Archive for the ‘Content’ Category

Innovation from Within: Google

The very name Google denotes innovation.  Thousands of engineers are at play at Google Labs, with a steady outflow of amazing experiments.  But what if innovation is about more than engineering?  What if it is also about the human dynamic of technology?  That’s where Abigail Posner comes in – not an engineer but a social anthropology practitioner who’s changing how Google innovates – in subtle ways.

Her major at Harvard, where she took honors, was social anthropology, the study of human culture and society.  It turned out to be right on for account planning at global agencies like Publicis and DDB. She joined Google in 2011 after a 16-year career in advertising and management consulting.  Her title is Head of Strategic Planning, Agency Development.  What’s planning?  Insight and strategy, she explains.

Google knew they needed her but could not define exactly in what ways, she reported at a recent Women Innovate Mobile event.  She had to use whatever processes it took to get political and emotional sponsorship and to build her practice.  And so progressing in her role became not about moving up but about moving out, spreading her impact in many directions, probing for feedback.  “And then they all help each other as opposed to doing only one thing well,” she said.

Her first job is to help clients – marketing agencies – develop ideas.  Her role is not to make sense of data but to help creatives come up with creative ideas that inspire people.  To do this means understanding the symbolic value of brands and products.  Her second responsibility is to develop insights using Google tools and anthropological research; her third is training.  She developed a course on insight development for internal marketers; then clients asked for it..

According to Abigail:  “Because people spend so much time with digital media, we need to get value to them.  It’s not about screens but points of contact and communication.  We need to leverage those.  We’re all social strategists.  Everything we do is social.  The social platform space is unlimited.  What does it mean to be social?  Mobile?  Search?  Everything will be social and mobile.  How can technology amplify this?  Are we getting that fulfilled?

“Place making, a fundamental insight of social anthropology, is an innate desire to make sense of places, to constantly remind us of who we are.  Cell phones allow us to make places like crazy.  We find information on a restaurant as we pass by.  Then we find a dish we like and photograph and share it.  All this creates value.  Being connected is an opportunity to leverage place making.

“Mobile phones allow us to tap into deep-seated needs and desires.  What’s new is the interest in understanding the human dynamic of technology.  How can we use this to elevate our lives?”

How might understanding the human dynamic of technology relate to product development?  Product development used to be largely engineering, she responds, with some usage research.  She hopes in time to have more input into product development.  What a thought:  products designed with the human dynamic as important as the technology or usage!  That sounds to me like the true basis for a great user experience.

The Future is Internet Access. not Devices

Frugal innovation that’s just good enough to enable free mobile Internet access in order to supports a focus on education for billions of low-income people. That’s both the personal and business mission of Suneet Singh Tuli, CEO, Datawind. The outcome? The first $40 tablet computer – the Aakash – launched first by the president of India, then by the UN Secretary General and today in use by thousands of students in India.

Suneet’s business goal is to create a low-price product that impacts people’s lives and, yes, make money from it. “I am not a charity,” he declaims. The Datawind business model is to forgo most of the company’s hardware margins and to focus instead on recurring revenue from content and apps in order to go after and, in time, own the price-sensitive consumer.

He believes everyone should focus on education. Education corrects everything, he says. No, the low-cost computer is not intended to replace teachers but to supplement what they can do. His sons get answers to all the questions they have after school from YouTube! And Forbes International recently recognized Suneet in its annual impact 15 list of education innovators.

Lesson No. 1 for US entrepreneurs: “just good enough” should be part of innovation. It’s not disruptive technology that wins; it’s the one the gorilla ignores – as we learned from Clayton Christiansen. Large companies, such as Apple and Samsung, could own the low-cost tablet market but it would dilute their brands to say nothing of their margins. Their business model is based on creating and producing high-quality, highly profitable hardware. Suneet’s, on the other hand, is to use hardware as a customer acquisition tool.

Lesson No. 2: the future is Internet access, not devices, in Suneet’s view – with money coming not from devices but from content, apps and advertising. In fact, Suneet’s next goal, in addition to bringing the cost of the Aakash down to $25, is to spark a global ecosystem of socially positive apps that empower women.

Whither Online Content?

Sponsored content may not be new, but its role as a replacement for traditional advertising certainly is. So is the new acceptance of the collapse of the long-standing wall that separated content and advertising. What makes this new situation acceptable is transparency about the sponsor and assurance that the editorial content was created independently of the sponsor.

These were among the takeaways of a lively discussion among content and advertising experts about Content and Commerce organized by Gotham Media Strategies and Frankfurt Kurnit at yesterdays digital breakfast. Rick Kurnit, of Frankfurt Kurnit, moderated; Glenn Hall, of TheBlazecom; Eason Jordan, of NowThisNews; Scott Kurnit, of KEEP Holdings; Rob Rasmussen, of Story Worldwide and Rebecca Sanhueza, of Time, inc. were panelists.

However “native ads,” i.e., branded content, is not acceptable when it tries to trick people into believing it’s not advertising. And everyone agrees that advertising sucks when it’s annoying and intrusive. But even overt paid content, i.e., ads, can be great. Three campaigns were cited that have won universal acclaim; Nike’s advertising, which delivers inspirational content that empowers consumers; Dove’s, which establishes a relationship with consumers about beauty and how you see yourself and is more like direct marketing, and AT&T’s It’s Not Complicated series, which uses kids’ imaginations to turn boring brand attributes into pure fun.

Interestingly, online e-commerce businesses like KEEP, are bypassing advertising altogether and simply delivering thousands of products for consumers to buy and share.

So then comes the question can any brand create content? The answer is a flat No. Not all brands have the legitimacy to create content. They need to have both a point of view that carries throughout all the brand’s actions and audience respect for that point of view.

The big question about unbranded content, i.e., pure news, or journalism, is the business model. Originally, this relied on the monopoly of news media, which enabled content scarcity and exclusivity. Gone! Today, we have content abundance and ubiquity. One requirement has never changed: relevance to viewer/user interests and needs. So traditional media, like Time Inc.’s magazines, aim to serve both consumers and advertisers by delivering targeted niche audiences to advertisers and targeted content to those audience segments.

What TheBlaze is attempting carries this one step further, developing special content products appropriate to specific advertiser messages and also relevant to TheBlaze audience.

What’s the future business model for journalism? No one knows. But probably a hybrid of subscription fees and advertising with quite probably some commerce as well!