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14 posts from January 2009

01/30/2009 Classical Goes Digital

You know that times are changing when opera (music, not the browser) and classical music start shifting to online and digital media. Talk about shifting old media! What’s happening seems both smart and forward thinking.

I first noticed this when accompanying my mom to a HD broadcast in a movie theater to watch an opera from the Metropolitan Opera in New York. I like opera somewhat, but I probably never would have gone if my mom didn’t need the company. And while my mind tends to drift at this type of concert, one thing is for sure: the broadcast was awesome.

Phenomenal picture and sound quality, pictures and interviews from backstage, I thought this was much better than actually seeing this in person. And the first thing I thought of was “Why isn’t this online?”

Well, it is online. The Met lets you streams its operas to your computer. It’s perfect for a HD TV hookup. You can sign up for a week of free streams but if you’re a hardcore fan and want to watch longer, you have to pay. You can get a yearly or monthly subscription, or rent them individually online.

About the same time I noticed this, the FWA chose The Berliner Philharmonic as its site of the day. The site, which is great, does something similar to the Met sit. You can watch live or taped concerts, individually or for a season. The quality is even better than the video streaming from the Met.

Now, back to the HD broadcast. Almost everyone in the audience had gray hair. They packed the theater and this was a repeat broadcast! According to the Pew Internet Research group the fastest growing online segment is people between 70-75 years old. Only 26% of this group went online in 2005 whereas 45% of them now go online. Smart strategy for both Met and Berliner to expand access through the Web.

Pavarotti.sm And while opera fans have always had the option of listening on the radio, these Web sites give them far greater access and choices, both as it relates to time and content. Want to see a Pavarotti opera from the 80s? It’s there. I would like to see a YouTube channel, though, which makes me think of something else.

Targeting an expanding and loyal audience through digital shows forward thinking but a bigger challenge is how to expand that audience. Again, the Met shows how modern they can be.

In addition to streaming the HD broadcasts into schools, soon they’ll launch a “Met Idol” documentary about people auditioning for the opera. Reality TV meets classical music? It’s probably not a bad idea. I’ll have to take my mom.

If the opera and classical music can figure this out, then more “modern” businesses have no excuse.

01/29/2009 Vermont Public Radio Commentary

Vpr I’m branching out into radio! A little, anyway.

Today marked my debut on Vermont’s NPR station, VPR as a commentator. I’m starting a series on Digital Life. The first story is about Digital Natives, a.k.a. my kids, and how they get digital, it’s already in their blood.

You can listen to or read the commentary – The New Digital Generation – here.

01/28/2009 IAB Says Online Creative Stinks

The Interactive Advertising Bureau is about to jump in to save the sorry state of online advertising. According to the IAB, the “creative shabbiness" we see online stems from entrenched perceptions inside big advertising agencies that online is not a creative medium. Dependence on old media "reach and frequency" media planning principles within those agencies ends up dragging the whole product down.

The IAB is right. I’ve written previous posts how online advertising has amazing potential for engagement and even direct sales.

But who, exactly, doesn’t believe online is a creative medium? It’s probably the most creative medium around today. And when even the venerable old Hatch Awards in Boston gives its best of show award to a Web site, a site of a TV focused ad agency, you’d think no one would believe the idea that online isn’t a creative medium.

Want to see some recent creativity? Check out this ad from Swedish Åkestam and Holst for playground or this one from Brazilian Famiglia for Rossi. You can find great examples at Banner Blog.

What the IAB meant was that there are still a lot of traditional creatives that still don’t understand digital. And the longer they keep making the ads, the longer we’ll see shabby online creative. For the people running these types of agencies, the responsibility falls on you for allowing this behavior. For Clients using these agencies, switch as fast as you can. These people are stealing your money.

As for blaming the media departments, media departments need to get up to speed on the different types of online advertising they can do. It means shifting some of the media spend into solutions like EyeBlaster or Adroit. Digital creatives can help here a lot.

If you’re currently producing crappy rotating billboards for online ads, stop. Talk to your team and come up with other solutions. You’ll still drive ROI and engagement and have a little more pride in what you produce.

01/27/2009 Getting People to Say “Yes”

I enjoy hearing “Yes” so much more than “No!” that when I heard an interview with author Robert Cialdini on NPR about his new book “Yes! 50 Scientifically Proven Ways to Be Persuasive” I hopped on to Amazon.com and bought it right away.

YES! All marketers want people to say yes. We want our bosses to say yes to our raises, our clients to say yes to our creative ideas, and customers to say yes to our sales and relationship pitches. Face it, we’re in the business of asking customers to change their behavior and do something different. If we can’t get them to say yes, we’re out on the street.

 While I never expect a book to give all the answers, I had high hopes for this one. Maybe it was the word “Scientifically.” All I’d need to do is craft my Yes brew and voila, a gaggle of Yes-sayers.

Of course the book doesn’t work that way. While all of the hypotheses put forward have grounding in controlled research, a lot of what I found in the book was common wisdom. Or would be common wisdom if we didn’t over think things so damn much!

That said this book has some good suggestions. I’ve found I’m using more than one of them in my digital marketing. That’s something I can’t say about a lot of other marketing books. What are some of the scientifically proven ways?

  1. Crowd Behavior – Cialdini and Co. show that you can impact behavior by showing how common the behavior is, or that a majority of people does this. People like to follow a crowd or a winner. Obviously this won’t work for a rebel brand, although Apple uses it in its switch campaign. I’m working for an industry leader, right now, and one of the things I’m putting at the forefront is the message that they are responsible for over 50% of their market worldwide.
  2. Rewards Programs – In an interesting study, the authors show that giving people a free head start on a rewards program increases their use and completion of the program. They used a study of clip cards where you needed eight clips for a freebie. The group that got an empty card of eight was far less engaged than a group that got a card of 10 with the first two clips free.

Other studies include the power of the word “because,” the value of unexpected and personalized attention, and the power of rhyming.

But you knew all that, right? Even if you do, it’s always good to have reminders to keep them front and center. Best of all, it’s a fairly quick read even if it has a lot of info.

I think that research based types and planners will love this book.

So go ahead and read what millions have already read because this book could help your marketing leap ahead.

01/26/2009 What Groceries Can Teach the Web

This weekend, shopping at Price Chopper, I noticed something I hadn’t seen before. We’ve started using the reusable shopping bags partly because we’re tired of recycling our pile of plastic, and partly because it’s good for the environment. What I finally noticed on Saturday was that stores credited us money for doing this. They gave us money to change our behavior.

It’s not a lot of money. Three cents per bag. But they’re doing it. I wouldn’t have noticed if they didn’t do this. In fact, when they asked how many bags I brought, I thought they were about to charge me again!

My wife informed me that all the stores we shop at do this. That made me wonder two things:

  1. Why don’t the stores publicize this? They really put their money where their mouths are.
  2. How can more online business do this? What could they do, in a similar vein?

The first thing that pops to mind is e-billing. I just signed up for e-billing at AT&T. What I didn’t see was any reduction in what I’m paying. I have to assume that doing so saves AT&T money and time. While it’s convenient for me, it’s not that much more convenient. If AT&T and others want to change our behavior, I think they should share the savings with us. Same as the groceries, the incentive doesn’t have to be large, as long as it’s something.

Are other companies taking anything off of bills for e-billing or automatic payments? Should banks do the same for online banking? My bank charges me to online bank, so they make money coming and going.

How about other behaviors? If I’m an e-shop, can I incent people to create an account by giving them something back? Or something for putting their names on my e-mail list? When you start getting into these areas, it gets a little greyer.

But for an e-commerce store, I would want more behaviors like this. Few actually offer any type of major benefit to customers besides ease of use around forms. But haven’t browsers’ auto-fill functions taken most of the pain out of filling out forms?

A little could go a long way. For businesses, it shows that we’re in this together, and that everyone can benefit. My goal, after all, isn’t to drive another businesses bottom line. It’s to drive my own while trying to do the right thing.

Kudos to Price Chopper, Hannafords and others who do the right thing: rewarding us for changing our behavior.

01/21/2009 A Good Online Marketing Campaign

Pepsi launched an online marketing campaign this week in time for Obama’s inauguration. The campaign, Refresh Everything, let’s people give messages and well wishes to the new president via online advertising, microsites and social media.


I found this on Yahoo! music. It was a rich media ad that let me send a message to the sites right from the banner itself. I can’t believe we don’t see more of this type of online advertising; it works so much better than the animate billboards we’re all sick of.  I may not have known exactly what I was getting into, but I was able to create and participate in the banner before clicking off of my page. Now that I created my personal message, I had to see what this was about.

You land on the Refresh Everything microsite, filled with video. There’s Eva Longoria in the corner; you have to see what she has to say. The microsite shows the TV ad (great) and has video of a symposium to refresh everything. This site is cool, but  Pepsi goes further on the social media sites.

The YouTube channel has five pages of personal videos. It’s amazing how many kids there are up there. The Tumblr site should have all of the text entries from the online ads, but I can’t find mine. Bummer.

Despite this personal set back, I love what Pepsi is doing here. Engaging online advertising and using social media sites for what they do best: content.

It’s so refreshing to see the online ad space used in this way.  Why, why aren’t other marketers doing more of this? There must be a brain cramp with agencies producing banners.

I just may have to switch from Coke.

01/19/2009 Online Not So Dangerous for Kids

The Internet seems like a dangerous place. News reports tell us that pedophiles and sexual predators stalk online communities, pose as kids, and lure our unsuspecting loved ones to nefarious ends.

Well, a recent high-level task force created by 49 state attorneys just announced that it isn’t so. They’ve concluded that there’s a lot of hype, but not a lot of evidence to support this fear. Their report shows its very unlikely adults will proposition kids and teens online.

The biggest danger: online bullying between teens.

We had a recent, terrible tragedy in VT last year of a young girl killed by her uncle. The perps broke into her MySpace to make it look like she had been picked up online. The newspapers continued to run with stories of online dangers even after the police debunked it.

Which makes me wonder: Are newspapers and TV perpetuating the myth of online sickos preying on our kids? Are they simply tapping into a parent’s worst fear to paint the Internet as the most dangerous neighborhood?

My young kids are online. My daughter, especially, loves the online social sites. We talk to her about being careful but I’m struck by how with-it she seems. She’s already leaned what to be wary of (asking for passwords) and how the word filters work. It’s amazing to see her calm my wife down, who worries a lot about this kind of stuff.

We online folk have done a sorry job at telling a better story about what kids do online. Just look at a place called Star Doll. What started as a great dress up site now attracts clothing brands with in-game add-ons. It’s one of the most popular sites for teen girls in the world. Maybe there’s an issue with having girls focusing so much on clothes and style, but that’s another issue.

There are more stories of the great things kids are doing online. But we can breathe easier; knowing things are not so dangerous out there.

The kids are all right.

01/16/2009 Puma Combines Fun with Business

I’m a total sucker for mashups where you upload your picture and do something silly with it. I’ve written about this before but I have a ton of fun doing this. And I’m not the only one, apparently, if you look at the success of sites like Elf Yourself and In The Doghouse.

One of the challenges with all of these is that while they may be a blast, drive engagement and get people to spend lots of time on these sites, the business benefits aren’t so clear. There were articles a while ago describing how Elf Yourself didn’t provide any business boost to Office Max (yes, Office Max is the company behind the famous elfs, although it was easy to miss).

The question with all of these is: Is it relevant to your brand and market? Yes, awareness is important but if it’s easy to forget your brand and what you offer then engagement will only get you so far. In The Doghouse was fun but the connection between Doghouse, Penny’s and diamonds was tenuous at best.

Along comes Puma with its “I Am 60” collection, highlighting its fashion over time and inviting people to go retro. They also have a mashup; you can upload your photo, change hairstyles, clothing styles and more. Here’s what I might’ve looked like in a previous age (better, worse, what do you think?). So far, pretty fun, but the kicker is about to show up in my inbox.


Once I’m done, Puma sends me my picture in a promotional e-mail and then encourages me to shop different styles/eras. They’ve firmly connected my fun engagement with what I’m really supposed to do: buy Puma gear. Hey, there are the sneakers I wore in my junior year in high school!

Seeing myself together with products in this space ties together business and fun in the best way I’ve seen for a while. Great job Puma and whatever agency was behind that. I hope we see more fun, relevance and business in this down year.

01/14/2009 More on Listening

I received a great compliment yesterday.

We were presenting a client with a new strategy, structure and layout for its Web business. The entire business and sales team loved what they saw and heard and realized that the new site would deliver on their business goals.

Then they said “Thank you for listening to us.”

Aside from “you’re hired” that’s one of the best things you can hear from a client. They appreciated our taking the time to get to know them and coming up with an authentic way to tell their story. After all, it’s their story, not mine. Apparently, the previous group didn’t listen so well.

Not listening happens all the time, on both client and agency side. It’s too bad because when you listen that’s when the magic starts to happen. Why is it so hard? Here are a couple of things I always focus on when jumping into a new client or strategy project.

  1. Don’t figure it out first – If you’ve already figured out the problem, or what you want to do about it, you won’t listen very well. Or rather, you’ll listen to the parts that confirm your preconceived notions and discard all the rest. Instead, start with as much of a beginners mind as you can, and keep yourself open to new flows of information. I liken good listening to improvisation; you have to be able to go with the flow because that’s where the nuggets are. After all, if you listen well, you might learn something new.
  2. Do your homework – Even though you don’t have all the answers, you need to have a good understanding of whom you’re taking to. Make sure you’ve done your background homework so you can ask the right questions. More importantly, you’ll be able to recognize when something special pops up.
  3. Practice repeating what you heard – One of the biggest challenges is to listen to a group of people but then not be able to tell that in a strong way to the rest of your team. We tend to fall back on written documents, creative or strategy briefs, for example. These documents rarely do a good job of storytelling. But listening is part of an oral tradition, as is storytelling. After you’ve listened for a while, practice telling these stories to your team. It will show you how well you’re listening and what gaps to fill in. It will also help your team practice listening.

The more I think about it, the more I like the idea of carrying on oral traditions. We marketers are storytellers. We listen to client stories in order to craft new, compelling and authentic stories. While we could just make up the stories, listening provides us with the authenticity to make emotional connections.

01/13/2009 Sony Wants to Listen

Sony recently announced that in order to better listen to customers, they’re building an online community to hear “unvarnished opinions from fans and detractors.” The site is at electronicsblog.sel.sony.com. They will also start a Twitter account, a Facebook page, a YouTube channel and a Flickr page.

It’s great that Sony wants to listen. It reminds me of a discussion I heard back in 2007 by Beth Kim Thomas of Nestle. She set up a number of forums to make her marketing team hear all the feedback, good and bad, about the brand. We marketers are usually bad listeners; we like to think we know everything already.

I set up a similar experiment for a client in 2007 as well. The problem was, they really didn’t want to listen. They wanted people to contribute, but they didn’t really want to act on or do anything about the comments, most of them personal and valid.

As for Sony, I hope they become better listeners. It seems to me, there should be a lot of opinions out there already out there about Sony. I wonder if they’ve set up any ways to listen to those discussions before building their own walled garden.  When Dell set up their “What Does Green Mean to You” campaign, most of the activity came from Facebook, not the microsite.

The best customer feedback site I’ve seen is still Apple’s support site. Even though it’s on Apple.com, it seems that the customers really run that site, gaining points for helping one another, and providing very straight-forward feedback and opinions about all products. Maybe Apple’s simply in another category when it comes to customer engagement, but it seems to be a good model.

I hope Sony is open about what it’s listening to and what it plans to do with the feedback. That would be something special: actively showing how it’s listening and how customers can impact its business.

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