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Musing, marketing, and meaning in the connected world.

Dreaming of Bio-Transparency

If you worry about social media pushing the boundaries of privacy on sites like Facebook these days, then you may want to be mindful of what is looming on the horizon next – because ‘you ain’t seen nothing yet.’ What we are sharing (mostly voluntarily) today is mainly a cocktail of sociographic data (birthday, birthplace, location, education, memberships, hobbies, etc.), convictions, intentions, and activities. Soft stuff, really, if you think about it; information that can conveniently be tweaked and entirely made up at your fingertips online, as needed to enhance your social credentials. It remains a virtual currency in a virtual world.

“Hard” privacy data looks different, and we have not been sharing it much to date. It cannot be easily fabricated or altered because it is literally an existential part of our individual lives, and as such becomes only social through the act of sharing. Radical Transparency in its most radical notion extends to those human areas that are most personal, and it doesn’t take much imagination to pinpoint the most sacrosanct of them: our genetic code and our dreams; the very physical and the very meta-physical fabric of our selves.

Don’t Interrupt, Disrupt!

How to Be Viral Without Viral Marketing

As we’re inundated with hero shots of the iPad every day, on every billboard and the back of every magazine cover, it appears to be a good time to rethink the relationship between advertising and product, between marketing and innovation. It’s not that Apple doesn’t spend any money on advertising – no, it was pouring a whopping $500 million into its launch campaign for the iPad. But what is different is that Apple’s marketing doesn’t have to be clever or utterly creative. In fact, it is stunningly not so. No major social media campaign needed to be sparked, no user-generated content contest needed to be held. And while the ongoing tongue-in-cheek anti-Microsoft ads are undeniably cute, they are not really an advertising revelation. Gone are the days of the bold “1984” campaigns. Today, Apple has earned enough attention to forgo any ostentatious marketing, in fact, so much that a cleverly orchestrated campaign would distract from the brand rather than boosting it. The company simply displays its products – that’s all it takes. Apple’s products are viral without any viral marketing.

Growth Ltd.

While in transit at the Munich airport, which is in many ways the epitome of civilization, I’m watching on one of the TV monitors the live footage of the street riots in Athens where Greek citizens are protesting against their government’s budget cuts after decades-long fiscal excesses. It’s like watching CNN blend with surveillance cameras. Greece, the birthplace of democracy, the mother of all civil societies, recently rejuvenated by new infrastructure for the 2004 Olympics, has fallen prey to greed, moral decay, and poor governance. It is ironic (another Greek invention) that what was once a flourishing empire is now a red number on a balance sheet and a black sheep in one of modern democracy’s most ambitious projects: the European Union. If America went straight from Barbary to decadence, skipping civilization, as the joke goes, then Greece might be on its way straight from civilization to decadence to Barbary. Two people dead, hundreds injured. Police units carrying sticks and tear gas marching on the main streets of Athens. One is familiar with these images, but not with seeing them against this backdrop. It’s like an atavism invading our civilized lives, as a stark reminder of how fragile they are.

The Sound (and Design) of Silence


As the New York Times Book Review reports today ("Noise Off"), three books have been published within the past month that all cover silence as a technological, cultural, and social phenomenon (my favorite line: "A person who says 'My noise is my right' basically means 'Your ear is my hole.' ").

Coincidentally, last week, frog design founder and industrial design legend Hartmut Esslinger shared with me an anecdote from his time working with then-Sony CEO Akio Morita in Tokyo in the 70s. Hartmut described how Morita had once summoned him to a large quiet room filled with wooden-bodied Sony television sets stacked up against the wall. Hartmut inquired why they'd been locked away, to which Morita replied: "They will be here for a while. The wood has to find itself."

The Soft Power of Social

Over the course of the past twelve months, I wrote several blog posts and articles about the Chief Meaning Officer, a role which I envision as an innovative leader who employs the new social power of marketing – provisioned by Social as a governing principle of all business interactions – to transform his/her organization (Charlene Li also elaborates on this theme in her new book Open Leadership). I presented this concept at some conferences including next in Hamburg, mostly to fellow marketers or representatives from digital agencies, and you can also hear me riff on it in this podcast produced by Dutch brand agency Energize. I received a ton of feedback: encouragement, endorsements, and consent, but also skepticism suggesting that this model might just be another marketing fad. Invited by BIDC, the Beijing Industrial Design Center, I was extremely grateful to have the opportunity to introduce the idea to a group of Chinese designers at a workshop in Beijing a few weeks ago. It was the first time I shared the Chief Meaning Officer framework in a different cultural and professional context, and it was a welcome reality check.

Friend Your Foes - Adobe’s Conversational Apple Ad

Now this is just brilliant. Adobe has found the only possible way to respond to the lack of love it is getting from Apple – EVEN MORE LOVE.

What's Next for Journalism?

frog holds digital innovation strategy workshop for Germany’s largest newspaper, Sueddeutsche Zeitung.

“Journalism is not a profession anymore, it’s an activity,” I heard someone say at a conference in Paris a few weeks ago. Assuming that’s indeed the case – with news breaking on Twitter, commentary provided by popular bloggers, and both distributed via aggregators and social networks – you can imagine newsrooms becoming panic rooms, and the gatekeepers of the public turning into the horsemen of the apocalypse in private.

The profession’s common response to the burgeoning social web paradigm is “We may all be publishers, but we’re not all editors.” But that claim can be easily countered: Do we still need editors? “If the news is important, it will find you,” asserts Marissa Mayer of Google, and she refers to the emergence of hyper-personalized (maybe also hyper-local) news streams that you can opt into without an intermediary, and that come to you via one of the myriad social channels. Just one data point: In January 2010, visitors to nytimes.com spent an average 14 minutes on the site, whereas Facebook users stayed on Facebook.com for an average of seven hours. This begs the question of what’s more important to the newly empowered news consumer: Speed or credibility? Social aggregation or expert curation? Location-based delivery or correspondents on location?

Naked Germans + Disruptive Innovation + Cloud Computing, #ashtag Style

This has been a strange week.

First of all, I had the pleasure to speak at re:publica in Berlin, perhaps the most political of all web conferences. The gathering, now in its 5th year, has evolved from a forum on digital governance to a somewhat unique and truly German hybrid of deep philosophical discourse (about the role of the individual in the digital space) and hands-on advice for practitioners. It felt a little bit like going back to college while working in a start-up. Intellectualism with street cred.

Creative Spaces and Innovation

Last fall our friends from Palomar 5, a collective of young German entrepreneurs, and affiliate curators gave 28 residents under the age of 30 from all over the world the possibility to stay for six weeks in an Innovation Camp in Berlin. It was an invitation to collaborate, and to discover and express themselves. Furthermore, the participants could network with leaders from the fields of economics, science, culture, and politics, and meet experts at the forefront of their fields (among them frog). The initiative generated a cluster of projects ranging from perspectives on social entrepreneurship to technology, art, design, and psychology. Eight of the Palomar 5 residents have now arrived in San Francisco to continue developing their projects at GAFFTA, the Gray Area Foundation of the Arts.

Meaning-Driven Brands

A list of visionaries, sense makers, disruptors, game changers and contrarians.

As the world slowly emerges from the economic gloom, and the “hyper-social real-time web” requires new organizational designs, it’s clear that business as usual will not be so usual anymore. Yet fundamental concerns remain, both for business leaders, who face the challenge of innovating in a hyper-transparent and always-on environment, and for consumers, who are increasingly searching for non-economic values amidst the shattered trust in business and the information overload. Smart companies recognize the historic opportunity to transform the way they do business and provide customers with more value-rich, sustainable, and meaningful products, services, and business models. From “un-entitlement” to “disruptive realism” to “for-profit activism” – here are some of the new paradigms that shape meaning-driven brands.