Long time readers of this site know that once a year I make predictions, and revisit those I made the year before. But it’s not often I look back farther than one year to see if perhaps I was just a tad too early. It appears in the case of Google and personal data, I was.
In my predictions for 2015 I wagered that Google would “face existential competition from Facebook” forcing it to “connect its search and personal data to its Doubleclick asset.” This was a debatable prediction – Google had long prided itself on its privacy policies, and when it acquired DoubleClick, it canonized its stance with this line in its online policy: “We will not combine DoubleClick cookie information with personally identifiable information unless we have your opt-in consent.”
That line is now gone. In its place is this: “Depending on your account settings, your activity on other sites and apps may be associated with your personal information in order to improve Google’s services and the ads delivered by Google.”
Put another way, Google has capitulated to the power of Facebook’s online identity tsunami, and has connected all the information it has about us – our search history, usage of Google apps like Gmail, Docs, or YouTube, and our history of interaction with Google’s advertising business – so as to better target us on behalf of advertisers. Of course, this move also allows Google to better compete with Facebook, which can target Facebook users – and now even non users – across the web.
Given I predicted this would happen, I’m not that surprised it finally did – in fact, I’m surprised it took this long. To its credit, Google has made the shift by asking its customers to opt in – but the process, as described in this ProPublica piece, was pretty opaque.
Pulling back, I actually believe this represents good news for the web, and for the evolving adtech industry. For years we’ve built an open web advertising infrastructure based on anonymity, even as Facebook leveraged its native advantages based on real identity. If we can get to the point where advertisers can actually know who they are communicating with, perhaps our advertising ecosystem will evolve to a place where it adds value to consumers’ lives on a regular basis, as opposed to interrupting and annoying us all day long. When that happens, Facebook’s implicit advantage – that it knows who we are – will become commodified, and perhaps – just perhaps – the open web will once again thrive.
Before there was social media—before there was mobile and the video revolution, there was blogging. Once heralded as a revolution in communications and to a degree, marketing—self expression and direct publishing of the written word became an influential force to be dealt with.
Blogging, in written word form of has been a commodity for some time.
Even as I write this on the reality is less people are taking in the written word, opting instead for “junk food” media which comes in highly shareable and snackable bits of sticky, mobile optimized content.
Today however, it is content itself that has and will continue to become the commodity. Content in all forms—even mobile optimized and snackable content. There’s simply too much of it.Most of it is not very good and even if it is—the amount of effort it takes to make sure that content will travel far and wide makes for considerable effort. Many will do this well but more will fail.
So what is value in today’s connected marketing and media landscape?
The ability to create it, influence it, co-create it and integrate a brand so seamlessly in culture and relevant sub cultures.This is the next frontier of marketing and communicationsand while it has much to do with things like social, mobile and content—it is the cultural aspect that must lead while everything else follows. A very excellent article in Harvard Business Review reflects some of this shift, labeling it within the context of something Douglas Holt calls “Crowdculture”:
“While companies have put their faith in branded content for the past decade, brute empirical evidence is now forcing them to reconsider. In YouTube or Instagram rankings of channels by number of subscribers, corporate brands barely appear. Only three have cracked the YouTube Top 500. Instead you’ll find entertainers you’ve never heard of, appearing as if from nowhere.
YouTube’s greatest success by far is PewDiePie, a Swede who posts barely edited films with snarky voice-over commentary on the video games he plays. By January 2016 he had racked up nearly 11 billion views, and his YouTube channel had more than 41 million subscribers.”
The challenge for brands is that they often times cannot create culture by themselves.Today’s culture creators often thrive in “sub cultures”—niche groups that exist under more mainstream areas whether it be food, sports, fashion—lest you think this only applies to “consumer brands” it does not.Subcultures exist in business as well and continue to diversify as business itself becomes more specialized and niche.
Brands and Organizations Must Become Collaborators and Co-Creators of Culture
Today and tomorrow’s challenge for brands and organizations is to tweak their marketing and communications infrastructure so they can effectively collaborate with influencers of culture across the spectrum.If brands cannot create culture from scratch—they can co-create it with the right partners across the paid, owned, earned and social spectrum.But to do this at scale, they must understand the ecosystem of influence and re-structure internally to connect that ecosystem and approach peer to peer influence from all sides.
The Influencer Ecosystem
Brands and organizations who wish to influence culture and become co-creators of it, must begin to coordinate how they approach working with those who wield influence, coming at it from different directions. For example, TIME magazine featured a cover telling us that we should “eat butter”. While earned in nature, the story and the journalists behind it are playing a key role in the resurgence of butter and how Americans are re-thinking fat. It’s an example of media influencing culture—in this particular example, this kind of influence cannot be bought—it must be earned, however, increasingly cultural influencers such as “YouTubers” require paid means to collaborate with. The influencer ecosystem can be broken down as such:
Cultural Influencers These can be celebrities but increasingly, it is the influencers of subcultures—those who are building audiences via Instagram, Snapchat, YouTube etc. that are becoming today’s trusted voices. In 2015, Variety reported on a survey which displayed a trend where digital celebrities (YouTubers etc.) began eclipsing traditional celebrities in terms of popularity:
“Sehdev predicts that within five years, YouTube stars will consume the entire top-20 celebrity influencer list, and aging teens will grow into a sizable fanbase for online talent overall. But that will require YouTube stars to remain genuine and relatable as they gain in popularity.”
However despite this trend, there are significant implications for brands. As stated above, the digital stars must remain genuine and relatable which makes working with them a challenge as brands must learn to collaborate vs. dictate heavy handed marketing. Also, brands must develop repeatable ways they can work with all levels of these types of influencers. As it is an emerging space often requiring complex contracts, disclaimers and transparency—it brings new operational dynamics to the table.
Reputational Influencers These can range from employees to thought leaders to analysts and experts and while they often influence consumers or customers who are highly informed and connected themselves. The challenge here for brands is that much of what they do in this space is often times disconnected from what they do with cultural influencers—but should be more integrated. Not long ago, Edelman (my employer) announced a strategic partnership with a start up called Dynamic Signal. One of the key benefits of their platform Voicestream is the ability to harness the networks of either cultural or reputational influencers acting as amplifiers of content that a brand places in front of them. Integration and accountability in terms of performance is now becoming possible, but brands must first connect efforts here.
Media Influencers As the TIME example illustrates—media in all its forms led by journalists and the media companies they work with can often influence culture and sub cultures also appealing to informed audiences who often share their content. But it isn’t just the “professionals”—while blogging itself has become much of a commodity there is still a role for blogger networks with niche audiences who have built audience and work with brands (often requiring a financial transaction) to incorporate their products and services into their content. But here again whether earned or paid—integration opportunity exists as what all three groups have in common is getting through to peer networks who then influence each other.
“Content Marketing” came after social media and mobile and it enjoyed a good run.But it’s not enough to create content in a complex media ecosystem that makes it extremely difficult to break though and earn attention.Brands will have to learn how to influence culture and sub cultures by collaborating with those who create it externally while coordinating their fractured functions internally. And they’ll have to do it in ways that can be repeated and scaled.
I don’t write here anymore. I write almost entirely on Medium now. It’s not a choice I made to NOT write here, it’s a choice I made to edit NewCo Shift, our new publication. It lives on Medium, but if it were a WordPress site, well, my writing would all be on that site. It’s less about the medium (so to speak) and more about the publication.
As the days go by, and this site gets longer in the tooth, the challenge of updating it and making it current gets bigger and bigger. It eats at me. And I miss the engagement that this place used to have. I know it’s all my fault, and I’m sorry. I don’t have a plan to return to this place, because as much as I love the kind of writing I do here, I simply don’t have the time to do it. And I don’t see that changing anytime soon.
In meetings with several colleagues over the past few days, many did not know about the column I write each week – I’ve been remiss and not cross posting my writings from NewCo Shift here.
It’s been interesting to move my main focus of writing from a personal blog to a publication in-the-making. I’ll have more thoughts about that this weekend here. But in the meantime, if you’re wondering what I’m thinking and writing about, well, most of that work is here. Here are my latest columns: