Long weekends are always a good time to decompress, reconnect with family and friends and to catch up on reading. I did a lot of reading, both for business (online) and pleasure (Kindle). Three streams caught my attention, and while they seem only tangentially related at first, connecting the dots results in some usable insights.

The first stream was a series of Manolo Almagro’s pieces on user-generated content (starting on November 19th, here). Manolo is particularly wired into the UGC trendsphere both from a personal and professional perspective, and his travels expose him to trends well beyond North America, especially in Asia. So his insights and enthusiasm have a strong foundation. His presentation last month at the Strategy Institute conference in Chicago provided a number of excellent examples of how UGC can make the transition from online to OOH seamless for the person he defines as the “new, new consumer”. In his presentation, Manolo pointed out that the new consumer:

– Seeks out new and different experiences with brands

– Prefers active engagements vs. passive

– Ruthlessly filters messages, seeks to personalize

– Expects 2-way conversations with brands

– Consumes or creates some form of digital media on a daily basis

In subsequent posts, he advocates for UGC and moderated content filtering, while making sure that readers take note of the very real ubiquity and dominance of mobile devices. New consumers armed with powerful smartphones consume and create media in addition to consuming brands. They want those experiences to be integrated. Hold on to those thoughts for a moment, we’ll get back to them.
The second stream related to a presentation given by Danah Boyd at the Web 2.0 Expo in New York. Ms. Boyd is a well-regarded Social Media Researcher, and her work in academia and business has associated her with brands like Microsoft, Harvard, MIT and Berkeley. She is a frequent and sought-after speaker on social media. Her presentation was a new pitch titled, Streams of Content, Limited Attention: The Flow of Information Through Social Media. It was remarkable for two reasons. First, it provided some terrific thoughts that can be applied to the digital media space; and second, the presentation itself was reportedly a debacle, as a giant screen behind her was used to post tweets from the audience in real time, which flustered her and took her off her game. It seems the audience had issues with the speed or her delivery, and the comments degenerated into personal attacks. Ironically, the social media expert was being skewered by unfiltered UGC delivered via Twitter! The show producers did something (real time twitter backchannel) to force interactivity in a forum designed for one way delivery. It backfired.

Boyd’s talk, which got somewhat lost in all the controversy over the presentation, was actually quite thought-provoking, and has some elements that relate to DOOH. Here are some notable points:

– She introduces the idea of “…content streams, streams of information. This metaphor is powerful. The idea is that you are living inside the stream: adding to it, consuming it, redirecting it.”

– We have transitioned from “…an era of broadcast media… to an era of networked media.”

– In this era of networked media and living in the stream, we are “consuming (content) to understand, producing (content) to be relevant.”

– “…what matters is not the act of distribution, but the act of consumption. Thus the power is no longer in the hands of those who control the channels of distribution, but those who control the limited resource of attention.”

The third stream was Paul Flanigan’s take on Black Friday, which was really a reflection on his time at Best Buy and how he watched the metamorphosis of the big day. Paul is yet another person who falls under the heading of “Totally Gets It”. He shares some observations:

– Best Buy (and other retailers) let the customers make a bigger deal out of it than it really was. Corporate definitely paid attention, but the customers themselves are what drives the advertising.

– By leaking deals, you get them to wait in line at your store. Once in line, they stay there… They have made the commitment.

– I have seen the customer change because it is no longer about the deal, it is about the event.

Paul goes on to observe how Black Friday is no longer about item discounting, because retailers are discounting year round these days. Instead, it has become “a cultural event”. Black Friday may as well be renamed Campout Thursday, to more accurately reflect what it is now all about: the experience.

Now connect the dots: New consumers want to connect with brands in new ways… the power belongs to those that control the limited resource of attention…. the experience matters more than the deal. These observations were made in wholly different contexts, yet cobbled together, there is something to take away. We are facing seismic cultural and technological shifts that should be regarded as game changers to an industry that wants to position itself as legitimate alternative media distribution channel.

Clearly, as producers of this emerging channel of content distribution, DOOH network operators must be mindful of the dual concepts of the stream and the experience, and make efforts not to dead-end their evolving consumers. If we think that the stream begins and ends with DOOH content or ads, without allowing consumers to somehow engage, link or produce within our stream, then we may be taking their precious attention for granted. In today’s networked culture, that might be a big mistake.

There is no silver bullet for achieving relevant consumer engagement. While mobile-fed and moderated UGC is appropriate for Times Square billboards and bars, it is probably not quite as appropriate in medical environments or branch retail outlets. QR codes, NFC and Bluetooth show promise for serving up links and new opportunities to connect with brands and content producers. Social media tools will find their way into the stream, perhaps through links or portals for UGC where it makes sense. In any case, DOOH networks need to find a way to become part of an experience that is relevant to their audience, leveraging the attention the consumers grant them. To ignore that imperative would put them in danger of suffering the limitations of broadcasters.