engineers to poets, designers to psychologists, etc.).

Too often screen design can get hand-cuffed to either the technical or design prowess of teams. But expanding teams to include secondary thinking can only improve the process.

What skill-set would you like to see added to computer-based user experience teams/projects? 

Upgrading your skills (all of them)

The paradigm shift that has happened while I’ve been in the workforce has been amazing: from having no fax machines all the way to being able to order a pizza – online – from my phone.

This shift has seen tremendous advances in technology. Just think of the features that are now considered standard on any phone – call waiting, call display, speed dial, contact list, etc. We’ve had advancements and additions to the channels of advertising as well. Thirty years ago it was radio, television, print or out-of-home (and that really meant billboards). To kind of understand how different the world was back then regarding advertising check out a ‘classic’ hockey game from the ’80s. Not a single extra piece of advertising to be found. Not on the scoreboard, not on the boards, not behind the bench, not on the risers on the stadium stairs, not a sponsored event between periods – nowhere!

The delivery technology has changed and morphed as well in those three decades. Remember the first time you saw a 15-second spot? How about the time you saw that mini-billboard above the urinal (that one might be just for the guys). Today we’re at a point where not only can ads be targeted to me – but to me as a guy, married, kids, location, interests. Depending on the technology, you can get as granular as you want. Or, you can still throw a big net on the traditional buys – TV, Radio, Newspaper. It’s up to you, your client and the message you want to deliver.

Your Skills

Over that time period we have had to upgrade our skills or acquire new ones: using a fax machine, a computer, cell phones, MS Word and Excel, Adobe Photoshop, InDesign and Illustrator – you get the idea. There are always technical skills that we can work on. And if we can’t master them, we can hire technically savvy individuals. For instance, I have no desire to be able to code HTML5, CSS, Javascript. Ever. Are those technologies important to the job I do – you bet. No different than operating an offset press. It’s very important that I understand what the tools can achieve, it’s not as important for me to have the hands-on skills.

Your (other) Skills

The skills that are important for me to have – is the ability to think in terms of the available technologies and channels for marketing and advertising. These are the skills that are tougher to upgrade. They require a leap of faith – of accepting that there are new ways of doing things. And that today’s audiences are not the same as they were – nor should they be! At one point a lot of people got up and changed the channel on their TV – manually. Now you can watch a channel, surf the web, PIP a second show, set the PVR for a show past your bedtime. The people that own this technology are adapting to how it’s used and it’s benefits – we as marketing and advertising people need to make the same adjustments to our skills in terms of how we get messages to them.

We need to embrace the changes, we need to understand the mindset of the marketplace and deliver messaging and content that resonates. Without that insight, we might as well be sending out smoke signals – or using carrier pigeons.

What skills do you think matter?