Friday, June 26, 2009

The US Chamber is Wasting its Money

The US Chamber of Commerce is planning a mega campaign aimed at reselling capitalism to the US public. They want people to recognize that regardless of all of the problems we have had, our capitalisitc system is still the best there is.

What? I didn't realize that people in the US were turning away from capitalism. This must be a bunch of Chamber people who really believe that we are headed toward socialism and that the public must be warned. Is the Chamber now an arm of the right-wing Republican party?

This is the most ridiculous waste of money one can imagine. The issue is not about capitalism, but rather about abuse of trust. We have become warry of the Madoffs and Sanfords and Thains, as well as the AIGs of the world. We have seen great companies go down the tubes, led by CEOs who seemed to be unable to grasp changes in the marketplace. While many people may be questioning whether "greed is good", that is a far cry from questioning capitalism.

One of the biggest problems US business has had has been its inability to understand the market dynamics and changes in perceptions among their consumers. The Chamber is showing that it is a leader in this tone-deaf business activity.

This reminds me of the ill-fated attempt under Pres. Bush to sell the "virtues of the US" to the Middle East through a PR campaign. The problem in the Middle East is that they are tired of foreign governments (UK and US in particular) in their region and biased toward Isreal. Regardless of whether or not we agree with those assessments, we must understand them. Bush showed that he did not understand them. He assumed that they didn't like our values and so we had to sell them. Such stupidity!

This is not bad brand and reputation management, this is bad business strategy. The inability to fully understand the needs and interests in the market is a kiss of death to business. Businesses move toward the wrong targets.

The Chamber is demonstrating that it is an organization more interested in touting political ideology that leading to the restitution of trust in business. If they were concerned about the latter, they would be focused on their members and the untrustworthy behaviors many have shown rather than assuming we do not understand them. When someone says: "you don't understand me; trust me", it is time to assume that they don't get it and are not worth the time.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Are We Entering a Time of Information Socialism?

There has been so much talk about socialism in the past year. The concept of socialism is typically related to economics. However, the most relevant type of socialism seems to be in the area of information. Except for a new piece in Wired Magazine, I haven't seem much about it.

Think about what has happened to information since the advent of social media. Information that was controlled by large companies seems to be breaking down. Social media, including blogs, microblogs and the like are putting information flow in the hands of the people, and with that intelligence is moving from the center to the fringes. We always thought of a networked society as being like an atom, with a core. However, we are evolving to more and more networks in which there is no center core. Networks simply evolve and beget new networks. Information and intelligence is shared within the network. If companies want to introduce ideas or brands, they are increasingly attempting to find ways to participate in the network. Companies are not the owners of the networks, nor do they control information flow. They are equals with others in the network.

I have noted that Facebook and Twitter are examples of the "me-ness" of society. We have always thought that technology was creating these social networks, but I am starting to think that technology is following the social and market dynamics. The founders of the new social media are part of the generation that is self-involved and more interested in what they are others like them have to say than they are in what some so-called authority has to tell them.

Like economic socialism, then, social media are creating a distribution of information (wealth). While it may not be the government taking control, as in economic socialism, there is a loss of control by corporations, owners and the wealthy. Wealth, which was centered amongst a few families a few generations ago, has been distributed as well--not withstanding the current economic collapse. The new wealthy, and there are many of them, are creators of information sources (Facebook, MySpace, Twitter, Flikr, Digg, etc.).

It is a curious phenomenon. Perhaps we need to rethink the concept of socialism? Does anyone have any thoughts on this--it's really interesting.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Change is Hard to Accept

There is a famous quote from Baslo that says that "Half of the world's misery comes from ignorance. The other half comes from intelligence." This quote reminds me of the one about the quality of advertising attributed to John Wanamaker, who said that "half of my advertising works; the problem is I do not know which half".

The difference between pessimists and optimists has always been this view of the glass half full or half empty. So it is with the consternation over youth and their focus on social media. A new book by Mark Bauerlein called "The Dumbest Generation" is the equivalent of the glass half empty. Bauerlein, not surprisingly, is a professor of English at Emory University, who just cannot imagine that young people can have any intelligence if they are not reading books but are focused on technology and social media. He bemoans the fact that social media make young people think that they are the "center of the universe" and cautions them to wake up quickly before the business world snaps them into reality.

It is so difficult for those like Bauerlein to accept the fact that intelligence can come from different sources and that society changes. At the time of the invention of the printing press, the Church warned that society would crumble if there was no long a control over literacy and the production of text. When the TV was invented, critics warned that we had created a virtual wasteland for our youth. So it goes now with the Internet. The same cries come from the self-appointed keepers of the keys to the proper life.

The fact is that social media do put the user at the center of the universe. It is not companies who will snap young people into submission, but rather it is the other way around. Young people and social media are forcing companies to open up, to become more transparent. Marketing is no longer about touting features, but rather about cocreating with customers who are the acknoweledged sources of intelligence about the brand because they use it. People no longer simply see value in brands but look for value in what things can do for them. Industries are being customer driven and that same time that the technology is reinforcing this societal transformation.

Bauerlein writes as if the whole society were reading books until this young generation came along. Only about 10-15 percent of the US population buys books. We are not and have not been a reading society. I agree that this is a shame--I love a good book, but that's me.

Young people may not be reading books, but they are getting information. It just happens to be filtered to fit their needs and interests. Humans have always had seletive attention; now we have the media to fit our selective interests.

We can moan and moan, but there is no turning back. Yes we need to figure out how to run a democracy without a literate society, but this was a concern at the time the Founding Fathers drafted the Constitution. The real reason for the Electoral College was to make certain that the educated could save the country from a mistake by the uneducated classes who were never trusted to make smart choices. The Founders may have been brilliant and ahead of their time on democracy, but they also were aristocratic and intellectual in their thinking about themselves versus the rest of society.

Don't get me wrong, I don't like people I think are stupid making decisions that will affect my life, but stupidity is in the eye of the beholder. I'm sure that there are many people who would love to take the vote away from me because my views might change their lives in undesirable ways. My views haven't changed because of technology. I have thought for years that we are a society that is dumbing down. We live in a far different world than existed prior to the Internet. We have so mcuh more much information and too many choices, and that makes life hard--we have to be selective and manage ourselves. It was a simpler world when a few fed information to the many; today the many are sharing information with one another. The few need to join in or they will become superfluous--look at what has happened to newspapers already.

We are in the midst of a social-economic-politcal transformation that is being spurred on by technology. It has far reaching implications for us, and many of these changes are yet to be realized. The printing press changed society forever, bringing democracy and destroying feudal rule. The Internet is every bit as powerful a change agent as the printing press and we are just at the beginning of these changes. People are creating their own news services--we already have YouTube, which is the largest TV network in the world.

We can write about how stupid kids are--this has been a theme throughout history--and warn them that they are on the wrong path due to their reliance on "newfangled gadgets", but that will not reverse the course we are on. Perhaps people like Bauerlein should attempt to understand the value young people see in these social media and how he might provide content that would be of interest. The days of someone self-appointed as the purveyor of truth, the news, etc. is over.