Digital marketing: becoming more consumer-oriented through less data and more empathy

Professor Mark Ritson recently wrote a provocative article in Marketing Week, stating that if there’s one thing that the recent Cambridge Analytics scandal has made clear, it’s that consumers look at data different than marketers. Digital marketers have fallen for classic product-oriented thinking and assumed that, just because they have the data and technology for targeted advertising, it’s what people want. Turns out, they don’t. A recent Reuters study in the US revealed that 63% want to see less targeted advertising in the future, and only 9% want to see more. Tini Sevak from YouGov went a step further than Reuters by segmenting the British adult population based on their attitude toward personalized advertising. Turns out, 55%, want privacy above ‘relevant’ ads and only a quarter, the ’Personalised Pioneers’, like ads and want to engage with personally targeted ads. 

Ritson concludes that, ironically, digital marketers have to apply consumer-oriented thinking to themselves and use segmentation and targeting to market segmentation and targeting. Some customers are prepared to trade information for free services and targeted ads, and others are not, or not yet. 

I believe that it’s more important than ever to understand what customers really want, instead of pushing what you think they need. We need to build richer pictures of consumers, by supplementing or replacing digital data with contextual information from voluntary sources of consumer intelligence, such as qualitative and quantitative research and co-creation. 

 

Creative Intelligence

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We’re at the brink of the next industrial revolution. It’s not a revolution of technology, but of creativity. Machines will free up people’s brains and empower them to unlock their uniquely human creative talent. Artificial Intelligence is already taking over certain tasks - from self-driving cars to media planning. But it’s people’s imagination and strategic guidance that will transform industries by leading and complementing these machines. The strongest chess player is neither a human or a computer, but a team of humans with a computer.

Over the past decades creativity has increasingly become productized, with pre-packaged deliverables (30 sec spots), preordained roles (only those with ‘creative’ in their job title being allowed to generate ideas) and templatized processes. 

New forms of creative collaboration (between man and machine, company and consumer, agency and client) can break through this pattern and unlock the raw creativity innate in all people. Raw creativity is characterized by a lack of clear-cut roles around who can contribute ideas and who can’t, utilizing a kaleidoscope of perspectives and cultural experiences, allowing the aha moment to come from anywhere and connecting previously unconnected dots. 

I’ve experienced first-hand in the past year that while technology can help unlock and inspire the creative intelligence of diverse communities, the keys to making it work are instilling a strong sense of culture and shared purpose, providing psychological safety and properly rewarding desired behaviors. With community at its core, new technologies may well spark a new cycle of innovation, resulting in a level of disruption we haven’t seen in a lifetime.

 (Image: Andy Zenz, RobotsLoveBalloons)

Get Out of the Building, Your Early Adopters are Waiting

This article has previously been published on the Boomtown blog. 

Many startup ideas are born out of founder intuition. Perhaps the founders are solving a problem that they’ve experienced themselves. Or they’ve been in a certain industry long enough to know where the opportunities are.

If your idea has the potential you think it has, there are people out there who will recognize it. People to whom the problem you’re solving is so manifest, they would embrace and promote your solution the moment they get their hands on it. Getting these early adopters on board may be one of the most important success factors for your startup. Not only will these people help make your product better, they will also give you the credibility and word-of-mouth that will convert the masses.

Be prepared to challenge your own perception of who these ideal customers are, and what motivates them – It’s very easy to get caught up in your own bubble when you spend most of your days convincing people, including yourself, that your idea is the next big thing. And when things don’t go as planned, the automatic response is to brainstorm alternatives among the internal team: people who are in the same bubble as you.

There is a really simple yet powerful solution. Get out of the building. Stop theorizing, stop debating and stop spending more time behind computer screens hoping even more granular user data will give you the answers. Meet your current and/or potential first users in person. Figure out who they are, what they do and most importantly: why.

If you don’t know who your early adopters are today, all you have to do is be perceptive. They will identify themselves. I recently worked with a client who had a promising new startup idea. Friends and family said they loved the idea. When we reached out to a wide variety of potential users, we discovered that people across the board actually felt differently, but that there was a small group of people interested in trying the service nonetheless. We ended up spending a lot of time with this group, immersing ourselves in their lives, trying to understand what they saw in the product that others could not. The insight was stunning. The client was able to pivot the idea before launch, achieve huge cost and time savings and significantly increase the chance of having a successful launch. Find, identify, and involve your early adopters.

Research nerd that I am, I feel obliged to say that ‘spending time with consumers’ is not as easy as it sounds and requires clear objectives, interview protocol and analysis. However, I also believe that half an insight can be enough to spark a breakthrough for founders with good intuition. Therefore, I urge you to get out of the building as much as you can, because your early adopters are waiting for you.

What's next for Ello? An exclusive interview with co-founders and designers Todd Berger and Lucian Föhr.

Text: Koert Bakker       Photo: Jamie Kripke

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A shorter version of this article was first published in Dutch marketing magazine Adformatie.  

Ello, the latest ‘alternative’ social network has received worldwide attention and, at times, criticism since its launch in Summer 2014. Many people think Ello started in Silicon Valley, but its roots are actually in Boulder, CO, where founders Paul Budnitz, Todd Berger and Lucian Föhr met in the startup community. The Boulder startup community is tight-knit – as a result I see the designers Berger and Föhr regularly at startup events. Budnitz has since moved to Vermont where he continues to work as CEO of Ello. I got together with Todd and Lucian in the BergerFöhr office to discuss the highs, lows and future of Ello. 

What is Ello in a nutshell?
We’re a social network and publishing platform where ideas can spread and people can connect to the people behind these ideas. We want to be the place on the Internet where the best content lives, where ideas come together and stimulate dialog and thought, a tool to move all of us forward culturally. There is no other place on the Internet where you can upload a huge photo, a giant animated gif and any kind of multimedia content. 

Ello does not have an advertising-model, why is that?
Think about all your favorite places, whether it’s at a friend’s house, an art gallery or museum, being in the woods or in the mountains. All of them are free of advertising. It’s a breath of fresh air. It feels good and inspirational, you can think more freely and more clearly. Looking at advertising next to art ruins the experience, it compromises the purity of the idea.

That’s why we feel so strongly about data privacy. A big part of Facebook’s staff is either aggregating data or selling it. People think they get a free product, but they pay a huge cost that is totally invisible. Any business is built to serve its customers. When you sell ads, your customer is the advertiser, not the user. The user is the product. At Ello, you are not a product. We want our users to be our customers and dedicate 100% of our time to them.

So, how will you make money?
We are a business, we want to be profitable, we don’t live in some altered reality. We will make money with features and services for profile customization. It’s a proven model in the gaming industry to have freemium features. People are used to paying for mobile apps now. We will essentially create our version of an App Store. Initially we’ll make our own apps, over time we may open up to other developers.

We also plan to make money with off-network partnerships, like our current collaboration with Threadless. We plan to do that with more likeminded creative entities.

Some people criticize Ello for its overly minimalist design. What’s your response to that?
Ello looks simple because our focus is on the content. We have no events, group, calendar, timeline. We took it all out to create a place where content is most important.

Some of the criticism we get is fair. We are open and responsive to it, that’s how we make Ello better. People forget it’s only been 4+ months since we released. Now we have a community, we can listen to them and make refinements. All founders have lots of dialog with users on the network. We run all features on staff first, then we go to a group of experimental users and finally roll it out to a larger group. It’s great to have such a dedicated and thoughtful community.

Why did you develop for desktop first? Most companies go mobile-first these days.
Makers and thought leaders spend a lot of time behind their desktop. All professional content hits the desktop at some point. Illustrators create on their computer. Furniture gets designed on a computer. If you are a top photographer, your professional content still hits the desktop.

When is mobile coming - and what’s next after that?
We are currently working on a significant redesign, to offer a smoother experience and less bugs. Mid-January we’ll introduce reposting, audio and video embeds, a bookmarking tool and a savable personal stream. We plan to release our iOS app in the spring followed closely by Android. After that we plan to introduce private accounts and private messaging.  

Down the line, we’re thinking of Ello scholarships and opening physical inspiration places where we would showcase art and ideas from our community to the public. A bit like what we did with our previous company JoyEngine and what you guys did back in the day with Fanclub in Amsterdam.

The moment you launched, things exploded. Did you expect this, and how did you handle the growth?
We did not expect this growth at all. We initially designed Ello as a small private network for 100 people, and expected it to grow slowly from there once we opened it up. We thought we’d first be picked up by innovators, artists and designers - people who understand what we’re trying to do while we’re figuring things out. But the media bombarded us as the new Facebook and everyone jumped on it. The first two months were pretty crazy. We did not anticipate the LGBT component after Facebook enforced its real-name policy. We made Ello public only 8 weeks prior and did not have the tools these people needed like blocking, muting or NSFW. Our early product wasn’t ready for people’s expectations and we were dealing with exploding technical problems. We were freaking out. All founders were running their own businesses as well – BergerFöhr, Mode Set and Budnitz Bicycles – and we had to shed all our clients to focus on Ello.  

We’re just getting through it now, and starting to build a strong organization with the help of the $5.5 million funding round we received in October 2014.

Only 20% of people who signed up are still active. Who do you see as your ideal users, and how do you plan to increase their engagement?
A lot of our initial users came for our no-data privacy policy. Not everyone understood our focus on content, only pioneers saw through it. Many people disengaged, some people re-engaged, and then there’s a third group of people waiting to see what’s next. We now see week over week people coming back and using us more. In the beginning our largest user region was Germany. It’s now the US, followed by Brazil and eastern Europe. We’re starting to develop a strong user base in Asia. All our data is anonymized, so I also can’t tell you what exactly people do on Ello. We distinguish three types of users groups: creators, curators and consumers. Creators are the designers, thinkers, writers, developers, scientists and artists who create the content that pushes the Internet forward. Curators are the ones who spread the ideas, and most people are consumers who just look. We’d love it everyone that spoke at TED was on Ello sharing their ideas.

Are there brands on Ello, and how are they using it?
Anyone with ideas to share can use Ello, and so can brands. Penguin books is on Ello, as well as a lot of big media brands such as Bloomberg news, Huffington Post, Chicago Tribune and Al Jazeera. We also have an apparel brand, boutiques, furniture makers. There’s lot of users on Ello and we’re not giving anyone special attention. Brands are treated the same as artists, designers and butterfly collectors. I believe that if you give certain brands or celebrities special treatment it hinders how the community develops. One of the features we plan to sell in our app store is the ability to manage multiple accounts. This would be more relevant to brands.

You started with an initial investment of $435K and now raised another $5.5 million. Who are your investors and what’s the agreement?
Ello was founded by 7 partners: Paul Budnitz, Todd Berger, Lucian Föhr and four people from software company Mode Set in Denver. In October 2014 we raised $5.5 million from a group of investors led by Foundry Group, Techstars’ Bullet Time Ventures and FreshTracks Capital. Investor equity is diluted proportionally across the original 7 founders who still overwhelmingly own the majority.

We had a lot of investor interest, and chose Boulder and Vermont-based investors with the same values and belief system. Our investors had to sign an agreement, saying that:
• Ello must never make money from selling ads
• Ello must never make money from selling user data
• In the event that Ello is ever sold, the new owners would also have to comply by these terms

Why did Ello start in Boulder and not, for instance, in Silicon Valley?
The culture in Silicon Valley is more about young people trying to make billions, whereas people in Boulder tend to make life-choices based on other, less monetary values. The culture is more about access to nature than about becoming rich, and the community is free-thinking and supportive. All the founders met here, our investors are based here. They were all here, personally, to enjoy the Boulder lifestyle, and we all knew each other through the community. Budnitz bicycles was our client at BergerFöhr, we worked with Mode Set before, we knew David Cohen and Mark Solon from Techstars, Seth Levine from Foundry Group. Ello could only start if all these people were all in one place. We came together and invented this new thing Ello that maybe does not live here culturally but the thinking behind it lives here. Paul Budnitz now moved to Vermont where he will run operations, community management, marketing, customer service and finance. But Boulder will remain the hub for product design, and Denver for development.

Would you sell if Mark Zuckerberg offered $10 million?
No. It would be way cooler to make Ello a public company. But we haven’t determined our exit strategy. Our investors are committed to supporting us to build a cool company, and we have the time to focus on building the product and community. With Ello we’re trying to make a cool thing. If it makes a lot of money, great. If it makes little money that’s OK too. And if it makes no money, then that’s what happens. You take risks and see where the cards fall.

Over the last years we’ve seen many new social media networks come and go. Why will Ello be different?
I would like to say it’s the founders, we are rather experienced. No-one is in it to get rich quickly, we’re in it because we believe in it. Furthermore, we are entirely user-centered. It feels like the zeitgeist is good for this, the conversation about privacy is moving forward and companies are becoming increasingly radical in how they exploit people’s data.

Marijuana shoppers not loyal to stores or brands

With more and more states legalizing marijuana, a new industry is emerging right before our eyes. Where much of the industry is still focused on the macro-trend of state-level sales, I think it’s way more interesting to start looking at marijuana consumers like other packaged goods industries do: through the lens of shopper marketing. 

That’s why I worked together with Atomic20 to conduct a consumer survey  in Washington and Colorado to do exactly that: understand the shopping behavior of marijuana consumers. Two key shopper personas emerged. What struck us is that shopper loyalty to brands and retail stores is remarkably low for both of them, leaving a prime opportunity for dispensaries and edible brands to influence the shopping decision and build brand loyalty.

(Click on the picture to see it bigger)

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Get schooled on purpose-marketing

This article has previously been published in Dutch marketing magazine Adformatie.

In recent years Boulder, a little town at the foothills of the Rocky Mountains in Colorado, has developed into one of the main advertising and technology startup hubs in the US. In this column I’m highlighting some of these startups, in the hope to provide some inspiration to industry peers in The Netherlands.

When I met with Joe Corr from School last week, he’d just come back from Guatemala where he and his business partners Max Lenderman and Shane Kent spent a week building schools with Pencils of Promise. The three of them recently started an advertising agency which specializes in purpose-marketing. In short, purpose-marketing helps brands do better by doing good – a principle School applies to their own company as well. Part of the reason they donate to building schools in developing nations is to get publicity for their own agency. They don’t see their donations as charity, but as a marketing expense. Where purpose-driven agencies typically work for non-profits, School tries to bring purpose-marketing to the world of commerce. Joe: “It’s hard for non-profits to have a real impact. If you can help brands do good, then you’re really helping change.”

Here are some things I learned from School:

1. Purpose is the new digital
Purpose-marketing is not a fad but here to stay. According to the Stengel 50 index, brands that have a social mission outperform their competition by close to 400%. And Millward Brown discovered that businesses centered on ideals have a growth rate triple that of competitors. Agencies all over the world are jumping on the bandwagon. From Matter Unlimited in New York, to DW+H in Los Angeles, to Purpose Agency in Australia, to Truthmarks in The Netherlands. Joe: “Almost every brand, large or small, is doing some good things. We help unite these around a singular vision and communicate this internally and externally." 

2. Purpose breeds creativity
To do great work you need to be inspired and motivated. By adding meaning as motivator, creative work gets better and more interesting. School analyzed last year’s Cannes winners and discovered that the majority are purpose-driven. From Dove championing the self-esteem of women, to Brazilian soccer club Recife stimulating people to sign up for organ donation, to Dutch funeral company Dela stimulating people to connect to loved ones during their life. Joe: "In my previous ad career, I was obsessed with the coolest most innovative things. Now I want to use my skills to make the world a better place.”

3. Credibility is key 
If you use purpose-marketing as a gimmick, people will quickly find you out. Doing good can’t be at the periphery, it has to be at the core of your brand. In recent years, a new legal structure has been created in the US, called Benefit Corporation (B-Corp). The B-Corp structure gives mission-driven for-profit businesses the legal protection to consider additional stakeholders besides shareholders. Joe: “We’re in the process of becoming a B-Corp. I hope being a B-Corp becomes as strong a credential as LEED had become for sustainable architecture.”

4. Stay educated
Finally, no curriculum is complete without a booklist. Here are the top 5 reads from School’s library: 

Having a purpose is not only ethically the right thing to do, it can be a source of competitive advantage as well. And if the Dutch equivalent of B-Corp doesn’t exist yet, it might be a good idea to consider introducing it.

 

 

Evolution Bureau on thinking like a startup

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This article has previously been published in Dutch marketing magazine Adformatie.

In recent years Boulder, a little town at the foothills of the Rocky Mountains in Colorado, has developed into one of the main advertising and technology startup hubs in the US. In this column I’m highlighting some of these startups, in the hope to provide some inspiration to industry peers in The Netherlands.

Today I’m meeting with Steve Babcock, who recently left his comfortable job as Executive Creative Director at CP+B to start digital agency Evolution Bureau in Boulder (EVB). The moment I walk in the EVB Boulder office, Steve is apologetic: “Not all walls are painted yet. There’s only one bathroom which is also the only source of water in the building. We call it Ghetto fabulous.” All very stereotypical startup. But let’s be honest here. There’s nothing really startup about EVB. It’s an established Omnicom-owned agency, founded in 2000 in San Francisco, with now over a hundred employees in their San Francisco headquarter. However, there’s more to it. EVB’s philosophy has been for years to think like a startup. And here’s a few important things we can learn from them.

1. Being a startup is a mentality, not a stage

Culture has nothing to do with the age of an organization, it’s a mindset. EVB founder Daniel Stein has honed a startup culture from day one. In today’s ever-changing business environment companies need to be agile and continuously innovate. The moment you get complacent is the beginning of the end. Steve: “For us, thinking like a startup is about figuring things out as we go, following our gut, taking risks. Everyone in the organization has to be OK with that. It requires a certain level of confidence.”

2. Startup culture is about passion

EVB chose to open an office in Boulder, and not in New York or another  obvious place. Why? Because the authenticity of the startup culture in Boulder is the perfect complement to San Francisco. Steve: “In a world where Facebook is a movie, entrepreneurs are the new rock stars. Zuckerberg is now on par with Beyoncé. San Francisco has become for startups what LA is for the movies. In LA everybody wants to be an actor, in San Francisco everybody wants to be the latest hot startup. Instead of focusing on their passion, the change they want to be in the world.  Boulder is different. The startup culture is less fabricated. We wanted to bring that energy to the company and get access to Boulder’s unique digital talent pool.”

3. Transfer startup culture to your clients

As befits a true startup, EVB thrives off of assignments where innovation has to be found within limitations. Most recently, they’re famous for their #tweetingwithmittens campaign with V&S for retailer JCPenney that made it the second-most mentioned brand on social media during the Super Bowl, after official sponsor Budweiser. The limitation: JCPenney had nothing to do with the Super Bowl, nor did they have a commercial during the event. Steve: “The Super Bowl is a time where a lot of people are hypersensitive for media. Last year, Oreo opened everyone’s eyes about real-time marketing. So this year, brands and agencies have set up huge command centers, desperately looking for their Oreo moment. We looked at it differently. The Olympics would start shortly after the Super Bowl and we decided to focus on JCPenney’s “GO USA” mittens, by tweeting messed up tweets with typos during the game. Brands piled on, wondering if someone at JCPenney was drunk, or whether we were hacked. Our 2 tweets have done more than any TV commercial could ever have done. And all the other brands sitting in their command centers helped us get there.”

In conclusion, old approaches don’t work anymore in a world that’s in constant beta. All companies, large and small, new and old, have to be agile and continuously innovate in order to stay relevant. They need to think like a startup.

4 startup lessons from Rustin Banks

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This article has previously been published in Dutch marketing magazine Adformatie.

In recent years Boulder, a little town at the foothills of the Rocky Mountains in Colorado, has developed into one of the main advertising and technology startup hubs in the US. In this column I’m highlighting some of these startups, in the hope to provide some inspiration to industry peers in The Netherlands.

Last week I met with Rustin Banks, CEO and co-founder of TapInfluence, a software company that started in 2009 as social content marketing agency BlogFrog. The initial idea was to connect brands and bloggers more efficiently through technology, offering more effective influencer marketing than traditional agencies. Brands could connect authentically with their target audience, and influential bloggers could generate revenue from their content. In 2012 BlogFrog changed their business strategy, abandoning the agency model for that of a software company, and changed their name into TapInfluence. I discussed with Rustin what we could learn from his experiences and the following 4 principles rose to the top.

1. Pivot

It’s not uncommon for startups to change strategy along the way. Twitter started as podcast service Odeo, Groupon as petition service The Point and YouTube as dating site Tune In Hook Up. In the startup world this is known as a Pivot: a change in strategy without a change in vision. A pivot is not a complete startover but a shift in one aspect of your startup’s focus based on validated learning. In the case of TapInfluence the learning was that content marketing had become so core to agencies that they increasingly did it in-house. Rustin: “Our clients were becoming our competitors. We came to the realization that our DNA was technology. We said, this is our passion, let’s use it to give them the tools to do it themselves.” So far the new strategy seems to pay off. Nearly 100 brands and agencies are now using TapInfluence, including Microsoft and Coca Cola.

2. Focus

TapInfluence moved from doing two things (content marketing and software development) to doing one thing. They put all their effort in the one place where they knew they were the strongest: cloud-based software. This allowed them to raise more capital and invest in rebuilding the technology from the ground up. The improved software enables users to identify influencers, co-create content, distribute content across various social platforms and access real-time analytics and ROI metrics – all from one place.

3. Mentors

TapInfluence didn’t make their decision in isolation but surrounded themselves with a diverse group of advisors in different industries – varying from online maker community Craftsy to security intelligence company LogRhythm. Being located in Boulder really helped. Rustin: “Everyone here has a vested interest in making it work. We call it ‘Team Boulder,’ the startup community here is banding together and helping each other out. You do see the same thing happening in other places such as Seattle, Austin, Portland and even Las Vegas. Whereas, there is no such thing as team Silicon Valley.”

4. People

It’s not enough to have a good business idea, you need to continuously invest in your employees and culture. Rustin: “Half of our success is our strategy, the other half is managing and developing our people. We only hire A players who embody a spirit of entrepreneurship. We could not have achieved what we did without them, for which I’m truly grateful.”

I think that many established Dutch agencies and their clients might benefit from a more lean and flexible approach. Thinking like a startup may be the only way to stay ahead in today’s complex business environment. Don’t let what you’re doing right now cloud the core idea of what you are and therefore prevent you from becoming more useful, profitable or engaging.

Commerce trends to watch – and shape – in 2014

This article was first published in Shopper Culture

2014 will not so much be a year of new promises as a year where existing promises of mobile, social and big data will come true. These are some things we expect to see more of in 2014:

1. Channel merging
imageThe digital and physical worlds continue to converge. Driven by web, mobile and social platforms, shoppers can now discover, research and purchase anytime, anywhere – at home, at work or on the move. In a world where commerce is everywhere, shoppers expect a seamless experience across channels – whether they’re in Showrooming or Webrooming mode. Hointer is a great example of the blurring of lines between physical and online retailers. 2014 may mark the beginning of the end of pure-play online retail. Physical retailers are increasingly acting like online retailers, by adopting online principles such as personalized recommendations, individual pricing and offers specific to location and time. And online retailers are increasingly acting like physical retailers, by adopting principles such as instant gratification with the advent of on-demand delivery services. Hointer, a technology and retail company is a great example of the kind of innovation going on in this area.

2. Earning data
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Brands and retailers will increasingly want to own data about their shoppers, instead of relying on paid third party sources. They will ‘earn’ the data from their shoppers by delivering value in return for information. As shoppers share more personal information through smartphones, social media and loyalty programs, they’ll see their shopper journey transformed into über-personal and tailored experiences. Shoppers are increasingly becoming familiar and comfortable with exchanging personal information for content, experiences and offers that are meaningful to them. They understand their data has value; not just to others, but first and foremost to themselves. Privacy remains a concern, and part of earning people’s data is earning their trust. Data will become an important currency for value exchange.

3. Resurgence of small and local
imageIncreasing urbanization and a rise in smaller households are driving a need for smaller retailers, located around the block. Big box is going to act small, with conveniently located express stores and small specialty stores. But also, mom-and-pop shops will strike back. Accessible technology such as location-based services, mobile payment systems and wearable technology will be accessible to smaller retailers at increasingly lower costs. Crowdsourced delivery services like Uber make on-demand delivery accessible to smaller shops, not just those retailers with huge logistical infrastructures in place. Smaller, local shops are best positioned to marry the tangible experience and immediacy of physical retail with the richness and personalization of online.

What are your plans for 2014? How will you utilize these trends to your benefit and help shape their development?

(Image sources: Hointer blog; own picture at H&M; Cedar & Hyde)

Boulder: from hippietown to startup hub

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This article has previously been published in Adformatie. That’s why it’s in Dutch.

Hoe een klein universiteitsstadje aan de foothills van de Rocky Mountains uitgroeide tot een van de leidende tech en reclame startup hubs van Amerika.

Dat ik in 2007 in Boulder, Colorado terecht kwam is eigenlijk toeval. Mijn vrouw en ik hadden het plan opgevat naar de VS te verhuizen, bestemming New York. Maar toen deed Crispin Porter + Bogusky het aanbod om als strateeg aan de slag te gaan op het American Express Open account in Boulder, waar het bureau uit Miami net een tweede hoofdkantoor had geopend. CP+B had veel momentum en het leek me een leuke avontuur - een tijdelijke omweg op weg naar eindbestemming New York. Ik was zeker niet van plan lang te blijven in wat ik toen, achteraf gezien naïef, zag als cowboyland Colorado. Fast forward 6 jaar, en ik heb van zeer nabij meegemaakt hoe het kleine universiteitsstadje aan de foothills van de Rocky Mountains in de afgelopen jaren is uitgegroeid tot een van de leidende tech en reclame startup hubs van Amerika. New York Times noemde Boulder recentelijk het nieuwe Silicon Valley van de reclame industrie. CNN Money ging nog een stapje verder en verkoos Boulder als #1 startup stad van Amerika.

Terugkijkend, was de komst van CP+B een catalysator voor het ontstaan van een mini-ecosysteem van nieuwe reclamebureaus, veelal gestart door ex-CPB'ers die een nieuwe uitdaging zochten. Zoals Made Movement, Grenadier, School en Victors & Spoils (waar ik zelf 2.5 jaar heb gewerkt). Waarschijnlijk niet heel anders dan hoe destijds de komst van Wieden+Kennedy naar Amsterdam een catalysator was voor het ontstaan van een cluster aan internationale bureaus zoals 180, 72andSunny, Strawberry Frog en Amsterdam Worldwide.

Maar minstens zo interessant als de bureauwereld is de tech community in Boulder. Het wemelt hier van de tech startups, eigenlijk valt de reclame-industrie hierbij volledig in het niet. Een paar voorbeelden die relevant zijn voor marketeers: Tapinfluence (social influencer marketplace), Qualvu (online kwalitatief onderzoek), Collective Intellect (social listening tool - overgenomen door Oracle) en Trada (crowdsourced online advertising). Een belangrijke successfactor achter deze bedrijven is de support van Venture Capital bedrijven zoals Foundry en High Country Venture. De oprichters van deze VC’s hebben Boulder vaak gekozen als standplaats vanwege de outdoor lifestyle en het mooie weer - een prima plek om een tweede carrière te beginnen nadat ze elders hun geld hebben verdiend. En dan is er natuurlijk startup accelerator TechStars. Koppel daar nog een oneindig aanbod van stagiaires en digitaal talent aan, met dank aan de lokale universiteit en digitaal opleidingsinstituut Boulder Digital Works, en de cirkel is rond. Het resultaat: een levendig creatief ecosysteem dat zichzelf continue versterk. 

Wat kunnen we hiervan leren?

  1. Het maakt steeds minder uit of je als bureau dicht op je klanten zit, en het wordt juist belangrijker dat je in een omgeving zit waar het beste talent samenkomt. 
  2. Investeer in de locale community. Het is in ieders belang dat het totale ecosysteem gezond blijft in een klimaat van creativiteit en inspiratie. 
  3. Je concurrenten zijn je beste vriend. Je hebt allemaal hetzelfde belang: een klimaat creëren waar creativiteit bloeit en waar talent graag komt - en blijft. 
  4. Tijden veranderen, maar pioniersgeest is vaak terug te voeren op historie. Het is hier zeker geen ouderwets cowboyland meer, maar the spirit of the West is alive and kicking. Eigenlijk is het hier net een klein Amsterdam, waar de culturele diversiteit en creativiteit ook valt terug te voeren op onze geschiedenis als handelsnatie. 

Het verbaast me dan ook niets dat Boulder volgend jaar de eerste plek in de VS zal zijn waar ‘Amsterdamse stijl’ coffeeshops legaal worden. Home sweet home?

Guide to successful collaboration (part 2: Common Ground)

Last week I wrote about how brands can empower consumers with collaborative tools – from basic social media engagement leading up to entire collaborative systems. But empowerment is really only half of the story for a collaborative brand. The other part is Common Ground.

Collaboration is simply put people and brands working together to achieve a shared goal. This means that a positive collaborative relationship can only exist if people have affinity for a brand (think of passion brands like Apple, Nike and Harley-Davidson), or when people share an interest with a brand. For instance, few people have affinity for GE, but many people have affinity for the environment. So brand and consumers can still find each other in GE:Ecomagination. 

Simply put, it’s not enough for brands to provide collaborative tools. They also need people who want to use these tools, for which you need Common Ground. 

Empowerment and Common Ground are the two main dimensions that describe a collaborative relationship. There are basically 4 types of collaborative relationships (and many sub-types that I won’t go into now):

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1. Pretenders

Many brands are jumping on the collaborative bandwagon with social media initiatives or creative competitions. For instance, 3M Submit Your Idea or Nokia Tune Remake. But there’s no collaborative relationship if people don’t know about the Empowerment tools, or don’t care about them. These brands have started their collaborative journey; next step is to either increase relevance of their tools or to better promote them. 

2. Potentials

These are brands that people want to collaborate with, but the brands don’t yet offer the tools to do so - at the risk of losing opportunity or goodwill. It’s not a bad position to start from; next step is to start developing collaborative tools and put people’s energy to use. Harley-Davidson and DC Shoes are great examples here.

3. Newbies

In this case there’s hardly an existing relationship; both Empowerment and Common Ground are at a low level. This can be the case with existing brands that are out of touch or with entirely new brands and startups. Next step for existing brands is to become genuinely interested in what people are passionate about – otherwise they may soon become irrelevant. New brands and startups have the opportunity to build a brand from scratch and work with consumers to figure out what the brand will become, simultaneously building Empowerment and Common Ground. Brikki.com (crowdsourced children’s stories) is an example of a completely new idea that has the potential to grow with its consumers from day 1. AirBnB is an example of a startup that went this route already. By involving consumers early on AirBnB was pushed beyond what the founders initially envisioned the brand to be, with an active community as a result.

4. Collaborators

There are many possible scenario’s here, with the most iconic relationship type being the collaborative system where reciprocity can come from anywhere in the ecosystem. Not many brands have achieved this status yet, but many are well on their way such as Threadless, AirBnB and American Express OPEN. A typical next step for Collaborators is to increase engagement with all people (not just innovators and creators), consumer segments and other stakeholders. Other typical next steps include expanding the collaboration arena (e.g. beyond digital into physical spaces) and turning one-off collaborative initiatives into an integral part of a brand’s product offering and communication.

Guide to successful collaboration (part 1: Empowerment)

I’m excited by how new technology empowers social change – and marketing in the slipstream of that. When the ability to control production and distribution of information was a scarce resource, it was easy for brands to influence the way people perceived them. Those days are gone. Production and distribution of information have become abundant. Fueled by cognitive surplus and digital tools, people demand access to brands. For instance, Coca-Cola’s original Facebook page was created by two fans, Dusty and Michael. When Coca-Cola found out how popular the page was, they had to contact Dusty and Michael and ask permission if they could please participate in their own brand! Which they gracefully allowed. I admire brands that embrace collaboration instead of fight it. At Victors & Spoils we recently analyzed over 200 brands and five categories of brands emerged that successfully empower people with collaborative tools:

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1. Social media engagement 

This is basically collaboration 101; brands engaging with people in online conversations. Think of Old Spice, Best Buy Twelpforce and Strip To Your SmartWool.

2.  Crowdsourcing 

These are brands that tap into people’s collective brainpower and invite them to submit ideas that deliver against a set of rules - a brief. Think of Pepsi Max & Doritos Crash the Superbowl or Virgin America’s Toronto Provocateur.

3.  Co-creation 

Co-creation involves working on new product and service ideas together with the customers who are going to buy them. An obvious example is My Starbuck, but I’m also really struck by Nike 6.0 ID Nation StyleLab, which effectively turns Nike ID’s original mass customization (people designing their own shoe) into co-creation (people being able to buy shoes that other people designed).

4. Collaborative Consumption 

With crowdsourcing and co-creation people help brands produce better products. But the other side of the coin, collaborative consumption, is also getting more popular, from car-sharing (Zip Car, Greenwheels) and bike-sharing (Vélib, B-Cycle) to group buying power (Groupon, Walmart CrowdSaver).  

5.  Collaborative System 

Finally, new business models are emerging that place collaboration at their core. The brand is shaped by an ecosystem of participants. Successful recent examples are Threadless, AirBnB and American Express OPEN.

 (Next week Part 2: Common Ground)

This post was first published here

Why ordinary people are more important than opinion leaders

Paul Adams (former Google, now Facebook) argues that the importance of so-called “influencers” is overrated. Ultimately, people’s behavior is more influenced by people in their inner circle (strong ties), than by strangers (weak or temporary ties). Research on buying behavior and decision making consistently shows that we’re disproportionally influenced by the opinions and actions of the people we are closest to emotionally: family, friends and maybe co-workers. “Influentials,” the highly connected people, can only make us aware. But they’re not going to spark big changes in behavior. 

More about it in this presentation on Slideshare.

It reminds me of the paper a few years ago by Duncan Watts from Yahoo!, who analyzed email patterns and found that highly connected people are not, in fact, crucial social hubs. Even the breakout success of a hot new pop band might be nearly random. More about that here.

I wonder why this topic keeps coming up. Is it because marketers are hoping to find a silver bullet to viral marketing? 

O, and big thanks to Ingmar for pointing me to Paul Adams’ presentation.

  Crowdsourcing.com recently published an overview of the “2011 Crowdsourcing Industry Landscape”. I’m not sure if I agree with calling crowdsourcing an industry (it’s just a different way of organizing yourself, really). But it’s interesting to see their inventory of existing crowdsourcing initiatives and how they’re clustered in  8 groups .  
  1. Crowdfunding  
 Financial contributions from online investors, sponsors or donors to fund for-profit or non-profit initiatives or enterprises. There are three types of crowdfunding models: (1) Donations, Philanthropy and Sponsorship where there is no expected financial return, (2) Lending and (3) Investment in exchange for equity, profit or revenue sharing. 
  2.    Cloud Labor  
 Leveraging of a distributed virtual labor pool, available on-demand to fulfill a range of tasks from simple to complex. Crowdsourcing is used to connect labor demand and supply. Virtual workers perform activities that range from simple to specialized tasks. 
  3.    Collective Creativity   
 Tapping of creative talent pools to design and develop original art, media or content. Crowdsourcing is used to tap into online communities of thousands of creatives to develop original products and concepts. 
  4.    Open Innovation   
 Use of sources outside of the entity or group to generate, develop and implement ideas. In a world of widely distributed knowledge, where the boundaries between a firm and its environment have become more permeable, companies cannot afford to rely entirely on their own research and ideas to maintain a competitive advantage. 
  5.    Collective Knowledge   
 Development of knowledge assets or information resources from a distributed pool of contributors. Crowdsourcing is used to develop, aggregate, and share knowledge and information through open Q&A, user-generated knowledge systems, news, citizen journalism, and forecasting. 
  6.    Community Building   
 Development of communities through active engagement of individuals who share common passions, beliefs or interests. Crowdsourcing can be used to increase audience engagement and build loyalty.  
  7. Civic Engagement  
 Collective actions that address issues of public concern. Individuals or groups are invested in bettering the lives of others and in sharing information on beliefs, passions and causes. 
  8. C  rowdsourcing tools  
 Applications, platforms and tools that support collaboration, communication and sharing among distributed groups of people.

Crowdsourcing.com recently published an overview of the “2011 Crowdsourcing Industry Landscape”. I’m not sure if I agree with calling crowdsourcing an industry (it’s just a different way of organizing yourself, really). But it’s interesting to see their inventory of existing crowdsourcing initiatives and how they’re clustered in 8 groups

1. Crowdfunding

Financial contributions from online investors, sponsors or donors to fund for-profit or non-profit initiatives or enterprises. There are three types of crowdfunding models: (1) Donations, Philanthropy and Sponsorship where there is no expected financial return, (2) Lending and (3) Investment in exchange for equity, profit or revenue sharing.

2.Cloud Labor

Leveraging of a distributed virtual labor pool, available on-demand to fulfill a range of tasks from simple to complex. Crowdsourcing is used to connect labor demand and supply. Virtual workers perform activities that range from simple to specialized tasks.

3.Collective Creativity 

Tapping of creative talent pools to design and develop original art, media or content. Crowdsourcing is used to tap into online communities of thousands of creatives to develop original products and concepts.

4.Open Innovation 

Use of sources outside of the entity or group to generate, develop and implement ideas. In a world of widely distributed knowledge, where the boundaries between a firm and its environment have become more permeable, companies cannot afford to rely entirely on their own research and ideas to maintain a competitive advantage.

5.Collective Knowledge 

Development of knowledge assets or information resources from a distributed pool of contributors. Crowdsourcing is used to develop, aggregate, and share knowledge and information through open Q&A, user-generated knowledge systems, news, citizen journalism, and forecasting.

6.Community Building 

Development of communities through active engagement of individuals who share common passions, beliefs or interests. Crowdsourcing can be used to increase audience engagement and build loyalty. 

7. Civic Engagement

Collective actions that address issues of public concern. Individuals or groups are invested in bettering the lives of others and in sharing information on beliefs, passions and causes.

8. Crowdsourcing tools

Applications, platforms and tools that support collaboration, communication and sharing among distributed groups of people.

The happiest city

In his book, Stumbling on Happiness, Harvard psychologist Daniel Gilbert notes that three decisions in life affect your happiness: “Where to live, what to do, and with whom to do it.” The second two have been examined in great depth; the third, up until now, not so much. Researcher Richard Florida looked closely at the 2010 edition of the Gallup-Healthyways Well-Being Index which listed 185 of America’s largest metros in terms of their relative “happiness.” What he found was that, over time, America has increasingly become unequal and divided in terms of income, jobs, education, politics and culture. The difference between being happy and unhappy has come to revolve around geographical location and urban environment. And it seems like Boulder is currently the happiest place to be. 

Source: PSFK