Monday, January 25, 2010

The right size of social networks

Clive Thomson has once again a brilliant article in the current edition of WIRED. He argues that there are only really two right sizes for a social network, either one has a few hundred followers with an intimate felling of closeness and real conversation, or one has a few hundred thousand followers where no real dialog is occurring but where the owner of the social network uses it as a broadcast medium to spread his or her wisdom. The (usual) death zone is in the middle where one does not have the scale of a true broad cast medium but where the social circle is too large to have a real dialog between people who think of themselves as a circle of friends.

A lot of marketers think that social networks are the Holy Grail for relevant and targeted marketing but they fail to realize that social networks are “just” another communication channel with its own dynamic, its own advantages and disadvantages. Thomson’s POV is an extremely important insight for brand managers who try to use social networks for non-broadcast marketing purposes. One can either use a large number of social network owners to proliferate a certain message in a more dialog oriented manner or one can utilize one big social network apostle with a large following in a much more one-to-many based approach that resample much more a traditional TV commercial.

Not only the medium is the message but the largeness (or smallness) of the medium and its distribution is the message, too.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Millennial managers

Last week’s Sunday’s New York Times had a long article about the redesign of business school’s curriculum over the last years by incorporating critical theory into is obligatory learning study plan. It’s not a surprise that executive managers have realized that teaching pure business theory and practice is not sufficient to develop great managers. Critical thinking, either taught in the legal or the humanities field, is becoming a more and more essential element of any management executive’s mental skill set. Whoever learned to read and understand literary theorist like Derrida or Foucault or the legal intricacies of some critical landmark decisions will not be easily intimidated by complex business and marketing problems.

Additionally the ten year anniversary of the Time Warner/AOL merger demonstrates once more that human beings behave just too often as pure followers who don’t stop and question the basic assumptions, processes, and behaviors that seem normal in all organizations. Understanding critical theory can help anyone to be more conscious and reflective within any discussion.

On the other hand critical thinking in its extreme form can be an impediment of thriving in any organizations. Young managers in the US (the famous Millennials ) seem to have more challenges to merge the necessary critical thinking with a team player behavior that can require following decisions by a superior that contradict the critical thought process of the young manager. But most profit oriented organization can not function as a democratic structure with equal voting rights, they rely and require a certain hierarchical structure and command chain. The dilemma arrives when young managers don’t know when to apply their critical thinking skills and fight for the related thought results, and when to follow the directions of a more experienced and senior manager.

This growing dilemma in most marketing organizations with a higher percentage of millennial managers requires a few explorations:

  • Every significant decision requires the application of critical thinking. The critical thinking should be consciously utilized within the rules and confines of the particular business discourse and outside of the discourse. It seems challenging for a lot of young managers to realize when one argues within and when outside the terminology, rules, and logic of a particular discourse and organization.
  • Critical thinking is not a genetic disposition but the result of continuous studying and learning. It is rooted in information and insight based curiosity and skepticism that behaves like a never ending stress test of any available options.
  • It is important to respect the chain of command in a particular organization. At the same time any organization should provide sufficient space that any young manager can voice his or her thought process, observations, and objections. But as long as the decision does not call for illegal actions, is unethical, or discriminates anyone, the ultimate decision (after hopefully a sufficient long period of discussion and potential disagreement) should be supported by the involved team members. This seems to be a given but it is a bigger challenge than expected.

The balance between the appropriate application and articulation of critical thinking and team player behavior is more fragile than most of us believe. It will be interesting to see how the young generation will cope with the simultaneous development of stronger and smarter critical thinking while developing a team behavior that makes any organization stronger.

Saturday, January 09, 2010

Mobile Marketing in 2010

Like every year over the last five years, marketers predict 2010 as the breakthrough year for mobile marketing. Honestly I don’t care if 2010 is the year of mobile marketing or not, more important are the long term trends that definitely will increase the importance of the mobile device in any smart marketing solution.

A few observations seem relevant to me:

  • Most researchers predict a roughly four fold increase of spend in mobile marketing in North America by 2015 whereas the overall marketing spend will increase by 10-20%, depending on research source. The overall mobile spend will be still only be around 5% of TV spend but it is getting significant. Now it’s the time for marketer to get their brains and hearts around the importance of mobile marketing
  • Currently most of the mobile marketing spend is put against display media, SMS, and application build, only less than 20% against search. This will change dramatically with the decline of SMS marketing and a strong push into mobile search. Some researchers are predicting that more than 70% of overall mobile marketing investment will move in this Google dominated investment area. This will force marketers to be even smarter in regards to organic and paid search.
  • The definition of the mobile device will change dramatically. It’s currently limited to cell- and smart phones, but one could envision that a fully connected Apple tablet is more a mobile device than a laptop. The changing definition of a “mobile device” will put mobile marketing even further into the ongoing marketing planning discourse between agency and brand manager.
  • Location based intelligence and marketing will increase rapidly over the next years. This will fundamentally improve search results, display advertising, and outbound direct marketing, all centered on the mobile device. One can envision the day when a consumer prefers to search for something on his or her mobile device due to the highly improved results versus using his or her computer.
  • Most North American marketers know that the US is one of the less sophisticated cell- and smart phone markets in the world (despite the iPhone). But most of them have not yet established the right learning mechanisms to mine new trends and insights from Asia, Latam, or even Europe. Whoever does this right will have a competitive advantage in how to successfully leverage mobile marketing.

It does not really matter if 2010 is the year of mobile marketing, it does matter that we all take it seriously, try to better understand it, experiment with it, and integrate it with a real purpose into any marketing solution.