technology

Binary Code

Facebook is in the process of updating its Newsfeed algo again so that we see more posts from friends and family, and less from ‘Pages’. Great news, except that when every person is media, and there is a limit to the pruning one can do, the feed will still consist of biases, prejudices, hoaxes, paid endorsements without disclosure, and yes, cat videos, Lincoln’s quotes on self driving cars, click bait and baby pics. My point above is less about filter failure and more about the continuing explosion of content and its distribution to set the context.

But now let’s talk about filters. The sheer volume of content means that (in general) the reader will want quickly digestible information before he/she moves on to the highly entertaining video waiting in line. Absolutely connected to ‘the demise of the middle ground in the attention economy‘. The article talks about nuance in political debate getting lost, but I think its reach extends beyond that. As this fantastic Guardian article “How technology disrupted the truth” states, “..everyone has their own facts“. But why do this happen? More

Information & Interfaces

I’m still stuck on the narrative of consumption – both on the intent and interest front, as I wrote in Intent, Interest & Internet Dominance, as well as on the interfaces through which it will happen, something I started writing on in Consumer- facing AI : Phase One.

In this era of abundant choice, a device I use when fighting battles with myself on personal consumption is the can-want-need framework. ‘Can’ is made increasingly easier now because of convenience, ‘want’ by the choices around, and sticking to ‘need’ is a very difficult task! I read a really good post which has mirrored this in the (consumer) technology space – “How Technology Hijacks People’s Minds…“. More

Brand Interfaces

A couple of months ago, I had written a post on the inevitable ambient future of what we now call the internet, and the role of AI in it. The post was mostly on the rapidly changing nature of interfaces. The ones we actively interact with – mobile, VR/AR, gesture/haptic based tech – and the relatively more ambient ones like a certain kind of wearables and IoT. In that post, the argument was that Google was best placed to tie together data from mobile, social, sensor, location etc and give it context with the help of AI. (Hello, Alphabet!) As this Wired post states, Google is not a search company, it is a machine learning company. Do read about Google Brain while you’re at it! It has a role in several Google products we use, and shows the potential of what is possible when machine learning really works on content surfacing.

But all that is only context setting. Something that has been occupying a lot of my mind space these days is the impact of these continuing developments on brand communication and distribution. For years, the limitations of traditional media have forced brands to communicate to lumpy masses of ‘target audiences’. As the internet transitions into a much more ambient an ubiquitous form, all of brand marketing will be digital either overtly or under the hood. But even digital’s early versions have been on the same path, with incremental changes based on intent/interest. That, I think, is about to change fast. This superb article on the same subject puts it really well – we need not simply digital strategies but strategies for a digital world. It also explores the technological and platform advances that will allow frictionless experiences for consumers and what it means for brands.  More

Inequality & Technology

A few weeks ago, I’d written about inequality and the role of meritocracy in shaping its future. Another related force, whose influence has been rising rapidly, is technology. I had written about it earlier in a post – Algorithms of Wealth – and my thoughts ended in at least three directions! At least two are relevant here. In the post, I had mentioned the abundance that The Second Machine Age promises and whether the disparity we see now is an inevitable step towards that. But I had also wondered whether any notion of sustained reduced disparity is a lost cause and that as we advance further, the gaps will keep widening.

A recent HBR article titled The Great Decoupling, based on an interview with the authors of The Second Machine Age, indicates that the authors themselves now believe in the second path – while digital technologies will help economies grow faster, not everyone will benefit equally. In my earlier post I had also brought up how I had hoped that the internet would be the great leveller, and my disillusionment since then when I realised that it created its own hierarchies. (on a related note, read) More

Memories & Consciousness

I was looking at the bookshelf a few days ago, and realised that though their relative position indicates they are among my favourites, I couldn’t recall some specific plot points and in some cases, even the ending, of some of the books! I was more than a little dismayed, but thankfully, found some solace in this post “How You Know“, specifically “Reading and experience train your model of the world. And even if you forget the experience or what you read, its effect on your model of the world persists.” It immediately set me thinking on the idea of consciousness and what technology can do to it, and it was a wonderful coincidence that the author too touched upon it towards the end of that post. But we’ll get to that in a bit.

Two nieces have ‘happened’ to me in the recent past, :) and I have clocked a few hours with them. The older one is just over a year old and is in general, a happy child. In my erm, ‘conversations’ with her during her stay with us, I have wondered what she perceives of the world around her. This was probably influenced by the fact that I had just finished reading Michio Kaku’s “The Future of the Mind” (must read!) and the four levels (starts at zero – plants) of consciousness. The final level, where humans are, are distinguished because of self awareness, and our understanding of time – specifically the enormous amount of feedback loops. This allows us to simulate, in our mind, possible future situations, and go beyond instinct and even emotions.

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Changing brandscapes

Recently, I was part of an interesting round table discussion organised by afaqs and IBM around “Technology in Marketing“. While we did stick to the subject, in my mind, I was also wondering about the impact this (topic) was  having on the idea of brand. It has been only 4 years since I had last held a brand job, (I left TOI in 2010) but I can safely say that the landscape has changed massively. A few thoughts –

Time: The cycles of brand building have been massively reduced. This is not a 2010 phenomenon, but to give you some perspective, in that year Flipkart was just venturing beyond books and hardly the well known brand it is now. Zomato was a ‘promising startup’ according to a list made by the Smart Techie magazine and had just expanded beyond a single city. The flip side is that some of the other startups in that list no longer exist. AlooTechie, which reported this, also does not exist. I had a Nokia E series phone then, and they are pretty much a non entity now. In short, that word – change, and it’s faster than ever! It is said that brands get built over time, but do business cycles allow that liberty now?

Geography: A cliche used frequently is “Geography is history”, but a little incident reminded me that it may not altogether be true. One of the regular conversations these days is around taxi rentals and Uber is a favourite among many of my friends. I casually asked them whether they knew of the heavy rap Uber was getting in the US for remarks allegedly made by a senior VP. (alternate perspective) They didn’t, and it isn’t as though they don’t consume news online. They missed it amidst all the ‘noise’. While a brand may be global, how much does its international stature impact regional preferences, even in this hyper connected era?

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Culture Architecture

Despite several posts on ‘culture‘, of the four Ps I’d mentioned in the Agile @ Scale post, ‘People’ is a topic that has gotten the least attention here in the recent past. As the change imperative forces organisations to be more responsive to rapidly changing external dynamics, the structures, processes and methods it had adopted for its internal stakeholders will most likely have to change as well. Jobs in earlier era were well defined constructs, but this era requires employees to work far beyond their job description in order to thrive. (“Why We Need to Change the Software in our Organisations“) It is probably not a coincidence that the four organisations that are defining the larger contours of business and technology are also the most favoured employers.

The task is not easy. On one hand, there is a workforce that is increasingly getting overwhelmed by communication technologies that are dictating an always-on culture. (“Why you hate work.”) On the other hand, there is a new generation entering the workforce that has expectations of a culture tuned to their lifestyle and ways of functioning. They rapidly disengage if they feel this is no happening. In both cases, the end result is a loss in productivity. This is only one part of the story. There are several factors that define culture, and in an organisation, there are several factors that resist change as well.  How does an organisation adapt to these dynamics? A few thoughts, some strategic, some tactical. More

The Art of Live In

I borrowed the title from a post I wrote nine years ago on live in relationships. We have come quite a way since then, but I am also seeing an evolution in this narrative. I call it the same narrative because fundamentally it challenges the institution of marriage as we know it. The way I see it, marriage was an evolutionary necessity – as a relatively structured process of procreation, and thereby organising society. The words below are from a work of fiction based on the life of the Buddha, it would seem that neither is it far from truth nor have things changed much.

Sid

So why is this institution primed for ‘disruption’ now?

Technology is one factor. The family unit made sense when younger members of the species had to be protected. As AI advances, maybe a family unit will not be necessary for safety or security. Technology also might play a hand in the physiological aspects, more on that in a bit. As I mentioned in an earlier post (Emotion As A Service) marriage is as much a transactional relationship as an emotional one. To paraphrase Scott Adams,  (fromthe internet has allowed us to have a barter economy of relationships….a virtual spouse comprised of a dozen separate relationships

The second factor – advances in medicine and increasing lifespans. Imagine living up to 150. The ‘life partner’ that you chose when you were a carefree 20 year old may not be the one you’d want to have fireside conversations with in your middle age – 95. Interests, outlook, worldview, personality etc change with time. Maybe you’d be living in different cities at different stages. 

Another factor I’d consider is depleting resources – these may be natural, (on a larger scale) and economic (on an individual scale) (any thing else you can think of?) These might force the species to rethink the institution, even though it seems hardwired into the brain by now. 

I can already see several paths diverging from this point. Robots as companions for the aged is a fast developing area, it could be used for young ones in future. In a physiological context,  though we might not be there yet, s3x with robots is a distinct possibility by 2025. There’s bound to be a learning curve, but hey! 

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In a relationship context, The Atlantic had a long article on polyamory, including perspectives on how society sees them, and the challenges involved. I was actually more surprised when Bangalore Times carried an article on the subject on its front page recently. The point here is that it is getting mainstream attention, arguably the first step in societal acceptance of units that are radically different from the traditional family. Even children with DNA from three parents might soon overcome legal hurdles and become an accepted practice.  

With all these paths, and many more, the institution of marriage might become one of the many options available. Some communities might hold on to it – as a tradition. But as time progresses, both individuals and society will undergo not just transformations on the outside, but in mindset as well.  After all, isn’t evolution just a logical response to a creature’s living environment? If it is, once the evolutionary necessity has passed, even this tradition might just fade away.  

(The views expressed above are just the author’s attempts at intellectuality, and do not represent his actuality. He hopes he doesn’t have to sleep outside!) 

until next time, along came poly! 

Agile @ Scale

Prelude

I think I used ‘dis-aggregated social network‘ on this blog for the first time in 2009, referring to Google’s basket of services that were connected relatively flimsily then. IMO, Google has always been that way, even including Google+. (read) I remembered it when I tweeted this about Facebook – around the time news of their Fan Audience Network started trickling in.

It got me thinking (again) on ‘scale’, a recurring theme here. In a less complicated world, where the trends in the business landscape were significantly more linear, (growth, competition, consumption, economy) scale was a powerful weapon to wield. But it’s a different world now. Artificial Intelligence, 3D Printing, Internet of Things, Wearables  and a hundred other things might completely disrupt the status quo and the need an incumbent brand satisfies. These are the known ones, and then there are the conceptually invisible (at this point) ones. Surviving (let alone thriving) in this shifting scenario requires agility, and it is difficult (though not impossible) to see scale and agility together. I looked to Google and Facebook for an approach towards this because not only are they surviving, they seem to be thriving. Yes, we’ll get to Amazon in a while.

What does it take to be agile at scale? I can think of four ingredients, the last three repurposed from the title of this post by JP Rangaswami.

Purpose

I remember talking about re-defining of scale at the Dachis Social Business Summit. The thrust of the presentation was that brands could engage consumers at scale only if they use currencies that create value for the user in the context of a shared purpose. I have elaborated it in this post at Medianama. Recently, I saw that Hugh MacLeod has brought it out beautifully here. Simply put

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Possibilities

The purpose need not have one constant rendition. As the landscape changes, a business will need to adapt it to suit changing circumstances. For that, a business needs to understand the possibilities. I saw a very good line in this post about being a maker – the more you work in the future, the less competition you will have. How much into the future a business needs to be working is subjective and depends on its dynamics, but if it doesn’t disrupt itself, someone else will gladly do it for them. (“The Jeff Bezos School of Long-Term Thinking” is a good read in this context)

Platforms

While purpose and possibilities are all good at high altitudes, a business also needs strong operational  platforms to back it up. As organisations scale, I have seen two things that affect agility. One, the processes that are introduced to create efficiency @ scale more often than not, become the goal instead of a means, slowing things down and taking away from actual goals. Two, as processes and manpower increase, silos are created. The good news is that it is easy to see technology platforms bringing more efficiency into processes as well as an iterative way of thinking in the near future. It is already happening in marketing. This, and many other factors are also dictating a consumer experience driven approach and are forcing organisations to break silos. As the entire brand/organisation becomes a platform (read) that regularly revisits its context and purpose in the life of a consumer, ‘everything becomes a node on the network

People

HuffPo had a post sometime back, citing Zappos, calling 2014 the year of workplace reinvention. It is interesting to note that parent company Amazon has apparently aped Zappos’ ‘pay to quit’ policy, even as more and more stories about working there being a ‘soul crushing experience‘ are coming out. Meanwhile, the two points it mentioned for this to happen are purpose and trust. These I’d say are the bedrock of culture. It’s intuitive that a workforce mindful of the organisation’s purpose and their role in it would keep an eye out for the business’ possibilities, be ready to work beyond silos towards a great consumer experience, and bring in others who would help the business scale. This, along with purpose, has to be the glue that holds it all together, enabling the organisation to move fast without cracking.

While different sectors are at disparate distances from a radical shift necessitated by technological developments, it is, I think, inevitable. In this fantastic post titled ‘Knowledge is faster than mortar‘, which looks at scale through a different lens, the author makes the point that ‘the old mechanisms don’t fit the new social structure.Old mechanisms were built to scale stability, new ones will have to be built to scale despite instability. Anti-fragile, so to speak. Indeed, we will see many manifestations as existing structures try to adapt – internal mechanisms like Amazon’s 2 pizza rule, consumer facing disaggregation like Facebook that have a corresponding internal wiring, or brands tweaking their 4Ps even further for different contexts. But whatever paths businesses choose, this will hold true

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until next time, the fast and the curious

Brand, Marketing – 2014 and beyond

These are not really trends or predictions, it’s more a set of drivers and their impact on the domain of brand marketing.

Technology: Disruption is an abused word, but I think technology is the biggest disruption that marketing has experienced. Yes, it has been so every time a new medium cropped up, but this wave is special. In this largish bucket, I’m dumping everything from the Internet of Things (IoT, which, in addition to really smarter devices and spaces, will also, I hope, give the entire domain of social a reboot) to 3D printing (HP’s entry, scheduled for mid 2014, should push this further in the mainstream journey) to wearable tech/techsessories (Google Glass is the poster boy, though development is happening on various fronts) to Social TV. (a classic example of how social adds itself as a layer to existing media platforms and augments it)  I also add to this the advancements in devices – specifically mobile, which is already forcing marketers to quickly rework their strategy to adapt. The reason I used the word disruption is because by fostering a new kind of phenomenon like say, the collaborative economy, and getting ready to challenge traditional manufacturing, technology is going beyond its role as an enabler and changing brand experiences.

Marketing Technology: While the first point was about technology in a relatively generic sense, this is is about the application of technology and associated tools in the marketing domain. This is everything from marketing automation to web content management to advertising technology and so many, many more things which will probably make a move towards mainstream in 2014. This very popular image would give you a vastness of this domain. With the kind of data that phenomena like IoT and wearable tech will spew out, and the levels of customisation that customers expect, everyone, across domain would have to at least attempt Amazonian levels of efficiency.  Also, increasingly, technology will help us integrate offline with digital. (example)

We can scream buzzword, but big data exists, and we’re only taking baby steps towards harnessing it. I can already see the first levels of it in social media advertising, where intelligent tools and dashboards allow not just better and real time targeting but also better analytics on everything from planning to attribution, to aid decision making. Extrapolate this to multiple media platforms, devices, delivery channels within each and think of the possibilities. I think the domain will move much faster because of two reasons – one, the fragmentation of marketing channels and the impossibility of managing it with only manpower resources, and two, the marketer’s ROI obsession. To quote Scott Brinker, “software is the new fabric of marketing” I see the ‘big’ in big data moving on two paths simultaneously – qualitatively big that would help in personalisation, and quantitatively big that would help in scaling. (mass customisation for larger audience sets, better targeted)

Agile Marketing: Yes, we have borrowed it from the software development guys. No, it’s not really new, nor is it surprising because if marketing is getting a technology influx, it is only obvious that software processes might be a good way to approach marketing. Everything that I have written above will ensure that by design or not, marketers will increasingly be forced to adopt this methodology as the days of predictable media platforms draw to a close. In a dynamic business environment, where new platforms are popping up regularly, and even known platforms are changing their rules constantly, the only way to cope, let alone thrive, would be to run various simulations continuously,  iterate and develop incrementally, break silos and communicate effectively, and have flexible frameworks that can be more responsive to the speed of the change cycles.  What I hope to see this year – at least at an early stage – are software/tools that are customised to the requirements of marketing. But irrespective of that, get ready to sprint! (read more)

Promotainment: Roughly, the phenomenon formerly known as advertising. Thanks to everything above, creativity will need to be channeled differently. In YouTube’s top trends for 2013, three branded videos managed to capture a place for themselves. But this only covers part of the story. Mere entertainment will not be enough to bond with the consumer, for sufficient pull to happen, brands will have to define a purpose (business and beyond) that will resonate with consumers, and treat it differently according to contexts. These contexts could be platforms, locations, topical opportunities and a host of other things, with each experience adding to the perceptions of the consumer. Experiences and ‘content’ need to be created for each of these contexts, and brands need to reboot the way they handle communication. (The Making of a Content Brand) The other key player in this mix is privacy – everything from transience (eg. Snapchat) to the ‘negotiation’ with consumers on what information they share to get what benefit. Customisation as per contexts and audiences and yet cohesive within the larger purpose framework. Not an easy challenge. (A wonderful take on this, and more from Vyshnavi Doss – Brand Avatars)

Marketing Organisation: I came across the fascinating Big Shift concept and the three ‘waves‘ – foundation, flow and impact – only recently. The third wave is how organisations respond to the fundamental shifts in knowledge and the flow of information that are characteristic of the first two waves. While this is a larger institutional shift, its impact will also felt in the structure of the marketing organisation. Add to this, the transformation required for agile methodologies and a fundamentally different content marketing process, and the existing marketing silos have no choice but to evolve. Technologists, ROI drivers, specialists in different kinds of brand experiences – real time, real (offline) and otherwise, data wizards to analyse the tons of data streaming in, CRM folks, creative people and many more will be part of this new structure that realigns the marketing domain to fit the new business landscape dynamics. (a good illustration)

These subjects, and in my mind, one of its results –  social business – will form the majority of this blog’s content in 2014. We’re at the cusp of an extremely interesting era in brand marketing, thanks to radical shifts in pretty much everything happening around us – what I keep referring to as institutional realignment. Here’s to an exciting year ahead!

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 until next time, have a wonderful 2014!