Social media madness and manipulation

“People don’t trust their senses above what they read online” – brilliant example of how social media can be used to manipulate (and how dangerous it can be).

2016 Internet trends

Yes. it’s long – but a quick read. Synopsis: things are slowing, China and India are the hotspots for growth, Android outsells Apple about 5:1 (!) – voice is the future. Would have liked to see a deeper dive into IOT and data integration, and wearables as an extension of mobility.

Summoning the Digital Genie

I’ve always wanted to be able to freely summon the internet by voice, and have it respond (in natural language no less) as I go about my daily tasks. Honestly, what would be easier than to just speak up from wherever you are? Which is why I was really interested to hear about Amazon’s new Echo.

For those of you not familiar, it’s a a hybrid speaker with voice recognition to answer certain questions and do certain tasks. It’s an inexpensive speaker and answer genie that responds to you throughout your home. “Echo – read me a recipe for pumpkin pie!” “Echo – add milk to my shopping list!” Things like that. Things that make life easier – no messy hands or actual moving involved.  Here’s the video that explains what it can do and how it works.

It’s no coincidence, though, that it’s AMAZON’s new product (a shopping retailer). The truth it that it’s an amazing way to learn about your needs, wants, and preferences – all of which can be tied back to recommending products.

Is this necessarily bad? I’m not sure. Ideally of course this just enhances your life: instead of being barraged with irrelevant things, you’re targeted with much more personalized suggestions. Many find this creepy though; that’s up to the user to decide. Forbes magazine did a nice roundup of all the type of information Echo *could* eventually glean from responding to your requests and surroundings here.

What’s less obvious is the impact of “always on” listening, as Sean and I have wrangled over in the last few days. The potential for future misuse is indeed, huge. Although Echo isn’t reporting on your conversations (pinging the internet), as it currently is only listening for the “wake” word, Amazon has been very noncommittal in their privacy statement about future use of the data gathered. and indeed – whether future versions of Echo won’t be recording *everything* that’s being said as a default.

But always on listening – whether it’s Echo or another future version (and there will be others) – is going to happen, and eventually become so “normal” (as cell phones have) that most people will dive in head first, without always stopping to think of the implications. After all, it’s so *intuitive* and easy to use, and makes life so much easier, why wouldn’t you? It does have some serious “Big Brother” potential though.

We scream about privacy, yet hand it over so easily when enticed by a bright shiny new toy. To whom are we selling our souls? Digital genie, or digital Pandora’s Box?

I have no answers. My guess is that privacy concerns will disappear as the “always on” generation swims like fish in the water they’ve always lived in, and dinosaurs (like me) die out.

The Borogoves are a’ Mimsying: Marketing in a hyper-connected world

I’ve been thinking a lot about the long term impact an ”instantaneous, on demand” life. Imagine that from birth, you never had to wait for anything, and had everything you wanted delivered immediately. News, entertainment, connecting with your “group” – everything.  Never getting lost. The collective knowledge of the human race there for you at all times. How would this shape your assumptions and expectations?

Because this is what’s happening to the generation being born. My nephew is almost 2. What struck me is how – without any real language skills yet (my sister would disagree) he tells her what he wants to watch, and when.  He “requests” Blue Clues over, and over (and over) again. The concept of watching something on schedule – and waiting for it, and not choosing which episode, is completely unfamiliar to him. If it’s not on when he wants it, he gets very, very angry.

So clearly, his brain is being trained to work differently than yours or mine. It reminds me of the 1943 short story “Mimsy Were the Borogoves” by Lewis Padgett, where an alien toy from the future is found by children and in the course of playing with them, they become “re-educated” to think differently.

Reality for him is a world where he will be completely connected to everyone he’s ever known, and (personalized) information, interaction, engagement, and entertainment will be fed to him how he likes it, and never more than a few seconds away.

What assumptions will he develop – as inherent to his interaction with the world as breathing? How will this quintessentially change the relationship he has with products and brands? And from a business point of view, how do you make sure your products and services are the “right” ones so that your company can successfully deliver what he will not just demand, but expect without thinking?

Well, for one: immediate gratification is a given. Patience will no longer be a virtue, when waiting is never necessary. So everything must be available immediately, and immediately relevant. This means devices that are never off, always connected to a information delivery infrastructure (10G?) with enough bandwidth (no doubt, an antiquated term by then) to deliver immediately.

It also means that accessing masses of data and instantaneously extrapolating what he likes, then projecting what he should like. Ultimately, continuing to learn who he is, then fine tuning that knowledge at an algorithmic rate will be a requirement, not an option.

Brands / companies will need to mine/model all the data they have about your preferences and past interactions to instantaneously tailor on-the-fly experiences for you. And woe betide the brand that guesses wrong – it will feel as inauthentic to him as a “real” inauthentic interaction does to you today.

And my guess is, he’ll have short patience for a brand interaction that doesn’t feel right. So branding in the future will be about creating entire experiences – including real time interactions (suggestions, whimsy, connections) just like a real friend would. A virtual concierge, as it were.

It will require a conflux of inputs, working together (and seamlessly) to create the experience he expects, and demands. So to hijack the traditional “Who, What, Where, When, Why, How” model, this is what the brave new world of branding and marketing will have to master:

Becoming interactive with him will require that your brand becomes a “friend”, someone who knows what you and your friends like, what you’re talking about, and how to be there in the right manner. You’ll need to deliver the information you want him to see and engage with in a manner that he wants:

  • Does he prefer text? Voice? Articles? RSS feeds? Audio? Something else? A mix of these? What are his preferences? When does he interact the most?
  • Snippets of info throughout the day? Is he an information snacker, grabbing bits in between other activities, or does he prefer to set aside a stretch of time to catch up on everything?
  • Does this behavior change depending on whether it’s a week day or weekend? Is he more receptive in the morning, or night? Can you ensure that you’re there at the right time?
  • Where is he? Close by? Is the message immediately relevant (is he nearby)? How close? Half an hour? Half a week?
  • Has he done something relevant in the past? Can you discern a pattern and overlay it on the present?
  • Who are his friends? Influencers? Who does he rely on for information? Opinion? Does he listen to different groups of friends depending on the situation, or product (fashion friends, tech friends, etc)?
  • What communities is he a part of? Active? Passive? Are these relevant to your brand? Who is he connected to there? This is the social networking part of the equation, where you mine his activity and network for insights an influence.

The friends/connection influencer role will increasingly be critical, as the only way for a brand to reach a consumer in the future will be through engagement with them AND the people they listen to. I personally believe the “push” model of advertising that we’ve all grown up with (billboards, print ads, television) will continue to atrophy in influence as people who’ve only ever, in the face of overwhelming messaging / branding, listen to “trusted advisors” – their own connections.

The list can go on, but obviously things are increasingly difficult as a marketer. It’s no longer about your brand, your market, your positioning, your message, and placing your message – it’s all about creating *true* context, meaning, authenticity. On your customer’s terms. I’m calling it Six Dimension Marketing. Marshall McLuhen said the medium is the message – in this case, the time, place, and context are too.

The brand challenge is/will be to facilitate meaningful engagements, and keep it going. Because by continuous listening and learning, the opportunity exists for a long and fruitful relationship. The barriers to creating a meaningful relationship with customers will be higher, but so will the barriers to exit.

So once again, technology will have the opposite effect many expected; instead of being a a great equalizer of opportunity, it will take more money/savvy / strategic creativity than ever to stay competitive….although I welcome seeing some of the “In Culture Marketing” (grassroots) that will emerge, that smaller brands can take advantage of (as well as some of the savvier larger brands). We’re just at the beginning of truly disruptive times for how business is “done” – all the things we “know” and grew up with are changing, and while it scares some, I personally find it exhilarating. Strap in for the ride!

The island of “me”: Digital narcissism, personalization, and ego

I’m intrigued by a pet observation that’s been swirling and coalescing in my little head lately: namely, the internet – an instant platform for all our own little opinions and soapboxes – has made us all think we’re important. Way too important, actually. The digital world has given us our proverbial “15 minutes of fame” – except, when everyone have a loud opinion, perversely none count, and the soapbox isn’t 15 minutes, but forever.

It used to be that you knew your relative importance in the world – possibly you shared your opinion with friends, family, some co-workers (probably not), you might have been a big fish in your own teeny weeny pond, and indeed, some managed to develop extraordinary egos just on that alone. But on the whole there was a small audience and you knew you weren’t all that important. For better or worse, people believed in authority and respected it.

But now, with a built in “audience” (x number of facebook/twitter “friends”!) you start to believe in your own importance. You imagine that your audience gives a rat’s patooty about what you think, and all of a sudden that ego that your parents worked so hard to quelch, train, and curb, has been given a venue to run wild.

People are commenting on every article being published; they have to share their opinions, because in their mind, it’s important that other people hear them. They are sharing their music lists, their favorite entertainment sources, their political advice – all of their proverbial intellectual DNA. Somehow, people are starting to believe that their <fill in the blank> is important. Drinking their own Kool-Aid.

The result of all this can be seen with the furor over the Wikileaks scandal. The point is not whether you agree this is a good thing or not, but what’s interesting to me is that we’ve moved as a society to a point where everyone feels they have a “right” to know everything. Which is a direct result of the move towards a seemingly egalitarian society, because everyone has a say (dammit!) and an audience, inflating their sense of importance.

Just another example of how the digital world is impacting on our “real” society and human psychology. Entitled might be the best word of all.

What’s going to happen as we increasingly all feel so important? => Combined with increasing personalization, and how spoiled we are getting from getting everything delivered immediately, I’m predicting a world of individual narcissists all operating on their own little self regulated “islands”. Which raises all sorts of interesting thought “vectors”…mostly around individual serving sized food right now (I’m hungry).

But also around the challenges brands and products (two different things) will have in reaching people, and influencing them; we are truly moving from a “push” marketing model to an engagement one, and the companies that don’t understand how to be invited and embed themselves in consumers’ lives will fail. Seamless operating integration between various technologies (hardware, connectivity, content) will be imperative to ensure that consumers keep you permanently in their lives. And then partnering with synergistic content, to deliver “package” experiences to consumers receptive to your product/service. I definitely think the era of the stand alone brand is ending.

But ironically, all this partnering and invisible web weaving will reduce your actual choices. Which is why I previously said “seemingly” egalitarian. But you won’t know it, because you’ll be feeling very important.