If brands (and governments) don’t do their job, someone else will do it for them

Yousef Tuqan Tuqan
CEO, Flip Media

The Journal of the Medinge Group, vol. 4, no. 1, 2010

IN MARCH OF THIS YEAR, I took my wife to a desert island to celebrate our anniversary. Situated 9 km off the coast of the United Arab Emirates, Sir Bani Yas Island is a nature reserve accessible only by seaplane or boat, and offers a wonderful location for a romantic getaway.
   While on the island, we were taken on a nature drive with a local guide who showed us the various flora and fauna, as well as the island’s various landmarks. While driving near the palace of Sheikh Zayed, named for the late president of the UAE, the tour guide told us that the football-field sized plantation we were driving through had been made into a curious shape, and asked if we could guess what it was.
   I promptly took my iPhone out of my pocket, opened the Google Maps application, and pushed a button that showed me my location on a satellite map. ‘A coffee pot!’ I exclaimed proudly. And then it quickly dawned on me what has just taken place.
   I had just called up a geolocated satellite image of where I was standing. With my mobile phone. On a desert island.
   Beyond the hype and Twitter-madness that we read about every day, a new reality is dawning. The technologies and platforms we are currently experiencing are fundamentally changing the ways in which we live our lives.
   If we just think back to the summer of 2006, Italy had just won the World Cup, Lebanon and Israel were at war and Shakira was telling us her hips don’t lie.
   However, at the same time, Facebook was an invitation-only student community none of us had heard of, Twitter was making its quiet début and the iPhone had not even been announced.
   If we fast-forward to our lives today, we cannot comprehend a world in which we could not communicate with our global networks of friends on Facebook, talk to a brand that did not tweet, or have a mobile phone that could only make phone calls and text messages.
   Our world is changing faster than we can imagine, and with it, the way in which brands are built in the minds of their consumers. Suddenly, the internet has no longer become an afterthought in the minds of brands and consumers, but the fundamental infrastructure on which our lives are being built.
   We all know that change happens, but the speed with which the old paradigm of media consumption has been destroyed has left advertisers everywhere scrambling to pick up the pieces and make sense of this new world.
   First, the internet happened. Suddenly, people could consume news and content from millions of places that didn’t exist the year before. There was a fundamental break in the covenant between advertisers and the media. It goes something like this: ‘We, the advertisers, need you (the media) in order to communicate our messages and control the story.’
   Suddenly, ‘the media’ were not the only way consumers could see what was happening around them, nor was it the only way brands could speak to consumers.
   And then, something else happened: the tools became easier. Not only were they not consuming content on their own terms; they were now producing content on their own terms. And suddenly, the consumer was in charge. And this has led to some interesting new developments.
   Now, any idiot with a smattering of ability could create a blog, post a video, upload a picture, or act like a real journalist. And suddenly, we went from mass media to mass broadcast, where any kid in his bedroom could shout as loudly as any brand on the internet. And given the fact that many major brands still treat the internet like it’s a bizarre scientific experiment, is it that surprising?
   The tools for them to speak to us have become more effective, and now brands have no excuse but to listen. On every channel and across the universe, the biggest brands in the world can set up listening posts now and hear what is being said about them for a few thousand dollars a month. Suddenly, they were trumping the media with every story.
   And the most important realization that has emerged from this discovery is that if brands and governments don’t do their jobs, someone else would do it for them.

The Dubai Mall
Opened in 2008, the Dubai Mall holds the title of the biggest mall in the world based on total area.
   While they have a lovely website (I should know, my agency made it), the need for a mobile application to allow consumers to easily navigate their way through 1,200 shops in an area the size of 50 football fields should be obvious. However, budgetary constraints have always kept them from making this necessary investment.
   However, a quick search of the iTunes App Store for ‘Dubai Mall’ features an app for the Dubai Mall, as well as apps for three other iconic malls in Dubai. These apps are free, and were made by a freelancer in the hopes of eventually selling them to the malls.
   The apps are nothing short of awful, and their maps for the Dubai Mall were stolen from our website, but the reality is that because a brand failed to do its job to meet a basic consumer need, someone else has done it, to the detriment of that brand.

The Haiti Crisis Map
In the wake of the devastating Haiti earthquake in January 2010, aid groups from across the globe were deployed to the island to assist in the recovery effort. However, in the absence of a coordinated effort to map and identify problem areas, aid groups were uncoordinated and “working blind” in order to focus their efforts.
   However, help quickly arrived in the form of the Crisis Map of Haiti. Mapped in real-time with information from SMS, web, email, radio, phone, Twitter, Facebook, television, list-serves, live streams, and situation reports, the Crisis Map continues to be the most accurate source of information for aid groups on the ground.
   However, what is most interesting about this Crisis Map is where it came from. It was not made by the UN or USAID or MSF. It was made by a handful of volunteers at Tufts University and Ushahidi, an African open-source project website that was initially developed to map reports of violence in Kenya after the post-election fallout at the beginning of 2008.
   According to Ushahidi’s Patrick Meier, ‘I first heard about the major earthquake around 7:30pm (Boston time) … What happened between 7:30pm and midnight was inspiring. We went live with a basic deployment within half an hour.’
   The fact that a handful of students could mobilize so quickly to meet such a challenge speaks not only to the power of the individual, but also to the inability of governments to react faster than their citizens to a crisis.

While the intentions of the Dubai Mall app developer and the students at Tufts University were noble, they both show how individuals are now trumping our existing power structures in order to fill a need. As traditional media channels are fading in influence, so are any other channels that brands and governments have any control over.
   While we create more of these “unofficial” ways for consumers to engage with brands and governments on their own terms, we are denying these organizations the chance to speak to consumers with any real control over the message or the medium.
   Organizations need to work harder to anticipate customer needs, work with existing and emerging technologies and address these gaps in service before they completely hand over their brands.

Yousef Tuqan TuqanIf brands (and governments) don’t do their job, someone else will do it for them

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