19 September 2013

When Every Thing Becomes Media.

“The message of any medium or technology is the change of scale or pace or pattern that it introduces into human affairs. The railway did not introduce movement or transportation or wheel or road into human society, but it accelerated and enlarged the scale of previous human functions, creating totally new kinds of cities and new kinds of work and leisure. ” (Marshall McLuhan, Understanding Media, NY, 1964, p. 8)

What McLuhan writes about the railroad applies with equal validity to the media of print, television, computers and now to the Internet of Everything (IoE).  The forerunner of this was the Internet of Things (IoT), which Kevin Ashton described in a presentation to Proctor and Gamble in 1999:

If we had computers that knew everything there was to know about things—using data they gathered without any help from us—we would be able to track and count everything, and greatly reduce waste, loss and cost. We would know when things needed replacing, repairing or recalling, and whether they were fresh or past their best.

In 2007 founding Wired editor Kevin Kelly went about paraphrasing some initial thoughts by Tim Berners-Lee, describing four stages of the communication evolution leading to the emergence of the  IoT.

In the first stage, Berners-Lee identified the linking of computers was the link-up the network of networks, or the internet. The second, he said was the linking up documents and pages or the web. Back then we were at the end of the beginning of the third stage, where data is unbundled and in a form that can be read by any device on the web or what Berners-Lee calls “the World Wide Database”. In the fourth stage, he foresaw a “drift towards linking up the things themselves. You want all the data about a thing to be embedded into the thing. What we ultimately want is an internet of things.”

But now that’s been co-opted  to become the Internet of Everything (IoE). In August Cisco seized on it, claiming naming rights, creating a hashtag and a dedicated domain but also telling anyone who wanted to hear that it will create $14.4 trillion in total value for private companies over 10 years.

Cisco defines IoE as bringing together people, process, data and things to make networked connections and as McLuhan had already rightly identified, with the ability for the technology to turn all that information into actions that create new capabilities, richer experience and opportunity in much the same way as the technologies of the railway, telegraph, sound and cinema did.

And they cite “Metcalfe’s law” courtesy of Robert Metcalfe, well-known technologist and 3Com founder, who described how the value of a network increases proportionately to the square of the number of users. It’s 1 + 1 = 3. Then mash it with Intel co-founder Gordon Moore’s Law and the explosive power of the idea is even more greatly magnified.

In that analysis Cisco say that by 2015 as many as 15 billion devices will be connected, with a forecast 50 billion by 2050. When these machines, this media interact with each other, trading data with little intervention and without our knowledge, it might be safe to say, the IoE will be here.

But my IoE looks like this: computers, handhelds, an IP-enabled desk phone, smartphones and maybe my car but it’s on board computer isn’t connected except at the shop. Oh and then there’s Peter, my local delivery guy, he has a handheld scanner which I try and scribble on. I’m sure that’s connected. Yes, there are chips in some of my credit cards but from where I am right now this is still very much early stage in Ashton and Berners-Lee’s Internet of Things or even Cisco's IoE.

And as a strategist, many of my clients can barely deal with the data they have available now, if they even have it. Yet, the Internet of Everything is going to arrive and they’ll still be trying to deal with stage 3 of Berners-Lee’s communication evolution. More so, we are yet to see how the IoE this will pan out for consumer control where, for the most part, those connected things will be delivering data back to origin points determined by the media creators and not by the users. When this happens, marketing may well become an arm of technology and analytics and their application overlayed by neuro-scientific and behavioral-based brand insight and thinking, media will be everything and it will truly begin to transform our lives.   

10 October 2010

Gap And MySpace re:brands in crisis.

One of the problems of rebranding led by high profile logo redesign is that it can expose the  lack of thorough consideration of what the process itself is designed to achieve.

It now seems Gap and now MySpace have fallen victim to the inevitable focus on the pretty picture, rather than the big picture.

While no one would necessarily argue that either companies are suffering. Gap has annual sales of US$9.12b and MySpace is still the world's second largest social network with more than 50m users. However, both have significant brand problems which no logo redesign is going to solve, even if the claim is that this is only one part of a more r/evolutionary path.

In Gap's case, the brand has been struggling with frumpy perception issues for years as its core product has come under threat from more highly attuned brands like HandM, Uniqlo and Zara. It hasn't been helped by falling sales. Same-store revenue at Gap stores fell 1% in September but it wasn't as bad as the 8% drop in 2009.

MySpace has also been similarly blighted. Global revenues are expected to fall by 21% this year, under News ownership its suffered from constant management flux, a falling headcount and Qantcast estimates US visitors are leaving in droves with numbers down by 10m between April and September.

And obviously Gap didn't see anything worth learning from Kraft Australia's painful debacle last year when it crowdsourced its new iSnack 2.0 as the new name for an extension of its popular Vegemite brand. Despite the use of a highly anonymous panel of "brand experts" to vet the process (I suspect they were all internal), the result was a resounding public relations thud and a frank mea culpa from Kraft that 48000 submissions later, the name was axed. Gap pretty much followed the same sad route.

The lesson: unrestrained crowd sourcing of an extremely popular and well known brand is inevitable folly. More so, don't focus on the tactical.

Perhaps Gap recognised this when it posted on its Facebook page what could only be regarded as the beginning of a reversal: “Thanks for everyone’s input on the new logo! We’ve had the same logo for 20+ years, and this is just one of the things we’re changing. We know this logo created a lot of buzz and we’re thrilled to see passionate debates unfolding! So much so we’re asking you to share your designs. We love our version, but we’d like to… see other ideas. Stay tuned for details in the next few days on this crowd sourcing project.”

Gap North America president Marka Hansen later engaged in further dissembling on Huffington Post claiming that the rebrand came from a desire "to see how our logo - one that we've had for more than 20 years - should evolve. Our brand and our clothes are changing and rethinking our logo is part of aligning with that.

"We want our customers to take notice of Gap and see what it stands for today. We chose this design as it's more contemporary and current. It honors our heritage through the blue box while still taking it forward, " she said.

While Hansen said Gap was "listening" and would continue to take customers on the "journey" and consider their design submissions, the damage to the brand and reputation is already irreversible. Even more laughable now that the new logo has been dumped.

Put simply, Gap recognised there was a problem with the old logo and claims it's doing something about product and stores, but a brand is the sum of all parts. Hansen as a senior executive should know better, Gap needs radical brand reinvention not revitalisation. If Gap has been in a three year turnaround, as Hansen claims, where's the resulting sales? The brand tracker? And more importantly, what's the strategy? It really needs to start with some clarity of brand vision bought out of deeper customer insight as well as a braver sense of brand stewardship. All of which might have gone AWOL at Gap, a fact clearly exposed last week and confirmed when it announced plans to dump the new logo as quickly as it showed it to Facebook.

One would hope MySpace management has been watching Gap's PR tsunami and sees something to learn. It's new logo is not even launched yet. But the conversation has started, MySpace might want to rethink its already creaking credibility.

27 August 2010

Transmedia is not new. Transmedia strategy is.

There is a significant opportunity now for a paradigm shift in the development of transmedia strategy for brands.

While there was a mild peak in interest in transmedia and the discussion around transmedia strategy in 2006/7 with the publication of Henry Jenkins' Convergence Culture: Where Old and New Media Collide , the buzz died soon died down to be replaced with discussions around narrative exposition and the centrality of the brand story.

One of the problems of Jenkins' critique is that the role of brand has largely been underplayed in subsequent discussions of transmedia. The assumption that brand assets like fictional content, media property and entertainment franchises are so evolutionary that they appear largely ownerless and un-branded, perhaps even disenfranchised by transmedia as well, seems naive. Now with the confluence of technology and brand creating ever more powerful social media platforms, brand owners have begun to realise that significant revenue streams have gone largely unexplored and undervalued, the argument for transmedia strategy now seems unequivocal.

Still brand development and planning continue to remain resolutely in brand strategy and advertising planning silos, rather than in the more convergent disciplines such as PR and social media which now cover "influence" rather than platform-based awareness. All the while the simplification of technology production and wider device access is radically increasing the ability, scale and scope of individual and audience collaboration and co-creation in brand development, it is still rare for brands and the campaigns that follow to embrace more than one or two transmedia approaches, even better still a full and lengthy transmedia strategy.

I believe much of the problem lies in three parts. Firstly, both a disavowal and a general ignorance of the role brand and brand creation has in the development of the transmedia assets. Secondly, the tactical short-term focus most brands have on brand deployment and engagement and subsequently followed by the action of their agencies. Thirdly, this concentration on short term campaign development (linked to agency renumeration and commission structures), replaces the more favourable strategic objective of long term brand equity building.

The above video is a broadcast of slides for my lecture to a Masters class at the University of Technology, Sydney. It is simply an introduction, designed to inform a larger discussion on the emerging role of transmedia strategy in brand and marketing planning.

17 June 2010

Some thoughts on transmedia strategy, brands and the future of media planning.

How can brands plan and deliver unified long term strategy, build value and engagement in the message fog created by continually splintering and fractured media and audiences? The answer might be in the new field of transmedia strategy.

A transmedia strategy is designed to create an evolving and "self saucing" brand story through interaction between brand owners and their audiences. A transmedia strategy is contextual and continues the life of brand by permitting constant brand renewal through a process of reinvention and re-engagement. In a transmedia strategy, a brand's core ideology and brand platform has to have been developed sufficiently for brand messages to be coherently delivered to different audiences via a variety of media forms over a long period of time, rather than in the current highly geared campaign format and timeframe. Derived from transmedia story telling with its high profile examples like the multi-storied/multifabled Matrix and Star Wars saga brands, in a transmedia strategy messages have much less need to be integrated as they are independently delivered by a wide variety of media over time but can still contribute to the evolving brand.

Behind transmedia strategy is the idea that a campaign should be seen as less a campaign but more an episode or chapter, executed by discreet media opportunities for the evolution of a brand. Each of these media opportunities - whether they be for brand building or for deliberate interaction - can sit independently but is designed to contribute, over time, to the development of the brand.

Consider it this way: transmedia enables brands to more effectively deliver messages and communicate ideas to its targets and is better able to meet the overall brand aims. Take, for example, a traditional government-funded social marketing-based brand campaign. Most of these campaigns, for all their apparent success, are built around traditional bursts of media and rarely funded more than annually and are often highly television media dependent and here lies the opportunity for long term brand building.

Almost any government funded and long term social-based education program is ripe for a transmedia strategy. That these campaigns prominently emphasise display media such as television, internet advertising, cinema and print is often because of their inherent visibility (politicians like this as well) and well, because the agencies involved are not only better rewarded for this media but still regard it as the most able to deliver core messages to the widest possible audiences, regardless of its effectiveness and ability to create change.

In the case of a social marketing anti-smoking brand campaign such as Australia's long running Quitnow, traditional display media is exclusively used to deliver core messages to primary targets. But sometimes radio, PR, advocacy and now social media can also be more actively being leveraged to deliver actual engagement and achieve behavioral change.

However, with a transmedia strategy communication tasks and some of the targets can be more precisely and discretely divided between media, rather than looking to, as is often the case, to heavy spend across all media just to ensure TARPs, message spread and often annual budget exhaustion.

Take for example, the Australian Government's long running National Tobacco Strategy. With a transmedia strategy, the strategy aim could now be to create a fully integrated long-term brand play by starting to treat the Quitnow centred campaign as a more fully developed and evolving brand, rather than achieving implementation objectives via tactical and limited campaigns, which is now the case. Though the National Tobacco Campaign’s discreet approach has been highly successful for some of its target audiences, the continuing fragmentation of audience and media no longer guarantees success will be as likely or as easy. These days communication objectives can no longer be met by bursts of high cost but pocketed media activity.

A highly geared campaign emphasis on television spots in these types of campaigns does elicit specific audience actions that may fulfill some campaign objectives, but will it achieve “effective contribution” for the campaign? What is the state of audience fatigue with these messages? TARPs, in my opinion, is a singularly disingenuous measure these days, created when television was media dominant. Television is evolving and is now more suited to developing a character-based narrative for campaigns and not just for awareness raising. For example, the campaign's TV advertising should move away from the wave of “shock-and-awe” led campaigns to develop ad series built on connected family scenarios on smoking and its consequences. Each scenario emphasing life stages or turning/stress points.

With cigarette smoking the most social of habits, what's suprising in this Australian example, is this has not played a more significant part in campaign planning. The role of digital in delivering often low cost measurable target audience awareness, engagement and access to support should be framed within a component social media strategy, that both contributes to the anti-smoking brand like Quitnow but also works independently and alongside complimentary campaigns run by various state organisations and cancer groups. As it is the campaign's leading online property, the Quitnow website is severely underdone and it desperately needs expansion. My to-do list might include a Quitter’s page with first hand stories and opportunities to input approaches and solutions; a Quitnow YouTube Channel featuring the television spots or extended to become episodes; links to a Facebook page and other social media comment badging; deeper and more comprehensive SEO given Google’s new search algorithm ( with the possibility of guerilla tactics like link baiting); Wikipedia links to the archives and all existing Quitnow campaigns; Twitter brand conversations from anti-smoking brand ambassadors as well as a focus on separate non-English Speaking Background and indigenous channel development. In a transmedia strategy all of this is designed to develop the brand's narrative and contribute to more active engagement - something that just won't come anymore from simply calling a telephone number.

Australia's anti-smoking strategy was developed when media consumption patterns and accompanying planning were largely dominated by television and other increasingly redundant display media. Sure it worked then but effectiveness is now acknowledged as diminishing for a variety of reason but with no recent measures available to track audience fatigue and a flagging strategy, I'm left feeling that the "tried and true" approach doesn't cut it anymore. A transmedia strategy can deliver long term brand development and engagement, allows agencies to develop more active and discreet campaign media expansion over time, prioritises audience media use and allocates discriminant awareness and engagement tasks to each media against core brand messages. Media buying can still continue to be driven by TARP, GRP, CPA or any other measure a brand owner might use. Transmedia strategies requires insight, daring and vision and an acknowledgement that social marketing campaigns need no longer be driven by visibility imperatives but by more effective and newer patterns of brand involvement.

01 June 2010

There's nothing like the question of identity.

There's nothing like international television advertising for a country to create seismic ructions around questions of national identity, but that's just the effect the newest There's Nothing Like Australia campaign from Tourism Australia is having.

With a collapse in April inbound tourism numbers to Australia from the key markets of the US, UK (both down 6%) and Japan (also down 20%) unlikely to abate, the ink has hardly dried on the launch of this three year $150m campaign before questions are arising not just about it's ability to rescue an already Australia's ailing tourism sector but more importantly it's also raising the question - who or what is Australia? And how should Australia be seen overseas. And who should be in charge of its image?

Only last month Australian Trade Minister Simon Crean announced the launch of the new $20m Brand Australia logo and tagline to promote Australia's image overseas.

“Australia Unlimited has the breadth to market all of Australia’s strengths - grounded in our commitment to innovation and quality,” Mr Crean said.

“Australia Unlimited is aimed at taking us beyond tourism messages. It will deliver a national brand for Australia through a consistent image and a consistent message.”

With AusTrade and M&C Saatchi handling the tricky business of Australia's image among business and Australian Tourism and ad agency DDB managing the consumer image both domestically and overseas, the main issue again seems to be what are the core and central messages and images that should be used to promote Australia as both a brand and a destination. Right now (see above) they appear discordant.

At the launch today Tourism Australia chief Andrew McEvoy claimed its research found "80% of Australians wanted to promote their country as a travel destination so we invited them to share their pictures and stories at the campaign website.

“Australians have identified our people, wildlife, beaches, the reef, the outback, vibrant cities and laid-back lifestyle as the things that make Australia a unique and special place to visit. These suggestions are highlighted in all the elements of the new campaign." Unreservedly so it seems.

Regardless of the perceptible quality problems with both campaigns, it seems that while the core of both and the unifying concept is claimed to be Australia's people, there is still little agreement in both as to what Australia represents as a brand and how it should be portrayed, except for readiness to slide back to traditional imagery.

Brand Australia says it wants to take Australia "beyond tourism messages. It will deliver a national brand for Australia through a consistent image and a consistent message."Yet while the sample images it uses seem modern, they are cold and generic and could be interchanged with almost any wealthy western country's brand.

But the new There's Nothing Like Australia with it's singalong and imagery rendolent of "wildlife, beaches, the reef, the outback, vibrant cities and laid-back lifestyle" seems in stark contrast to Brand Australia's desire for "a more contemporary and multi-dimensional light than has previously been delivered". Right now neither serves to build on the other and both seem so fractious as they may even cancel each other out.

Late in the eighteenth century Australia was referred to as Terra Nullius, it's a narrative strain that remains at the heart of the Australian psyche and neither of these programs resolve.

28 May 2010

DIFFUSION and Lucas make their mark on new Lowy Cancer Research Centre.

DIFFUSION and Lucas Melbourne's work has featured in the opening of the new Lowy Cancer Research Centre in Sydney on May 28 2010.

The new centre features a bold strikeout sans serif word mark incorporating colours from the building’s architects Lahz Nimmo.

The new centre was opened by Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, NSW Premier Kristina Keneally and its main benefactor, chairman of Westfield Corporation Frank Lowy.

DIFFUSION principals Stephen Byrne and Monique Defina-Nancarrow and Lucas were responsible for the development of the new centre’s brand strategy, positioning and creative brand development. It was a year long project working with a joint working party between the two institutions as well as key sector influencers and stakeholders.

DIFFUSION strategy director Stephen Byrne and Lucas director Chris Lucas said they were proud to have been invited to develop the “make your mark” on cancer graphic idea - part of the main platform for the centre’s brand.

The $127 million research facility is at the University of New South Wales’ Kensington campus and houses 400 cancer researchers from both UNSW and the Children’s Cancer Institute Australia for Medical Research (CCIA) is the largest in the southern hemisphere.

18 May 2010

Brandfail: Sydney Australia 2010.

Recently launched brands for the Australian government's Australia Unlimited and the NSW government's new Sydney.com are sorry reminders of what happens to nation and city branding that have been defined by unremarkable strategy.

Australia's newest branding exercise was decided on last year after the Australian Government handed over $20 million to global ad agency M&C Saatchi promote the new brand over the next four years.

The Brand Australia website says the aim of the new brand was to "better position Australia as a global citizen, global business partner and world class destination."

According to the Brand Australia FAQ, the Brand Australia program "is about providing an overarching, strategic approach to positioning Australia in the global marketplace."

However, launching a visual identity first seems less a strategic response and more a creative and tactical one and smacks of a committee based approach.

Austrade, the organisation tasked with managing Saatchi's and this new branding, added that now "the hard work begins to develop the brand architecture" along with any co-branding. This only begins to confirm my belief in the seeming lack of strategy in this whole exercise. Even the most rudimentary of brand strategy texts would tell you that brand architecture would be developed prior to any rollout and this would include all aspects of the identity and associated sub-brands including any other brand extensions.

To say that strategy is a secondary to strapline and logo development, suggests this project is subject to political expediency in an election year driven by an "advisory board", said to be made up of prominent business people and marketers from Austrade.

Worse still Saatchi’s slogan was taken to international research panels with the full knowledge that the it was already trademarked by News Ltd, who in their munificence, have now “lent” it to Austrade and the Australian government. In my experience I would usually be reluctant to present an already trademarked name, unless the client clearly briefed this in and understood the risks.

And the Australia Unlimited logo is itself is in an unremarkable and unownable sans serif typeface in Australia’s official colours and framed by stylised boomerang parenthesis. It’s like a gaudy airport tourist trap store identity, exactly the sort of thing you would expect an ad agency with an advisory board as clients to come up with. But don’t forget there has been no formalised strategic development from this. It’s all still to come.

But let's head back to the idea of nation branding and there's no better place to start than the Brand Australia FAQ.

Successful nation branding identifies any gap between a country’s reputation and its actual capabilities and contributions, then addresses this gap with a program that better communicates the country’s offering.

The irony is that it is wider than what Austrade thinks it is, yet it has been tasked with managing this rollout.
A nation brand represents a country as a whole. It is broader than a tourism or ‘destination’ brand and promotes a wider range of capabilities across business, culture and community.

Where's the gap between the perception of Australia and it might be positioned? What is it? How is it captured by the Australia Unlimited visual identity, strapline campaign? Is it the success stories of ordinary and some exemplary Australians? How will this position Australia? What is the brand idea, the core proposition that has been is communicated by the tagline "Australia Unlimited"? Australian’s unlimited? None of this is either sufficiently differentiated nor strongly put yet.

Already announced is the publication of a magazine for launch at Shanghai World Expo. A magazine? It’s all tactical and so old media, reflecting similar tactical campaign profiles for the previous Australia campaign..something that Austrade might say has nothing to do with it but was yet positioned as another national branding exercise.

Australia might currently be positioned ninth in 2010 on the Anholt-GFK Roper Nation Brands Index but its the same spot it occupied the previous year. Conversely, it's ranked number three on Futurebrand's 2009 Country Brand index - so you can draw your own conclusions as to the validity or worth of any of these rankings survey over the next. The point is that promoting a survey as some kind of evidence of possible success or otherwise in these stakes seems to me to be oversimplifying the benefits of nation branding.

If place branding is about the development and presentation of a core set of brand attributes to represent and promote a place, then the latest Sydney branding exercise is, like the Australian Unlimited identity, a failure before it begins.

Subject to even less fanfare is the launch of this new logo/wordmark for Sydney (you'll see my fuzzy version had to be lifted from the Sydney.com page where it competed with other versions of the Sydney logo). Again, the product of an Events NSW Government committee, the launch has been both low key and perhaps embarrassingly touted as part of the new Sydnicity campaign from NSW Tourism. No media storm and apart from seeing it framing the arrival of Jessica Watson's landing on the steps of the Sydney Opera House, almost invisible.

The logo is itself an undefined tech looking curlique set against another sans serif Sydney word mark. Again, like Australia Unlimited, the same questions arise around the strategic requirements for this rework.

If Sydney needs to be rebranded to compete against a more complex and multi-facetted Melbourne, then where is the evidence that supports this approach? Where is the proof that this approach is evidence of best in class for the country’s only global city, a crown Melbourne might soon wrench away? Melbourne’s rebrand is part of a well documented complex and successful branding and marketing strategy for the whole of Victoria, so why hasn’t Sydney followed suit?

Perhaps both cases illustrate that nation and city branding,should always be built on uniquely defining long-term brand strategies rather than tactical and often reactionary approaches, driven by the current political exigency. Otherwise, like the next election campaign or the last minister responsible, their impact will be limited, their influence questionable and they might not get another term.