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Fundamentals 2.0 – Open beats closed. Every time. October 23, 2008

Posted by David Gillespie in business strategy, philosophy, strategy, web 2.0, work/life.
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The image of author, essayist, poet, Ralph Wal...

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This is the sixth post in my series on The A-Z of 2.0.

As to methods there may be a million and then some, but principles are few. The man who grasps principles can successfully select his own methods. The man who tries methods, ignoring principles, is sure to have trouble. – Ralph Waldo Emerson

I can’t get it out of my head, I hope you can’t get it out of yours. If you’re managing then you’re not trying hard enough, you’re not grasping it deeply enough, you are, as I’ve recently stolen from the great Ralph Waldo Emerson, relying on methods as opposed to principles, where one leaves but a handful of tools at your disposal, the other gives you the knowledge to decide whether you want to use tools at all.

Advertising is dead, long live advertising. Where are we as opposed to where we were. Five, ten, fifteen years ago? What has changed so drastically at the level of sheer corporate, psychological and emotional DNA that those who get it are in many ways mutants, and those who don’t spend their time wielding traditional authority while looking nervously over their shoulders for what might be coming, deep in the night, right when they least expect it.

The fundamentals of what we’re doing are shifting. The A-Z of 2.0 isn’t about marketing or business, it is about everything. Everything is changing, and we all have two options: we can run with it or we can stand still and be taken along with the tide; we ride the waves or get caught on the reef below.

I can appreciate why this causes consternation among most people, we’re not naturally geared for change, we’re ostensibly creatures of habit, we make our lives familiar and manageable through a routine devised for us thanks to titans of media deciding when we’ll be inside thanks to the scheduling of Lost or Grey’s Anatomy. I don’t watch TV anymore, and in the generation coming up behind me that is going to be more of the norm than anyone who does not grasp open beats closed realises.

Because a TV schedule is a method of control. And because open beats closed is a principle that circumvents it. We’re changing the fundamentals of the methods used to entertain us for the last forty or fifty years, but what the big media companies are failing to understand is that does not mean we are forsaking the principles; we still need to escape, to live vicariously through characters on stage and screen, in books and music and art the way we have for thousands of years; to define ourselves through a greater collective consciousness. A song downloaded illegally is a challenge to an outdated method of distribution and value exchange; it is not a challenge to the principle that music is valuable and worth something, it is simply being couched in different terms, and we’re working with different currencies.

The crux is all business as we know it is founded on method and not principle. Almost every business anyway, I can think of one we all know, one with a principle of “Don’t be evil”. Where’s the method in Google that consistently trumps principle? With the understanding that no brand, business or person is ever perfect, show me a company that does it better.

We are more than a hundred and fifty years on from Ralph Waldo Emerson’s great insight, yet so many are still decades from grasping it that it has taken the invention of the internet and to some extents the rise and proliferation of social media for that to really take shape and force.

For businesses of all shapes and sizes to not only grasp the Fundamentals of 2.0, but move with them and avoid the reef below, they are going to need to adhere to higher standards, to move out of the quagmire of method and practice and habit, to step away from routine and the way we have always done it, and not only understand but be excited by the idea that we can do better. America 2.0, Borders 2.0, Celebrity 2.0, Dogma 2.0, Everyone 2.0 – these are all ideas based on principle, they frame the discussion and force us all to higher ground.

Principles beat method. Open beats closed. The way we have been is not the way we will be.

What is the point otherwise?

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Using consumers to tell your story for you (or “Hey diddle-diddle to the people in the middle”) October 23, 2008

Posted by David Gillespie in social media, storytelling, web 2.0.
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So last week I identified the three ways stories are getting told in advertising. Today I want to talk about the second one: A narrative with the brand at the centre of the story but with the story being generated by consumers, leaving the direction of it loosely defined, usually through a particular campaign moving in a very particular direction. Also known as: User Generated Content.

I said this last week in the office and came under fire for it, but I’m going to wheel it out again because I think it’s true: user-generated content in its current context is a crock.

An absolute crock.

Marketers: you don’t want a UGC campaign. Agencies: stop telling them they want them, they don’t, not if they really understood the trade-offs. And in fact if you really understood them too, you wouldn’t recommend them either.

Ralph Waldo Emerson once wrote the following:

As to methods there may be a million and then some, but principles are few. The man who grasps principles can successfully select his own methods. The man who tries methods, ignoring principles, is sure to have trouble.

The methods are simple: give people a platform, incentivise their involvement, and then let them get on with it. The problem here is the principles of user-generated content stem from people behaving in their natural state, creating work because they want to and not manufacturing it for a purpose other than self-expression and social currency. Brands see the natural enthusiasm people exhibit in their daily lives and and hope to co-opt it into their own work, which is like U2 showing up at an indie rock gig, deciding they like a song and then wheeling it out at Wembley Arena the following night.

In the above scenario, U2 wins by bringing the indie band on stage with them, playing the song together. U2 gets kudos for being hip and championing the next generation, the new band gets exposed to a new audience, everyone wins. Everyone wins. That is a principle of user-generated content, of social media. Mutual gain and that being a good thing is a principle – method is acquiring content for a campaign; that is neither cutting-edge nor insightful and increasingly out of touch.

I could go on, but instead just read this great synopsis of a terribly poor effort on BMW’s part, which sums it up perfectly. Brands need consumers more than consumers need brands. Without them their stories mean nothing, and without meaningful stories, there’ll be nothing to tell anyone else about anything at all.

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