A Digital Toy Story

Since my last column, Second Life spawned its first millionaire and had IBM open shop, YouTube went mobile on Verizon, Nintendo’s Wii hit the shelves, and Michael Richard’s horrific racist rant — caught on a video camera phone — went worldwide overnight. There’s a lot of buzz in the world of emerging platforms.

What’s your company doing around the edges of digital media? What’s your plan for 2007? Do you have a line item for emerging platforms? After search and the big portal buys, is there anything left over in your budgets for marketing R & D?

If not, there should be. Big brands should be not only covering their basics with traditional online endeavors but also testing digital media’s edges.

The challenge is that unless you’re a Gen Y consumer or a wired Gen Xer, you’re probably not spending a lot of time visiting Facebook, MySpace, or Rocketboom; playing Gears of War on Xbox Live; or hosting bowling tourneys on your new Wii. So it’s hard to stay current. In contrast, it’s easy with TV. Clicking on the remote and watching an episode of “Lost” is very different from understanding what it really feels like to create an avatar and navigate around and interact with others in Second Life. Believe me, I’ve been lost in Second Life.

So if you don’t have an avatar or a profile or the latest gaming platform (or kids who do), do the people around you? What are you doing to foster a culture of digital innovation in your organization?

With digital media’s explosion, markets must stay abreast of what’s happening. The adoption curves are getting shorter and shorter. According to a Forrester technology forecast, the camera phone was adopted more quickly than any other consumer technology. And with Flickr’s recent camera guide, you can see mobile photographers’ participation.

In the early dot-com days, agencies like ours had pool tables, beanbag chairs, and video game stations. Some still do. Then, it was for diversion. Now, it’s all business. We have various gaming platforms scattered around our offices (ironically, a vintage Ms. Pac-Man cabinet seems to be the favorite) and a community of gamers who regularly trade games and saves. We have an alumni network on MySpace and a WAP (define) site.

And we’re doing more. Chad Stoller, our executive director of emerging platforms, is helping us stay on top of the latest and greatest digital marketing opportunities while providing our people with firsthand experience with emerging platforms, devices, and media. You should do the same thing in your organization, if you aren’t already. Here are three things to help you stay fresh in this rapidly changing market:

  • Encourage people to play. The best way to learn about MySpace is to actually create your own profile and explore. If you want to understand the marketing opportunities on Second Life, design your avatar and start talking to people. Of course, there’s the concern that people will abuse the privilege. But if you set down some common sense ground rules and make sure the “real work” is getting done, most people will respect the opportunity and learn a great deal to help answer those nagging Web 2.0 questions that keep you up at night.
  • Create a cultural-influence line item in your budget. It sounds like fluff, but think about it. Learning about the latest gadgets takes money. Understanding 3G (define) phones takes experiencing them yourself. It’s one thing to read a review about a product or a new promising technology, but your compelling argument to try some thing new can only be expressed with authenticity and passion if you can speak from firsthand experience. There’s a new toy out nearly every week. Pick the ones that hold the most marketing potential and have the ability to open the mind. Staying fresh costs money. Spend some here.
  • Set up a digital lounge. Imagine a digital play room filled with electronic toys — or, rather, opportunities to better understand the digital influence in consumer lifestyle. E-book readers, new phones, PlayStation 3, cool cameras, and more. Does Microsoft have a chance with the Zune? You could read an article or ask the people in your company who are passionate about music. Create a checkout system so your team can see if and how these devices and new technologies can change and create new personal digital lifestyles. Ask them to blog their thoughts and give back to your community. This helps cultivate a digital culture that flows through your organization. Make your office a place where people can share and directly experience the technologies that you hear about all the time.

As Stoller says, the digital lifestyle is about integrating technologies into your life that enhance productivity, entertainment, connectivity, and memory. Get some of your own so you can make even better ones for your customers. Buy some toys and have some fun.

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