Stuff you need to know from the coolest “un-conference” on the planet
I hate conferences. Dull speakers from our industry spouting stuff we already know. Bad food. Guilt that I should be back at work doing something.
And that’s why Planningness was born. Planning-ness is an “un-conference” for creative thinkers who want to get their hands dirty, and I’ve been privileged to be help put it on the last few years. Born in reaction to the echo chamber of so many marketing conferences, Planning-ness sessions all blend teaching and doing, to expand the creative and critical mind, led by a leader in any field but advertising. But they must have something to teach a bunch of ad folks (that’s pretty much every field, yes?)
This year, we were in Santa Monica at the Annenberg Beach House. What follows is a brief impressionistic view of several sessions, their concepts, and their key takeaways. Perhaps the only thing that could compete with our speakers was the scenery behind them. For more info on any of them, head to planningness.com
The morning started with a breakdown on interrogation from one of Santa Monica’s top homicide detectives, Detective HeeSeok Ahn. He provided a window into the investigative process that is both starkly similar and drastically different from what you see on TV.
In the parallel session, Sharon Ann Lee led a session on understanding and analyzing cultural trends. First she defined the arena. For something to qualify as a cultural trend it must:
- Penetrate urban, suburban and rural communities
- Be widely distributed, not regionally based
- Be present in the general population, not tribally based
The key, she says, to getting anyone to let you in and tell you about their life is E.N.C., short for Enthusiastic Non-judgemental Curiosity. If you bring judgement to the table, you leave empty handed. As a side note, she thinks that everyone has a secret happy dance, and she got several attendees, including me, to share. What’s your happy dance?
Amanda Parks led a session titled “How to blend fashion and technology” which instantly conjured up images of glowing jackets and dresses that light up for me, and apparently others. “Every time I talk about this, the first thing that people ask me is when everything is going to light up. That totally misses the point. I hope never!” Fashion, at its core, is about our relation to the world and space around us, and technology can expand that space, or contract it. Two mundane but deep issues immediately surfaced: Power and Privacy. When you think about it, we are only as free as long as our batteries are charged…could we free ourselves with clothes that power our gadgets? And with our devices, how can we be private while in public?
During lunch, it was hard to wrangle the crowd inside from the warm California sun, but Rob Delaney, bearer of the title “funniest person on Twitter,” had some short bursts of humor and insight that drew the crowd in with his classic story of corporate hack turned starving comedian, who has to figure out how to feed his family and is now a big successful comedy writer all over TV. His advice to people and brands on social media and off could be summed up as this: Be humble. Really care. Don’t be an A-Hole. It seems hard to imagine, but a few years ago he was embarrassed to tell people he booked gigs because of Twitter (rather than “The Tonight Show”).
For generations consultants and designers have help clients create products and services out of whole cloth, taking every step into account (appearance, experience, business plan, training, product, design, etc), however it never really had a name. A few years ago, someone dreamt up “Service Design” to describe it, and that is slowly working it’s way into the business vernacular. Craig LaRosa, a principal in the service design practice at Continuum, had us redesign the Hertz shuttle experience based on the experience of a specific passenger, which proved deceptively complex. The core of a service design project, he said, is the customer journey. Focus your effort around the customer’s perspective, and you’ll be able to create something they value. Implicit in this is knowing exactly who your customers are, so building full personas is often the best route. I was struck by just how different the experience and assumptions of the shuttle passenger were from my own in the same circumstance.
David Bliss and Guthrie Dolin of Odopod in San Francisco are facinated by “The Internet of Things” and how their clients can leverage and interact with it. If you’re not familiar, ”The Internet of Things” is a phrase that refers to the growing number of objects around you that have sensors, create data, and connect to each other, or the internet. The real revolution is that the number of these devices transmitting data to a central repository for storage and analysis is exploding. The data these devices are creating that can be centrally stored and analyzed is exploding. Nike Plus has logged almost 6 trillion steps so far, and FitBit, which Odopod works on, knows literally every move their users make. Given sensors and aggregated data, they challenged us to come up with new businesses and services. Their presentation is here. You can see what we came up with here.
The day ended with a party at CP+B LA. Their new offices are gorgeous, and bathed in natural light. (Nothing like the windowless bunker in Boulder). The bar they constructed for the party was called Cognitive Dissonance. The red drink was called “Yellow” and the yellow drink was called “Red.” It was more confusing and more fun after a few of each.
In my experience, there are two types of people who talk about math. Those that are absolutely riveting, who bring you along for a magical journey, and those that make you want to blow your brains out…when you wake up. Sinan Aral is one of the former. His passion, for the past 10 years, has been measuring influence in social networks (both on and offline, although online is much easier to measure). His key point to us marketers was not to confuse audience with influence. As an example: “How many of you have heard of Ashton Kutcher?” All hands went up. “How many of you have ever done something because Ashton Kutcher told you to?” Crickets. “Ashton Kutcher has almost 11 Million Twitter followers, but if he doesn’t elicit an action you wouldn’t take anyway, he has no influence.”
The most important concept if you’re dealing with influence is “homophily,” and disregarding it is the source of much bad science, bad reporting, and bad assumptions. Homophily means literally “love of the same.” A group of like people will likely do like things by virtue of them being alike, rather than any influence they have on each other. The common trap here is for an article to say that your friends are making you fat, when more likely, they are your friends because you all love cheeseburgers; you don’t love cheeseburgers because your friends do. Don’t be too quick to ascribe things to influence. Control for homophily first. Sinan’s presentation is here and includes how he’s using his research to decrease HIV in Africa, as well as help Facebook make more social applications.
Gunnar Hissam and Caroline Hoste believe there is no money to be made in selling music. And they are record executives. Long story short, forget the long tail. Forget selling music. Music is a promotional item. Make loads of cash on licensing, tours, and by throwing awesome events, like the Lexus party at Cochella. If you have any interest in how to make money with music, check out OM Records and Hello Stranger. Also, Electronic Dance Music is the biggest movement in music that you don’t really know anything about.
Gautam Ramdurai (pronounced “Gotham”) was enjoying his one day as head strategist at the Google Creative Lab because his old boss left and he was getting a new one on Monday. His sessions was titled “How to Throw A Metadata Party,” and to be honest, I wasn’t expecting much. Without a doubt he is one of the most entertaining, enthralling, and interactive speakers I’ve ever seen…and his sessions was on metadata (you can see it here).
The main concept is that data is worthless, it is metadata that adds meaning and connections and utility. The hierarchy goes like this: data, information, knowledge, intelligence. The internet is still crawling it’s way up This is how Gautam explained it:
- 32 – data, meaningless
- 32 inches – information, means something, but not much
- 32 inch waist – knowledge, means more, has context
- intelligence means I can use that knowledge to go buy pants.
The conference closed with an all-hands session with Brad Haugen, a former ad guy who left the business to start managing the marketing and digital presence of Justin Beiber (among others now). There was a lot of behind the curtain stuff I could be killed for telling you, but Brad and his team don’t guess what Bieber fans want. They have a group of fans that they constantly interact with by phone/chat/text and treat very well. When you can, go to the source. When people say you can’t go to the source, find another way. Always be real. Never lie.
That’s all for now. I can’t wait for next year. Tickets usually sell out within 2 weeks of them going on sale and average $250/person. Sign up to receive updates at planningness.com.