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Musing, marketing, and meaning in the connected world.

The Opposite House

Otherness and other pillars of a new moral economy

“So, what is the reason for your existence?” the German professor at a Chinese business school reception in Shanghai asked me, to start a conversation. I felt like ad man Don Draper in the TV series Mad Men when his false identity is unveiled. Who are you really? Caught off guard, I answered: “I’m a marketer.” The conversation moved on, others had wittier sound bites to contribute, and my unease continued. It had been weighing on me since I had put my foot on Chinese soil a few days earlier, and here in this beautiful mansion, confiscated by the government from the corrupt former mayor of Shanghai, it was a steady companion.

Unpredictability is the New Consistency


A lot has been written lately about the changing profile of the CMO, a role which faces an increasingly complex set of stakeholders and expectations (“10 Great Expectations: What CEOs Want From Their CMOs”) as it is engulfed by empowered consumers, big data, digital media pervasion, and accelerated technology innovation cycles. While CMO tenures have slightly increased to an average of less than four years, the role remains a hot seat. Technology savvy, analytics prowess, and strict ROI measurement are almost unanimously heralded as the key attributes of a successful marketing leader. The CMO is expected to be a business strategist, innovator, and change agent, while at the same time also acting as the brand evangelist, inspirational communicator-in-chief, and cross-functional collaborator. Tough one. How can today’s CMO succeed in times of hyper-connectivity when long-held beliefs are shattered, audiences are transient, and “software is eating the world” (Marc Andreessen)?

Adapt, Jugaad, Hacking, Shanzhai or the Merits of Seeing the World As It Is Not

I’m usually skeptical when local habits become emerging trends and are subsequently declared a new global management paradigm, but in the case of the much buzzed-about Jugaad I am inclined to follow the gurus.The trend began with Reena Jana’s seminal article in BusinessWeek in December 2009 (full disclosure: Reena is a consulting editor at frog), in which she critically investigated the value of Jugaad and anticipated its entering the lexicon of management consultants. The term Jugaad (pronounced “joo-gaardh”) is a colloquial Hindi word that describes a creative ad hoc solution to a vexing issue, making existing things work and/or creating new things with scarce resources. Although sometimes used pejoratively (in the sense of a makeshift cheap fix), it is now widely accepted as a noun to describe Indian-style innovation (some also call it “indovation”) – describing the inventiveness of Indian grassroots engineers and scientists that have led to the pedal-powered washing machine, inspired the extra-low-cost Tata Nano car, or the success of India’s space program. It is, in short, the art of holistic (and therefore lateral) thinking, of unbound, resilient creativity, and of improvisation and rapid prototyping under severe constraints.

Airbus Envisions Air Travel in 2050

Can flying be fun again? Yes, it can. Airbus just released a video and a series of images that envision air travel in 2050 as a fully immersive, human-centered experience. The company’s designers and engineers conceptualized a plane with "bionic structure and interactive membrane” that provides spectacular panoramic views through its almost fully transparent skin.

Intimate Connections

Is it perverse that your boss might know more about your life than your best friends? That you spend more time with your desk neighbor at work than with your spouse? That your colleagues experience you in more emotionally extreme situations than most of your friends, in moments of utmost success and failure, triumph and defeat?

Mobile Financial Services Still Lacking Scale and Scope

There are now more than 1 billion people around the world who have mobile phones but no bank accounts. It is is therefore not surprising that Mobile Financial Services have been hailed as an effective means for providing the unbanked population in emerging markets with access to essential financial services. Providers like M-Pesa in Kenya or M-Paisa in Afghanistan (researched on the ground by frog executive creative director Jan Chipchase) have gained traction and are considered to be potentially groundbreaking “reverse” innovations that could also inspire business models in developed markets where Mobile Financial Services are on the rise, too (nearly 30 million Americans accessed financial services accounts through their mobile phones in the fourth quarter of 2010, a 54% rise on the same period the previous year, according to comScore). But how widespread is the adoption of these services really among “the unbanked”?

Smart Brands in the Connected Age

Social networks such as Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn yield unprecedented actual or virtual valuations. Social media empower and propel social revolutions such as the ones we are witnessing in Arab countries. Enabled by broadband technologies and mobile devices, entire industries are connecting with customers – and each other – in entirely new ways. Clearly, the Connected Age has arrived. A world population connected through ubiquitous, real-time, and social computing, and through more than 50, 75, or even 100 billion devices. A world where every thing is connected with everything.

Connecting to the (Mobile) World Congress

We live in a connected world. This may sound like a trite statement at first glance, but like many coinages of this kind it has entered our collective vocabulary by moving straight from provocative insight to cliché to mainstream reality. And as I am headed to the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, the largest gathering of the wireless industry (50,000 attendees and 1,300 exhibitors), I’m probably not the only one noticing the unique historical backdrop that underlies the event this year and gives ever more credence to the seismic economic, cultural, social, and political shifts triggered by the universal power of connectivity. The Mobile World Congress, perhaps, would be more aptly dubbed World Congress in order to describe the far-flung implications of communication technology, much of which is now mobile.

The Future Is Not What It Used to Be: Predictions for 2011 to 2050, Already Obsolete

It’s that time of the year again. The trend augurs are releasing their predictions for the coming year. Except for the analyst firm Gartner, that is, which already shared its "Top 10 Strategic Technologies for 2011" in October this year – we shall see if the first-mover advantage will make them more accurate. The best forecast might still be the agenda for Davos, simply because many of the participants have the power to actually make the future happen.

India: Urgent Emergence

This was India’s year. Obama visited, as did Sarkozy, and many other statesmen of lesser political weight or star appeal. With an annual growth rate of close to 8.9% and foreign direct investments projected to exceed $100 billion, the booming Indian economy defied the global recession. For the first time ever, eight Indian companies made it onto the Fortune 500 global list. And even PR crises like the ill-organized Commonwealth Games and political corporate scandals that were an easy target for India’s cynical media did not eclipse the nation's staggering rise – in fact, these events just seemed to magnify the spotlight. Without a doubt, the sub-continent became ready for primetime in 2010, and to many outside observers a new confidence appeared to take hold of India’s economic and intellectual elite.