Thursday, July 30, 2009

Week 2: Empowering the customer, part 2

I really enjoyed the lecture on brand communities. By discussing communities that preceded the internet, it reinforced the too-often overlooked notion that it's human need that drives the technological breakthroughs, not the other way around. For example, before the innovations in digital music recording enabled the now-ubiquitous trend of making music by sampling other recordings, DJ's manually (literally) "sampled" bits of vinyl records.

What web 2.0 has enabled is the capacity for a much deeper penetration of these brand communities into our lives. Instead of hitting the road for half a year, I can be a deadhead from my livingroom sofa. And by having a lower hurdle of consumer commitment to clear, marketers have a better chance to get their target consumers engaged. I imagine that, prior to web 2.0, these sorts of brand communities were fairly rare; in the near future, however, I expect they will be a channel of choice for marketers deprived of the network tv, newspapers, and other one way, top down-type marketing means that have defined the discipline for the better part of the last 50 years.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Week 2: Empowering the customer, part 1

Well, as opposed to last week, I'm fairly optimistic I'm going to get through all of the materials, which is good because I'm hoping to catch up on some of the videos from last week that I wanted to check out but haven't had the chance yet.

One comment on the crowdsourcing chapter: I found it very interesting, but as a fan of horseracing the notion of a bunch of strangers coming together to solve a difficult problem is not new to me. In case you're not familiar with it, the odds the track pays are a function of the bets the fans place and, while the outcome of any one race may seem random, over time it's remarkable how accurate the consensus predictions actually are (e.g., a horse bet to 2-1 odds will end up winning 33% of the time).

It's pretty amazing when you think about it, particularly when you see that the individual bettors are know-nothings like me and that most are lucky to get out of there with train fare. As a group, though, we collectively compute the likelihood of the myriad bets paying off with an extreme precision that would leave Big Blue scratching it's silicon brow.

What is curious about crowdsourcing to me is people's willingness to accept such little dough for their work, particularly when other people stand to gain so much from it. Case in point - - - two grand and a coupon? Are you kidding me? The two Jakes are not doing good things for the rest of us Jakes' reputations! Netflix, meanwhile, looked generous putting up $1MM for their big prize, but look at how many people have to share it! Tom Sawyer has a fence that needs painting, if anyone's interested....

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Week 1: How the Web Has Changed Marketing Strategy

My experience with both marketing and technology is almost entirely as a consumer, so I wasn't entirely sure what to expect. What's already surprised me is the extent to which the materials I've been reviewing this week touched on matters that have concerned me outside of this class, including the democratizing effects of the web, privacy matters, the fate of the newspaper industry, and the future of commerce.

While there’s a good deal of overlap between the first chapters of "Always On" and "The Age of Engage," several different things jumped out from each. Both chapters are centered around a discussion on web 2.0 and its revolutionary effects on marketing, including the shift of power from marketers to consumers, the rapid -and increasing- pace of innovative change in the marketplace, and the enablement of advanced marketing analytics and performance measurement.

Despite the overlap, the two chapters view the same subject from slightly different angles and thus offer unique perspectives. In “Always On,” Christopher Vollmer is concerned primarily with the impact of web 2.0 on media and marketing, while the first chapter of “The Age of Engage” takes a somewhat broader view. Vollmer’s tone is slightly alarmist (wake-up call to what he perceives to be an overly complacent industry?), whereas in “Made to Engage” we’re treated to a tour of the web 2.0 landscape to justify the author’s concept for a new paradigm in marketing (centered on the replacement of the classic 4 P’s by the 6 V’s). I thought both chapters were interesting, but also couldn’t help note that, by choosing offline, “old media” vessels to deliver their messages, both are at risk of being rendered obsolete by the very forces they are warning us about. Nevertheless, reading both helped this new-media neophyte gain a better understanding of the situation.

I also spent some time reviewing the Gartner Hype Cycle. I thought this was interesting, but it seemed like it might be difficult to apply to real situations without more practice. The primer was helpful, but I still got the sense that it might be hard for practitioners to properly identify a concept’s location in the cycle. Also, the cycle does little to help determine if a concept is all-hype or a real innovation (what distinguishes the products that exit the trough from the ones that don’t?). Still, I found the examples instructive, and, intuitively, the cycle makes sense.

Of particular interest to me in this week’s materials was the professors’ discussion on the state of the newspaper industry. I was looking forward to hearing what they had to say, as the sudden collapse of American newspapers is deeply concerning to me as an avid reader and interested citizen and, ironically, the societal implications seems to be a somewhat under-reported story. On the other hand, one needn’t look any further than some of the New York Times’ recent scandals (e.g., the Jayson Blair plagiarism incident, the discrediting of Judith Miller’s Iraq war-justifying “aluminum tubes” story) to know that the current state of affairs is not ideal, so I have to wonder to what extent my concerns aren’t rooted in a more general fear of the unknown (full disclosure: I am a classic late-adopter, with neither an i-pod nor a facebook profile to my name).

The professors point out that at the heart of newspapers’ – and much of traditional media’s – crisis lies the fact that consumers don’t seem willing to pay for online content, and this observation reminded me of a book review I read recently, of Wired editor Chris Anderson's “Free: The Future of a Radical Price,” by Malcolm Gladwell. These two gentlemen are both popular pundits (Anderson famous for the long tail theory of webonomics, and Gladwell for a variety of interesting, if occasionally facile, observations on modern life), so having one review the other’s book is something of an event in itself. I won’t give a blow-by-blow account of Gladwell’s skewering of Anderson’s thesis (which, in all fairness, is left defenseless by the nature of the setting), but the final line, snarkiness aside, does seem to tie back to what seems to me to be one theme underlying much of this week’s course materials:

“The only iron law that the digital age has so transformed the ways in which things are made and sold that there are no iron laws.”

Accordingly, while I enjoy reading (and making) attempts to make sense of the revolutionary changes we're seeing, it's important to me that they all be taken with a dose of modesty about our ability to predict the future, other than that it's likely to be different than the present.