Nov 24, 2009

The Best Marketing Video Ever Made

The "Microsoft Designs the iPod" video is still the best marketing video ever made.


Because it reflects, in a clear and visceral way, the impetus behind what I'd estimate to be around 90% of the unnecessary input into any marketing project.

It's the inability to push back on that input, what my friend Don Miller calls "being pecked to death by chickens" that ultimately dooms so many projects.

The impetus of the fictional Microsoft team-- and that of so many clients I've encountered-- is to create something bulletproof, something that answers each and every critic they've encountered along the way. That includes internal critics (e.g. the ones in their own heads) as well as external ones, critics with valid opinions and those who are just looking for something to say.

While the impulse may be valid, the result is not: each attempt to further explain and clarify just winds up muddying things even further so that the perspective consumer gives up rather than digs in.

I'm always tempted to show that video to the combined team at the start of any marketing-based project. It's a strong reminder of the dangers of ignoring the old dictum: when you try to please everybody, you wind up pleasing nobody.

Nov 12, 2009

Announcing the Hive Awards

The Hive Awards are now live!

The Hive Awards started as a pipe dream, about a year ago, when I was looking at web award shows and realized that none of them rewarded things like user experience, content strategy or even coding. At least not on any significant level. What’s more, the awards that were being given out seemed to go to big, high profile sites in glamor industries. Which is not to say that those sites weren’t deserving, just that they didn’t seem to reward all the people working in the trenches, what I called the unsung heroes of the internet.

And so an idea was born.

When I pitched the idea to International Awards Group, they immediately understood the value of such a show and agreed to work with me to develop it. Together, we came up with the name Hive Awards as a paean to the “hive mentality” inherent in building a web site or application. There are many people with many different roles, all of whom must work together and build off what the others have created. It is only by cooperating and working together that they’re able to create the final product. Our show recognizes that dynamic and seeks to reward each function within the hive.

We’ve also divided up the different job functions by industry category. Because we realized that the content strategy for an entertainment site is always going to be a whole lot sexier than the content strategy for an insurance industry site. By allowing each industry category to be judged separately, we’re leveling the playing field and giving everyone who's done something unique and special a chance to be recognized.

Finally, we see the Hive Awards as a chance to help set standards in the industry and to give newcomers something to strive for. The interwebs are still so new and evolve so quickly that having something to point to and say “this is what good work looks like” should prove very useful.

Since this is our first year (and in keeping in line with the notion of “hive mentality”) we’re looking to our audience to give us feedback and suggestions. (If I was the type of guy who liked using buzzwords, I'd call it "crowdsourcing.") So if there’s something that doesn’t make sense or you feel could be made better, please let me know, either here or on the Hive Awards site.

Discount Deadline ends December 31st, which is sooner than you realize, so start working on those entries.

Welcome aboard.

Nov 8, 2009

Life In The Bubble

Over the past year, I'd say well over 150 of my friends and relatives joined Facebook, none of whom work in any sort of media or technology related function.
  • Maybe 5% of them post regular status updates
  • Maybe 5% of them post pictures beyond the half dozen or so they put up when they joined
  • Maybe 2 or 3 of them regularly share outside articles on any topic.
  • Maybe 5 of them have actually shared an outside article, period.
  • Maybe a dozen of them have used Facebook at some point to promote their own business or a charitable endeavor they've been a part of.
  • Maybe 2 or 3 of them do that sort of promotion with any regularity
  • Maybe 15% of them have even bothered to "like" someone else's update or article or even their Bejeweled Blitz score.
  • Maybe 50% have ever commented on someone else's picture.
  • Of that 50%, maybe a dozen of them comment on pictures with any sort of regularity.

I've also had about two dozen of these same friends and relatives join Twitter over the same time period.

None of them stuck with it.

Literally, none of them.

While I'd never be so egotistical as to claim my own personal experience is universal, I do suspect it's not particularly unique: there will always be more audience members than actors.

Just something to think about as we're chasing after all the bright shiny objects.

PS: If you have a minute or two to leave a comment, I'd be very curious to hear what other people's experiences have been with their non-media/tech family and friends.

Nov 5, 2009

Enough With The Guilt, Facebook

"Your mother is just sitting there. Alone. In the dark. But that's okay, you're busy. You go right ahead and play Bejeweled Blitz. I'm sure she won't mind."

Facebook has introduced a lot of boneheaded features over the years, but one that seems particularly insidious is the new configuration of the "Suggestions" feature, which "suggests," you get back in touch with people whose wall you haven't written on in a while or whose profiles are only half filled out.

You see, if my "social graph" is any indication, one of the most common Facebook Suggestions is the account holder's mother, followed closely by great-aunts, long-lost cousins and other non tech savvy relatives.

It's a move that would make a room full of old school Jewish mothers proud, but one that's making logging onto Facebook an unwelcome guilt trip for many of my friends.

Only good news is that Facebook's been pretty good (not great, but pretty good) about adjusting features the audience finds unappealing.

And this is certainly one of them.

Nov 3, 2009

Towards A Two-Tier System of Media Consumption

One of the trends I’ve been keeping my eye on is the speed at which we seem to be headed towards a two-tier system of media consumption, with commercial free content available for those willing (and able) to pay for it, and ad-supported content for those who are not.

It’s a trend that’s mirrored in other industries, from health care (many doctors in affluent areas no longer take insurance: they have enough patients who are willing to pay out of pocket and take whatever “out of network” reimbursement they can get in return for what they regard as a superior, more patient-centric experience) to the airline industry, where the difference between first class and steerage seemingly grows more pronounced with each passing month.

Media is ripe for this sort of bifurcation as there is a large pool of people who’ll gladly pay to avoid commercials of any sort. For as much as we protest that people “read what interests them” and “find value in well-targeted messaging,” the truth is that commercials are inherently interruptive and that if one is truly engaged in whatever content one is consuming (e.g. if you’re really enjoying that episode of Mad Men) they’re about as welcome as the Spanish Inquisition.

No matter how well-targeted or interesting.

As I noted the other week, once we’ve sipped from the commercial-and-preview-free fountain of iTunes, it’s hard to go back to watching anything else. And while the $2.99 it now costs to buy an HD iTunes episode is pretty cheap, I suspect the networks could get away with charging several times that amount and still find takers who’ll pay a premium for the enhanced experience. (Not to mention the bragging rights.) Apple is allegedly already looking for takers for an iTunes monthly subscription service and Hulu, Google (YouTube) and even Netflix are all allegedly looking at similar models.

Given that scenario and the continued reliance upon the ad-supported model for “free”-- it’s easy to see a two-tiered system evolving for many of the more popular platforms.

It’s not much of a stretch to see either Twitter or Facebook introducing ad-free subscription models (e.g. pay $10/month and you’ll get no ads and some enhanced features while free users will start seeing more and more prominently placed ads.)

That system is already in place for mobile apps, many of which come in two flavors: a free version with ads and a paid version that’s ad-free and comes with a few more bells and whistles.

The two-tier system is not necessarily a bad thing though, except, perhaps, to those trying to market Range Rovers and Rolexes. It allows people to place a value on content according to how important it is to them: I may consent to watch commercials during a show I’m not all that interested in (which would probably increase the likelihood that I’d pay attention to the commercials) but pay to be able to watch a show I do like with no interruptions.

I’d say it’s inherently classist, but the low cost of entry makes it an affordably luxury for most people. If not all the time, then certainly on enough occasions as to make the scenario seem equitable.

As such, I can see the two tier system spreading beyond what we now think of as ad-supported media: cell phone service could be made to work this way: pay a greatly reduced price (or nothing at all) to have ads continuously streaming across your screen or pay more to avoid them. Popular media blogger Ben Kunz has even suggested an advertising model for books that I can see working both for library books and/or for books the reader views as disposable.

The trick here-- across the board-- is going to be striking a balance between what the market will bear and what the provider needs to earn. That’s an equation that’s going to have to be figured out on the fly and there are sure to be some casualties along the way. The end result though will be a system that ultimately gives the consumer more control and makes advertising of all sorts less onerous.