The New Marketing: The Idea With The Best APIs Wins

March 28, 2012 8:22 pm

As audiences fragment, marketers run more campaigns in more places than ever: TV, radio, print, web, direct marketing, search, PR, social media, mobile, e-commerce, sponsorships.

And the list goes on, advertising infinitum.

But where are the bridges?

Today no idea can afford to be an island. There’s too much content out there, and audience for each is scant. What’s needed are ideas that bridge silos and connect across specialties.  In short, the idea with the best APIs should win.

But here’s the strange irony of the digital age: in the age of links, marketing doesn’t. Why the disconnect?

· Functional Blindness Communication across silos – if it happens at all – is usually a formality. Functional teams are so focused on their own specialty, they aren’t looking for ways to link with other functional teams to cut costs and boost speed.

· Dysfunctional Arrogance It’s human nature to view our specialty as the center of the universe. But unchecked egos can lead to private (or public) dismissal of efforts from other specialties as unimportant or irrelevant. Connectedness and teamwork requires mutual respect.

· Silo Warfare We can talk all we want about playing nice and being media-agnostic. But we won’t get integrated ideas as long as year-end bonuses are tied to selling what’s in my silo vs. your silo.

We live in a connected age. We need connected marketing processes, and we need them now.

What Is An API? And Why Does It Matter?

According to Wikipedia, “an application programming interface (API) is an interface implemented by a software program to enable interaction with other software, similar to the way a user interface facilitates interaction between humans and computers.”

APIs enable programs to work together fast, seamlessly, and with less wasted effort. Most of what we call social media today – sharing photos, videos, Tweets and Facebook updates – is made possible by good APIs.

Which Ideas Have The Best APIs?

Ideas with strong APIs have four things in common:

1. Shareability and Shareworthiness Shareability is about computer connections: is it easy to share something positive about the brand? Can a consumer do it without having to think? Shareworthiness is a tougher hurdle, because it’s about human connections: can we set things up so that sharing something about the brand will increase the sharer’s social capital?

2. Continuity Can the fundamental story about the brand be linked and coherent, no matter which medium you discover it in? Can you follow a thread from a promotion into advertising and social media or pick it up at any point in the story and feel it’s all part of the same fabric?

3. Awareness and Activation Does the idea enable ways to generate awareness, and activate it through digital? In a recent conversation with Michael Lebowitz of Big Spaceship, he said “awareness without activation is like lighting fuses without placing any dynamite at the end.” Amen.

4. No Device Conflicts Can the idea easily be ported to any medium, device or platform? A great TV idea that doesn’t immediately spark great ideas for apps or billboards or promotions isn’t a great idea. We need to look for big concepts, not shiny one-offs.

How To Get Ideas With Better APIs

First, we need more of what IDEO’s Tim Brown calls “T-Shaped People”. He describes them as people who are “able to explore insights from many different perspectives and recognize patterns of behavior that point to a universal human need.” We need to develop people with great experience in their core specialties but who are also skilled to looking across silos to find places where ideas can connect.

But to do that, we need incentives that reward connectedness and media agnosticism. Agency compensation should be retooled to reward the best APIs. Not the best TV commercial, or PR program, or online idea, but the idea with the best potential connections.

Today’s young agency people come into the business wired for connectedness but find that their agency’s culture is not. Why? Because the way the agencies are compensated tells them that while their clients talk about connectedness, they don’t really value it. We’re not putting our money where our rhetoric is.

Finally, media should shift from media as divisions (outdoor, TV, etc) to media that connect seamlessly. The word “division” all by itself is a fairly hefty clue about what’s wrong.

No modern computer is built without the ability to connect and do more. No modern medium should be built that way, either. From a product POV, media should have great APIs built-in — not bolted-on during the sales process.

Every marketer should be looking at the array of executions they review and ask each creative team to explain where the bridges are. How does this connect with the other things we’re doing? Better yet, how does one effort boost the effectiveness of the rest? Have we done everything we can to make 1+1=11?

It’s a connected age. The idea — and the marketer — with the best APIs wins.

Photo Credit: Pargon (Creative Commons)

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