A Perfect 10

I felt it apropos to wrap up this blog in my 10th post, now that my Emerging Media class is just about over. I am a person of closure, so I need to tie it all up neatly more for myself than anyone else.  I don’t think that I will keep up this particular blog, though I may figure out a way to revive my secret blog. Close friends of mine know that I have this sad excuse for a blog that is sitting idle. Perhaps I can find a way to bring it to life again!

Three classes into the Integrated Marketing Communications graduate program and I have not turned back yet. There is something to be said for education at this age. It is much more meaningful than it was the first time. It could be that this time, I am the one writing the checks.  But I think that it is more about getting caught up, current and learning how to learn not just for learning’s sake, but to actually improve myself and make a contribution.

Emerging Media class has taught me many things. First, the very act of going to graduate school online can not be under-appreciated. Professor Rachael Post owns a PR/Communications firm in Pasadena, California. I am at my kitchen counter outside of Cleveland. She teaches. I learn. We converse. Amazing.

I have “friends” in Boston, Baltimore, Seattle, Chicago and Coconut Creek, Florida (wistful sigh, it just snowed here again). I think I have gained more from learning alongside these folks than if I was in a classroom of fellow Clevelanders because everyone brings a different perspective to the party.

I started to think more strategically about new media and the possibilities and pitfalls of it. I am a better user of it and a more educated consumer. I feel more comfortable navigating social media whether using it for work or leisure.

But I think that if I was left with one impression or over-arching thought it would be this. New media might enable us to communicate differently using new tools and channels, to be more spontaneous and to be more interactive more often. But at the heart of it is just plain old communication. And at the heart of that is relationship. Just a need for all of us to know and be known.

The blog, the Tweet, the Facebook wall post are really doing the same thing that a diary or letter, or telegram did in the last century. It may not be something we can collect and put in a box or a time capsule, but the thoughts and emotions are still there. We most certainly can’t hold it, or hand it down to our grandchildren, but I would say that these things do help us to live more fully in the complicated present.

And in the case of yet another devastating world event, it has been interesting to see the role emerging media forms have played in the global information stream. News gathering on the world stage has certainly evolved to a level unimagined by the Cronkites, Murrows and Brinkleys of a bygone era.  See real time Tweets from Japan here.

We most certainly can’t turn back now, and most of us wouldn’t want to. So we best learn how to use it and navigate this thing called “emerging media” whether the goal is simply to share photos of our kids, or to stay informed about world events, or to further our own education.

I can’t wait to see what comes next!

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Not Alzheimer’s, just Overload

It’s that momentary lapse in our cognitive thought. It’s that embarassing, unexpected crevasse in our linear thinking. It’s an interruption of “dead air” as we attempt to recall a name of a friend, where we left keys, the sentence we were speaking when something else grabbed our attention and stole the next words from us. 

I like to call that experience my “early onset Alzheimer’s,” with no disrespect intended for the life-altering, debilitating disease or those who suffer from it. But what I have described IS  a very real symptom of a very real problem for the modern consumer of information.

Overload.

An article in this week’s Newsweek explored the state of our weary brains. Information overload makes the decision-making process harder, even leading us to making bad choices or in some cases no choice at all. You would think that the massive amount of information is helping us and, in some ways, it is. But too much information coming at us from a variety of channels leads to something called info-paralysis. That is a fancy way of saying we are unable  to make a decision. The author writes “the booming science of decision-making has shown that more information can lead to objectively poorer choices, and to choices that people come to regret.” 

Why Can't I Think Straight?

The deluge of new technology has actually lead to a new field of study known as decision science, which seeks to understand how the brain processes information.

The torrent of information coming at us demands a response. Pay attention? Reply? Ignore? Get more information to validate this information? Do nothing?  We are in an era where the brain must not only process the quality of the information but the quantity of information. And, studies reveal that we are making more decisions based on urgency than weighing the important criteria that should be driving the thought process.

The brain has limitations. That is a known fact and one of the reasons phone numbers were seven digits, the brain’s short term memory capacity (give or take).

This week, a computer issue at work resulted in about 60-70% of my materials to vanish. My emotional thought process went something like this.

Oh shit.

This is is a disaster of unbelievable proportions. Why me?

What did I really need in that pile of information anyway?

I bet I can live without most of it, and find the really important stuff somewhere else.

Wow. This is kind of like starting over, a blank slate. Maybe a lot of it was junk.

This has made my life simpler. My in-box looks so clean!

I am completely fine. Better even! I must be a very self-actualized person to have dealt with this trauma with such grace and fortitude.

I give this example to illustrate the level to which we are held hostage by our desktops, laptops, iPads, iPhones, Tweets, posts and texts.  It made me realize that maybe I yearn for a little bit of simplicity or, at least, some kind of “act of God” that would help me siphon and organize and purge unnecessary information because I sure can’t do it myself.

The article goes on say that we actually need to give our brains a break. Some of the best decisions are made when we allow the brain to process things naturally, at its own pace. Also, the subconscious plays a definitive role here. That is where the brain synthesizes stored information to establish patterns that lead to sound conclusions or decisions using ALL of the information in its arsenal, not just the most recent.

As technology evolves and offers us more choices and channels, the most difficult thing for us as human beings may not be how to pick the one that is the best for us, or the most useful or meaningful. The most difficult thing for us is going to be to walk away from it all and listen to the voice within ourselves.

“To know that we know what we know, and that we do not know what we do not know, that is true knowledge.”  Confucius.

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The Profundity of Facebook

I do know a few people who flat out refuse to get on Facebook. I also have a few friends and acquaintances who have decided recently that they “might” try it.  It sounded like a “if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em kind of thing.”  Like it or not, Facebook is meaningful and relevant and it is more likely to evolve than to fade away.

Like many students of media, pop culture or world events, I have been pondering the meaning of Facebook and the role it has played in its relatively brief existence. Perhaps for me, it started the day I saw The Social Network, when the dots were connected and I saw a reinactment of the thought process behind its creation, and the emotional and financial frenzy that ensued.

The second thing that got me thinking about the phenomenon of Facebook is the state of the global political arena. One would have to be pretty disconnected to be missing all of the recent news on the global stage. Ordinary citizens are using social media to organize, rally, and topple governments. I wonder if Zuckerberg and friends ever dared to dream of that possibility when they were building a network of photos and “likes” and relationship statuses in a college dorm room.

And thirdly, I recently started working for Whole Foods, a growing organic and natural foods company. Not only does Whole Foods Market corporate have a Facebook page, but so do its 200+ stores across the U.S. , Canada and the U.K.  In fact, each store is expected to have its own page (here’s mine) and use it as a personalized advertising vehicle. The fact that each store, any business, can create a page that is essentially an advertising channel that directly contributes to profit is pretty amazing.  The math doesn’t seem to add up at first, as we don’t give a dime to contribute to Facebook’s multi-billion dollar value. But we all collectively deliver a lot of eyeballs, 600 million strong and growing, and perhaps that is where the value lies.

An article penned by Catharine Taylor further elaborates on my personal thoughts and delivers insightful analysis beyond what I have offered.  She poses this question “when and where else has a media property been an ad revenue juggernaut that can also foment a revolution?”

So what we are seeing is one media entity that can promote products, reintroduce long-lost loves, raise money and awareness for causes important to us that can also, according to Taylor, “change the trajectory” of countries and the lives of people. Facebook captures the mundane and the profound. It is as hyper-local and personal as we want it to be, but at the same time it IS a global phenomenon.

Do you “like” that?

As Americans, we can organize and rally to our heart’s content without fear of death, right out in the open. Maybe this is why we don’t think of social media in this manner, for this purpose.

In closing, I would like to use my Facebook page to raise awareness and some money for a cause of my own, the Cleveland Animal Protective League.

Gibson (foreground), and Ariel, adopted from the Cleveland APL.

For every comment on this post, I will donate $1 to the Cleveland APL (maximum donation $100) so they can continue the work that they do. Here are two reasons why I “like” the APL!

Sure, it’s not exactly as important as toppling a corrupt government. But, it is something I can do with relative ease from my kitchen counter, that makes the world a better place.

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SuperModelquins Can’t Dance

This week Old Navy announced an end to the highly successful SuperModelquins campaign that has been the focal point of the company’s advertising for the last two years.

The Old Navy SuperModelquins will apply for unemployment.

With that, they also announced an exciting music-focused campaign that will link their TV ad content to social media and then to a brand new mobile campaign. The move interestingly reinforces many of the principles we are learning in class. This is a great example of a truly integrated marketing campaign, and illustrates how companies are looking to make the move to mobile.

Old Navy will transition to the new campaign which is called “Old Navy Records,” with what could be described as a marketing short film, a 70 second video available only on Facebook and YouTube. The video, a “leaked audition tape” shows the lifeless mannequins trying out for the music video, and the bottom line is they just can’t cut it.

The campaign will feature original music from “created” bands that will be available for download on the Shazam app. When consumers use the app to obtain the catchy dance tunes, they will access ads, styling tips and deals.

While many brands have had success using cover tunes or reviving familiar music of the past, Old Navy’s new marketing director Amy Curtis-McIntyre says that Old Navy is original and “we design our own clothes, so rather than borrow someone else’s music, let’s create our own.” 

The SuperModelquin campaign was clever enough to appeal to the sense of humor of the younger Old Navy shopper and also the Mom of that shopper, albeit in an eye-rolling sort of way.  The figures were integrated into each Old Navy store and their fashions changed almost weekly, as the TV ads were updated with the latest trend, style or sale. The campaign was a success and is credited with bringing Old Navy back from the brink of irrelevance.

That said, Curtis-McIntyre says that it was difficult to show the best of their clothing on plastic people, foreshadowing a campaign with lots of physical movement to accompany the music tracks.

As a student of IMC, I think the Old Navy campaign will be an excellent study in branding using new and emerging media forms.

View the full Advertising Age article here.

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Auld Lang Syne Yellow Pages

As someone old enough to remember the pile of phone books in the hallway closet of my childhood home, I believe I appreciate the value of the search engine beyond measure. Those books seemed to multiply on their own and at least at my house, no one seemed to want to part with them. They’d accumulate for years, perhaps to be used as booster seats at holiday dinners or an improvised step-stool. There seemed to be several versions, several companies making them, and depending on where you lived you might actually receive two or three. And then there was another book for residential listings, the white pages. And then there was version that had yellow and white pages together.

Later, when it became obvious that millions of trees were sacrificed so that we might be able to find a plumber or a carpet cleaner, we decided that it would be a good idea to recycle them. But you could not just recycle them. You had to take them to a special recycling center, on a designated day, because the “regular” recycling could not accept them, for reasons about which I am still unclear.

That brings us to present day. I ask you, do the yellow pages matter?

Now, I get  a small “eco-friendly” size delivered to my home, whether I want it or not.  I think “eco-friendly” is a great marketing spin on “fewer people are advertsing in here, so it is smaller, so we will pretend that we care about the environment, making us look VERY PC.”

Should auld acquaintance be forgot?

Which brings me to the reason I was thinking about this. An article in Mediapost entitled “Search vs. Yellow Pages: Battle Practicality” questions first and foremost why the preeminent keeper of informational listings was unable to adapt to an online format? And, second, how much longer can they be in business in print or online?

For a brief window of time, the yellow pages owned all things local. There was a time when the search engines did not deliver the results people were looking for. Instead of capitalizing on this fact and moving into online, the makers of the yellow pages chose not to evolve and to hang on to their dying format. Mired in debt, they were unable to make the investments in technology to be truly competitive.

An independent study cited in the article reports that the yellow pages are alive and well and that the online yellow pages are seeing increased usage. I see the results, but I am not sure I buy it. The study was conducted in 2009. Considering the pace of change in the online world, I think it is entirely possible that results of a similar study conducted in the present day could look different.

As yourself, when was the last time you did a search using the online yellow pages? If you are like me, you don’t bother with the extra step of going to www.yellowpages.com, you just “google it.” And, in most cases you can get a result that includes photos, reviews, links, blogs…more information than just the address or phone number. If you are accessing this information from a mobile device, that extra step is even less likely to occur.

Yellow pages online will likely survive given their stalwart reputation, especially among an older demo of searchers. But, it is time for the home-delivered book to go away.

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Email Is For Old People.

Ok, not really. But according to a recent report from comScore…one of the only demographics increasing its use of and engagement with  web-based email is the 55-plus crowd. The rest of us are still using it, but with so many other communications options that are instantaneous and with the pervasiveness of the mobile device, we are no longer hostage to the act of sitting down at the computer to push content or receive and respond to messages. Social media and texting seem to be the choice of a younger generation. But even those of us slightly older can attest, that if we are getting email, it is likely from a mobile device. This will continue to be the case.

Is this a trend worth noting? Are we on the edge of yet another emerging medium that will displace good ol’ reliable email?  Search expert David Baker says…not so fast. He says “email and social are symbiotic in many ways. While I do see generational differences in the use of email, there are several truths to email that will not change its value in our culture.”

And where is email most likely to prevail? It is a critical part of the business transation. He described it as “the number one business tool.” In the business arena, social media communications can’t stand alone because the quality of the customer-business interaction is so vital to the outcome. Customers require more than short bursts of information without a context or explanation to accompany them. Not to mention email is still,  for the most part, somewhat private unlike the social media.

Anyone who has a teen at home knows this first-hand. I am too long-winded for my son’s taste. He sees no real reason to type more than a sentence or two to get his point across. That may work in the social arena but not in business. Sure, businesses are tapping into the benefits of various forms of social media, but they would be unable to sustain a customer relationship with this alone. It is the collaboration of multiple communications channels that are available that ensure a successful IMC outcome.

Thinking of my own use, I would agree that I am texting more and choosing to communicate socially through Facebook. For some types of business communications, I will use Facebook but only if the message and the recipient have a more intimate quality.  I have not really been able to embrace Twitter for my personal communications but I am getting more adept at using it as a marketing tool. And, I can do all of this from my phone if I must.

Honestly, if it weren’t for the small screen on my iPhone, I’d likely use it a lot more for my email communications. I love the freedom it affords me as my office is anywhere I say it is.

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Video Stores *RIP*

The last video store closed in my neighborhood last week. Mammoth Video, a mom and pop sort of place finally closed its doors after at least 15 years in business. Once a bustling neighborhood gathering place for couples young and old, families on a budget, gamers and throngs of teens, it is now just a cavernous dark spot between Bruegger’s Bagels and a Dairy Queen.  Even more depressing was the fact that the building owner put a large FOR RENT sign across the space months ago, leaving the store owner to put up his own larger sign that read “We’re Still Open!” How’s that for predicting an ominous future?

The Friday and Saturday night gatherings at Mammoth are now replaced by the Netflix queue line or the actual line at the Redbox dispenser. I am pretty committed to never getting a movie out of a newfangled snack machine, but I confess that in the fall I signed up for Netflix. I did not do this because I am lazy or have agoraphobic tendencies. I just have a knack for keeping movies a long time. A REALLY long time. I received Pelham 123, the extremely violent John Travolta/Denzel Washington flick about a hostage situation on a New York subway, before Thanksgiving. I watched it in the first few days of 2011.

WHY did it take me so long to watch it you ask?  It felt almost weird to watch such a violent film over the holidays and I could not imagine watching this movie with my grinning nutcrackers staring me in the face and my Christmas tree in view.

Just when you felt good about the subway.

“Silent Night…Holy Night. Unlock the door, do it now or I’ll kill you.”

Call me crazy. I wanted “Four Christmases” or anything with Owen Wilson.

Video stores hit an all time high in 2001. Blockbuster, Movie Gallery, Hollywood Video were some of the larger chains of stores and one by one they have fallen.

I don’t know if I ever want to watch a movie on my computer or my phone. Those devices still feel like work to me. And, because I am one of a few people who still has what I could call a “normal” sized television at home, there are some movies I want to see on the big screen anyway.

Yesterday,  I caught “The King’s Speech” at my local Regal Cinema. I went all by myself and relished in the experience of being alone, amongst others. Several other people were there alone too. I wonder, as our media becomes more personal, compact and portable will it not take away the collective experiences we all share and enjoy?  Is there value in the “socialness” of the movie experience, be it walking up and down the aisle of a video store, or sitting seats apart from another lone stranger?

I think that experiences like this tether us to our shared humanity, whereas new media often encourages us to isolate ourselves. Do we need more of that?

And, by the way, I really recommend The King’s Speech.

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