I went Pokemon hunting the other night. After dark. In my neighborhood. For about five minutes. I caught a Charmander, which I assume is still somewhere in my phone, or hiding in a pocket. I participated in a Facebook Live broadcast, too. Look at me, I’m all hip.
Now, let’s take a deep breath and pause for a reminder of why we don’t tie our brand to every fad that appears overnight. Anybody remember Second Life? I had a client who nearly drove me insane, arguing that we should start conducting auctions in this virtual world where people pretend to be somebody else, spending something called Linden Dollars, which were both promoted as a way to make real money and disclaimed in the fine print as little more than play money, traded at an exchange rate nobody understood, but one that could apparently be changed at the drop of a hat.
And there were people who thought that was a good idea.
I’ve been around the world of virtual whatevers from the very beginning. I hung around at 300 bits per second on dial-up bulletin boards, and even ran one for a short time, using PC Board. I implemented an MCI Mail system that let my company’s international subsidiaries communicate instantly. That earned me a bonus, right after they decided not to fire me for it. MySpace lasted for about a week and probably helped some pop stars gain exposure, but I decided not to play. Along the way we’ve had QR Codes and endless web site gimmicks that required users to install clunky plugins.
I’ve chased some really stupid fads, avoided some others, and learned a few things about which are which. Here are some lessons I’ve learned about deciding when to jump in and when to watch and see.
Never tie your precious brand to something new, shiny, free and unproven. You’ve worked hard building your brand. You spent good money for your logo. You’ve done things right and earned a quality reputation. You sell a premium product or service to serious people. So when today’s rage shows up, play it cool. Watch it from a safe distance, and make sure it’s something you want to be associated with.
Check to see where your target audience is. If you’re running a business, that target audience should be people who spend money on your products, or at least people who look like them. If you’re selling B2B services, don’t worry about what the kids are up to. Don’t even chase your target market there until you see how it’s going to work out in the long run. Will people spend money? On what? Will they be laughing at it in six months?
Look for the utility — and the downside. I love my gadgets, and I’ve always been an early adopter. But when it comes to my business, I want to evaluate the risk of chasing the crowds. And I don’t always get it right. I was an early enthusiast of QR Codes, for example. I put them on business cards and encouraged clients to use them on brochures. Over time, it finally became clear that while it was undeniably cool to be able to embed links and contact information in a stamp-shaped blob, we already had some pretty good ways of giving people that information — like words and links. Ways that didn’t require loading an extra app on your phone to eat up battery and resources. Now, those leftover QR codes have all the appeal of a mullet.
Don’t do anything you can’t do in a quality way. This week (no promises about next week), everybody’s talking about Facebook Live, which allows anybody with a smart phone and a Facebook account to point it at something and broadcast it. My Facebook feed is chock full of shaky badly lit images from people waving their phones around, to the point of making me seasick. The capability is alluring, and I’ll probably use it at some point. But if you decide to use Facebook Live, Periscope or any similar streaming technology, do it right. Use a real camera, on a stable mount, with proper lighting and sound. Let somebody get the attention today with the half-ass implementation. You’ll win in the long run by getting it right.
(Yes, I said half-ass.)
By all means, keep an eye on new technologies and trends. Learn how to use them. See what resources it requires to do participate effectively. But don’t be the guy in the mullet.