Google’s Think Video event

Yesterday, I attended the Google/Youtube hosted event “Think Video”. It was an event primarily aimed at marketers (research seminars tend not to have goodie bags), but I found it an interesting – if not groundbreaking – session.

Below are some of the notes I scribbled down during the talks. I’ve linked or embedded the presentations, where they are available.

Quantitative overview of the market

After an introduction from Dara Nasr, Dan Cryan of Screen Digest gave the first talk with a speedy overview of the current state of the online video market, and where it is heading.

Some statistics and projections I noted include (note that I was having to write quickly to keep up with Dan, and so there may be some errors in the below)

  • 90% of online views will be user-generated content in 2014 – about 2.5bn viewing hours
  • In 2014, ad-supported revenues will be around £180m, transactional VOD £40m and download to own £10m.
  • At this time, online TV will still only be 2% of the total TV market
  • Currently, 67% of online video viewing is short form, since “work time is prime time”
  • At the moment, 80% of the UK online video revenues are with the broadcasters. In the US, it is only 57% but Hulu represents the majority of the difference (Hulu looks like it is losing a lot of money at the moment, since 70% of its revenues goes to the broadcasters.

I found the most interesting part of the talk to be about distribution strategies, and whether to affiliate and syndicate or not. It would appear to be a good move, given the increases in reach that such a tactic produces. Quoting Comscore figures, Dan showed that in the US

  • ABC has 4.7m monthly site users but 9.9m monthly video viewers
  • Youtube has 98.2m visitors but 120m viewers
  • Hulu has 8.4m visitors but 38.1m viewers

Within this distributed model, there are two main options. Hulu operates the “player as the platform” strategy, where it allows its player to be embedded on sites such as MSN and Yahoo!, enabling it to retain control over advertising sales revenue. The alternative – which Channel 4 and Five appear to be pursuing, is “content as the platform”, where they licence their content to other video sites to include in their players.

The power of social

Neil Perkin of Only Dead Fish followed this talk with his keynote on the importance of social and data in online video. The presentation can be seen below (RSS viewers may need to click through)

Some of the key points I took from the presentation were:

  • Businesses should get their hands dirty – Neil has learned about the space by participating in it
  • Cisco say that in 2013 90% of data will be video, while 70% of data will be created by individuals. For businesses to succeed, they need to derive value from data – of which metadata is the fastest growing category. I’m a big believer in this.
  • However, businesses also need to understand social. Media brands are now less defined by the platform and more by their community (I think this is true, and we are increasingly seeing companies seeking to “own” a particular audience – whether the Guardian, Channel 4 or NME)
  • Attention is no longer the only key metric – we also need to consider participation, content and interaction
  • Distribution should be wide, with content scalable and portable. Slippy, not sticky
  • Companies need to loosen their grip on the creation process and let the community interact in pre-production, actual production or post-production.
  • Ultimately, convergence is about content flowing across channels.

Youtube’s development

The final presentation came from Bruce Daisley of Youtube, who coped admirably with technical issues that prevented his presentation being visible for the first five minutes of his talk. His presentation can be viewed via Google Documents here.

He mentioned how Youtube are looking to reinvent the experience for premium long-form content on their site. They want Youtube to be seen as a revenue opportunity by content owners, not a threat. He believes Youtube’s strengths come from 4 R’s.

  • Reach – it’s not necessarily as big as TV, but it can help build audiences. He cited Britain’s Got Talent audience figures rising from 8m in episode 1 to 12m in episode 2, fuelled by SuBo fever (of course, this can’t be blamed solely on Youtube)
  • Rights – he used Monty Python as an example of how content owners were licencing their material, and creating a viable business model
  • Research – Youtube can be seen as a virtual research community (Bruce called it an online focus group), with different creatives compared in terms of views or ratings
  • Revenue – whether through pre-rolls, in-video adverts or the front-page masthead video ad. He showed that searches for Avatar on Youtube actually peaked during the masthead campaign, and not when the film opened a few months later.These can also be integrated with Facebook, so that you can “like” an ad within Youtube.

He then quoted a range of research and statistics to highlight some of Youtube’s strengths

  • Social – Two thirds of users say they’ve sent a clip onto someone else. 10% of video views are from embedded clips on social media websites
  • Reach – a medium weight TV campaign of 160 GRPs aiming for 1+ cover among adults would reach 54% of the audience on TV. On Youtube it would reach 9% – 2% being incremental reach. This figure is higher among younger and more affluent audiences.
  • Mobile – Although mobile and TV only represent 2% of total views, iPhone users will look at an average of 3-4 clips per day, and Android users will look at 10.
  • Engagement – Ipsos have created an engagement metric across different media channels, accumulated from “around 50 metrics” (I’d be interested in hearing more about this). Of the channels shown, Youtube had the highest proportion within the high engagement band, and the least in the low (followed by BBC brands, then Channel 4, Five and ITV).

Youtube are now working with more content owners and broadcasters, with material ranging from films to the Indian Premier League. Bruce mentioned that the first company they negotiated with – the BBC – were very cautious and were arguing for removing comments, ratings and ability to embed, but gradually companies are warming to them.

He closed by talking about Youtube Bubble – a Youtube channel accumulating the best of advertising on the site. I would imagine the Evian babies dancing to Rapper’s Delight (with over 58m video views worldwide) heavily features.

Panel discussion

A Q&A session was chaired by Matt Brittin – the Managing Director of Google in the UK – who was very engaging (and puntastic). The speakers were joined by someone from Channel 4’s sales side (Ed someone, I believe) and Ben Chesters from Mediavest.

Some disjointed points I noted down during the session were:

  • Channel 4 were wary about giving specific figures in viewing across different channels, but did say that the total reach was more important than what individual channels made, since they controlled the advertising across each.
  • Ben Chesters mentioned that advertisers default to BARB for cover and frequency metrics, and that an incremental reach figure would be the killer feature needed for advertisers to trust online video
  • The first TV ads were like display advertising but with a voiceover. Currently, online video adverts are mainly repurposed 30 second spots. Gradually, this should change.
  • Neil Perkin talked about how transmedia storytelling across platforms should be emphasised. Content shouldn’t be copied onto different platforms, but should be unique to take advantage of different strengths.
  • Neil Perkin also mentioned that a big challenge for online is that it lasts forever – it is not campaign based and you can’t control who sees your spot when and how.
  • Channel 4 are trialing teaser 2-3 minute clips of forthcoming comedies to gauge reaction.
  • Answering a question from the audience, Dan Cryan mentioned online video was seeing a renaissance of the soap opera – particularly in the United Stated where sponsored and branded content is increasingly prevalent
  • And answering a question from Nick Burcher regarding the culling of Downfall mash-ups on Youtube by the studio despite the approval of both the director and the audience, Dan Cryan said “you would have to be a brave man to bet against the anarchy of distribution”. It may not always be timely or the best quality, but people will always find a way to watch what they want.
  • A final question concerned the film market online. Dan Cryan mentioned the primary barrier was the windowing of films – films make most of their money on DVD within the first 12 months. During this time, they won’t be available to view on ad-funded sites, but will gradually transfer to parallel availability on pay per view or download to own sites – though this would be more likely to be situated on a TV than a computer.

From a personal standpoint, more focus on the metrics of success would have been welcomed, but as addressed in the Q&A, this is a very thorny issue.  I would also have liked to have seen more from Youtube on how they are breaking down the distinction between TV and online and innovating in advertising formats – this Wario advert is one of my favourites – but nonetheless it was an interesting afternoon, with some useful tidbits from each of the speakers.

sk

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My name is my name

Marlo Stanfield from the WireSo says Marlo Stanfield. And he has a point.

Reputation means a lot. But reputation is about perception, and there are multiple perspectives in which it can be viewed.

Broadly, reputation can be thought of in four inter-related spheres

  • Yourself – your personal brand
  • Your organisation (this itself can have several facets, if your organisation is part of a larger conglomerate or affiliation)
  • Your industry
  • The wider public

Marlo is concerned with his personal reputation among people in the industry – “the game”. He isn’t so worried about the other facets.

With the prominence of polling in the upcoming general election, the research industry is contemplating its reputation among the wider public.

I don’t think it really matters.

This election is more partisan and contentious than any I recall (most likely driven by the likelihood of change, rising prominence of online media giving a voice to more people, and the novelty of the leadership debates). Pot-shots, such as those against YouGov, are inevitable. This article from Research Live shows how YouGov aren’t doing themselves any favours in their need for speed (and this is leaving aside their associations with The Sun/Murdoch/Conservative Party).

I don’t think it matters because the research industry is rarely public facing – the only publicity it really receives is through political polls and PR research.

I’ve written about the problems with PR research in the past, but there is evidently a market for it and so the method prospers. It might damage the reputation of the industry to the wider public but outside of recruitment  (of staff and respondents/participants) it isn’t really relevant.

As Marlo noted, it is industry reputation – for yourself and your organisation – that really matters.

It is similar to the advertising industry. Successful companies have a lot of brand equity through the quality and associations of their work – Wieden & Kennedy and Nike, Fallon and Cadbury, HHCL and Tango, and Crispin Porter & Bogusky and Burger King, to give but four examples.

But what proportion of the general public has heard of these companies, let alone recognises and appreciates their work? Not many. Is it a damning indictment of the strength of the marketing industry that it fails in promoting the most basic thing – itself? Not really. Companies attract talent and business through their successes and image – public perception doesn’t factor.

Ray Poynter is rightly concerned with the the ethics of market research but for me, the importance of this is in maintaining business links. There is no adequate means of policing the research industry – anyone can knock on a door and say they are doing a survey – so it is not a battle worth fighting.

Companies stand and fall by the quality of their work – or at least the perception of it within the industry. Sub-standard work that is openly criticised will only harm long-term prosperity.

Self-regulation and recognition, whether through a recognised body like the Market Research Society, or at a more ad hoc level, can achieve this through highlighting good and bad practice.The research industry needs to be more vocal in showcasing good work, and castigating poor work.

This in turn will filter to the individual level, where the talented and ambitious will compete to work for the top companies. This in turn strengthens the work, and thus the industry. It could even permeate to the public.

There is no quick fix to improve the standing of an industry, and in some cases it isn’t necessarily desirable. Rather than look to the big picture, we should focus on the more immediate challenges.

If we all concentrate on undertaking the best possible work, then a strong reputation – for ourselves, our organisation and our industry – will follow.

sk

NB: The clip of the scene with the quote is below (it is from Series 5, so beware of potential spoilers)

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Customer retention shouldn’t be inferior to business development

New business development is obviously an important part of business.

But client retention is integral.

It is far more important than new business development in terms of sustainable growth, yet doesn’t always have the prominence necessary to achieve this.

In some respects, it is a false comparison since client retention is a form of business development. Sales and revenues can increase from existing customers – increasing volumes, increasing margins or benefiting from advocacy and referrals.

And this is what the core focus of a business should be – servicing and delighting its core customers.

A successful business doesn’t need the most customers in its category, but it helps to have the happiest and most loyal segment (or “tribe”, to insinuate some of Seth Godin‘s beliefs).

This shouldn’t be sacrificed for the sake of bringing in more customers.

It leads to overpromising and underdelivering, causing problems for both current and new customers. I’ve witnessed a couple of examples of each

1. Making unsustainable promises: New customers may receive incentives to convert – a discount price or an extra level of service. Sometimes this is made clear, but often it isn’t. At work we were initially happy with a new supplier, but gradually the price rose and the quality of service deteriorated. It is understandable that quality of delivery varies by employee, but companies should ensure the bare minimum is of acceptable quality. This wasn’t.

2. Misselling a service: I find this issue more prevalent when the person/department for business development is different to that for ongoing account management. The sales peoples’ bonuses are short-term and based on bringing customers i; this incentivises them to oversell and make unsustainable promises. The project team then have an impossible task to live up to. And so it proved.

The above two examples highlight the problem of churn. There will always be some level of churn but a high level of departing (unsatisfied) customers completely counteracts the work that has gone into developing new business. Eventually the opportunities dry up, and the company retreats to its core.

If that core remains

3. Alienating the core audience: Moving into new markets or new segments risks alienating the core audience, if the messages used to entice the potentials aren’t consistent with what attracts the core audience. A couple of years ago ITV1 spent a lot of money on contemporary drama to try and bring in a more upmarket audience. Unfortunately, the programmes weren’t received well by the core audience and viewing figures were dismal.

4. Offering sub-standard products or services: Reaching out to new audiences may divert resources away from maintaining the quality of a core product or its associated service. I’ve seen this with MLB.tv. I’m a casual fan living in a timezone where most games don’t start until after midnight. I’ve found the archive service perfectly fine. But the core product – live games in HD and with DTR functionality have developed several faults. Not only are the core fans being deprived of their need to support their team, but the online customer support has been completely inept. Two examples of this are (you may need to click on them to enlarge and make them readable):

Crappy mlb.tv customer supportCrappy mlb.tv support

When this happens, the company ends up as a doughnut – it has some mass at the edges, but no centre.

Business development might make some short-term gains, but losing sight of customer retention will only hurt in the long run. An organisation needs to ensure it delivers on the factors that causes its core to be loyal advocates – whether uniqueness, timeliness, durability or aspiration. It’s brand promise, essentially.

Customer lifetime value might be factored into business development strategies. But without adequate support across the organisation, it remains unfulfilled as core customers depart and new customers reject the offer.

Companies need to avoid turning into doughnuts. Well, the ring kind anyway. They would want to be the other type of doughnut – with all the good stuff in the centre.

The mantra that Rob Campbell gives in this short interview sums it up better than my terrible analogy*

“We treat all clients like they’re new clients – it’s the lifeblood of our survival.”

sk

Image credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/hackett/159428076/

* I’d even rejected another analogy; one inspired by X-men. Wolverine and his adamantium skeleton is good. Penance and his empty body is bad

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Recommending Reading – 4th April 2010

If you have a spare 15 minutes this weekend, you could do worse than read the following:

Jonah Lehrer looks at Costco through his Neuroscience prism. I’m not quite sure it adequately explains why people choose to pay a subscription to enter the store, but it is still interesting reading.

Two sides of a similar coin: Tom Ewing’s latest Poptimist post considers the options of a Foursquare for music, while Paul Lamere considers a Last.fm for books. The underlying point – the more metadata collected and used, the better!

Clay Shirky’s blog postings are sparse, but always incredibly valuable. This preview of his next book – on cognitive surplus – is no exception. It prompted Kevin Kelly to announce the Shirky Principlecomplex solutions  can become so dedicated to the problem they are the solution to, that often they inadvertently perpetuate the problem

Diane Hessan has some provocative thoughts on the next generation of market research. As always, the solution depends on the problem, but I liked the points made.

This link in particular is a hard sell, but I wholeheartedly recommend you read why Bill Simmons has fallen back in love with Sabermetrics. Advanced baseball stats may not be to everyone’s taste, but it shows the power and beauty of numbers. For a more gentle introduction, you might want to read my review of Michael Lewis’ Moneyball, in which Simmons heavily features.

sk

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The persistence of channels

Channels and stations have existed for almost as long as the platforms that host them. Andrew Jerina, writing in this post, believes that channels are a waste of money, given the nature of our on-demand world. The post was in relation to BBC 6Music, and he makes some valid points, but I wholeheartedly disagree that channels are redundant.

Channels still play a valuable role in the navigation, identification and selection of content and I strongly believe that channels will persist.

This response is largely centred on television and radio stations, but several of the points are equally valid to other media – particularly print.

The rise of on demand and the “emancipation” of content won’t destroy the need for channels. Content is integral, but it is not the only constituent of a channel. A channel’s identity is the sum of its distribution, content, branding and audience. And channels maintain several advantages that cannot be as easily or effectively replicated through other means.

These include:

Incumbency – As I stated in my prior review of the books 2.0 event, I dispute the notion that friction is friction. Behaviour is highly entrenched and difficult to change. We are path dependent people and will rarely end up with what might be considered an optimal solution. Instead, we move to a better situation to our current one, if we move at all. We are comfortable with navigating by channel surfing, and it is unlikely to ever disappear

Belonging – As the outcry of 6Music shows, people relate to channels. Certain channels are seen as “for me” – whether E4, Scuzz or Radio 3. This isn’t necessarily a unique strength to channels, but a strong channel identity can facilitate a more coherent and longer-lasting relationship than a programme or platform brand can.

Signifier – Near-unlimited choice is an overwhelming prospect. The paradox of choice means we can be paralysed with uncertainty over making the wrong decision. This is also why Sky and Virgin offer channels in bundles – it simplifies the choice. Channels (either individual or groups) offer a simple filter to act as a starting point. Rather than search individual programmes or personalities, we search through channels. Even then, people aren’t going to surf through 600 odd channels. We have repertoires. A strong, coherent channel brand – whether Discovery, 1Xtra or Disney, projects a certain image that can be more impactful and relevant than a genre label such as “drama” or a single programme strand.

Destination – Following on from that, a channel in itself is a destination. Rather than queuing up a selection and making individual choices, we can just turn on a channel and remain there. Families may spend an entire evening watching ITV1 and a workplace may keep Magic FM on for the entire day.

Halo – A channel brand may be strengthened by its content, but equally the programmes can benefit from the channel identity. X Factor may be huge, but would it be as huge if it were on another channel? Even if it were on BBC One, I suspect not. A content brand is never as big as a channel brand. Hence Channel Five being unaffected by the loss of House to Sky One, or Channel 4 not seeing a significant decline in audience for other programmes during the Shilpa Shetty/Jade Goody incident. Richard & Judy succeeded in changing terrestrial channels, but couldn’t take an audience with them to digital.

“Goldilocks” size – the Goldilocks principle is where something is just right – neither too hot, nor too cold. A channel is about the right size to promote its programmes – and trailer are one of the primary ways we still find out about new shows and whether we think we will like them. Most production companies won’t have the scale to cross-promote its offerings, while the competition for space at the platform level would mean that space would be dominated by those that have the resources to pay for it

Open access – channels are additive (unless the spectrum capacity has been reached). Having access to Radio 2 won’t preclude access to Radio 4. However, this isn’t the case with platforms. With a couple of exceptions – notably Hong Kong, with its fragmented media landscape – we tend to have one platform and stick with it (e.g. Sky or Virgin). Either-Or. If platforms control content, they would be more likely to prevent it being on the other platform in order to increase their own sales (Sky Sports, for example). With channels competing across and within platforms, this isn’t the case.

This has been quite a one-sided post, and of course there are drawbacks to channels. But I strongly believe they will continue.

In future, could we create our own channels? Yes we could – our systems could be highly personalised with social or semantic programme recommendations. But, as with online consumption, this can create balkanisation (which I’ve previously written about here. It also requires an acceptance of rationality and logical choices, and an element of user input to define the parameters. Things not necessarily congruous with the lean-back medium of television or the audio wallpaper of radio.

My point of view may not resonate with the online masses, who largely seem to be of the opinion that social-powered on-demand is the way of the future. I don’t think I’m a Luddite, a conservative, or a traditionalist. But for something to become not just mainstream behaviour but standard behaviour it needs to offer a clear improvement on something. And, personally, I think channels are just fine.

sk

Image credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/the-g-uk/3755118573/

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From hardbacks to Hot Bytes

Yesterday, thanks to a prompt from Neil Perkin, I attended Olswang and Rich Futures’ event on the future of books and publishing, entitled From Hardbacks to Hot Bytes.

NB: Original blog post has been updated with slides and AV from the event

Not having much (well, any) experience in books or publishing but having done some work on digital distribution with regards to TV and video, I attended more as an interested observer rather than an active stakeholder.

And I enjoyed it, for what it was. Given the above, Clive Rich’s talk on contractual and legal concerns with the Future of Publishing held little interest for me. But Dominic Pride of The Sound Horizon and, particularly, Gerd Leonhard had some stimulating observations and provocations.

Dominic’s talk was on the near future and so a lot of his material contained things I was already familiar with, though there were some useful nuggets. Gerd took a longer term view and, despite disagreeing with several of his contentions, his points were nevertheless well made and thought-provoking.

Gerd Leonhard’s talk

Gerd’s website contains a lot of his published work and presentations, and this was no exception. The Slideshare embed is:

He started his talk by saying we should beware of toxic assumptions (or mesofacts, to refer to an article I mentioned yesterday). For instance, paid downloads are now declining in number – suggesting they aren’t the future and that people are starting to reach the saturation point where they have “enough” music.

Gerd mentioned that his broad themes are in mobile, social, transparency, real-time and connectivity. But there were a couple of specific themes underlying this presentation

1. The decline of physical

He contended that in future digital copies will be first and physical copies second. He cited Texas Instruments as currently making a third of their income from iPhone apps, and games moving from hardware to software.

In my opinion, this is certainly a trend – though the games manufacturers’ current shift in focus to peripheries (such as Natal or Move) doesn’t rule out a return to hardware in future.

However, I do contend with the notion that “friction is fiction”. It is not certain that, in the long term, all obvious trends are fulfilled. For instance, Gerd suggested that the TV industry is lucky that people still watch TV – it is only because the content is currently good and that people don’t know about internet TV. I would argue – and have done – that the nature of TV means that it will always continue to exist and be paramount in people’s viewing experience. This is because the notion of TV is adaptable – whether satellite, interactive, via a hard disc, 3D or indeed internet-enabled.

People generally like to stick with what they know, and the desire for familiarity can persist. Why else do digital cameras have the superfluous shutter sound, other than to reassure those that the photo was indeed taken?

2. The value is in more than the product

Gerd cited Starbucks as an example of a brand that successful moved from commodity to product to service to experience. Experience and relevance are the keys to future value, not the content itself.

The key to monetizing is to be immersive. The price per unit of content may decrease but content is now a service and can be passed on to a much larger audience. In order to do this, organisations need to find the new generatives (or assets) that people will pay for.

The value of a book is now distributed across

  • Content
  • Context
  • Curation
  • Social
  • Interactive
  • Packaging/format

This means that the role of a publisher – which will still exist due to strengths in scale, access and logistical expertise – becomes one of

  • Curation
  • Collation
  • Culling
  • Contextualising
  • Connecting

Moving away from product to service feeds into the third theme

3. The importance of access

“Making it available is the key to growing your business”. Distribution was missing from the value chain above because it can be bypassed. Any person in the industry – such as Edgar J. Bronfman – who thinks that consumers can be “educated” in the best way to access material will be mistaken

A crucial requirement in this is to trust the users – they cannot be punished into purchasing something. Ubiquity must be assumed, and business models developed from there.

Ubiquity is within the cloud. Gerd made the interesting point that digital rights management is not needed in the cloud, since it effectively has in-built copy protection – we won’t share our mobile, password or profile information.

Again, I’m a little sceptical about this point as it comes back to friction. I agree that incumbents shouldn’t take their position for granted. But the key to distribution isn’t necessarily to be the best. It is to be the easiest. And that benefits the incumbent, since it has already standardised the behaviour – something that is incredibly hard to do.

This is why I think physical books will remain. I can see how all-you-can-eat subscription models with open access can work for TV/video and music/audio – diverse content is consumed in large volumes on a frequent basis. But books tend to be consumed one or two at a time, over a longer period. Indeed, many people will only read the latest bestseller on holiday over the entire year – something they can either borrow from a friend or buy from Tesco for £3.74. Why would they want to invest in digital hardware (such as an iPad) or an open-access subscription?

I suppose, to twist another of Gerd’s points, the answer is that the business model is “they pay”, rather than “I pay” of “we pay”. Books are too low frequency for paid for subscriptions, but services can be funded or subsidised by companies who gain marketing benefits. Though whether they gain enough brand equity or customer information from low-frequency readers is another matter.

Dominic Pride’s talk

What different companies seek to gain from publishing was something that Dominic touched upon

  • Digital retailers want volume and margin
  • Consumer electronic companies want a USP
  • Access partners want retention and ARPU
  • Agencies and brands want advertising inventory and audience engagement

In this, revenue isn’t always the primary return. It could be access or data, for instance.

These feed into Dominic’s ecosystem, in which he argued that the previous linear model is no longer valid due to the proliferation of competition across the distribution and retail aspects. This ecosystem also helps to break out of the notion that the customer is just an end user. Instead, they can add value by recommending, sharing or reviewing. These all feed back into a service model, where value is more long-term than for a mere product.

The crux of Dominic’s talk was that e-readers shouldn’t seek to recreate the book format, since digital is not a format substitution (such as moving from LP to CD). Digital is completely different environment and so companies should look for sustained innovations that improve technologies.

A 3 C framework was proposed, whereby content, context and community help lead onto service and experience. Two potential models for this are;

The Cloud Model – where success factors are

  • Accessibility
  • Value in service/access content
  • Optimisation for device
  • Abundance of content
  • Highly personalised
  • Social elements

The social model – where the characteristics of reading are capitalised upon

  • Personal experience – reading is formative and provides social capital
  • Social – We share and talk about what we read
  • Emotional – we want to share at the point of inspiration

The Slideshare for Dominic’s presentation is

There was a short panel session at the end of the morning where the speakers were asked to name the key challenges to overcome. I think they’re relevant to all industries, not just publishing

  • Discoverability
  • Recommendations
  • Personalisation
  • A quality experience

Audio and video of the event can be found on Gerd’s site here. Each of the talks lasted around 45 minutes, with around 25 minutes of questions at the end.

sk

Image credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/shifted/3360687477/

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Frontline: The Merchants of Cool

Frontline: The Merchants of Cool is a fascinating, albeit highly cynical look, into the way teenagers and children are marketed to.

Narrated by Douglas Rushkoff, it is close to ten years old, having been first broadcast in February 2001.

One of the programme’s key themes is that teen culture is fast-moving and transitory. Yet hindsight has proved this to be false.

It would seem that the more things change, the more things stay the same.

The programme was made pre 9/11, pre X Factor, pre Youtube, pre Facebook, pre Obama and pre Spotify (to name just half a dozen things that have shaped our entertainment culture in the intervening years). Yet it remains highly recognisable and relevant to teen culture today.

And so despite the assertion being wrong, it still remains required viewing for marketers, researchers and media folk – each of whom have the spotlight placed on them within the programme.

Discovering what teens want

Even back at the turn of the millennium, teens were seeing 3,000 discrete ad impressions per day, meaning that they would have been exposed to 10m of them by the age of 18.

Yet the programme asserts that surly teens are unresponsive to brands – they instead respond to what they perceive to be cool.

In order for content makers and marketers to know what kids think is cool, they need either formal research or an informal direct line to teens. The programme highlighted four methodologies used:

1. Cool Hunting – as typified by Dee Dee Gordon and Sharon Lee’s’s Look-Look. They start of by identifing teen influencers – early adopters, vocal advocates and people that regularly explore outside of their regular sphere of interest. After speaking to these people to find what they think is cool, they might recruit and train these kids up to be correspondents. They in turn go off and identify the next generation.  All information goes into a database that their clients pay a subscription fee to access.

This seems like a great business model for several reasons

  • It is a relatively low-cost model of both intelligence gathering and recruitment, meaning that the company can operate on a relatively small income
  • Due to the proliferation of research agencies and consultants, they will never have more than a small share of the market and so anyone that subscribes to the database stands a good chance of having a comparative advantage over rivals sourcing their information from elsewhere
  • The business is perpetual. Once something is identified as cool, it has been taken away from the cool kids and so is no longer cool. Thus they need to move onto the next thing

2. Under the radar marketing – Represented by Cornerstone Promotions, this odious tactic pays kids to “smuggle messages” onto forums or even in conversations, essentially paying kids to be walking, talking billboards without disclosure.

3. Ethnographic visits – Self-explanatory (though perhaps it was less well-known in 2001), where researchers and execs go spend time in people’s homes to observe them in their natural environment

4. Screen tests – Inviting kids to test to agents for various entertainment professions. Jessica Biel was discovered in one of these tests.

From these techniques, two key role models/personality segments were discovered – one for males to aspire to and one for females

  • The Mook – where arrested adolescence and crudeness are celebrated, typified by Tom Green and Jackass
  • The Midriff – where your body is your best asset so flaunt it even if you don’t understand it. Britney and Christina were the key role models

Does it sound familiar? So does teen culture perpetuate across generations, or are we on an irreversible trend towards sexualised stupidity?

A critique of these research techniques – and research in general – is that they don’t understand teens as people. Instead they are just customers. After all, the industry is named marketing research and not human research.

Although this is primarily a semantic argument, I think that, broadly speaking, the programme makes a valid point and it is still something that hasn’t been properly addressed in either marketing research or brand/market planning. Something to think on.

Content and marketing trends

Without a true understanding, it means there is essentially a giant feedback loop in play. The media sells kids images of themselves to themselves, and they in turn aspire to it.

There was the example of a Sprite party on MTV. Guests were paid $50 to show up, artists that played got paid and PR, MTV got cheap, aspirational TV and record labels got their exposure and sale. Yet, while it seems to benefit everyone, it ended up being quite conspicuous marketing,  and thus a turn-off for teens.

To be new and exciting to teens, boundaries need to be broken. After all, teens are about rebellion and anti-authority. If Dawson’s Creek is primetime (don’t laugh, it did cover some pretty edgy themes at the time), specialist outlets need to up the stakes. This meant that counter-culture icons such as the Insane Clown Posse and Limp Bizkit eventually got packaged up and sold to teens

A line from the programme I liked is that ICP are “so crude and intolerable that they are essentially indigestible”.

So is this an irreversible trend to the gutter? The edges are always different to the centre, and it would appear that for anything to reach a teen mainstream it needs to be largely digestible. Despite the questionable authenticity, contemporary trends such as 3oh!3 and Look at this fucking hipster seem largely harmless, while  Jersey Shore et al keep up the trend of sexualised stupidity.

Frontline have maintained an excellent website with a full discussion of the trends and coverage of the various interviews – it can be found here. The programme is also available to watch in full – either there or on Youtube (part 1 is embedded below, for RSS readers)

The situation today

The programme does maintain a sense of middle class adult bemusement throughout, but it still makes some great points about the attempts of marketers to pass off fake authenticity, with continually more explosive and extreme angles that try to stand out in the onslaught.

Yet one thing that has exploded over the past decade is the sheer supply of media and entertainment – I’m sure these 3,000 impressions a day have been far surpassed (particularly with the rise of branded entertainment). So marketers are needing to move away from disruption to find ways of actually engaging with teens on their terms – through opt-in involvement rather than unwanted interruption.

Will this fragmentation reduce the power of the mainstream? Rather than two teen idols, is there now two dozen? I’m not so sure. Teens have always been tribal and the hierarchies of social groups within schools aren’t going to fundamentally shift as we get more technologically advanced and savvy. They may not sell as many tickets or items as they would have a decade or two ago, but Lady GaGa, UFC and the Twilight saga are just as important cultural icons for teens today as Madonna, WWE and Point Horror were for previous generations.

But rather than focus on the markets, should we shift our focus back to the audience? I think so. Researchers and planners should essentially be an ombudsman for their target markets – representing them with a clear voice to be heard and respected when designing strategies and tactics.

sk

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