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October 2010

the burden of innovation: everything is awesome and no one is happy

3398923323_8749470cc3_b Innovation is exciting.  Innovations saves time, saves lives, connects people, yadda yadda yadda.  But it's not going to make you happy.  If anything, it can easily enable all those bad habits you kind of wish deep down you didn't have - like keeping your BlackBerry on the nightstand.

If innovation is the delivery of tomorrow's necessity today, before you know you need it, then I'm pretty sure it's creating some pretty crazy neccesities.

Consider the smartphone.  While it offers a wealth of access and usability, it also feeds into our nueroces about being disconnected from the office.  While the smartphone allows us to work from the road, it also allows us to check email when we shouldn't be.  And let's be honest, being bored and still hanging in there at your kid's little league game is part of the experience.  When your kid looks up and sees you bored as hell but still watching him and supporting him, he gets a message.  When you're on your blackberry, they get a different one.

With the proliferation of ease of access technologies it becomes far easier to connect rather than to live.  This constant connectivity can easily creap up on a person, ultimatley reaching the point that there is never a moment of disconnectivity other than sleep.  And even when you're sleeping, it's all right there on your nightstand waiting for you to check in as soon as you wake up.  This background pressure creates a sense of constant multi-tasking.  Smelling the roses is no longer a solitary experience.

Man was not built to be always on or always background processing. There used to be a time when taking the train meant meeting people and interacting with one another.  Now I'm a bit annoyed when I run into someone on the train because this is the time I generally use to catch up on podcasts and emails.

Just because it's innovative, doesn't mean it's going to make you happier.  Only you can make that decision.  But if you're ready to get stressed out or overworked, this is the perfect generation for you.

Then again, you can always open your eyes and realize that the life you care most about is also that much closer to you, no matter where you are.

Inspired by the video below:


Do investors need first hand experience?

Please note that the views and opinions expressed here are solely my own and do not reflect those of my employer.

A few weeks back the venerable Malcolm Gladwell wrote a striking peice around the limited impact of Twitter and by extension social media, in bringing about concrete change.  Chris Dixon raised an interesting point: Gladwell isn't all that engaged in social media, so his analysis is limited to that of an outsider looking in.  To be honest, this was my first take on this article as well. Chris takes this discussion a step further and considers the limited first hand experience some investors have in platforms (generally social media platforms) that these ventures capitalists seem to be placing a great deal of interest in.  Wouldn't it be a sound investment strategy to personally immerse oneself in the dynamic in which one is investing to heavily?

I've found something interesting in my own professional experience that I believe illustrates the fulcrum of this discussion. 

Having been in the "social marketing" space since the good old days, I used to spend a good deal of time thinking that they don't get it.  They were generally the marketing leads often tasked with driving a concrete, limited, short term objective - sell more.  They didn't appreciate the softer approach of relationship building, and often looked to the conversational, relationship-based platforms as messaging and media channels.  But in the real world they were acting rationally.  They had goals.  We as an industry didn't have meaningful precedence to demonstrate that we could solve their goals better.  Their risk differential didn't justify the investment.

A couple of years later, these same types of people were looking to productize and therefor confine the rich and colorful world of conversational marketing.  While those of us deeply entrenched in the space often struggled with the compartmentalization of these rich ecosystems into defined products, their approach ultimately helped deliver sell-able products that brand marketers knew how to buy and execute against at scale.  The counter-intuitive creation of a far more linear, structured approach to social marketing was like trying to plan a jazz session with sheet music.  It felt wrong to us as improvisational musicians but it served us better in the long run.

In this instance, the social marketer's intimate experience and the mainstream marketer's knowledge of the bigger picture came together to create an industry.

They weren't missing the forest for the trees.

Because they were outsiders.

Who needs an outsider?

Who makes a better coach:

  1. A former athlete who retired after a successful personal career in this sport
  2. A career coach who studied coaching professionally and served as an assistant coach for years
  3. A sports commentator with years of perspective

There is no absolute answer.  The athlete has the best understanding of the players on the field.  The career coach has the best understanding of overall strategy and what it takes to get the team as a whole to where they need to be.  The sports commentator has a very broad knowledge, a close connection with the fans (who pay for the whole shebang) and in depth fantasy league experience running a team without the constraints so many coaches or managers probably assume they must live with. 

The same dynamic expresses itself when it comes to emerging channel development. 

  1. There are experienced investors who have been through similar emerging channel investments in the past and can bring their many lessons learned in parallel markets to bear. 
  2. There are technology or platform development experts who know how to build not only the right platform, but the right team. 
  3. There are agency and brand leaders who understand the ad/sponsorship/integration side of the equation (often a monetization solution). 
  4. And then there are the platform evangelists who are the thought leaders in this developing platform. These just may be the visionaries you need to get the big picture. 

Just as in the sports example, everyone brings a nice skill to the table. 

So does one really need first hand experience as a Twitter user, blogger, Facebook user or mobile-social user to gauge the future of a startup in this space? 


  • If you don't have first hand experience you cannot fully appreciate the platform dynamic. 
  • Outsiders often have a clearer picture of the bigger picture.  The outsider's perspective isn't influenced by the provincial outlook of the those living in the fishbowl.
  • Investors care primarily about what they take out, not how it gets there.

Why Gladwell was wrong (but I still respect him)

Change doesn't occur in a fishbowl.  Change demands varying levels of commitment, but it starts with the recognition that change is needed.  Yes, talk is cheap and memes are often short-lived.  But talk is generally a necessary precursor to action.  To Chris Wilson's point, I wouldn't have even heard of Chris had it not been for social media.  I have met hundreds of people via digital social media, many of whom I have since formed personal and professional relationships with.  These relationships have led to referrals for jobs and more than a few partnerships in bringing our respective marketing plans to life.  Through introductions and networking, relationships worth millions of dollars are forming via social media every day.

Social media has made talk cheaper.  But don't think it's made good relationships any less meaningful.  And yes, good relationships often end up living beyond Twitter, but this doesn't make Twitter any less valuable as a relationship catalyst (all be it one with a lot of noise). 

Why Chris is right

There are two types of outsiders: those who think they know it all and those who appreciate that which they don't know.  The former is a recipe for ignorance, the latter is the formula for succesful collaboration.

In the personal example I shared earlier, the social marketers and the mainstream marketers couldn't have found success had we not taken the time to learn and appreciate one another's disciplines.  The same is true for investors in emerging channels and in particular, social media.  You owe it yourself to at the very least understand the basics of the industry and the human drives behind the platform.

Social is built for the common man, this should be easy for you

The barriers to entry and understanding in social media are unbelievably low.  If Facebook, Twitter or blogging were difficult to grasp they wouldn't have succeded.  As a media built on talking, thought leaders generally share most of what's on their minds with alarming regularity.  It doesn't take more than a good guide, a few good books and 30 minutes a day to get a decent grasp on the user behavior, platform dynamics, technology solutions and market challenges/opportunities.

There is a role for the investor who is a social guru and a role for the investor who doesn't have as deep a knowledge, but great supporting experience and a desire to learn and collaborate.  There is a lot of value in bringing in the outsider.  However, when faced with low barriers to entry, a radically evolving dynamic and strong upside opportunity it is irresponsable to rely on old methods to build new solutions. 

It's time to roll up our sleeves and start acting.  By talking.  Welcome to the conversation.

Finding your risk differential

Precedent for Innovation

Everyone wants to be a breakout success, to stand apart as an innovative leader.  Few are ready to accept the necessary risk to make that jump.  

Were it possible to mitigate all risk in building never-before-seen solutions, everyone would already be doing it.  Innovation is the art of the inspired and strategic risk.  There's a time and a place for everything, but break out innovation doesn't live in the world of precedence and sensibility.

If you want to or need to break out, prepare for the jump.  

Litmus Test: Are we too negative?

You're complaining on Twitter, what hashtag do you use?  

#Fail, #EpicFail #BrandNameFail... the list goes on.

You just had a great experience and want to share it on Twitter.  What hashtag do you use?  

#Win ... ... ... .... ... ... ?

How many times have you used #Win or seen it used referencing a brand or company? 


What does it say about us as a culture when we have an accepted cultural tag for complaining but not complimenting?

Game Mechanics for Marketers - Beyond the Badge

4962765151_0fd0ebbd2e_b Social/Mobile games are the new viralEverybody wants them.  However, without a basic understanding of the space, it will remain an illusive shiny object.

The typical pitch for a social/mobile game goes something like this:

If 70 million people are willing to maintain a virtual farm and shell out millions of dollars in real currency, or tell the entire world where they are every minute of the day, all in the pursuit of a meaningless status-badge, then they will surely love our new platform. Our solution not only gives them a status but rewards them with loyalty points and/or exclusive content!  

Also, it's Facebook, Twitter, FourSquare and virally enabled... so you're starting total audience size is over 500,000,000 users!

Over the next year we will see dozens of such start-ups enter the marketplace.  Many already have.  A handful of brands are also going to release their own "games".  Just like a few brands tried to create The YouTube of Chewing Gum Enthusiasts a few years ago, many will soon launch their own Social/Mobile Game for The Gum Chewing Enthusiast Community.  After all, it's simple... you check into where you are, share your thoughts, pictures and videos, and we will give you badges.  Right?

What are Game Mechanics?

Game Mechanics are a series of strategies that (when properly deployed) foster continued engagement for advanced users while maintaining attractiveness and simplicity to new users. Game Mechanics are what keep people addicted to platforms.

The success of a platform will not be about utilizing these strategies correctly alone, but will also include (a) creativity, (b) the ability to garner attention and trial in a crowded marketplace with growing fatigue and (c) potentially utility.

Why do Game Mechanics matter to marketers?

Game mechanics promote repeated usage of a platform, ultimately establishing a sense of identity and pride for the participant.  While these dynamics have historically been limited to games, marketers that can best leverage these tactics will hold the keys to building truly addictive experiences.

And when these proven addictive tactics meet the relevance and excitement of social and mobile, untold worlds of creativity await.

Overview of Basic Game Mechanics

At it's core game mechanics are a field of experience design.  They often start by introducing a simple action that will be repeated multiple to both advance in the players in the game and generate either motor skills or learned habits.  Initial actions will be simple but offer generous reward to the new player.  Over time new actions and game play components will be introduced, creating a sense of discovery and ultimately accomplishment at the mastery of each component.  Rewards will often increase in scale, as will the number of actions needed to achieve meaningful progress, creating the illusion of momentum while slowing game advancement.  Ultimately, game play becomes as much about the game itself as it is a form of self expression and pride for the player who has invested time and effort building their in game status.

Sample Game Mechanics

Turns and Timing

Whether it's a board game or an online game, defining the action sequence sets user expectations and lends structure to the experience.  A turn game is where one player takes and action at a time, followed by a friend.  In games designed to be played in either solitary states (without friends) or in a group setting as part of a solitary action sequence (ex. building your farm is an individual action in a social/group game) these "turns" are facilitated via a strict timing mechanism.

Action Points

These points inform a user how much "action" they can take at each turn or over a given time period.  Over time, these point numbers will grow, allowing the user to take additional actions per turn.  However, as the point numbers granted to the player grown, the threshold in required actions to reach the next level will continue to grow further away relative to the number of points assigned.  In other words, players feel more powerful at each turn but require additional activity to reach the next level.

Social Bidding

Players are invited to invest in taking a special action.  This activity may be completed by a individual, but often includes group planning and bidding.  This fosters investment in the action and platform, a deeper emotional connection based on the individual investment, and grows group behavior.

 Cards and Randomizers

Cards introduce seemingly random mini-actions that bring added flavor and uncertainty to the game.  These may include the need for additional action in order to receive a bonus rewards.

Capture and Eliminate

Whether it's taking over the other player's status, points/tokens or properties, surrounding an opponents or straight out attacking them to death, this is often the actualization of direct competition in the game dynamic.  This may or may not result in the complete removal of the player or game pieces from the game.

Catch Up

These are a series of tactics that keep the game compelling for those outside of the leading position.  For, the further into the game players advance the slower or more difficult their progress.  This not only drives those already hooked into the platform and succeeding to invest more of their time and energy into the platform, but it keeps players within reach of one another.  Additionally, Catch Up can be player initiated using a Capture and Eliminate style attack.


Gambles, luck, the throw of the dice, the random card chosen, the random pitfall or opportunity... all of these make the game more interesting.  These can impact player movement, rewards, losses, progress or even direction. 


The ability to advance in the game, in status and relative to other players.  The clear display or movement and tracking towards the next step presents the player with a visual payoff of their efforts.

Resources Management

The ability purchase, invest or build given limited and slowly replenishing resources not only adds a layer of complexity, but makes players value their in-game resources and take pride in their purchases and investments.  These investments will initially generate playable or advancement oriented action but may become more self expression and pride oriented later in the game.

Game Modality

Some games are best played as individuals whereas others rely on teams or collaboration.  Some are more turn-based and some allow concurrent action.  Most of the new social games embrace a flexible game play environment wherein individuals can enjoy alone, but their gameplay experience will be enhanced with friends.


Victories can be both small (mini games) and large (final wins) and take a variety of forms.  From achieving a preset goal, to avoiding loss, removing or winning a desired gameplay piece, to races, puzzle resolution, structural building, territory control and points (and any combination thereof), victory provides a reachable if challenging preset goal for players to work towards.

If everyone is talking, why don't we care?

Really Every six to eight weeks a major media outlet or two run a story about the death of privacy online.  Whether it's online ad companies supposedly breaking the rules or users opting into the ridiculous platforms or terms, these stories are the topic du jour for a day and then seem to disappear for another few weeks.  

Which begs the question; if everyone is worried about this today, why don't we act on it or talk about it tomorrow?  Do we really care?

We've been trained to be skeptical

If we truly catered to the media's every theatrical concern we would all be living in bunkers.  The sun causes cancer and too much chocolate will both kill you via diabetes and help prevent cancer.  Between Glenn Beck and Bill Maher we should all be terrified of the prospect of movement in any direction.  

There's a reason that Gen Y and Millenials are turning to Comedy Central for their daily news commentary.  We stopped believing in the traditional media a long time ago.  The incredibly fake enthusiasm, the artificial light conversation between the anchors, the constant threat of something lurking where you least expect it and the high and mighty name calling have eroded our trust and frankly, the media's relevancy.  

We care, it's just not a priority

Deep down we care about our privacy.  We care about our health.  We care about politics.  We just don't care all that much.  Because in reality, we aren't going to change based on media hysteria, they've trained us to view them with a grain of salt.  We care about what our friends care about (not all the crazy ones, just the ones we trust).  We care about what our friends arrive at a consensus around caring about.

Conclusion: We care with our friends, we act with our friends

We don't care because you the media tell us to.  We've learned better.

We don't care because you the media give us something to talk about.  But we'll probably discuss it for a minute or two.

We care about what our friend's not only talk about, but take action around.

When our friends leave social due to privacy concerns, we will most probably leave.  As right now this is just talk, this story is little more than talk.

Awareness matters, action matters more #AOC3 #BAD10

Charity is a funny thing.  In social media we have all grown used to giving through a brand.  I become a fan and the brand gives money to charity.  In this system, everybody wins: the charity raises funds, the brand gets fans and the invidual raises awareness around the brand and the charity.

Awareness matters for charity.  It's the top of the funnel.  The world won't get behind a cause they have never heard of, and as people we are probably more likely to get behind a cause their friends are already behind.

But awareness never changed the world.  The net goal has to be real action.  Real money going to real people taking real action.  This is why Charity Water is a strong and promising brand and this is why efforts like the Age Of Conversation 3 are so great. 

Speaking of, if you haven't yet purchased your copy of Age Of Conversation 3, what are you waiting for?  When a couple hundred strong thinkers (and me) get together, you're sure to learn a thing or two about social media.  AND, all proceeds go to support Charity Water.  So go ahead and buy your copy today!  And don't forget to tell your friends!

How?  Simple, follow these three steps, then rinse and repeat as desired.

  1. Buy a copy of Age of Conversation 3 for each of your clients – they’ll love it and they’ll love you:
  2. Make an additional donation to charity: water 
  3. Insert the Blog Action Day widget on your blog


learning not to listen

Just stop One of my favorite quotes of all time came to me by way of Converseon's Rob Key quoting Henry Ford who said,

If I had asked customers what they had wanted they would have said faster horses.

Listening has it's place.  The voice of the customer has it's place.  But let's be clear, your customers have feedback and ideas but they don't know what's best for any number of reasons, including:

  • Customers don't have all the information.  
  • Customers don't see the big picture.  
  • Customer's vocal feedback doesn't define your success. 
  • Your customer's necks and livelihoods aren't on the line.  
  • Your customers aren't professionals, nor do they have the sensitivity, strategy or skill of your dedicated professionals.

Whether it's the logo for the Gap or the latest horrible UGC commercials, customers aren't always smarter or even right.  Much of the time they are ill-informed or just wrong.  As brand communicators it is our objective to inform and empower our customers in the ultimate goal of generating sales, loyalty and advocacy.  We want these relationships to be collaborative?  But at what point did we stop leading and to be blunt, stop thinking things through?

Almost every update to Facebook drives huffs and puffs from the masses.  Yet six months later we cannot think of life without these innovations.  

Sometimes great thinkers know better.  Sometimes customers are wrong.  And sometimes we shouldn't be asking them for ideas of feedback to begin with.  Because at the end of the day, it's our jobs as marketers to build our brands.

YOU have to be more invested in your success than your customers.  To be honest, almost every brand and every business is replaceable.  And so, it is up to you to make your business tick.

I bet Gap had a good deal of thinking behind their logo redesign.  I hope they had good reason to change the course, especially the second time.  So please, stop looking at collaboration as an alternative to strategy, design or creative.  Stop bowing to the notoriously fickle whims of the Twitter universe.