Perhaps, if you are motivated, we will create something meaningful together?
For about 19 months I have been wondering how and what to think about John Dumbrille’s ChangeThis Manifesto entitled, Built To Fade: The Advent of the Biodegradable Brand.
It is highly recommended reading for:
- everyone in marketing or corporate leadership,
- political leaders and advisers,
- anyone who is part of the environmental movement, or,
- everyone remotely interested in thriving in the new economic model.
IMHO, John didn’t really need to invite Naomi Klein’s No Logo or Seth Godin’s quip that “zero is the new black” into his manifesto. He is a former Greenpeace activist and has chosen to live his life on Bowen Island. Go there. I don’t think Bowen is formally part of the Gulf Islands, but you can consider it a gateway to beginning your journey into a part of the world where the Celestine Prophesy can seem a lot more believable than the Invisible Hand. I have not met John but I trust that he lives his philosophy. As he points out, it is his immediate reality that gives him unquestionable credibility. (Now try to achieve that effect with your toothpaste and you will get where this is going.)
I find Built to Fade so challenging to consider because John has brought into focus the essential conundrum of traditional broadcast branding. He notes, “The success of conventional branding has been measured by the persistence of the literal and graphic associations that it forges.” While John is specific in alerting us to the cynicism that green branding can quickly give away to, how can any communicator or marketer walk away unscathed when John points out that “The diversion of attention into a me-brand-good pseudo experience, the holy grail of brand building, is actually part of the problem.”?
By calling out the roots of Green brand building as a flawed experiment, Dumbrille relegates the entire traditional brand establishment to the status of space junk.
John hits his readers intimately - right in the morning coffee …
“When green brands manage to nurture egocentric self-cherishing among its users through packaging and advertising, a fundamental, environmental disjoin has taken place. Huddled with my coffee, whether it’s fair trade certified or otherwise, I am indulged in an intimate branded moment. I rise above the pedestrian concerns of the depressed, middle-aged woman as she walks past the café. Later, I take a sip of my organic chai latte, place it in the drink holder and accelerate through a busy intersection. My “green” brand consciousness is anything but that. The phenomenon of being wrapped up in a brand idea is displacing my attention and connection to the environment that surrounds me right now.” (strike outs added by me)
Jeepers John! Don’t wake me up while I am enjoying my coffee for chrisssake! Do you want to start a riot?
Even remedial memetic branding can not pass the inspection …
“Mass media is in decline, and with it, conventional branding that pays the bills. For brand builders, a line of response has been to line Internet corridors with viral gadgets. These gadgets are intended to encourage people to assemble a memorable, and hopefully positive, image of the brand. Examples include sponsored YouTube videos and camouflaged blogs and comments. But, as we get better at filtering and as alternative, less commercial media abound, these hacks become serious irritants and the brand is often correctly implicated in the negative experience.”
I dunno …
But at the risk of looking like a hijacked ant waiting for a fluke (see this Dan Dennett Ted Talk for the inside joke), let me throw out some fodder for you to respond to.
My first thought is the simple hope that Less is More.
Here is an example: Just last week I was turned on to this global fundraiser for autism through a tweet by Andrew Jenkins. Click through on the links to catch the 1 min vid if you want the full description. In this case, the approach has a special meaning but perhaps the thesis of the campaign needs broader application? Supporters were asked to practice a communication shutdown. The idea is that attention to the cause would be raised through the absence on Twitter, Facebook and other communication channels of the participants or by their notes announcing such. Okay - I think it works on this campaign.
UPDATE: Andrew Jenkins just brought another “going silent” option from the NYT to our attention.
I asked John for an example of the new “alternatives—products with straightforward labeling and claims that don’t present an image designed to eclipse immediate reality. He suggested that I take a look at www.simplegreen.com. For a moment I felt elated. I checked under my sink and low and behold, I had a me-brand-good experience!
This is was immediately surpassed, as John warns, by a feeling of trust lost and confusion when I discovered a similarly labeled product right next to my Simple Green made by the familiar CPG giant Clorox. How can Clorox satisfy my need to be socially conscience with my cleaning products? Aren’t they the same folks who have been selling me bleach and Ajax and SOS pads all these years? Loreal just bought the Body Shop again right there in front of my eyes.
Maybe Clorox is a leader in delivering authentically green products? Maybe Wal-Mart is on the right track? Maybe Dove & the Body Shop are doing great things? The point here is that fundamental disconnect that John predicts is not only sitting right under my sink, I bet every marketer out there understands that nagging gap that has emerged between consumers and even our best intentions to meet their higher order demands.
As I look around my house which was built in about 1919, I am reminded of the simple Shaker influence that was present in the original design and our efforts to maintain that consistency when we renovated before moving in. Much to my surprise, according to Wikipedia, the Shaker movement only attracted over 20,000 converts and even at its peak the group reached a maximum size of about 6,000. Actually, I am really just reminded of that Dan Dennett vid about dangerous memes because he talks about the Shakers in it for a minute and half (from 9:00 to 10:30). Feel free to take the time to listen to him. Dennett concludes that the meme for Shakerdom was essentially a sterilizing parasite that ultimately led to the Shakers’ extinction. Part of the creed of Shakerdom is that everyone should be celibate.
Making less noise than the irresponsible or keeping it simple out of principal can seem like a risky long term strategy.
Perhaps John is pushing us to consider brands that are more like waves than permanent things? I know this post is too long already but I dare you to stick with it and follow that link to Richard Dawkin’s related Ted Talk. The money quote comes at the 10:50 mark when Dawkins highlights Steve Grand’s observation that, “matter flows from place to place and momentarily comes together to be you” … or a brand???? As a new, twitter connection and self described transhumanist Zachary Moser pointed out, “It is interesting to see such a fundamental materialist (Dawkins) speak with such mystical overtones.”
Does the materialist answer John’s call for a new marketing koan?
It is not that far fetched.
Check out the New YorkTimes Magazine coverage of social product development platform Quirky.com. Or consider the possibilities of employing a prediction market to manage innovation? Or Dell’s idea storm.
With these kinds of model’s the sustainable value of the enterprise is derived through the networks that it is able to mobilize for a purpose. Altruism can be an essential strategy, completely aligned with the corporate motive of growing margins and profits.
Maybe these kinds of enterprises are by nature smaller? But then again why so? They operate more virtually and can have a more just-in-time model for talent, capital, materials and geography. In any event, when facing the imperatives of emerging China, India and the rest of the developing world, are you really interested in prolonging the game of mass?
As we come to understand that traditional brand is less accountable for our corporate valuations, I think we are going to need a way to manage and compare these new corporate assets of social capital laden networks.
Maybe just a sketch to you, but as I mentioned while we were talking - this kind of personal media, in terms of how it pervaded our time together and was so intimately intertwined with identity (both yours and mine) has a completely different fidelity than a vid or photo.
And the terms of how you live your life with several persona or channels open (i.e. web analyst and artist at once) seems inevitable to me, but very unevenly distributed … so … comfortably uncommon.
It gives Marshall Sponder memetic qualities.
Quality time. Thanks.
Oh, oh …
At many levels I wish this had not happened. I remembered seeing something interesting in this Richard Dawkins’ video a few months ago and have finally had time to take a closer look & listen to it.
The interesting bit was the invitation from Steve Grand shared by Dawkins, to consider what we are. Now I have to try to comprehend the mind of Steve Grand. Pass the nuts.
If you don’t have enough time for the whole 20 minutes (all highly recommended), pick it up at 8:49 mark until you hear the words, “if that doesn’t make the hair stand up on the back of your neck then read it again, because it is important”.
Another interesting bit can be picked up at the 19:53 mark … “in short” to “millions of deluded people” … an interesting observation on why we personify things or in other words, brand them.
Dawkins observes we are social beings, swimming through connections with people. We have therefore highly evolved models for simulating the world that we need to navigate based upon social signals, so we end up applying that successful model to inanimate objects, personifying them even while being aware that this is the wrong model to solve our problem. For example, when we swear at a broken down car or dare I say the words … “BP”.
Very informative discussion with these leaders of prediction market thinking.
I continue to wonder if a prediction market could be used to help spread a globally oriented innovation meme in Ontario and/or Canada.
UPDATE, November 29th, 2010: Although I have not been actively pitching, a lot of people that I talk to have a point of view on the state of the venture capital industry and innovation in Ontario, so I end up sharing mine too (i.e. the ideas below).
Most provide feedback that VCs won’t invest in a start up to do what I have described below. The VC model is based upon the notion that two or a few guys sit around a table making decisions with the belief (in cases, validated by success that has my utmost respect) that they are smarter than the market or at least ahead of it. I agree with this feedback. In fact the ideas below are based in part on observations of these kinds of structural challenges to innovation.
In any event, I have registered the domain www.cdling.com and tried to put a finer point on the ideas below.
UPDATE, Mar 2010 - This idea could easily be applied across Canada, in Silicon Valley … globally. I trust that readers can envision the edits that would be required below to adjust.
UPDATE, Nov. 19, 2009: It seems that something like the idea below is being tested in an executive program at Singularity University in Silicon Valley. Crowdcast points out that there are fundamental flaws with an idea market but it seems that they go on to explain how a prediction market may work for the application that I have described below.
UPDATE 2, Jan. 2, 2010: Was just introduced to Jed Christiansen’s Mercury Blog on prediction markets and innovation and found his simple introductory video. I would love to have Jed’s comments on the post below.
Quite a while back I wrote a couple of posts over at www.socialcapitalvalueadd.com that provided some observations on the dangers of tightly knit social networks in Ontario’s business community and a request to the Ontario Government to focus any investment to bail out the troubled venture capital industry in this province on building global connections.
A year later the meat of these posts became a cocktail conversation at NetChange Week at MaRs. The cultural irony in the air was noteworthy, having boot strapping social entrepreneurs gathered, talking about self starting, market driven enterprise while a concentration of Canadian establishment digital media execs and politicians were assembled in Stratford “defining Canada’s digital future” with a $10-million cheque, a declaration and the idea of a government led national digital media action plan.
Is it safe to say at this point that Ontario needs a change in culture to continue to enjoy the privileged position it has held in Canada and globally? I think so. There is a lot of quality conversation (like Research Capital’s effort & the exchange at StartUpNorth) and some money being thrown at the problem (by the Ontario & Federal Governments).
That cocktail conversation led to an email exchange that I have been meaning to dump into a blog post all summer. I hope that you put this into the mix of quality conversation. Perhaps if it drums up some interest, we can evolve the thoughts here from a rough set of cut and pastes into a viable plan?
While we think we suffer unique hardship in Ontario, with power and money being concentrated in Toronto and Ottawa, while innovation is often highly distributed at the edges - disconnected from power, money & each other - it occurs to me that this is a well recognized pattern once you understand social networks. Innovation - a new combination of information, insight & resources - often takes place when weak ties bring together the previously unassociated. So we need solutions designed to improve these loose connections, not reinforce the status quo.
If you talk to local angel organisations you will learn that they are seeing more then 200 seed stage companies a year. About 25 are getting funded at this stage.
VCs say that they need at least 50 quality deals to get through initial start up to have a funnel of activity that will produce enough home runs to float the domestic industry.
Both VCs & angels will tell you that one of the problems in Ontario is that they are not seeing enough quality deals.
Seed stage companies are full of risk. So far Ontario doesn’t seem to have a Yossi Vardi who can successfully invest in 50 to 80 hungry entrepreneurs that he can believe in.
Most agree that companies that survive and thrive do so because of the PEOPLE! I can not believe that there are not 40 or 50 promising people to back in business in Ontario each year. Once you get going with a business relationship among good people, you might change the business model, you might change key players, go after different customers, etc but you are way more likely to come out with a growing business then if you take this crazy view that quality deals are divined by Angels. That is sort of the point. World class Angels & VCs work with great people through the good, the bad and the ugly and still come up with a return on investment that keeps institutional investors coming back to the table.
So can we agree that Ontario would be much further ahead on the innovation file if we were seeding great business people? So the question is … how do we seed 40 to 50 promising startups in Ontario every year? (i.e. funding under $500K).
Some thoughts to steer around (or through) …
- we don’t need to start something like MaRs that is GREAT, but money is needed in startups not institutions,
- we don’t want to give money to the same people (i.e. Ontario VCs, Ontario bankers) to solve this problem, they have their own problems to solve, pre-revenue startups are not an ideal focus for them and besides … startups are going to save Canada’s Venture Capital industry.
- we don’t want to put any team of experts (more people to pay instead of funding start ups), a bureaucracy or government in the position of trying to pick winners from losers in the start up world, too risky, too slow, too much same old “who you know” thing in Ontario.
So how about setting up a prediction market to select the companies that will get seeded?
I am told that if you are going to sit down with government, you should have some sort of ask in mind.
My ask would be this -
Use some dough out of the Ontario Venture Capital Fund and the Emerging Technologies Fund (since hardly any of this money has hit the street yet) or find new money to set up an Ontario Seedling Prediction Market. Get Ontario VCs to partially fund or make some sort of commitment to this initiative since this is helping solve the quality deal flow problem that they complain about. Make the Prediction Market open and global but the companies vying on the market must be Ontario based.
Set up a standard corporate structure so that these seedlings are ready to scale and (if their promise warrants) take on a $10-million B round (keep founders in, but be big enough and compete with US early stage venture companies).
Get commitments from government and globally based investors (to bring competition and connections for later rounds) to provide the $20-million a year needed to seed 40 companies.
A couple of other upsides from a prediction market approach that come to mind …
a) A prediction market would orient seed companies toward a global market rather than a local closed network. We all know how the Bell Fund, the NRC programs and other government programs (ACOA comes to mind) skew companies away from global business focus and turn their attention towards the special “screening”, applications and procedures required to win government favour. Look out! Here come a bunch of new consultants that local capital ends up paying to get their companies through the hoops (money that should be going into start ups!). The relationships required to get funding from an Ontario government program are not aligned with the attention & relationships required to make it through a globally competitive B round (i.e. around $10-million).
b) A prediction market positions the Ontario government to champion the cause of early stage companies with global investors in an consistent, long term, sustainable way. If the Ontario government hires a bunch of “experts” to pick winners (i.e. the typical role of partners in a VC firm or Angels or managers of a pension fund) they become accountable for the picks. They will get evaluated based upon the performance of these investments. Just ask local VCs and Angels how difficult it is to achieve positive returns by picking winners. Have any of them achieved this yet? The success of a prediction market would be a function of the kind of attention & engagement that it obtained from global, diverse markets. The Ontario government could lead targeted programs designed to capture the attention of investors in Silicon Valley, New York, Boston, Hong Kong, Singapore, London, etc … all based upon the premise that obtaining the attention of these investors makes the prediction market function better and showcases Ontario innovation rather than a limited portfolio of companies caught in time by the rear view mirror of a few connected locals.
Here’s a pretty good FAQ from an open prediction market platform called Inkling: http://inklingmarkets.com/homes/faq
Here is a NYT article about Crowdcast another start up in the prediction market space: http://bits.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/06/25/start-ups-software-crowdsources-company-forecasts/ Google, HP, Warner Bros., GM and companies in media and pharma all trying out some variation of prediction markets.
In Ontario we really need government to take a lead on something like this because most of our companies are too small to take advantage of these new abilities to tap into emergence and make better decisions on innovation.
GE & Motorola use Consensus Point Software to manage internal prediction markets …
Take a look at The Industry Standard’s prediction market …
Another thought to keep in mind, domestically, encouraging companies across the province to list on the prediction market would create broad awareness of government leadership on the innovation file and awaken Ontario companies to the need to oriented towards globally competitive innovation. The prediction market would create a cross promotional effect (with no crazy spends on wasteful the kinds of broadcast advertising often use to raise awareness of government efforts). As companies oriented themselves towards it, work towards announcing key customers, great products, highlighting great teams, all of their activities would demonstrate to their peers in Ontario what it takes to hatch globally competitive innovation.
A prediction market would cross industries better then common place business plan competitions and pitch forums for start ups.
As some of you know, I have some recent experience with this. My Social Capital Value Add method of linking social media to corporate value was a finalist among over 320 entries from 48 countries in a business plan contest held at the University of Miami by WeMedia in February. (part shameless plug, but this experience definitely pushed me beyond the idea of “democratizing” into learning more about prediction markets which deal with unequal distribution of information better).
Offering prize money only works when you are damn sure the kind of innovation that you want to incent. For example, you could not spur innovation in cleantech and Web 2.0 with the same prize, although once you put a structure in place you could duplicate it in various areas of interest.
Most importantly, while prize money would crowd source desirable innovation, unlike a prediction market, it would not achieve the most important provincial goals which are to wake up all Ontarians to the need for an economy led by globally competitive innovation nor would it orient domestic companies towards global markets instead of a local prize while giving the Ontario government something that they can confidently promote to forge links with foreign markets that are critical to commercialization, marketing success and next rounds of finance.
By the way, a prediction market would not get in the way of Angels or VCs boot strapping early stage seed financing in Ontario. They would be free to go after the same deals, co-invest, etc. We agree that there are more then 20 or so quality groups of hungry, crazy people to invest in. The current ETF approach makes the government a follow on investor, essentially giving this money to existing early stage (not seed) investors, relieving them of the responsibility of earning returns that attract institutional investors. It is relief to existing early stage investors not start ups.
Feel free to read more about prediction markets:
http://www.overcomingbias.com/2009/09/prediction-markets-as-collective-inteligence.html The Farmetrics(R) Prediction Market https://www.farmetrics.com/
http://mashable.com/2009/08/31/pretweeting/ Did Intrade Predict the Resignation of "Green Jobs Czar" Van Jones? http://www.daily-chuck.com/2009/09/did-intrade-predict-resignation-of.html http://www.consensuspoint.com/resources/academic-research/Harvard_Consensus_Point_Prediction_Markets.pdf
Is this like dating? I have some well planned and thought through moves that I have played over a million times in my mind but it is all a bit different when you are out there playing the field. Will private moments be reconciled with public pronouncements? Will we score?
Now that Tim Kitchin & I have decided to take our chats at the intersection of social capital and brands public, I think that I am starting to have some insight into how Whuffie expert Tara Hunt and open source leader Chris Messina felt during their online adventure.
Maybe I am a bit like Chandler Bing? Leading with some boyish humour. Just trying to make the nitty gritty of connecting social media to corporate value a lot more entertaining than it really is.
In any event, what is certain is that while I am full of wonder about where this tangent will lead and can’t promise what “we will” do, I am confident that Tim is a credible thought leader on brands. I am honoured that he is interested in having these public chats. Even if I throw in some high jinks, Social Capital Value Add and memetic brand will be better from this exchange. Along the way there will be something of interest to provoke your thinking or at least a smile.
“Towards Social Branding”, Tim’s post to open this series, starts out with some discussion about brand valuation and the merits of stock values correlating to underlying values. During this time of financial turmoil it may be popular to throw the corporation as a form of organisation under the bus along with the functioning of capital markets, but at the risk of attracting the ire of the double bottom line set, I am convinced that like it or not, the corporation is a very resilient idea and markets suss out efficiency.
You can spend time questioning markets and trying to impose motives beyond profit on the corporation like arbitrarily selected social “good”. Social Capital Value Add is not preoccupied with this. As a farmer’s son, I begin from the basis that I can not change nature. Self interest is undeniable, people trade and, faster than most individuals, the corporation is adapting to new forms of making meaning that have emerged since broadband overtook slower forms of connection. The corporation will be around, purely motivated by profit, long after I am dust.
Brand valuation was developed to try to bring insight into part of the sources of stable future earnings of the corporation. That is why it is, and will continue to be, an important part of the haggling over what a corporation (or a product line) is worth to buyers and seller.
Brand valuation is product centric. It is designed to get a handle on any enduring difference between what a product costs to produce and the price it may command from buyers. There are many sources (not just brand) of the ability to maintain margins. They add up to: the buyers’ perception of the product value is greater than the cost of delivering it (including cost of capital).
Broadcast media - from packaging to television - emerged as the dominate method for the corporation and its agents to shape common perception (in the pursuit of profit). Impact on perception was unbalanced by the articulation of most insiders and virtually all outsiders (the little guys) because broadcast media required lots of capital to emit and has traditionally out scaled (drowned out) alternative interpretations. In this context attributing intangible value to an idea like brand, i.e. a form of broadcast media, makes sense.
The problem is that brand has become a golden hammer of corporate management. There is no shortage of conversation about what brands “do”. Stories, cues, symbols all remain vital parts of value creation. But when Tim starts talking about brand loyalty or another fellow I respect, Stephen Byrne asks me about participant marketing or brand advocacy, I start to worry that we might be getting off the point.
Do brands invent?
I think there is a point when the term brand gets applied too widely. Everything looks pink through rose coloured glasses.
We have entered an era where broadcast’s ability to dominate perception is quickly eroding. (Update, Dec. 3: Tom O’Brien makes this point in a very practical way.) To have insight into stable future earnings in an era where common perception is formed by millions of competing channels (i.e. broadband empowered people) I think we will uncover new keys to productivity and value defense and creation if we open up an equally vital examination of the structural factors that underlie the content layer.
Why confuse the examination of a new media form that is a product of connection by attempting to contort the notion of brand, which is rooted in broadcast?
Lots of smart people like Nan Lin, Olav Sorenson, Brian Uzzi, Barry Wellman, Tom Snijders, Martin Van Der Gaag and Matt Jackson have established ways to describe and analyze connections between people also known as social networks. Social capital describes the resources that reside in these networks and I think social media are artifacts of a new scaled up form of it.
If, in the new context of the networked era we are looking for new competitive advantage as we consider the content layer, then I have found the established work of Richard Dawkins, Susan Blackmore and Ben Mack (who used the term memetic brand first in a powerpoint presentation that I can no longer find online) and other replicators of memetic theories to encompass the content layer but also provoke new insight into the structural factors that cause ideas to spread.
Let’s give the brand establishment the day off. Sorry Tim, Social Capital Value Add is not “a prescription for the measurement of brand value”. I have not proposed it to compete with or replace brand valuation, I think it is a useful compliment to brand valuation. It is proposed to measure scaled up forms of social capital that are an important corporate asset distinct from brand. For example, if I pick up a great idea or contact like Kim Patrick Kobza at Verna Allee & John Maloney’s value networks LinkedIn group, why should we use “brand” to describe that transaction?
Having said all of this, Tim is bang on in noting “a fundamental change in the way that brands drive value” due to the emergence of scaled up forms of social capital. I think bouncing these related concepts back and forth will help all of us understand them.
Tim & I are committed to this effort over a series of posts ahead. We hope our opening two posts are received as an invitation to others to link up their thinking. In addition to the many esteemed thinkers referred to above, Chris Brogan and Julian Smith have a related manifesto and book in the works. Maybe they already have this Whuffie thing figured out in Cory Doctorow’s Magic Kingdom? Tim O’Reilly has been tweeting it up about social capital lately. Jonathan Salem Baskin says Branding Only Works on Cattle.
Feel free to add a tweet or post and please use “SoCap&Brand” as a tag. For example, I hope that Tom Chapman &/or his peeps over at www.socialmediatoday.com add the SoCap&Brand tag to this related post:
Social Capital and building a quality social graph. (I hate registering to leave comments by the way!)
What are the boundaries between social capital management and brand management?
Now that I have used Twitter for a while, I am more convinced than when I started that it is an example, along with activity feeds & other microblogging platforms, of a new medium that is particularly suited for memetic branding purposes. It is involved in the genesis of shared perception.
Picked up on twitter …
MarkusvonRoder: Demonstrating the memetic trigger “Violation of viewing habits” - the Escalopter (escalator + helicopter)
I have turned my evolving reflections about twitter into a series of posts. Catch the other thoughts:
UPDATE@Nov.4, 2008 - an overview of StockTwits from Stowe Boyd.
UPDATE@Dec.1, 2008 - Tim O’Reilly “Why I Love Twitter”