150-in-One Electronic Project Kit
Back when I was a kid, Radio Shack made an electronics kit for pre-teens called ‘150-in-One Electronic Project Kit.’
By following simple instructions and connecting color-coded wires to connectors associated with the different electronic components in the kit, you could make 150 different electronic devices. Simple, engaging, got the job done.
What got me thinking about the 150-in-One was a recent presentation by Mark Kvamme, a partner at Sequoia Capital, and founder of CKS Group (a pioneering interactive ad agency), where he argued that the traditional "interruption model" of advertising is giving way to a focus on "owning the conversation."
Simply put, Kvamme argues, we now live in a world where people can get media where, how, and when they want, and given that reality, brands have to get savvier about how they are going to interact with consumers.
To Kvamme, this suggests the importance of new ad units emerging that blur the conventional boundaries between content and advertising.
What follows is my thesis about how one type of ad/content hybrid (i.e., an integrated media unit) called a ‘Programmable Fan Site’ might work.
Sort of the 150-in-One media unit builder for brands and media companies.
The Programmable Fan Site
A fan site is basically a microsite made up of 5-15 online services, and is designed to be configured, customized and administered as easily as a blog.
To set one up is as simple as four steps. First, you pick from a set of “landing page” styles. Landing pages define basic layouts and establish default container logic for aggregating content items within the microsite based on administrator-designed thresholds like new, popular, recently added, heavily commented and/or featured. Typical landing page styles include: Profile, Blog, Hot Page and Contest.
Second, you choose the underlying services that you want to plug in, such as Blogs, Groups, Forums, Polls, Feeds, and/or Media Services, and set filtered view options. Filtered view options define the form of the output, and include options like "Ranked List" or "Title Only" or "Title plus Summary."
Third, you customize their layout on the landing page in a similar fashion to the way MySpace made creating profile pages fun and engaging. Depending on the goals of the brand, customization options can include predefined brand-friendly templates, WYSIWYG design tools and/or CSS support for advanced users.
Fourth, you start creating and programming content using the services activated within the fan site.
Fan sites can be designed to operate on a standalone basis or be interconnected to build a network of fan sites. They can also start with a minimal function like a blog and add a landing page or start a contest later. Content creation can be limited to administrators, allow user-generated submissions or a combination of both, defined on a service by service basis.
Brand and Character Come First in New Media
One important lesson that I have learned over the past few years is that with new media, figuring out what brand/character resonates with the audience is more important than figuring out the format/narrative, since if the audience doesn’t care about the character, you are dead in the water.
What is nice about the programmable fan site model is that it makes creation of new brand and character ‘seeds’ relatively quick and inexpensive, enabling an approach known as the ‘seed-select-amplify’ model.
In this model, you plant a lot of low-cost seeds, identify/select the seedlings that sprout and then focus your resources on ‘amplifying’ these seedlings via a more formalized character, storyline and narrative development process.
At its most basic level, new brand/character seeds can be launched as people-oriented video blogs and tested out on in terms of audience interest on You Tube and other video networks, where the basic distribution is free.
By coupling this model with the programmable fan site builder discussed above, you can cultivate your audience systematically and proactively based on campaign outcome goals (see Advertising 3.0 for more thoughts on the topic of new media campaigns).