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I left open beats closed out of my marketing mantra the other day, largely because the 5 points circle around it anyway. On the back of that comes a couple items which illustrate it perfectly.

The first is from Fred Wilson, who writes while vacationing with his family in France:

If you look at this picture of my son Josh catching up on his favorite TV shows this morning before breakfast, you’ll see a flat panel display in the upper right of the picture. And yet Josh is watching on his laptop. That’s largely because we are in europe right now, where the shows he likes are not available on the local cable channel but are available “on demand” on the Internet.

Yes it’s true that Hulu and ABC.com and other web video services block IP addresses outside of the US, but we were able to hack around that pretty easily. Yet another form of DRM that won’t work, can’t work, and will eventually be removed by content owners.

Couldn’t agree more. On the flip side and very open is Garfield Minus Garfield, a comic which appropriates Garfield strips, removing the cat and…well…see for yourself:

Garfield Minus Garfield

Garfield Minus Garfield

Who would have guessed that when you remove Garfield from the Garfield comic strips, the result is an even better comic about schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and the empty desperation of modern life? Friends, meet Jon Arbuckle. Let’s laugh and learn with him on a journey deep into the tortured mind of an isolated young everyman as he fights a losing battle against loneliness in a quiet American suburb.

Happy Monday everyone.

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I read two unrelated posts this morning which both said the same thing; the generation of children who aren’t yet teenagers have an interesting relationship with and approach to communication.

The first was from Fred Wilson who was after a new phone for his daughter to replace a broken iPhone. Funnily enough, she didn’t want it replaced with an iPhone, 2007’s must have toy.

She wants the new crimson red Blackberry Curve.

Fortunately, it looks like I can get an unlocked one on eBay for between $100 and $200.

I wonder what this says? I realize it’s a sample size of one, but I’ve heard that a bunch of her friends have also given up their iPhones in search of a better texting device which seems to be the one feature they value most.

The second was from Simon Chen who said exactly the same thing:

Ask a teenager to give up their mobile phone and see what happens. Actually, I bet if you told any kid today that the new rule of the house is their phones would be restricted to voice calls only (and that the text or SMS function would be disabled), there would be a global revolt. Parents would be locked in cars and basements and all manner of threats would be shouted from every rooftop.

Kids don’t talk on phones anymore. They grunt. But the little f@#ckers can text. Man, can they text.

I am loathe to carry out a conversation via text, I flat out refuse and don’t respond, or else I call if it is really important*. But I’ve seen this behaviour in my younger cousins, and being somewhat pedantic about grammar and punctuation, have certainly seen it carried out in the way sentences are constructed – or rather abbreviated into forms that begin to border on unrecognisable.

With this in mind, I’ve begun thinking aloud (and with no real clarity yet) about what this means for the way the next generation will communicate, particularly how they will expected to be communicated to and how this will impact their interactions with the rest of the world.

For example, is it reasonable to expect “correct” grammar to be taught if it ceases to apply to their daily lives the way it does to mine? Will an essay in SMS or l33t speak be admissable in new communications courses once they at university? More applicable to me, how does that change the nature of text in ads? How do you affect the tone of a piece if not just punctuation but vowels themselves cease to play a part? Srlsy?

I’d dismiss the above as nonsense, except I already see my own generation with hard and fast mind sets on certain things nobody had to teach us, we just knew. The notion of respecting someone because of their title never even entered our minds; what do I take for granted that the next batch won’t bat an eyelid at?

The changing nature of communication is something I find endlessly interesting, even if there are no easy answers.

*Things that are important:

  1. A guitar I simply must have
  2. The girl I’m seeing accidentally meeting the girl I’m seeing
  3. Confusion over which bar we will begin the evening’s festivities in
  4. A Springsteen tour being announced
  5. More as I think of them…

I’m a big believer in a business being free to focus on its core product(s). If it ain’t what you do, then it ain’t what you do! Far too many times I’ve seen companies get distracted by an interesting piece of technology or an idea outside their scope or ability to act on. When that happens, your core product suffers, and your competitors who may have been running a distant second seem to close the gap over night.

It isn’t simply a case of distraction though, outsourcing can also land your ability to succeed and innovate in the hands of people who don’t share your priorities, goals, or values. What that means is a devaluing of your offering in the eyes of the people you’re hoping to sell to. An inconsistent experience you can’t directly impact means your brand comes to be associated with, at best, a level of impotence in affecting positive change for its own offering, and at worst, a frustrating end-user experience. On top of the impotence. With a good measure of GAF* thrown in.

The same idea applies to brand extension. Let’s compare Google and eBay, two titans from Web 1.0. One seemingly goes from strength to strength with an occasional bit of conjecture, and another is mired in a mix of end-user apathy and anger, with top-tier management failing to set a cohesive direction. Google’s acquisitions may seem puzzling at times from the outside, however each purchase (with the occasional exception) can fairly readily be tied back into search, and eventually monetised.

Contrast this with eBay’s acquisition of promising-but-troubled VOIP provider Skype back in 2005. 2 1/2 years on this seems like a move geared around nabbing promising tech before someone else does, and not around how such a service better positions eBay to grow. Now both services are languishing with indifference and open hostility, and the purchase is little more than a land-grab in hindsight.

The trouble with a land-grab is eventually the people who actually own the land show up and cause trouble. In this case the digital natives are fighting back, services like Etsy crop up and move in on markets that could have and maybe should have been eBay’s. All due to the company losing focus, and the same can be said for Yahoo!, parts of Microsoft, and a myriad of players in the offline space too.

Times like this some old-school business lessons can come in handy. Echoed in Fred Wilson’s post about the New York Times, Jack Welch’s mantra to his VPs was be number one or two in your market, otherwise get out. Seth Godin says in his book The Dip “being the best in the world is seriously underrated”. And as I say up top, “If it ain’t what you do, then it ain’t what you do!”

Anyone have examples that fit into the above they’d care to share?

Saturday night, after watching No Country For Old Men (great movie, very heavy though), my band of reprobates and I descended on Jimmy Watson’s to down a few bottles of Dry & Dry (dry vermouth, dry ginger ale). One of the crew is a good mate from England who spent many years working in traditional media, think newspapers, Sky TV, etc.

We got into a debate around the future of advertising and entertainment (because on Saturday night we clearly had nothing better to do…), using The Sopranos as a case study. My friend is not old, but older than I, and definitely from a different school thought. He does currently work in marketing though and has lectured at universities on journalism – he is by no means an idiot. With this in mind I was astounded by how little he grasped of the web 2.0 world, convinced that changes in consumer behaviour only came about because traditional advertising and media companies decided to alter the lay of the land.

I initially thought he was taking the piss, but upon further exploration he was deadly serious. His argument centred around a rather bizarre core, stating that if advertisers and media companies didn’t remain in control, then productions such as The Sopranos would simply cease to exist because of a lack of advertising dollars. My point that a market for quality entertainment would forever exist, citing everything from Homer’s Odyssey to Quarterlife seemed to fall on deaf ears; sure levels of production quality are bound to vary from project to project, but people don’t tune in for the lighting, they tune in for compelling characters and stories they see something of themselves in.

My friend’s issues ran deeper than the quality of story-telling though. Once of his fundamental concerns was, essentially, “Who will pay the salaries of the people who book the ads if nobody comes and books the ads?” I told him nobody, because we don’t need the ads, and that seemed to trigger a small nuclear explosion inside his head. In the mind of my educated and intelligent friend, it was inconceivable that ad-centric business models in traditional media would not survive ad infinitum. More than that, he couldn’t conceive of people who weren’t part of these establishments being the ones that changed everything, even though he himself uses things like MySpace and Facebook.

It reminded me of a moment I had a month or so ago on a tram going to work. I was reading RSS feeds on my BlackBerry, everyone else was reading a newspaper; I was the odd one out, but somehow had not removed my head from my ass recently enough for this to come as anything other than a surprise. It is so easy to get lost in the Brave New World of Web2.0 and forget that Facebook is still pretty novel for most, that the things we spend so much time discussing are not even blips on the horizon of the general public.

In the end, I opted to change the subject. After all, it was Saturday night, and my choices were to persist with my ad-hoc oral essay entitled “Everything you know is wrong”, or I could order another round.

Better make it two then…

N.B. For a thought-provoking look at how consumption of media is changing, check out this post on Fred Wilson’s blog.

*Update* The inimitable Bob Lefsetz hits the nail on the head.