April 25, 2011

New Rules

Filed under: business,creativity,internet,marketing,media — Erik Dobberkau @ 16:24

More than ten years into it, formerly major players still haven’t figured out how the Web works and what they can do, especially because they’re asking the wrong questions. The question is not “How can I re-establish the old system, when I had the power, in this new medium and keep it at the same level for a long time to come to make as much money as possible with processes that have been working for me in the last 50 years?” Asking for something like this seems pretty silly, but it’s exactly what big companies do. Why? It’s the people who work there. They want to do the job they’ve been doing ever since, but we don’t need these jobs to be done anymore, at least not in the same fashion.

What every player, regardless of size or age, needs to admit at first is that not only yesterday, but also today is a sunk cost, because you can’t change it, not at a significant level. So the question becomes “How do the achievements of today (i.e., the latest technical innovation) shift user expectations for tomorrow, and how can I use what I got to satisfy or exceed them?” Example: YouTube today is not what it was 6 years ago. Today’s standards make it very unlikely someone will watch a shaky mobile phone video with your cat chasing the woolen ball over and over and tell all her friends. What we want is high definition video, professionally shot and, even more important, a good story worth our time. We’ve moved beyond the point of boredom and doing stuff only for excitement, because there’s no more scarcity of entertainment for its own sake.

No, the new scarcity is one that major movie studios could fill if they only decided to abandon their old-fashioned monetization chain. They need to figure out how to get HD video in 3D to my home, so easy, comfortable and cheap that torrent downloads or physical pirate copies are not attractive any more to everybody worldwide. What’s as important: They can help me discover more movies, just like Amazon does. But they could use a different algorithm, and only when I’m logged in. I don’t want a useless recommendation e-mail invade my inbox each day just to make me come back and spend more money.

Just like the music industry wouldn’t have had to invent iTunes, but Spotify. We have always needed and still need someone to help us discover more of the stuff we already like and buy, and only then do we need someone to actually give it to us, not the other way round.
The Internet has not ridded us of all scarcities, it just shifted them a lot. The ultimate scarcity is now time, because there is too much to choose from, and people and companies are adding ever more stuff. Today we need someone to help us find the stuff we want. And there’s a reason why there are not many people around trying to solve this problem successfully.

April 23, 2011

Digital Natives – Digital Naives

Filed under: business,creativity,internet,marketing,media — Erik Dobberkau @ 22:47

Whatever circumstances you’re born into you assume as being normal, because “that’s the way things are”. When all you know is war, fighting and being on the run determines your image of life and reality. Most of us, who have never personally experienced war or other life threatening crises, assume a life of safety and comfort as being normal, and whatever “soft” revolution that we experience, like having Internet connection in every household, having a mobile phone and so forth, are conceived as normal by the next generation. Just because stuff like this exists.

And usually “normal” stuff , no matter if it’s war or a computer, is not questioned by the new generation of participants or users. Today’s kids just use Google, YouTube and Facebook like it’s always been around and a somewhat integral part of life, but they don’t really know how it works (technically) or what its purpose is (advertising, not searching). In that sense, the new generation should not be called Digital Natives but Digital Naives.

What’s a little funny about this whole thing is that it’s the first of the four stages of competence, but one can only advance through all four when he knows that he’s incompetent int he first place. And often this doesn’t happen because of the unawareness of incompetence, because the perceived ability to use a device, service or whatever makes one forget they don’t actually know how it’s done. This paradox is known in the professional world as the starting point of the Dunning-Kruger Effect, and when we take this as a given, big opportunities we haven’t seen before become pretty obvious.

(Yes, it’s a cliffhanger.)

March 29, 2011

Cool Ain’t For Everyone

Filed under: media — Erik Dobberkau @ 06:04

It shouldn’t be necessary to say, because everybody (and I literally mean everybody) has experienced this in high school: Sometimes, the harder you try to be hip and cool, the more you make yourself look an idiot. But obviously, for Germany’s Public TV weather and election show hosts, high school is too far away too remember this simple rule. So what happens is this: In their left hand, they have a small, but visible clicker (it’s black), and while clicking to the next slide, they performing a full-width swipe across their massive LCD screen with their other hand. This is so nuts. It’s a complete failure, not impressing anyone. My grandma wonders why they start swiping their screens because she knows they had remotes until last month, and now the poor fellas have to perform these ridiculous gestures. And the younger generation just feels sorry for these misguided and confused people who give the impression of never having used a touch device. Hint: they invented touch control to make it more comfortable to use, not to make it easier to impress.

March 27, 2011

Touting the Process

Filed under: business,internet,marketing,media,music — Erik Dobberkau @ 21:28

…is in most cases a lot easier than touting the result. It’s what musicians use social networks for these days, but I can’t make sense of it. Who is it about? Whenever a musician posts or tweets they’re going to the studio, it’s just another version of “Hey, I’m feeling great today.” Good for them. Not good enough for me, because there’s no value for me as a fan and potential buyer. Their well-being doesn’t lead to any interaction. And when the attention span is exactly as long as the time it takes to read a post or tweet, the question that need to be asked is: Is it worth your fan’s time? Not the time it takes to read your news, but the time it takes to start a conversation about it. Related questions are: How can I facilitate engagement? How do I connect? How can I make it sneezable? It’s easier than you think. (Exceptions apply.)

And the issue has yet another dimension to it. A process is hardly measurable (but that’s our fault, because it’s easier for us to measure outcomes), making it a good means to hide behind. No one’s gonna judge you for this, everyone is waiting for the result. And now, as always, it comes down to whether you’ve raised the bar too high for yourself to exceed expectations. And sometimes, the creators feel that they’ve bitten off more than they could chew, which makes going out there and touting the result a little harder. That’s why musicians are still sending review copies of their records to music magazines. Of course, these mags also serve a top-down connecting function within the tribe, but the top-down evaluation component is a lot more important, because a good review is yet another shield to hide behind: “It’s good because some authority said it’s good.” The problem with this thinking is the authority’s voice today is just one in a million, and it’s heard less every day.

March 14, 2011

Everything becomes most dangerous

Filed under: business,current affairs,media — Erik Dobberkau @ 21:00

…when you forget about it.

On the other hand, things that are, even if just temporarily, on top of everyone’s mind are not interesting to talk about and sometimes way off point.

Our biggest problem is for us today matters more than tomorrow.

February 23, 2011

Why You Want a Prize (Really)

Filed under: business,creativity,marketing,media — Erik Dobberkau @ 07:50

Why is it that even after 30, 50 or 80 years we still admire feature films that have won an OSCAR? Is it because they’re really good (by whatever measures) or because they’ve won a prize, or maybe in between? When we look at all the other films from any given year, we’re not feeling the same way, are we? You’ll always find some flaw in them, and sometimes, you’ll even find the whole thing shabby, having poor image quality, bad sound design, a cheap score, what-have-you.

But in the day the film was new, it was different. And that’s what we forget when looking at whatever product, but especially ones that are more or less art — not only are they influenced by fashion trends of their genre, but of course also of production standards at their time. Today your $99 mobile phone shoots video with better image quality than a camera that cost $50,000 twenty years back. Today your $300 PC can (technically) help you create a more lavish sound design than a full-fledged studio in the mid-90s.

This applies for other areas as well. Only eight years back, you cold earn a lot of respect with web programmers when you developed your own CMS. Not today, because it’s an unnecessary effort — there’s more than a dozen free systems out there, why start from scratch?

How about your work? Are the things you’ve done and achieved worth acknowledging by today’s standards? Has the bar that used to protect your field of expertise lowered in a way that pretty much anyone can compete with you? And has the bar that marks outstanding results raised so high you hardly come close? And which is worse?

When more or less everything becomes ubiquitous, when everything is always available in one form or another, when scarcity is not a problem to deal with anymore, you’re way better off when you have managed to earn a prize with what you done, no matter when, it won’t really lose any of its shine. Even better when this one prize has a tradition and still exists today. It helps you stand out, makes you a winner, not only of the award, but overall, and for a long time to come.

February 8, 2011

It’s the Couch

Filed under: internet,media — Erik Dobberkau @ 00:32

I used to say that TV as we know it is not going to exist much longer than 10 or 15 years, which I still don’t want to withdraw — simply because it’s a long time span in which a lot will happen. What I want to focus on instead is why it’s not happening earlier. It’s because of the couch. Yes, you heard me alright, the couch — and what goes with it.

The couch defines the place you live in as your home. Bed, bathroom, kitchen — these are things you find anywhere you’re staying. The couch makes all the difference. I just realized the other day that the last place I was living in didn’t feel like home — because I never bought a couch. Other associations with the couch are family, togetherness, all deeply rooted within us, and it’s a perfect symbol for comfort, relaxation, and hedonism.

And if you’re not living in a place where you have a marvelous vista from your living-room, I guess opposite to your couch there’s a TV set. The window to the world. Not only one world, but hundreds of worlds. All of them right in front of you in your zone of maximum comfort, and if you don’t like one, -zap!- there’s another. This is a very different experience from browsing YouTube, even if it’s on your TV set, because the former is not only a programme scheme designed by professionals (which you would have to create yourself on the Web), it also conveys a lot less responsibility in terms of what you are watching, because it’s pure consumption (or not). When you’re the programme director, you have a lot more responsibility for how happy you are with what’s on the screen, because first you have to decide what should be running, and only then you’re back in your consumer role to decide whether you like it or not. That’s a lot more stress to deal with, and we, being lazy humans, don’t favour that.

That said, the audience dynamics on the Web are entirely different from those towards TV. A successful programme like the German version of “Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares” would in my opinion falter on the Web because I think you just can’t build an equally loyal fan base, aside from the fact that financing the show to be broadcast Web-only is close to impossible. But what Christian Rach, the German Gordon Ramsay, could do, is to have a video series of cooking tips on a website, with sponsored links to markets where you could pre-order and pick up your ingredients, or, to keep it low-tech, just see if they’re in stock. And a bazillion of other ways to monetize his popularity, aside from the obvious books  (of which he has published three). But the TV format as it is would not translate to the Web.

As long as TV is more about the overall experience than what’s on the screen (the same transition cinema has gone through several years ago), it’s not going away anytime soon. Ever bigger screens, 3D display any other gadgetry support this even further, so the battle (if there is one) will be decided elsewhere.

February 4, 2011

Something For Nothing

Filed under: business,marketing,media — Erik Dobberkau @ 00:48

Picture this: A financially strong company builds a mall including all the infrastructure making it a super-hip (yet slightly expensive) place everybody loves. And no surprise everybody who used to have a shop with slowly declining revenue downtown craves the bonanza. And they understand they don’t get mining rights for free. We understand when we sell something on someone else’s premises they expect a share of one kind or another.

It’s also the way advertising works. Whoever wants to place an ad somewhere has to pay the owner of the channel because, well, he’s the owner. It’s ironic that people who used to own the channel, i.e. print publishers, don’t understand that when putting their channel inside another channel, i.e. the iPad, the owner of the latter won’t give it to them just like that.

Sometimes you eat the pear, and sometimes, well, it eats you. (huh?)

January 29, 2011

Protection Won’t Save You For Good

Filed under: business,marketing,media — Erik Dobberkau @ 17:52

When Amazon released its numbers for the last quarter of 2010 last week, it was a small surprise for me that in the US e-books are already ourselling paperback books, after they have already done that with hardcovers last summer.

In the country considered the origin of press printing it’s easy to forget that the book market is not a free one in terms of pricing. Every vendor of new books is bound to the price the publisher sets, and this applies to e-books as well, there’s just a little catch: Print books are being sold with a VAT of 7%, whereas e-books have the regular VAT of 19%, making them even more expensive than their physical cousins. Not only has this regulated protection served the publishers, it’s also the reason Ye Olde Bookstore hasn’t yet had to surrender to discount retailers.

If you’ve being living in the real world for the last decade, it won’t be too hard for you to guess that this model is not set up to endure the future we’re heading to. What we have learned from the desastrous decline of the coal and steel industry in the last century is that a country can’t protect its perceived vital industries for good, because sooner or later global competition will have taken over, and you’re an anachronism, far behind the pack.

What not only Germany’s politicians and leaders of protected industries (let’s coin the term LOPIs now) need to understand:

  • trying to protect anything from competition does more harm than help in the long run
  • the business of physical products is steadily decreasing, at least in consumer markets
  • you need the courage to sacrifice your sacred cow in favour of a new not-yet-beyond-risk one or you’re going down
  • what’s more important: you need to have people you can encourage to come up with fresh ideas that take your business to the future, even better if they do it by themselves.

January 24, 2011

When Adding Momentum

Filed under: current affairs,internet,media,politics — Erik Dobberkau @ 00:15

In one of the early Spiderman comics it says “ With great power there must also come — great responsibility!” (and further reading on the quote can be found here, it’s quite interesting). It also applies when power is little. And often enough, responsibility doesn’t scale down proportionally.

The issue I’m talking about: Last week, a show host of German radio station Fritz (located in Berlin) published an Open Letter to Kristina Schröder, German Minister for Family, Senior Citizens, Women and Youth (or as I used to refer to it, DEBYM), in which she heavily attacked the minister who had tried to sympathize with young families because she’s pregnant now. Voilà, promotion — Twitter took it to the next level. And then Fritz’s program director stepped in and took the page offline, accompanied by a statement that “the Open Letter did not represent the opinion of Fritz’s editorial team … [and they would] not accept infringements of Personal Rights.”

And that’s how the fight started. What the program director did wasn’t the best he could (and should) have done. The appropriate thing to do here is to make your employee see sense and ask her to publicly apologize for the inappropriate remarks. That way he would have avoided the accusations of censorship that are now being raised by the audience who have already taken care of the issue themselves.

The problem is that the Web makes it easy to let things run out of control. Once an information has been published, it’s being cached, copied, multiplied in all sorts of ways, and whenever it’s done manually, the ones in charge don’t necessarily pay attention to what they’re doing. Issues like this are easy to pull out of frame, because the outraged public doesn’t necessarily understand that just because you feel a certain way, it’s not okay from a moral point of view, neither from a legal one, to insult a person in whatever medium. That’s why the page was taken offline, but it’s not what the public thought the reason was. The story of some politician trying to undermine Freedom of Speech spreads much better, and so does support by people who think that censorship must be fought against with all means available. The only problem is that whoever re-publishes the original article without additional comments, just to add momentum for a perceived good cause, becomes liable for the same reasons that Fritz would have become liable had they not taken the page down, and this is what most people don’t know.

Which again leads us back to media competence, and why this would make an excellent case study for social science lessons at school. It’s a multidimensional issue, covering social dynamics, media dynamics, public law and, last not least, communication. This is something not only the next generation better knew, but it’s also the most sensible place to discuss the topic outside of Fritz’s commentary section, in the real world, because that’s where having the discussion can really have an impact and make a difference.

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