September issues in online media

September 17th, 2013 Comment 0

Agencies ask themselves (or not): Maybe why digital business seemed lucrative wasn’t because it meant working with online stuff generally, but because of tech’s scalability?

Luxury brands desperately try to figure out: Are you just a digital day dreamer, or can you actually afford those shoes?

And a brave media company sets out to find out the answer to the eternal question: Is high-quality, original content enough to fuel an ad-supported B2B site?

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From the mouths of…

March 26th, 2013 Comment 0

Something made me recall this scene:

May 2012. Editorial meeting. Discussion about our commercial strategy for 2012–2015.

Business journalist: ‘There’s one industry one should really look at, they’ve gone through the same challenges as we do, really. There’s a lot to learn from…’

Everyone else in the room, slightly bored, filling in mentally: ‘The MUSIC INDUSTRY.

Business journalist:ACCOUNTING.’

Everyone else in the room: ‘ACCOUNTING?’

Business journalist: ‘Yes. It is the most boring profession in the entire world. It’s a death-trap. But you know how those big firms have fooled an entire generation of business students – passing themselves off as fancy management consultants, luring them in with student competitions and marketing campaigns and what not? Graduates actually seek out work at Ernst & Young. A mass psychosis.’

Everyone else in the room: ‘And…’

Business journalist: ‘And, that’s what we should do. Trick those students.’

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A piece of friendly advice

November 4th, 2012 Comment 2

The other week, I attended a marketing conference. Not one of ours, mind you. What I’m about to describe would never happen at a Bonnier conference, as we employ professional medieval style huntsmen who hold raised bows at speakers and panel members. Specially trained to detect the smallest indication of a marketing conference cliché about to be spoken (apparently, like diabetes dogs, they sense an altered smell from a person’s breath), and instructed to shoot immediately before the damage is done, they keep this sort of thing in check.

Some say old media companies will never adapt to the digital age

I realise that in these uncertain times, many other media conglomerates – not to mention other organisers such as those humble, struggling marketing trade organisations – cannot afford the luxury of archers. But can you find another way to make your speakers stop saying these things? Or by all means, they can say them – it’s not like most of these statements aren’t at least mostly true – but not like they are news.

These are just the tip of a pre-global warming style iceberg, obviously. But still, here are five statements you can feel confident that a conference audience with normal cognitive function don’t particularly need to hear again.

1.) ‘Every employee carries the brand’ | ‘You build the brand in every contact with the consumer’ | ‘Frontline employees are a brand’s most important asset’ | ETC

2.) ‘We have just seen the beginning of how digital will revolutionize how we live.
[Particularly when it's illustrated by a screen shot of a very, very niche site existing solely because of a VC's folly]

3.) ‘People don’t act like they say they do.’
[By ethnographer slash consultant]

A panel.

4.) ‘It used to be that your identity was determined by family and the place where you were born. Now, it is a constant project through which you can construct your Self any way you like.’
[Again by said ethnographer]

5.) Any statistic on babies/young children and technology, designed to titillate, scare or shock a middle-aged audience. 

Thank you in advance.

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Secrets of a media insider

March 2nd, 2012 Comment 2

I’m doing a course, for which I will need to present what I do in about 60 seconds and make it sound if not completely enthralling, at least memorable. The words project management or marketing won’t do in that situation. I could say that I create compelling experiences around one of Sweden’s strongest media brands, but I’ve heard there is a certain circle in Hell reserved for people who say these sorts of things and I can’t risk that.

Which made me think.
What do I do, exactly?

It is a general problem, of course, in a post-industrial society. (A manageable problem for us without working-class parents, but God help those with. Like my boyfriend the copywriter, constantly plagued by visions of his father welding.) And like with any knowledge economy job, I spend my days doing a myriad of different things, high and low. But it has to be possible to identity the activities that actually produce the most value, and define it with those. Like the baker, who stacks baking-tins from time to time but will present his work as baking bread and making cakes.

So, this is what I do.
I write emails, and I drink wine with people that matter in my brand’s universe.

The first is creating value by facilitating value creation by other knowledge workers (mostly), enticing CEOs to give keynote speeches (gently) or editors-in-chief to subject to deadlines (forcefully).

The second is creating value by building network, and it is what working in media will be increasingly about. Other businesses too, but with relationship-driven brands like media brands, it will be, in fact, everything.

Which is why I will, being a generous kind of person, give away a secret that will help you succeed in this business.
There is a trick when drinking wine with people that matter in your brand’s universe.
Make sure it is white.
Red wine stains your teeth.

Good luck.

Bryan F – A master of media


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Complexity in business – and how to solve it, I guess

December 27th, 2011 Comment 1

It’s a new world. A little bit more than it always is, in fact. No one can have failed to notice that we live in precarious times, with economic crises and environmental threats making life – and in consequence, business – much more uncertain than in previous decades. Hard, however, would not be all that troublesome in the long run. Hard is graspable, solvable, manageable. You work hard to solve a hard problem, that’s conveniently understandable and, well, linear. This is the worrying part: the world is more complex and unpredictable.

For example, in a recent Harvard Business Review article, economists Gökçe Sargut and Rita Gunther McGrath claims that in the last thirty years, complexity has

[…] gone from something found mainly in large systems, such as cities, to something that affects almost everything we touch: the products we design, the jobs we do every day, and the organizations we oversee.
(Sargut & Gunther McGrath 2011: 70)

Complex does not, of course, just mean complicated. It involves the transition from chain to network, from separate to interconnected and interdependent systems. Business is then, to use the terminology of Karl Popper, not a clock anymore, it is a cloud.

It is apparent then, that the tried and trusted way of thinking about business does not work anymore. It is, essentially, broken. We need another way of approaching business problems, one that is more attuned to this complexity. Especially when we’re doing entrepreneurial things. (Yes, I know. Me too, I have a deep-rooted aversion towards the Entrepreneur with a capital E. Megalomaniac characters balancing between having great networking skills and sociopathy. Smug technophiles with the capacity for reflective thinking like that of a Giant Schnauzer. And so on. However. Contrary to popular belief, entrepreneurial ventures does not have to include this unsavoury figure.) Entrepreneurial in the sense of starting something, but also to reinvent or revolutionize an existing business – by for example launching new products, finding new markets, or changing organizational models. And it is in exactly this search for change, for revolution, that existing business models fail to perform in a world of uncertainty and intricacy. This is where another line of thinking is needed.

But what does work, then? What line of thinking can actually help navigating in an uncertain, fast, difficult world? A couple of years ago, design thinking claimed it was it. And I felt towards it in varying ways going through the same process I often do: (1) Infatuation (in this case fuelled by the efficient trick of the Common Enemy – taunting MBAs was very clever). (2) Followed by a growing sense of belonging to a club where less intelligent people sit around collecting buzz words as if they were stamps. (3) General hostility.

But, I’ve decided to be reasonable. I’m not convinced that a designer can come up with the solution to world starvation better than someone who actually knows something about it, simply by being seemingly magically creative. In fact, it is a bit too close to romanticism surrounding nature people. Another reason I’m not convinced is that I’ve been to design school, and every time we did a project that went farther than our actual field of competence, every idea we came up with was rather shitty.

But there are elements of design thinking that are better tools for dealing with clouds, rather than clocks. Better, that is, than the standard business school equipment.

Number one. Start using the whole of your brain.

That is, to approach business in the way that Roger Martin defines design thinking – as bringing together the best of analytic reasoning with the best of creative, emotional thinking.

Why this is needed to tackle complexity? Something the artist Dutch video artist Guido van der Werve told about what he has learnt from chess Grandmaster Leonid Yudasin might serve as an illustration. (I wrote about it once before.) The game of chess is, according to Yudasin, too complicated for a Grandmaster to learn all strategies and possible outcomes with his rational mind. Instead, they train their aesthetic sensibility; they look for what feels and looks “right” to them.

This part of the brain copes with those complex and quite mathematical chess problems much better than the rational part, in the Grandmasters’ experience. Clearly something that suggests that all ways of thinking should be represented when trying to solve business problems.

Number two. Stop being so bloody linear.

Iteration, constantly refining and retuning your idea throughout the design process, is of course another  feature that separates design thinking from traditional business thinking. This seems even more fruitful as an approach when the world seems difficult to predict and complex. And it is in entrepreneurial undertakings like discovering new products and offerings that the unpredictability and complexity is the biggest challenge.

But surprisingly often, the traditional business process, that starts with planning and then goes on to execution and then has a little feedback arrow meekly attempting to make itself heard in the end, is taken for granted. It is, however, rather hopeless when everything changes constantly, and inconsistently. Dust yourself off and try again. Again and again.

At least, that’s worth a try.

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