Razorfish Scatter/Gather blog a cultural bond for employees

Who says a corporate blog has to be bland and impersonal?

A group of Razorfish employees recently launched a blog known as Scatter/Gather, written for people who live in the somewhat esoteric world of content strategy — which is basically the process of “ideating, organizing, and cultivating” web content (video, links, tags, metadata, etc.).

When I first heard of Scatter/Gather, I must admit I wondered how interesting a blog about content strategy could be.  But then I started to explore the cool entries.  For instance, a post by Scatter/Gather co-editor Matt Geraghty offers a useful critique of LaLa.com, a musical downloading service.  And contributor Rob Stribley discusses the controversy around paid blog reviews.

Matt Geraghty and co-editor Bob Maynard spent time with me explaining why Scatter/Gather exists and how it works.  Some key points from the discussion:

  • About 10 people contribute to Scatter/Gather, and the list is growing as more Razorfish employees learn about the blog.  At first, the Scatter/Gather team issued a call for contributors in the Northeast region of Razorfish, where they work.  But in Matt’s words, “Some people in the Razorfish West region we didn’t even know have asked to sign up.”
  • The obvious benefit to having a team blog is that a group of people can contribute ideas without any single person becoming overwhelmed by the need to blog all the time.  But, one interesting benefit of the group blog is that it has a bonding effect among Razorfish employees.  According to Bob, “Scatter/Gather brings content strategists together.  As Razorfish gets bigger, sharing ideas becomes more difficult.” Scatter/Gather gives the company’s like-minded thinkers (who might not otherwise have the chance to work together) a forum for idea sharing.
  • By design, Scatter/Gather is playful and fresh, with bright graphics, crisp writing, and snappy headlines.  A Microsposts section consists of brief links to provocative and useful ideas.  Says Bob, “We hope Scatter/Gather will expand the idea of what a corporate blog can do.  I think there needs to be a playful element to make Scatter/Gather interesting.  The last thing the world needs is a corproate blog that is read by five people.”

Other corporate agency blogs that don’t look very corporate include Three Minds by Organic; Signal vs. Noise by 37signals; and, from Razorfish, Headlight, FEED: The Digital Design Blog, and Amnesia Razorfish.

Let me know what you think of them.  And congratulations to the Scatter/Gather team.

This is what brand love looks like

If you are a fan of the television program The Office, I don’t need to explain the photo above.  You have to hand it to the creators of The Office: how many television shows do you know of whose fans willingly deface government property to spread around its in-jokes?  Oh, and there’s also the YouTube “That’s what she said” joke montage. Or the collection of “That’s what she said” jokes on Twitter.

That’s what I call brand love — authentic and communal.  You cannot force this kind of  loyalty; it has to be earned over a period of time, when a real following can take hold.  Where have you seen real brand love lately?

Art of the idea

In a recent blog post I mentioned that a recession is the right time to innovate.  Looks like BusinessWeek agrees.  The March 23-30 issue, “Game-Changing Ideas for Business,” highlights breakthrough business ideas that have emerged during tough times when companies need new ways to manage and grow.  In the article “There Is No More Normal,” BusinessWeek discusses how Cisco innovated during the dot-com crash and emerged from the recession “more profitable than ever and went on to outperform many tech rivals.”

You can innovate and deliver results now.  For instance, the Emerging Experiences team from my employer Razorfish is researching ways that computer screens can interpret human gestures like the wave of a hand or touch of a finger (commonly known as gestural interface design).  The latest Emerging Experiences research, DaVinci, explores the application of Surface in commercial environments.  But these are not pie-in-the-sky ideas.  In 2008, Razorfish helped AT&T create the world’s first retail application of Surface at AT&T wireless stores, where Surface helps AT&T sales people demonstrate wireless phone capabilities in a more fun, interactive way.  Following the pilot launch in New York, AT&T now has 50 Surface tables operating in 12 stores.


DaVinci (Microsoft Surface Physics Illustrator) from Razorfish – Emerging Experiences on Vimeo.

Similarly, at the Razorfish Living Lab in New York, Razorfish employees have created Carville, which uses Surface tables to show you how learning about automobiles at a car dealer can be fun and educational.  Inside the Living Lab, Razorfish designers experiment with ways in which people and technology interact. Past Living Lab projects have focused on the connected living room and digital youth.  It’s a place where clients can envision how technologies can help them succeed — not tomorrow, but today.


Carville – A Razorfish Surface Application from Bryan Hamilton on Vimeo.

AT&T isn’t the only Razorfish client that’s using gestural interface design to innovate during a recession.  Recently Dockers worked with Razorfish and OMD to design the world’s first “shakeable” ad designed for an iPhone.  On your iPhone, a model appears wearing Dockers khakis, and you can make him dance by shaking your phone.  It’s a good example of where advertising is headed — physically involving the consumer through a playful experience.  Dockers can also track consumer engagement by seeing how long people shake the ad (and then follow up with more content).

At the 9th annual Razorfish Client Summit April 21-23, Razorfish will showcase its Marketing Lab as we do at each Client Summit.  The theme of the 2009 Client Summit is “Art of the Idea,” and the Marketing Lab is one of the ways Razorfish will show our clients what we mean by that.  At the lab, Razorfish will feature three “slice of life” vignettes to demonstrate the impact of digital on everyday life.  For instance, the Home Entertainment vignette will show you consumers can interact with a 30-second ad on TV.  And in the Retail vignette, we’ll demonstrate how consuemrse can use digital to locate goods and services more effectively in a store.

Razorfish clients like AT&T and Dockers aren’t waiting for the recession to end in order to innovate.  Many of them will appear at the Client Summit, and some of them — like Ford, Intel, Levi Strauss & Co., Mattel, McDonalds, Nike, and Terra — will share their experiences on the agenda.

What’s the best example you’ve seen of a company using an economic downturn to innovate?

Razorfish publishes 2009 Digital Outlook Report

The fifth annual Digital Outlook Report, published today by my employer Razorfish, feels more relevant than ever.  Razorfish issues the DOR to help marketers make smarter decisions about where to make their digital media spend.  And in a recession, marketers are under more pressure to justify how they spend those dollars. As I reviewed the contents of the 2009 DOR, I saw the following themes emerge.  Consider the rest of this blog post to be your executive summary of the 2009 DOR:

1. Portals continue to lose their grip.

When Razorfish first published the DOR five years ago, the question of where to allocate one’s online media spend wasn’t all that difficult in hindsight.  “Digital spend” pretty much meant an investment into the web as a single channel dominated by a handful of portals.  And no one had ever heard of social media.

But that exotic and sometimes confounding creature known as the consumer has a way of sneaking up on marketers and changing our understanding of digital.  Today, Razorfish’s media spend on behalf of our clients continues to scatter across the digital world like so many atomic particles. Why?  Because we’re reacting to a connected consumer who snacks on morsels of content on personal devices, social media sites, and niche video properties.  Today, portals’ share of our media spend has shrunk to 19 percent, while search accounts for 37 percent.  For more detail, please download your copy of the DOR and read the section, “Shifting Their Focus: A Look at 2008 Digital Ad  Spending by Razorfish Clients.”  (Please give your browser a minute to download this large file.  If you prefer reading a Flash version online, go here.  You can also get the report’s charts and graphs off flickr)

This chart depicts the Razorfish 2008 digital media spend

2.  Social media?  No — social influence.

And, of course, the consumer as social influencer has upset the apple cart, as Shiv Singh discusses in his DOR essay “Trends in Social Influence Marketing.”  Razorfish chooses the term “social influencer,” not social media, carefully.  While many marketers have obsessed over social media, the real disruptive power has come from the social influencers, and will continue to do so.  In fact, we see a third dimension of marketing emerging — Social Influence Marketing — in which the enterprise achieves its marketing and business goals through influencers.

Influencers and media are intertwined.  But it’s the influencers who have the ability to change one’s brand for better or worse.  The organizations that figure out how to listen to the voice of the influencer will build more organic and authentic brands as opposed to traditional brands created in top-down fashion.  We believe that more CEOs will become active in Twitter and Facebook as they respond to the pressure to understand how influencers are shaping their brands.  In fact, Razorfish has patented a tool, the Generational Tag, to help our clients track the value of social influence.  In the DOR, you’ll find more about the Generational Tag in an essay by Marc Sanford, “Social Media Measurement: What’s It Worth?”

This chart depicts the results of Razorfish research into the business value of social influence.  A widget obtained from a friend has a larger average order value and is downloaded more than a widget obtained organically through media.

Influencers underpin much of the DOR in other ways.  In the essay “Social Influence Research,” Andrea Harrison and Marcelo Marer ponder a new approach for involving social influencers in consumer research.  And Iain McDonald, founder of Amnesia Razorfish, offers an application of social object theory for marketing campaigns in his “Social Object Theory” essay.  (Incidentally, DOR authors were not asked to comment on social.  They were assigned the job of simply identifying their best ideas about the state of the art in digital marketing.  It’s interesting to note how much commentary on social bubbled up organically.)

3. The rise of the long tail of TV

TV is alive and well, but the viewing experience is morphing from individuals watching 57 channels on a box to experiencing even more finely sliced, interactive content across TV sets, mobile devices, gaming systems, and other platforms.  As viewership fragments, advertisers are challenged to adapt their messages to smaller, but potentially more valuable, audiences.  Terri Walter, Razorfish vice president of emerging media, discusses the fragmentation of TV in her essay, “The Digitalization of Television.”  She also discusses how social media and TV are converging (which reminds me of how fun it was to Tweet about the Oscars last month with fellow Tweeters while watching the telecast.  Wouldn’t it be great if ABC could have broadcast Tweets from our living rooms onscreen?).  By the way,  her points are corroborated by recent Nielsen numbers about fragmented TV viewership.

I invite you to explore the report and find ideas that resonate for you.  Want to get a sense of how agencies need to respond to the trends we discuss in the DOR?  Then read the essay by Razorfish CEO Clark Kokich, “From Breaking Campaigns to Building Client Businesses.”  Our in-house email guru David Baker examines the state of the art in email in his essay, “Email Marketing.”

Check it out.  And let me know what you think.

Amnesia Razorfish: sexy, social and successful

Recently Australia-based Amnesia Razorfish (part of the Razorfish global network) won the Adnews interactive agency of the year for the third consecutive year. As a Razorfish employee, I’m happy for my colleagues at Amnesia Razorfish (and of course for our clients, as the award is a reflection on them, too).  But I’m equally interested in knowing what the award says about successful marketing in the digital age.  What does it take for marketers and agencies working together to succeed year after year?  After getting some input from Michael Buckley, Terry Carney, and Iain McDonald of Amnesia Razorfish, I see these ingredients for success emerging:

  • Make Social Influence Marketing part of your marketing game plan.  Social Influence Marketing is a third dimension of marketing alongside direct response and branding.  It is here to stay.  You don’t need to make an about-face to succeed through social — but you do need employ it intelligently.  Example: the Cancer Council Australia is working with Amnesia Razorfish to raise money for the treatment of male cancer.  Amnesia Razorfish conceived of Daredallion, a week where people perform dares to raise donations.  The effort includes various forms of Social Influence Marketing, including Twitter and a site where you can dare your friends to to perform stunts.  Another example: Amnesia Razorfish helped Smirnoff employ Social Influence Marketing to build buzz for the Smirnoff Experience Party. The only way to get tickets to Australia’s biggest free party of 2008 was to go digital.  Smirnoff conducted a treasure hunt to give away tickets.  To find free tickets distributed across Australia, you had to find clues released through a blog and a Facebook group.  The campaign attracted global attention and helped Smirnoff pull off a huge promotional coup.  Amnesia Razorfish now employs a full-time Social Influence Marketing staff to help its clients figure out how to embed social into their digital experiences.

Daredallion

  • Get your hands dirty.  An agency must be an active participant in the social world in order to help its clients succeed with Social Influence Marketing.  Amnesia Razorfish certainly lives the social values.  Its blog is a top-ranked agency blog in Australia, attracting hundreds of thousands of unique views in 2008.  Amnesia staff have participated in the Daredallion project cited here and created experimental Twitter applications.  Everyone on the senior staff can be found on Twitter.  But Amnesia Razorfish is getting its hands dirty in other ways.  Amnesia Razorfish wrote Australia’s first Surface application, which recognizes individual business cards when placed on a table and then streams personal social media information from Twitter, Flickr, and other digital properties directly on to the table to be exchanged with someone else (sounds like a new way to exchange phone numbers in a bar).  Amnesia Razorfish also built its own in-house video wall purely for the fun of experimentation.  Dual projectors stream social content on to the wall, which tracks one’s physical movements.

  • Be accountable.  Amnesia Razorfish measures every single click that end users make.  The company uses analytics to be fully accountable for every interaction a person has with a client online.  Sometimes improving the consumer experience means more effectively optimizing the performance of a website, not designing a new one.  Using optimization tools, Amnesia Razorfish has increased sales by as much as 300 percent for ecommerce clients and increased time spent on clients’ sites by as much as 450 percent.  Amnesia Razorfish is also playing with a new tool developed by Razorfish U.S., the Generational Tag, to measure social influence.

  • Design experiences, not advertisements.  What’s the difference?  Ads are one-way messages — often great for the analog world, but not sufficient for digital.  Experiences engage audiences through interaction. Example: Lynx, produced by Unilever, is a line of male personal care products such as body wash.  (In the United States, Lynx is known as Axe.)  Amnesia Razorfish won a Webby for helping Unilever build awareness for Lynx through The Lynx Effect.  The target audience consists of young men, and the Axe/Lynx brand employs an in-your-face risque approach to connect with them.  The Lynx Effect is no exception.  Basically the message is this: guys, Lynx will make you more attractive to women.  But in the digital world, we convey that message through the experience.  To even navigate the site to learn about Lynx products, you select from a choice of provocative looking women.  Once inside, you can play amusing games, participate in polls, and download content on to your desktop.  (Now we know what “engagement” means Down Under.)

The Lynx Effect

  • Challenge your clients with ideas that build their businesses.  Lipton wanted to build awareness for an amino acid ingredient in Lipton tea — theanine — that stimulates alpha brain waves.  The proposition sounded like an educational campaign.  But Amnesia Razorfish came up with the idea of imagining Lipton’s product and benefits as a game.  Hence, the launch of Brain Train, a series of online games that test one’s mental alertness with subtle brand messaging from Lipton about the power of theanine.  Amnesia Razorfish also conceived of an integrated roll-out with radio, print, and outdoor.

Innovation rooted in the big idea is what will spur an economic recovery from the global recession, not better analytics or user experiences (although those things are important, too).  In April, leaders of Amnesia Razorfish will join executives from the Razorfish global network to discuss how we can more effectively take big ideas to our clients.  We’ve been conducting these summits, which we dub “A Seat at the Table,” since 2007, and each meeting gets better as more participants from outside the United States attend.  I can’t wait to see what we’ll learn from each other — better yet, I cannot wait to learn how our clients are benefiting.

Congratulations to Amnesia Razorfish for setting the gold standard.

U2 and the revenge of “old media”

Have you noticed U2’s gutsy distribution strategy for the newly released No Line on the Horizon? I don’t mean the predictable release of the album on MySpace prior to its March 3 launch in stores — but rather the heavy reliance on an allegedly dead medium, the compact disc.  At Best Buy, you can find the album available in five formats:

  • Regular CD
  • Limited edition digi pak that includes CD, color booklet, poster, and exclusive downloadable film access.
  • Limited edition magazine that includes a CD, 60-page magazine, and exclusive downloadable film access.
  • Vinyl LP
  • Limited edition box set that contains a digi pak CD, DVD of an exclusive film by Anton Corbijn, a 64-page hardback book, and a fold-out poster

At a time when digital downloads have all but rendered the CD an afterthought, what gives?  Here’s what U2 is doing:

  • Leveraging the power of the brick-and-mortar retailer.   We’ve recently seen the Eagles and AC/DC successfully move CDs through Wal-Mart.  And Prince just struck a deal for Target to be the exclusive retailer for a disc set to be released March 29.  Why?  Not because the CD is obsolete — but rather the old ways of distributing content are dead.  The Best Buys, Starbucks, Wal-Marts, and Targets of the world can act as DJ, distributor, and marketer rolled into one.  During the release of Black Ice, AC/DC provided the soundtrack for the Wal-Mart shopping experience, and well-placed displays opened up the band’s back catalog  to shoppers, too.  All told, Black Ice moved 2 million units in 2008.
  • Fighting the commoditization and degradation of music.  Rock has always been as much about image as it has the music.  Sleek packaging creates an experience that helps build image and differentiate one band from another.  By contrast, digital marginalizes a band’s image and degrades the quality of its product through inferior downloads.  It’s well known that MP3 compression causes a loss of sound quality, and the slightest glitch in your broadband connection is a total buzzkill for streaming songs.  Superior packaging and well-produced sound captured on disc are two weapons in favor of a band like U2, which understands the power of image and the relationship between its image and sonic power.

U2 isn’t the only band embracing the “old.”  In 2008, David Gilmour released at least five versions of his Live in Gdansk, for instance.  Both Radiohead and Beck have released music in playful packages with stickers that consumers can use to deocorate the CD sleeves.

Soon I’m going to learn more about how artists are seizing more control of content distribution when musician and producer David A. Stewart appears at the 9th annual Razorfish Client Summit April 21-23 in Las Vegas.  (I’m putting together the agenda for my employer Razorfish.)

He’s going to discuss how artists like himself are dropping “a neutron bomb” on the current entertainment distribution model.  I can’t wait to hear him speak.  And I hope we see more bands like U2 giving us experiences we can touch and feel.