Snapchat

Wallet Wars

Recently, thanks to Uber having to comply with RBI regulations, I was forced to introduce myself to Paytm. The entire signing up episode reminded me of a post I had written in early 2014 – “The overhaul of currency“, though that dwelt more on the broad changes and implications rather than the functional aspects. Mobile payment systems have been on a fast evolutionary path for a while now. (a bit dated, but I found this infographic to be a good primer)

I also remembered a Seth Godin post from 2009 that called Twitter a protocol. On the web, the subsequent discussion then was that just as we were transferring links and messages on the platform, we would soon be transferring money too. That took a while coming though – it was only in late 2014 that Twitter released a payment service.  A week before that, a hacked screenshot had begun rumours of Facebook’s Messenger having the wherewithal for money transfer. But they were both late entrants in a market that was already crowded with the likes of Paypal, Google, banks, credit card companies and so on. Apple Pay would join later. More

Social Nextworks

The impending death of Orkut (2004-2014) made me think of the evolution of social networking and its transience. Orkut lived ‘only’ for 10.5 years, and this is despite being part of Google, though some would call that a disadvantage. Facebook  has been around for the same time, and the fact that it is a force to reckon with is a testament of its understanding of this transience. It also explains the acquisition of Instagram, Whatsapp and the attempt on Snapchat.

However, I recently realised that I am probably more active on Whatsapp, Instagram and Pinterest than Facebook and Twitter. I am also reasonably active on Secret. That made me dig a bit deeper.

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What is changing? From my observations, there are at least two factors that are driving the change.

Perspectives on connectivity: The early era was fueled by the need to connect. Facebook is soaring well beyond a billion users, and its longevity is (also) because the need still exists. It continues to look for better ways to do this, manifested through front end and back end changes. But despite this, and my own curation of my newsfeed by sending signals to Facebook, I am regularly overwhelmed by the volume. This goes for Twitter too. Personally, I have treated these platforms as a means of self expression. I would also like to choose the people whose perspectives I want, and who are entitled to a judgment, if any. But that’s not so easily done on popular platforms.

That’s when I start to look at the many ways to handle this – from social networks to messaging apps. I could go to where the crowds are relatively less and/or are more ‘focused’ – by domain or use cases, (LinkedIn, Pinterest, Instagram) I could interact with smaller groups, (WhatsApp) use ephemerality (Snapchat) or be anonymous (Secret) As I mentioned, at least three of these work for me. A wonderful nuance I caught in Mitch Joel ‘s prophetic ‘The Next Big Thing Online Could Well Be Anonymity‘, is that it may not just be ‘something to hide’ that makes some prefer anonymity, but it could also be so that ‘who they are will not become a focal point within that discussion’. Anonymity on the web is not new, but many of its enablers are.

Devices: The networks of an earlier era (eg.Facebook) were made for desktop and had to adapt for mobile. On the other hand, Instagram, Whatsapp, Secret, Snapchat etc are mobile natives. Given the increasing ubiquity of smartphones, their growth is not surprising.

What are the possible business models and what’s a brand to do? As more and more users flock to these new platforms, they would need to mature, with business models which could mean associations with brands – the journey from social network to social media.

Instagram and Pinterest are already social media, making advertising at least one of their revenue sources. WhatsApp does not like advertising and already makes money on downloads. Its competitors like Line, KakaoTalk, WeChat etc, however, have found various other means – virtual items, (stickers, in app purchases in free video games) promotional messages, baby steps in electronic payment handling fees, and interesting tie-ups. Snapchat already has many marketers on it and is likely to offer promotion options too, probably tied to a time bound event.

Secret has a lot of negativity surrounding it – s3x talk and startup malice and being just a fad – and there are comparisons to Formspring and its demise despite funding. But beyond advertising and in app puchases, maybe, there’s also potential for insights on a brand and its use cases? Things that cannot be found on indexed platforms. Also, Whisper already has a content deal with Buzzfeed.

Analytics for such platforms haven’t even really begun yet, but it can’t be far away. But more importantly, all of these platforms are potential enablers for a brand to take forward its narrative and become relevant to its users. It continues to be about storytelling, and digital.

Brand, Journalism, Marketing

A few months ago, in The Future Of Owned Media and Can media become social enough?, I’d written about a marketplace model that would connect journalists and ‘buyers’. More recently, I saw an article about Contently raising a round of funding to work on its stated objective – connect freelance journalists and writers with nontraditional publishers, such as brands, agencies, nonprofits, and new media companies. These organizations use Contently’s technology to commission projects, such as sponsored articles, infographics, and blog posts.

Like I’ve tweeted before, journalism is definitely in need of a business model. Media (with advertising) is arguably not the best bet now, because of various reasons. Digital has allowed brands to create their own media platforms (blogs, websites) and social has enabled them to (at least) broadcast it themselves, without a dependency on traditional media. Frank Strong, in a post titled ‘Why Content Marketing is the new Branding‘, rightly states that content is currency. It not only builds perception, but enables us to transact with consumers, keep a conversation going, and at some point, achieve a certain business outcome.

However, except for campaigns, marketing collateral etc, brands have never really required/produced ‘content’ on a regular basis, and thus they are not wired for it. But content marketing obviously requires sustainable quality content, and that’s where brand journalism can play a part. I’d come across the term ‘brand journalism’ first on this post in early 2013 – ‘The Role of Brand Journalism in Content Marketing‘ – where it is defined as “research, storytelling and reporting for a non-media company, in that company’s line of business, with the goal of thought leadership.” (Erica Swallow) There’s a media vs non-media debate in the post, but my little tiff with the definition is that ‘thought leadership’ is rather limiting. There might be other business objectives/outcomes. Unless we’re talking of a leadership among the consumer’s thoughts. (share of mind)

Meanwhile, in addition to a structured way like Contently, I can see brands already doing other forms of brand journalism. (used loosely) I’d classify blogger outreach, guest Twitterers, all under this, because the brand is using a content creator’s contextual reputation to enhance its own standing. The latest example I saw was quite fantastic – teen retailer Wet Seal ‘handing over’ its Snapchat account to MissMeghanMakeup (aged 16) who has quite a social following on various platforms. (via) To note that this is not Miss Meghan’s only client!

I can paint a rather utopian win-win-win picture with this – brands with a purpose that has a social-societal perspective, journalists, who have created trust and a reputation of their own, who can identify with the brand’s purpose and who can write honestly (with disclosure) and consumers, who get to know more about the brands they align with through superb narratives created by these journalists. (among other storytellers) But I’d be surprised if it pans out this way anytime soon.

It will have its challenges, but most of it is when we try to fit this method into the ‘containers of the past’. Its potential to succeed is because it offers much for all stakeholders. Journalists will have the option to be authentic in their writing, and give full disclosure because they’re not tied to the (traditional) media aspect. (newspapers/channels with their own business interests) Brands can be transparent about who has been commissioned to produce their content, and can use paid, owned media to promote it. Consumers get an interesting mix of narrators. It is a shift because the players (Brand, PR, journalists, media platforms) and/or their roles (production, distribution) will transform, but I do think brand journalism (a type of content) + marketing stands a chance.

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until next time, to better brand stories

To be a content brand

I had a bit of an epiphany when I read this superbly written post on Snapchat and the nuances of storytelling. In my last post on the utility of a brand, I had pretty much glossed over ‘delivery’ because it was one part of a larger framework. (and a post that kept getting longer after I began writing!) While determining the larger purpose of the brand and its ‘job’ in a consumer’s life is important, it is also equally necessary to ‘deliver’ this to the consumer in relevant contexts, especially because we live in a world which has not fully learnt to combat  ‘filter failure’. I think ‘content’ strategy has a large role to play in this.

The corporate narrative, referred to in the last post, is a constant work in progress and I fully agree that over a period of time, it will deliver all the advantages that the post mentions, but I do have a couple of different perspectives on the ‘narrative vs stories’ points in it. One, I think stories contribute to the larger narrative (either by collectively forming one or adding to an existing one) and probably don’t deserve to be separated from it. Two, I believe that stories are the devices which make the corporate narrative relevant to the consumer by adding context. This is even more pertinent because narratives are rarely linear in the way they are consumed now. Even not advertising is content that would influence perceptions.

The brand narrative

A brand’s narrative is no longer one that is broadcast to a user base that the brand considers its audience. In fact, thanks to the internet and then social, only a few contexts are now dictated by the brand, the rest of the narrative (in the consumer’s mind) is built by his/her ‘experiences and the best a brand can do is aim for cohesion. The consumer seeks/finds a need that the brand fills in his/her life. This need can be anything along Maslow’s hierarchy, and more. This, I think, is where stories play a crucial part, because the more the stories- from brands or other users – the more contexts a consumer finds to fit the brand into his/her life stream.

The narrative of a brand in a consumer’s life is fluid, and it is cohesive stories that will define its evolution. It has probably always been so, but the explosion of self publishing has meant that brands have to not just get heard above competitors, but the user’s stream on various platforms too. The fluid narrative also means that the big idea every quarter (or year) is no longer enough. (or necessary, though that is debatable) It takes a ton of stories to build a perception and get a community to interact with the brand. But when they do, there is potential for magic. (ask Ikea) It also, only takes a whiff of controversy for it to be forgotten. This calls for an adaptive, agile methodology and some solid content structures that the brand can use to frame user contexts.

Surprisingly, there is good news

The good news is that social platforms do offer a better way to customise delivery according to a user need. That we still use these to broadcast and target according to pre determined audience segments is the beginning of bad news. But at some point when the race to mould the day’s popular social platforms to the existing paradigms of marketing segmentation ends courtesy saturation, hopefully ad tech will move more solidly towards delivering content and experiences that are an answer to the user’s needs. IBM’s trait tattoo based on tweets is a start. Further good news is that thanks to Facebook and Twitter, brands are slowly realising the need to create content that goes beyond broadcast. They are being forced to balance business agendas with the user’s needs.

But, wait

The bad news for marketers is that platforms are exploding and each has its own milieu. The content objectives and strategy are essentially different because user contexts change between platforms and even within it according to time. Right now reach trumps relevance thanks to the measurement parameters of an earlier era, but I’m guessing that will change soon as everyone begins to do the same thing on Facebook and Twitter. Further bad news is that marketing is not really structured or resourced for the changed communication scenario.

Probably the worst news is the mindset and I have seen at least a few fundamental challenges to begin with, in addition to a few myths. One, brands still have the communication baggage of an earlier era. This manifests itself in a campaign based approach, the quest for perfection, the endless approval cycles, and a broadcast flavour to every piece of content, among other things. Two, thanks to Red Bull, everyone wants to get wings and start flying on the first day, as if there is a user waiting to hear the banality that is about to be uttered. It takes months to experiment and get a sense of the fitment of the content’s function (business needs with the objective to inform/entertain/inspire/persuade… the user), its form, (blog posts, tweet, FB post, videos, infographic, polls etc) flavour, (tonality) and frequency (timing) that will appeal to various users in various contexts – what is referred to as the ‘voice of the brand’. The last is the application of measurement parameters that were built for an earlier marketing framework.

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However, all of this is part of the evolution, and given that the learning curve gets steeper by the day, brands will have no other choice but to catch up. The flip side is to be irrelevant, and no brand can afford it.

until next time, discontentment

P.S. function, form, flavour, frequency make 4 Fs. One more for F5. (refresh)