In the age of information overload, brands need to look to the forces that are transforming media. Learn why authentic engagement is less passive than it has ever been before.
iMedia Breakthrough Summit keynote speaker David Pescovitz, co-editor of Boing Boing and research director with the Institute for the Future, opened by stating: "There's an arms race going on. It's an arms race between advertisers and consumers." Pescovitz made no bones about it: He was at the iMedia event to talk about the big future forces that will affect the marketing industry over the next five to 10 years.
Right now, marketers are mining our social graphs, or "the trails that we leave," as a means to make us easier to advertise to. As evidenced by Facebook's ongoing privacy issues, consumers have decided to tolerate invasions of privacy if they provide something of value in return. The Massachusetts Institute of Technology recently figured out how to use mobile phones to not only track where we've been, but also where we'll go next. Developments like these point to the undeniable fact that digital trails are moving offline and into the physical world. All of this considered, Pescovitz said, "What happens when every surface becomes a screen?"
Before going into how brands should participate in new technology that seems torn from a page of the science fiction thriller "Minority Report," Pescovitz took the audience through the mechanics behind these exciting new products and the mindset that's promoting them. The information overload has prompted a demand for technologies we can use to digest the constant influx of data. Nifty machines like a bacon-cooking alarm clock or a vest that writes letters on your back -- just like mom! -- put our other senses to work on the consumption of the information freight train.
"As we understand more about how the brain works," Pescovitz said, "we're going to be able to start to apply that knowledge to how we engage and communicate with each other." In other words, the more brands learn about brain function, the more they can learn how to give people what they want and persuade them in open and honest ways.
So what do consumers who spend so much time in virtual environments engaging through mediated channels really want? "We're seeking authenticity, the experience of getting our hands dirty," Pescovitz said. As a result, the "do-it-yourself" (DIY) culture, or "maker culture," is an ideal place for brands and consumers to join forces. It celebrates the fact that consumers want to participate in the products that they buy.
Online, the maker culture hub is the website Instructables, where users post step-by-step instructions on how to make things. This type of environment is an interesting place for brand engagement. Contrary to belief, the DIY culture is not brand-averse. Recently, Craftsman sponsored a competition on Instructables. The winner gets a $20,000 gift card that will enable them to purchase the tools of their dreams. In other words, brand engagement is most successful in this culture when it's providing a venue and tools for creation.
Pescovitz looked to Boing Boing's humble beginnings as a 1989 zine to accentuate this point. "Desktop printing was really a revolution that democratized the publishing industry. Kinkos became a place to go where you could use technology you couldn't afford to own and facilitate participation in the self-publishing revolution."
One audience member pointed out that it's difficult to see how tire companies or brands like Coca-Cola could participate in this type of facilitation, and Pescovitz agreed: "This is not for everybody, but brands can participate in unexpected ways."
Citing the Diet Coke and Mentos geysers -- and how the Coca-Cola company initially went the cease-and-desist route and then, changing directions, began sponsoring eruption events -- Pescovitz stressed that brands should avoid "the Apple model," and instead find creative ways to engage.
Pescovitz closed with photos from the 1939 World's Fair Futurama exhibit, and the 1964 Tomorrowland pavilion. In both photographs, the fairgoers were looking down at "the future" -- the ultimate passive experience. Pins given out at the end of the exhibit read, "I have seen the future." The Institute for the Future, determining that this slogan was not at all in line with what it thinks the future will really look like, remade the pin to read, "I am making the future."
In Pescovitz's words: "We are all the media, so we may as well get good at it."
Lucia Davis is associate editor for iMedia Connection.
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