who's in control? that was the theme of this evening's Thinking From A Different Place debate at Vizeum. do brands make what customers want or do customers determine what brands make? do creative agencies still control creation of the best ideas, or are the crowd now creating and aggregating the best content?
a panel, consisting of Vizeum's Matthew Hook, We Are Social's Robin Grant, Martin Bailie of Glue, Michael McClary from Microsoft and Andy Corcoran from MTV all awesomely debated a range of subjects from the decline of the newspaper industry to the impact of technology, taking in the future of media agencies and the nature of brands and advertising on the way.
it's easy to summarise such a debate by saying that its all getting more and more complicated and more and more difficult and we all need to move faster and faster and be better and better to stay ahead; but a few interesting comments steered the debate in a more illuminating direction.
Martin pointed out that we focus too much on the next big technology, or on the specifics of what people are doing with technology now, rather than focusing on two millennia of human psychology to point us in the right direction. as he put it, if we "get the basics right you're 80% there" - produce interesting stuff that's based on a interesting point and view and land it in the laps of as many of the right people as possible.
the question of listening to customers was numerous times, in particular by McClary who observed that there's a "danger in highlighting [and responding to] only the loudest voices". Hook agreed, observing that whilst you can engage 1,000s in a conversation, many brands are interested in talking to and influencing millions. Corcoran reminded us of the Henry Ford quote that "If I'd asked my customers what they wanted they'd have asked for faster horses".
but it was the nature of control that caused the most interesting debate. Grant: "historically brands were more in position of control"; Hook: "marketers desperately want control, they do everything they can to create predictability [of the result of their actions]"; Bailie: "it doesn't matter - no one controls brands; get rid of the idea of control"
for me its about maintaining a balancing act; about knowing when to keep and when to let go of control of what a brand does and how it does it. would you ever let the crowd determine your core creative idea or brand positioning? ...almost certainly not. would you let them create content inspired by it? ...yes. should you let them make your products? ...no. should you le them choose the ingredients? ...of course.
a point was made about the recent successes of Facebook and Twitter, with a question being raised about what business they're in. they are - of course - in the business of aggregating audiences. that's the media business. the point of whether or not they can monetise that aside (big aside I recognise but run with it), part of their success is down to the fact that they capitalise on the fact that one of the best ways to grow an audience is to get your current audience to do it for you.
giving away control - of your product, or whatever is appropriate - is a particularly effective way of getting an audience to do just that. give them ownership, give them reasons to talk about you brand, its point of view and its products and services. but most of all give them a reason to come back, to stay part of the conversation with you. because its those conversations that are the most valuable bit of media real estate of all.