Thursday, 29 November 2007

What's in a name...

Informed my mother this morning I was struggling for what to write in my blog today - a worry as it's only Day 3 but I'm sure I'll continue to find inspiration. Her eyes glaze over and she looks at me like I'm some kind of bizarre Star Wars loving, Buffy addicted, science fiction freak who has finally lost the plot and become a complete cyper recluse. Ok, so the majority is not that far off the mark but it did make me think about attitude towards "digital specialists" througout business and the reputation they are still yet to shake off.

For years, there has been a small but select group of people around me who know and love the brave new world online. They were the early adopters of social networking, all things gaming, Web name it, they've a buzzword for it. Throughout that time my naturally slightly mathemetical and scientific brain has meant my interest was more than a little piqued, hence my current career. It's been great, picking up bits of information, learning the words, sounding intelligent and foxing everyone else around me while deploring how little the rest of the world understands and how we'll always be in the minority. I'm not entirely sure we ever thought what would happen if everyone else did catch up or if our egos could handle it. Best bet was to keep learning away and talk in a slightly different language that no-one else could really understand and then they might just go away.

Fact is, they didn't and we don't - talk in a different language that is. More worrying than the maternal disappointment is the sheer fact that a retired English teacher who obsesses over Shakespeare is not only fully aware of what a "blog" is but has formed an opinion about those who maintain them. It was only a few months ago I was convincing the family in general that I didn't know how to fix the printer even though "yes, I do work with computers...".

So is that ok? How do the digital brethren (I might not have an I-Pod but digital's in my job title) feel about no longer holding all the knowledge now the geeks have inherited the Google Earth but everyone else has got in on the action too?

Personally, I believe, the world will always need the geek...sorry the "digital specialist" because the opportunites and possibilities are truly endless and without the obsessives finding their way we'll simply be lost in space. So I'm happy that everyone else is coming along because it's about time but I'll still be listening to my early adopters, my geeks, my obsessives because there's a bloody long way to go yet...

Wednesday, 28 November 2007

The Long Tail of Brands...

I'm going to see "The Damned" in concert tonight - the original punk band that apparently had their lime light stolen by The Sex Pistols. I can't profess to hold an opinion on any of this as it was all way before my time but either way I'm off to re-live a youth I never had.

Thing is, as a teenager, growing up in the '60s, '70s or '80s gave you all sorts of groups you could subscribe to with pride - whether you were a mod, a rocker, a punk, a yuppie, disco or goth there were large groups of people similar to you that stood out from the norm and shaped your decade. The brand of every group was clear, for example, the punk stood for anarchy, rebellion and a freedom of spirit and whether or not you were a part of that group you knew the group values and had some level of respect (certainly with hindsight) for what they were doing.

Ever since the mid '90s all this has begun to fade. The half hearted attempt that was "grunge" stood for nothing in particular that I can remember and that was very much my era. You could be led to thinking the brands of youth culture and well and truly dead...

Bollocks. It isn't - or at least I think it isn't. It's just been dragged through the Long Tail Process along with everything else we ever held dear...and it's fantastic. Take a virtual stroll through MySpace, Bebo and the endless others and there are now millions of brands influcencing youth...they are their own. Web 2.0 has given young people the opportunity to create their own brand, to control the pictures, fashion, music and words that they want to be associated with. They no longer have to make do with the brand that "best fits" them because they create their own that is 100% right for them.

They directly network with the people they want to influence, with abrand they create and protect with as much ferocity as any FMCG Brand Manager. Don't believe me? We all do it... When was the last time you uploaded a picture of yourself on Facebook that made you look ugly,dull or stupid? Or changed your status to say "___ is insecure and desperate for your approval"? You just don't - you filter out the rubbish and make sure that the one time this month you did anything of any interest you put it on that profile page quick smart.

Fantastic - the only issue it raises is that we are on the cusp of a new consumer. No wonder brand marketing is a dying art - why would we now align ourselves to a poorly fitting product from a poorly fitting brand when a higher level of personalisation is ever present? I don't want a BMW that puts me in the old fashioned "BMW driver" category...I don't want to match myself to a car brand, I want a car brand that matches my brand.

Brands in business, unlike natural brands, haven't caught up yet - they are one of the last remaining areas of business that have not gone through the long tail yet. Maybe the invention of sub brands by some of the bigger brands shows a slow recognition - choose Tesco's, then choose Finest or Value...but it's a tiny step on the road. Response marketing and products have all adapted in response to the "evolve or die" concept...brand marketing is now faced with the same ugly choice.

Tuesday, 27 November 2007

Why it isn't working...

Studying "Pyschology of Politics" back in 1999 never seemed more relevant than to satisfy a bizarre curiosity I may have had to find why exactly Hitler was such an arse. I never imagined that it would give me an insight into a particularly nasty paradox currently facing the publishing industry of the late 2000s.

The key learning that stayed with me - a miracle really considering the level of general abuse my brain underwent at Newcastle around the same time - is that the qualites that make someone able to become a leader (ambition, single mindedness, drive, arrogance, self belief) are the EXACT OPPOSITE to those which make some a good leader (a good listener, belief in the group). The more you think about the more true it is, the best leaders the world has ever seen were not born politically ambitious but were either born into it such as Queen Victoria, or thrust into it such as Churchill.

So, bringing this back to the media indutry we are faced with the same paradox. For decades, editors have been employed, lauded, rewarded and loved for being self-opinionated, arrogant, single minded mini-Caesars who believe that above and beyond anything - they are right. Of course, they have to be - if you sell opinion, your opinion, you've got to believe in it. However, in the new age of "Web 2.0", "UGC" and all the other associated buzzwords - a new image of a successful editor is born. One who believes their sole role is to aggregate and help the voice of the consumer, who puts the consumer's opinion first and equal only with that of other consumers. This is an editor who is unassuming, without the need to broadcase their opinion and possibly self-depracating.

The Successful Online Editor and the Successful Offline Editor are 2 ultimately different people and asking one person to be both, successfully is an impossible ask... The solution, whether it be separate people, separate teams, separate companies or a clear idea of offline versus online importance is still not clear