“As the Holiday Season is upon us, we find ourselves reflecting on the past year and on those who have helped to shape our business in a most significant way. We truly value our relationship with you and look forward to working with you in the year to come. We wish you a very happy Holiday Season and a New Year filled with peace, love and prosperity.”
I haven’t actually done business with the company that sent me this sentimental bit of falderal but if I had I don’t imagine I’d feel truly valued regardless of their promise that I am.
Don’t get me wrong. It’s not like a card picked out of a catalog and imprinted with a company name and a mailing label offers much more heartfelt sentiment, especially when the postage comes from a machine and not a stamp. But still.
While I’m busy bashing the holiday spirit with my bah-humbugging, let’s not forget gift cards. Believe it or not, gift cards were the most requested holiday gifts again this year, specifically, cards from Visa, Netflix, Amazon, iTunes, Wal-Mart, Target, and Starbucks. Besides echoing the “I did as little as possible” sentiment of generic e-mail holiday greetings, gift cards both telegraph a complete lack of interest in the recipient’s interests, taste, etc. as well as confirming the giver’s complete lack of imagination, enterprise, and thoughtfulness.
Sure the cards allow the receiver to buy whatever they want and certainly eliminate the concern about what to do with the ugly sweater, foolish gadget or inappropriate gag gift, but they also negate the carefully chosen book, the delicious hand baked cookies, and the breathless “how did you know I wanted that?” or “I LOVE it!!” response that a little thought and enterprise generates.
Of course asking for gift cards is even more bah humbug loathsome than giving them. For some odd reason, people who would never think twice about begging for money on a street corner have no shame about asking for spare change as long as it’s digitally transferred on a little plastic sheet. Why not just have friends and family members send money towards your car loan or mortgage payment? Or better yet, just give them your bank’s routing number and have them make a direct deposit directly into your account. That would be easier for everyone.
From a branding point of view, gift giving is not only a great way to show your clients, customers, coworkers, and cohorts how much they mean to you but also the perfect way to express a little bit of your authentic self in your gifts and greetings. Regardless of the amount of money you spend, the effort you make and the thought you contribute is what tells your recipients exactly what you think — or don’t think — of them.
When I was in college, moving into the dorms was an arduous ritual.
First we’d set up our stereos. Of course they were enormous – mine was comprised of big JBL speakers, a separate Marantz amp and McIntosh pre-amp, a Pioneer turntable and Aiwa cassette deck. The system cost me an entire summer job’s pay and if I was paying by the pound it’s no wonder why it was so expensive.
I also had a couple of apple crates full of records (remember those?) and boxes of tapes.
Along with the stereo, I had a typewriter, an alarm clock, an SLR camera with lenses and a shoebox full of photos. I didn’t have a TV but my roommate did, and that took up even more room. My clothes — a few pair of jeans, some tee shirts, and a down jacket — probably took up the least amount of space.
Today’s college student has all those functions and data (music, photos, etc.) stuffed into their four-pound laptop. In fact, with a couple of duffel bags stuffed full of clothes and a laptop and cell phone tossed in a backpack, they’re ready for school.
Today I needed a storyboard drawn up for a commercial we just wrote. All the art directors in my office were busy so I went online, uploaded the rough sketches we’d drawn, and posted the assignment along with my budget, deadline, and specific requirements. Within hours I had estimates from artists in Georgia, Indonesia, Mumbai, and more places around the world.
The other day I wanted something changed on my blog site. I sent an email to Werner, my blog master in Germany, and showed him the change. It was 5 PM EST here at home so I figured I’d hear from Werner the next day, after all it was 11 PM there. Instead Werner responded right away and said he’d have the programmer make the change immediately. “Where’s the programmer?” I typed. I assumed he was somewhere in Eastern Europe or Asia. “Ohio,” Werner responded. “It’s only the afternoon there,” “he’ll do it right away.”
When I leave the office in the evening, sometimes I take my laptop, sometimes I take my iPad, and sometimes I don’t take anything at all. Of course we’ve got a computer at home and all of my company’s files are stored on the cloud so they’re accessible wherever I am. No more running back to the office in the middle of the night or on weekends to retrieve a document I need to work on. And even though I work most weekends, I can’t remember the last time I went into the office on a Saturday or Sunday even though that used to be a weekly occurrence. In fact, my wife and I just got back from a wonderful overseas vacation and you might have noticed that this blog went out on time just the same. Besides pre-scheduling the postings online, a Wi-Fi hookup was all I needed to keep everything running smoothly.
I just moved my enormous music collection from the hard drive in my office to ITunes Match, Apple’s cloud-based program. This way, no matter where I am, I have all my songs available. This comes in handy not just when I have a hankering to hear something specific but when we’re at band practice and someone wants to hear a particular version of a particular song. Of course, with most songs available on YouTube anyway, I can access them anywhere I can get a Wi-Fi or cellular signal. Needless to say, the stacks and stacks and stacks of CDs in my office and at home are just taking up space and collecting dust. If I knew someone who actually wanted a couple thousand rock, blues, and classical CDs, I’d burn them all and happily ship them off.
The more we interact with the mobile world, the less we need bricks and mortar. These days, BestBuy has become a showroom for Amazon and it’s not unusual to see customers in the aisle scanning SKU numbers into their smart phones to check for lower prices online. Online bill pay keeps us out of banks and post offices. Digital downloads to our iPads and Kindles keep us out of bookstores. NetFlix, iTunes, and peer-to-peer (P2P) networks such as Demonoid keep us out of movie theaters.
As I’ve asked here so many times before, WTF??!! (Where’s The Future?). Clearly, legions of old-school face-to-face (F2F) businesses are going to go the way of Borders, Circuit City, and more. But there’s another, less intuitive opportunity. The analog activities that can’t be replaced by digital experiences — gardening, sewing, participatory sports, acoustic music making, cooking, travel, and more — are going to see a startling resurgence. Sure, those activities will be enhanced by the online world — downloadable patterns for knitting or Web-enabled music lessons, for example. But as the world continues to move to a ubiquitous high-tech environment, high-touch will become all the more important and profitable.Published on June 24th, 2012
Someone sent me an article that asked successful CEOs what they would rather do if they weren’t in their current positions. Doctor? Lawyer? Indian Chief? No, everyone wants to be a rock star.
Guitar Center has built an enormous business selling guitars and amps to musicians and wannabes who were raised on 60’s & 70’s rock and roll and want to live the dream for themselves. Some of these folks find satisfaction in learning to play their new instruments and some give up after a lesson or two. But I’ll bet odds are that the overwhelming majority of them never reach rock star status.
For years and years my musician friends and I have been playing in garage bands and getting gigs at bars and festivals. But regardless of how much fun we’ve had, none of us have become rock stars either.
About six years ago, Phil, Andy, and I, all members of different bands, were at a local Irish pub when Andy suggested we start a new band together. After all, he reasoned, we all play instruments and we all write music. Why not start a new band to play our original songs?
“Who else will we get to play in the band?” I asked.
“The usual suspects,” Phil answered.
For the next three years, The Usual Suspects played gigs around South Florida and developed a small but dedicated following. We built a set list of about 50 original songs and worked out the harmonies and arrangements. The band was truly a labor of love and we loved playing together.
The next natural step in our growth was to record a CD, so we spent the next two years recording, mixing, and producing 16 of our original compositions. Thanks to digital technology and the talent of my bandmates we did almost everything ourselves and finally created a very professional product that we’re real proud of.
Along the way we had to change the name of our group. Needless to say, the trademark wasn’t available for “The Usual Suspects” and being in a band with three attorneys and a paralegal (and a distribution manager, by the way) meant we had to have all our legal ducks in a row. After hundreds of name suggestions, someone came up with “The Southbound Suspects,” and thanks to my decades-long love of The Allman Brothers, that worked just fine for me.
Next it was time to name our CD. We also went through scores of titles and couldn’t come up with a solution everyone could agree upon. It got so frustrating that I finally suggested we make the album eponymous. “Eponymous?” one of our members asked. “Eponymous is a stupid name. Why don’t we just use the band name instead?”
I couldn’t argue with that logic. “The Southbound Suspects” it was.
Besides our songs, our CD offers something unique that I think is perfect for today’s fans. We’ve recorded an album of music created by baby boomers for baby boomers. Our songs tell the stories of our lives, from memories of cross-country trips we made in our twenties to staying in love after the kids are gone to the dream of buying a mid-life crises Harley Davidson.
While the music industry hasn’t yet woken up to the burgeoning baby boomer demographic (80 million Americans who control 70% of wealth in the U.S.), today’s distribution technology makes it very easy for us to put our songs directly into our consumers’ hands. And even though our website isn’t quite finished, you can already click on the following links and sample and buy our album on iTunes, Amazon, and CD Baby.
Truth be told, none of us believe we’re really going to become rock stars (okay, I think one guy actually does). I’m not even sure that everyone in the band would be willing to give up their day jobs to go on tour to support the album if we got the shot. But there’s an enormous opportunity to sell our songs to other performers and generate income, notoriety, and the chance to present the other songs that aren’t on our CD.
Will any of this happen? Who knows. The point is not whether the dream will become a reality but how ubiquitous technology has completely democratized the opportunity for self-expression. From consumer-generated videos on YouTube to home-recorded CDs to this blog, the barriers to entry have been eliminated. There’s now no excuse not to tell your story or sing your song.
Old world institutions such as publishing houses, movie studios, and music labels that used to control the distribution of art and ideas have seen their competitive positions erode with the onslaught of technology. The creative world has only begun to wake up and take its rightful place creating content. After all, everyone wants to be a rock star.
And us? We just want to sell a few CDs.Published on June 4th, 2012
I am fully committed to traveling light but this is ridiculous! Still, if you have a spare $250 burning a hole in your pocket how can you travel without them? Oh yeah, you’ll need shirts with French cuffs.
Polished Silver Oval WIFI and 2 GB USB Combination Cufflinks feature a 2GB of storage for all your must-have documents and presentations and a WiFi Hotspot, which opens your WiFi to multiple devices.
If you want a set, click HERE.Published on January 24th, 2012
When I started my business my father called my action “the confidence of ignorance.” I didn’t really know what I didn’t know so I held my nose and jumped right in. And with some long hours, perseverance, the hard work of lots of great people, and some good luck it turned out pretty well. Yet almost thirty years later it’s finally dawned on me that my dad was right – I often have no idea what I’m doing.
Social media has become a critical part of our agency’s branding and marketing. I’m promoting my ad agency, my speaking, and my books on Twitter, Facebook, Google+, LinkedIn, and whatever new technology has emerged since I wrote this post. But I have no idea what I’m doing.
I blog about branding and marketing and my own personal opinion about what’s going on in those worlds. I post it all online and send it out to my mailing list and try to promote it on all the social media sites that’ll have me. But I have no idea what I’m doing.
I travel around the world speaking at conferences and corporate meetings and attend acting classes and speaking workshops to try to make my platform skills better. Even with all the time spent and experienced gained, I still have no idea what I’m doing.
I’m starting to shoot videos and produce podcasts about branding and marketing and post them on YouTube. I’m taking videos of speeches I’ve given and learning how to edit them in Apple’s Final Cut and sending them out online and on CDs. But I have no idea what I’m doing.
I wrote a couple books on branding and produced them with traditional publishers. Then I self-published the latest book and we distributed it ourselves. Finally, I wrote a novel called The Mouth of the South and didn’t even self-publish it, just uploaded it to Amazon as a Kindle book. But I have no idea what I’m doing.
We’re creating a new website, trying to make it as interactive, mobile-friendly and user-friendly as possible and all at the same time. But I have no idea what I’m doing.
When people ask me if they should promote themselves or their companies on Facebook, Google+ or LinkedIn; if they should blog, tweet, email or send handwritten letters; if they should shoot videos, record podcasts, write books, or speak at conferences; if they should offer discounts on couponing sites, or run ads on TV, radio, newspapers or billboards, my answer is a resounding “yes.” When they tell me they don’t know how to do it, I say, “don’t worry, I have no idea what I’m doing either.”
I’m not smart enough to figure out SEO and SEM. I don’t have enough time to respond to all the tweets I receive. I don’t like Facebook enough to really want to dive into it. I think I only use about 11% of the capabilities of Final Cut. And not one of my books has become a bestseller regardless of how much time, effort, and money I’ve spent on them.
Why not? Could it be because I have no idea what I’m doing?
My marathon times aren’t dropping, my harmonica playing’s not getting much better, and the TV show I’m trying to create isn’t rushing itself into production. You already know the reasons why. It’s because I have no idea what I’m doing.
Are you starting to see a pattern here? Have you gotten the message? As much as I’d love to use this page to brag about all the brilliant things I’m trying to accomplish I have no idea what I’m doing.
I think that my feeling is the true zeitgeist of what’s going on today in the world of online marketing, new entrepreneurship, and personal development. Of course we can listen to the experts pontificate about whatever it is they know about, but just like the tip of the metaphorical iceberg, what they know and talk about is just a small portion of what’s really out there.
What I have in common with those experts is that they don’t have any idea what they’re doing anymore than I do.
They just do it anyway. And so do I. And, truth be told, so should you.
The key, as Nike taught us, is to “Just Do It.” Microsoft has built an enormous company around the notion of implementing first and perfecting later. Or as my dad also used to say, “There’s never time to do it right but there’s always time to do it over.”
So blog, post, tweet, self-publish, promote, and sell, to your heart’s content. And don’t worry if you don’t quite know what you’re doing. Why not? Because I have no idea what I’m doing, either.Published on September 6th, 2011
I was a kid back in the dark ages of transistor radios. If a friend told me about a cool new song, I’d tune in to WQAM and wait until they played what I was waiting for. Usually it would take an hour or more if the song was hot. While I waited I’d get my cassette recorder plugged in and loaded so I could tape the song. Invariably, I’d miss the beginning and inadvertently record my mom calling me for dinner over one of the verses.
Sometimes I had a little allowance money burning a hole in my pocket and wanted to order something from the ads on the back of my comic books – sea monkeys, say, or X-ray specs. I’d get my mom to write a check, put it in an envelope and root around for a stamp. Then I’d drop it in the mailbox and wait the four to six weeks the small print warned me about. I’d religiously check the mailbox every day after school but that didn’t make the package arrive any sooner.
Things are different today. When my daughter gets a text message about a great new band she has to hear, an MP4 file of the actual song usually accompanies the SMS. If not, she can go to YouTube or the iTunes store, download the song to her phone and listen to it right away.
If my son wants to buy something, he can simply order it online and have it Fed-Ex’d to him in a day or two. And while he waits he can track his package as it wings its way across the country. No one over 45 actually cares where the package is until it arrives in their hot little hands but younger consumers need to know when it’s in Tulsa, when it’s in Memphis, and when it’s on the delivery truck.
Of course if it’s a book he wants, he can just one-click order it on Amazon and have it transmitted to a Kindle, iPad, or laptop in less than 60 seconds.
These buyers are labeled by a lot of names these days, – Generation X, Generation Y, Echo Boomers, Millennials – demographic titles based on when they were born. But I think it would be more accurate to name them psychographically, based on the trait they all share: their instant gratification addiction. My genius friend David calls them The Instant On Generation – the hordes of people who have grown up with the “what have you done for me next” demands of digital technology and don’t know how to function in an analog environment.
Unfortunately for them, world events are conspiring to make things very difficult for Instant-ons. Thanks to the combined effects of a burgeoning world population, expanded financial opportunity in the under-developed world and the democratization of technology, there are more people on airplanes, more people in restaurants, more people consuming natural and man made resources, and more people traveling around the world than ever before. And while Instant-ons are perfectly happy to zoom along in their digital environments, finding their friends on FourSquare, making reservations on OpenTable, and communicating with each other 24/7 across Facebook and Twitter, the sheer number of people expecting immediate service in the carbon universe is an unscalable mess that slows everything down.
Before you start pining for the good old days, remember that things weren’t that fast before. It’s just that there were far fewer people clamoring for service and those people were way more willing to wait their turn. But older consumers didn’t grow up with the instant reward and response of videos games. They didn’t grow up with the instant gratification of flash frozen prepared foods heated in a microwave. And they didn’t grow up with a 24/7 communication device glowing greedily in their pocket.
Tomorrow’s consumer did, and tomorrow’s marketer is going to have to figure out how to successfully service people who live the lyrics to the Queen song: “I want it all and I want it now.”
Talking about today’s sped up world, Steven Wright said, “If you put instant coffee in a microwave you almost go back in time.” Funny thing is I don’t smell coffee. I smell opportunity. Specifically, how to make Instant-ons happy? An improved customer experience is one way: think Disney World’s line management techniques or the TSA security experience at Las Vegas’ McCarran Airport. Here in Miami, wealthy wannabe American Instant-ons can even hire people to stand in line for them at immigration.
But all of these solutions are just Band-Aids. The true moneymakers will be the ones who figure out how to reconcile Instant-ons’ digital expectations with analog reality.
Published on June 13th, 2011
We’ve all heard the lies:
“The Mercedes is paid for.”
“I’ll call you in the morning.”
“I’m from the IRS and I’m here to help.”
“You may already be a winner.”
But lately, thanks to the brave new world of online marketing, I’ve heard five new ones that are worth considering before we fall for them.
1. The fundamentals don’t matter anymore.
2. The best pricing strategy is free.
3. To be successful, pursue your passion.
4. If you build it, they will come.
5. Content is king.
1. The fundamentals don’t matter anymore.
It seems like each time there’s a new boom, whether it’s real estate, IPOs or online businesses, this old trope gets rolled out. People think the fundamentals don’t matter because they’re looking at something revolutionary and how could something so new be predicted and controlled by something as old (and boring) as fundamentals?
Of course, while technology and opportunities are changing at lighting speed, what doesn’t change is how people react to these new phenomena. And so the same issues and problems resurface time and time again.
Bottom line? The fundamentals DO matter; that’s why they’re called fundamentals.
2. The best pricing strategy is free.
This lie is so counterintuitive that books have been written about it. And the strategy is so seductively simple: give things away to attract attention, build relationships and sell products. Unfortunately, what the authors of the “Free” books forget is that the people who take their advice actually need to earn revenue to survive. Like the World War I flying aces whose planes were shot at and spiraled gracefully down towards the ground where they inevitably crashed, the race to win the low price war finally ends with prices being so low that the sellers go out of business.
The ironic proof that this concept is hogwash? One of the first evangelists for this axiom, Chris Anderson, wrote the book Free: The Future of a Radical Price. It lists for $26.99.
3. To be successful, pursue your passion.
This lie is not only untrue; it’s also cruel. But thanks to its siren call, lots of college students study subjects they have no chance of turning into careers and lots of professionals abandon their careers in order to pursue activities from which they have no chance of earning a living.
Don’t get me wrong, I have a design degree and I think it’s great to study the history of comparative religion or the modal chants of the Renaissance. I just don’t think it’s a particularly profitable endeavor. The ugly truth of many “passion” industries – music, art, filmmaking, etc. – is that you may make a fortune but you can’t make a living. Mike Rowe, the host of Discovery Channel’s Dirty Jobs presented a wonderful speech at TED on this very subject. You can watch it HERE.
The simple truth? If you want to be successful, don’t pursue your passion; pursue your customers’ passion.
4 . If you build it, they will come.
Way back when, in the nascent years of the Internet, posting a site was about all you needed to do to generate viewership. Every site was new and every concept was exciting. And the developers who incorporated viral recruiting, like the guys who built the site HOTorNOT.com, were able to attract millions of users and enormous valuations.
But today the web is crawling with websites. According to the Netcraft Web Server Survey, there were 266,848,493 sites as of December 2010. Over the last few months there has been an increase of 47 million host names and 7 million active websites, and we’re quickly closing in on over 300 million sites.
It’s not much better in the publishing world. Amazon alone offers almost 810,000 ebook titles to browse through. And as you know if you read my blog post last week, I added my own ebook to the list (as of Monday, March 28th, Mouth of the South has sold a whopping 21 copies, by the way), which will really put the count over the top.
Woody Allen might have said that “70% of success in life is showing up” but it’ll take a whole lot more effort than that to be successful these days.
5. Content is king.
Nicholas Negroponte, the founding director of the MIT Media Lab, wrote a wonderfully prescient book titled Being Digital. Although it was published almost 20 years ago, it’s still a go-to guide for people who want to understand the online world.
One of Negroponte’s key points is that content is worth considerably more than distribution. As Negroponte points out, “the valuation of a bit is determined in large part by its ability to be used over and over again.” So Mickey Mouse is valuable because it can be produced in movies, printed on comic books, screened onto tee shirts, stamped onto lunch boxes and even formed into lollipops. Accordingly, way back in 1994 when Being Digital was written, “the market value of Disney was $2 billion greater than that of Bell Atlantic, in spite of Bell Atlantic’s sales being 50 percent greater and (its) profits being double.”
What Negroponte may not have thought about —back then in the dark ages of the Internet — is the incredible volume of content that’s been created, posted and repurposed across the ‘Net. And so his apocryphal line “Content is king,” is only true if it’s qualified that that content better be good, unique or compelling.
These lies are popular because they are grammatically symmetrical, comfortably instructive and because they appeal to our personal self interests. And thanks to today’s 24/7 news cycle hungry for endless bits information to report on, the lies are continuously repeated until they enter our collective consciousness.
Oh, and by the way, you know that money I owe you? Don’t worry, the check’s in the mail.Published on March 28th, 2011
Each week that I post these articles I’m careful to include embedded links to the different subjects I talk about, so that while you read the blog posts you can click on the links (highlighted in blue) to learn more about the individual people or companies mentioned. While I have metrics that show how many people open my emails and how long they stay open, I have no idea how many of you actually click on the links.
To get the most out of this post, though, you really need to open the links, at least the first one that says, “click HERE.” Perhaps it’ll seem like a bother and take a little longer than usual but I promise the interactive exercise will be worth the effort.
Fellow art director Steve Saley turned me onto a terrific three-minute film called The Porcelain Unicorn. The film is the brainchild of American director and producer, Keegan Wilcox, the winner of the Tell It Your Way short film contest sponsored by Philips. To watch this wonderful film, click HERE. I’ll see you again in a few minutes. No, don’t worry about me, I’ll wait.
Welcome back. Was the film as good as I promised it would be? Besides being moved by the touching script and great storytelling, did you notice how beautiful the high-definition footage was? While Wilcox is clearly very talented, this filmmaker also had the benefit of great actors, lighting technicians, musicians, editors and prohibitively expensive professional equipment, right?
The entire film was shot on the new Canon 35mm SLR with HD video, a $1,600 camera that looks exactly like the camera you carry on vacation! You can learn more about the camera by clicking HERE. You can even buy one at Amazon by clicking HERE.
This line of new Canons has been revolutionizing the filmmaking business. A slightly more expensive model, the 5D Mark II, was used to shoot the entire House season finale (and yes, you can read more about that HERE). As they say in the article, “May 17 (the date the finale airs), [is] the date when the grumpy doctor you wish you were and the snazzy camera you wish you owned will join forces on American network television.”
To quote late-night television, “But wait, there’s more…” This same Canon 5D was used to film behind the scenes at this year’s Emmy intro with Jimmy Fallon, Tina Fey, Betty White, Jon Hamm and Kate Gosselin (to watch the sneak peak, click HERE). Not only that, but the segment was edited on a MacBook Pro with Final Cut Pro, the same type of laptop that this blog post was written on.
Moore’s law, first published in Electronics Magazine on April 19, 1965, states that technology (specifically semi-conductors installed on silicone chips) will double in power and halve in price every two years. Think about what this means for the future of creativity. Equipment expense, once a barrier for all but the most well heeled creative types, will no longer be a consideration. Soon, the next Bergmans and wannabe Hitchcocks will be able to create their visions with equipment that they might already have at home. And because Internet sites such as YouTube and Vimeo eliminate distribution expense, the process of creating and sharing high-quality content will become entirely democratic and open to all.
That means that the future started yesterday and the brave new world is already here. Creative expression is available to everyone at a very low cost and that everyone includes you. The time has come for you to write your great American novel, shoot your movie, produce your album or express yourself anyway you like. When you do, send me a link and I’ll post it right here for everyone to enjoy.Published on November 22nd, 2010