Mark Higginson

Manifesto
How people's attention flows on the web

The web is a social artifact.
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15 May 2012

And that was the problem. At the time, the Web was rapidly becoming more social, and Flickr was at the forefront of that movement. It was all about groups and comments and identifying people as contacts, friends or family. To Yahoo, it was just a fucking database.

How Yahoo Killed Flickr and Lost the Internet

Yahoo lost the battle for search and went straight on to lose the battle for social.

This slow-motion disaster has been fascinating to watch unfold; what happened to Flickr encapsulates so much of what was and is wrong with Yahoo, as the post quoted above highlights.

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07 May 2012

In the online world, businesses have the opportunity to develop very deep relationships with customers, both through accepting preferences of customers and then observing their purchase behavior over time, so that you can get that individualized knowledge of the customer and use that individualized knowledge of the customer to accelerate their discovery process.

This is a quote I come back to time and again. That was Jeff Bezos speaking in an interview in 1998, well before ‘social media’ was a twinkle in the marketer’s eye. Yet the understanding encapsulated here demonstrates perfectly Bezos’ grasp on what makes the web particularly special and useful to business, whatever you may think of what Amazon and Bezos have wrought.

He goes on to say:

“If we can do that, then the customers are going to feel a deep loyalty to us, because we know them so well. And if they switch to a competitive website – as long as we never give them a reason to switch, as long as we’re not trying to charge higher prices or providing lousy service, or don’t have the selection that they require; as long as none of those things happen – they’re going to stick with us because they are going to be able to get a personalized service, a customized website that takes into account the years of relationship we’ve built with them.”

If you ever think ‘what exactly are we trying to achieve here?’ just try and elicit what ‘individualised knowledge’ you are capturing and figure out how you can use it. The rest will fall into place. This is what ‘social media’ should mean to a business. It’s entirely practical; a record of events that grows over time, tied back to individual customer profiles that can be interrogated at scale to inform strategic decision-making.

Note that this is most definitely not an endorsement of how Amazon treats its workers.

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26 April 2012

Readability

On the left is one of my favourite websites, Suck.com, as it looked from back when I used to read it in the mid-1990s.

On the right is how I read things in 2012.

Plus ça change.

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16 April 2012

Ablogalypse

Ablogalypse

Searches for ‘tumblr’ to eclipse searches for ‘blog’.

Check out the current state of these queries on Google Trends.

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31 March 2012

Marketing Hiut Denim

Marketing relies on the schemas by which we frame our collective experience. There is a general lack of critical analysis to be found among those responsible for these manipulations. The consensus is to ignore the framing within which both actor and audience simultaneously participate.

As an example I’d like to look briefly at the appropriation of the trappings of a social enterprise by Hiut Denim as a means to market to a particular psychographic.

Based in Wales and set-up by the original founders of Howies, the message they lead with across their own and third-party marketing materials is their aim “to revive Cardigan’s denim industry”. The inference is that the customer isn’t simply incurring a financial cost in buying a pair of jeans, they’re making an investment in something of value to an entire community. Not only can you feel physically good in this product, you can feel emotionally good too.

The fact Hiut employ around six people is secondary to this intent of ‘putting people back to work’. The frame being relied upon taps into a much deeper set of associations and meanings than are superficially being communicated, namely the notion of employment of any sort being ‘good’, a message endlessly repeated by the media. The marketing benefit is that Hiut are immediately perceived as a moral actor and are therefore inherently more trustworthy than another ‘brand’ whose values don’t encompass a motivation generally agreed upon to be positive.

Whether a business selling a highly priced product to a limited market can really get “400 people their jobs back making jeans” is an inherent contradiction at the heart of the proposition that’s left unaddressed.

Without the hyperbole what you’re left with is a nice product sourced from a great Japanese denim mill. What you’re in fact getting here isn’t ‘just jeans’ but ‘just marketing’ in the context of a meticulously constructed frame that encompasses a number of ideas about the entrepreneurial nature of capitalism.

If the only option you have as a resident of Cardigan after a decade is to return to a repetitive job that was previously outsourced to Morocco then that isn’t social progress. Let’s not kid ourselves that just because of the size of the business it’s a cottage industry of artisans and craftspeople. The construction of the jeans could happen anywhere, hence the original act of outsourcing that closed the old factory. There’s no actual qualitative difference except that which can be created in the mind of the prospective customer who can be convinced to pay more for the mental association being created.

Take this quote as an example:

“Our company… will keep making jeans in this town when there will always be cheaper places to make them.”

This sounds noble but is actually about creating a value differentiation as the product isn’t being sold on price. I could make jeans on the moon provided I could pass that cost onto willing customers who thought ‘moon jeans’ were worth the amount being charged. The quote reduces questions around the economics of manufacturing into a marketing message that we are not meant to analyse in any detail.

Perhaps these objections seem churlish but I have a real interest in the explicit and implicit motivations that lie behind constructs such as these. I also feel a need to question what, why and how I’m being influenced to think.

As a compare-and-contrast exercise check out Allevol and Stabo. They’re authentic and talk about what they make and don’t rely on hokie self-help aphorisms about business to sell an image. It’s telling that these people who actually directly design and make their products do not need a grandiose narrative to justify their self-schemas.

Check out these videos from Roy’s Jeans to get an idea of the industrial scale of denim manufacture at the mill and the labour it takes to put a pair together by hand.

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