Android II: converging identities, proliferating channels

Having expended a post talking mainly about the venue for ‘Digital Landscapes…’, here are some thoughts on the actual subject matter (using online media to recruit students) – harvested from the event itself, a meeting afterwards (with Suraj from Chameleon) and a meeting before the event that I didn’t realise I was having…

Reaching people
We are beginning to get solid figures on some of the ways young people use devices and media channels. I was particularly interested in the demographics of mobile usage, as put across by the Blyk guys. This is a step forward, as until recently it often seemed that we were winding up some new toys and letting them run off randomly in a darkened nursery.

Where we’re at as marketing people
Judging by the reactions of assorted Marketing Directors, Managers and Officers, we’re still at different stages with all this crazy online Web 2.0 stuff. (By the way, why is it assumed that it will progress from Web 2.0 to Web 3.0? When do we get Web 2.1, Web 2.2.5 etc., and who decides?) One person might say something like ‘Twitter is b********’, while another is choosing between marketing apps to develop for iPhones. We’re not all in the same place. Does that mean the switched-on places are more competitive?

Who does the actual work?
New channels proliferate, but our teams don’t get any bigger. Whose job is it to load pictures on to Flickr, or to engage students with Twitter? When are they going to do it? Stuff that didn’t exist three years ago is unlikely to be in anyone’s job description. It’s a real problem for small teams – not just a matter of capacity (how many hours in a day) but of culture, roles, professional identities. Both marketing and web people are content-creators and channel-managers, and there’s no set formula for configuring roles for best effect. Making effective use of online/social media is a necessary development, but lots of other stuff (analog, embodied, physical) has to happen too. I suppose that’s why partners, agencies and suppliers have an important role, if they can demonstrate that they add value.
I have heard a tale told about a university sacking its boring traditional marketing department and hiring a shiny new digitally-led team. (I imagine the Cylons marching across Caprica.) This could be seen as a brave move, but surely also as a failure of management and development. There are plenty of ways to use the strengths of people whose professional starting-point isn’t digital, as marketing becomes more online.

Fit for purpose
I have a new Android phone that does many things. It is particularly good at being on the internet all the time. But I also have a PDA (better at documents), older phone (simpler for calls), iPod (better for music), camera (better at taking pictures), notebook and pen (better for making notes) and so on. (Coming soon – executive wheelbarrow to shunt it all around.) There is convergence – devices doing more things – but it hasn’t happened to the extent that any kind of communication can be seen on any device, or through any channel.

Boundaries blur…
Boundaries between professional roles, technologies, and media are all dissolving. For instance, where does ‘marketing’ stop and ‘web’ begin? I think boundaries between individual roles and identities are becoming more fluid too. (There has been some interesting discussion about learner and teacher identies on Edge Hill blogs recently, eg here and here.) This is exciting but the ride can be bumpy. For instance, last week, I became seriously peeved when what I saw as ‘work stuff’ was being communicated via my Facebook page, late one evening. I suppose I felt that I didn’t want to boot up my ‘work’ identity, all problem-solving and accountability, when I was in ‘play’ mode looking for random banter on Facebook. However, while I was writing passive-aggressive status updates, one colleague had simply resolved the issue by logging on from home and fixing it, and another had tried to do the same but was too late…. so each of us had different views, at that moment, of what was appropriate.
From a marketing point of view, we need to consider the identities that our audiences will bring with them as they move towards our institutions. What is going to work for them, what will feel dissonant…

Digital landscape gardening
The metaphor of a ‘digital landscape’ is interesting. In a way it means a landscape made of numbers or, surreally, fingers. But it’s a metaphor I like. If we’re thinking about marketing online, it might make more sense to think of all of us exploring and inhabiting a landscape than, say, marketers using a set of ‘tools’ to communicate with audiences.

So the night before I went to a pub…
Introverted misanthrope that I am, I didn’t actually talk to anyone – at least anyone who was physically there – but I did mention it on Twitter (which led to some online discussion on Facebook). And the next day, I had a message from a guy who had also been physically there at the same time, and had also twittered about it… So, retrospectively, it was quite a convivial evening, in the digital landscape at least. This made me think – where exactly are our potential students? They live and study in real places that we try to ‘target’, and at the same time they play, communicate and seek information digital places too.

I have an inkling that understanding virtual environments and identities on their own isn’t enough – that the interplay of the digital with real-world places, activities and behaviour are where it’s at. But that’s enough typing into the aether – an Open Day is happening and I have 1,100 real-time embodied people to encounter…

Android in the Athenaeum

Yesterday I was in London, chairing the Digital Landscape for Student Recruitment in 2009 event and playing with my new Android phone.

One of the Android’s features is its Googlemapping, GPS and compass features, which proved useful in finding the venue. The Athenauem is sign-free on the outside, apart from some Greek letters set into the doorstep – a bit like the fraternity houses I’ve seen in American films. Inside, any resemblance to such things ceases, as one is confronted by statues, wood panelling and the magnificent sweeping staircase where (as I learned) Dickens once had a famous reconciliation with Thackeray.

I had stressed about the dress code, checking repeatedly that I had a tie with me with the paranoia of someone about to emigrate checking their passport. Judging by the assorted jeans, open-necked shirts and jacket-free torsos around the place I needn’t have worried – shorts and the ‘Vive l’anarchie’ t-shirt I had slept in would have done at a pinch…

Our morning exploring the digital landscape was very fruitful. From a mixture of agency presentations and university case studies I learned useful stuff about mobile marketing, the relationship between search and online display ads, uses of student ambassadors in forums… all practical things to take away. I am glad sessions like this have progressed beyond the ‘here’s what social networking is – we need to think about whether to engage with it’ stage.

And I recommend the club claret.

Premium crafted punk beer

I tried a new beer at the Liverpool Twestival a couple of weeks ago: Punk IPA by Brewdog. Without reading glasses in a dark venue, I couldn’t read the label (in fact at first I wondered why ‘Pink IPA’ was packaged with a blue label). Yesterday I bought another bottle from Tesco (hardly the 100 Club or CBGBs of retail, but apparently the nation’s punk ale stockist) and now, in the controlled surroundings of home with artificial viewing aids aplenty, I have been able to give the packaging some proper attention.

This is not a lowest common denominator beer.
This is an aggressive beer.
We don’t care if you don’t like it.

says the copywriter working for Brewdog, maker of ‘Beer for Punks’, a company that is ‘about breaking rules, taking risks, upsetting trends and unsettling institutions but first and foremost great tasting beer’ including this ‘post modern classic pale ale’.

And it is very nice. But is it punk?

Back in 1977, cans of Holsten Pils were the drink of choice of the pogoing set as I recall. In the days of Party Fours and Watneys Red Barrel, Pils seemed fresh and new, with a strength capable of inducing ‘total derangement of all the senses’ in a short space of time. As with Punk IPA, the no-nonsense ingredients had a kind of three-chord purity to them.

However, in the punk era things that actually advertised themselves as ‘punk’ were usually some kind of commentary or cheap cash-in. All the good people disavowed the label or moved on to other things. I think people wandering around with bottles of ‘punk beer’ would have come across as the kind of ‘Part-Time Punks’ lampooned in the song by The Television Personalities, the ones who buy coloured vinyl and ‘pogo in the bedroom/In front of the mirror/But only when their mum’s gone out’.

But it isn’t 1977. It isn’t even 2007 – it’s 2009 and ‘punk’ has some other meanings. Golf Punk magazine, for instance, isn’t aimed at the few golfers with Vaseline-spiked hair and bondage trousers. In this context, ‘punk’ is drafted in to bring resonances of rawness and independent subversive spirit. I guess this is what Brewdog want to channel into their packaging – which really stands out among the traditional liveries of most brands.

The confrontational rhetoric of the label struck me as being the inverse of the cutesy stuff written on the cartons and bottles of Innocent drinks. Whereas Innocent try and be unfeasibly friendly, with their invitations to ‘Just pop in To Fruit Towers’ and ‘join the family at’, Brewdog are comically unfriendly, insulting the purchaser of their ‘rebellious little beer’ as being unlikely to have ‘the taste or sophistication to appreciate the quality of this premium craft brewed’ beverage.

It will be interesting to see if this approach catches on. Innocent-speak has become quite widepread, not just in the drinks market: some prospectuses, for instance, ape the amiable, immaculately quirky nouveau-hippy tone of the smoothie-millionaires. Maybe more of us will go down the Brewdog route and start metaphorically gobbing at our audiences, with some ‘rebellious’, ‘aggressive’ copy showing our authentic individualism…

But hang on a sec. Reading the Punk IPA label again, it’s actually quite elitist. ‘Not a lowest common denominator beer’, ‘premium crafted’, the opposite of ‘cheaply made watered down lager’ – maybe it’s more about Emerson Lake and Palmer-style virtuosity than DIY punkiness. Perhaps there’s some ‘post modern’ irony in there alongside the ‘barley, hops, yeast, water’.

Whatever – let me say again how nice the beer was – I hope to try their others sometime…