Stitching things together

A few days ago I read somewhere that, while the energy-saving capacities of electronic appliances are increasing (with the result of more energy saved), the sheer number of these appliances are growing, making the end amount of spent energy the same. A zero-sum game.

This made me think about the old-school (but still surprisingly vibrant) definition of innovation where repeatedly making new things — products, technology, services, etc. — is regarded as innovative. This is “more is more” model (and it found its best and most notorious application in fashion. And in advertising ☺.

What a waste.

Then I remembered the best innovation of all: the evolution of the human brain. That thing did not continue to grow according to “more is more” principle, because if it did then we would have our bodies attached to our heads and not the other way around. Simply, if brain actually continued adding a new part for the each evolutionary step it went through, it would be so large that it would not be very adaptive to have it.

So what brain did instead was to add more and more connections between its different parts — or, it used its already existing resources to build new stuff. As a matter of fact, the human brain has more synaptic connections than brain cells.

Pretty intelligent.

But for some obscure reason, it seems that the web — which is actually all about the connections, as its name says — is instead following the “more is more” suite with no apparent justification. More content, more info, more tools. The focus seemed to have been on creating more things, not on how to stitch them together.

But those most successful on the web are the ones making connections. The connections between: a) people (Facebook), b) people and people and information (Twitter), c) content (BabyCenter), d) information and activity (Nike+), e) information and service (Zipcar), f) content and service (Netflix), g) information and information (Google), h) whatever the core of your business is with whatever will help you improve it.

So let’s think about the web for a second not as a “digital channel” but as a “connecting tool”. In order to get best out of anything on the web, that something can’t be created as a stand alone thing — or, better yet, it can’t be designed in such a way that it functions as one.

Digital marketing challenge, then, is to stitch different things together: to figure out how all different elements interrelate, and to rearrange them to design a better (and not necessarily always new) customer experience. We can think of digital marketing as a business of making connections.

Clients’ problems can be addressed with things that already exist. The important question is: “what and who am I connecting my product with?”, instead of “who am I communicating my product to?”. The difference (a big one) is that we are figuring out how to fit product in people’s life in a more efficient, less wasteful way: what is the activity we are connecting it to? information? behavior? service? people? content?

And, in fact, this approach is not only about reducing waste. It’s about creating more intelligent stuff.

Originally published on September 20, 2009