FOE6: Curing the Shiny New Object Syndrome

Liveblogged – there will be mistakes!

With the constant barrage of new technologies, platforms, and services vying for attention, media producers and marketers are frequently lost among the potential places–and ways–of engaging with their audiences. Before they have ever truly figured out one technology, they’ve already moved to another, because of an intense desire to be “first.” As such, companies and media properties have launched–and then abandoned–their virtual world presence, their mobile app, their social game, and their QR code and are now exploring “social TV,” “Twitter parties,” Pinterest pages, augmented reality, and location-based initiatives. This leaves the web littered with old blogs, microsites, and profiles and companies blaming technologies when, too often, it’s been the lack of strategy that led to no traction. How do storytellers and communicators build a framework to more intelligently choose technologies based on how a platform aids their story and their audience, rather than a “gee whiz…get me one of those” approach? How does–or should–listening to the audience factor into this process? And what role, or responsibility, do technology creators have to help with this integration process? Drawing on examples contemporary and historical, this panel looks at how and when to take risks with new platforms, the difference between “innovative failure” and “failure to innovate,” and the deeper patterns of engagement that help us make sense of how new platforms and behaviors connect to longstanding means of engagement.

Todd Cunningham, Futures of Entertainment fellow and television audience research leader
Jason Falls, CEO, Social Media Explorer
Eden Medina, Associate Professor of Informatics and Computing, Indiana University
David Polinchock, Director, AT&T AdWorks Lab
Mansi Poddar, co-founder, Brown Paper Bag
Moderator: Ben Malbon, Managing Director, Google Creative Lab

BM: work at Google, spent a long time in advertising, before that an academic. Want to start with a quote from Arthur C Clarke: tech is a queer thing, it brings great gifts with one hand and stabs you in the back with the others’. Tech beings great tools. It is overwhelming and dangerous for companies, but offers a huge gold mine of opportunity. As we look to engage in ways that are more connected, more rewarding, just better…think fascination with shiny objects also applies to story tellers, to publishers erx, we’re all prone to want to use shiny and new before we determine what we want to do and why. We get excited by the how, rather than the what and why. The rush to AR a few years ago, how much delivered useful and enduring. QR codes, been hyped, what have they done for anyone yet? If you rushed in to embedding it, would you have succeeded or failed. Was smart of foolish? In 2005, agency set up a virtual agency in Second Life, what was the success of this? it gave PR, made people feel the agency were at cutting edge, but what did it really achieve. Now we haver social tv, twitter parties, location games tumblr wetc, hangouts…(lots and lots). it’s the hardware as well as the software. Probably all of this have some role to play for us, but, when to engage, when to dabble, when to start experimenting and investing. best to be a pioneer or emulate proven success. Who should do this in company? is it better to be prepared by investing early, build up knowledge, or just take things as they come. how should real people, not tech etc, be involved in this process and how to use their insights and wisdom. and what is the diff btw innovative failure and failure to innovate. what does it mean when they say failure of awesome, what does that mean. Have got great array of people to talk about this.

JF: my perspective that of the dumb guy. Live in Kentucky, work with medium to large businesses. I try and take the theory that we talk about academically and distill it down to the real work, the business owner. At a variety of levels, not at the global level. Bring a pragmatic approach.

TC: was at Viacom, much of the conversation here over years has been an evolution of what is happening. but it seems like groundhog day, will be talking about examples of what we have done, when obsession with new, the finding the new was rampant, but how does this link with what does consumers want and how to get business outcomes.

EM: the token academic on the panel, that is the role. Come from history and engineering. Part of my recent book, looks at a shiny new object, a computer, project Cybersim. it looks at the relationship between political innov and tech innov and shows how cutting edge systems can be built without cutting edge tech..and have radical influence on human behaviour

MP: all about the shiny new objects, that is what we write about. Shiney and new, not always sustainable/.YOu can talk about shiny new objects, but not just tech and platforms that are not shiny new.

DP: Currently with AT&T, first time in a company for about 20 years. Have spent about 25years looking at shiny objects. trying to be the translator, there’s a lot of cool stuff, but understanding how it relates or not and how to build a sustainable programme about looking at new and inserting new.

BM: let’s start with the obvious first questions. So what do we mean by shiny object syndrome.

DP: a shiny object is when you don’t know why you are using and no plan for using it next, so you just hop on. Not ness tech, or bright and shiny just you jump on there as someone thought you should be on it./ Facebook and twitter are shiny for some. The power company jumped on twitter (when there was no power). on twitter we are jumping on twitter asking about power every few minutes. there was no way to was a shiny object, they had not thought it through and people got pissed off with then

MP: for us, it is costly. small team, hard to decide to experiment, we deal with new content and things, wary of shiny new, a new platform, or doing new thing, for us it is the costly ones

EM: for me, it is something that is new, but also that seems modern. Encapsulates something of our vision of the future.

TC: has no traditional source, no expected source., can come from idea, inside, employee, research, how people interact with existing. much of that is important to understand the source in trying to understand how to use it in future. we tend to treat all at the same level, when some are seismic and others are just inching away.

JF: add about the context for small business, following the lemmings of the cliff, you are doing something that diverts attention from you should be doping. It is diff to have an org and a budget to experiment and then having a practical bis to run and not having the time. That is acontext. for 97% of worls, it is diverting them from making money

BM: what drives it, what creates the need?

JF: comes from a couple of places., the individual, the motivating thing. in Social media, in agency etc, because account person who discovers something they think is new and innovative and they think if I bring it to the agency and client uses it, it’ll make me look good. I try and drill down to the motivation of who is bringing to the table. Also, when strategic thinker, to bring to the table when I see potential, how it can change how the client works, what the competition is. Not always better or worse, just different

TC: the motivation is a big driver, that they look for capital. A big company QWall str is driving, to appear to be growing and moving into new areas. Can be in conflict with companies creating the new stuff,they just want to sell the product, not add shareholder value. it is a reality you are not expecting to face, you want partners that will help you build business,

BM: is there something more elemental, doe it about less commercially focused, more a need to be creating a future.

TC: corporate culture, if you are about innovation, creating the future.

DP: forget shiny objects, we have a culture of new. New wives etc. We look for new. In advertising industry, we are all talking about it, it;s the echo chamber. Did anyone outside ad industry know what was subservient chicken? we all loved to talk about the new. we want to talk about the cool. It is beyond just us

MP: as entrepreneurs, you are expected to be building the future, pressure to be in the new spaces, especially in developing world. to make the marker. Pressure to experiment, be the people to try everything. big reads on why social media platforms are being pushed. Why wouldn’t you use the free platforms. Of course you would, why wouldn’t you

BM: do you feel this is a new thing

EM: it is the same thing in history. YOu see there is a bias to new, to innovation, In history you learnt about ‘ages’ internet, nuclear etc., They are defined by what is new. If we look at how we use the tech, they don’t overlap with the demarcation.s

DP: Samuel Johnson, in 1751, the shiny object was the pamphlet.

TC: there may be a tendency for the new, but people don’t like change. Even you you use the shiny new object, not all will. YOu can be excited about it, and others don’t care. The whole thing around the bias to new, have to factor this inb

EM: it is not resistant to change, it is that people are not convinced. YOu would look at processes of convincing.

BM: How much obsession with new is non-sensical when we ignore things that work fine.

JF: only a problem if you constantly fail. If you keep trying you will run out of money or get lucky., The SNOS, with most clients, they don’t think about why they want to use it, they just use it. Spo Second Life, blog, Facebook, Twitter, etc etc. Have tried to take client though 5 whys. YOu have to get to the reason..(ultimately to sell products). You approach it with different calls to action and you think different. Have to approach with strategic long term value proposition. Trying just to try means you will waste your money

DP: but you need to know what is new out there. When joined Twitter, it was about food. It took a while for it to become valuable, where it can deliver. The challenge is to be aware of things without jumping into things. (took us through highlights of 9 ways to market your company through chat roulette). Chat Routlette was an interesting thing, an dynamic in how it created a new comms channel. Funky that you randomly got connected. But using it to pitch is not where you should do. Be aware of it and what it means.,, Is there a society thing. KNow, without putting marketing things against it

BM: What are the ways in which companies can filter and decide which are good and bad and worth gambling on. They differ greatly. DP runs a lab that helps decide. MP has to decide herself. How is the approach done.

DP: we have real labs. Do a lot of shiny object looking. Getting the right people to understand how it works, what infrastructure is needed. Also bringing it to people who don’t know. Put it in front of people and ask if of interest. A combination of experts and non-experts to get real world feedback. We do a lot of that.

BM: a luxurious position to be in! What about the other end of the spectrum

MP: driven from a personal interest. Business partner loves Twitter, and is on it all the time. so she looks after it. So if someone knows it and excited, then by the bootstraps. We also respond to the readers, we encourage comms and we listen to what they are asking for. Developing app, everyone in India was on Blackberry. Last year. We focused on Iphone as we were advised that it would be moved.”and they were right

JF: listening to the right people is right. If you don’t have a labs team, or whose job it is to tinker. you have to depend on a trusted curated network of influencers. I will not pick up on new objects until I hear my influencers try something, There is the bleeding edge folks, at larger companies and then it trickles out to heavy influencers., it is critical that if you don’t have the time abd resources you need to find the influencers who fo

TC: don’t overlook the need to do research. At Viacom, av age 27-28, we saw audience change. Many coming with new techs, most success when we would pair younger adults with a seasoned leader, with experiences, to take research and insights and then translate into value. To take a SNO to be more than that.

EM: For example, hearing Jason, reflects finding of diffusion of innovation literature, this is about the S curve, you have the early innovators that takes a risk, then up and then the laggers. A switch isdriven from about knowing users and seeing the value and have it in the community.

BM: is it back to who is reputation play from companies looking to be innovative, so new business tools instead of real understanding. Is that a problem

DP: Often it is. But why are you doing it. So Google worked with Coke to buy the world a Coke, interactive vending machines. From 70s ad singing on hillside. So last year, through cell phone text the machine and give them a free coke. You could send thank you message back. It was shiny as too costly to do everywhere. But it was a strategic innovation and tied into the brand. A simple way to use the shiny object and deliver strategic. A one off deal, but that is how that works. Cool stuff like that. (ie be your inner 007). They are innovative that try things out.So Burgert King, printed wrappers with your picture drive ‘have it Your Way’ Cool press, get some interest. So is it the hot thing, or tied into the business strategy. HRBlock in second life was NOT who they were

BM: Is it OK to do this purely for PR? When it is not OK?

TC: when not the right return on investment. SO looked at MTV getting into virtual worlds. replica of the shows. Huge win, for advertisers. All indications for MTV to continue..but the costs for doing it was prohibitive. Despite that is was good to go for, just not the right thing as not financially prudent.

JF: agree about ROI, critical part of decision making. Where is the tipping point when you stop to serve your audience, when you don’t provide value (and only look cools). If just cool to slap self on back is problematic

MP: when you start things you can’t control. Eg UNilver, Gang of Girls, (Sunsilk) started space for girls and hair. They had not got the mileage that they were expecting, they just stopped but they didn’t pull the platform down and it became a place for men to go – a shady thing. A newspaper got hold of this, wrote story bad for company.

BM: talking about the 2 broad approaches. So in stock, or just in time. So is it sensible for a team/person to focus in exploring and preparing or just to make more sense to bring things in when you need them.

JF: it depends on the organisation and how you use innovation and how bleeding edge you need to serve customers. One group, is Cafe Press. Customisation engine. They are a tech company, everything they do is onthe web. It is a tech based interaction. They feel like they need to be bleeding edge. We worked to define the skunk works lab team. They needed to devote budget and resources. It was important for them. Would not ness approach HRBlock that well, would it serve their need?

BM: what are pannelists for shiny objects to say goodbye, are their techs that are being ignored?

JF: Did some research on banking, one of interesting things about what people were saying online. The sources of conversation, 90% were on message boards. Threaded conversations. That is your anti-shiny new object and marketers are ignoring it. Would also like to say goodbye to marketing on Facebook.

TC: yes, facebook. Would like to see more of the spoken word. Loads of research about how this works. This is always most effective.

EM: would like to have reconsidered is voting technology. Voting machines seem to be the shiny new object. Some of the most democratic elections, eg in Chile, they are paper based.

MP: languages..more languages..want to see more of different languages.

DP: should lose QR codes. Augmented reality will grow more

BM: What does being an expert mean. Is it even possible to be an expert? I work within company that is hard core on innovation and no-one feels up to speed all the time.

JF: don;t think it is possible to be an expert in the thing/tech. But you can have considerable amount in the process, of testing of understanding. In knowing if it makes sense. In taking the Sniny New Object, and making sense of it. YOu can’t be an expert when you don’t know what the next thing is

TC: people are in a constant state of reaction. You can be an expert in understanding consumer, what their intention. Need to understand what the end person intention is.

EM: One of the things about claiming to be an expert is a mark of professionalisation, of a career,

DP: I work with a company that has a lot of phds. There are lots of experts in certain things, eg cell tower technology. You need to surround yourself with people with the knowledge based., YOu can hear the conversations, hear the common thing, that is when you know there is something possibly going on. There are people who have corporate culture expertise. There are some people who have specific expertise. The challenge is identifying the real experts from those who call themselves an expert. In the tech world, many are myopic. There can be tunnel vision.

BM: a different view of expertise from MP. How did you discover you were an expert?

MP: we are expected to be experts with a pinch of salt. We are supposed to have opinions. It is easier to develop and easier to lose. You have to keep learning and developing daily, it is a more fragile things. We work on it a lot more on a regular basis. We categorise it regular.

BM: How much does VC world drive this obsession with new.

TC: it was a source fo rus. We sent teams to the Valley, to engage with them, bring them in. We would have to help shape their message into talking to the culture. Source of lots of motivation., It productised innovation

JF: there is a good and a bad. The good is that you would hope they would not invest money in something stupid. As a consumer, you would look at the investment, there may be something there, that there are indicators about substance in the Shiny new object. But the bad, about pushing it is just about making money. So where is the balance.

DP: will disagree. The venture is built for quick flips. Look at Groupon. Looked at Urban Fish..a bicycling company that does not charge for what they did. The deals also drive the market, you see trends, then it all falls down. The VC world has propelled shiny objects in a way that does not normally happen in other areas.

BM: does it matter? Who loses?

DP: we saw in first bubble that people ause. It has to be about what it means to consumer, to business. There are still fundamentals that do not change. It has to do something does not change, and too often the do something is profit only

BM: can we talk about failure? Do people really know what they are talking about when saying fail fast? When is failure is OK and what type is Ok and when do we celebrate it?

MP: What happens is, when developing world, eg India, VCs come and see work in US and replicate in India. A lot of time that does not make sense, infrastructure etc. ecommerce is overcrowded and you can’t get your mail in time! No credit cards. Failure is a little OK when models exported. Once they start seeing that it does not work, then create projects that are more suitable. Not a terrible thing, so we learn how our consumers react.

DP: the inherent part of testing and R&D, is that somethings do not work. One award, the Penguin Award, that failed but it stretched the participants. It could not be a stupid failure, there had to be a change that you would be successful. There is opportunities, it goes back to why you are doing it. What is the motivation. If failure is part of the learning, then that is a good thing.

JF: the way you framed it, was about what is the difference between innovative failure and failure to innovate. If you borrow carol’s phrase, those that aren not moving don’t matter. If it is instigated by curiosity, if you are asking questions, and are learning then it is acceptable, But in a business, it is more murky, how much resources you put in

TC: Failures are not celebrated, with Wall Street and need to drive value. Learning something is rarely part of the conversation in big companies.

EM: Going back to the point of fetishnisation of failure, also struck by MP comment about models that work here but not INdia, it reminded me about the export of US culture, is the fetishnisation of failure. SO looking at Chile, and start up culture focus. Part of the discourse is that Chilean businesses have been conservative, so part of the training has been about getting used to possibility of failure. With Startup Chile, the capital for start up is easier to get but US has models that make it easier (to be bankrupt) and Chile not as forgiving of debt.

DP: Part of the challenge, is that we often do not give things enough time to happen. So we call things a failure immediately , We have to be conscious about the natural time for certain things to get the point, and don’t rush that. The biggest challenge with shiny objects, they rush it they use incorrectly and they announce the shiny object the failure, not how it was used. We need to balance need to be quick and fail fast with the legitimate time things take to happen

BM: Adopting shiny objects can be a sign of desperation (eg publishing industry). What is your take on this?

TC: as a bailout they can inspire something, but lack heft and significance and can’t change things. THe Shiny object does not respect the industry, not taking to understand how it could help.

DP: key word is desperation., Do anything in desperation, that is not a good move. YOu need to take time, not jumping in, need to think through the process.

BM: so what about real people, how do we involve them? In helping us decide what is right to test and play with and explore.

JF: Constantly asked question, how do I know where my audience is, what my audience is doing. So I say, why don’t you just ask them! Do they read blogs, on Facebook etc, In Cefe Press, we have recommended that they need to identify users that have been there a while, and they need to pull a focus group off to the side, to get involved. But bringing the real person to the table can only help.

DP: you look at Apple famous for not listening, but deliver what they want. It takes a lot of work to listen. You should always have been listening, not just on social media. YOu have to take off your filter and then translate to something that can be done.

BM: more specifically, what examples?

TC: you need to get more that the onpoint people, you have to get everyone involved in the listening business. Nike is a great example, have a programme, to ideate, getting everyone involved to think about innovation and listening to consumer.

DP: Lululemon and Athletica. Lululemon, has a big chalkboard in each store, records the user comments. Once a week, every store talks to the design team. Gets the feedback. If they find enough people say things, then they put it into the design process.

AuDQ: We talked about the Whys, listening, but not about putting yourself in the audience shoes. Have you seen companies doing that?

JF: not seen people doing it. They are still trying to market on Facebook. Don’t think they do. You think about why people on Facebook…over than 40 to see kids, younger than 40, then to stalk your ex. You are not there to read messages, get products. We rush to Facebook, we try and get stuff there. We have bastardised a cool cocktail party. Always ask why they would want to interact with the brand.

DP: We can’t always be in the other person’s shoes. Everything we do should come from users point of view. I don’t get the shows my daughter gets…you sometimes can never get the other person. So listening to a lot of sources, helps me understand that.

MP: I think the audience I service is very similar to what we are. If they don’t like what we recommended then they don’t listen. That is our most powerful tool., that we are likeminded to our audiences.

AudQ: Many in Brazil, with VC, just copy and paste from US. What is mentality of what you bring to an emerging economy?

EM: what i have seen in Chile is more of what the gov wants; more familiar side.

DP: it is exactly what we talk about elsewhere. It has to be organic. i won’t show up and understand there. I might come in and set office up, but would need to hire local We don’t take time to do that

AudQ: Why shouldn’t brands use Facebook? Is it related to level involvement. So for me, things they are passionate about works on Facebook, eg films, sports. So orgs invade instead of facilitating products.

JF: don’t get me wrong., I do work with brands on Facebook, It is one thing to approach FB and think about marketing and another about providing value. How can we provide content and functionality and info to let the audience use Facebook better. When you see the companies doing it well. Sony does it well, they give the fans the tools to share and talk about the passion

DP: WHo remembers Amway, that is social media marketing at its worse. That was someone you stopped hanging you with someone. Bad when just delivering pitch message

EM: if we want people to use new tech, we need to convince them that they are relevant and to feel comfortable. One thing is that it takes time to be be comfortable, not something that is new. So look at the concern about the telegraph, Today we talk about Facebook, We worry about privacy and data. So becoming comfortable, what that means with social norms.

AudQ: do any of you have examples of people driven shiny new objects? That becomes daily usage.

JF: Kickstarter is first thing that pops into the mind. A way to tap into microfunding.

DP: Pinterest. Because it was used before it was being talked about.

JF: Pinterest was around about a year, 18months and really popular, then went widespread,

AudQ: what is an appropriate role for VCs? A way to evaluate shiny new objects

JF: it has to go back to going back to what they are supposed to do, Evaluate business proposition, how does it make money and is the market ready. We have now VCs looking at acquisition potential rather than market potential.

MP: as a small entrepreneur, we love VCs. THey play an important role in India, bringing organised investment to markets that did not have it. The process of applying really helps companies, you are working out the economics, help you add value you may not have thought about when getting VC ready

BM: one thing that I have learnt, I loved JF the 5 Whys. And an expert is someone that asks the right questions.

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