Always in Beta

I have been reading more and more about the very contemporary concept of always being in beta. I like this idea. When we launched Idealog magazine my mantra was that each issue was a prototype for the next. Since I have given up the mantle of creative director I have noticed that there is less risk taking with the articles and their presentation in favour of a more homegenised and general approach. I think this is a shame because it suggests that a formula has been found that 'works' and invention/innovation becomes subserviant to reiterating the familiar. I am still an advocate for the concept in communications that one must make the familiar strange and the strange familiar - a ditty I picked up from Creative Director Marco Marinkovich when I worked with him at the meteorically successful Hutcheson Knowles Marinkovich agency in the late 80s and early 90s. Having said that, Idealog remains the most interesting business title in New Zealand - if only because we annexed the most interesting territory.

The beta idea is expanded on by Russell Davies. He summarises rather well in his post

1. A constant stream of ideas, bundled together by a common brand/business purpose.

...The old model of a big launch of a big idea followed by cut-downs of said big idea to deliver mind-numbing levels of repetition simply won't survive contact with the contemporary media landscape. And a key characteristic of a brand that's likely to survive the modern world will be creative fecundity, the ability to just keep having new ideas and to keep putting them out in the world. My favourite example of this is the way Ze Frank keeps generating new stuff, and, especially, the philosophy he espouses here:

2. Being prepared for mistakes

…When you're moving at the speed that the modern world demands mistakes are inevitable. Being surprised by them shouldn't be. Mistakes are also when the veneer tends to slip, if there is a veneer. The authentic voice of a brand or organisation is exposed when something goes wrong, if it's not the same as the voice you normally speak with people will notice.

3. Building with your community

…a key idea behind web2.0 is that it's the community of users that provide the value. And that's increasingly true for brands.

This concept fascinates me. I am preparing to launch into my masters thesis now and a central concept I am exploring is how social media can affect the conventions of 'nation branding'. Some might argue that, with something as big and important as the perception of a country - for tourism, trade and investment - the 'image' and identity must be managed and controlled. I am inclined to have a great deal of faith in the population and, when given the tools to communicate, they will do so more convincingly and interestingly than any top down 'campaign' - and certainly more efficiently that the economics of paid-for media will allow. Investing in a battleship communications programmes might not make much sense in the democratised digital era when markets are capable of turning (or being turned) like schooling pilchards at the vaguest whiff of stimulus. Raw thoughts, but over capitalisation in the Big Idea, might simply produce grander failures.

I have also encountered an interesting new (for me blogger), Richard Edelman who has a great deal of interesting and informed comment to make. His post from the World Economic Forum in Davos was especially interesting to me. I liked the remark by Angela Merkel, prime minister of Germany, quoted by Edelman "If you want to go fast, go alone; if you want to go far, go together." She was referring to governments, but I think it is universally applicable.

I realised the paucity of quality information and (importantly) analysis that arrives through the conventional media here in New Zealand. A couple of aspects of broadcast news and newspapers that that I find increasingly irritating is the absence of substance. In part this is because of the form. Like the 30 second commercial news in general free-to-air channels seems to conform to an orthodoxy that the segments must be in ultra-short sound bite formats. 'Dramatic footage' of a cat down a well will trump a little more genuine depth on a story that matters. The conversation about global warming suffers from a serious lack of balance, reportage of extreme weather simply makes for more entertaining television and anyone who imagines the news is anything other than entertainment has not been paying attention.

It is little wonder that we are migrating to watching more and more video online. Edelman's blog comments on this and recommends that advertisers begin to think in longer formats than 30 seconds, say 4 minutes. He also reports on the notion of 'continuous partial attention' where, for example "Thirty eight percent of those watching the Oscars on TV were also on-line. People may be watching TV but are watching TV differently."

By the way, the Beta logo above was just something I was goofing around with. Hybridising the idea of Beta as a learning process. I am not sure if the visual pun works that well because a) the learner's label for motorists is probably not universal and b) the term beta is likewise a piece of relatively arcane jargon.
Feel free to use it if you like.


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