I have often chided marketers for focusing too much on specific tools, platforms, sites and shiny objects. You know what I'm talking about. Your boss meanders into your office and casually asks you about some sexy social media thang that they saw mentioned in this morning's Wall Street Journal or the latest issue of BloombergWeek. Or your agency arrives to present -- iPhones, Androids and tablets in hand -- and they're all atwitter with talk about some cool thing that every marketers must do this year: mobile, social, mobile social, augmented reality, QR codes, skywriting, ironic-retro slam dance marketing or whatever.
But it's often even worse than that: the directive to innovate comes not within the context of some larger, perhaps more sustainable trend (we need to think about what the emergence of a realtime web will mean for how we connect with customers) but within the lack-of-context of some specific tool (Mike from product management says he wants a million Twitter followers by Thursday.)
Two weeks later, you have a program in market. Three weeks after that, the one trick pony on which you've placed your bets is headed to the glue factory -- they've been bought and rolled into something else, they've changed their business model, they're out of business. Two weeks after that, you're embarrassed to have your Second Life avatar name on your business card.
Sound even vaguely familiar?
So back to the image at the top of the post. We've all seen those swanky Web 2.0 logo collages. I've used one in a post or two on this blog. Hey, I've even seen one big digital agency (not naming names) throw an animated version in a PowerPoint to impress a client with how tuned-into social media they are (um, yeah). As you can probably tell, the version above is a bit different.
In May 2009, blogger and Guardian reporter Meg Pickard took one of the original logo collages from 2006 and marked it up to highlight the companies that had been acquired (see the minty fresh green kisses) and those that have bit the dust (note the lovely lavender hugs) to give a sense of how much this rapidly evolving space can -- and has -- changed in just a few short years. Now, acquisition isn't necessarily a bad thing (YouTube, Blogger, last.fm are still doing just fine) but bouncing your final round of payroll checks certainly is. And although I'm too lazy (did I say lazy, I meant busy busy busy) to do the work, I suspect a 2010 version would have plenty more lavendar Xs on it. Of course, it would also have a host of new logos that our ancient ancestors had never seen way back in 2006.
Why do I like Meg's interpretation of the logo collage so much? Because it is a clear visual reminder that the tools themselves don't matter and that putting emphasis on of-the-moment buzzy media darlings may be fun but might not get you very far.
If you're a marketer, odds are good you've placed some bad bets over the past couple of years -- maybe you were rock-solid-sure that Revver (remember them? no? hmmm...) would be the video platform of choice for generations to come, only to lose the community of branded content watchers you'd amassed over there when YouTube drove them into the dirt. Perhaps your friendly neighborhood social media guru convinced you that Plurk or Jaiku was the right microblogging platform for your company because that Twitter thing was 'so last year'. Maybe you spent a couple of years of your life at a web start-up that never quite made it to the next round (I know I did) or worked for a company headquartered in Second Life. :-)
Making mistakes is not only natural but necessary. We don't have the luxury of waiting for this whole social media thing to shake out. We need to innovate. We need to have a sense (clear or otherwise) of where we think media and marketing might be headed next. We need to move forward because we can't go back to the bad-old-days of spray and pray interruption advertising. But motivation matters more than innovation.
We have an obligation (to ourselves, if to nobody else) to exercise a bit of restraint when it comes to chasing shiny objects. Our current crop of objects are shiny enough and most marketers haven't figured out how to make the most of them (pimp).
We need to stay focused on what matters for our businesses: meeting objectives and beating goals (not to mention serving customers better than ever before) by using the right combination of approaches. We need to put strategy first (pimping again.)
And when we do place bets on new tools, we need to do so with one eye focused on lessons learned. For example, a marked up collage for 2015 just might show Facebook or Twitter logos behind Xs or Os. Future Us might be embarrassed by how excited Current Us were about Foursquare or Gowalla when we see them labeled as dead. But if, rather than getting hyped up on the tools themselves, we went into each experiment focused on:
(1) what will this allow us to accomplish today -- real objectives people, not dopey crap like 'get a million fans or followers', or even dopier crap like 'check off that geolocation box on our innovation checklist' -- and...
(2) what lessons will we take away from this for tomorrow -- will we know more about how to foster community, will we better understand our customers and what they expect out of their relationship with our company, will we have established any baseline practices for realtime engagement or right-time-right-place delivery of information...
then at least we will have achieved something...
At least that's what I think... How about you?
Drop a comment. Or if you'd rather discuss it with me live, tune in for a free Powered webinar tomorrow (January 28th, 2010 at 2pm Central) where I'll talk about the importance of putting strategy before tactics and some of my colleagues will discuss their takes on what 2010 holds in store for marketers (P-to-the-power-of-IMP).