Wednesday, May 21, 2008
There's always a time lag between a paradigm shift and the broader realisation that the world has changed forever. We're in the throes of a time lag right now. Digital technologies have altered communications beyond all recognition, yet many professionals are still catching up. People are still talking about the shift from exposure to engagement and interaction as if it's new news. If anyone thinks we've just shifted to second gear, wake up and see the world hurtling past at breakneck speed.
One-way communication, the old way of raising awareness of a product and expecting people to buy it, is long gone. In a world of instant interaction and brand overload, everything has become an exchange, not just the transaction, but every piece of communication. The brand-consumer exchange is no longer based just on money, but time and energy because these are the trade-off decisions people make every day, in deciding what brands to bother with.
So, when speaking to consumers, brands have to offer something, be it branded entertainment, or something useful, like an online application that they can express themselves with, or perhaps, something free. What brands get out of this exchange, is consumers' attention and perhaps the permission to keep up the conversation. But, keep it fresh. A conversation, by definition, evolves; subjects change. Otherwise the speaker soon finds himself alone, engaged in a soliloquy.
Tuesday, May 20, 2008
On 1st May I became a 'Female, aged 35-44'. That's my new demographic box, for targeting purposes, which makes me a likely target for romantic comedies and family foods (no kids, never cook, hate sappy movies, give me Entourage or Battlestar Galactica anyday). I'm also a Taurus and an Ox. There I am, in a nutshell. You practically know me already. Or, at least, you've made your acquaintance with my group stereotype.
Some clubs you choose to belong to, while others you're assigned by default. My beef is mainly with the latter, but even members' clubs have their critics.
Groucho Marx had a thing or two to say about clubs. A famous quote, immortalised in Woody Allen's Annie Hall, is: "I don't want to belong to any club that will accept me as a member."
Clubs can be criticised for their exclusivity, which creates barriers between 'people like us' and 'people like them'. Sometimes, club members live up to the stereotypes of their chosen group, while outsiders make lazy assumptions about the members of that group. Clubs impose rules on behaviour and conduct and do not expect their terms to be questioned.
Group identification can even lead to self-delusion, for example, when people read too much into horoscopes. According to the 'barnum effect' in psychology, people tend to believe statements are specific and personal to them (such as those relating to their star sign), when in fact they are general enough to apply to anyone.
Yet, just about everyone is trying to get into some club or other, be it gaining peer acceptance at school, getting into the golf club, or blagging your way into a night club. So what's the big attraction?
Clubs provide protection, security, opportunities for advancement and a place to get food and drink when no one else will let you in. It's easy to strike up a conversation with people, who are like minded in some way. It's comforting to know you belong. The world seems more orderly and less scary. Your club is a place where, like the Cheers bar, 'everybody knows your name'.
People inevitably group together, because the desire for connection is so strong. Whether or not individuals thrive in a group depends on many factors. Personally, I'm uncomfortable with clubs that are exclusive and inflexible and I hate being assigned a group. (Ironically, my stubborn refusal to be put in a particular box probably goes some way to confirming my group identity as an 'Ox'!)
Rigid taxonomies are no longer the order of the day, as Clay Shirky points out in Ontology is Overrated. The Internet allows us to assign tags, which label and define content in a multitude of ways, without the need to impose a single, arbitrary classification.
In the same way, people can belong to multiple groups without being defined by those groups. They can connect - and disconnect - at will, engaging with particular interests or topics as it suits them.