Monday, March 30, 2009

Personal microbrands: Freedom from...distribution?

At the recent South by Southwest Interactive Festival I attended, sci-fi author, festival icon and sometime Wired magazine contributer Bruce Sterling mockingly referred to himself as a Global Microbrand.  

It was only one moment during his annual 'Rant' at SXSW, but it served to encapsulate much of what one might look to as 'The Future of X', where 'X' is any profession...journalist, artist, engineer...

Say what?

Try the following experiment. 

Read the passage below (which I've copied from The Lefsetz Letter here) ...the original passage was written in reference to the music business and its struggles (in particular, John Mellencamp's whiny rant on the state of the music biz). 

Wherever I've highlighted the music-related attrbutes, simply insert your favorite profession: Journalism, Music, Film, Advertising....whatever you like. Chances are, it fits. And if it does, then you get the idea of the why the personal microbrand...rather than the anonymous toil for a corporate macrobrand...may be the future path to success for many people in the always-on, transparently connected world.  

The major record label hegemony has been broken.  No longer is the music landscape dominated by fat cat gatekeepers who get to control what America hears.  You can write and record your own music, and release it too.  Will anybody buy it?  Probably not if it’s bad, but you no longer have to get permission to play, and that’s great!

...We’ve entered an era of transparency, where data can tell you exactly what has transpired...More information is good for the artists, not bad!

...You can choose your own business model!  You don’t have to be beholden to the major label game of selling physical product!  If you want to give away your music online to drive concert attendance, great! Furthermore, at least you’ve got a chance of being heard, unlike in the days where you had to pay off the radio programmer to play your record.  And you can sell your own merchandise, which you can order as needed, just in time, online.

...The tools available to the musician are staggering.  From the production to the exhibition of music. 

So what?

Society needs journalists. We just don't need papers. Society needs artists and authors and designers too. But do we need the organizations that arose to employ them and distribute their work? Like the music business, it's the distribution and marketing intermediaries (i.e., record labels, ad networks, newspapers) that are having to evolve their business model most. More musicians [journalists, advertisers, engineers] than ever are able to take their shot at garnering an audience. 

The personal microbrand, enabled by low-cost, networked technology, may mean that we don't need all the same intermediaries of the past to get distribution today.  For a personal microbrand to work, all the same characteristics of the brand--reputation, personality, quality--are applied to the person performing the task...the major difference is that the consumer is now the sole and final arbiter of those attributes. Social networks enable reputation, personality and quality to be determined and revised continuously, in realtime, for all to see. 

Disintermediation is a term that's been used to describe the phenomenon of replacing physical distribution with digital...particularly for music. It's been around for quite some time. Its time has come for business models beyond music.

For a look at music video that would never (or, should never!) get distribution on eMpTv, I bring you the microbrand, er, microband...Plastica! (35,000+ views to date...not a bad debut).


Wednesday, March 25, 2009

CMO DNA: What don't they understand?

Chief Marketing Officers have it tough. From shorter than average C-suite tenures (28 months according to a recent survey here) to increasing pressures to impact the bottom line, for many it seems an eon since the halcyon days when marketing was large and in charge...when even the sales force reported through marketing.

So what's a CMO think they need to do today to be successful?

Here's what eMarketer is reporting from a survey:

So what?

Bottom line impact, number 1. You'd think so. Though interesting that only two-thirds think that's essential. Maybe those are the two thirds who actually have tenures longer than 28 months. 

What's most striking to me is the customer orientation number. Only one-third of marketers surveyed think that customer orientation is essential!

How can that be? Is it that they see customers as the domain of sales...or customer service? Or is it a legacy of some fantasy world (aka the 90's) when marketing beleived that it controlled what prospects and customers thought about a brand?

What we know now is that, unless you are a monopoly, customer orientation is what it's all about. You can be innovative. You can be inexpensive. But if you aren't oriented to the needs of the customer then you aren't being strategic.

Unless, of course, you beleive that a successful business can exist in a space devoid of customers.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Aphids, Farmers and Mobile Marketing

One of our Marketing Themes for 2009 is Testing the Real World (here). In some regards, there is not a more testable proposition than the one that claims farmers use/do not use mobile technology.

In fact, the last 7 years have seen our discussions and questions about farmers and information technology move miles...often in the same direction as the rest of the world: 

In 2002: Do any farmers use the internet?
In 2009: Do all farmers have mobile broadband?

Our experience in the field tells us anecdotally (and unequivocally!) that farmers--like other ordinary people--are using mobile devices. Surveys by USDA and various Ag Media outlets paint broad strokes of a rural picture that is increasingly connected and active online. Network coverage and unfortunate stereotypes about people based on age, education and occupation notwithstanding, the digitally connected farm future is here: it's just unevenly distributed.

And so our involvement in an experiment of sorts. One of our more forward-thinking clients has agreed to pursue a mobile marketing Aphid Alert program. You can see it for yourself here.

The informal objectives are two-fold:

  1. Support brand marketing by associating it with useful added-value information in the context of the customer's world...information of real value that requires neither being hit over the head with brand messaging nor overcoming advertising obstacles along the way to use.
  2. Test the viability of, and interest in, the use of mobile devices for receiving near-realtime, in-field reporting about pest conditions in a subscriber's geography in a variety of formats (email, text message, voicemail).

And while future visions of the service include the use of crowdsourcing techniques to obtain realtime data from the participants themselves, for now the offering has been focussed on ensuring that the experience is first and foremost useful, usable, and desirable to the end users.

We're using legacy media to generate awareness for the program (which enables participants to receive alerts via text message, email or voice mail) and we're also enabling word of mouse. 

Farmers, like any other group of people, are certainly more diverse than the stereotypes applied to them. We hope to learn something meaningful about a few of the those who are actively participating in the always-on world, mobile's not big science...we're just using the small, barely visible aphid as a catalyst for exploring engagement. 

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Lies, Damn Lies advertising?

If one thing was clear in the South by Southwest Interactive sessions on Social Media and Social Networking, it's that advertisers and marketers best tread lightly. Why is that?

As Tara Hunt explained in her talk (see prior post here) "You can't control the message [in social networks] because the people fight back by creating their own messages." And what is it that those messages say about advertising?

That it's false.

In the chart below from Neilsen's report on Social Networking's New Global Footprint, 'False' is the term most closely associated with the term 'advertising' in social media conversations.

So what?

The implications are many of those that Doc Searles and collaborators forecast in The Cluetrain Manifesto nearly a decade ago...because people talk with one another in human voices. In a social network, the point is to talk with one another--call it dialogue or conversation-- but the fact remains that this conversation is about and among people...real ones, with names and personalities and real sensibilities about is not about advertising or disembodied company brand personalities...  

Advertising looks like the cartoonish caricatures of real people in this context: out of place...inhuman...superificial and childishly manipulative...and as indicated by the nature of the conversations in Neilsen's report...untrustworthy. 

Ultimately, shilling in social spaces is easily identifiable as an outsider's approach. In social spaces, advertisers (which is to say 'companies') are left with a choice: embrace the uncertainty and risk of enabling the very real people in your organization to speak in their own voices to build trust in your brand, or embrace the certainty that you will be left out of the trust conversation all together. 

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Sustainable Food 2.0

A panel of people engaged in sustainable food projects online.

Sustainable Food is complex system that requires intervention in multiple places. Many projects online addressing the sustainable food space.

Projects Overview:


Connecting local farmers and wholesalers: Technology for fixing our dysfunctional food supply. []

Intensive farming is inefficient [!!], uses petroleum based chemistry and contributes to glabal warming. Smaller farmers don't make as much money. This application allows smaller farmers to connect with local food merchants and restaurants. It is like shopping with a shopping cart for the restaurant or market. Their needs are automatically distributed to the farmers, including specifications for delivery/pickup.

Food 2.0: No Farms No Food campaign.

American Farmland Trust campaign used since 1980 tying together land protection and local food. The complex link between farms, farmers and food.  "Farmers markets" search volume increases dramatically each year in the May-July timeframe.

Goals of the campaign are to reach new audiences, keep awareness high and test new messages to encourage people to seek out and use local farmer's markets. Used bumper stickers to leverage farmers spreading the word and uniting with one another.

Distributed 30,000 stickers and converted 4% of subscribers to the website into donors. The sticker comes with a pledge.

Google underperformed Yahoo in the search campaign. Farmer's market traffic is higher on Yahoo. Farm Policy conversations are more prevalent in Google Search. The demographic differences are reflected in who is using Yahoo for search. Reaching the farmer's market audience through SEM should incorporate Yahoo.

Get a free No Farms No Food sticker at

A community with an agenda...a project of the Sierra Club. Using food as a gateway drug to get people to take action on climate change. A national audience of 30-55 year old environmentally conscious people. About 1% of users are expected to be core contributers of content.

Goals are about communicating everyday actions individuals can take...through the user generated content and Sierra Club content. There is no real Sierra Club branding on the site.

The site organizes things around actions (like taking the Plastics Pledge) using applications that can be generated by the user community.

Another organizating principle is recipes, where the conversation around food also stimulates ways to incorporate climate sensitive advice (like domestically grown olive oil versus imported).

Other online resources:
  • Foodzie: eBay for local food. 
  • OxFam
  • Monterrey Bay Aquarium
  • Good Guide: A certification process and buyer's guide for food providers along with APIs for use on other sites.
  • Climate Crossroads:
  • WattzOn: Measuring your personal wattage (especially as food contributes to it)
  • EatWellGuide: Blogging resources.

Cloud Computing: Defending the undefinable

A panel discussion featuring representatives from Google App Engine, Amazon's Chief Technology Officer, and Microsoft.

Web Services provided by each company: 

Amazon has been offering cloud-based services like queing and db services, infrastructure and storage for a couple of years.

Google's App Engine is a scalable option that focusses specifically on web applications...versus some cloud computing services that include non-web computing options. Google's services scale automatically with your need, it doesn't require any action on your part. 

Windows Aja: An operating system for the cloud that includes services like storage, db (SQL) and tools for a rich programming environment.


App Engine is built to work across multiple languages and regions. Amazon is currently available only in North America.

Can Windows XP apps run in the cloud? 
All apps must be written cloud compliant...standalone web apps in asp or .net are fairly straightforward.

Do your use your own cloud services? 
Amazon built its web services for itself...and that was the basis for creating an offering for customers.  Amazon is hosted on Amazon Web Services platform.

Google has some applications on app engine (Google Moderator, iGoogle for example). Many of hte smaller projects are launched via app engine. Using App Engine you are running in the same data centers as Google.  Some things in app engine are restricted to ensure scalability...this is having an opinion about how things should be built. You have to be prepared for scalability and app engine provides restrictions to serve as guidelines...stateless apps are an example. Databases with join.

Microsoft developed services to support their own use...many small teams developing applications. This long tail view of project development is what drove the need for a common infrastructure. 

How Will Cloud Security be managed? Will their be licenses for corporate use outside  the public cloud?

Amazon has no plans to launch a corporate label...but the tools are developed to help different verticals develop and administer apps to conform with specific industry requirements (such as HIPPA in healthcare)

Google has worked hard to ensure privacy and security in its data centers, but nothing specific about industry requirements.

Microsoft understands that different countries and industries have varying requirments. The Public cloud is difficult to manage across these variations. But private clouds will likely be the trend implemented to address these variances.

What Trends/Challenges Do You see in Cloud Computing?

Amazon: customers move from babysitting applications to increasing automation and horizontal scaling.

Google: Moving to the cloud changes how you build applications. Developing for distributed systems requires an understanding of details like latency and consistency that aren't as iportant for an app running on one server with one database. In some ways, this changes how programming gets done.

Microsoft: Automation gets built in. Its the biggest pain point for many.

What plans for Open Standard Support (to avoid vendor locking)?

Amazon: We constructed the services to provide tools, not frameworks. In essence, your apps can then run in other clouds. Standardizing the cloud will occur, but for now, there are only a few cloud providers, so customers must drive what standards need to be deployed.

Google: As a web company, Google thinks that moving in and out of app engine is good for everyone. The SDK will evolve to incorporate flexibility, but for now standards aren;t evident...if they emerge, Google wants to enable them

Microsoft: Lock in occurs at multiple layers...programming, data, etc. MS plan is to enable you to use your favorite stack. In the long term, private clouds may also influence standards. But data lock in is something noone will want to be held to.

How green are the clouds? (Not just hardware, but software too.)

Amazon: Efficiency + Cost effectiveness often go hand in hand with 'green' Because we are about driving costs and efficiency in our data centers we are pursuing this. But there are no standard metrics for measuring green code that each provider can publish and be held accountable to.

Google: Best thing that is comparable now is embedded in payments. As costs go down, they reflect a reduced cost of doing things (i.e., power, hardware, etc.) In general though, systems of scale are more efficient and provide opportunities for optimization that multiple approaches don't.

Microsoft: Costs of running a dataa center are predominantly driven by power and cooling. These costs are directly reflected in the cost to end users. Design of data centers,e tc., is continually evolving to drive out these reducing the power and colling requirements.


Monday, March 16, 2009

Sustainability and Social Media: Accelerating change

Sustainability and social media are two hot topics in the world. And while many of the challenges facing human society require highly technical communications, the rise of social media enables peer-to-peer communications around oftentimes technical knowledge domains.

The panel discusses the application of knowledge and community-thru social media-to faciliate human sustainability.

Let the panel begin...

Some Definitions:

What is sustainability? being able to maintain a process or state. For humans, using no more resources than we can replenish.

It's also about using resources in a way that doesn't diminish a resources' ability to replenish.

For much of human work, this means applying knowledge rather than labor.

Social media is publishing...PLUS participation and interactivity. 

Types of Social Media and Sustainability (Lebkowsky)

Types of social media applications to sustainability:

  • Knowledge Production + Sharing . 
  • Robust advocacy
  • Crowdsourced knowledge
  • Communities of efficiency
  • Guerilla R+D

Examples include around awareness building, BrightGreenLiving wiki, and

Who is Max Gladwell? He beleives that there is a heroic, green living component that is consistent with  entrepreneurship...which is where much of the social media domain resides. 

The idea that where social media and green living overlap is the opportunity for creating change in our agricultural, energy and transportation systems. Social media represents a change in the information systems...sustainability and social media share much of the same DNA. 

Green OR sustainability (McElhenney)

Reduced costs, increased productivity use less energy and water.
Reduced environmental impact.
Improved health.

These are the reasons for green living and it's corrollary--sustainability

Social media is just PR with new tools [except that you are your own gatekeeper!].  

Greenwashing: Companies disingenuously spinning thier product and policies as environmentally friendly.

How do greenies connect? Communities, Twitter, In person, By Affinities and Passions [just like the rest of the world].

What can we do? Connect, speak out, discover and share solutions, and join forces. When joining forces, we can demand accountability, ask questions, and reduce, recycle, reuse and retweet.

[And now the twitterers are revolting...'Terrible panel'; 'What about the electricity that social media uses?'...there is a certain assertive quality of the panel that the twitterers are asserting their right to challenge]. (Emily Gertz)

Not everyone has the means, opportunity and desire to transform the energy system...and yet 'what I can do at home' may be too small.

For example, it's not how much energy is used, its how the energy is generated. Some sites like 'The great sunflower project' allows citizen science to monitor bee pollination patterns. These and other crowdsourcing sites represent social media in action on a small scale, where the additive effect is large.

Tweetawatt integrating a device  with Twitter to enable your house to send tweets on how much power is being used in a house...the idea of competition among Twitter followers to use less is an idea enabled by social media.

Questions + Discussion:

[A rather contentious discussion about the imperfection of the sustainable solutions].

It's not that green is too expensive, it's  that dirty is too cheap.

[One thing that is clear from this panel is that there is a great deal of diversity on the definitions and approaches required. Imperfect solutions to imperfectly framed problems may, in the end, reflect the imperfect people we are. Social media can't fix that]

Protecting Your Brand without Being a Jerk: Intellectual Property in the online era

Intellectual property theft...peer to peer music downloads for example...all present oppotunities for brand theft. But what about the more ambiguous notions of copyright and intellectual property online? Open source development and mashups are consumer generated coontent that push the boundaries of fair use.

A panel discussion including Electronic Frontier Foundation (, HIQI media, Volunteer Lawyers for the Arts, and Creative Commons talks among themselves about sharing, licensing and a kinder, gentler philosophy of intellectual property protection.


If someone is pirating your work, what can/should you do?

VLA: first step is to be sure you have title/ownership. Registering things is an important step. Suing should usually be the last step, but working with a credible lawyer can help get to a solution.

EFF: Registering preserves the flexibility of options for pursuing a solution. Part of the idea of a personal brand online is that people copy/quote and disseminate you...this is a hard concept even for lawyers to grasp: Do you have to aggressively defend trademarks or risk losing them? It can be great to have a brand genericized...because the biggest challenge is obscurity [in social/online its about allowing control to be relinquished for its own good/ this sense, the ownership and definition of the brand truly exists in the minds of the users].

VLA: With copyright, you don't lose ownership without pursuit. With trademarks, its important to understand what could trigger a trademark loss. 

Creative Commons: There is space for pursuing protection without having to order cease and desist letters or asking moims to quit using music in their YouTube videos of their children.

HIQI: Important to monitor your mark, but segregate where someone is putting a confusing mark in the marketplace versus where someone is merely using the mark for another purpose. Journalists have always had speech protected when using trademarks in criticism or reporting. But with the definition of journalist changing, some have pursued people for using the trademark in unflattering ways. 

EFF: Intellectual property law is sometime being used to chill speech.  The distinction is when someone is masquerading as you...tradaemarks are intended to prevent this...they are not about owning the words. You are preventing fraud with intellectual property and trademark laws...its not about assigning ownership of the words.

If someone is stealing content from your site?

EFF: DMCA Take down notification is there to protect wholesale theft of copyright. 

HIQI: Takedown notices are the first step. It basically identifies the content, alerts the site to teh ownership you claim and asks that they take down the content...only after they've received a takedown can they be held liable.

EFF: If you receive one, you can counter notice if you beleive you have a fair use or copyright. These notices go thru the third parties (hosting services, etc.) to protect them. This prevents infinite liability online. 

VLA: It's imperative that ownership clearly be established before taking legal action. Copyright is automatic at creation, but there is benefit to registering have documentation and legal standing to gain compensatory damages. Copyright can be registered at

EFF: People freak when they hear the formal tone of lawyer speak in these areas. Most times it is sufficient just to explain what your position is in a polite way...especially if you are certain you have ownership.


The Invisible Web + Ubiquitous Computing: Anywhere, Anytime, Anything

Surrounded by a ubiquitous network that senses your every move might make you think about Minority Report or one of the other handful of of sci-fi dystopias where sensors allow someone else to know more about your presence than you (see here for prior post). 

In fact, Jeremy Bentham's Panopticon was an early look a the power of a ubiquitous sensor to control the mindset of those being monitored. In this session, Moorhead and Polinchock of Razorfish + Brand Experience Lab present a view on the implications of the network extending beyond the devices connected to it...the inevitable future of Ubicomp (Ubiquitous Computing).

Begin with two videos:

Microsoft concept video on the world of ubiquitous computing (here). [What strikes me is the direct manipulation interfaces...hand gestures used to move objects on transparent much as the ubqituity of computing embedded in everyday tasks]

TED Video of embedded computing devices demonstration from MIT Media Lab. The devices are worn on clothes and appendages.  [In some ways, reminds me of the heads up display from Terminator...Again, natural gestures used for intereaction are the idea that stands out, using any surface to interact with the data].

Key Takeaways:
The screen disappears....device become dumb in the sense that it takes on the functionality that the network imposes on it a phone? A computer? A watch? Yes.

Factors driving the ubicomp future:
  • Falling cost of tech
  • Speed of wireless networks
  • Availabiltiy of services
  • Compartmentalization of data
What is the ubicomp future?
  • An internet of things
  • Digital infused in everything
  • Its persistent, intuitive, intelligent
  • Cloud powered (the info resides somewhere else)
  • Network knows you and learns you
  • Opposite of virtual reality
The Future is Now, its just unevenly distributed...Examples:
  • Refrigerator that monitors the age of goods and alerts to spoilage. [this has been around since accenture's concept video 'Claire' back in 1994]
  • Store One prototype from Radio Shack highlighting technology in it's native home context.
  • Newsongdo Korea...(here) a city designed to embed computing throughout the citizens lives
  • TiVo...intuitive and intelligent about learning your preferences and enabling use
  • OnStar...a cloud-powered system that can save your life--or recommend a restaurant based on your location.
  • Pandora music service or Genius on iTunesLearn about your preferences and identify you. Green buildings that identify you and adjust lighting to your preferences (Bill Gate's house).

Federated identity...the need to have AN identity (versus being required to have a new identity entered each time). Able to setup a global set of preferences, better security, no more passwords. The downside is that when you have an identity that is ubiquitous, then you may lose your identity...if your identity gets hacked, it can destroy you across a whole host of contexts...system errors ripple to a larger degree.

Never get like loopt and dodgeball, wi-fitti inmpose a digital layer on the real world.  New ways to explore, completely contextual information and safety and security could be improved. The downside is that someone can always know where you are.

Personal/Impersonal...Highly personal expereinces requiring low effort. Removes didigtal life management issues (multiple logins, personalities, preferences managed homogenously). DOwnside sis who owns the personal preference data? Is it always on or can you change the networks status by toggling off the network (which leaves a trail itself).

Digital object that performs many functions ( a pay for what functions you want it to provide). Everything is connected easily. The downside is that if the network fails, everything fails. In addition, it creates another opportunity for expanding the digital haves from the digital havenots (aka The Digital Divide).

The Big Challenge...

Work now to ensure that ubicomp challenges to privacy, ethics, and constitutional rights are protected. [The law of unintended consequences]. These choices have to be made now. Participating in the design is required or someone else will do it and we'll all ahve to live with it.

More SXSW on Technorati at link below...

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Making Whuffie: Social capital in online communities

With due respect to Bob Eubanks, 'Whuffie' is Cory Doctorow's (boingboing and author of the free downloadable novel Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom) term for a coin of the realm known as 'social capital'.

The talk by Tara Hunt of Intuit talks about building this social captial in online communities. 

Social capital is built in a multitude of places, for example:

Twitter, 15 million users.
Orkut >75 million users
Blogs >115million

But you can't buy Whuffie...connection + time = trust. People demand credibility. It requires time...if you try to buy Whuffie, you will get identified as a spammer.

Five things to raise your whuffie

1. Turn the bullhorn inwards. Stop shouting at your customers. It's impersonal. We listen to people we trust, people we have relationships with. Listen. [You can;t listen if you are talking]. Listen means getting feedback. 

Eight commandments for getting feedback.
  • Get advice of experts, but design for the broader community
  • Respond to all feedback, even when you have to say No Thanks.
  • Don't take negative feedback personally. 
  • Give credit to those whose ideas you implement.
  • Highlight new ideas that have been implemented and ask for feedback
  • Make small continuous changes rather than all at once changes.
  • Don;t wait for feedback to come to you, go find it.
  • Mind the haters...don;t feed the trolls.
2. Become part of the community you serve...and ask what problem you are solving, for whom. Then join them. Not as a market researcher, or a marketer. Authentically [which speaks to the ability of one to be authentic about a community they don;t care about or have the ability to join?].

3. Become remarkable. You do this by creating remarkable customer experiences [which one can do through Useful, Usable, Desirable...not by telling someone what they should find remarkable]. The dazzle is in the details. Go above and beyond (like Zappos or Nordstrom). Appeal to emotion (especially with story and narrative) and inject fun (like the Virgin Airways safety videos).

4. Make something mundane fashionable. Method Home example of home cleaners. Let people personalize the product [like my laptop cover].   Be experimental...have sessions where people brainstorm ideas that start with 'Wouldn;t it be awesome if..."  Simplify. [37 signals basecamp project management tool]. iPhone doesn;t get in the way of creating content...that's simple. [Of course, it's hard to simplify]. Make happiness your business model...granting autonomy, supporting competence and relatedness.

5.  Embrace the Chaos. You cant control the message, because the people fight back by making their own messages. Brands can;t fit neatly into a little now have a whole conversation to get a brand's message right instead of trying to create 'the one thing' for the one chance you used to get to tell your brand's message. How to embrace the chaos...Stop moving and look around to see clearly. Transfer the knowledge. 

Interface lessons from game design: Play on

Gaming represents one of the purer forms of interface design. It must adhere to usability principles: afterall, if the interface doesn't work in a game, then it's no fun. But it also has to have utility and desirability built in or it's...well, no fun.

Somewhat counterintuitively, gaming interfaces are often inconsistent in the presentation layer of the interface from one to the other. This panel discussion covers lessons learned in gaming interface design that may be applicable to design of non-game interfaces.

Panel discussion....ready, set, go [my comments in brackets]: Robbins, Cressman, Josling, Franklin and Lazarro.

Emotion in design

Lazarro-Play creates emotions. More than 30 different emotions are documented in the choices that one makes while playing games (curiosity, joy, accomplishment, relaxation, etc.). The best selling games include at least three of the following four types of fun: hard fun, easy fun, serious fun and people fun. Independent of gaming, tapping into these emotions is relevant to the experience online [we've posted on the trinity of Useful, Usable and Desirable where desirable is the emotional component of the expereince]. 

Tools in design

Frank-Feedback is critical to the experience when users employ tools (like the Jump Tool in Super Mario) as part of the game. But also in tools like Google Docs. For example, rather than having a ribbon of icons for formatting text (right align, left, bold), why not allow users to drag and move text the way the want it [in the vernacualr this would be called direct manipulation?]. Interfaces built around touchscreen technology can change this, but even the very idea of simplified tools is still further along in games than other online interfaces. 

Controllers in design

Robbins-Hardware interfaces are changing the though, the interfaces are not so customized...keyboards and mice are relatively standard of course. The Wii controller [as a devices that moves in real space] has no real corollary [though a mouse does move thru real space, right?]. 

The fun is where the real world mapping of controls to the digital world has a's also an opportunity for fun and frustration. If the game controller mapped to the real world exactly, it wouldn't be as fun. [Imagine objects in a game operating under exactly the same gravity conditions as the real world...what fun would that be if you couldn;t fly!]. Touchscreens have a modicum of imprecision that can make them fun and frustrating. 

Devices like the iPhone create issues such as being able to see the screen when the device is put in motion (as in a bowling app). With Wii you can see the feedback of the controllers on the screen. With an iPhone you wouldn;t be able to see the screen while the device is in motion.

Every screen is going to be a touchscreen in the near term...this changes the nature of interface design when the controller device becomes the human hand directly manipulating the screen objects. [Imagine typing a word document the way you type email on an iPhone or Instinct...or pinching and pulling images, using swipes to move images/folders from a desktop to the trash]

Progress + Goals in Design

Cressman-Rewards + Reputation Systems. Game mechanics around ideas like earning points and reputation ratings are important. [Ref Amy Jo Kim's Google talk on this here]. Game ratings also get translated in web sites like eBay with ratings systems, stars and such. Use of badges that can be earned [similar to experience points on Xbox] is consistent with offline ideas like boy scout badges. Enabling these elements to exist in online tools--ways to build points and reputation--is an opportunity. 

Examples include ratings on ePinions. Social media points/reputation numbers like number of Diggs or Reddit. Designing the interface to reflect the different levelling associated with experience--a tripadvisor contributor or seller rating on eBay--should be embedded in the design of the status display...even if it is something as simple as color changes [like karate belt colors].

Another principle is the interface complexity ramping up with experience. The idea of getting an experience flow that varies with the users experience. Startup tutorials trend isn;t going to get the job done.

Social Aspects in design

Josling-Enabling people to feel part of something bigger than themselves is the basis of successful MMOGs like World of Warcraft, Runescape and others. The flow of community in online support forums for products (like software products) seems more laborious. Going to a support board, trying to follow the flow of support inquiries and responses. Being able to seek support in the application context for instance rather than having to 'go somewhere else' online is something that game designers do well and non-game interfaces might embed more consistently. 

BONUS POINTS for naming the game that the characters above inhabit.

More Technorati SXSW at the link:

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Web Typography

Quit Bitchin' and Get your Glyph on! 

A Panel discussion on the role of typography in web design.

The panel is borne of an article posted April 08 AIGA site that said "Semantic type is ugly type".

Let the panel begin [my comments in brackets]

A critical set of questions? 

Why do so many designers bitch about web typography?

Stocks: Limited pallete of faces [online] is one...but limitations can drive creativity.

Tan: One reason is designers we want what we've done to be seen as we designed it...we want highest 'quality' [confusing quality with designer's desire?]. Designing for complexity is the other side of online type decisions. Having to design for the common denominator [embedded in multiple devices, screens and contexts online].

How do we get inspired then?

Coyle: Approach the web with the great fonts that do exist. Georgia and Arial allow us to execute great design with typography, great grids.

Stocks: I don't get inspired online...great stuff is in the print world [well. that may be more a sign of limited exposure...smashing is but one example that can inspire if you look]

Tan: Great content inspires me most [hear! hear!].  Finding type that accomodates the narrative that emerges from the content.

What are the best ways for implementing typography within current limitations?

Rutter: Embracing the web as the medium itself, not as print.  Times can be used beautifully when paying attention to hte making the information work properly. That's how we can view type. There are other faces beyond the core web faces. Clear type faces that come with Vista and Office on both PC and Mac (e.g., Camry)...and you have these faces with near universal penetration [the benefit of a de facto standard]. It's really about information design.

Warren: Often people get confused with mediums...if I can do it in print or tv, why not web?

Tan: Corporate brand consultants often request that brand typefaces on the web...but often the faces are not hinted for the's a different medium. Finding something comparable is a better approach. Faces that are used everyday by millions of people, these core fonts are places to look for comparable fonts.

Coyle: One of my favorite sites is questionable characters.  Don't use typography to make a good design. Use typography in a good design.

How will we implement web typograph in the future?

Rutter: Font-linking: @font-face {   CSS code that calls to download and render a font face from a server hs been around since 1998. Different browsers have implemented this in different ways, but not everyone has even been made aware of it. The other issue is that not alot of fonts cannot legally be handled this way [Because people could steal the font from the server, which becomes a licensing issue].

Tan: If your client is willing to pay to license the fonts for web use, I do it. But the need here is to standardized the font between eot, otf and open type.  There is a real disntinction between type designers and font developers. The issue is that web designers need to build trust that they aren't going to rip off the type designers. EOT (Microsofts version) is the protection standard, but it is like putting a flag on the type syaing 'come steal me'.

Coyle: I wouldn;t use EOT because I don;t see the benefit. Implementation in Safari and Firefox is poor. Have to wait for it to download before rendering. Javascript issue does not call back to let page know when the type is rendered.

Is font-linking death knell or renaissance for typographers?

Coyle: Personally, I think it's a viable approach. 

Stocks: Fan of forcing the browsers to adopt by using it...or they self destruct. While I don;t see it as the savior, it should have been there from the beginning. The fact that it allows us to set type the way we want makes it viable, even though there are those who will use it for bad.

Tan: has a great list of faces that have license agreements that allow you to embed them via font-linking. 

Rutter: It enables a wider audience for your work, so it can't be a death knell. Some technical issues may remain, but a wider audience should be seen as opportunity, not a threat.

[For the record, this blog post--like most on rkdna--is done entirely in a non-typographer].

More SXSW at Technorati...

The Future of Social Networks: Like air

First, the title of Charlene Li's talk seems right. Social media misses the's really about social networking. People use media for a purpose...networking for instance.

But I'd expect Charlene Li to understand that. Formerly of Forrester, her title now is Thought Leader at Altimeter Group, her very own company.

So where is Social Networking headed? Well, ladies and gentlemen, Charlene Li's take [with my comments in [brackets]:


Tim Berners Lee designed the web as a social tool, not a technical one. (From his book Weaving the Web).

What's a social site? Bebo, Orkut, LinkedIn? Habbo? Twitter? Here's a prediction [wait for it...]:

Social networks will be like air [so, she's selling the network's importance, not the tools (i.e, the sites)...true, but not an investment tip!].

[What about media like TV? How does that get 'social'? ]

It's all about seeing your friends...or people in your neighbohood. A company called Integra5 inserts chats via set top boxes around tv programs 

[any shared activity can be a social media acitvity though, yes? A multiplayer game online, thru the TV using XBox Live for instance?]

Three things that matter in a social network:
  1. Identity-who are you? [you get to manage the definition of you...not marketers]
  2. Contacts-who do you know? [but what is the depth of friendship? Is friending a brand on Facebook really about intimacy?]
  3. Activities-What do you do? [marketers  have access to much of thie behavioral data online]
Two sets of standards emerging in social networking toolset:

Facebook + Open Stack.

Open stack, consortium of companies like Yahoo, Microsoft, Plaxo and others. Includes: 
  • OpenID
  • XRDS Simple
  • Oauth
  • Portable Contacts
  • Open Social
Not a war between these standards. 

Some key components of any social networking system include:

  • Identity Management:Identities, likewise, reflect the myriad identities of the individual. OpenID enables your vairous identities to be managed, but which do you select?
  • Friend Management: expanding level of intimacy is embedded in how much access you give...and which tools you use to manage the relationship. [Not everyone gets your mobile number, but you might allow thousands of followers on Twitter.]
  • Privacy + Permission Management: Easier to manage: always a tradeoff though. An example of automated tools that determine who you email most often to autofill the "to' that a violation of privacy for the email system to do this for you without your permission?

Why social ads don't work

Leveraging realtionships to target ads and offers: Most social ads require an explicit action...whether its gifting or vibing, you're asking a user to spend time doing something. That's a challenge [we all have a limited amoung of time each day...its the same 24 hours no matter who you are].

A better way? Using network neighbor concept. A company called Media6 maps who is closest to you...using non-personally identifiable information in a cookie. [The you get remarketed based on the idea that wherever you neighbor goes, you're likely to go...isn;t this just birds of a feather? How to account for the human to desire to be different in some circumstances vs fitting in?]

The rise of the Personal CPM: 

Augmenting the CPM with social influence, behavior [I think this would be the CPP...cost per person, not thousands of persons...and isn't this Google's entire premise in search, without all the assumptions about influence and friends?]

Success factors for business:
  1. Where does Social [The noun!] make sense?
  2. Get your backend in order [backend data, that is.
  3. Integrate social networks into your org chart with the customer at the top [it would be even 'cooler' if the cusotmer was at the center of the organization].
Why so hard for organizations to embrace? Because it changes the power dynamic in the organizational relationships to the customer...customer contact is the most important role int he organization.

Twitter: @charleneli

Slides at

Call of duty 5: Gaming crashes

A dozen game playing people blast virtual Nazi Zombies...or each Call of Duty 5 competition at Screenburn Arcade at SXSW.

Gaming is alive and well in the down economy...gaming from the pc (vs consoles like xbox, ps3 or Wii) is making a less robust showing at this year's screenburn show at SXSW.

The image in this post shows individuals playing against each other...lacks the social aspects that have been selling the console version and were the highlight of last years team competitions at screenburn. 

However, tomorrow's game development competition may be where the gaming action is.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Get your SXSW on

I'm heading to the annual South by Southwest (SXSW) Interactive Festival this weekend and will be posting from the sessions as live as I can.

What's SXSW you ask? 

Well, you can check out the promotional info here. Or you can read the next sentence. The SXSW interactive festival is one of the best attended combinations of creative new technology going. It's not just a geek fest though, it's a celebration of using technology creatively...sometimes to solve problems, sometimes to inspire our better selves, and sometimes just to have fun. 

Last year, we used the festival to kick off the RKDNA blog. We covered events big and small, including an attention getting  interview with Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, sessions on the future of consumer electronics, gaming, social media and more (see here for March 08 posts from SXSW).

This year's festival looks to break last year's attendance spite of the economy...which says something about the value attendees find.

You can see the full set of panel topics here. And if there's something you'd like to know more about, feel free to post a comment and I'll try to check it out on your behalf. 

You can also see what others think by checking out the SXSW feed at Technorati below

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Interest-based advertising: Go define yourself

Google is entering the ad targetting business...calling it 'interest-based' advertising. Yes, ad targetting has been around forever (in online ad terms)...but Google's doing it the way they do most things: differently.

Here's the complete information explaining how it all works (here). In essence, you get to see how you are being targetted against a list of interest categories that advertisers use. Ads are served to you based on these interest categories.

Most importantly, Google makes the process of ad targetting transparent to the targetted user. In Google's world, users get to see what interests are being used to target them for advertising, but they also can define for themselves their interests.  

So What?

Consistent with one of our 2009 marketing themes (see Theme 1), Google's approach reflects the reality of the online ecosystem.  Google acknowledges + exploits this reality: That users define why not let them decide what advertising is most relevant + useful to them?

As we've posted on several occassions, when individuals are in control, they seldom conform to the neat + tidy stereotypes of prizm clusters or the gender/race/age identities used to target so much of traditional advertising. Online, users place a premium on utility and usability...which are inherently individual. 

So rather than trying to be more intrusive (see theme 4), with ever-more interruptive formats (prior post here) using only behavioral-based click pattern assumptions, Google prefers to pursue an online advertising experience that adds utility + relevance to the end user.  In the process, advertisers should find themselves connecting their advertisements with people who actually care. 

Define yourself here. 

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Intrusion + Interruption: Positioning the advertising?

We've talked about banner blindness, ad deflation and the general tendency of users to despise unrequested interruption online...and offline.  And yet, the online ad industry sees fit to shout out that the web needs more intrusion and disruption if the ad business is to combat these ills. 


  1. Three new formats are proposed by the Online Publishers Association (here). These new 'super banners' will eliminate the annoying tendency of banners to get out of the way when a user scrolls, to suffer from 'banner blindness' and generally being ignored, and require a site's users to pay...with their attention.
  2. VideoEgg calls for more intrusion and awareness to salvage the online medium as a branding medium, using 'interruption, cool, and rich media' (here)
  3. Short Tail Media (you just know where this is headed) CEO David Payne calls for a return to the successful tactics of the 1950s, when TV invented the successful approach to interruption + attention we now call ads. (here).
We can all agree that publishers need better ways to monetize content. And that's an entirely different post. The challenge with the publishing business going back to what it's known is, well, going backward...not forward. 

The best part of the whole debate about interruption is that, online, it's a thoroughly testable proposition. We need not debate the search-based approach to advertising (the unintrusive kind)...we know it works and why. But for the very few sites that truly command monopoly attention (um, the Short Tail sites?), forcing users to endure interruptive advertising may work...I say go for it, and let us all know how that turns out for you! 

For the other 110 million sites that aren't ESPN or CNN and who have to compete for the long- tail user's attention, beware: an interruptive ad experience may just define your site's brand experience in totality. It would be a sad day indeed when an online brand ends up positioning itself based on its advertising style.

Monday, March 09, 2009

Creative as a commodity: Design outside the box

Much is made of the role creative plays in digital and traditional design. 

In traditional agencies, creative is even a noun, usually synonomous with an entire group of people, organized in a box...on a chart.

In much of the digital world, creative is more an adjective, used to describe the manner in which people approach something...these people may be technical, client service, analytic or image + word focussed among others. 

Inevitably, there is a role--and a need--for both definitions. It's often the tension between the interpretation of terms like 'creative' that makes for the most interesting reading. Especially when the digital domain becomes a channel for selling 'creative'. Like wants to make graphic design and creative a commodity. Done on spec. 

Here's how it works: you need something designed. A website, a logo, a tshirt (an ad campaign?!). You lay out the specs, what you are willing to pay, and run a competition. Anyone...credentialled or otherwise...who wants to submit a design can. You pick the winner, you get the design, the designer gets the dough.

In some ways it's like submitting a bid, but with the spec creative attached. Of course noone wants to do spec work, but there are more than 12,000 designers registered with the site, a sure sign that there are many who are willing.

So What?

Three possible implications jump out (I'm, sure there are many others...please append as you see fit):

1. With increasing competition and a show-me-what-I'm-paying-for approach to bidding, downward pressure on design rates would seem inevitable through sites like crowdspring and others (e.g.,,

2. With increasing competition, perhaps agencies will resort to spec work to keep their creative departments engaged? It might be effective in retaining current clients or in the hopes of turning a project into an account with a new prospect.

3. When creative is commoditized, attributes like customer service and value adds may become the table stakes of differentiation (now there's a bundle of buzzwords!).

Surely there will be legitimate hue and cry about quality and credentials from entrenched interests in the creative-as-a-noun club (see prior post here). And while some large companies have signed up and used CrowdSpring and similar sites, noone expects large scale creative work to be bid on spec...yet. Then again, many have been slow to realize the online impact on offline business...notable among the late adopters are the creative-as-a-noun agencies.

In the digital space, like the free market at large, a little creative destruction can go a long way toward encouraging out of the box thinking.

Friday, March 06, 2009

In Advertising We Trust

[Today's post is from Claudia Zellman, Account Supervisor at R+K]

So I set my TiVo to record TNT’s new drama Trust Me many months ago in anticipation of a series centering on two best friends working as creative partners at a top-ranked Chicago ad agency.  I mean, hello? Advertising, Chicago, it sounds like programming tailor made for me.  I pictured The Office but about the ad biz instead of the paper industry.  Perfect! Then by the time the show finally started, I had forgotten all about it. I didn’t hear any chatter around the office, no big hype or ratings that I saw. 

Last week, I got a call from my father-in-law who had started watching it asking me how “real” or how “funny” I thought it was. Turns out the first two episodes had already been collecting dust on my DVR so I finally sat down to watch and see if I was missing anything. 

So, what can I tell you? Is it true to life? Entertaining? So far, I would say yes. It’s definitely filled with clich├ęs – the writers know what they are talking about having worked in the industry for 20 years at well known agencies like J. Walter Thompson and Leo Burnett. I was extremely impressed that they went through all the trouble of creating a website for their “fake agency” – complete with client extranet!! Very realistic (here).  

I imagine that the success of AMC's Mad Men could have had something to do with the premise of the new show. Who knew advertising would be so relatable and interesting to the masses? Or are we just talking to ourselves? Well, that’s where the jury is still out for me. Mad Men is this retro, glamorous, un-politically correct drama with well written plots and smart scripts that is more about the era than about an accurate depiction of advertising. The humor in Trust Me is certainly a refreshing departure from the soap opera drama in Mad Men but I wonder if people outside of the industry will relate too. 

My focus group of one, my husband, thinks yes (but he doesn’t count because he already has kind of an insider perspective from my raves and rants about my job!). The tidbits from real life, like the unveiling of the Effen campaign and mentions of well known brands like Dove and Potbelly’s is rewarding somehow and may just be enough for people to get hooked. 

I personally don’t know if I can unwind from the work day watching another show about work! Even if it made me chuckle, it also made my stomach turn when things weren’t going well for the Agency. So jury is still out for me, I really wanted to like it but think it got off to a slow start. 

Now let the virtual office cooler talk begin…..what do you think???…….  

Thursday, March 05, 2009

Online Reputation Management: Minding the expectation gap

Yep, the web democratizes information. Everyone with an internet connection can be a blogger-journalist, twitterreporter or impassioned consumerist friendfeeder.

Plumbers, cleaning services and pest control companies can all have their reputation polished or tarnished on Craigslist, Angies List and a host of consumer review sites. 

In the ideal world (which is to say, the world that does not exist) one's online reputation would be a direct output of the quality of service/product one delivers. Like politics, though, online reputations reflect the numerous individual interpretations of 'truth' that real people, reasonable or otherwise, can reasonably be expected to hold.

Take doctors and healthcare. Did the doctor fix you? Were you fixable? 

The expectation gap inherent in these questions can lead to smiles or to a malpractice suit. In between these extremes are the thousands of online comments that serve to define Doctor Who or Doctor What's reputation. Online reputations can become so important that some feel the need to attempt to manage the unmanageable: through legal means (or at least the intimidation of a legal threat).

Some doctors have taken to having patients sign agreements that they won't post bad things online about the doctor under threat of legal action (here)...when the First Amendment meets Healthcare Reform, expect drama.

Marketers, PR professionals and company leaders big and small all ride the volatile love-hate relationship coaster with those online: We love those who would sing the company's praises--and stress out over those who so "unfairly" shout out the injustice of our company's practices...from perceived abuses of human rights in the developing world to callous call center support.

Managing one's reputation online can be a fulltime job...not every Twitterer or TripAdvisor review warrants a response. But you can't know which ones do and don't if you don't even know what you don't know. 

In some regards, this is the value proposition of a tool like Twitter search...when companies are able to search the realtime grunts and groans of customers and prospects, they can make informed responses to the realtime online reputation (hopefully derived from the real world brand experience)...this approach is also known as dialogue.

Then again, there are those who would make their fortune serving as arbiters of reputations through a neat and tidy score. Vanno, The Company Reputation Index, makes it simple to let people search a company against several criteria to see what their reputation is...all from the convenience of a widget anyone can post on their blog/web microphone:

One can ask the question, though: Why isn't Vanno in the index? [UPDATE: My bad. Apparently Vanno's parent company IS in the index...see comment from Nick DiGiacomo co-founder in comments section]

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

The Corporate Website: 3 things to know well

We work with some pretty big names in our little corner of the world. 

And these big names often have big company websites. Like the biggies, even our smaller client companies (we love them just as much) sometimes feel the natural pull to talk online about what they really know best...and that's themselves.

Heck, even our corporate website is mostly about ourselves...and the traffic shows it. Job postings are number one...big time. Always have been. Because that's not just about us.

The challenge for the corporate website, then, is to find a way to talk with the real people about what they want...on their terms. 

The struggle is that Corporate websites are generally a collection of items intended to serve a collection of interests....everyone, if noone in particular. They are typically amalgams, created and maintained by a virtual army of vendors + partners, internal and external stakeholders, with noone really in charge. 

Here's three things that (in our experience) a corporate website needs:

1: A customer-centric experience

By organizing—and enabling action—around the tasks of customers, the corporate website ensures that the user’s experience contributes favorably to the overall brand impression.

A customer-centric experience starts with defining the customer of course. Then it embeds:
  • Usability: Ensuring a usable online experience (that the user is able to complete the task they set out to accomplish efficiently, consistently, and without unrecoverable error). This starts with task-based design that identifies, supports, and is consistent with the way a user expects things to work (Should it matter to you if your phone company's billing department is called 'Revenue Reconciliation'? Would you click on such a link if you had a question about your bill?).  
  • Utility: Prioritizing information that is useful and relevant to customers and making it available where customers want it (including 3rd party sites, microsites, and mobile devices for example). I can get market data from my broker on my phone...or flight status notifications from my airline. I'm not required to visit the corporate website for every transaction. Utility can include the ability to listen—and respond—to the feedback and input of the customer voice online...want to know what's working or not? Ask...and listen. 
  • Desirability: Ensuring that the online experience reflects at least some of the aspirational and emotional goals of the customer. This includes personalization + humanity: Ensuring that, wherever possible, the online experience remains human, uplifting and forward looking.  Your customer's shouldn't feel the cold impersonality of the corporation.  They should recognize themselves in the tone and imagery of content and see names and faces of the very real people who make up the company).
2:   Metrics + Measurement

The online + digital realm provide numerous opportunities for capturing, analyzing and using data. Integrating this data into ongoing corporate website planning and execution enables integration among elements of the larger sales and marketing experience. There is no secret measurement, no single dimension that explains success (or failure!).  

Effective metrics and measurement of the corporate website rely, instead, on:

  • Sharing: Regular communication of the performance of online ads, search, and web traffic among clients, vendors, and partners and among internal and external stakeholders. 
  • Analysis: Assessing clickstream data against key performance indicators to answer the questions already asked and using data to determine what new questions ought to be...including what you should ask users (see Utility above). 
  • Integration: Using online data to inform, evolve, and more tightly integrate offline sales and marketing strategies.

3: Innovation + testing

The corporate website presents an opportunity for marketing innovation. And we're not just talking about implementing technology that all the cool kids are playing with. It's about providing a different expectation of the company website:
  • Establishing the company as a facilitator: Expanding offerings online to encompass a broader context in which the company's product or service is used. Third party information, non-traditional formats, options for customer participation in product design. Engagement isn't something that only Apple, Dell and Nike get to do. And it doesn't require that a company do it all themselves. Partnerships and sponsorships work online too you know.
  • Leveraging non-traditional tools (of course, today's non-traditional tools become tomorrow's mainstream media) for enhancing the customer experience and testing them on a small scale. Though company's tend to think big, innovation requires small scale tests and the ability to scale what works...and jettison what doesn't. This requires a more scientific approach to trial and error than one built on intuition or personal preference.

None of this is rocket science of course. Nor is it comprehensive. Hopefully it's a useful referesher on a few of the important principles for creating an online experience a customer finds worth knowing.


But as the online world moves faster toward a

Monday, March 02, 2009

Twitter for Business: Why free isn't always good

Over the last year, we've posted on and about Twitter, Tweetathons and various approaches to always-on information-sharing with Twitter. Even staid agri-businesses, like Monsanto, now have Twitter accounts (here).

Twitter, though, still isn't quite ready for primetime business success. Again this morning... 


Social media may not be about marketing (here), but Twitter seems continually to remind us why it's still a free service.

And, yes, the Skittle campaign may be to blame (here).