Where the Cool Kids Are At (But Where Will They Be Tomorrow?)

(From my phone somewhere near San Francisco) — My 17 year old son just went to Safeway to stock up for the game tonight. Soda, snacks, pizza, candy.

He won’t be taking the car anywhere. He doesn’t seem in any hurry to get his license. His friends are coming over to watch the game. They’ll sit in the room with the big TV. But no hockey or basketball playoffs. No Netflix. No ESPN. They’ll yell and holler for their favorite players and they will definitely mess the place up.

They will be watching a webcast on Twitch. The webcast will stream from their cell phones via Chromecast. What event? Dream hack: Masters Malmo. Of course. What? You didn’t know that one of the largest Counter Strike Global Offensive tournaments in the world is taking place in Sweden tonight and a bunch of kids in a California den will be watching (not playing, mind you) professional CSGO gamers go at it? And, they will not be alone. According to Quantcast, Twitch has 13 million monthly unique users. It’s now fourth, behind Apple, Amazon and Netflix in streaming audience.

My son and his buds will be texting updates with good friends in Brazil (whom they’ve never met in person). Tonight is big. For the first time ever, the Chinese are threatening to upend the always powerful Europeans. Start time is 1am PDT. Meantime, my 12 year old daughter will be in another room texting and Snapchatting with her school friends while they co-watch YouTube from different locations. Not their Papa’s Saturday night.

Here’s another marker: Snapchat is suddenly a more popular social network with teens than Instagram. And by the way, the photo cum messaging app is now twice as popular as Facebook among teens, according to a new study just released. That wasn’t true last year or maybe even last week.

Since it’s probably too soon to give Facebook its last rites, for its part, the mother of all social networks just announced an overwhelming array of new features including artificial intelligence powered chat bots and new tools for advertisers and content distributors that promise to completely transform online experiences and the means of interaction and transaction.

All of these very current stories reflect rapid change in media, entertainment consumption habits and user experience but this story is not new by any means — although it’s not that old a phenomenon either. What is more amazing to me is how pervasive and ordinary all of this suddenly seems. Watch professional gamers in a tournament from Sweden in your living room via your phone? Why not? Even more amazing to me is my conviction that in a couple of years, we will all likely be exhibiting a completely new set of behaviors, using bots, apps and technologies we have not yet hyped that are being bug-checked and designed in coffee shops and incubator spaces across the world as you read this.

If you happen to be in the business of talking to, entertaining, informing, selling to or engaging with consumers or businesses, the question of how you should be going about this is anything but a static issue. If you can embrace this in a less than static manner, it’s a sure fire way to stay ahead .

Enormous quantities of pixel-inches, here and everywhere else, are devoted to how to best reach and engage with people and then verify that those touch points have in fact reached the right people at the right time at a justifiable cost. How will we quantify attribution and ROI? Whose dashboard is better? Who is being transparent about prices and who is not? And, related, does it really matter, anyway? How can I overlay my data and customer profiles to get even better data? How do I make sense of that gusher of data? And, on and on.

All of these issues are debated ad nauseum. To varying degrees, depending on who you are and who you are trying to reach, they matter. I’m not dismissing those discussions, but they all miss a much larger point.

The danger is that, as we identify and successfully deploy and optimize these new technologies and content distribution channels to within an inch of their lives, we run a huge risk.

The risk is that we take our eye off of the ground shifting underneath our feet. We cast our feet in mud as we invest in and become wedded to getting as good as we can possibly get at the latest preferred vehicle (search, SEO, programmatic buying, etc.) We focus resources on optimizing those one or two vehicles, often to the exclusion of the terrain around us today and the new terrain that will be there tomorrow. It’s a big challenge. How can we stay both deep and broadly evolutionary in our approach at the same time? How will we handle, in the words of the inimitable Donald Rumsfeld, the “unknown unknowns” of the evolving media experience.

And, dammit, just when you were patting yourself on the back for having nailed Facebook cold, along comes Snapchat requiring that you rethink strategy, execution and metric objectives. Or not.

Organizations now more than ever must be prepared to evolve and move on from entrenched or safe feeling behaviors.

Too often, I’ve seen marketers and other communicators (and yes, all too frequently in even the most cutting edge, most heavily “incubated” startups) become overly enamored with the communications channel they are good at optimizing today — without paying any attention to other channels, old and new, that have grown up and morphed around them. It’s not that you didn’t know Snapchat was out there but you probably didn’t expect to have to adjust your media thinking and company processes quite this quickly. The result is the paradox of companies with one or two infinitely optimized channels but no real idea or infrastructure built around the concept of optimizing spending, experiences, and content broadly as these new media hit a critical mass too large to ignore. Soon, the individual favored channels begin to act like entrenched government bureaucracies. It becomes difficult for leaders to get objective answers about the emerging strategic and tactical options that are not yet being tried and which do not yet have a constituency within your company or its orbiting advisors and agencies. Just as pernicious, the opposite extreme can take hold, the tendency in some places to drop the past in favor of bright shiny objects that may or may not be compelling over time.

Marketers need to build their organizations, strategies, and their infrastructure of supporting technologies and their creative, media and data providers (in-house or out) in such a way that they are prepared for and ready to embrace change on an ongoing and intelligent basis. That is the biggest challenge facing marketers, but one that we don’t often see or discuss.

This issue of managed media and technology evolution can only be addressed by leadership and organizational structures that support the capacity to be flexible. You’re not likely to get that change from inside your company or hear it from your VCs; all of whom are too invested in whatever they are invested in and too blinded by the story of the “unicorn” (sorry) next door. Fortunately, a new breed of strategists and consultants, free of institutional biases and far more objective and outer directed than your internal channel experts (who stare at dashboards all day like NASA ground control), are emerging to help leaders and organizations develop strategies, find new platforms and internal operational systems that mirror, rather than shut out the dynamic forces shaping the world beyond your doors. They’ll help you ensure that your organization avoids staying wedded to the past; that you’ll save money today and ensure that you are around to make money tomorrow. You should consider talking to one.

Cool Kids

When I asked my 12 year old daughter why she prefers Snapchat to Facebook, she quickly gave me a very simple and direct answer: “Because that’s where all the cool kids are at.”

So, congratulations. You’ve found at least some of your “cool kids” for today. Where are your “cool kids” going to be tomorrow? How are you preparing to reach and engage with them? How will you kick the inertial forces out of your organization, and yet still remain functional? These are the questions brands, marketers and communicators need to be asking beyond simply hyper-optimizing whatever it is that is working today. Fortunately, the answers are out there. We don’t know where the “cool kids” are going to be next but if we learn how to watch, we stand a much better chance of greeting them when they get there.


I See Around Corners. 3X startup founder/CEO. CMO @KinesisStudio, Digital Media & MarketingTech seer. St. Lawrence Hockey: ex-radio guy and shameless fan.

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