Everyday Life: An Interview with Helge Tenno

helgetennoHelge Tenno is an agency friend at Screenplay. He writes a compelling blog called 180/360/720. Last week Helge published an in depth slideshow detailing his thoughts on the future of digital marketing. I thought it was interesting and was lucky to catch Helge online just before he left for vacation.

Introduction: What makes you tick? Where do you work?

• I believe I represent two things: the first is an extreme passion for combining knowledge and finding ideas in different places, then putting these ideas together in order to understand stuff in new ways. The second thing is that I always question the status quo or the accepted idea. If everyone else believes something is true, there is an even bigger reason to challenge it. We often fall into these cultural traps and are way more likely to accept the status quo, or even a flaming new thought, than challenge it.

• I am currently working as a Strategic Director and Digital Planner at an interactive communication agency called Screenplay in Norway. We are a small company working directly with media companies, media agencies and brands in order to make marketing a better place. This is exciting and challenging as Norway has one of the most advanced and innovative digital populations in Europe; however, at the same time our businesses and brands have one of the youngest marketing cultures and some of the most conservative approaches to technology and digital.

In your presentation and on your blog you've remarked that the attention web is not the ideal setting for quality marketing, and, in fact, if it isn't completely cast off, it will at least become a less desirable channel for brands to interact in. Do you have some ideas on how this might happen practically? The attention web is driven by things like increased media distribution as well as increased access to content. How will marketers and brands create content that endures longer than the several minute lifespan of the tweet or the longer, but not by much, lifespan of the blog post? Do you think media will be involved in this transition to growing, enduring content?

• First, I’d like to say that I’m not against the attention web, nor am I saying that it’s about to disappear. The attention web has some abilities that no other form of marketing can copy (attention and immediate effect), but as the number of tools in the marketing toolbox are increasing, so is the competition for marketing dollars. What I am anticipating is that brands will start to invest more money in areas with a different currency than mere attention and interruption.

• I think a part of the solution (how this will happen practically) is connected with membership and arenas.

• I’ll start with membership: My take is that companies are value providers, not product providers. A product in and of itself is completely worthless. It’s not until the product is introduced to a situation that it begins to provide value. As an example, a razor as an object is worthless, but when shaving it provides great value. What companies need to identify and explore in their marketing is this situation... As they are already important value providers to it, they need to find out how they can extend this value and add to it through additional services and utilities. In this case I think people will become members subscribing to existing, additional and updated value. Examples could be Nike Plus, Fiat Eco:Drive or MTV backchannel. All of them could be set up for a subscription model instead of a free or paid product model. The games industry is doing this already, with the likes of WOW or Anarchy Online. And Whirpool has done something really interesting with their American Family Podcast (although it’s media related, and free :o).

• The other thing is arenas, and this is directly related to media companies. What media companies offer today is short term, interruption based, and setting themselves up as middlemen between the brand and the participant. What they need to do is provide an arena where the brand is invited in to create additional value for the reader at the same time as they establish a longer lasting direct relationship with the participant. The Dove campaign on MSN is an example of how this could be played out, even though I would say it’s just a first generation idea. (http://dove.msn.com/). Another example is the new Harry Potter Special, also on msn. (http://events.uk.msn.com/harry-potter-6)

Here at Neboweb we've been blogging some about the future of the universal identity. You touched on this some, and I think you would agree it seems inevitable. What are some pros and cons in your mind of having a universal identity? What does it mean for consumers and what does it mean for brands?

• Universal identities will know more about us than our parents ever did. :o)

• The positive side of this is that the environment around us will start to be more tailored to our data. The phone (or other object that people carry with them) containing this information will start to work as a subconscious remote control communicating with the stuff around us without requiring us to lift a finger.

• The negative aspect is that this will open a range of opportunities for bad advertising. The single identity universe is not a place for the attention web mindset, but a place for memberships and added value. If marketers start using this opportunity to put unwanted messages in every available personal space, we are in deep trouble.

Marketers need to understand that as they gain access to people in a whole new way this also requires them to rethink their value proposition towards their customer and ask themselves if the way we do marketing today is the right way and based on the right principles for doing marketing tomorrow. Has the whole way in which we create and provide value changed?

The big idea you've been fleshing out recently is the coming integration of technology with everyday life. When that happens the term "digital marketing" will be out dated, and digital interactive experiences will simply be a part of everyday marketing engagements. Can you flesh this idea out in terms of some examples, time lines, and consequences?

• I believe only people producing stuff for platforms care about platforms. Everyone else cares about ideas.

• There is some proof that the everyday life is already here:

- Youth today reference communicating online with the same terminology and naturalness as real life. They “talk” to each other when they are on MSN Messenger. There is no real life or digital life, it’s the same place.

- The arrival of broadband changed everything. Due to its always-on capability and subscription-based model it quickly became an integrated part of people’s lives as opposed to a set of tasks to complete on a computer. This opened up a whole new culture for use with its new set of behaviors.

- Kevin Slavin at PSFK talks about “This platform called everyday life” as our new mobile marketing platform. He references GPS and communications technology for their abilities to provide small pieces of utility. (Follow the ice cream truck’s position online, or a plant that tells you when it needs water, or a GPS tracker on a shark made into a game…)

• So my take is that the everyday life is already here. It’s not everywhere, but some companies with the right ideas are already taking advantage of its abilities. And, with a changed mindset, many more companies could.

• I don’t think we will reach a day when someone pushes a button, or declares the everyday life has arrived. The opportunity is already there. We are already in the everyday life. Now it’s up to us to give it content, or help our clients to understand why the everyday life provides new opportunities, and then how to take advantage of these opportunities.

• I tend to say that we are not moving forward, we are expanding sideways. As very few things disappear, but a lot of new stuff is added, our opportunities increase. Whereas before brands were forced into this preset box of tools that they had to use, now the whole box is gone and they are given a much greater opportunity to find the right means based on their brand's position, value proposition, subscription model and participants.

• A market is filled with companies producing products for situations. The way we do marketing today is that we move to neutral ground (media real estate everyone can buy) and start spreading our message. One week its one competitor doing a roadblock, the next is the other. If we see an increasing interest in a competitor’s products we just buy more ad space, no biggy.

• The challenge with the everyday life mindset, and thereby the consequence, is that marketing starts moving to arenas where there is no opportunity to buy the same space the next week. Companies will start acquiring ownership of the situation where the products are used, and thereby both eliminating the opportunity to get back the foothold – but even more importantly, maybe most importantly – as soon as a company owns the value creation of a situation, and starts offering this both to its own customers and to competitor's customers, they are in fact removing all these customers from the game board. Because the direct relationship which they are building with these customers will give them access to them, and their knowledge, in a way that is unrivaled by anything else. And that gets a foothold we have never seen before.

• It’s a whole different kind of marketing, where both the stakes and the rewards are much greater.

In your presentation you write, "digital, much like the violin, is not a natural extension of our every day life -- it's a complicated and slowly learned instrument". This complexity is a natural barrier to your Everyday Life theory and the adoption of new technologies in general. How do you think mobile and other utilities will leap this hurdle? Or will we just have to wait for the generation that was born with Iphones to grow up before we see this integration come to full fruition?

• When referencing the violin anecdote I’m referencing the old or existing state of digital: Where most interfaces and tools have been designed from a technological perspective.

• I believe that this is one of the big hurdles that need to be overcome if digital is to totally emerge into everyday life. The stuff we make needs to become invisible – and this is impossible as long as we build stuff based on technical simplicity or rationality. Humans are complex, irrational and emotional. Simple doesn’t mean usability, it means solving a given situation in the best possible way in relation to the complexity of the human aspect of the situation.

• This forces a more human approach to design. Where we stop designing violins and start designing palms, fingertips, arm strokes, ears, balance, immersion ... etc.

• It’s probably not a generation thing, it’s a mindset thing. Accepting that humans are complex and irrational – and building stuff for that, rather than for something that is controllable and rational (which is technology).

Thank you Helge, for the time and thoughts that go into your work and went into these answers. We'd love to hear from some of you as well who are reading and have something to say about some of these trends in digital marketing. As always, the comments are open to you and you can find us on Twitter here. You can find Helge on Twitter as well.

Written by Chris Allison on July 13, 2009


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Chris Allison