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  • CES 2012: Why marketers should be relieved

    20th January 12

    Posted by Saneel Radia

    Posted in technology

    Image source: http://www.rickycadden.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/01/cessign.jpg

    Authors: Saneel Radia, Head of BBH Labs NYC & Tim Harris, EVP/Managing Director of Innovation at McCann Erickson*

    Last week was the Consumer Electronics Show, an event more widely attended by brand marketers than ever before. Although the show resembled last year’s a bit too closely for our liking, we’ve resisted simply republishing our 2011 recap. What was unique however, is the sense of relief we feel upon our return. Instead of feeling intimidated by the speed of innovation, or anxious from the ever-fragmenting tech landscape, we’ve come home with our industry angst alleviated. Let us elaborate on the trends keeping us relaxed.

    No one actually knows how to design for “laplets”
    As the world of consumer electronics bounces between convergence and divergence, we were a bit surprised to walk through booths full of laptop + tablet hybrids that seem to be a unique device offering in and of themselves. Then there were phone + tablet hybrids like the Samsung Note. There was even a tablet + gaming rig hybrid. On top of those converging devices, we were struck by the number of input peripherals accompanying them. Peripherals are nothing new, but this onslaught of converged devices with inputs beyond touchscreens is really interesting. It seems touch interface isn’t the panacea we all wanted it to be.  When the iPhone and iPad changed the way we did stuff, we figured that was it.

    However, one look at how game developers and electronics manufacturers are interacting demonstrates just how difficult it is for content creators to stick immersive content into a touch environment. Ever played a mobile game with dual-virtual-stick control? It sucks. But game developers are still designing games that require it. As anyone that works at an agency has seen, designing irrespective of context happens daily. Sure, we all have our different remedies for this (see BBH’s media design practice), but almost no marketers truly craft ideas from environments. The best simply craft to them, closing the gap as best they can, but not truly letting the context or medium play as fundamental a role as it deserves.

    Seeing some of the world’s best content creators struggle with familiar issues, we couldn’t help but let guilty smiles cross our faces. We can take solace it isn’t just us marketers.

    TVs being “smart” means we may not have to be
    Last year, virtually every booth had the word “smart” displayed on it, obliquely referencing the fact that their TVs were internet-enabled. Although the idea of apps on TVs isn’t going away (especially with gesture-based engagement on the horizon), we saw a more conservative- dare we say even practical- approach to TV apps this year. Instead of highlighting obscure developers they had worked with to make apps, this year the manufacturers were presenting the familiar logos of Netflix, Hulu and Fios. We’d argue such familiarity is welcome to both consumers and marketers. It means less subscriptions for people, and a less fragmented media landscape for marketers.

    As TV manufacturers came to the welcome realization that the revenue from app sales simply wasn’t going to change the face of their business, content providers with app-driven models like Netflix have been emboldened (it’s no coincidence Hulu announced its first unique scripted series on the heels of CES). This media-agency-friendly revenue model will make it easier for brands to get onto TV screens without having to partner with developers. Instead, they’ll work through content and distribution companies they already know how to engage. If we had to guess, that means subscription-services like HBO and FiOS will experiment with ad presence of varying levels, depending on the platform (e.g., Xbox 360 vs Panasonic Viera Connect). It’s certainly a lot easier as a brand to think about how to work with Hulu than it is to sort out unique offerings across Sony and LG devices. No one should be more relieved about this consolidation than marketers,  a group notoriously bad at partnering with developers and quantifying value in new ways.

    Perhaps most importantly, media deal-making lunches have been preserved. Phew.

    We put a big bet on Apple and we seem to be winning
    Apple is famously absent from every CES, yet it’s clear to any attendee that they are present, if not formally as an exhibitor. Last year was a show of iPad alternatives. The year before was an exhibition of iPhone derivatives. This year was the “hey we have a MacBook Air too” show. Apple certainly didn’t invent the ultra-thin laptop, but any analysis of the design and feature-set selected across various manufacturer’s devices (see Samsung’s new Series 9, Dell’s XPS 13 or any device featured by Intel as an Ultrabook) reveals a very Apple-like device.

    Once again, a comforting thought donned on us as we walked the Convention Center floor. Few industries have adopted Apple products as early and as deeply than the ad industry. As creative teams relentlessly pitch tech ideas born from an Apple-centric view of the universe, they may just start to see more nodding heads and fewer rolling eyes. Agencies are notorious for their dogmatic approach to ideas. In this case, Apple’s vast grip on consumer electronics may justify our utterly biased view of tech experiences.

    It seems creatives have yet another thing to thank Steve for.

    The home is connecting to retail (and we had nothing to do with it)
    We’ve all been hearing about the refrigerator that tells you when you’re low on milk since before there were computers (fine, not quite that long, but still). This year’s CES brought all of the “smart” into context for the truly connected home. An LG refrigerator not only speaks to your phone or tablet to tell you all about its contents or encourage you to fill it up again– it also helps you manage a diet via personal profiles and nutritional information. Smart vacuums and ovens do their duties when you’re not even home, and some appliances talk to each other to save on power usage.  We’re used to hearing about appliances that talk to retail (or an online grocer), but this year, the retail environment talks back. Walking through the stores of the near future, we’ll get notifications about relevant offers, loyalty plus-ups and even recipe analysis based on what’s at home in your fridge. We’ll no longer have 58 heads of garlic at home or 9 jars of cayenne pepper. What a pleasant surprise– we’ve been trying to solve for the gap between home/planning and shopping/buying forever in marketing.  Promotions, brand extensions and partnerships will have much more clarity, because they’ll be based on consumer need rather than marketing guesswork. LGAlcatel-Lucent and others have given us a palette from which to create truly integrated designs for the makers, sellers and buyers of everyday products. In other words, marketers’ inability to close the gap between retail and brand experiences may soon be a non-issue. The tech industry is sorting it out for us.

    Now maybe we can help them figure out how to make their biggest event fresh again.

    *Saneel & Tim were two of the co-founders of Denuo, and this was the 10th CES they’ve attended together.  They’ve come home broke, and in a fight, after each.

  • How Junior Talent Can Package Their Portfolios Better

    17th May 11

    Posted by Saneel Radia

    Posted in People

    We recently ran a post asking if the junior talent in advertising are packaging themselves wrong. As we tend to do, we turned to a reader to help us answer that question after a number of very insightful comments on the post. In this case, we asked William Burks Spencer, who recently interviewed over 100 Creative Directors about what they look for in portfolios and compiled them into Breaking In, a book about creating a portfolio that will get you hired. For excerpts from the book, checkout the companion site.

    Author: William Burks Spencer (@wspencer), Freelance Copywriter

    Are students and juniors in advertising packaging themselves wrong? I think the answer is “most of the time, yes.” When I asked over 100 Creative Directors about what they look for in portfolios, on most topics there was a good diversity of opinion. But everyone agreed on one point: most books are pretty much the same.

    Certainly a lot of it has to do with content–books all look the same because the advertising in them is the same. Often ads in student books lack strategic thinking. It is very obvious when someone jumped right into making ads without any thought as to what the business problem was, or how to solve it. Another common problem has to do with technology. Students often show executions across tons of different media including Facebook apps, iPhone apps, and more, without having a powerful idea at the core. They’re good at blowing out an idea, but not actually crafting it. But beyond just the ads, I think there is a problem and an opportunity here. Very few juniors venture outside of the normal format: 5-7 campaigns and a resume.

    I think a solution can come from thinking about two things:

    1. A portfolio tells a creative director “this is what I want to do”. That’s a very personal question and it gets to the heart of a student’s personality and passion. I think the reason a lot of books feel the same is that students haven’t thought about this question. They don’t have strong feelings about what they want to do so they let other people to figure it out for them. I’m not talking about “being an art director or writer”–that’s too broad. I’m talking about having a unique voice that comes through in your work. Or a strong point-of-view. Or specializing in one aspect of advertising that you love and demonstrating it. A lot of junior talent are trying to fit into what they think a creative should be, whereas Creative Directors are looking for people who know who they are.

    2. A portfolio needs to make a point. It needs to make an impression on a Creative Director that stays with them. Matt Vescovo, an art director and artist, said in the book: “What’s really appropriate about the whole thing is that Creative Directors look at student books the way that consumers look at advertising.” Just as a good ad needs to leave you with a certain message or feeling, a good book should as well.

    I think students need to combine these two goals and build a portfolio that demonstrates, in a memorable and original way, what kind of work they want to do.

    If want to make Facebook apps and that’s what you’re good at, go for it. If you love crafting long-copy, show that. Make that your hook. It comes back to the idea of the T-shaped creative person that BBH and others use. Show what you’re good at and passionate about. And then show that you can do the other things that someone with the title you want would be expected to do. It seems like most students and juniors are afraid of planting the base of the T and the result is they end up just being an underscore.

    I often tell students about a friend of mine whose student portfolio consisted of a 6-foot roll of paper. Unrolling it revealed a single campaign that he art directed 7 different ways. Think about the impact that has for a CD to see that layed out on the floor. It stands out because it is different and bold. It made the point that he’s a prolific, exacting art director who will work for as long as it takes to get it right. And he is. He works at Wieden+Kennedy in Portland.

    In the book, Pat McKay, who is a freelance Creative Director in Seattle and worked at Wieden+Kennedy London with me, said that he thinks it is smart for a book to have an idea to it. Pat said he “would certainly look twice if a book came in with 100 sketches and they were all good ideas.” That book would say “I’m just going to have loads of ideas and that’s the one thing I want to leave in that person’s mind”.

    Another way to package yourself differently is to get away from advertising completely. To show something else that shows your voice and personality. One of the other questions I asked everyone I interviewed was about showing this type of work–writing, art, hobbies, etc. Most Creative Directors I spoke to were interested in seeing it and it was usually those things that they could remember and talk about, years down the line.

    Tony Davidson of Wieden+Kennedy London talked about a team who filmed themselves getting over a very low rail in different, often silly, ways to show that they solved problems differently. Dave Bell from KesselsKramer talked about someone who had a book called “Very, Very Short Stories” containing a hundred or more 3-line stories. Ted Royer of Droga5 talked about someone he hired who put a technical blueprint of Noah’s Ark in his book. Vince Engel of Engine Company 1 remembered someone who wrote absurd letters to companies and compiled them into a book. Those things all probably say more about a person than ads.

    Your portfolio has to represent you for those precious few minutes with a Creative Director. The onus is on you to show that they can think differently than anyone else in the building. Why not make a statement? Be different. Take a stand. Demonstrate that you have the base of the T, whatever that might be. If you open the conversation, you will always have an opportunity to show that you have the broader skills at the top part of the T as well. It might feel risky, but the bigger risk is not taking one.

  • The Human Operating System

    3rd March 11

    Posted by Saneel Radia

    Posted in coding, guest

    Author: David Bryant (@davidbryant), Google Creative Lab, NYC

    Disclaimer: David’s opinions are not necessarily those of Google Inc (editor’s note: BBH does advertising work on behalf of various Google products).

    Human beings have spent around 2 million years working with physical objects in physical space. We are hard-wired to enjoy throwing things into the air, at animals and at each other because mastery of these skills has given us a huge evolutionary advantage.

    We understand the inter-relationships between weight, inertia, texture, tensile strength, brittleness, velocity and gravity so well, we’ve even given it another name. We call it instinct.

    When we cross the road in front of a car, we are judging the speed of the car and the width of the road and performing fairly complex calculus in the process. Some would say that we are not really doing the calculations in this case – we are simply using instinct.

    Calling this process ‘instinct’ isn’t very helpful because it doesn’t explain anything. We’re simply renaming the observation, rather than attempting to explain it.

    The truth is the calculations do get done. We use a neural-based learning system rather than a set of solvable equations but the calculation does happen. It’s part of our operating system.

    Only after Humans had being throwing things around for a couple of million years, could we get down to the slow business of developing useful abstract notions. Like a positional system of mathematics, time, complex numbers, algebra. These are all things that are not hardwired. On the contrary they are remarkably counter-intuitive to our operating system and have taken centuries of trial and error to grasp them.

    With these abstract notions we created computers, and interestingly, computers have evolved towards us, in completely the opposite direction. They started life as deeply abstract calculation engines. Nowadays, with rich graphical interfaces, touch screens, large icons and finger control they are increasingly feeling like physical objects.
    Read full post

  • Quora’s pursuit of the holy grail: intent (a counter-view)

    24th January 11

    Posted by Saneel Radia

    Posted in Rants, Search

    We recently posted a rant about Quora that generated a lot of conversation. One of the comments was by Leslie Barry, the founder of Iphso. Leslie made the intriguing argument that Quora actually gets closer to question-and-answer nirvana than any other service: identifying intent. Here’s his explanation of what we’re just not getting. We couldn’t be happier to hear his perspective and would like to thank him for generously agreeing to guest post.

    *** *** ***

    Author: Leslie Barry (@LeslieCBarry), Founder of Iphso

    What is intent?

    According to The Search by John Battelle, the holy grail of search is to interpret the user’s intent and direct them seamlessly to the content, or ideally, provide the answer directly.

    If we assume that intent is not WHAT I’m asking, but WHY I’m asking it, then I believe that Quora is closer to solving the intent of search.

    So how does Quora get us closer to it?

    Quora’s approach is to get the best qualified people (through credentials or experience) to create some rules (boring to some, but necessary to prevent chaos – even Wikileaks has rules), then leverages the serendipity effect to overcome the constraints of similar services, like LinkedIn, to refine the best questions to elicit the best answer.

    What makes Quora unique is that it uses serendipity more effectively than other services.

    What is the ‘serendipity effect’?

    Wikipedia defines serendipity as ‘a propensity for making fortunate discoveries while looking for something unrelated.’

    An example is the real-world benefit I’ve experienced from social media, specifically Twitter, where I meet useful people that I would never know existed without a serendipitous network – i.e., people that I didn’t know I needed to know.

    Quora is leveraging this extremely well: connecting the right ‘people I didn’t know I needed to know’ to clarify intent of the question, and as a result, shortening the path to the answer.

    Intent is only relevant past a certain threshold of question. Something as simple as ‘What is the capital of Maine?’ is clearly better answered via Google. No rocket-science behind the intent there, but asking something slightly more complex and ambiguous like ‘How do you consume news? Has this changed in recent years?’ presents a greater challenge. When you Google it, Google assumes:

    • The question is correct
    • Keyword/location/context matching is adequate

    So here is what Google thinks the answer is:

    …and then Bing:

    They both completely missed the point without the Quora results!

    Conversely, this is what Quora’s users think the answer is:

    Clearly, Quora is more efficient at interpreting intent.

    This is because Quora doesn’t assume the question is correct. Instead it provides the ability to ask a question and have it clarified and modified wiki-style to help shape and tease out my intent. Often as a user, I’m clear on my intent, but am not the subject matter expert and therefore unclear on how to frame the question. The iterative, near-time editing of the question helps solve this issue. Also, Quora doesn’t focus on keyword/location/context matching like a mind-less search engine. Quora’s process of refining the question by subject matter experts eliminates the extra steps of sifting through multiple, non contextual answers.

    And yes, there are many planted questions (Google Link-bait pages, anyone?, LinkedIn self-promotion?, mindless waffle on Yahoo Answers?), and self-promotion, but so what?

    All I care about is the quicker path from question to most valuable answer that addresses ‘what I meant’, not necessarily what I asked. My intent.

    Why can’t Google or Bing use other people’s answers to opinion-type questions to decide the most relevant options to serve you? I think this is because of their strong focus on the search algorithm, which values content over context and popularity over intent. Also, Google is one-way traffic, without an iterative, refining feedback loop; we have to stumble blindly along hoping for one or two interesting search results out of ten or twenty.

    As a result, it’s Quora, not a traditionally defined search engine, that’s helping us take a step towards the holy grail of intent.

    It’s not perfect, but it’s challenging our approaches and thinking about teasing out intent from users. Maybe Google indexes them and learns from them? Once again, it doesn’t matter – we will have taken a huge leap from accepting that indexing and search is better than curated, considered, intelligent answers.

  • Collaboration: blurring consumption & production

    18th January 11

    Posted by Saneel Radia

    Posted in collaboration, People

    A few weeks ago, we posted about what collaborative consumption means for marketers. We found it interesting that the focus on collaboration for most brands tended toward production (innovation, development, etc), but that there wasn’t much noise about the consequence of people collaborating to consume a brand’s products. As is the case often, one of the comments was more insightful than the post. It raised the point that collaboration in consumption actually yields production innovation. Thus, we asked the commenter– Shaun Abrahamson, CEO of Mutopo Colaboratorie– to elaborate.

    ***                                            ***                                             ***

    Author: Shaun Abrahamson (@shaunabe), CEO, Mutopo Colaboratorie

    As a guest poster, some additional disclosure is required because my LinkedIn profile is incomplete. I’d like to add:

    + reviewer at Amazon
    + gas refiller at Zipcar
    + traffic data provider at Google Maps
    + plug-in tester at WordPress
    + opinion offerer at Jovoto
    + classifieds editor at Craigslist
    + A/B headline tester at the Huffingtonpost
    + music popularity statistics reporter at Apple
    + idea spreader at Kickstarter

    I think most LinkedIn profiles have similar omissions. But that is only part of the problem, because I don’t just do work for organizations, but also for friends and family.

    So why it is so important to know who I “work” for or with?

    Of people, value creation, costs and revenues
    All organizations incur costs to make and communicate – to create, design, develop, produce and distribute products or provide services; to generate awareness, evaluation and trials to generate revenues. Of course many of the costs in doing this relate to things like media buying, IT infrastructure, raw materials, rents and the like, but depending on the business a very large percentage of the costs come directly from paying people (i.e., salaries for ALL the jobs to make the organization function).

    So what happens if one of your competitors figures out a way to get some of their work done more cheaply? Fewer people, lower salaries – off shoring and outsourcing over the last 20 years has fundamentally changed developing and developed economies.

    Or, what happens when your competitors are able to attract better talent?

    Most labour conversations tend to focus on full time employment, but there is another important workforce – they are doing the types of tasks we don’t disclose on our LinkedIn profiles. And they are not just working for organizations as we tend to think of them, but for the benefit of their peers.

    Paid vs. earned vs. owned business activities
    Recently Rishad Tobaccowala described among other trends for 2011, paid vs. earned vs. owned media. I’d like to steal this idea and expand it to paid vs. earned vs. owned business activities. Not as catchy, but I’ll keep the explanation short.

    I believe that some of today’s most successful organizations are figuring out how to earn “business activities” that their competitors still pay for. It’s more visible in part because it has become easier to help people help you. Amazon sells more because so many of us choose to write elegant reviews there and Lego benefits from a relentless flood of new product ideas from their community. Zipcar has us refilling gas tanks in the name of sharing and the Huffington Post generates more pageviews when they learn what we like by observing our choices. Groupon gets us to band together into temporary “big organizations”, so we can get discounts previously only available to real big organizations.

    The fundamental change in this collaborative model is that business can create value by “earning” our effort. If you’re looking for inspiration for all the ways in which people can add value, I like the business model canvas or board of innovation (their templates were used to create the diagram above). More specifically, these visual business model tools can be used to quickly highlight the number of ways in which consumers can also be producers, or customers can also be suppliers.

    Beyond roles, these visuals also help outline the different value exchanges: from money and fame to reputation and experiences. The diagram at the start of the post was my attempt to describe the various value exchanges happening around this guest post. It is far from complete, but I hope it shows how “customers” also show up as “suppliers” in exchange for a variety of non-financial currencies. Organizations have many new ways to redefine their relationships with the people formerly known as customers (apologies to Jay Rosen).

    Why this type collaboration matters to marketers
    MIT Center for Collective Intelligence does a great job breaking collaboration down into its DNA – the who, what, why, where and how of collaboration. In Mutopo’s experience on projects like betacup and Life Edited, some of the hard questions have been:

    + why will people participate?
    + what are the right activites and outcomes to focus on?
    + what expertise is required?
    + what can organizations offer in return?
    + how do we quality control?

    I don’t know that this is altogether new for marketers (or for markets). We’ve always had to build teams and find talent, but the scale has changed. Some activities will involve large numbers of people accomplishing tasking in a few minutes or in a few weeks. It will mean much more time evaluating what new outcomes we want, who we want to work with, what they want, what they can do, what we can give them and evaluating how they are doing.

    Finding talent may feel like human resources’ responsibility, but this is a critical role for marketing. Not only because it can touch current or prospective customers, but because it is another way to create value for the organization beyond driving sales through a funnel. And these collaborations can build on exactly the relationships brands aspire to build anyway. Now they have the additional benefit of greatly expanding the reasons for conversation, as well as the types of conversations we can have. After all, it’s quite engaging to discuss what we can accomplish together.

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