Connecting the real and virtual worlds, the metaverse is set to be the next big challenge for marketers. Gaming and e-sports are the drivers of a whole new entertainment industry.

When Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg announced that the new name of his company was Meta, it was a huge clue to the internet’s next stage of evolution: the metaverse as the next iteration of the World Wide Web as we knew it. After all, virtual and physical worlds are increasingly converging and constantly creating new digital spaces. And one of the main drivers of this are games and the digital world of sports . So, it was only logical that the latest “International Roadshow” by the Serviceplan Group was dedicated to “Mythbusting the Metaverse” – with a particular focus on e-sports and gaming.

People are spending more and more time online, as Eva Simone Lihotzky, Director Group Corporate Strategy Serviceplan Group, is observing. While it was just 7 percent of their day in 2010, it is now around 38 percent – and will soon be 50 percent. “The pandemic has certainly fueled this development, but the third web is already very present.  Virtual worlds are becoming mainstream.”

Virtual spaces are now more creative and social

Online gaming platforms like Roblox, where the users invent their own computer games and can play them with others, are proving a huge hit. Like the team-based strategy game League of Legends, which is played by hundreds of millions of players every month and is constantly being developed. “Virtual worlds are becoming more creative and spatial,” Lihotzky says. “And they are also adapting themselves to users’ needs. This consistency is what makes them lasting companions and therefore also so interesting for the brand economy.”

We are currently “in the early stages of a new technology that has outgrown its hype status,” says Stefanie Kuhnhen, Chief Strategy Officer at the Serviceplan Group. In her view, a “learning community” is currently emerging and it is important to now get a foot in the door. “We shouldn’t just be thinking in single platforms anymore. There are lots of different metaverses that are emerging: open and decentralised, no longer just accessible with AR glasses, but more and more browser-based and mobile.” And the focus is not so much on creating 3D-rooms per se, but on creating exiting experiences and hence time that consumers want to spend with a brand. The “15 minutes that a user is spending in branded spaces or new communities can be worth more than the six seconds that they spend looking at an Instagram ad.”

Marketing is reinventing itself in the metaverse

Marketers need to face up to the metaverse in all its complexity. It is a gigantic space for playing, creating things, connecting with others and working, but also for processing transactions, consuming and even earning money. Online gamers and e-sports players are icons of youth culture and influencers in one. Something that hardly seemed conceivable to older generations is now becoming a reality: while the whole family used to sit down to watch TV together for an evening, young people are now tuning into Twitch to watch other online gamers play.

“In the USA, more kids play Fortnite than football and basketball combined,” says Christian Waitzinger, Chief Experience Officer Plan.Net Group, giving us a good idea of the dimensions. In his point of view, the convergence of the digital and physical lifestyle is already fully underway. Brands like Liverpool F.C. have a shop on Roblox, Chipotle has launched the Burrito Builder there and fashion brands like Gucci are also gradually making a foray into the worlds where young people can be found today. It all comes down to being in the place where your future customers spend the most time. And for Waitzinger, it is extremely exciting to see how more and more new business models are emerging from this and brands are rethinking their understanding of consumers.

Gaming is taking over from TV

Gaming has become more unifying across national borders than almost anything else. “Gaming is a sympathy multiplier,” says Alexander Turtschan, Director Digital Accelerator the Mediaplus Group. “E-sports arenas are the new movie theatres.” A way to lose yourself in stories, compete with others and keep on improving. “We see ecosystems emerging here. You can even become a superstar yourself and earn a lot of money. That’s why, e-sports are a serious contender for traditional sports in terms of marketing or sponsorship.” Here you can find everything that the marketer’s heart desires: attractive target groups, influencers, strong communities and, last but not least, the perfect gateway into youth culture.

The advertising industry is merging more and more into these new worlds and its focus now is to create meaningful engagement of lasting value. Nevertheless, “brands should still stick to their values,” believes Helmi Abdalhadi, Manager of House of Gaming at the House of Communication Dubai. He sees gamers as being very critical and professional and, as a result, the only way to reach them is with authenticity. “So, brands that engage with this target group always need to give something back, really embrace the culture and build up something from scratch. We definitely see a new media genre emerging here.

Brands are leading the way in brandification

More and more brands are recognising the momentum of this global movement and are aligning their gaming and e-sports strategies accordingly. “We realised that there are overlaps with our own fundamental brand strategy,” says Pia Schörner, Head of Gaming and Sponsoring at BMW Group. “Joy” or “thrills” are the perfect fit for what the BMW world refers to as its core. So, two and a half years ago, the Munich-based company began making their brand “future-proof for the younger target groups.”

Above all, it was about generating the maximum impact in what Schörner calls “the fastest growing segment of the entertainment industry”. They achieved this with partnerships with the six best e-sports teams in the world, as well as the development of unique formats such as ‘Brawls’, where well-known e-sports players compete against each other. Schörner believes that it’s very important to not just stubbornly throw in product placements, as so many brands do. “For us, it’s about being relevant.” Brandification is the magic word here.

Authentic advertising instead of mere selling

Markus Weiß, Director of Corporate Affairs & Company Spokesperson at McDonald’s Germany, is taking a similar approach. He admits that “McDonald’s isn’t the first brand that springs to mind when talking about something like e-sports”, but they have developed an approach for the new virtual worlds that is valuable and beneficial and goes beyond merely wanting to sell. “As a brand, we want to be an everyday companion that also gives something back and who is as just as passionate as our target group.”

Entering into a partnership with tournament organisers ESL, the world’s leading e-sports company, was not just a first step but is an important pillar of its gaming engagement until today. McDonald’s is meanwhile active at Gamescom, the world’s biggest trade show for video games, and is launching attention-grabbing promotions like the Twitch Sub Bombs (one-off subscription gifts): in this format, which saw them team up with well-known player collective PietSmiet, the burger giant surprised small content creators (micro-streamers) with a ‘gift’. Those watching the PietSmiet broadcast were encouraged to visit the micro-streamers’ pages – sending their total viewing numbers from the low double-digits into the thousands and therefore supporting the micro-streamers financially. “Whenever possible, we rather integrate the brand in a playful way, combined with our messages, instead of playing classic commercials”, explains Weiß. “Our ethos is: brand love meets brand trust.”

Missed the IRS22? If you’d like to watch one of the sessions, the videos are available on our website

Gallery owner Johann König on the digital transformation of the art sector, the significance of personal experiences and the allure of art for young target groups. An interview with Eva Simone Lihotzky.

EVA SIMONE LIHOTZKY: Mr König, you are regarded as one of Germany’s leading gallery owners. In recent months, you have designed and implemented a number of digital formats, such as an exhibition called The Artist Is Online together with Anika Meier. The international group exhibition could be seen offline at the KÖNIG GALERIE and online in Decentraland, a virtual world based on blockchain technology. What has been your experience with formats like these?

JOHANN KÖNIG: We are initiating many of these digital formats on www. misa.art with a view to being accessible and removing barriers and thresholds. For instance, in Decentraland – a virtual world based on blockchain technology – we held an online exhibition that ended with an online auction. However, we found that it was very difficult to access and that collectors were finding it difficult to buy an NFT – the underlying process was too complex (editor’s note: non-fungible tokens – NFTs for short – are counterfeit-proof certificates stored on a blockchain, effectively rendering digital artworks unique). As a result, we set up our own marketplace that allows people to pay with credit cards and bank transfers. This makes the market more accessible.

Do you think the art world will hold onto digital platforms like this in future or are they just a passing fad?

JK: No, they’re definitely here to stay. What’s also interesting is the technological possibilities that it opens up. That’s why we are planning to sell fractionalised artworks on www.misa.art as well – so people can buy part of an artwork instead of the whole thing. We believe that this will get far more people interested in art and lead to a greater identification with the market.

In another interview, you say that one of the main functions of the art world is to allow people to experience art more. In the business world, this would be termed ‘customer centricity’. What does the art sector need to do to be more customer- centric in its thinking?

JK: To answer this, I asked myself: “Why don’t people buy art? Or, to put it another way, what reasons are there for not buying art?” We then tried to identify and eliminate these objections one by one. In most cases, it’s because people don’t know the price or aren’t able to determine if the given price is reasonable – or sometimes it’s trivial things like not knowing how much it will cost to transport the artwork home. We resolved all of this with a software that brings all of these factors together

Immersive art experiences are an art form where the audience takes centre stage – just like Turkish-American artist Refik Anadol does with his works. What makes these artists’ work so special?

JK: First of all, I believe that art is always a holistic experience. And that you always need to feel it – not just see it. When you look at Refik Anadol’s art, it’s like being hypnotised: they are always moving and, thanks to AI, always new. That’s why it’s like a kind of meditative performance. He has succeeded in bringing aesthetics and concept together.

Do people who visit an immersive art exhibition have a different connection to art than they might have with traditional exhibitions?

JK: For me, it’s important for all KÖNIG GALERIE exhibitions to be immersive experiences – so we can use a space to let people experience something that they wouldn’t normally be able to. It’s only by offering your visitors an experience money can’t buy that you will make a lasting impression on them. At the same time, I believe that the experience factor in itself is becoming increasingly important. And that, in the age of social media, it’s very important to share the experiences with others, so that they in turn will feel compelled to experience them and will also be in a position to do so.

Do you think there will be more and more collaborations between commercial enterprises and artists in order to create exactly the kind of experiences we are talking about here?

JK: We are getting more and more commissions in this area in particular. This is because companies – or their brands – are not familiar with this kind of thing, don’t understand how the art market works and don’t know what relevant positions there are for specific target groups. We, on the other hand, have plenty of expertise and know what the right artistic position is for any given company. This is definitely an area that is not directly related to our gallery work where we are positioning ourselves to a greater and greater extent. We take a close look at the companies in question and determine what they stand for, what they want to achieve with the artistic collaboration and what target group they are aiming to reach. We also carry out a data-based analysis so that we can find the right position for the right company.

And then when you have your findings, you come together with the artists to create experiences that will make a lasting impression on the companies’ end consumers?

JK: It’s a mixture of things. It needs to be related to the brand and, in some cases, it needs to sell the brand – and of course it also aims to make something possible. But due to the fascination for art among a younger generation – or a wider group of people – we are also noticing that more and more companies are exploring the possibilities offered by art.

Why does art play such a great role among younger generations in particular?

JK: It’s because their own creativity plays a more important role. And because art and their own preferences and niche interests are a lot more accessible these days thanks to the internet and social media.

So you believe that, if companies differentiate themselves through various art collaborations, this could put them higher on the radar of younger generations?

JK: Absolutely! Thank you for talking to us, Mr König.

This artice first appeared in TWELVE, Serviceplan Group’s magazine for brands, media and communication. In the eighth issue, you will find further inspiring articles, essays and interviews by and with prominent guest authors and renowned experts centred around the magazine’s theme “A human-driven future: How humans are shaping the digital world of tomorrow”. The e-paper is available here.

We want it all and we want it now! During the coronavirus pandemic, people have developed new expectations when it comes to how they want to work. Looking for self-fulfilment and purpose, young generations in particular want both a career and personal well-being. Wolf Ingomar Faecks calls this phenomenon the “Nowness Economy” and advises companies that want to attract top talents in the long term to take on board and implement five key principles.

Creating a Framework for Cooperative Self-Organisation

April 2021 could well be seen as a turning point: the month in which some four million Americans resigned from their jobs – a phenomenon known as ‘the great resignation’. And, according to a study by Microsoft, this could increase in coming months, including outside the USA. This is because an estimated 41% of the global workforce are considering leaving their employer. This approaching wave of resignations can be attributed largely to three reasons:

Firstly, many employees no longer have a connection with their employers. Interpersonal communication has suffered because interaction has dwindled or is now based entirely online, leading many employees to feel that they are not noticed or appreciated.

Secondly, the pandemic has reinforced the employees’ view that they can only learn new skills or take the next step up the career ladder by moving to a new company. They don’t see any (further) opportunities for upskilling or advancement in their own company as things currently stand.

Thirdly, after a year riddled with change, employees are looking for a new direction to take. Rather than simply returning to their old pre-pandemic life, they want to pick up on the positive aspects of recent months and use these as a basis for making lasting changes to their own lifestyle.

These positive attributes include greater flexibility when it comes to their own working times and workflows. Remote work has meant that it’s no longer necessary to spend time travelling to the workplace every day and made it easier to plan working days and strike a healthy balance between family and work obligations. This allows people to concentrate on the things that really matter in their lives.

All of this is giving rise to an intrinsically motivated Nowness Economy. Rather than ‘business as usual’, employees are seeking out life paths that lead to purpose and personal fulfilment. In their career decisions, they are no longer interested in security that comes at the expense of living a full life. This means that they are considerably less willing to sacrifice quality of life in the interests of furthering their career. Instead, they are looking for a way to combine professional growth with personal wellbeing. Employees want to benefit from their newfound freedoms in the here and now; and at the same time, they want to shape the future today while rejecting any compromises that involve being tethered to any one employer.

The way in which companies meet these expectations will determine who will stay, who will go and what new employees are brought on board. Employers should therefore make use of the positive aspects of recent months and learn from the challenges they have been faced with – this will allow them to remain an attractive proposition in the market for top talent, in the long term and under these same conditions.

To capitalise on the zeitgeist of the Nowness Economy in this context, organisations need to take into account five core aspects and implement them:

1. Maximum flexibility rather than old patterns

Rather than ordering the entire workforce back into the office and reverting to old patterns, companies should now establish – if they haven’t already done so – the necessary conditions for flexible working models. Thanks to modern workplace booking systems and agile process management, it is possible to observe fluctuations in how often employees come to the office. This takes into account the individual work-life balances of each employee, while also making it possible to adapt to potential peaks in office capacity. As a result, employees are permitted the necessary freedom, the option of deciding for themselves when they come to the office and when they work from home – or in other words, continuous alignment based on the new requirements of the Nowness Economy.

2. Connecting the physical and digital worlds rather than differentiating between them

These days, the concept of ‘the office’ and employees’ connection to a company go well beyond the office in the physical sense. Accordingly, a cornerstone of the Nowness Economy can be used by managers focusing on transparent communication. Here it is imperative that employees are not only equipped with digital tools but, above all, with a digital infrastructure that enables them to participate in internal and external company discussions wherever they happen to be working. This means that collaboration models also need to be possible via different constellations – regardless of where employees are physically based. Concepts should be developed accordingly, complete with tools and systems that facilitate hybrid situations rather than hampering them. This will boost the team spirit even beyond the physical space, ensuring that all employees are given a voice and that their needs are taken into account.

3. Employer centricity instead of optimised human resources

The talent landscape has shifted and employee expectations have changed. Managers need to take a close look at the individual needs of each group within their company. From initial onboarding to individual career development paths and new work concepts, they should create an environment in which every employee can and wants to deliver their best performance for the company. Essentially, it all comes down to implementing an integral employer experience within the company rather than focusing solely on optimising resource allocation on company-wide projects.

4. Freedom for self-realisation rather than restrictive guidelines

Two core elements of the Nowness Economy are the desire for self-realisation and the need for self-determination. To give due consideration to these aspects, employers need a new organisational outlook: individual employees should be free to choose their own work practices within a given framework. However, this calls for a new concept of leadership – one in which leaders set the general direction and create an environment in which employees organise themselves. In this way, rather than curbing employee motivation, they encourage an ongoing willingness to learn and many ways for employees to contribute.

5. Explicit culture work instead of implicit culture vacuum

Introducing greater freedom and hybrid working models will have a fundamental influence on the organisational culture of the future. It will give rise to a cultural conglomerate that is based less on spontaneity and more on plannability. To lend this the right level of authenticity – and, in turn, get employees interested – companies should work on formats for instigating active cultural change that create the necessary degree of interaction. Environments, possibilities and formats for bringing people together should be initiated for this purpose: this is to provide the effects of the Nowness Economy with the necessary space and to allow the accompanying new cultural identity to develop.

To sum up, the way organisations can meet the new requirements of the Nowness Economy can be determined using five key elements: flexibility, freedom, hybrid working forms, employee-centric organisational forms and active culture work. This is the only way to achieve ‘mass uniqueness’ as opposed to ‘mass standardisation’ – and to ensure that the working environment allows employees to pursue their own self-realisation goals.

It is probably safe to say that we will not be returning to a pre-pandemic state of affairs – or at least that we should not aspire to do so. This is because new employee needs will force organisations to move away from old standards and give employees a new freedom to act as they see fit. Away from rigid company guidelines like fixed working hours and office attendance and towards flexible working times and hybrid working concepts. Only in this way will employees be able to help define their working environment wherever they happen to be and in the context of their day-to-day lives – and also play their part in shaping the future today.

This article first appeared in TWELVE, the Serviceplan Group’s magazine for brands, media and communication. You can read more exciting articles, essays and interviews by and with prominent guest authors and renowned experts in the eighth issue under the central theme “A Human-driven Future: How People Shape the Digital Tomorrow. Click here to access the e-paper.

Since summer 2021, Christian Waitzinger has been Chief Experience Officer (CXO) at Plan.Net Group, one of the leading digital service providers in the field of customer experience and commerce. As an experience and design expert, Waitzinger is responsible for defining a service and product portfolio for designing and implementation of data-driven customer experiences. In the following Experience Manifesto, he describes what experiences means in today’s world, what it needs to represent, and what the requirements are for a high-quality experience.

The way that customers perceive and interact with brands – whether at home or on the go, via digital channels, in stores or when contacting a service hotline – has changed. Brands today need to provide a seamless, contextualized, and data-driven customer experience in order to meet customer expectations. This is nothing new. Yet, it is also no secret that very few companies have managed to satisfy rising customer demands and create a truly differentiating brand experience.

This is precisely what we are striving for with our holistic customer experience management: Our goal is to understand customers across every interaction, touchpoint and organizational unit – from marketing to sales to customer service departments. Our task is to orchestrate and systematically improve all of these areas, because the key to lasting customer loyalty is a brand experience that is unique, personalized, appropriate anytime, anywhere, and constantly evolving.

Ideally, this process is managed centrally by collecting and evaluating customers’ experiences and data. We utilize this information to continuously improve the experience across sales, customer service and e-commerce. The result is a loop optimized incrementally by decision-makers via a process of distilling the insights gained from customer interactions and incorporating these into communications and further product development. The primary task is to build a personal relationship with the consumer: to create an ongoing dialog that calibrates the right time, place, and information with the customer’s personal interests.

Alongside a number of specialized disciplines – such as data, media, tech, user experience design and creation – what is needed above all is a cohesive experience strategy along with overarching organizational structures and processes within a company that are attuned to customer needs. To achieve this, companies must network their individual expertise and create synergies between creation, media, data, and tech – in other words, they must think about and orchestrate their customer experience holistically.

INTRODUCE OVERARCHING ORGANIZATIONAL PROCESSES

An experience strategy must be supported by all departments. It requires the right resources, skills and tools as well as the empowerment of individual employees and departments to be able to make decisions quickly and independently. However, this is often difficult within the traditional organizational structure of a company. A better approach is to establish customer journey teams that collaborate across departments, as some of our customers are already doing today.

Holistic customer journey mapping plays a key role in the organizational process, allowing us to centrally collate key insights in terms of customer expectations, data, and processes. With these as a basis, we are able to identify customers’ rational and emotional needs and a range of potential areas for improvement, as well as the necessary tools and systems, and the KPIs we need to measure.

Another crucial task is to ensure that the insights gained from a customer journey are implemented and result in genuine improvement. This requires an ROX (Return On Experience) model across the journey to plan and monitor the entire experience.

ESTABLISH A FUNCTIONING BRAND SYSTEM

The brand core itself serves as the basis for the holistic experience along the customer journey. Decision-makers should critically reflect on whether their brand’s fundamental visual identity is designed to allow the brand to withstand the continuous evolution of digital products and services, and thus remain successful in future. The necessary components of the brand identity are constructed in a manner that allows them to quickly and
consistently convey a uniform and harmonious image across all channels – and whether the way that the brand is perceived will still make sense in the future if parts of the brand experience are automated.

Today, many brand guidelines still consist of 90 percent print and offline instructions, thus criminally neglecting the brand’s digital component. Yet interface design will continue to evolve in the direction of “Zero UI”. People will increasingly talk to computers and expect an intelligent response. Data will serve as the basis for almost all services and products – today and in the future. A coherent, modular, and centrally orchestrated enterprise design and asset management system is therefore indispensable. Without this existence, it is virtually impossible to create a coherent and personalized customer experience. In addition, further development of the design system must be approached not as a one-off project but instead as a program that is managed centrally and across all departments.

FOCUS ON CREATIVE EXCELLENCE

As well as digitization and automation, constant performance tracking and the latest tech stack, experience requires passion, soul, creativity and innovation. The best digital ecosystem is worthless if it is not brought to life through good content, a differentiated user experience, and emotional storytelling.

In terms of the user experience in particular, there is need for improvement because digital products and services often appear interchangeable. Currently, the majority of them are designed according to best practices in order to make the experience for users as simple as possible. This is not wrong itself – the aim is to ensure that applications are easy to use. But the result is that every app works in the same way, virtually all e-commerce checkout processes are interchangeable, and most websites share a similar structure with familiar navigation.

It is time to ask whether the development of the user experience has been shaped too much by the notions of utility and usability – and whether there is an over-reliance on branding and marketing activities to provide brand differentiation. User experience design must return to its own creative strengths and no longer act in isolation. A good user experience can also provide differentiation – especially when combined with appropriate marketing and branding, attractive storytelling and emotional content. This allows us to create special, memorable moments and a coherent, stand-out brand experience for consumers.

ALIGNING DIGITAL PRODUCTS WITH MARKETING AND BRANDING

Digital products and services today need to be fused with marketing and branding in order to create a perfect brand experience. Consumers should feel a positive sense of engagement at every touchpoint by being appealed to at the right time in the right context and always finding themselves in the ecosystem of the brand world.

That’s why it’s desirable to closely dovetail product and marketing activities: The insights gained in the product world regarding consumer behavior are extremely relevant to the creation of branding and marketing activities. Marketing data in turn informs product development. After all, you want to make the right decisions in all areas.

This requires merging the marketing and product loops, aligning content and experience, and orchestrating all the creative disciplines to create a unique brand experience for customers. Because a great user experience boosts a brand, and a strong brand has the power to positively influence a digital product.

GREATER LOYALITY AND INCREASING CUSTOMER LIFETIME VALUE

Everyone knows that it is many times more expensive to acquire new customers than to keep them within the brand ecosystem. And a positive experience is key here, too: After all, customers who are enthusiastic about the entire product experience have less reason to look elsewhere. So the better the experience, the greater their loyalty and customer lifetime value (CLV), one of the core customer experience KPIs. And the harder and more expensive it is for competitors to regain the customers they’ve lost.

At Plan.Net, we are convinced that a successful customer experiences will in future require an integrated strategy and organizational processes, a brand system equipped for the future, and, above all, creative excellence. As the most creative digital service provider in Germany today with a high level of expertise in data-driven tech, our aim is not only to not only generate the brand promises for our customers, but above all to actually deliver on them – with consistent, seamless, and creative appeal across every platform and touchpoint.


It was back in 1992 when Herbert F. Barber came up with the term VUCA – Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity and Ambiguity – but it also happens to be a near-perfect description of how things are right now. Although initially introduced by Barber as a concept for strategic company management, VUCA also reflects the problems currently facing managers – including outside of their respective organisations. Today, it describes the influences that global dependencies, political controversies, technologisation and changing consumer behaviour are having on companies and entire sections of society – and therefore keeping 21st-century managers on their toes.
However, hardly any of these influences has brought about such far-reaching changes as the COVID-19 pandemic, which has been hanging over us since March 2020. It has led to events that many people had previously thought impossible: e-commerce penetration in the US grew from 16% to approximately 34% within the space of three months (by way of comparison, it took about ten years to increase from 5% to 16%); internal projects for which a timescale of around three years had initially been planned were launched over a single weekend; and entire industries were turned on their heads – restaurants, healthcare and traditional retail being cases in point. The coronavirus has led to longstanding certainties losing their currency and being replaced by a new normality – meaning that VUCA has taken on a whole new importance.

Digitalisation: the constant factor in the new normal

In the ensuing uncertainty, digitalisation is now a central instrument on the agenda of all company bosses as it allows them to respond more flexibly to these volatile influences and to introduce countermeasures. Although it had already been quite a challenge for many companies to take their company processes to the next (digital) level, the advent of the coronavirus now means that this has become a survival factor that will determine each company’s future. Whether it’s a question of expanding the online area to include offline sales, implementing projects entirely by digital means or managing teams via digital channels – digital services and platforms facilitate these initiatives in only a fraction of the originally intended time and are therefore a central component of company management. And one that is here to stay.

The challenges for managers involve overcoming the physical distance to individual colleagues brought about by the need to work from home and, in spite of largely decentralised teams, to create digital interactions with a view to implementing project processes and encouraging team spirit. As a result, the pandemic has increased the urgency of implementing digital solutions as this is the only way to counter the crisis adequately and to respond more swiftly to the impact that it is having. So it’s no wonder, then, that – according to a DMEXCO trend study – approximately 70% of managers based in the DACH region indicated that the pandemic will speed up their planned digital transformation projects to enable them to meet the new requirements.

Adaptability will determine future company success

Managers are currently being given a crash course not only in digitalisation, but also in change management and New Work. Here, one of the main critical success factors will be how individual managers practise ‘remote leadership’ in companies – this is because the agility and flexibility of the predominantly cross-functional and decentralised team members must be ensured continually. One fundamental aspect for companies is therefore how skilfully and quickly they can respond to crises and changes in their organisational environment and adapt their organisation accordingly.

VUCA 2.0 – an antidote for the current state of uncertainty

Driven by external influences, managers feel forced to explore new avenues and acquire new skills so they are in a position to face up to increasingly pressing questions. This is why it is necessary to have a clear understanding of the organisation’s common orientation and to be able to convey this successfully within the company and tackle the challenge together.

This is done by communicating a Vision, by Understanding the context, by presenting these with Clarity and implementing them with the necessary Agility – or, in short, with VUCA 2.0. This can be seen as the antidote to the VUCA term introduced by Herbert F. Barber. VUCA 2.0 gives managers guidelines that they need to apply in their operational management functions in order to keep on top of current and future challenges:

V ision:

More than ever before, managers need to be able to provide continual orientation in the context of changes and to put forward a vision that the organisation can gear itself towards. This not only requires the definition of a ‘guiding star’ but also the necessary degree of transparency that will allow each and every employee to devote themselves to the mission at hand. At the same time, it is important to create a common understanding of values and the organisation’s strategy so that managers are in a position to make relevant company decisions, thereby enabling their teams to take the same route.

U nderstanding:

As well as defining a common vision, a far-reaching understanding of structures and processes is important in order to be able to apply skills that exist within the company quickly and effectively. At the same time, an in-depth understanding of the company context must exist – this is necessary for adapting flexibly to dynamic requirements from customers, competitors and changes in the political climate. To this end, transparent communication and networking need to be established throughout the company so that any volatile influences can be nipped in the bud. Only in this way is it possible to respond flexibly to external changes, to minimise risks and encourage resilience.

C larity:

One way to deal with the complex internal and external organisational environment is with focused and clearly formulated company management. This will bring clarity to the existing fog of chaos, enabling effective countermeasures to be defined and implemented. As a result, processes can be structured more clearly, communication channels used more efficiently and company decisions conveyed quickly and resolutely so that, in spite of the existing complexity, they can be communicated transparently to employees and continually made visible.

A gility:

In order to remain viable for the future, companies need to be agile enough to adapt to external requirements and flexible enough to respond to a changing environment. This means that agility not only needs to be reflected in the company structures and processes – at the same time, it constitutes a leadership quality that is evident when managers demonstrate an agile mindset. This is why initiating a cultural shift and establishing flexible processes and cross-functional cooperation models is a central function for managers today. To do so, they must be able to communicate openly within the organisation and find suitable solutions for external changes quickly – without losing sight of the aforementioned ‘guiding star’.

Digitalisation is central to the success of VUCA 2.0

VUCA 2.0 offers managers an approach that can guide them in times of mounting uncertainty. However, this also means that suitable technologies need to be used, digital platforms set up and internal knowledge transfer geared in such a way that relevant information, data and transparency can be exchanged quickly and flexibly with regard to the changing situations. To this end, organisations should do away with siloed thinking, encourage integration and collaboration between different areas and establish mechanisms that motivate self-reflection. In addition, companies have to create an environment for ongoing learning and a values-based culture in order to provide employees with the tools they will need to deal with sudden, unforeseen events. This empowers individual teams and employees – through personal responsibility and reflection – to counter the combination of volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity that is set to be the norm for the foreseeable future. Such an approach ultimately enables employees and managers alike to make use of the necessary information strategically and in the interests of the company – all with a view to optimising resource distribution and avoiding inefficiency.

VUCA 2.0 as a core skill of today’s organisations

Implementing the guidelines of VUCA 2.0 is ultimately a critical factor for managers when it comes to withstanding the challenges posed by the VUCA influences today and in the future – and emerging stronger than ever. By defining a vision, understanding their own organisation and ensuring clarity in their communication and agility in their actions, it is possible to take the edge off uncertainty and, in turn, to follow a common vision together. Changing management and employee conduct in line with VUCA 2.0 will well and truly bear fruit once it has been aligned with the right tools, platforms and technologies. However, intended change only occurs when its wheels are set in motion – and what better time for change than right now?

This article first appeared in TWELVE, the Serviceplan Group’s magazine for brands, media and communication. In the seventh issue, you will find further inspiring articles, essays and interviews by and with prominent guest authors and renowned experts centred around the magazine’s theme “Rethink!”. The e-paper is available here.

Over the past few weeks, as I reread the excellent book Supercade [1] published by MIT Press almost 20 years ago, I got to thinking about technology and our relationship with it…

🎵 A video game arcade. Eighties atmosphere. Fire up the Stranger Things soundtrack as you read this blog post…

But first, if you haven’t read the book, here’s a bit of background about Supercade. This fully illustrated book is a potted history of video games, and covers the period between 1971 and 1984. Its focus is mainly on the small world of video game arcades. The very American soul of Supercade will bring whiffs of nostalgia to anyone who has ever spent their money on Galaxian while waiting for their parents at the supermarket checkout or been caught daydreaming in front of Space Ace at a local fairground. It harks back to childhoods packed with pixels, to a time when videogaming had yet to invade the home, and children hadn’t begun to spend their days in lockdown on their Nintendo Switch or PS4 consoles until their parents told them to finish their homework. A time when video games were consumed outside the home. The good old days.

The book also traces a path back to the very first developments of on-screen games, in the study halls of American universities: Brookhaven National Laboratory in 1958 and MIT in 1962. In both cases, these initial experiments were carried out by enthusiasts.

Tennis for Two Tennis for Two on the left of the photo.
The tiny round screen with the two joysticks just below.

Tennis for Two was created in 1958 in Brookhaven for one of the laboratory’s public exhibitions [2]. The idea was to show visitors the power and appeal of technology monsters that occupied several rooms in the buildings. The best way to show people what they could do was … to design an interactive demonstration on a screen. In other words, a game. Tennis for Two was an instant hit. It was a simplistic simulation of a tennis game using an oscilloscope (no more complicated than good old Pong), and turned out to be the highlight of the visit for many people.

A frenzied game of Spacewar! in the MIT buildings during the 1960s.
You can’t even see the line of other gamers waiting their turn!

Another glorious veteran is Spacewar! The game was created at MIT in 1962 under slightly different circumstances [3]. The “culprits” this time were the young students of the laboratory’s Tech Model Railroad Club [4], who would use the tools they found lying around to improve their miniature railway network. They fell instantly in love with a new computer model, and set themselves the challenge of seeing just how far it could go, helped along by a complex technological demonstration. What better solution than making an interactive application into a game? Spacewar!, which involves two vessels in combat around a black hole was a genuine technological challenge. Designed by researchers and engineers, the game set out to respect the laws of gravity and the constellations of stars as closely as possible. It required technological and digital optimisation before it could be presented to a wider audience, but the game was a resounding success at universities.

Then came the businesspeople, the development of home consoles by American television manufacturers – with Magnavox in pole position – and the creation of the first company entirely dedicated to video games: Atari. But that is another story [5].

🎵 A computer room in the 1950s.
This time throw on a little Pierre Henry to get you in the mood.

The opening pages of Supercade remind readers that video games were invented by technophiles and enthusiasts. Computers were still the stuff of dreams and had only recently emerged in a few gigantic metal cupboards. Digital technology had not yet invaded people’s daily lives and was still a vast and unexplored landscape. Data belonging to thousands of people had not yet been tapped by the first IBM systems and had not yet raised any questions about our reliance on bytes and the impact of databases on our society and our daily lives [6].

Supercade also recalls that these precursors were the first in a line of enthusiasts who founded the entire video game industry: coders, for the most part, learning to master all the mysteries of a processor. Learning to optimise displays and sometimes seeing video games as art more than a source of business: a technological challenge and sometimes a new form of expression.

Come on out from the mists of time, let’s get back to the present!

We are now living in a time of both techno-hysteria and techno-skepticism.

If there were just one symbolic image of the technological boom at play in our society right now, wouldn’t it be this 5G antenna?

Techno-hysteria because the issue we have is that we’re putting technology everywhere. Our love affair with technology is all about digital-solutionism. There are digital solutions for everything: managing certificates [7], composting waste [8], reporting uncivil behaviour [9], turning on your boiler [10] and shortly, managing your driving in partnership with your insurance company [11]. Some of the field’s heavyweights are even studying the possibility of creating technology trees to absorb the excess CO₂ we produce [12], a ridiculous situation that shows we have come full circle.

“Yes, there is an app for that too!”

Techno-skepticism because, given the race towards the ultimate technology – which brings to mind the greatest inventions of the cyberpunk world [13] (in French) – criticism has never been so rife. And given the plethora of video surveillance and people-tracking schemes, given the influence of advertising agencies on our online lives [14] and given GAFA’s hold on our society as a whole [15], both economically and technologically, this criticism is often well founded. We are hearing more voices, our analysis is more refined and our thought processes are evolving in the face of what the 2010s sold us as the digital panacea. The wake-up call to techno-skepticism can be compared with the ecological wake-up call of the 1970s [16], but let’s hope that it has a much faster and more concrete impact.

Have you ever dreamt of endless multicoloured bouncing balls on a screen, just like the good old demos by Amiga?

However, this critical, pivotal and fascinating period raises a number of questions, including one that is particularly important: what happened to our dreams?

Proto-computer scientists of the 1950s dreamt about computers and how they could be used, just as Jules Verne dreamt about electricity and emerging modes of transport. They dreamt as artisans dream, concretely with their hands, and digitally by creating prototypes, experiments, demonstrations, monsters and artefacts. They weren’t dreaming of solutions. Neither Spacewar!, nor Pong nor Space Invaders were answers to any sort of problem. They simply imagined what might be possible. Once they had the technology, they tried to push it further – gratuitously, aimlessly – than it had already gone. Like many of today’s technological fantasies, video games have no goal. They were simply possible and got millions of people using their imaginations, shaking up the world of entertainment, the fledgling electronics and computer industry, and popular culture itself. It was like opening a door to a brave new world.

What has happened to those dreams?

It’s no longer fashionable to dream about technology. First of all because since the 1990s, the digital world has been infused with capitalism. People no longer explore technology just for the fun of it; we business plan, we analyse, we solutionize, we start up. The Silicon Valley Business Angels model and garage mythology have gone through this process, transforming any digital experience into a potential stumble. We’re living in the era of Start-up Nation and investments: explorers, poets, and volunteers in technology are scarce. What ever happened to ambition?

🎵 Could the Tyrell Corp building in Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner from 1982 (check out the soundtrack) have been a prototype for the headquarters of Apple or Facebook?

Given the huge scale of these technical empires, you might be tempted to believe that digital technology is no longer a space for tinkerers, but a universe of gigantic corporations – think Tyrell Corp [17] and the cyberpunk universe of Blade Runner – and if there are still any geniuses out there who can design message boxes connected to Telegram [18] or magnetic jukeboxes [19], their digital hopes are soon to be dashed. Maybe because those digital dreams have exposed too many dark sides – societal, ecological, cognitive – and maybe after a period of enchantment there is always a period of disillusionment? Perhaps also because the digital world is an easy target in times of crisis – health, ecological, economic – and if we have to discourage children from dreaming of flying off in an aeroplane, why don’t we also stop them from dreaming of robots?

Are we still dreaming of electric sheep?

The technophiles of the sixties, the researchers and the industrialists who worked on and discovered the possibilities of gigantic computer systems in universities and state laboratories, created – not entirely in spite of themselves – a powerful counterculture which spread all around the world. More artistic, freer, and somewhat more responsible, the hippie wave of the 1970s emerged in part as a reaction to the American way of life and to the debauchery of screens – television screens this time – of middle America. And because nothing is ever simple, the wave used technology to share its principles, move boundaries and publicise its claims. The screens of established networks also became the megaphones for the counterculture and a medium used by the artists of the sixties and seventies to experiment and express themselves. Technology became a means for activism, a weapon for change. Of course, there is much more to it than that.

Could the next fad be anti-facial recognition make-up?

We now feed our dreams with other ideas. And these ideas, while not ruling out technological tools completely, are no longer dominated by digital. We talk about urban recycling [20] (in French), new ways of getting around; we talk about how to protect our anonymity on the internet [21] (in French), about revolutionising the world of clothing and making the ecologically disastrous concept of fast fashion a thing of the past [22]. We also, and most importantly, talk about how we can adapt our innovations to cope with the ecological and societal challenges we are now facing, without having to sacrifice our entire lives to technology.

It is difficult to shake off over 120 years of technology lauding. Let’s be clear, it’s not about becoming Amish – nobody is even considering that political caricature [23] (in French). But it’s tough to deny that our dreams are changing, and that the Covid-19 pandemic that has wreaked havoc within humanity for over a year has undoubtedly put some urgency into our readiness for something different.

It’s a tempting parallel. Twenty years after the first Internet bubble and after more than ten years of techno-worship, might we be building a new counterculture based on social media and open technology?

Is circular town planning the new community dream? Is our fight against surveillance a new way of refusing government control? Even though these issues now concern the whole world, and each of us individually, and even though the ecological emergency is far more pressing now than it was 50 years ago, the parallels are pretty disturbing, and the repetition of an action-reaction cycle is obvious. We might not be the new Amish, but we may well be the new hippies. But these hippies aren’t denying the contribution made by technology. They play around with it and know – sometimes – how to use it safely. And this time, rather than simply exploring what it can do, we want to find out its “human” limits and reflect on how it can contribute meaningfully to our society.

The creators of Tennis for Two and Spacewar! dreamt of pure technology and wanted to push machines to their limits. They saw themselves as explorers of a new technological world. The generation that built the internet of the 2000s is undoubtedly the last to have shared this purely technological dream.

The geodesic dome: a symbol of utopias in the sixties.
What symbol do we have today?

We now need to rethink our ideas and ambitions.

Over the last sixty years, we have witnessed exactly what technology can do, and the slippery slopes it can create. We have mastered computers, but we probably aren’t wise enough to master how we use them. The challenge facing the hippies of the modern world is how to stop creating technology for its own sake. How to recentre the digital revolution around human beings. How to give the Earth centre stage as well, and build tools and designs that will benefit this change of direction.

We no longer have the imaginations of explorers. We are drowning in technology, dreaming of a way to re-inhabit the world – and we’re right to seek help from machines when they are positive, responsible and non-alienating.

And there is still some good news in all this: we haven’t stopped dreaming.

// Translated from French by Ruth Simpson

COVID-19 has changed the world as we knew it and turned everything on its head. Uncertainty, fear and isolation, threats to health, unforeseeable economic developments as well as restrictions on our personal freedom and freedom of movement are just a few aspects that the global pandemic has had – and will continue to have in the foreseeable future. These far-reaching changes to our lives can also be observed in the way that media has been consumed over the past months, especially on the digital platforms: online shops and live streams have been positively booming and news portals have experienced the kind of traffic that they haven’t seen in a very long time. The global restrictions in the offline world sent people to the world wide web in their droves. COVID-19 has changed the world as we knew it and turned everything on its head. Uncertainty, fear and isolation, threats to health, unforeseeable economic developments as well as restrictions on our personal freedom and freedom of movement are just a few aspects that the global pandemic has had – and will continue to have in the foreseeable future. COVID-19 has changed the world as we knew it and turned everything on its head. Uncertainty, fear and isolation, threats to health, unforeseeable economic developments as well as restrictions on our personal freedom and freedom of movement are just a few aspects that the global pandemic has had – and will continue to have in the foreseeable future. These far-reaching changes to our lives can also be observed in the way that media has been consumed over the past months, especially on the digital platforms: online shops and live streams have been positively booming and news portals have experienced the kind of traffic that they haven’t seen in a very long time. The global restrictions in the offline world sent people to the world wide web in their droves.

And even though a lot of people spent the first few weeks and months mostly hunkering down in their own four walls, this crisis created a new sense of togetherness. A new ‘we’ that manifested itself not only but predominantly in the social media. And with that, Facebook, Instagram, etc., got back to doing what they had originally set out to do: bringing people all over the world together and giving them the opportunity to interact and network. A wonderful idea that seems to have fallen by the wayside in recent years in the relentless pursuit of clicks, likes and sales.

But due to coronavirus-related contact restrictions and the resulting social isolation of huge swathes of the global population, the intensity of social media use has risen sharply. In a survey, 18 percent of Germans over the age of 18 admitted that they were using Facebook more during lockdown; and Instagram saw even more of a significant growth among 48 percent of 18 to 29-year-olds.* People were increasingly turning to the social web to find out about and discuss the daily news and to keep in touch with others. And – in later phases of the lockdown – to seek distraction and diversion, to take care of others or to show solidarity.

But this new approach to using social media actively and passively was not the product of a smooth and gradual evolution. From the time the first cases were reported in Germany to the lockdown and the ‘new normal’, people’s usage behaviour changed – and can be divided into five phases:

Phase 1: News, news, news – what’s happening out there?

“Stay home, stay safe.” This slogan defined the first weeks of lockdown like no other. The police patrolled the streets of big cities, blaring warnings through loudspeakers and instructing citizens to stay inside their homes and only leave in urgent cases. The disconcerting feeling of an invisible threat began to spread – and raised a multitude of questions: Is my city also badly affected? Just how contagious is the virus really? Am I allowed to leave my home to go food shopping? What happens if I need to go for a test? Do I need a mask, or is it best not to wear one? In the initial phase of the lockdown, news websites and the accounts of official authorities experienced an unprecedented boom. Facebook – which has long since morphed from the original ‘book of friends’ into a digital newsfeed – also profited here. And what better place to post teasers on a situation that was changing by the hour than Twitter, where, for example, the German Ministry of Health’s account increased its number of followers to almost 200,000 – with no advertising or promotion at all.

Phase 2: In search of community

In phase 2, a lot of brands used the social web in a very different way, forcing classic advertising to take a back seat for the first time. Brands were putting more of a focus on content that either added value for people, promoted a sense of community or made lockdown life easier.

One example of this was the activities instigated by numerous health and fitness brands: regular live sessions with top trainers via Instagram brought the gym into our homes – and gave us a feeling that we were being active together, despite the many contact restrictions in place.**

And even celebrities were committed to getting fitter, despite being in lockdown. Under the hashtag #StayAtHomeChallenge, the internet community shared their most creative ideas for exercising at home – including famous football players like Jérôme Boateng and superstar Neymar.

German supermarket chain Penny***, on the other hand, chose to focus on solidarity and community. Facebook became a place to recruit fruit pickers to help fill the shortage of workers from abroad, to organise help and grocery shopping for elderly neighbours within apartment buildings and to call for applause for key workers, the “everyday heroes” of the pandemic.

Keine Fotobeschreibung verfügbar.

Many brands used this new field of action on the social web to raise their own brand profile and position themselves for the time after the pandemic. The tired notion of “creating purpose” is given a new lease of life in times of crisis. It’s all about attitude, about solidarity, about being part of the community as a brand – and using the power of your own reach for the common good. And anyone who acted smartly here stood themselves in good stead.

The brands’ actions were observed very closely by consumers. Companies that were only acting in their own interests, that were searching for legal loopholes in the new legislation, or that simply carried on advertising regardless were penalised without hesitation. Like several major retailers, for example, who announced their intention to defer rent payments for their store premises in order to remain solvent in spite of coronavirus-related closures. A decision that had serious consequences: customers appealed online for boycotts of their products and a huge backlash erupted on the brands’ social media profiles. This caused some of the companies to backtrack and announce that they would be paying their private landlords after all – but the damage to their image, on the social web in particular, was already done.

Phase 3: Escapism

“Can we talk about something else, please?” After a while, this sentence started cropping up more and more often in conversations. A completely normal reaction in times of crisis: people accept the things they cannot influence, and long for normality and some semblance of everyday life in a world gone strange. While at the beginning we devoured the news, reading every article on all relevant news portals and looking forward to the next applauding of frontline workers, phase 3 of the crisis was defined by a desire for distraction, which people hoped to find in their social media newsfeed. Amusing videos of dogs over the moon that their beloved owners were now at home with them all day proved particularly popular. Users were also taking photos of empty toilet roll shelves in supermarkets and collectively wondering why yeast was flying off the shelves. And something else was new: for the first time we were acknowledging the crisis with humour. Countless memes about piling on lockdown kilos or recipe tips for the best banana loaf started doing the rounds. The popular hashtag #coronahaircut showed the failed attempts at replacing a visit to the salon by reaching for the kitchen scissors at home****. In the first two months alone, there were more than 8,000 posts under the hashtag on Instagram.

Phase 4: Fake news on the rise

But this increased consumption of social media soon also revealed the dark underbelly of these platforms. Nowhere else can conspiracy theories be spread, distrust fuelled, or fake news proliferated better than on social media. Very early on, the spread of the global virus was accompanied by rumours and fake news, with the WHO even issuing warnings about an “infodemic” of misinformation.

Facebook announced that it was seeing a “significant rise in the number of forwarded messages, which could also contribute to the spread of misinformation”. As a response to this, they promptly limited WhatsApp’s forward function for frequently shared posts in chat groups. Users could also send news items to a kind of fact-checker organisation to determine how much truth they contained.

In May, Twitter also reacted, after the fake news reports started getting out of hand. “Tweets with contents that are deemed by experts to be misleading or factually incorrect and that could cause harm to people will be deleted*****,” announced the company. In the future, contents will have to be clearly identified with a trustworthy source in order to pass the test.

But the battle against fake news is far from being won: telling the difference between fake news and genuine news – even today, many months after the lockdown – is one of the most important challenges faced by platform operators, news portals, but also consumers of news.

Phase 5: The new sense of unity?

New forms of digital communities, cooperations and collaborations are popping up everywhere and giving us a warm and fuzzy feeling. We are organising Facebook groups to help people in the community, using WhatsApp groups to arrange music performances for the healthcare workers in hospitals and posting our own encouraging statements on Instagram while calling on our followers to do the same.

People living on a street of terraced houses in the German town of Bamberg released their own personal rendition of “Bella Ciao” to provide comfort and show solidarity to the people of Italy, who were hit especially hard by the pandemic. Under the hashtag #nachbarschaftschallenge (#neighbourhoodchallenge) on Twitter, users in Germany called on others to support the elderly or ill by doing their grocery shopping or running other errands for them.

And if we were to examine the number of times the phrase “thank you” cropped up in social media, we would see a significant increase from February to March. We have been thanking people in care professions, doctors and nurses, supermarket employees – or just the friendly neighbour who did our shopping for us.

So the new ‘we’ is all the rage right now. A social togetherness in a time in which everyone seems to have the same invisible enemy, an enemy that doesn’t differentiate between men and women, poor and rich, white and black. This is uniting us and making us feel a very strong sense of solidarity. But how sustainable is this new culture? Will this solidarity also remain after the acute crisis – once we have got used to the ‘new normal’ and have returned to our busy everyday lives?

If we take a well-known example from Jean-Paul Sartre’s work “Critique de la raison dialectique” (Critique of Dialectical Reason), there are justified doubts: the book tells the story of a group of people who wait for the same bus every day. Always the same people in the same place at the same time. They don’t speak to each other, each of them waiting on their own. They don’t even acknowledge each other. But then one day the bus doesn’t come. For the first time, the people have to reach out: they take action, get creative, offer help – and work together to find a solution. If we take this story a little further, we inevitably have to ask ourselves the question: what will happen when everything gets back to normal, when the bus departs at its regular time again the following day?

It is definitely possible that this sense of community will last, that the newfound bond with family, friends and neighbours will remain. And social media could play a significant role in maintaining some of that, or at least a friendly greeting at the bus stop in the morning or a helping hand getting on the bus. Because these media offer virtual spaces for interaction in a time when collective action in a traditional sense is not (yet) possible. Social media have a huge influence on how we experience our everyday life – they open up opportunities for shared experiences with people, regardless of whether we know them or not. And in times of crisis, such experiences take on an enormous significance. They stabilise us and give us support – and allow us to look more optimistically towards the future. So what are we waiting for? Let’s make the most of this opportunity!

This article first appeared in TWELVE, the Serviceplan Group’s magazine for brands, media and communication. In the seventh issue, you will find further inspiring articles, essays and interviews by and with prominent guest authors and renowned experts centred around the magazine’s theme “Rethink!”. The e-paper is available here.

* Source: MEDIAPLUS | Insights.​ Question text: To what extent has your media usage changed as a result of the coronavirus?

** Source: Foodspring on Instagram https://www.instagram.com/foodspring

*** Source: Penny on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/PennyDeutschland/

**** Source: #coronahaircut on Instagram https://www.instagram.com/explore/tags/coronahaircut

***** Source: https://blog.twitter.com/en_us/topics/product/2020/updating-our-approach-to-misleading-information.html

#RIP Flash (1996 - 2020)

Macromedia, oops sorry, Adobe Flash, took its leave from the digital scene at the very beginning of 2021 [1]. And nobody took much notice.

Since the release of the first iPhone in 2007, which couldn’t run websites using Flash, the software development platform began losing its appeal. Flash just never quite managed to join the mobile revolution. It was able to survive for 10 years on some professional interfaces and entertaining websites but was replaced by HTML 5.0 and the almost endless possibilities afforded by style sheets. Flash was like those ageing actors who – you’re surprised to learn – turn out not to be immortal after all [2]. Come to think of it, you hadn’t realised they were still alive anyway…

But its impact is hardly negligible. When it comes to the internet, there is clearly a pre- and a post-Flash. The exciting revolution sparked by Macromedia/Adobe (its creators) became a damp squib amid an online world gleaming with social media.

The Flash revolution

If you weren’t around during the dinosaur years, it might be useful to go over a potted history of the ways that Flash revolutionised the internet user’s experience. The original web – in the 1990s – was all about text. And even though the first HTML standards obviously provided the option of using images, it’s worth remembering – misty-eyed – that the logic of organising content and shapes was originally based more on typewriters rather than the works of the Old Masters, or even television. People wrote, inserted tables, included images to illustrate points and, with a little practice, made it all look slicker with style sheets. Interactivity on the Web 1.0 was about links leading from one page to another, sometimes with rollover animations popping up with the help of a burgeoning program known as JavaScript.

When Macromedia Flash arrived in 1996, and especially when it was developed further from 1999, it opened new horizons in web development. Flash brought content inspired by the world of educational and encyclopaedic CD-ROMs, rather than internet sites. With Flash, people started thinking in terms of screen layout rather than page layout. Graphics ruled supreme, information was visual, and interactivity extended to the development of simple game routines. Flash’s big brother was Macromedia Director [3], an essential software program used in many multimedia studios in the 1990s to show works from of the Louvre Museum [4], depict great battles from history or reveal the mysteries of Machu Picchu.

Flash liberated the internet from the shackles of linear progression. Images could be displayed on a wide screen, shapes were easy to shift, interactivity was the holy grail. Flash made using the internet into a game-changing multimedia experience. All this happened long before YouTube and cartoons were available online, you might even remember the Badgers [5], the Leekspin Song [6] or Viking Kittens [7]. The internet became a playground – Yetisports, a cruel parody of the Winter Olympic Games, has since been redeveloped in other formats [8] (in French).

Flash was groundbreaking for developers too. The internet was no longer restricted to a secret sect of coders and web developers; it began opening up to graphic designers and animators. A whole new caste of digital workers brought a graphic touch to the internet that it would not have had otherwise. It’s difficult to remember, but Flash went some way to turning the internet into a medium in its own right. No mean feat.

Where are the interfaces of yesteryear?

But revolutions don’t last forever. Flash – the emancipator of online narration and interactivity – was powerless in the face of the mighty mobile. Partly because ironically, Flash was slow going; its plug-ins were slow and maddening, but they were worth it! And partly for security reasons. Yes, Flash did have some flaws, and hackers had no qualms in copying how it worked to get into Internet users’ PCs. The other reasons for its failure were political.

Adobe Flash, which published Adobe software, bought Macromedia in 2005, and decided to kill Flash on 31 December 2020. And on 12 January 2021, all the browsers on the market – Chrome, Firefox and Safari in the lead – stopped supporting old versions of the system and doomed an entire chapter in the history of the internet to oblivion [9]. Of course, many development frameworks using a variety of different technologies now allow users to create web interfaces similar to those of yesteryear, as well as even faster, more stable and more standardised interfaces. But the taste for innovation and quirkiness that drove the growth of Adobe seems to have faded from our screens.

Social media have democratised scrolling, making the thumb scan almost the only interface available on mobile screens. From Instagram to Twitter, from Facebook to LinkedIn, we scroll endlessly [10]… and while the story format temporarily shook up editorial lines, it was soon picked up by one platform then another (Instagram, then Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter, etc. [11]), which meant we were back to scrolling. In the end, stories simply made the vertical movement a horizontal action.

And on computer screens, the dominance of WordPress and other CMS – Shopify, Wix, Drupal [12]has led to the emergence of standardised graphics interfaces, with best practices in UX and digital performance.

A pessimist would perhaps claim that the latest ‘innovation’ in Web interfaces is the swipe [13], a way of accepting or refusing a contact that was pioneered by Tinder in 2012 – eight years ago already – and has now been replicated on media websites [14] (in French). Other than that, creativity seems to be a thing of the past.

Creativity has left the building

And yet, today’s internet provides creators with an opportunity to develop rich and complex interfaces, which are sometimes the only way of really presenting a subject in all its complexity. These experiments do exist, but they rarely seem to reach the public.

Over the past few years, the New York Times Lab has been developing advanced know-how on innovative interfaces and web documentaries. The most obvious and most popular example is undoubtedly the full analysis published in the summer of 2020 on the explosion in the port of Beirut [15]. On a single page, the American daily used techniques as diverse as video editing, time-lapse and 3D computer graphics to explain the causes and consequences of a major event to its readers. It created a media mix that the Flash developers of the 2000s would have admired. The New York Times is a pioneer in infographic representation and often publishes information on a specific website [16]. It uses photos, videos, and even virtual reality to great effect in what ideally will be one of the prototypes for the online future.

In France, the interfaces designed by L’Atelier, the intelligence and innovation unit at BNP Paribas [17] (in French), are more wonderful examples. In these spaces, form and substance come together to project internet users into a theme and teach them about the virtual economy [18] or the technological challenges of the future [19]. As with the New York Times, the message is perfectly tailored and presented. It undoubtedly testifies to the existence of a genuine cyberculture, an inventiveness and a creativity which draws inspiration from the digital world, cybernetics and science fiction.

These examples show that with Flash a thing of the past, we can still hope for a creative and multimedia-focused internet.

Getting innovation back online

While some people want to paint a picture of a digital future in which virtual reality and voice commands will have replaced computer screens, and – with the impact of lockdown – in which the internet and its various interfaces still play a key role in our lives, maybe it’s time to return some of Flash’s creativity onto our web pages.

Creativity that surprises, draws the eye to further content, contributes something more than endless social media threads and nourishes its audience with information in an alternative way.

Why don’t we bring innovation back online and make the web that bit more exciting?

— Translated from French by Ruth Simpson

Digital Sunrise, 2021, l'année du numérique positif

When January comes around, it’s time to take stock and make resolutions. Time to look back at what has happened over the past few months, what trends there have been, what aspirations. Time to start making resolutions for the coming year and drawing up a to-do list of ways to build what you hope will be a brighter future.

2020, a year of hysteria

We’re not going to go back over the year that brought us Covid-19. The pandemic affected the daily lives and habits of the entire world. The boundaries between home and work were whittled down to nothing, companies pushed digital to the extreme, and made click & collect and zoom party experts of us all. We had no choice: 2020 was a year of digital hysteria. Never has so much time been spent on Netflix, never have people sent so many messages, shared so many photos, broadcast so much data. Western societies have never been more connected, dependent on smartphones, screens and data. And the images beamed to us from Chinese experiments clearly announce that the journey to digitalisation is far from over.

There are some positives, and some not so positives about the hurtling momentum of digitalisation. Digital tools have allowed us to keep in touch with loved ones or colleagues during periods of isolation. They have enabled some people to keep working from home and maintain a stable income. They have also shown their increasingly important role in calling out injustice and raising hopes. Let’s not forget that after 2019’s #MeToo movement, 2020 was the year of #BlackLivesMatter, an initiative whose size and thrust would not have been possible without digital tools, cameras, social media channels and their ability to amplify voices [1]. But no clear success has been pinpointed as a result of this movement.

And 2020 was also an unfortunate year for digital tools. Social media – with Facebook in the lead – tightened its grip, and attempts to regulate the content and advertising monster continued to fail, clearing the path for extremism and manipulation. The immediacy of social media has continued to shape the landscape of other media as well, sometimes casting aside the reason and perspective that is required for life in a peaceful society. The rhetoric of technological solutionism is still relevant – including in politics [2] – despite the failures of the Smartcity models in Toronto and Songdo. And finally, the ecological footprint of digital tools in 2020 is larger than ever, while the climate issue is becoming more and more urgent.

Like other years of hysteria, 2020 forced us to swing back and forth between crises and hopes from month to month, finally leaving us with a complex takeaway: we won’t ever look back on this digital society, it will be with us for a long time to come; but right now people have no choice but to learn how it is abused, so that everyone – in their own way – can fight against it.

2021, a year of responsibility

Despite all that, 2021 didn’t start off too badly. The influx of news in recent weeks has been dominated by the pandemic and American politics. But in some speeches, we are starting to hear about the first actions that are going to be taken to fight the ambient hysteria.

These actions are both legal and political. In December, 46 US states filed a complaint against Facebook for its monopoly position [3]. The European Commission seems to want to toughen up on GAFA tax policies [4]. At the start of the year, Google workers founded the first union in the company’s history [5]. And finally, for the first time in four years, Facebook and Twitter suspended Donald Trump’s accounts following the events at the U.S. Capitol on 6 January.

The signs do point towards a responsible digital year for 2021. Responsible in terms of the impact of digital on our daily lives, our opinions and our relationships with others. Responsible in terms of the role these tools play in our lives. But the year will only be truly responsible if all digital professionals – and they are growing in number – also take action to promote digital positivity.

5 principles for digital positivity

Why talk about this issue when we’re a digital design agency? Being a stakeholder in the digital ecosystem now means being either an instrument for hysteria or a provider of solutions. Each agency, each digital player in 2021 will have to choose how it wants to create this positive digital world that we all want.

We know the impact of digital on our society and the world around us. As we develop digital tools, at Plan.Net we are committed to respecting 5 principles for digital positivity:

  1. Stop thinking in terms of users – faceless personas who have come to dominate our methodologies – but rather in terms of human beings who are exposed to and impacted, sometimes indirectly, by the tools we design.
  2. Consider and act upon the ecological impact of what we do and how we do it, and reduce that impact as soon as possible.
  3. Design an open, accessible and interoperable digital world, which considers the special ways in which each person uses it, and leaves space for freeware and offline alternatives for people who want them.
  4. Stop thinking that digital is the only solution to every problem and find ways of offering tools that fulfill a purpose and are sometimes simpler and less harmful to the environment.
  5. Never stop thinking positively about digital tools – in line with the desire to disseminate and build as professional internet pioneers – while remaining aware of its limits and harmful effects.

It is 2021, and we can still be proud that we work in a digital agency and make our – modest – contribution to building a fairer, more inclusive and truly useful digital world.

That’s what being a positive digital agency is all about.

Translated from French by Ruth Simpson

The global Coronavirus Pandemic has slowed the german economy down, which has been accompanied by massive sales losses for large parts of the retail trade. Even the slow easing of regulations will not lead to a short-term recovery in the economic situation of many companies. In this situation, online trade has not only been able to prove itself as an alternative sales channel, but has also emerged from its shadowy digital existence. The new circumstances continue to offer great opportunities for digital marketing.

Paid Media plays an outstanding role in addressing the right target groups. As experts in the field of performance marketing, we have identified the most important developments and trends for you by analysing our customer campaigns on the channels Google Search, Google Display Network (GDN) and YouTube. All statements refer to paid search, as they usually have a consumption-related background.

Our findings do not take place in a vacuum: In recent weeks, customers have already reacted to the altered situation by reducing or increasing their budgets; the same applies to the competition. These effects are reflected in the analysis as well as adapted user behavior.

Google Search:

With the start of the lockdown and consequent restrictions on leaving the house, impressions of paid search ads across our cross-industry client portfolio declined by an average of 29 percent. It was not until the first week of April that we saw a resurgence. One explanatory approach is that the consumer behaviour of consumers had clearly clouded over from the first days of the strict Coronavirus lockdown measures. This was because the volume of brand-related and transactional search queries in particular had fallen significantly. Informational searches on the nature and course of the pandemic have occupied people more than consumption.

After just under two weeks, however, an initial recovery in demand can be observed. The online search is thus also a good indicator of the increased need for information in society. As a result of the falling demand while competition remained the same or perhaps even increased, click prices rose significantly in mid/late March. In April, the CPC already dropped again significantly as some advertisers temporarily reduced their budgets. This dynamic will continue until the market situation is clarified. However, this will only delay the long-term trend towards rising click prices on Google.

Another special feature that we were able to observe in our analyses is that, although the majority of all searches are still generated from mobile devices, the share of desktop searches has risen significantly from February to March compared to February. This is probably related to the increased use of laptop and desktop devices in the home office. In our experience, desktop searches convert better than mobile requests, so here too is an advantage in terms of campaign success that should not be underestimated.

When considering demographic factors, it is noticeable that the aforementioned decline in search demand was significantly lower for women than for men. The female target group still has more consumer wishes, which are also in demand during the Coronavirus epidemic.

With regard to the age demographic, the picture is not very surprising: While young users aged between 18 and 24 years show practically no change in the intensity of use, demand in the oldest segment of users aged between 45 and 64 years has fallen by almost a third. As a rule of thumb, therefore, the higher the age of the target group, the more pronounced the fluctuations in search behaviour.

Google Display Network (GDN) / YouTube:

The development in the GDN stands in stark contrast to the development in wanted ads. Impressions on display ads in the Google Ad Universe have increased significantly with the beginning of the pandemic, by an average of 37 percent since mid-March. The still high interaction on GDN campaigns can be used very well for advertisers, since at the same time the prices in this channel fell clearly, partly by 50 per cent.

YouTube is also one of the big winners of the crisis. On the one hand, the audience has become larger and the time spent on the world’s second largest search engine has increased, while on the other hand, CPTs have fallen to new lows since mid-March.

Recommendation:

Search continues to distinguish itself as the medium through which users actively disclose their needs. It is therefore more relevant than ever before, and is as indispensable a channel during the crisis as it is afterwards. Many advertisers have already adapted to the decline in paid reach and changed their strategy accordingly. But often this happens on sight, campaigns are stopped, paused and restarted. If hard campaign targets such as sales or KUR can no longer be achieved, we recommend temporarily considering alternative targets. With a focus on lead generation, valuable data can be collected now and used at a later date. Vouchers are another option for securing future sales today. Now is also the right time to advertise products and services that require explanation and to offer comprehensive virtual advice. As a brand, you remain in a position to build up a portfolio effect, i.e. to pick up and inform consumers even without sales. Because demand is still there and wants to be served over the coming months of the new normality.