This is the end…

I started this blog around two years ago, as ‘a sort of experiment in writing – to see if it’s possible to write a blog that:
– conforms to the requirements of the genre
– is entertaining enough for me to want to write and some people to want to read
– is personal enough to be authentic whilst being work-related enough to justify doing on the Edge Hill site
– doesn’t make me sound like a corporate shill, pretend Californian teenager or simple babbling loon.’

CASE

It has been fun – a way of holding forth and getting an audience that doesn’t involve standing up in front of a crowd thinking ‘I probably should have worn a tie’ – but I think it’s time to evaluate my success and to decide whether to continue doing it.

I believe it ‘conforms to the requirements of the genre’, such as they are, except in one crucial respect – regularity. I simply don’t have the time to write small essays any more. I can just about manage 140 character tweets.

Maybe it ‘is entertaining enough for … some people to want to read’, and it has certainly been gratifying to meet people who say they read it. And learning my blogging chops here led me to doing my walking project, which has in turn led me to do more creative writing, which is all good.

I also think it ‘is personal enough to be authentic whilst being work-related enough to justify doing on the Edge Hill site’ – it’s a question of balance that is quite difficult. There is a certain exposure in writing as oneself – but then it’s a kind of performance really, a work-blogging role alongside the other roles I play.

As for whether it ‘doesn’t make me sound like a corporate shill, pretend Californian teenager or simple babbling loon’ – I think it does make me sound like those things, albeit not usually all at once. ‘Corporate shill’ is what it says on my business card and the other bits are those ‘requirements of the genre’ I was seeking to fulfil.

So it has been an interesting exercise but it’s time to move on. My picture on the header seems to have disappeared already so I guess the writing was on the wall. A truly corporate blog may have a role but a work-based personal one has had its day.

Thanks for reading.

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 www.innocentdrinks.com/family’, 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…

People who need people

Looking at my diary, I have booked to attend three seminars about online media marketing for HE over the next couple of months. I started thinking about a mildly satirical piece on this – how despite the Internet we’re still catching real trains, meeting in real function rooms, drinking real coffee. But then I thought – what’s wrong with that? Isn’t that how it should be?

Sure, online media and virtual environments mean it is possible to interact in ways that don’t involve a ‘fleshmeet’. There are new ways of doing things without meeting up, such socialising, learning, buying stuff – meaning fewer real-world encounters. But the new channels also create new ways for people to meet in reality – meaning additional real-world encounters. The forthcoming Twestivals around the globe – where Twitter users will attend events with music and various kinds of fun and frolic – are a great example. (There’s one in Liverpool if you fancy it.)

Black Sun Rising

Glancing at the webcam this morning, I saw what appeared to be a black sun rising over the Business School building (home of Criminology, Law and Management programmes.) Or perhaps a black hole has formed, somewhere over Aughton.

We have been briefed to expect a challenging year, but being sucked acrooss the event horizon into singularity would in my view be a bit much.

Fortunately the black dot is an optical illusion and cosmic catastrophe did not occur today, at least not yet. The Business School remains intact and looks very splendid:

More pics here.

Pop endorsement

Iggy Pop is the latest is celebrity advertiser, fronting a multi-media campaign for online insurer Swiftcover…

“We feel this new and unique approach reflects our positioning as a young and innovative company” says their marketing director, and seeing ‘the world’s forgotten boy’ larking around on my telly certainly got my attention. Clearly the choice is deliberately unexpected, incongruous and designed to generate PR.

Higher education has used somewhat tamer characters in its advertising, such as Patrick Stewart (Huddersfield) and John Simm (Blackpool & the Fylde). As a Chancellor and an alumnus respectively, these folks had a direct connection with the ‘product’ being promoted. It’s hard to imagine Iggy (famous for antics such as rolling around in broken glass onstage, and credited with inventing the stage dive) sorting out his finances on the internet, and the ad doesn’t depend on us believing that he is an actual customer. He’s there as a signifier of the ‘life’ we can ‘get’ if we save time by using handy online insurance: a life that could be as thrill-packed and wilfully-expressed as that of the shirtless old man bouncing around our TV screens. (Of course, the actual Pop life may not be that of the ‘Real Wild Child’ of his lyrics; he plays golf, and has a piece in an academic journal in his CV – but none of that matters, he embodies his own legend.)

Which leads me to think – are there cultural figures, not actually connected with Universities, who could embody their values

Seven Deadly New Year’s Resolutions

I have always been a fan of the Seven Deadly Sins, ever since I stayed up to watch the original Bedazzled movie, back when Christmas telly was good. So I thought it would good to devise marketing-related New Year’s Resolutions, based on the handy readymade structure of the ‘capital vices’. The idea isn’t to commit all the sins (in some spectacular orgy of Sadean libertinage); rather, it’s to figure out how to avoid them, and stay on the narrow way of goodness combined with the shining path of marketing success 😉

So what have we got to contend with? Lust, gluttony, greed, sloth, wrath, envy and pride comprise the traditional menu, with corresponding virtues: chastity, temperance etc. So let’s sort ’em out.

Lust
Tricky one this – what kind of marketing lust might we fall prey to? Dante defined it as ‘excessive love of others’ so let’s avoid promiscuously courting random people – and instead try and fill our databases, Facebook friend lists etc with genuine potential customers, with whom we can have meaningful relationships.

Gluttony
doesn’t just refer to food, though personally I do intent to follow Thomas Aquinas’ example and avoid eating ‘too much’, ‘too daintily’ or conversely ‘wildly’. Gluttony is also about waste – so our diligent value-for-money procurement, environmentally-friendly production methods and highly-targeted (or non-lustful) marketing will put us on the right side of this one.

Greed

is slightly different – a sin of excess involving the accumulation of wealth. Isn’t this what marketing people are interested in? Maybe, though in the public sector we aren’t creating profits for shareholders. We do intend to raise £1.3m in philanthropic income over the next three years. That will of course be charity – the virtue corresponding to the vice of greed – so we’ll definitely be on the side of the angels.

Sloth
can’t be good, and I’ll be fitting in some regular blood-pumping, endorphin-liberating, cholestertol-lowering exercise by walking around the campus, into town and maybe even through the woods, inspired by the Urban Walks scheme. Within the department, as well as maintaining a white-hot rate of busy-ness, we’ll be going above and beyond by working on an exciting action research project, of which more in a later post.

Wrath
can be manifested as impatience, and in a sense we’re paid to be impatient as we’re all trying to improve things; to move with speed from where we are now to where we want to be. However the Devil’s in the detail, and we need to get things right as well as forging ahead. So I’m resolving to avoid overhastiness…

Envy
played by Barry Humphries in the 1967 version of Bedazzled, is another kind of insatiable desire, wanting what others have. ‘Envious marketing’ could manifest itself as lookalike advertising, trying to resemble another institution or organisation. I’d like us to carry on being distinctive and ploughing our own furough.

Finally Pride – a difficult one as we’re often beating ourselves up for being too shy and retiring as an institution. And, yes, I’d like us to win more awards and recognition. Perhaps marketing departments are a kind of professional boasters, absorbing hubris like a medieval Sin Eater? I don’t think this is the case – as any marketing claims we make have to be based on substance. So another resolution is to focus on credibility and keep it real…

Trying to Cover It Live

Last Saturday we used the Graduation Ceremony as an opportunity to try an experiment in live blogging, using an online tool called Cover It Live. You can see the results here.

CoverItLive has some neat features and is pretty easy to use. People with ‘Producer’ accounts get a simple editing window with the usual tools for formatting, links etc. There can be multiple ‘producers’ at one time. The audience can comment, and comments can be moderated. It can be set up to receive messages from Twitter therefore allowing posts to come in from any person/device using Twitter – I texted a few bits in to test this out. (Unfortunately we forgot to turn this off so some of my presumed-personal ones appeared this morning – nothing too psychotic or surreal luckily.)

The big disappointment from Saturday was that we couldn’t get the ‘media uploader’ to work, so adding pictures was very diufficult. As there isn’t a lot to say about a graduation, this was limiting – I think it would have been best as a photo-stream with a few comments, giving a less formal view on the event before/during/after. Next time maybe.

Live blogging could work well for all sorts of events. We only scratched the surface – video, audio, and polls could be used also. Given a bit of person-power a conference, for instance, could have a live blog.

Thanks to everyone who participated, specially ‘official blogger’ Tom.

Update: Experimenting later we have found that (for us) the media uploader function works in Firefox, but not IE.