I’m wearing new shoes today. They’re made by Atheist Berlin. They feel like hot chocolate for the feet.
Now, I’ve been following the Atheist story for a while, because I know David, Chief Atheist (is that a thing?) from when we did the IPA Excellence Diploma together some years ago (dates redacted to protect the aged). Indeed, it’s interesting to reflect on the number people from the IPA ExDip who’ve gone on to do their own thing; consultancies, accelerators, etc. The course clearly gives people a bit of motivation to do something differently.
But within that those who’ve made a thing. Making things is different from service industries. Not better or worse, just different. Another example would be Matt’s success with Two Fingers Brewing. I make some card things you might have seen. There are no doubt more examples from diploma alumni too. And there are definitely lots of examples of ex-agency people who start making things instead of selling other peoples’ things. But it’s not just a few agency folk leaving uninspiring surroundings to play around at ‘maker’ (although Murat’s post from 2013 still hits upon most of the reasons why that happens).
There’s a cacophony of forces driving more and more people to start making their own things. Some are positive; access to funding of some sort (grants, investors, crowd-funding), the ability to use the internet to learn new skills and find an audience at the right scale. Some are negative; lack of fulfilling work, high youth unemployment, cost of higher education.
They all add up to interesting times for existing companies. Take beer, for instance. The number of breweries operating in the UK in the last five years has tripled. Yet beer sales in the UK remained in a long-term decline until last year, when they managed a 1.5% annual increase. All in all, it adds up to more suppliers fighting over less sales, and more interesting suppliers stealing share from less interesting ones.
This summer has felt like what started as an expression thing for the creatively minded has started to become a business thing for a lot of people. The conversations I’ve been having and become aware of are less about how brands can support makers do their own thing, and more about ‘what happens when they start to make our thing?’
Our culture has a new pair of shoes, and it’s starting to test just how far it can walk in them.
Bobbing and weaving through the tweets an hour ago, I picked up on Jeremy‘s post on the issue of website performance vs serving ads/tracking people…
…in fact, I really picked up on it because of Mark‘s reply:
Which is interesting, because there’s something been pinging around my head recently about why the advertising industry decided on this as their future. And why did we as people decide that advertisers knowing all this about us was OK…?
Here’s my hunch; Tom Cruise is to Adverts as William Shatner is to Phones.
Which means what?
Well, there’s the famous, perhaps apocryphal story that the mobile phone, specifically the flip phone, were inspired by the Star Trek communicator. The engineers growing up and watching telly around this time had a ready-made prototype of ‘the future’ in front of them… and so, it came to pass. Let’s make that.
Another example – last week at IED, the brilliant Andres Colmenares was talking about the Hendo Hoverboard that’s received kickstarter funding. It’s basically the Marty McFly hoverboard. Let’s make that.
And the advertising example?
Minority Report, of course. Specifically the scene in which Tom Cruise goes hurtling through a crown of people in a shopping mall, and all the adverts start addressing him individually…
You’ll know the scene, because no doubt everyone’s been shown it often enough in presentations about ‘personalised marketing’. It became so trite that people stop using it. It may even be cool and retro to start using it again (I’m not really sure, as I don’t do enough advertisingy type things anymore to know).
Basically, it became a cultural shorthand; ‘This is a future for advertising’ became ‘this is the future for advertising’.
When enough people can use it as a common reference point, they can sit in meetings and decided what advertising should be in the future by using this example. When people were talking about how the ads that would support their platform, they’d major on just how ‘identifiable’ people were, and so the ads could be personalised too.
“You know, like in Minority Report”.
And maybe that’s why we’re here.
Thanks, Tom Cruise. Thanks a bunch.Read More
I did a wee talk on Monday evening, at the IPA 44 Club, which inevitably resolved itself in a Hitch-Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy metaphor. It was part of Nick Kendall’s evening on the ideas behind the What Is A 21st Century Brand? book – Neil Godber from JWT spoke on Stephen King’s original, pioneering thinking on what a brand was in the 20th century.
In the book, Nick’s collected together what he considers the most pertinent theses from the ten years of the IPA Excellence Diploma. You can download mine as the sample chapter from here.
I thought I’d quickly write out what I think I was getting at.
It’s notionally a talk about brands, but in hindsight is as much about organisational change as anything. Which makes sense, I guess, given some of what Smithery does.
My thesis, back in 2008 or so, was called The Communis Manifesto. To pull an explanatory paragraph from it, it was about this…
“I believe the future of brand communications lies in finding a way to become part of communities, and communicate with them in a way that is shared, participatory and reciprocal.”
I realise now, though, that I fell into a classic economics trap. I took a micro view of one brand, and forgot to consider the macro perspective; what happens when every brand does this?
Well, as we can see now, it all gets a bit noisy… an endless hum of brands vying for your attention at any given opportunity, all going a little ‘gorilla in a jock-strap’ in order to arrest some eyeballs for the briefest of seconds (go and read Faris’ Paid Attention for more on that).
Thinking about how brands and companies operate in the 21st century, and how some struggle to remain meaningful, it made me think of Golgafrincham.
You know, Golgafrincham, yeah?
Ok, I’ll explain…
In the Hitch-Hiker’s Guide To The Galaxy, Ford Prefect and Arthur Dent find themselves on a massive spaceship, with lots of frozen bodies in the hold. It’s the Golgafrincham B Ark. The captain explains that they’d been told that the planet of Golgafrincham was in terrible, terrible danger, so they all had to leave.
On the A Ark would be all the leaders, scientists, pioneers… the high achievers.
On the C Ark would be all the people who made things and did things.
And on the B Ark, there would be everyone else. The middle managers. The hairdressers. The telephone sanitisers.
The leaders of Golgafrincham explained that they would send the B Ark first, so that when they settled the new planet, everyone else could be confident of a good haircut and a clean telephone when they got there. So off the B Ark went.
They hadn’t, explained the Captain, heard anything from the other two ships since leaving. Which he began to think was a little strange, having finally told someone else about it…
Some companies are clearly on the A Ark. They lead in their space, well, any space. Pioneers, future provokers, creating the products and services we love to use.
A Ark stuff is easy to point at, and hard to do.
Increasingly [because INTERNET], there are a lot of C Ark companies around. Start-ups, and hobbyists, those born in the internet, who’re happy to show you everything that they do. It’s a new transparency, it makes companies and the people who work there very visible, believable, and trustworthy. It regularly works for much smaller companies, who can make enough people see what they’re doing to be successful on their terms
C Ark stuff is easy to do, and hard to point at.
Which leaves the B Ark companies. The companies that just kind of exist in that middle layer of life. They didn’t used to do the stuff that was hard, because they just had to do things that were good enough. They didn’t used to worry about pointing people to things, because you could switch on advertising and pipe people’s eyeballs towards your products.
It’s hard to be a B Ark company today.
So you’ve got two choices.
You can try and get on the A Ark, and start pushing the boundaries of expectations in your market. Every market has a future. Show people the one you really believe in.
Or you can jump onto the C Ark, and start showing people all the things you make and do. If it’s not good enough to be interesting, then you need to change the what and how of your makings and doings. If you do it well, people will start to point other people towards it.
Both things are hard to do.
But they’re better than being on the B Ark.
I’ve started running a bit more consistently this month. This year’s been a bit busy, and I allowed that to become an excuse to not run. June’s been better though. I don’t run particularly far, or well, or fast. But I enjoy it when I do.
A message popped up on the Nike Running app last week, and the end of one run – I wish I’d screen-grabbed it, but didn’t – along the lines of “your Nike Lunareclipse 3 have done 560km – perhaps time to think of a replacement“.
Some interesting things happen as a result.
Firstly, I start wondering if my right foot, which was a little sore on the run, was caused by defective trainers. I didn’t think this on the run, but suddenly blame the shoes.
Secondly, Helen and I start talking about how they ‘know’ the trainers need replacing. Is it just distance? It asks for terrain type after each run, so is that a factor? And perhaps there’s even something it can track from the running motion through the accelerometer – do runners with worn shoes wobble in a different way?
Whatever it is, suddenly I’m psychologically finished with the old running shoes. Even though the cynic in me knows that Nike have one intention in sending that message, and so the incentive for them is to send it a little earlier than they absolutely have to…
The next thing is to get some new ones.
When I bought the last ones, I did the running machine test at NikeTown in London. It’s just over from the office, so across I pop the next day.
Explaining which shoes I had before, I go back on the machine to test new ones.The type of support in the shoe helps your ankles align better on striking the ground.
The old camera at the rear of the machine has been replaced with an iPad version, I note – be it FuelBands or Running Cameras, Nike has clearly thought better of making its own devices, and just uses someone else’s nowadays.
Walking out with new shoes, I realise that I feel quite trapped.
The runs logged in the Nike App are hard to get out, so I can’t readily migrate my data to a different system. And I don’t know how to translate the type of running shoe support into other trainers – I don’t have the Rosetta Stone that would say that ‘this type of shoe in Nike means this in another brand’.
The system is created to make this sort of ‘loyalty’ more likely, of course. But it’s not loyalty if I just haven’t got the energy to fight my way out.
So on I run on the Nike treadmill.