Media Influencer

helping people break out of pigeonholes since 2003

Quote to remember

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What is a PR lackey tasked to incent and measure massive viral reach via SPAM emails to do???

Die, hopefully.

- Sean Howard in I am not an influencer and we are not friends (try 2)

Aroxo – say what you’ll pay.. and get higher price offer

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A couple of weeks ago I signed up for Aroxo, which is a new site for matching buyers and sellers. One description says it’s like eBay but for both, the seller and the buyer. I liked the sound of that so I tested it by creating a request for a camera – an upgrade of my existing one – Panasonic Lumix DMC-FX40.

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I set the price at lower than best retail price as found at Google because I wanted to a) test the system and b) was prepared to settle for less than perfect packaging etc. A few days later I got an ‘offer’.

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I was suprised to see that Aroxo thought £209 plus p&p was a match to my £170. Fair enough, as I can negotiate the offer, and so in preparation I googled the camera and found out that £209 plus p&p is nowhere near the lowest price around, let alone an offer I can’t refuse. What I didn’t expect to find is that the seller made an offer on Aroxo that was higher than the price offered on their site!

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So I contacted the seller:

Date: 18/05/2009
Subject: Panasonic Lumix DMC-FX40

I guess, thank you for your response though puzzled about something. UK Digital’s price (which seems to be you judging from your email: sales@ukdigitalcameras.co.uk) price on their site is £205. So why is your ‘offer’ to me higher at £209?
http://www.ukdigital.co.uk/panasonic-lumix-dmc-fx40-camera.htm

Also, FYI Amazon sells it for £204.99 free delivery.
http://www.amazon.co.uk/Panasonic-Lumix-FX40-Digital-Camera/dp/B001T0H062/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=electronics&qid=1242650694&sr=8-1

More importantly, I am interested in buying the camera for well below the quoted price. I am testing Aroxo’s ability to connect me with sellers who need to move stock at discounted price and/or have unboxed cameras (but still new). I am not interested in Aroxo as another ‘marketing’ channel for sellers who offer prices higher than on their sites.

Caveat emptor is still valid. And Google is still your (shopping) friend. :)

UPDATE: Shortly after posting this I received a reply from the seller:

Date: 18/05/2009
Subject: Re:Panasonic Lumix DMC-FX40
Click to view Offer
Hi Adriana,

Yes we are UK Digital Cameras, (but the link you gave was to another company UK Digital). We are also at £204.99 plus delivery on our site: http://www.ukdigitalcameras.co.uk/__4_prod3_asp2_1_i4_53661_126_Panasonic_Lumix_FX40_Black8.html

The price on our website has dropped since we sent the offer – hence the difference. Feel free to send me a negotiation and see what happens!

Also – let me know if you want a quote from me about Aroxo on your blog post.

Cheers,

Andrew

So I stand corrected and kudos for willingness to engage i.e. quote for my blog post. Will negotiate and update the post if anything interesting happens.

Brands are not good for your health

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Two paragraphs explaining why (brand) websites are dead:

Look at this. It’s a Bovril website. With a breath-taking circularity of irony (or perhaps secret plea for help from a web designer), the site’s strapline (and perhaps the brand’s slogan) is ‘give me strength’. And, indeed, what on God’s earth is the point of all this? And who thought it was a good idea (apart from the agency that created it)?

Don’t get me wrong, once you’re there, it’s quite nicely done, graphically interesting etc. But why would anyone ever go there? Even if it wasn’t difficult to use, I still wouldn’t treat it as my number 1 source of information about Bovril itself (that would be Wikipedia), Bovril recipes (is that a thing?) (I’d start in Google and since the site isn’t search engine-friendly, it doesn’t show up), outdoorsiness (ditto, you’d never get there and if you did you wouldn’t stay long because of the thiny veiled comtempt for this audience), or even gurning cows. It’s just bizarre.

Come to think of it, brands are bizarre too. This is what Tom Hopkins has further to say about brands:

But they are a method of communication not an issuer of communication. They are talking points, they are social tokens, they are items of self expression.

I disagree. There is a lot of earnest talking – mostly by marketing and advertising people – about how people want to engage with brands. I certainly don’t want to engage with brands.

I want to talk to – not ‘engage’ with – the person I may be buying things from, or someone who can help me learn more or get me more information about product or service I am interested in. And that is invariably not the brand, with its useless websites, ad and marketing campaigns that interrupt and annoy the hell out of me.

I want to talk to an expert who’ll educate me about food, wine, travel, fashion, cameras, plumbing, perhaps even washing powder, if that’s what I am interested in. And agencies just get in the way of such interactions. Just look what they have done with websites – a pandemic of branded flash-ridden monstrosities, eating load time and bandwidth, with a graphic designer’s wet dream splashing across your screen. Grrrr.

I want to talk to and possibly relate on an ongoing basis with people – individuals, not departments! – within organisations that I might choose to supply me with products and services. My advice to them is know who you are and what you are trying to do, then understand what people – individuals, not consumers! – do and want, and then treat them with respect and understanding. You will get the same in return. That is far more valuable for the long term health of your business (and customers!) than any brand campaign.

Nightmare on Madison Avenue

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Andrew Grill tells us that the final paragraphs of the biography on David Ogilvy The King of Madison Avenue by Kenneth Roman, sum things up:

Like all businesses, advertising is changing. This could be the most exciting time to be in advertising. Technology is creating new opportunities to reach consumers – and measure the benefits of spending.

What advertising delivers is ideas. … Ogilvy would not recognise much of the new landscape, but he would applaud the growth of disciplines that can be measured such as direct marketing.

Direct marketing?! That sounds more like a nightmare from Madison Avenue…

As I’ve been saying for a long time, mobile is a unique new channel, and it will take a while for all parts of the ecosystem to step up and use its full potential. I hope I am helping to drive this change in some small way.

….Mobile will probably become the most measurable type of direct marketing we will come across – if executed properly.

I think if David Ogilvy was alive today, he would have grasped the mobile advertising opportunity with both hands, given his direct marketing roots, and directed his staff to focus on the utility of the channel, rather than trying to squeeze 50 years of advertising norms onto a small screen.

It is odd to hear statements like this at the time when most people are learning to use technology to control their environment, gearing up to give a permanent finger to interruption and advertising. ‘Executed properly’ to me suggests beheaded, hung and quartered but from context I don’t think that’s what the author intended.

Advertising types look upon people like me with either splattering outrage: How dare I be against advertising! Or they try to talk me off the ledge, oily with condescention: How silly of me to think that advertising will not live through this inconvenient, unprofessional, messy individual empowerment…! Look at our vast budgets, offices, expense accounts. Oh wait, that seems to be drying up! Quick, what’s the next big idea?! Digital New Social Media here we come!!!

But I digress. Deep breath. Let’s try again.

There is advertising and there is Advertising. Advertising with small a is information about products and services by people who provide or use them. A tablet on an ancient road saying: get your stone wheel fixed here!, or by now a dying breed of a classfied ad in a paper, or on craiglist, or a twitter message ‘advertising’ my need for a restaurant in the neighbourhood, etc. This kind of ‘advertising’ is not produced by an agency, or even the company, it isn’t promoted through a campaign. It’s authentic and direct but neither of that is the point. It is not a message, it’s communication. And will ALWAYS be around in some format or another.

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It differs from Advertising with capital A, which stands for the entire industry producing ‘content’ and shoving it down our throats, the supply chain of agencies, clients, brands. That is not set in stone. There is nothing inherent in the business models of Advertising industry. There have been several since the dawn of time, I am sure. One of them is statues. Yes, dear reader, statues…

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Statues are symbols, imagery that is supposed to make us react, think and feel in a certain way about the subject of the statue or the owner. Similar to advertising or branding in fact. And indeed it used to be the way nations, powerful leaders and institutions advertised themselves and projected an image.

This form of advertising is extinct. It is art now. This would definitely have come as a shock to the whole generations of artists, sculptors, quarry owners, workshop apprentices, patrons and potentates. Surely a whole industry can’t disappear? Just watch the chisel of history chip entire supply chains away. A nice reminder that there is nothing intrinsically necessary in our business models, in the way we understand advertising today and that some of the ways that define Advertising may cease to exist in the same way statues, monuments and paintings are no longer used to ‘advertise’ the rich and mighty.

Brand as identity and branding as behaviour

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I have been thinking, again, about branding and its role in business strategy. I have been known to wear my attitude towards branding on my, er, chest.

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However, the word ‘brand’ is being used to describe something that matters to me and needs to be understood. That something is very different from what the term brand currently means. Rather than banish the word entirely, I’ll treat it as a sort of category error and work my way to an alternative meaning of brand.

A person can have various represenations, a photograph or a portrait, which give others an idea of what he or she looks like. It is an image, a projection of likeness. Everyone knows it is not the real person and that often such representations may look rather different or even mislead.

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Branding is the art of creating an image of a company. Like a photograph that is carefully staged and edited. As technology progresses, branding gets clever and innovative. Still, the best it can do is a ‘hologram’. Rich media, marketing campaigns, reputation management, PR, advertising and now online and social media ‘engagement’. A vast range of projections enabled by media and technology. And just like with holograms, the more realistic they look, the more shocking it is to discover you can’t talk to them or shake their hands, any ’social’ gestures go right through it. This is because it is a projected image, there is no person made of flesh and blood.

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Most branding is about image and its projections. When using the term branding, I prefer to think about it as identity and behaviour. Because identity of a company and its behaviour existed long before branding was invented as part of business. That kind of branding comes from the other side of the reality fence. It is driven by behaviour rather than projection.

John Dodds who writes interestingly on such matters has this to say:

It refers to nothing more and nothing less than reputation, reputation you earn by your behaviour or, more realistically, reputation which other people (customers or not) confer on you because of that. It’s not something you impose on others.

The reason for image branding was the nature of distribution of the brand projections. There were channels, mass media, who mediated what companies wanted to communicate. So identity became an image and behaviour and communication messages.

The web has created, unwittingly for most part, an alternative to building what in industry circles counts for a ‘brand’. It resurrected the ‘old ways’, warts and all, of creating reputation by behaviour. There is one major difference between the old times and the web times – before my identity was determined by others and my behaviour was often judged out of context or in a context that was hostile to the individual.

The brand as identity perspective has two major implications. One has to do with the relationship of company with its employees. The other with business strategy.

First is the Who – the balance (or lack of it) between the corporation as legal entity, its management and employees, its structure and culture. These pulls and pushes within the company will determine its identity and its behaviour. Explicit knowledge of this can help companies understand who they are and why.

Then it is the What – the actions, behaviours, based on the raison d’etre of the business. A common mistake is to talk of strategy when meaning tactics. Strategy is the question of what to do and whether to do it in the first place. Tactics is about how to get to where strategy points.

This is all very well but what is a humble communications or marketing person to do? They can’t start reviewing or changing the company’s strategy. But they can start thinking less about projections and messaging and more about identity and behaviours. A hint: One-way communication is messaging, two-way communication is behaviour.

To sum up, the bad news for the branding folks is that messages and projections are not what they used to be. The good news is that a company can define its identity and behave according to who they want to be. That sounds like a good trade-off to me.

Quote to remember

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Social media, it turns out, isn’t about aggregating audiences so you can yell at them about the junk you want to sell. Social media, in fact, is a basic human need, revealed digitally online. We want to be connected, to make a difference, to matter, to be missed.
- Seth Godin, The rapid growth (and destruction) and growth of marketing

My woes with Skype

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Another example of twitter being followed by companies and being used it as a source for customer service. A few nights ago I twittered, in my usual genteel manner, about my problems with Skype.

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This morning I got a nice enough email from Skype looking into my account, of course, which wasn’t the problem this time.

We are sorry to hear that you are having problems with our payment system. My name is Marilyn and I will be looking into this issue for you.

From your blog entry at https://twitter.com/adriana872/statuses/953166576 I understand that you are having trouble to redeem a voucher to top up your Skype credit.

As I meant to follow up my twitter with a blog post describing the Skype credit saga and I responded to Marylin with details, I will post my reply here.

—–

Dear Marilyn,

My twitter message is only a tip of the iceberg. I have long been underwhelmed with Skype’s controlling ways when it comes to managing my account. I don’t expect to be understood though – I have been using Skype since few months it was founded and it has changed beyond recognition in a way it treats its users… and not in a good way.

Regarding the voucher issue, you are looking at the wrong account – it’s not my account that I am worried about.

A few years back I have set up both my brother and my father with Skype. They both live abroad and it was great to be able to communicate with them and give them option to make cheap Skype calls. The usual story. My brother is a student and travels a lot and Skype credit enables him to make calls without breaking the bank. I also top up their credit regularly. Gift certificates/credit vouchers used to be the only way for me to refill their skype credit. My dad not only cannot buy stuff online, he wouldn’t necessarily know how to redeem a voucher in his account.

So I used to buy Skype credit vouchers for my acount, distribute the as me, then log on as my father and my brother and redeem those vouchers on their behalf logged on as them. And that’s all because I couldn’t use my credit card to pay for credit on their account – it used to be that only one card per account and I didn’t want to tie one of my cards to other account in case I will have to use another card for my Skype account in the future. A girl can only have so many credit cards…

As I was going to go through the tedious process a few nights ago I discovered that the vouchers were suspended and I had to go to Sainsbury’s(!) to buy them over the counter. So the Skype that I have known and loved as a tool that empowered people online is forcing me buy one of the ‘products’ offline! Go figure.

Buying the voucher was an adventure in itself, the checkout staff has no idea what I wanted and sent me rummaging through a pile of retail vouchers that have nothing to do with Skype vouchers, which are now issued at the till. Fortunately, the manager was around and I managed to get two £10 vouchers, one for each of my creditless family members.

I redeemed one under my father’s account, then found out that my brother is still ok for credit and so decided to top up my dad’s account again with the second voucher to save me all this trouble and give him plenty of money to spend on his calls. Alas, this message appeared:

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“We are sorry, you are currently not allowed to redeem skype credit voucher or prepaid cards because your account balance is over allowable limit. You have to spend some of Skype Credits before you can redeem more.”

This is what prompted my twitter.

My father’s account credit was 15 Euroes before I tried to redeem the second £10 voucher. Is that amount the allowable limit? Also, does this mean that if I had purchased one £20 voucher I wouldn’t have been able to redeem it for my dad’s account as it would put him over the ‘generous’ 15 euro allowable limit? And if yes, why on earth limit anyone to such a low amount? Frankly, why on earth limit anyone at all?! Whatever is going on here is definitely not convenient for me as a user.

I expect to be told that there are now many new and exciting payment options, from paypal to ukcash, or that I can automatically recharge an account or some such. I have tried to investigate the options (another inconvience as it’s hard to follow the various restrictions and conditions) but they either don’t suit my financial arrangements or I can’t actually do them on behalf of my father as my payment details are set up under my own accounts. And if there is a way and/or my credit card might be accepted for my dad’s account – I wasn’t going to find out the hard way and risk my card being rejected.

If I didn’t want to tax my father with getting used to another VoIP service, I’d definitely be switching. As it is, he’s captive to Skype. But I am not and will be investigating options out there that I so far ignored as a loyal Skype user. Perhaps my twitter network will provide some good suggestions…

So, in the great scheme of things is this a big deal or should it be for Skype? On one level, definitely not. Why? They have many a payment options, I am doing something that wasn’t intended by Skype – i.e. maintaining credit in two other accounts that don’t belong to me – and I am probably using a product and service they obviously don’t see as part of their model (see the suspended online purchase and the rarity of buying Skype vouchers). And I bet that lot of the constraints on users come from onslaught of fraud and people trying to milk the system. Finally, I am one grumpy user who doesn’t count when Skype is going for media world domination – phone is conquered and broadcast media is next!

But on the other hand, you have someone who joined Skype when it was a couple of months old, evangelised it for all those years, introduced hundreds of people to it, especially in the early days and spent a fair amount of money on their services, without bothering to research any alternatives. Stupid me, right?

And I am not even going to talk about Skype in China and other unsavoury places with surveillance even more intrustive than UK. At least not yet and not here. I’ll save that for Samizdata.

The bottom line as they say is I wanted to do Skype well. But since their acquisition by eBay, something has changed. They are trying to be all things to all people and for this person it ain’t working.

Relevant vs useful

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I am fed up with hearing that advertising, marketing and other push messaging has its place as long as it is relevant. Relevance will not get you very far when my attention is already spread thinly and when I am the ultimate arbiter of how my attention is destributed.

Substitute useful for relevant and watch the shift from the advertisers to the audience.

Relevant means what the advertisers or vendors imagine I want. Useful means what I want as ultimately determined by me.

What has a better chance of getting my attention and further engagement?

On committies, agendas and rocks

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In anticipation of a VRM workshop and upon reading this in a mailing list this morning, I give you timelessly revelant Douglas Adams and his take on formal procedures and structures. May his words reach the minds of ‘management consultants’ and ‘marketing people’ of this world. Or better yet, may his words make us follow common sense rather than ‘modern business methods’.

“I bring you news,” he said, “of a discovery that might interest you.”
“Is it on the agenda?” snapped the man whom Ford had interrupted.
Ford smiled a broad country-rock singer smile.
“Now, come on,” he said.
“Well I’m sorry,” said the man huffily, “but speaking as a management
consultant of many years’ standing, I must insist on the importance of
observing the committee structure.”
Ford looked round the crowd.
“He’s mad you know,” he said, “this is a prehistoric planet.”
“Address the chair!” snapped the management consultant.
“There isn’t a chair,” explained Ford, “there’s only a rock.”
The management consultant decided that testiness was what the
situation now called for.
“Well, call it a chair,” he said testily.
“Why not call it a rock?” asked Ford.
“You obviously have no conception,” said the management consultant,
not abandoning testiness in favour of good old fashioned hauteur, “of
modern business methods.”
“And you have no conception of where you are,” said Ford.
A girl with a strident voice leapt to her feet and used it.
“Shut up, you two,” she said, “I want to table a motion.”
“You mean boulder a motion,” tittered a hairdresser.
“Order, order!” yapped the management consultant.
“Alright,” said Ford, “let’s see how you are doing.” He plonked
himself down on the ground to see how long he could keep his temper.
The Captain made a sort of conciliatory harrumphing noise.
“I would like to call to order,” he said pleasantly, “the five hundred
and seventy-third meeting of the colonization committee of
Fintlewoodlewix …”
Ten seconds, thought Ford as he leapt to his feet again.
“This is futile,” he exclaimed, “five hundred and seventy-three
committee meetings and you haven’t even discovered fire yet!”
“If you would care,” said the girl with the strident voice, “to
examine the agenda sheet …”
“Agenda rock,” trilled the hairdresser happily.
“Thank you, I’ve made that point,” muttered Ford.
“… you … will … see …” continued the girl firmly, “that we are
having a report from the hairdressers’ Fire Development Sub-Committee
today.”
“Oh … ah -” said the hairdresser with a sheepish look which is
recognized the whole Galaxy over as meaning “Er, will next Tuesday
do?”
“Alright,” said Ford, rounding on him, “what have you done? What are
you going to do? What are your thoughts on fire development?”
“Well I don’t know,” said the hairdresser, “All they gave me was a
couple of sticks …”
“So what have you done with them?”
Nervously, the hairdresser fished in his track suit top and handed
over the fruits of his labour to Ford.
Ford held them up for all to see.
“Curling tongs,” he said.
The crowd applauded.
“Never mind,” said Ford, “Rome wasn’t built in a day.”
The crowd hadn’t the faintest idea what he was talking about, but they
loved it nevertheless. They applauded.
“Well, you’re obviously being totally naive of course,” said the girl,
“When you’ve been in marketing as long as I have you’ll know that
before any new product can be developed it has to be properly
researched. We’ve got to find out what people want from fire, how they
relate to it, what sort of image it has for them.”
The crowd were tense. They were expecting something wonderful from Ford.
“Stick it up your nose,” he said.
“Which is precisely the sort of thing we need to know,” insisted the
girl, “Do people want fire that can be applied nasally?”
“Do you?” Ford asked the crowd.
“Yes!” shouted some.
“No!” shouted others happily.
They didn’t know, they just thought it was great.
“And the wheel,” said the Captain, “What about this wheel thingy? It
sounds a terribly interesting project.”
“Ah,” said the marketing girl, “Well, we’re having a little difficulty there.”
“Difficulty?” exclaimed Ford, “Difficulty? What do you mean,
difficulty? It’s the single simplest machine in the entire Universe!”
The marketing girl soured him with a look.
“Alright, Mr Wiseguy,” she said, “you’re so clever, you tell us what
colour it should be.”
The crowd went wild. One up to the home team, they thought. Ford
shrugged his shoulders and sat down again.
“Almighty Zarquon,” he said, “have none of you done anything?”

Social gaffes

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Tomorrow I am chairing a lightweight panel about ’social gaffes’ at the New Media Age Online Marketing show, i.e. talking about examples of brand, marketing and advertising forrays into the social media/web with unfortunate consequences. There are many more examples that I found but here is a few slide I prepared earlier.

Quote to remember

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…when I hear ‘viral’ applied to software I replace it with ‘cancerous’ to clarify…
- a developer at the Facebook developer Garage, relayed by Kevin Marks.

There’s something wrong in the trends business…

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A brilliant and taking-no-prisoners analysis of the trend peddling agencies by Piers Fawkes.

He talks about arrogance and control, the long time favourite pastime of the media and ‘creative’ business, death of creativity (ouch), lack of critical judgement and of organisational change. All heartening observations for a devout disruptor like me, all the more noteworthy as they come from an insider. Anyone working or dealing with agencies could identify those, but it takes some courage and time to spell them out. I share those views, of course, but they do not keep me awake at night in the slightest. My focus are companies and more importantly the people inside those companies.

One of the frustrations I have with the ‘creative’ industry is the appropriation of what’s freely available and accessible and passing it for their own expertise or judgement. And very badly at that. So bloggers become ‘influentials’ to be showered with press releases, gimmicks and offers of participation for trinkets. Teenagers are superficially described and pigeon-holed faster than you can say ‘demographic’. Or ‘youf culture’ if you are one of the new trendy agencies. Geeks get conveniently ignored, definitely to their benefit. Sayz Piers:

We’re in a digital world where conversations are free – but trends services aren’t willing to be honest about where they got their judgments from. Too many companies and their ad agencies are cut and pasting their unchecked judgments into their powerpoint documents to make significant strategic decisions.

Another of my gripes is the number of agency pitches and presentations to clients promising social media nirvana, without anyone in the room having actually seen a blog/feed reader/bookmarking tool/widget etc etc. Alright, it’s 2008 so by now they have probably seen them. And signed up for Facebook/MySpace/LinkedIn/SocNet-de-jour. Or went to a workshop, a training session or asked the in-house geek to show them – but hardly used them, let alone immersed themselves in the ‘userland’ on a daily basis. Why, of course? These are consumers, demographics, markets and ultimately trends to package and sell. So it’s work, not a way of life or, god forbid, fun! The upshot is that if you don’t know what you are talking about but have to sell it, this is what happens:

In Summary, the trends business is a walled business that uses smoke and mirrors to protect it. It preaches from on high what the trends are without much transparency about what their recommendations were based on. In an era of Google inspired freedom of information, these businesses surely can’t continue to hide data that is already in the public domain.

via Mark Earls

update: How clients like it…

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