Archive for July, 2014

Journalism and the Smartphone

DATE: July 29th, 2014

Ultimately, I am a writer.

One of the most ubiquitous statements in the age of digitalization is: “People don’t read any more, they just scan.”

As someone who reads 3 -4 books a week, magazine articles (in their entirety) and almost anything I can get my hands on, I’ve always wondered if I was just odd. But it seems I have a friend in Frank Rose, whose article (Immerse Yourself: Why the smartphone means a golden age for journalism) affirms some of my thinking.

The Atlantic, well known for thorough journalism (read: long articles), had a million people read a 6,200 word article on a digital device with an average time spent on the article being 25 minutes.

Like Frank, I don’t think people are stupid. I think they are smart, informed and looking for interesting writing that engages, invigorates and stimulates thinking. Idealist that I am, I think that’s what journalism is all about.

I agree, the digital world has made some attempts at volume rather than quality, but most of the ventures are short lived.  Rose cites Demand Media, a “content farm”, whose business model was content by volume, dictated by algorithms to direct topic, theme and issue. Every company wants that – cheap, fast and many.

But – oops – they missed the option of interesting, appealing to real people and well crafted. The company lived for 2 years – a mere blip.

Like Rose, I think the smartphone lets me engage in great writing ANYWHERE I go. At home I deflect to the tablet, but on-the-go the tablet is clumsy and just too big (she says remembering the first “portable” computer she owned was an Apple 2C that required an apple box to haul it around).

I have great faith in human nature and believe we seek out content that has guts, smarts and passion – not yet another list.

This is a great time for journalism and writers. A time when you can reach your audience easily, where they are, any time, night or day. The caveat – be great, not just good. Write with personality. Write well.

You can read Rose’s article in WIRED, August 2014


DATE: July 25th, 2014

Steven Poole writes: “What we get in an “authentic” cultural product is still a simulacrum, but one that insists even more loudly that its laminated, wood-effect veneer is the real thing.” (New Statesman)

Today’s consumer and donor values authenticity.

It’s not hard to see the irony in authenticity. It’s hard to argue any positioned brand is authentic. But let’s take a step back. The consumer is not truly looking for authenticity; they are looking for an “authentic experience”. Fine line, you say?

I don’t think so.

There is nothing authentic about Disney Land – it is fibre glass, plastic and paint. But the experience of magic, fun and family is all there. It is an authentic experience to those experiencing it. That is really the key. There are long discussions today about where marketing fits into the brand experience. To truly be effective, the brand must influence the in-store or in-person experience.

Here’s the kicker… and I quote Polonius,

This above all – to thine own self be true,

And it must follow, as the night the day,

Thou canst not then be false to any man.

Hamlet Act I Scene 3

Joseph Pine, in his TEDS Talk on authenticity suggests that the foundation of authenticity is to understand your heritage.

I think he is on to something.

Understanding the heart of your past helps develop your brand story. Having a story behind your brand adds authenticity as you are historically set in a timeline.

Those who critique or undermine the possibility of authenticity within brands are missing the point. Let’s take Costco. Sol and Robert Price had an idea. The idea – a warehouse of products exclusively for business shoppers – was so good they were able to raise $2.5 million dollars from friends and family. AND the idea was so good, they were able to make $1 million in profit after just 3 years.

Their story?

If we keep costs as low as possible, maximize the power of our membership in buying power and be as efficient as possible, we can pass our savings to our members. When members come they have an “authentic” experience. First of all, ONLY members can shop – there no exceptions. You can invite a guest, but you are not welcome if you are not a member. So the member begins the experience with a confirmation of exclusivity. When the member is in the store, the design and huge stock confirm their authentic experience of savings. The experience is brilliantly affirmative that the customer is saving money.

The brand is so strong that the members continuously affirm the experience by boasting about the “deals” they discovered because they shop Costco.

Birkenstock has built a tremendous story out of its long legacy. In 1774 Johann Adam Birkenstock was listed in the church archives as “vassal and shoemaker.” By 1899 Konrad Birkenstock travels all over Germany and Austria lecturing on his unique invention: footbed shoes. During the war, Konrad is hired to create custom footwear for wounded soldiers. In 1947 Podiatric System Birkenstock, the book, is published.

In the spring of 2014, Birkenstock showed up on the runways of Shades of Grey. Really? What happened to Jimmy Choo? David Khan, CEO of Novato says, “We’re unleashing a dormant brand.” Why? Because people want authentic brands. Mark Goldstein, owner of Madison Los Angelos, puts it this way: “It’s about going back to the original. Everyone will buy it when it gets out in the fashion world. It’s comfortable and affordable.”

World Vision tells the wonderful story of Bob Pierce who, when introduced to a battered and abandon child named White Jade who had no one to care for her, gave $5 on the spot and promised to send $5 every month. His words: “Let my heart be broken with the things that break the heart of God” continue to inspire thousands of people do to the same – take a small amount of money every month so that a child can have essentials like food, safe water, education and access to health care.

The story inspires and motivates.

“We’re clearly in an age of unprecedented consumer empowerment, where the reality of products and services is just a Google search and tweet away. That’s led to an influx of marketers harping on the need to be “authentic.” What’s often left unsaid is what exactly being authentic means within the context of marketing.” Giselle Abromovitch

Here are 5 quick tips on authenticity:

  1. Know your history
  2. Create a narrative
  3. Teach your team your story
  4. Tell your story everywhere you go
  5. Repeat your story

You know you have successfully created an authentic experience by what people say about you. And, for the first time in history, it’s easy to listen in.