4 Marketing Trends in 2014

It’s the new year and that time of year when we’ve rolled our sleeves up (or down if you are in the polar vortex) and focusing on what the next 12 months will mean professionally & personally.  Media plans are being written, strategies assessed & yes – marketing budgets defined. As I think about the year ahead, here are four trends I believe are worth paying attention to for 2014.

1. The rise of the “super consumer” & user-generated content

Move over bloggers, it’s going to be as some have called, “extreme consumers” and “mavericks, outliers, obsessives” that brands turn to for creating collaborative content for their online and social media.

Fashion brands like Free People are already tapping their customer base to reach new audiences through a user generated community board, “FP Me,”  their own online style community.

While integrating collateral created by fans is not new (brands like Bauble Bar are doing an awesome job at this with “the download” as have ASOS & the Gap), I believe that companies are increasingly going to turn to their expert customer to help with media, marketing & even innovating their product.

2. Ephemeral, or erasable, media is going to surge

Snapchat, the social media platform that deletes all uploaded media (the “snaps”) from their servers after 24 hours & vanishes immediately after viewing, is the app on all pundits lips and is already social media’s latest darling. With a “here today, gone tomorrow” mindset, this makes it an ideal network for brands to use when they want to promote flash sales, offer teasers for an upcoming launch, showcase new collections or highlight reactions at press previews.  Or even for retailers who want to offer “exploding coupons”.

Beauty brand Nars experimented with it in October, as did designer Rebecca Minkoff during the September shows at New York Fashion Week and just this week, HBO’s Girls joined in anticipation of their upcoming season three premiere.

Expect to see more to this over the coming months.  I bet it’s going to be used a lot more at New York Fashion Week in February.

3. Wearable tech will – literally – integrate the fabric of everyday life
With Google Glass being available to all in 2014 & the dominance of Nike’s FuelBand & rise of Samsung’s Galaxy Gear over 2013, more wearable media will be prevalent over the months to come.  Even at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas this week, wearable media is taking center stage & technologies designed to connect all aspects of your life are being showcased (even down to toothbrushes that tells your phone how well you are brushing).

4. Content marketing will become standard practice

Content marketing has shifted from marketing hype to industry expectation.  As more business hire content managers (according to LinkedIn, there are over 8000 businesses seeking content marketers), content is no longer king – it’s de rigeur. As a result, quality & meaningful content will be needed more than ever.  As Dave Kerpen, CEO of Likeable Local shares on his 2014 predictions list, “if you think the social web is noisy now, in 2014 you’ll see more content than ever before. This means you and your business need to create better, more fun, and more valuable content in order to be noticed and to truly benefit from social media.

As you create your 2014 marketing & social media plans, what are your thoughts for the year ahead? Will you be using Snapchat for your business or plan on hiring a super consumer? Comment below or tweet me at @melissadewitte – I’d love to hear your thoughts.

10 Things Social Media Managers Can Learn From George Takei

Who would have thought that George Takei, the 1960s Star Trek actor, would go from playing a helmsman on the Starship Enterprise to becoming a superhero across social media?  His witty & self-aware Facebook posts receive more likes & shares than most other actors & musicians or even global brands.  When looking at fan engagement, his posts trump the likes of Coca Cola & Justin Beiber.

So what can we as social media managers garner from George Takei when creating a strategy?

Here are 10 lessons I’ve learned from observing George Takei (& you can see him in action for yourself by liking his Facebook page here)…

1. Know your audience
From Star Trek fans to internet nerds & math geeks – George Takei knows what his fans are interested in.  He plays with the puns & humor appreciated by this character set.  But he keeps it broad enough that you don’t need to be a Trekkie, web geek or a math whiz to find these types of posts funny.

George Takei FB1

2. Have fun & have fun with your fans!
Takei doesn’t take himself or his craft too seriously.  His humor is his signature trait.  He acknowledges his audience & often shares posts his community sends in.

George Takei FB 2

3. Take ownership
While he will jest with these Trekkie & math nerd stereotypes, it’s clear he is proud of his craft & what he has accomplished.

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4. Be consistent
He posts throughout the day, balancing anywhere from 2-5 posts over 24 hours.  According to an interview with Hyphen Magazine, he uses HootSuite to queue his posts.

5. Stay Focused
Takei is active in 2 causes: Asian American issues & homosexual rights.  He peppers in these topics sparingly (but again, with regularity).  Fans clearly know these are the two causes that matter most to him & rarely will he introduce other politics.  And while he still uses humor as a tool for activism he also balances it with a more serious tone when it matters.

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6. Have a meaningful & relatable message
It’s the message that is important.  Takei shows us that you don’t need fancy or professionally produced graphics and slogans.  It (really is) the content, stupid.  Finding the right internet meme or fan submitted image gets the likes & shares.

Takei FB 6 Takei FB 6.2

7. Offer familiarity
He often acknowledges that he can’t respond to every single comment or write back to every single fan (one post can generate thousands of comments!). He sometimes refers to himself Uncle George & always keeps his tone chatty & informal.  But he still asks for fan feedback when he can with things like caption contests to keep things conversational.

George Takei caption content

8. Maintain perspective – positively
Takei keeps it real in upbeat, inspirational ways

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9. Go for the warm & fuzzies.
Takei taps into humanism & universality in touching & emotional ways. I mean, doesn’t this friendship against all odds make you feel warm & fuzzy inside?

George Takei FB 9

10. Have an all encompassing catchphrase
It’s amazing how Takei’s signature “Oh myyy” can be used as a comeback to haters, a reaction to the bizarre or even as a nod of Takei’s approval.  It’s even gone on to be the name of his book & his perfume (eau my).

George Takei FB 10

Have you learned other lessons from George Takei?  What do you think makes his posts so popular?  Share in the comments!

Fashion and the Culture Industries: Copyright or Wrong?

At the 2011 Free Culture Conference, Johanna Blakely of the Norman Lear Center spoke candidly about the intersection of intellectual property, copyright, fashion and its impact on creativity and innovation.  As new legislation (The Innovative Design Protection and Piracy Prevention Act) is making it’s way through congress to protect fashion designers, Blakely raises some interesting points that I, as both a Media Ecologist and clothes horse, want to reflect on.  While the Act is aimed at those knock off Louis Vuitton versions you can score for $20- $200 (depending on how authentic you want your fake to be), it has consequences worth considering.

In her talk (and PBS article), Blakely described that while logos and trademarks can be copyrighted, the three dimensional design of the product is not.  Historically, courts have denied fashion designers copyright on their ideas because of a clothing’s utilitarian use. Think of the designs that have proliferated what we wear: the blue jean, the leather jacket, an oxford collar, the high heel shoe (okay, you might be ask just how utilitarian this one is) – but the point is royalties can’t be paid on a three dimensional design that serves a practical function.

Come to think of it: what if The Ramones had trademarked the punk song, or the Sugarhill Gang laid a copyright over the hip-hop genre?  Interestingly (and problematically for the fashion world), Diane von Furstenberg is lobbying congress with the  Prevention Act to ensure future protection of the fashion industry’s designs.  Which means, if she were to have designed her signature, iconic wrap dress with this kind of law in place, any other designers would have to pay her royalties if they wanted to use the concept.  While I am all for giving credit where credit is due (I’ll get to this later), let’s think about this bill for a minute…

Blakely points out that the wrap dress has been around since ancient Greece.  Fashion constantly plays with designs from the past, borrowing inspiration from everything from nature through to the military. For those working in fashion, look at what Melet Mercantile offers – it’s known as the industry’s destination for designers to source archival pieces intended for inspiration and mimesis.  Even a Vanity Fair article celebrates the New York based warehouse of historical relics as “a gold mine for designers looking for the perfect bag handle, belt buckle, Edwardian topcoat, or Civil War epaulet to copy or use for their runway pieces.” While the legislation proposes a three year copyright license – the point remains that copying happens.  Look what the supposed seven year copyright license has done for Disney: their cartoons are in a trademark vault.  Would the same happen to fashion?

To return to Blakely’s point and for all other free culture enthusiasts out here, Culture Industries rely on a freedom of expression to experiment and evolve.  For the fashion world, the main reason it moves so quickly is because of the lack of copyright.  Minimal regulation it what maintains the fashion world’s vibrancy: because there are so few legal obstacles, fads and trends can be created.  Because Marc Jacobs can riff of Rayban and the US Airforce, we get a spin on the aviator sunglasses.  We have inspirational street style blogs like the Satorialist and Mr Newton – who can snap people’s style on the street because it’s outside in the public domain.  No permission is needed to publish the style they caught on camera.  And to add further fuel to the fire: designers (high street and couture) source their ideas from this fashion seen on the pavement and runway.  In sum: copyright can stifle creativity.

And for a sociopolitical argument thrown in here: I can’t afford to spend a cool $325 on a pair of shades, but I really like those aviators, so I’ll be getting the look at a slightly more affordable price point of $14.99.  With a law like this, would we even have a High Street culture of Zaras and H&Ms with their affordable ready to wear disposable remix of couture? And would couture be so popular and emulated to the extent that it is without the support from mass culture, ready and willing to copy and wear the trends the couture establishes? (As a sidenote, Lana Swartz followed Blakeley with a fantastic in depth commentary into the counterfeit culture and authenticity).

Fashion is the ultimate remix culture: everyday people piece together their wardrobes with inspiration taken from high and low culture, across industries and gernres and places.  In fact, fashion icons are celebrated for their craft of the creating the perfect remix. Their outfit is their mixtape: artfully piecing together designer, DIY, vintage, and highstreet into the perfect look (see fashion’s latest darling Alexa Chung, or blogs like the Glamorai, White Lightening, or Man Repeller for their celebrated cerebral spin on fashion). Fashion constantly crosses boundaries, but the question remains – how can we put a copyright on a style or a look without inevitably hindering the creative process?

Man Repeller (Leandra Medine’s eponymous blog), is now a becoming a term commonly used by media outlets to describe the clothes that women love and men hate.  Most of the time, journos site her blog but sometimes they don’t.  At the recent Evolving Influence conference, the point was raised that as the phrase is adopted culturally, credit may not necessarily be given: showing the point that it’s pretty hard to keep track of where a trend or slang term is originated.  Yet, are we looking at a trend or downright plagiarism here? And would more pervasive copyright legislation in the fashion industry protect independent tastemakers like Leandra or, or will heightened intellectual property rights prevent the spread of ideas and trends from happening?

Again, don’t get me wrong here: I am all for giving credit where credit is due. Stealing is wrong. I think I would flip out if I saw a term I created being used without crediting me.  Hypocritically, my blog’s name is a riff from Neil Postman (see my about section).  But my point (and ethical dilemma) is that we need to find a way to encourage a culture of collaboration that can maintain innovation while respecting young (and the old) independent designers out there. Lobbyists for the bill will think a strict trademark copyright license will do that…

How can we make sharing… warm and fuzzy…?

What we really need to be asking is how can we create an environment to encourage participation rather than enable elitism – can the young designers out there (who the bill want to protect), afford a litigation team that the Urban Outfitters or the Diane von Furstenbergs in this world can afford?

Stretching beyond practicability, it’s hard to copyright style, it’s got an intangible quality, why is a girl a muse or an “it” girl?  According to the courts, fashion is part of a peculiar list of things that can’t be copyrighted: smells, magic tricks, hairstyles, furniture, and even jokes are all considered part of the public domain.  Jennifer Aniston would be rich on just the royalties she would have received on her signature Rachel bob.  Arguably, if every hairdresser had to pay a license fee to cut hair that way, would we even know what “A Rachel” is, meaning every woman in America would have been saved from an era of lookalikes and wannabes?

Even in industry with heavy copyright protection: people still violate regulation all the time.  Girl Talk sells out shows at Terminal 5, but the Hip Hop/ Rap industry is still going strong – with or without Greg Gillis.  Or what about all those memes (that Meme Factory track so excellently, and even make the case that fashion is by it’s very nature is a meme)?  Here’s a blog post I wrote a few years ago at NYU that raises some of these questions.

What I am asking is to not be so naive when we celebrate the proposed legislation.  As we all know, copyright is not necessarily black and white. It really does become a gray area when we bring into the equation free culture, creativity, communication, ideas while also protecting rights of creative thinkers and ensuring originality and authenticity.

So. Where to next?  I’d like to discuss what can Creative Commons offer the fashion industry, or even go back to Fair Use to work this one out… In the meantime, it’s time to look at some LOL Cats.

(and yeah, I got this image just from searching “Rachel” on Google Image Search)

The Conquest of Cool – a revisit to Thomas Frank’s account of business culture, counterculture, and the rise of hip consumerism… (And how American Apparel ruined the Hoodie)

A friend recently tweeted “artsy photo shoot on 98th? Upper UES, new home to hipsters.”

While it may be true that hipsters have made a new home, I have a different theory:  I argue that their new home is really a grounded footing in mainstream popular culture.  Whether it is in the Upper UES or suburban America, the hipster style is now and has been for a while, ubiquitously trendy.   And as I write this, the argument can be made is the Hipster as we’ve known it is (arguably) dead.

Over the past few months, countless articles have documented the demise of the Hipster as we know it.  In October of this year, New York magazine ran an article by Mark Grief under the headline “what was the hipster? [emphasis added].” Offering a historical analysis of the rise and fall (and the rise again and fall again) of the hipster – the article examined how media has absorbed Hipsters into the mainstream of pop culture. If some of you are throwing your tattooed fist into your black Americano, you are not the only one. The article showed up everywhere, a frenzied dialogue ensued. People were tweeting it all about it, posting links across Facebook (the link went viral across all my friends’ status updates).  Publications like the Village Voice reacted swiftly, nit-picking at times Grief’s case studies but really they stressed further that this is really nothing new, for example the 1960s was also a golden era for the Hipster – with musicians like Bob Dylan showing how subcultural movements can progress quickly into the mainstream zeitgeist.

While I don’t want to sit here and bandy back and forth on a topic that has been deliberated to death (I think I might gag if I read another article about Hipsters, and I am also thoroughly disappointed in myself for adding to this debate) – I am still curious to examine what Thomas Frank has called (and also the title of his book) “the conquest of cool.”

Frank describes how a culture industry relies on an anti-establishment ethos to ensure the cycle of commodities. Big Businesses need the Williamsburg hipster backlash against culture to sustain culture. As slogans are uttered against a hegemonic structure, culture industries readily usher them into its ideological framework. The creative revolution propels consumerism.

(As a completely difference topic, but related nonetheless: even media pundits are arguing that Wikileaks is going to save the crisis in journalism – revolution fuels growth).

Recently I gleefully came across another piece (by Grief as well) in the New York Times, using none other that LSE’s sociology department’s preferred theorist (and also NYU’s Rodney Benson’s personal favorite) Pierre Bourdieu to examine how symbols and cultural clues are used to distinguish (and at times, blur) class lines.  Indeed, the Hipster (coming from a mostly white, middle to upper class background) appropriated many icons of American working class culture to define their fauxhemian lifestyle (for example, think PBRs, lumberjack shirts, unicorns, and trucker hats).  Under the umbrella of “irony,” anything goes, and the kitsch ephemera is legitimated across new build condos and rodent ridden lofts in the hipster playgrounds known as Williamsburg and Bushwick.

But as Grief points out, in turn these “ironic” symbols have also become reabsorbed, with many mainstream icons “acquiring subculture as if it were ready-to-wear.” Grief uses the time when Paris Hilton sported a trucker hat as an example.

Indeed – for a Hipster, the minute something is perceived and even labeled as cool, it immediately loses it’s cultural capital. (Ahem, yes that was some Bourdieu thrown in there for you – I wouldn’t have it otherwise).  But to continue: cools value is diminished as it achieves an economic surplus (ahem, could that be a hint of Marx in that argument?)

Even Frank argues that hipsters have a “burning consciousness of the present” (p12).  So when pundits declare something as the it think, the now, its immediately is cemented in the past.  What’s en vogue quickly becomes mundane.  Indeeed, think of the blogger Hipster Runoff’s constant chastise of the “lamestream” as Justin Bieber sports an American Apparel hoodie once adored by Williamsburg Hipsters in the summer of 2007/8.  Yes, I can turn around and argue that it American Apparel ruined the hoodie as their aggressive growth across cities worldwide spun them near bankruptcy countless times…

Either way, you begin to see a circuitous, almost tautological loop of referencing..

So message to all the dying Hipsters out there, in sum: your f**ked.

Even channels like the Independent Film Channel and Sundance are far from being the free-spirited, savvy thinkers they claim to be: they’re really just a part of Cablevision.  Even the big cats out there know to keep tabs on those quirky kids (said in a Jack Donaghy voice).

Keep your friends close, and your enemies closer – that kinda thing, right?

But this is exactly Franks point: big businesses rely on the quirky, the ironic, the hip, savvy and  rebellious to sustain a cycle of consumption. In the same way fashion houses and publications need the Style Rookies and Sartorialists of this world, businesses are quick to realize that rules need to be broken in order to be made.  Yes, as I write that I realize that probably sounds like something you would see on one of those cheesy No Fear shirts in the 1990s, but point proven: Rebellion sells… The obvious example – just think of the ubiquitous face of Che Guevara.

But as Frank points out, hipsters have always looked uniformly defiant – whether it be through plaid shirts, a carnival of brightly colored sweatshirts, and skinny jeans – a walk down Bedford Avenue is more like a real life runway show of the Urban Outfitters catalogue.  You may scream at me “but it’s vintage!” like that justifies anything – it only proves my point further. Revolt is close friends with Co-opt, and whether your vintage is real or a fake, your subversion is now homogenous.

I’m going to sign off now, and am embracing myself for a deluge of criticism and attacks of hypocrisy, but hey I’ll completely fess up: I probably dress like all those hipster plebeians out there.  And I’m aware of that – cause as it stems from my childhood fear of not fitting in and dude, I gotta tell you – I totally feel those social pressures of conformity when I go out drinking in Billyburg…