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...a story that is never completely told...

...a story that is never completely told...

A great brand is a story that is never completely told.”

I just clocked this over at TIGS, what a great quote. I was sitting having breakfast with a good friend yesterday morning and he was wondering aloud why some brands that couldn’t possibly have been bigger all of a sudden become tiny before disappearing completely. He was talking about a particular American beer (whose name I can’t remember) that was the Budweiser of its day (I couldn’t imagine saying anything more insulting about a beer, except maybe this).

This has me thinking about brand extension – do brands therefore extend themselves because they finish the story they set out to tell? Once extended, do they find their story wasn’t al that interested in the first place?

Thinking about the uber-brands, Cadbury certainly has story left to tell, as does Apple, Nike, Vogue, who else? Contrast that with brands that we perhaps know too much about, like Microsoft or McDonalds. Those are easy targets though, who else is out there that seems to have run out of things to say?

(This also has me thinking about luxury brands, how open would not beat closed in that situation, and how not knowing the story adds to their appeal…hmmm that’s another post entirely.)

Image courtesy of Mikey G Ottawa, with thanks to compfight.

No sooner am I cracking jokes about not following Scoble than I clock an interesting breakdown of rumours swirling regarding Microsoft taking search off of Yahoo!’s hands and buying Facebook at the same time for somewhere between $15 & $20 billion. Robert is running around saying the sky will fall if this happens, I say you’ll see first an uproar and then an exodus from Facebook, the kind of thing that will make the hassles with the news feed and Beacon look like the good ol’ days.

I’ll be leading the charge.

*Update* David J Hinson hit me up on Twitter suggesting I may be over-reacting a touch. Me? Noooooo…*ahem* I seriously value the ability of the web to keep moving towards a completely open future, and my instinct says a deal between MS and Facebook would not take is closer. I have nothing against Microsoft (hi to Tom and Adam at Redmond, we miss you guys), but as Andy Grove once said, only the paranoid survive.

This morning I drove one of my best friends to the airport. He was jumping on a plane back to Germany, he was heading home.
The Definitive Guide to Explore  by Timothy K Hamilton

I’ve been lucky to have an extraordinary bunch of friends here in Melbourne from all over the world. Canada, Wales, Germany, England, Switzerland, France, South Africa, Singapore – even the odd Australian from time to time. Having grown up in Hong Kong, I’ve really responded to the variety of culture and influence around me, not to mention the fact that they’re all incredibly passionate, intelligent and entertaining folk.

This got me thinking about the places we draw our influences from, the points we call on to stimulate thought processes and new ideas. Purely a coincidence, but my set of Method Cards from Ideo just arrived which I’m quite excited about. I’m not even sure what I will use them for, but if even a single insight is there to be garnered from them then it is worth the investment. If nothing else, it is a series of thought exercises from a completely different point of view to my own.

I’m a big fan of unconventional ports of call to find ideas that change the game. Speaking of games, when I was in the video game industry in the midst of ord of the Rings knock-offs, I was pitching ideas based on Shakespear – funnily enough none of those games got off the ground (yet).

The point is the games industry subsists on mediocre sequels and plenty of “me too” titles. So much so that when something like The Sims or Nintendo’s Wii comes along, it completely flips the industry on its head and changes everything we held to be true.

The same can be said for consumer products and marketing. Which is why Microsoft buy their way into the game each generation instead of being the innovator, and why the necessary changes to mass media won’t be brought about by News Corp or Viacom or the BBC. Corporations are more human than we give them credit for, they’re the sum of their parts and history just like us; thus they’re looking at what they already know in order to innovate.

We’re drawn to the familiar, to what’s comfortable. We’re naturally averse to change. But if we want to change the game for our clients, products, services and even ourselves, we’ve got to constantly find stimulation from a place we don’t natively have inside. The people I’m lucky enough to have in my life have made me a much better human being and a hell of a lot smarter.

Don’t get me wrong, a lot of people make a great living out of keeping the wheels turning. But if you want a whole new way of getting around, you’re going to have to re-think a few things…

Photo credit: Timothy K Hamilton, with thanks to Flickr Storm.

Why Microsoft gets this when countless others don’t I’m not too sure, but they nail it in one.

I’ve spent the last couple days thinking about what Microsoft’s play for Yahoo really means for the Wide Open Spaces we call the world wide web, it having changed so quickly and constantly. And just as the dust seemed to settle around a landscape where Facebook held everyone’s attention, the most dominant software company we’ve known sweeps in for a hostile takeover on what was the shining light of Web 1.0.

I remember reading Po Bronson’s seminal Web 1.0 text Nudist on the Late Shift and being enthralled with the chapter on Yahoo!. Bronson framed it around the notion of meeting billionaires Jerry Yang and David Filo, neither of whom were yet 35, which in his eyes made the whole thing seem even more surreal. 13 years after Yahoo! was founded it finds itself mired in lay-offs, under-performing products, and perpetually treading water while everything other than Flickr fails to gain traction, and even that has been outdone by Facebook which has become the largest photo-sharing site full stop.

The play revolves around three things; search, email, and advertsing.

Search
Microsoft have long been the distant cousin in this space. Google dominate the landscape; Yahoo! hold a distant but solid second place. Indeed it can be argued they are the only ones who’ve been able to hold some ground against the relentless force that is AdWords. Microsoft have failed to offer up a compelling alternative to Google, and the end result is an increasing loss of market share in search while Yahoo! bail water out faster than the guy next to them. With the need to compete for second place out of the way, both companies can down-size, hone in on strengths, and be confident that nobody else has the market share to make a play for #2. What they do need to worry about is people moving away from a Yahoo! service who had arrived there in the first place because of a distaste for Microsoft.

Email (your inbox)
Mark Zuckerberg (Facebook founder and CEO) has spent more time than I care to acknowledge talking about the social graph. Simply put, it is a map of the relationships you have with people. Facebook is supposed to represent that, but Google have already pointed out that the social graph is already well represented by email; what you send and what you receive paint a far more accurate picture of your online interactions than a site coined so loosely as a “social network”; email doesn’t rely on the walled garden mentality, and as such maps a more realistic path for social interactions. If one age old rule of marketing is that the most compelling campaigns are formed around trusted sources, then having a solid understanding of who an individual’s sources are is key.

Microsoft & Yahoo! will have a combined online mail share of somewhere between 4 and 5 hundred million users (depending on whose numbers you use and how you skew the data). The sheer quantity of data available and what they can learn about their users is staggering; the task there though is turning it into something meaningful. Both companies have proud traditions of innovation that have somehow been lost along the way; finding that spirit again is key to taking the fight to Google and Facebook.

Interestingly, the key differentiator between Google’s Gmail and the others is Google fails to offer a paid-for premium service and instead is ad-supported based on key words in the messages you send and receive. You would think a competitor to this product would have to be in the works at at least one of the companies; hopefully these products would be finished and rolled out before any moves were made towards a single super service.

Advertising & the future of online
There have been nervous mutterings recently around Google’s advertising intentions. In September last year they hired Andy Berndt who was President of Olgilvy & Mather in New York, and two weeks ago announced the Publicis Group had been brought on to assist with their creative. While this is a coup for Publicis, people don’t seem to understand that Google have been the dominant force in online advertising ever since the introduction of AdWords; they have been in advertising for years, the traditional media folk just didn’t pick up on it because it didn’t look like the advertising they were used to.

Google’s presence coupled with its now approved purchase of Double Click means it wields an influence not seen since the months before Microsoft began being probed for anti-competitive tactics. People are still so worried about a giant in Redmond that Google was able to quietly go about its business and snap up anything and everything that made its search offering stronger.

Last year Microsoft finally caught up in a public way, purchasing a series of companies to kick-start its advertising play. Yahoo! had also been on a spending spree and now a single entity gets the fruits of those labours. This page shows a period of two years over which acquisitions were made leading up to mid-2007; all the serious plays are around advertising and search, regardless of company. Steve Ballmer would have been fuming that they didn’t land Double Click, the move for aQuantive was a no brainer after that.

If and when this deal goes through, Microsoft will own a handful of also-rans, but in addition to Yahoo!’s mail offering they will also have del.icio.us and Flickr, two of the most prominent and popular Web 2.0 sites. Facebook still lurks out in the ether, its next move known only to a handful of its executives. If anyone stands to gain from this, I think it is them – they can operate in exactly the same fashion that allowed Gogle to become quietly dominant. This move puts the spotlight on someone else, it allows Zuckerberg to spend some time thinking about where he wants the business to go and to focus on executing that vision rather than putting on the media darling suit that doesn’t quite fit.

Google have recently reached a point where they can do whatever they please, when Microsoft reached that spot it rapidly became the least interesting kid on the block. Google need to show they are hungry, that they have the fire and the stamina to win. 2008 is going to be a phenomenal year for online, and that is without even touching the launch of Android, Google’s mobile platform, the 700MHz spectrum bid, or Open Social, its vision for a completely open socially-networked web. Once Microsoft hammer this deal out, it makes for two massive fish in a (thankfully) endless pond. That’s just the kind of environment the Facebooks of the world need, one where they can hide away and get back to what made them great in the first place.

And the wide open spaces just got a little wider…