Friday, July 22, 2011

Are you a member of the community you create for?

A number of years ago I had the pleasure of working with Bill Rose from Wizards of the Coast. They are the company who created and built Magic the Gathering, the wildly successful Trading Card Game as well as the publishing program, Cons/Tournaments, fan clubs and much more that eventually grew from the original concept. I asked Bill how they constantly seemed to get it right in terms of what their audience wanted from them.  His answer was simple and applicable far beyond card gaming:

"You can't create well for a community unless you are a member of that community!"

Think about this for a moment. What do we know better than anything else? We know what we like and we know what we do. If we are parents, we know exactly what it's like to have and raise kids. Each day is full of thousands of personal observations and insights into being a parent. If we love race cars, maybe our dream job would be to work for Nascar in some form or fashion! If you have the qualifications needed for the job, your passion would add to your value.  If you're developing or marketing fashion, you've got to be in the thick of the right fashion scene to read the nuanced and fast-moving influences and you have to wake up caring deeply about it in a very personal way. Net/net, when you are it, you feel it in your gut.

There is a great deal of real world evidence supporting the practical business application of this principal as well.  As an example, Mattel has made no secret of the fact that they hire designers and marketers who are passionately personally interested in the brands they are developing and marketing.  They have shown remarkable growth across several key categories in part, because a significant percentage of the product and ideas they are coming up with are just plain good and really get the smallest of details just right for their kid and collector audiences. This happens because all decisions, micro and macro, have advocates in key places in the process who are actually the audience themselves!

Movies have long been created and talent signed-on based on passion and affinity. It's how you get depth and true insight in the greatest possible amounts.

Does this fly in the face of the mid to late twentieth century belief that building a good senior manager means you need to keep moving him or her around from category to category, or even company to company? In part, I believe it does. Much of our legacy structures for thinking and managing come from the 20th century's adherence to a military industrial model.  We used to be in the business of making many of the same things over and over again in mass quantitates. Management became a repeatable process somewhat agnostic to the specific product. Change was more metered and success was all about quantity and repeatability. Even our schools are still built on this outdated model, but that's a different discussion for a different blog.

We are now in an age where, for much of the content world, it is about a growing social component, personalization, new mixtures of traditional and mobile, the power of the community and breathtakingly fast technological change. Though there is evolution happening, the rapid changes in connectedness and technology continue to far exceed even analysts predictions.

What does this mean to Transmedia and Meta-story? It means that choosing who works on the Meta-story and who the Transmedia producer will be is anything but one-size fits all. It is critical to identify Senior Creative and Strategic participants:

whose passion and personal connection with the project stem from who they well as what they know. 

This may mean that "The Vision Leader." (the person with that gut-level creative connection to the property...more on this role in a later post) may not be trained in Meta-story development.

Because true cross format narrative development and competencies have been on the scene for all of twenty minutes, there are not legions of fully trained individuals capable of doing this work across all categories of possible content. (Evidence is that there are no, I repeat, no major colleges with Meta-story curricula in place).

The solution, for now, is a partnering of the vision leader with a trained Meta-story developer.

This raises another key question however. In moving to a Transmedia model and employing Meta-story development, is the management in the parent company capable of making the decisions and/or recognizing good ideas from not so good ones? If we return to Bill's marvelous insight and apply it to management we get some interesting answers.

Let's use the fast growing and highly audience-influential area of Social media to make the point. Here's an illustration of what appears to be a broad disconnect in the area of social media usage based on income.  Within this report from Kissmetrics (which I became aware of from a Linkedin post by Maciej Fita) one note of interest is the severe plummet in social media users above the $75K per year income level. Executives are in this group.

There may be some execs who use it in a significant way, but from my experience, it is a minority. Blackberry's aren't analogous to social media. Without direct experience or contact with your intended audience, decisionmaking becomes dependant on reports and analysis.  Those can be quite helpful but reduce the likelyhood of intuitive decisions dramatically and certainly slow down making opportunistic moves in a fast moving ecosystem. The best decision-making employs both.

For Meta-story development it also can have a strong tendency to drive management to look for consensus from media stakeholders versus being a strong advocate for the total narrative as the audience will experience it with "input" from media stakeholders.

Here too, the remedy lies in elevating the role and voice of the vision leader. Story and Audience advocacy is fundamentally the most commercially responsible position to take as the corporate world rethinks how it works in this fantastic and quickly evolving environment!

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