Are Paradoxes Trending?

Digital detox.

Authentic brands.

Advertising for social good.

Each trend contains an undeniable tension almost to the point of oxymoronic. For culture enthusiasts and market researchers these concepts are ubiquitous, provocative and irresistible. To read about online. To dream about. To wait for some form of acknowledge on a grand scale, that would enable modern culture to progress to the next chapter. If only Walter Benjamin could help us navigate this stuff.

At a macro level, these trends may connect to the rate of change we’re experiencing in the Digital Age. Perhaps the tension it all creates with human nature is finally coming to a head. Maybe Steve Jobs underestimated how dramatic the 2007 iPhone launch would become in hindsight. He introduced it as an iPod, a revolutionary phone, and a “breakthrough internet communication device” but back then who knew what that truly meant?

Watching visions of the future from the past is a trip.

Watching the 2007 iPhone launch in 2016 feels like watching a sequel to the 1927 silent film Metropolis. I remember meeting at the library one night in college to watch it for a Literature course — Modernity and Fin de Siècle. The psychological and emotional gymnastics of watching a 1927 dystopian film as a college junior a few years post-9/11 was disorienting. I remember leaving the library in tears I was so disturbed, and called my mom for comfort. It took a few days to shed the strangeness the film cast over me.

The mindfulness movement, the struggle for brands to sound authentic, Michael Porter’s idea of “shared value” to fix capitalism, the interest in B-Corporationsall of these trends align with a rising need for meaning. The kind of meaning that escorts the realization that you’re small and the world is large. It’s hard to grasp this when instead of contemplation we insert social media and apps into any down time.

According to an upcoming trend report by JWT, 78% of  respondents “believe that we’re losing some important human qualities by spending so much time immersed in technology”.

I’m inspired by this statistic. It will exist as a benchmark. Which means we can propose solutions to lower it. To start, I will unpack each apparent “paradox” from the top of this rant in a weekly post…as soon as my graduate thesis is done. Stay tuned!

 

NYC AdWeek From A Comms Student Perspective

I’m attending AdWeek NYC for the first time. (That’s a career milestone, right? Adding it to my resume.)

Starting my master’s in Communications has already opened doors and my mind; I wouldn’t have known about AdWeek’s student rate had a classmate not mentioned it during a lunch break (thanks Anthony!). Both panels I attended today reinforced key concepts from a course in Organizational Strategy:

We Have A Plan, #AWXII

Concept 1: Success Isn’t Defined By Competition Alone

In a discussion about entering “the millennial music stream” moderated by a FastCompany Senior Editor, Rob Brunner, the CMO’s of Spotify (Seth Farbman) and Pandora (Simon Fleming-Wood) discussed how each company views the other as a “complementary” rather than competitor brand. Normally I would have felt this was lip service. And maybe it was. But the discussion definitely swam into Blue Ocean territory when Apple Music came up. When asked about their thoughts on Apple Music, each CMO stated if the service is a “category expansion” or an innovation, they view it as a good thing for the entire industry. The prevailing attitude was one of healthy competition and a deep mutual respect. Farbman expressed his appreciation for Apple as a brand that provides “something for others to measure themselves against,” which challenges other brands to remain clear about what makes them unique.

A love of music was tangible throughout, as Pandora’s CMO used a beautiful metaphor, comparing music to an “emotional sherpa”. He explained, “We know where we want to go throughout our day. We rely on our music to take us there.”

 

Concept 2: Social Responsibility as Strategy, Not Afterthought

The last panel I attended was called “Global Brands, Global Goals, Igniting Social Good“. We watched the newly launched #WeHaveAPlan ad for GlobalGoals.org and listened to a discussion of the campaign strategy by its co-creators, film-writer and director Richard Curtis CBE and BBH founder Sir John Hegarty. Also on stage was the CMO of Getty Images, a partner in the campaign. She introduced the panelists as “men who are not only great in their fields, but are also good men. And when great and good men come knocking on your door, you open it.” Immediately I knew I picked the best panel for that time slot.

Again, concepts taught in class were reinforced by the conversation.  Specifically that it’s no longer enough to think of Corporate Social Responsibility as merely an initiative or a campaign, tacked on as an after-thought. Rather, the most successful companies and organizations bake sustainability into their core business strategy.

Perhaps most compelling was the discussion of whether the #GlobalGoals campaign can actually produce deep, meaningful change or if it’s just glorified slacktivism – and if this even matters, so long as the Global Goals are achieved. It was a healthy debate, as another audience member asked how the campaign plans to sustain itself over the next 15 years, after the initial media push from last weekend’s Global Citizen’s concert.

The response was an honest acknowledgement by Curtis that many people in the business world consider sustainable development to be naive, liberal or too left-winged to be taken seriously. Yet…revolutions start when a few like-minded, passionate people band together. That getting a Facebook Like is better than doing nothing. And that “revolutions start on the edges, not the center”. And that “we mustn’t forget the power of broadcasting” – a quote by Sir John Hegarty I will take to heart as I navigate my career in communications.

Finding Meaningful Work: Peacebuilding & Social Media Part I

Home office with Basquiat portrait in top left.

Home office with Basquiat portrait in top left.

Finding Meaningful Work

Meaningful work shouldn’t be so hard to find. Meaningful work that also pays the bills seems like finding a needle in a haystack next to a group of horses who haven’t had any hay in a long time (horses eat hay right?) and don’t care about you or why you don’t just order a new needle online.

There is one line of work that holds promise in terms of longevity and sustainability, in an ironic kind of way: global conflict resolution. There’s a ton of conflict out there. At the risk of sounding opportunistic — or as one friend called it, “industrializing” the issue — there is more work than there are jobs in the field of peace-building.

Information Anxiety in a Global, Digital World

You know that self-righteous attitude your co-worker assumes when he or she enlightens you with a major news story you haven’t yet heard about? Working in digital communications, the noise of the internet makes its way into IRL conversations constantly.

“Did you hear about Facebook’s new algorithm that detects when you’re about to sneeze and advertises a brand of tissue based on the type of fabric softener your mom used to use? No?  Good luck making it in the media industry without staying ahead of the curve. Even if the curve is actually a line Mark Zuckerberg peed onto the sand somewhere.

This anxiety can be multiplied when it comes to national tragedies. We all have constant access to information, so there’s no excuse to not be informed. It can feel like you’re a bad Jew if you haven’t heard about the latest horrible skirmish with Gaza. This leads people (and the media) to focus on obtaining the most heart-wrenching nugget of information to share with his or her social circle; it’s like tragic currency.

Remember the stories from 9/11 about the phonecalls made to loved ones from the planes? They were exchanged like trading cards. It’s human nature to narrow in on such stories because they are how we relate to the human aspect of otherwise overwhelming, complicated events.

Peace In The Middle East ?!?!

The Middle East conflict doesn’t impact the daily lives of your average American. And yet discussing it can feel like an important form of gossip. This “tragic currency” phenomenon runs rampant in conversations (more often arguments) about the issue. It’s like watching ‘Keeping Up with Israel’ on Fox and NBC. It’s sad, frustrating and unfair. It’s tragic.

It’s also scary to voice my opinion on the subject, because I want to be part of the solution. Which means I want to participate in conversations about the topic without coming across as biased. I’m a Jewish American who lived in Tel Aviv for four years, but I am also many, many other things at the same time. I also want these words to be read and not glossed over, so I’m going to stick to short pieces and see where the feedback takes me. Like the conflict itself, several challenges present themselves.

I have tapped into some “meaningful work”.

Stay tuned for Part II: Peacebuilding & Social Media!

Thoughtful comments/arguments welcomed.

 A Content Strategy Rallying Cry

The internet makes it simultaneously easier and more difficult to have your words heard.

The trash heap of shitty content increases by the millisecond. We all have the ability to write (technically speaking) and access to the marketplace (social media, blogs, ads, etc.). Because of this radical democratization of communication it’s more crucial than ever to start with why when considering whether to produce content.

The distinction between ads or “sponsored content” and editorial content is becoming so blurry it’s like we’re all swimming underwater, and we all need to clean our goggles with that goggle-cleaner fluid but no one wants to miss out by taking the time to emerge on the surface, clean his or her goggles, and see more clearly. Brands instead choose to churn water, pushing forward with mediocre, unnecessary, uninspiring and even self-defeating content that actually does more damage than good (and is an incredible waste of resources).

Brand managers and content strategists are generals in the battle for authenticity in modern advertising. Social media is where the bloodiest squirmishes are lost, in the form of dull content that falls on deaf ears; no one sees it. At least no one valuable to your bottom line sees it. If they do, they aren’t persuaded to do or think in any meaningfully different way.

If a shitty Facebook post gets no reach, does it make a sound?

The answer is yes – in the form of a digital footprint. It’s easy for competitors or prospective business partners to check out a brand’s Facebook page only to find tumbleweeds. You don’t delete posts that fall flat; they remain there for all to see.

Savvy and strategic thinkers already know this; the problem is getting through to the masses. Fortunately, this means there will always be work for content strategists. Unfortunately, everyone with opposable thumbs and an internet connection fancies him/herself a content strategist.

All we can do is stay calm and carry on.

Check out the (7!) books closely/loosely relevant to this topic I bought yesterday. Reviews to follow!

books on branding

 

 

Advice for Brands on Chasing the Facebook Dragon

 

Chasing the Facebook Dragon

Determining the ROI on a Facebook ad campaign is one of the most frustrating parts of social media marketing. And it’s just getting worse. Brands have signed onto the notion that Facebook serves a silver platter of highly targeted, engaged audience members. But it’s not a bright and shiny platter; it’s an oxidized platter with the kind of stains that might not be stains but might just be oxidation but you can’t really tell.

You put up a Page Likes ad to jump-start your page’s growth, you get a sudden spike of fans, and you’re hooked. Then you chase that dragon down a wormhole of News Feed algorithm updates, revised campaign structures and increasingly hard-to-decipher reports.

Integrated Marketing AssClownery: Confusing the Medium for the Message

A comparison can be made between the pitfalls of Facebook advertising and SEO methods in wide use a few years ago. Brands who wanted to rank in search engines relied too heavily on “gaming the system”. Massive amounts of low-quality content combined with keyword stuffing was the formula to success. But Google was smarter, and updated its algorithm to detect websites relying on spammy, superficial methods that don’t actually do any good for real human beings . . . rendering those methods obsolete.

The same holds true with Facebook content and advertising. Relying on the platform won’t get you far. It’s just a method of delivery. It’s not a sustainable strategy.

Three key problems from focusing on advertising (i.e. the medium) instead of your content (i.e. the message):

1) The medium changes on a dime.

Facebook is constantly changing. “Improving”. They roll out changes to their ad platform so frequently that I’ve had instances where the coworker sitting next to me has access to different features in Power Editor than I do. Nothing’s more irritating than convincing a client to invest in a certain type of ad only to discover that ad type was discontinued, and was only offered as a test for a short period of time.

2) Access isn’t guaranteed.

If your ad sucks, guess what? No one will click on it. And Facebook will stop showing it. With more brands than ever competing with each other for ad space, shitty ads that don’t speak to their target audience with tailored messaging and a bit of creativity just don’t get shown. This is why “Ad Optimization” is a key component of a successful ad campaign.

3) Not all impressions are worth the same.

Do you want Fans? Website visitors? Post engagement? Or just impressions? Picking a metric and sticking with it gets complicated when too much focus is placed on the medium, as opposed to your content or your bottom-line. Figure out if it’s brand awareness, community engagement or visits to your website you’re after. Write it on a piece of paper. Stick it on your forehead. Turn yourself around. That’s what it’s all about.

 

The Path to Recovery

The true goldmine of opportunity on Facebook lies in getting your fans to share your content with their friends. For free! Having someone Like, Comment or actually Share content you post on your page is what leads to organic, viral success. Lots of people get this; Gary Vaynerchuk and Jonah Berger are two examples. Brands like Magnolia, Martha Stewart and Seamless take advantage of the image-based UI. Does this mean your financial services client should post high-res closeups of tax forms and accounting sheets? Limited resources are better spent elsewhere. Like on providing content that’s actually useful for your existing audience. Thinking creatively about ways to engage people who have already indicated they care about what you’re saying. User surveys with real insight.

  1. Put users first. Understand their needs. Who are they? What are their problems?
  2. Consider your company or product. How does it solve the problems you just listed?
  3. Think creatively. Focus on the message. Then figure out if you’re going to translate this into Facebook ads or posts. Whether you post something as an ad, a post, a link, a photo or a nosehair really doesn’t matter; what are you trying to say!

TL;DR

It’s too easy to focus on the medium at the expense of the message, and pour money into advertising something with low-quality content. X dollars doesn’t equal Y sales. Focus on your users, your content and your objectives. Use Facebook Advertising to boost that effort – not drive it. A sustainable strategy puts users before robots, platforms and delivery channels. A sustainable strategy involves tapping into real, human insights and developing interesting and engaging content.

 

The Art of Promoting Others’ Art

Image

Israeli multi-media artist Oum Kultuv

I’ve had an idea for about 6 months but haven’t done much about it. Now I’ll write about it on my BLOG on the INTERNET so that it comes TRUE or at least CLOSER TO TRUE. Stop yelling at you? No. Read on.

There are parts of Marketing I like: creating compelling content – both visuals and copy. Static copy (websites, ads, emails) is more rewarding and interesting than the transient channels of social media and blogging. But all of these buzzwords really blend together and you can theoretically call all of this and none of this “marketing”, “branding”, “advertising” and “business development”.

I encounter an artist with an incredible vision, body of work and voice. This person has a Facebook page, isn’t on Etsy and doesn’t know how to effectively “market” themselves. Then I appear, in a ray of sunlight wearing a black pantsuit but some edgy accessories. I’m here to make you internet famous – at least, as famous as your art allows you to be.

I want your art to speak for itself. But I want to give it a microphone.

Maira Kalman and MadMen on The Love of Walking

Love this video clip of illustrator Maira Kalman explaining her love of walking, as a source of inspiration and meditation. She beautifully describes the feeling I get every time I walk around New York for more than just a quick dog-pee around the block (and sometimes even during those walks).

There’s something so fun about exploring, discovering the tiny things you think others might not notice. I love finding children’s toys on the street; there’s a sad but beautiful juxtaposition between a bright and cheery toy lying discarded on a gray, grimy city street.

duck toy on street

What was serendipitous about discovering Kalman’s video today (thanks to Brain Pickings), is that last night I watched an early episode of MadMen, in which new neighbor and divorcee Helen Bishop explains to a group of perplexed housewives why she goes on walks around the neighborhood. A very interesting social commentary on how back then the value of “clearing one’s head” was not the shameless act of self-preservation it is today.

madmen helen bishop on love of walking