So much of business tells you to exclude yourself from the mix.
RFPs are written from the perspective of some invisible “voice of the company”
Documents are prepared with no voice whatsoever.
You are a cog in the machine, and a cog in the cog.
This works in business because, like any machine, the parts are replaceable. This is how it’s supposed to be done. We work “to the benefit of something larger,” and drawing attention to oneself is grounds for a stern talking-to about representing the values of the machine.
You are expected to give absolute loyalty to the company, but of course the reverse is rarely true. After all, machines need cogs to run, but they dont need to be any specific cogs, just ones that will fit the machine.
So much to unlearn.
In developing Deeper Context‘s website and voice, I have a tendency to focus on the product, or the service, or the offering.
I push myself into the background so that I can focus more on the thing that comes out at the end of the conveyor belt, the shiny object.Look at it gleam in the socially-enabled sunlight of a billion MacBooks.
I’m merely a cog in the creation process still, right?
I need to keep myself out of it, lest I draw too much attention away from the machine.
But, it turns out that in reality, I am not a cog anymore. I am the machine now.
I am what will drive interest.
The “key differentiator”, the value, the reason people will choose to partner with Deeper Context isn’t that the end result is good (which it is), or that the shiny objects will build community and empower end users to join the conversation or some such thing.
The key differentiator is me, and the curiosity and humanity I bring to my work.
I’m not the cog anymore.
I am the whole machine.
My talent, interest and unyielding judgmentless curiosity are the cogs.
They cannot and will not be swapped out for a cheaper equivalent.
“[…] your scientists were so preoccupied with whether or not they could, they didn’t stop to think if they should.” -Michael Crichton, Jurassic Park
It seems to me that all these websites we use to share stuff with our friends (Facebook, Twitter, Google Plus) and define our preferences to the world (the aforementioned, about.me, last.fm, spotify, netflix, and on and on) are mainly using our information to make themselves more valuable to advertisers.
“Facebook’s role is to turn us all into self-selected micro-targeting opportunities under the guise of making personal preference visible.” -me (last time I’ll quote myself, I promise)
We are the commodity. Our egos are stroked as much as it takes to put a ton of work into building profiles of what we like, who we like, what our preferences are. The feedback loop is created to reward us with Klout, followers, whatever it takes for us to continue. We spend hours and hours tweaking our ‘public’ appearance to match what how we perceive ourselves, but what we’re doing is more of an ego stroke and a shuffling of data so that corporations can better target their mediocre advertising copy at us. The whole system is set up as a method to delude ourselves that we are merely defining ourselves to the public, when in fact we are proactively segregating ourselves into target markets in a profound act of dehumanization.
We now believe that curation of other peoples creative acts is in itself as valuable as being creative ourselves. We tout our Tumblrs, our Twitter feeds, our Google+ accounts as ‘follow-worthy’, and consider a link to other peoples lists of the “10 best things you’ll see on the internet today” to be a creative act.
I continue to worry about how much we crow and focus on all the amazing tools we have for sharing stuff, and not about the lack of basic writing, storytelling, story capture, emotional investment, financial investment, or even interest in upping the quality, originality and skill at which we compose and build things to share.
If I have thirty toilets with webcams connected to Facebook, Twitter, Google+, Tumblr, Posterous, Amplify, YouTube, Plurk, Color, Flickr, Instagram, Buzz, Wave, WordPress, Blogspot, Typepad, Vimeo, Itunes, blip.tv and turntable.fm, the most interesting experience you’re going to have is still watching someone take a crap.
To be clear, I’m not attributing any particular malevolence of intent to people in the marketing world. Many if not most are doing their jobs to the best of their ability. The identification, the encouraging others to self-segregate, this is their part of the machine. They don’t spend the time thinking about whether they ‘should’, because their job is to figure out how they ‘could’
I’m reminded of a scene from an underrated sci-fi horror movie called Cube, where a number of people are trapped in what they believe to be a never-ending series of rooms connected to each other, some of which are booby-trapped with machines that kill them in grisly fashion. If you’ll permit me…
WORTH: Not this part, the exterior. I don’t know anything about the numbers or anything else in here. I was contracted to draw plans for a hollow shell. A cube.
QUENTIN:Who hired you?
WORTH: I didn’t ask. I never even left my office. I talked on the phone to some other guys like me. Specialists working on small details. Nobody knew what it was. Nobody cared. […] It’s maybe hard for you to understand, but there’s no conspiracy. Nobody is in charge. It’s a headless blunder operating under the illusion of a masterplan. Can you grasp that? Big brother is not watching you.
QUENTIN: What kind of fucking explanation is that?
WORTH: It’s the best you´re gonna get. I looked and the only explanation I can come to is that there is nobody up there.
QUENTIN: Somebody had to say yes to this thing.
WORTH: What thing? Only we know what it is. […] I mean somebody might have known sometime, before they got fired or voted out or sold it. But if this place ever had a purpose, then it got miscommunicated or lost in the shuffle. This is an accident, a forgotten propetual, public, works project. Do you think anybody wants to ask questions? All they want is a clear conscience and a fat paycheck. I mean, I lead on my desk for months. This was a great job!
In this era where it seems that we’re giving up all of our power to corporations, who are made up of individual limbs without a head or a heart, entrusting them to create jobs when it’s actually against their short-term success metric ($) to hire people (where do you think “we need to do more with less” comes from?), must we go so willingly into the world of raising our hands as a consumer, and lower the bar of creation so that a “RT” counts as art?
I guess what I’m saying is several things. Let’s not lose sight of ourselves as individuals, and be careful about how much time we spend making it easier for us to be advertised at, and turned into ‘consumers’ rather than people with a unique worldview.
Let’s be sure to create, not just consume or regurgitate. Let’s draw, let’s write, let’s podcast, lets sing, let’s make friends. Let’s let go of the attachment to a “success” metric, and express what’s inside. Let’s be curious. Let’s hold ourselves to a human standard, not an AdSense-targetable influencer ranking.
This is going to be a fight. There is a lot of momentum in the other direction. Many will disagree, and make points about all the friends they’ve made because of these services (I agree they are useful as a means to an end, but that does not necessarily balance out the dehumanization of the means), and that’s all well and good. Many people will have ulterior motives, though not necessarily nefarious ones. We must keep our humanity in focus and not sell ourselves out for a Spotify invite.
Am I crazy here?
Here’s my challenge to you. If you take a good hard look at your online activity and notice that maybe your day-to-day fits into this pattern of raising your hand as a target for advertising to corporate America, when what you’ve been told is “make this a favorite and you’ll get free DVDs and other perks,” stop what you’re doing and figure out a way to put something new into the world that isn’t a tweet, a “like” or a tumblr repost. Then post it here for us all to see.
One of my favorite parts of the DVD experience are the bonus features. Learning about the process behind how the movie got made, the people behind-the-scenes and their motivations, inspirations and skills, and (especially when it comes to older movies) reminiscences about the time spent woking together and the kind of family that forms when a group of people are working on a project together.
Although I know we all love the convenience of the ‘select a movie and press play’ that things like Netflix and Hulu provide, as a nerd curious person (and as someone who is working on getting a job capturing these kind of stories), I’m scared that the shift away from physical media will also signal a shift away from things like creator commentaries.
This kind of story-behind-the-thing experiences have been so meaningful to me, from both a consumption standpoint and as a content creator. In fact, often times these stories just as enjoyable as the movie itself (Would Lord of the Rings be nearly as impressive without the multi-hour-long documentaries about just how much work went into its creation? And if you haven’t listened to the commentary track on This Is Spinal Tap, where the main actors tear apart the movie in character, you’ve missed out on what is essentially an improvised sequel)
I just think that hearing people talk about their experiences creating a thing (be it on DVDs, in panels, on podcasts like the ones I made for things like Michael Jackson’s “Thriller”, or even amongst friends and loved ones) are such a core part of the human experience, and to phase that out for the sake of convenience seems a sad state of affairs.
I really really hope it doesn’t happen. I want the stories to stay important, not just the finished product. Let’s not have ‘bonus features’ become synonymous with ‘unnecessary content’
There is so much information out there about me. Use it to create a unique experience connecting your product or service to something you already know I’m interested in, in a way that leads me to see your product as useful to me.
There’s no reason connecting a sponsorship to an online experience should feel like punishment or homework. At this point, what possible reason could a company have for slapping the same old irrelevant creative in front of users who have a choice of literally hundreds of millions of content consumption opportunities?
Is it laziness? Is it ignorance of the data involved?
I mean, I know breaking habits is hard, and corporate inertia is difficult. But at least TRY, no?
Huge companies like Intel are getting on the bandwagon, with their “Sponsors of Tomorrow” campaign, which is a brilliant use of careful targeting (Hulu specifically Big Bang Theory, TEDTalks, etc), a non-intrusive and clever campaign, and a full website focused on Intel’s innovation and how it makes my life better.
Every company out there has the opportunity to do what Intel is doing, value-wise. Turning a company-to-customer transaction that is typically a pain point (I suffer through a commercial and in exchange the content I’m interested in gets funded) and turn it into a useful and valuable experience for me that leads me to try your product or service, or tell my friends, or anything other than general annoyance.
When you’re ready, there are plenty of us that would be happy to help figure out a worthwhile strategy (including my employer).
Until then, expect the (already multi-million-dollar) market for ad blockers to continue to grow. And for me to ignore your message whenever possible, and have my overall impression of your brand continue to decline.
Anyone else? Are there other examples of companies doing it well?
All this talk about Twitter and Facebook engagement, how you need to be authentic and transparent, let people behind the scenes, tell stories. This is all well and good, and enough (some might say too much) has been written about the what and the how.
We should talk more about the why. Not the why in the “so we can help make you money” sense (I would file that squarely in the ‘results of efforts’ column, on the other side of the equals sign). The why in the “what are the bigger forces we are aligning ourselves with by taking your advice on communications” sense.
Here’s why (I think). We are all working to dissolve adversarial relationships between people.
We realize that working together toward a common goal is more powerful than any positioning based on “what do I have to give you so that you do what I want”.
We notice this every day in our lives, when we reach out for help, or give a hug to a friend or a smile on the street or put a dollar in a homeless person’s hand, or tell our kids that we love them.
Many of us don’t think that this kind of interaction doesn’t scale to the world of business, where people inside the company are responsible for doing whatever is necessary to get people outside of the company to part with their money.
This is crap. Not only is it adversarial, but it’s bad business. People knowwhen your intent is not pure, even subconsciously. The more strategic you come off, the more adversarial the relationship between you and not-you becomes.
There are so many examples lately of companies and industries that find themselves in a spiral of adversity-based business decisions (see: music business). Just today I was reading on the elevator (thanks captivate.com) that airlines are beginning to charge for seats with leg room. My reptile brain takes this to mean that this airline doesn’t want anyone to have a good experience flying with them unless we’re willing to pay extra for it.
So why do we say ‘be authentic and transparent’? Because when we dissolve the ‘us vs them’ mentality, we can get down to the business of creating and awesome experience for everyone who interacts with us. If you’re in a business situation, the perception around the exchange of funds shifts from ‘I guess I can part with my money because I need or want this” to “I’m excited to be a part of what this purchase makes possible”. If you’re in a personal situation, you get that good feeling that connecting can bring. You make a new friend, or lover, or contact.
This is the position we’re in. Our job isn’t really to recommend a digital strategy for people. That’s just a trojan horse. Our jobs, our passion as communicators (whether we’re conscious of it or not) is dissolving adversity, one communication point at a time.
It’s the most important thing we can do as people, for the health of the world.