Phil Baumann

better living through enquiry

Posts in the marketing category

The Focus Economy

Marketers (and that’s all of us one way or another now) are investing a lot of time, money, attention, and (sometimes) brain-power into figuring out today’s Marketing (and its sub-tools of advertising and PR). “How can we create content that engages, that gets shared, that grows our following, that raises brand awareness, that puts us on the map and keeps us there?…”

Digital technologies (smart phones, smart watches, tablets) and digital media (Facebook, Twitter, electronic billboards) have introduced one weird little constant into the traditional equations of traditional economics: Infinity.

Infinite tweets. Infinite status updates. Infinite apps. Infinite distractions. Infinite content. Infinite infantilism.

The calculus of this dynamic is fairly straight-forward: as the asymptote of everything approaches infinity, the asymptote of attention approaches zero.

Here’s the critical part of this vanishing attention: Even if marketers succeed in reaching their attention-goals in all of the arenas of digital media they aim to reach, they’re faced with the even harder challenge of striking enough attention that leads to concrete action.

Think about that last part.

Today’s situation with Marketing is quite similar to the political-economic state of affairs leading up to World War I: once-tried-and-true principles of warfare, social structures, and ideologies suddenly (in some respects, virtually within a span of weeks!) collapsed and opened-up entirely new design-spaces for civilization (and its discontents).

What changed? For one: Technology. When Germany passed-through Belgium, nobody had seen anything like it. The old powers were used to setting up battlefields like soccer fields. The Germans, who represented the Startup country of Europe, mechanized their divisions into rivers of steel and jettisoned the mindset of arranging soldiers like billiard balls on a pool-table. Meanwhile, the Germans encountered the upstart of Belgium’s tiny but well-armed forts which slaughtered German soldiers into piles of bodies.

The interesting thing is: Germany, even as the startup/upstart who mastered the new technology, lost the war (catastrophically), while the old-guard powers won (although, in many regards, everybody lost).

The lesson here is: when a new game is on, there’s no guarantee that the early adopters win immediately. Nor does it mean that the old way of doing business is validated by adopter-defeat. Furthermore, many of the old principles survive into the new game (e.g. strategic thinking, intelligence-gathering, and…focused work).

Today’s situation in Marketing is not much different: the idea of arranging nets of attention-gathering on discrete forms of media, where time and space were clearly defined, is facing the upstart of Infinity.

An “Attention Economy”, therefore, is meaningless to marketers. There is no Attention; as a result, there is no Economy.

Marketers can spend spend spend all they want on Likes, Retweets, apps, Beacon devices, and Viral Content. All that spend (in money, time, human resources, fans) still could win all sorts of attention (even a lot). But it won’t guarantee the purchase of what’s important today: Focus.

In the Focus Economy (do you like that coined Buzzword?), the opportunity cost of competing for Attention is Focus.

When marketers focus *their* attention on obtaining the focus of relevant stakeholders, the worry and fret over metrics streamlines into what matters. There’s no point counting chickens if you’re selling horses. (Unless the horses are eating the chickens.)

How do marketers obtain focus? Well, here’s a few stabs/thoughts:

  • Good-old fashioned Market Research that exploits new technologies
  • Self-awareness of your own Ideology (how does it compare to others?)
  • Targeted packaging of the relevant information delivered at the right time to the right people within the right contexts and processes (the first point)
  • Strip away all detritus without mercy – ditch the flash.
  • Forget “smart computers”. Make technology just “dumb enough” to suit your needs but not “too smart” to usurp your resources while diverting your focus. This includes Social Media surveillance. It sounds like a smart idea to vigilantly monitor your mentions. But you’re the one leading the horse. Not the other way around. Obsessing about what some kid called you at recess will just give you self-esteem issues. (Remember: a PR crisis isn’t a PR crisis until the PR people show up.)
  • Invert the traditional coordinates of Advertising. That is to say: an ad used to be a small but potentially value-added distraction from larger background content. Turn the background content into the ad. Need a clarifying example? Produce extremely useful content to your audience – and only your audience. That’s your ad now. This way, you don’t need to rely on affiliate real-estate upon which to stake ads.That’s how you get focus.
  • This isn’t amateur hour, regardless of what Silicon Valley venture capitalists, and developers, and ideologues proclaim. Now, more than ever, you need to be an experienced professional.
  • Amateurs seek attention. Professionals focus.

Forget about attention. Infinity has ruined it for you. Cut your losses now.

Forget about Likes and Retweets and Shares. Track them if you’d like. But they don’t do anything for focus – as a matter of fact, they actually become sources of distraction for others whose attention has approached zero.

Forget the Retweet.

Refocus.

 

Facebook Business Solutions
Image by davemc500hats via Flickr

Question: If, as CEO of a company, you personally and passionately oppose Facebook’s Privacy policies and methods, would you withhold having any presence on the site, regardless of what it may cost you?

I’m an advocate for intelligent adoption of emerging technologies and media for individuals, non-profits and businesses. I believe they can be useful, pliant and remarkable tools as part of larger internal and external strategies. But I also believe that the uses of these media need to be integrated in accordance with the specific needs and resources of an enterprise within the larger contexts of what it means to do business.

But one matter is often overlooked, which is what I raised in the question above. What if you believe that a particular medium is run by a company who – in your eyes – has questionable or no ethical standards? Would you shrug off the matter and ultimately decide that you need to reach your customers on Facebook or Twitter or on any other medium which you don’t own and have no say in?

After all, when you set up a Facebook Page, you’re effectively entering a business relationship with Facebook – even if you don’t run ads or otherwise cut a check. Just as any smart and ethical executive would question entering a partnership with an un-trustworthy vendor, shouldn’t executives similarly consider the trustworthiness of the companies who run media sites?

I won’t answer the question here. But I would suggest, that executive leaders (and agencies) fully understand not only the properties of the media companies they use but also the ethical values and practices those companies employ.

We are living in a time when leaders must possess a minimal understanding and proficiency of emerging media. That entails not only a technical understanding of them but also an ethical wisdom and awareness.

Given Facebook’s changing policies with respect to Privacy, Healthcare executives must especially be pondering this question. As my friend Faisal Qureshi aptly stated:

@PhilBaumann if you're a Healthcare CEO you need to be thinking long and hard about using #fb in your marketing mix. #hcsm

@PhilBaumann if you're a Healthcare CEO you need to be thinking long and hard about using #fb in your marketing mix. #hcsm

Companies, and the agencies that advise them, must never forget the fundamental dividing difference between traditional media (print, radio, TV) and emerging media (Twitter, Facebook, Blogs, Forums): the former are hardware while the later are software. Hardware is relatively static and straightforward. Software, on the other hand, is pliant, elusive and unpredictable. Facebook isn’t a as much a medium as it is software. Thus the ethical thinking on media like Facebook, must take this key difference in mind.

Of all of the technologies which¬† our species has brought forth into the world, perhaps it’s the Question Mark which is our crowning achievement. And with that, I repeat my question to you:

If, as CEO of a company, you personally and passionately oppose Facebook’s Privacy policies and methods, would you withhold having any presence on the site, regardless of what it may cost you?

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dopey and the dwarfs
Image by bijoubaby via Flickr

Do you agree? Do you disagree? You clicked the link, didn’t you? Either because you agreed or – perhaps more so – because you disagreed or were offended.

Did I linkbait you into coming here? Perhaps. And that’s the point: marketers too often fetishize messaging at the expense of deeper, rounder and longer-term marketing strategies.

A catchy or rousing phrase may invoke the attention of your targets, but if that’s all it does, you’ve failed your boss’s investors.

THE SOURCE AND END OF DOPERY

In fact, it seems that the when some marketers declare themselves to be marketers, what they really mean is that they are messengers. But marketing isn’t just about messaging: marketing is about connecting something of subjective value with a subject who values that something (whether they know it yet or not). (Yes, marketing is kinda circular when enframed that way, isn’t it? :)

And that connecting is difficult work – it’s something that goes way beyond messaging. And yet many marketers have gotten lost in the practice of messaging – they’ve lost perspective of both the historical roots and the future evolution of their profession.

Marketing evolved over the last 100 years from producing to meet demand, to standing out with quality, to selling and persuasion and sophisticated research, and most recently into what is today called Traditional Marketing.

So what do I mean by All marketers are dopes? Who says that? Why?

Well, that sentence is a sentiment that consumers are increasingly feeling in their gut when they come across Dreck – and today Dreck is tired messaging and attention-screaming and incomplete marketing with no human quality.

EVOLUTION VIA WEB SELECTION

And what the Web is doing is providing marketers with a chance to re-evaluate the Why’s and How’s of what they learned from the start of their careers.

Unfortunately, most have gotten stuck in one phase of Marketing’s evolution, and unable to take the lead towards its next.

They’ve gotten lost in the assembly-line mentality of segregating and dividing labor and tasks: Research, Creatives, Advertising, etc. It was a necessary way of doing things in an economy where scaling required standardization of operations – things needed to be predictable and repeatable at the lowest possible costs.

But the Web is mothering novel media, with emerging properties that didn’t exist in the traditional staples of mass communication: print, radio and television.

Marketing isn’t dead, any more than desire or hunger or business. Marketing is just in the transitional phase to something more complete – a chance to build communities where the right messages can be delivered at the right time in the right context with the right processes.

Evolution is typically a merciless process – species who once reigned and ruled can be ruined without notice, while the tiny prey emerge stronger and more fit to deal with the new ecology.

ARE YOU A DOPE?

Too bad marketers are dopes. Or are they? If you’ve gotten this far, you’re probably not one of the dopes and I sincerely wish you nothing but success as you create a more human – and effective – Marketing.

A dope is someone who, once has learned a certain way of doing things, doesn’t know when to unlearn that particular way when it no longer works.

Are you a dopey marketer? Or are you someone who wants to change the world by connecting values that matter with people who need and want and (perhaps) crave what you have to offer?

Please be at the exception that proves the rule.

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