Twitter soon obsolete? Tell me something I didn’t know… :-)

Jason Clark writes a great article in the iMedia Connection blog on the topic, “Why Twitter will soon become obsolete”. Key takeaway from his perspective: Google Wave is the Next Big Thing.

His article is well-researched and tracks other milestones in the social networking world: MySpace, Facebook, all the way back to the email and bulletin boards. Here’s his chart:

JasonClarksTimeline

I have been in the communications business since slightly before this chart started, beginning right out of high school as an apprentice typographer. I started on the NBT of that era, the Mergenthaler VIP machine… arguably the first successful photo-typography system to give hot lead typography a run for its money. No, this does not make me an old man! I’m a very young 56, and if you doubt it, I’ll meet you on the basketball court!

But the accelerating pace of change in all the media and methods of communication throughout my career illustrates why no one should ever think we’ve reached a plateau where we can rest and enjoy the view.

When I started, marketing meant sales, and sales meant “Push”. Shout. Ads. And the media were massive print — either mass-market ads or direct mail — and broadcast. I started on the print side, and the technology for most printed matter on the eve of when I started was the Mergenthaler Linotype machine, which had been the state of the art for about 75 years. (By the way, it was the Mergenthaler Linotype in 1886 that sent Mark Twain into bankruptcy when he sunk a fortune into the Paige typesetting machine). I joined the industry as part of a new wave of young people doing photo-typesetting on primitive computerized electro-mechanical machines. I learned on the Mergenthaler VIP,

Mergenthaler VIP

Mergenthaler VIP

a bonafide Next Big Thing in the advertising and design world, which opened amazing doors of versatility in the form of the written word. It required whole new approaches to every step of the design and printing process.

No one in the communications business had heard of an internet in the 70s.  But we had plenty of new ideas to adapt to and utilize in our work flow. Yes, we were talking at people. (more on that in another post). Yes, the technology of media communications was still firmly in the hands of those who could afford to use it: ad agencies, publishers, producers. But the trend of pleasing audiences, worrying about audience reactions, rapid-fire change and constant personal re-invention goes back at least that far. I’d say it probably goes back to the 50s in some respects, but a major technology revolution accelerated the pace of change in the 60s and 70s.  Here’s my quick list of the Next Big Things that I personally worked with, learned how to use, and then abandoned when something better came along:

  • 1972 – Phototypesetting via paper tape
  • 1973 – Citizens Band radio starts catching on after the oil crisis – By 1982 it has “chat” channels, its own language, etc. (no, I wasn’t a CBer)
  • 1975 – Phototypesetting via OCR
  • 1978 – 1980: Apple II; Visicalc; Wordperfect
  • 1980 – First telecopier I remember seeing – (Analog fax– a spinning drum, 3 to 6 minutes per page!)
  • 1981 – Fedex overnight letters — accelerated turnaround times and a lot less telecopying!
  • 1981 – IBM PC
  • 1981 – Mavica – first digital camera. It’s seen as a NBT, but early results are not practical
  • 1982 – Hayes 300-baud modem
  • 1982 – CD introduced; audio begins to migrate toward Digital realm
  • 1983 – Microsoft Word
  • 1983 – My client Digital was using TCP/IP communication for its internal email; it was 6 more years before Lotus brought Notes to PC users generally — the first real email within average businesses
  • 1983 – Deregulation unleashes a flood of fiber optic bandwidth for telephone data transmission
  • 1984 – Macintosh, and mouse, proportional fonts on a computer; Quark; Photoshop; desktop publishing revolution begins. I sell my printing business to focus on design and audio-visual production
  • 1985 – First cell phones start showing up … in cars only (size of a shoebox)
  • 1985 – First CCD professional video cameras make professional video cameras affordable and versatile
  • 1985 – Spent $2500 on first truly efficient fax
  • 1986 – Began using in-house dedicated computers to create vector-based digital slides, and send via TCP/IP to imaging centers digitally
  • 1986 – Kodak introduces first megapixel digital sensor camera — astronomically expensive and only high-production studios can afford
  • 1986 – First digital video medium introduced – D-1. Not initially trusted for high-end masters. Analog 1-inch lasted another decade
  • 1986 – Digital music production became a reality for music composition
  • 1988 – Purchased our own high resolution imaging camera for making slides digitally inhouse
  • 1988 – Purchased our own analog video editing system (electromechanical)
  • 1989 – First able to create slides entirely digitally
  • 1989 – Corel Draw adds another way to make slides on inexpensive workstations
  • 1989 – Microsoft introduces Power Point
  • 1990 – Non-linear (all-digital) video editing of low-res reference version becomes available (Avid and EMC2) Finishing still has to be done via analog electro-mechanical systems in expensive editing suites using D-2 mastering units
  • 1991 – First known case of Death by Powerpoint (just kidding)
  • 1992 – Digital projection supplants slides in business presentations
  • 1990 – First all-digital compositing system, the Video Toaster, becomes available. I didn’t buy one.
  • 1993 – Mosaic provides first visual user interface for tapping the information of the internet (access to libraries, databases, etc)
  • 1994 – Mosaic’s inventor launches Netscape. That’s when the internet reached my company and daily work life
  • 1994 – Caller ID finally puts phone spammers at a disadvantage
  • 1995 – Yahoo and Altavista emerge to help us search
  • 1995 – Amazon.com launches. Soon it allows readers to post negative reviews on books it sells … the shot heard round the world
  • 1996 – Palm and the idea of PDAs emerges
  • 1997 – Betacam camera package and Ikegami or Sony cameras become the standard
  • 1998 – Google starts a competing service which quickly becomes the verb for search
  • 2000 – FlashForward comes to New York, and my staff and I spend a week learning about this new platform that’s going to “transform the internet”
  • 2001 – Blackberry launches in U.S., allowing PDAs access to email
  • 2002 – Digital cameras begin to make sense for professional communication and quality-conscious amateurs
  • 2002 – Digital video (DV) supplants Betacam
  • 2002 – DVD becomes the fastest growing consumer appliance in history
  • 2003 – National Do Not Call list established, rockets to 62 million signees in 1 year
  • 2003 – Direct-to-plate printing begins to migrate to small print shops, opening doors for custom One-Off brochures
  • 2004 – Final Cut Pro becomes the dominant video editing standard, with 50% market share, and makes complete desktop digital video production possible.

For the last five years, the real action has been in hardware and software that enlarges the audience and its feeling of virtual community, as Jason documents in his article. Inventions from the iPod and iPhone to the xBox and PlayStation to the Pre and beyond become ubiquitous and inexpensive, and the Millennial generation adopts them … and then defines how all mediated digital communication must be prepared and delivered.

More and more, the tools of communication have become intuitive. Special languages, such as those required by everything from CB Radio to IM to Texting to Twitter are getting simpler. Spamming, whether via Direct Mail, Fax, Phone, IM, Email or Twitter hashtags has plagued each platform and eventually simmered down. But with every platform, the word “communication” has skewed in its meaning toward listening rather than speaking: and the power of the audience to penalize the obtuse and intrusive speaker has steadily grown.

For me what is most exciting has been the lowered threshold for response, and in spite of media overload and daily hecticity, an increase in actual participation in dialog. Yes, platforms come, get hot, and then get abandoned or at least back-burnered. Of course each becomes obsolete as soon as something more efficient at transmitting thoughts comes along. Will Twitter be superseded by something from Facebook or Google? Maybe. We’ll all know when it gets here, and we’ll all use it.

There’s never been a year in all the time I’ve been involved with influence that any serious communicator could slow down. Never been a Next Big Thing that wasn’t outclassed by Newer/Bigger Things. And never been a trend that wasn’t upstaged by the trend in line behind it. Since the Linotype hit the wall in 1970, the year before I began my career,  everything has been “soon obsolete.”

But I’m happy to say that changing with the times keeps all of us young, and protects us from obsolescence. If we care about ideas and people, we’ll always be ready for the Next Big Thing.

Advertisements

The Vendor Client relationship…

Spot on… although I’d like to thank my clients for mostly just asking me what it’ll cost to do it right…

Branding Disorder

Thanks to John Moore at Brand Autopsy, my next summer book will be Obsessive Branding Disorder, by Lucas Conley. I always love to read stuff that validates my personal philosophies! Here are a couple of quotes from the Fast Company essay that spawned the book:

A brand is a result, not a tactic. One cannot go about branding an organization or a product or a service; the organization, product, or service is what creates the brand. (italics mine). In a brilliant twist, the experts have bottled an end and sold it as a means. (emphasis mine).

Lucas sees a connection between the decline in advertising and the rise of branding as a business religion. He points to a 14% drop in Madison Avenue employment from 2000 to 2005. I think it’s more likely that both are symptoms — there is correlation but not necessarily a causal connection.

In my view, the rise of branding with its focus on “being understood” and “knowing who you are” comes from the increasingly narcissistic mood of the culture. And that in turn might be flowing from the trends which have conspired to make “one” — the self — into the ultimate economic unit.

Whatever the cause, we agree on the results: the advertising world focuses on “what we say” and “how we say it”. But the reality is that true branding, minus the hype, is really just “what the business does.” Conley cites Jiffy mix, Disney, and Apple as his examples of strong brands that are strong because of their product, not their advertising. And my personal favorite, In-N-Out Burger:

The $310 million In-N-Out Burger chain, another iconic brand that rarely advertises or speaks to the press, has been putting the rest of the fast-food industry to shame for years. McDonald’s spent an estimated $1.5 billion on branding efforts last year, producing little more than one day’s worth of sales more per store than In-N-Out. Have you ever met anyone who’s had an In-N-Out Burger who doesn’t believe it’s one of the best burgers they’ve ever had? Meanwhile, just who, exactly, is really “lovin’ it”?

For colleges, the message is clear: focus on the delivery of a transformational education experience in keeping with the traditions and values of the school. And in the marketing area, focus on authentic portrayals of how real students are actually experiencing that transformative time in their lives. In that way the authentic brand for that college will emerge. And the branding techniques that are so faddishly au courant, can be left to the McDonalds’ of the world to obsess on.

Postscript on another great summer read:

Today it seems normative for members of a family, company, team, or band to find the current of success more rewarding when they wade into the deep waters alone. Fame and fortune are easier to manage solo, without the vulnerability and accountability of team participation. Using music as a metaphor, it’s easy to think of examples from my generation: the Beatles; Peter Cetera; Michael Jackson; Paul Simon; Enya. Of course, the ones whose sound was defined by the team brand, rather than individual stars, are also noteworthy: the Beach Boys; the Rolling Stones.

A great book about the difficulties yet rewards of team-building is The Five Dysfunctions of a Team, by Patrick Lencioni.

Harder and harder to impress

In his book, Convergence Culture, Henry Jenkins of MIT writes, “…the American viewing public is becoming harder and harder to impress.” (I always love it when I find authors who state the obvious in such a dead-pan tone). In this context Henry is speaking about the American Idol phenomenon, and my embellishment of his argument is that stories, personalities, surprises are the magnet that can get people involved enough in a media event to not only watch it passively, but engage in other points of contact such as music purchases, websites, related products, concerts, etc. Dr. Jenkins describes the approach of one consultant, Initiative Media, in attempting to measure a new category of viewership called “expression”. Expression as Jenkins retells it means not only time spent watching a program, but degree of loyalty, affinity for the program and its sponsors, and cultural or social expressions of that affinity. This could mean wearing a T-shirt, posting a message on a website, creating a parody of a commercial, or recommending the show or a product to a friend.

Applying this principle to the college admissions market, I would say that savvy college admissions officers have been pursuing “expression” techniques for years, though they still might not have a way to measure it. College wearables, athletic events, concerts, sib weekends, websites and microsites, email campaigns, etc. are all long-standing ingredients of the admissions marketing soup aimed at “expression”… multiple points of involvement as opposed to merely college-initiated contact.

And yes, it’s harder and harder to impress them, either with a viewbook/brochure or a video/DVD. The key is DO NOT TRY to impress. Forget making it ideal. Just make it real, self-effacing, humorous, modest, blunt, edgy, unfinished, ongoing, serial, engaging, open-ended, fresh….honest in the eyes of a skeptic.

Welcome. Let the Ztories begin!

Welcome to the new Ztories branding blog by Ork the Caveman on WordPress.com. My goal is to spark creative thought on the best practices for college communication. And the communication challenges are daunting — distinct audiences who inhabit entirely different worlds: Millennials for admissions, alumni from Silent Generation to Gen X for advancement. In a time when the stakes have never been higher and for the first time in history, the supremacy of American higher education is being questioned. I welcome your comments and look forward to vigorous dialog, sharing of media, and lots of laughs.