I thought I understood the internet. I’m older than the damn thing and I’ve been using it since I was knee-high to a grasshopper. Back then it was a hip, edgy, slightly obscure body of information that came into homes over a phone line, much like characters in the Matrix. Now it has become something more like Obi-Wan’s description of the Force, an invisible energy that surrounds and binds all living things.
Communicating long distances over the internet is not a new idea, but it used to be done in via ICQ or chat room or AOL Instant Messenger, by someone sitting alone in a dimly lit room. The advent of wireless internet and social media allowed people to take that aloneness out with them, socializing with everyone in the world except the people actually around them. Apple’s world conquest of the early 2000’s culminated in the unspoken Mobile Mandate: that all proper individuals must acquire and abide smartphones and tablets . We are currently undergoing a paradigm shift in delivery and consumption of content: Web 2.o, the long-awaited sequel to the cyberpunk classic Hackers.
The game is changing, but not just for how content is delivered and consumed. How content is financed is a considerable question of the Web 2.o revolution. Users are becoming tempered against internet ads, but generating revenue solely through subscription service has never before been an economically viable practice in any medium. The game is changing significantly for advertising, as a result. Now, more than ever advertisers and marketers must recognize that advertisement must provide a value to the consumer. This can be entertainment value, aesthetic value, or practical utility.
Humor and catchy visuals are nothing new to the game, but emerging mobile technologies are enriching new media and presenting myriad unexplored means of creating engaging brand experiences. The same technologies are making the world smaller and more connected. Today, interactivity is the benchmark for engagement. Users want to feel their connection to a brand validated through social interaction, not just with other users, but with the voice of the brand, itself.
Users want to be friends with a brand, and brands absolutely (or absolutely should) want to be friends with users. So, what is it, then that friends do? We talk and listen, we play games, we ask favors of one another. These are the ways that successful brands are connecting with users. Blogging, microblogging, and other self-publishing tools open the door for two-way communication. Users hear the brand speak in a more conversational tone, they actually can have a conversation. Gamification incentivizes interaction. At a base level, games incentivize brand interaction by making it fun, gameplay dynamics and prizes only compound the effect. Crowdsourcing draws on user contributions to achieve a daunting task, provides benefit for all, and gains feedback. It can be framed in a number of ways, from a call for assistance to a chance to contribute, or even compete for recognition. Talk with users, not at them or to them, and they will listen. Do with them, and they will stick with you.
As users become wary of traditional advertising formats on any platform, rich interactive experiences that social media facilitate are crucial. Games like #SCVNGR make brands seem like they are interested in consumer interactions that transcend the exchange of goods and services for legal tender. Furthermore, as the voice of the individual grows louder and that of the marketer fades, the word-of-mouth interaction facilitated by social media grows exponentially in significance and value. The little man is not so little anymore. Word-of-mouth now travels faster than sound and one never knows who is listening. A bad review falling on the right, or wrong, ears can be a kiss of death. Modern brands are a glass house. The internet is a deep quarry.
I thought I understood a lot of things about the internet and technology. Then I took a class on digital branding for my Master’s program. I learned more than this infant blog can express. Of course I learned all the things I have been writing, but I learned much more. Most importantly, I learned a lot about myself. I learned that I love this. I learned that I get it, that I am developing a knack for incorporating these technologies into developing strong brands. So even when Web 3.o becomes the medium for the tablet embedded into my forehead, and all of this changes, I know that I can adapt, stay on top, and will still get it.
Thanks a lot Lance and Alex.