Mar 31, 2009

The Shelf Life of Revolutions: Part 3


So having looked at the post-war Price Era and the turn-of-the-millenium Selection Era, we now turn our attention to the current, social media-enabled Service Era.

The birth of the Service Era can now be seen to be more or less inevitable, as both service and retail businesses rushed to bring their wares online once the Selection Era was underway, creating the Long Tail effect (or not) along with a fairly level playing field. By the mid-2000s, a vast selection had become the price of entry for any new business, and so the time was right for a new way for companies to set themselves apart.

Service, which had long been neglected in favor of price and/or selection, was the obvious answer. It was made all the more obvious by the increased attention paid to the pronounced lack of service consumers received in industries ranging from airlines to health care to department stores.

Service, in this era, is defined as much by the overall customer experience, as it is by gracious and accommodating salespeople. So a chain like Starbucks, with its rich aroma of coffee, stylish furniture, soothing music and knowledgeable employees (at least in the early days) was providing a level of service that customers couldn’t get from their local coffee shop. Ditto Whole Foods, where theater-set food displays with seven different varieties of organic salt and full-on gourmet cheese bars introduced consumers to a new level of food buying. Customers felt pampered. They felt valued. They felt like spending way more than they were used to for parity products like apples because they so enjoyed the experience.

It’s important to note here that the dominant new media vehicle of this era, social media, is an adjunct to the Service Era, not the cause of it. Social media fit in nicely with the ethos of the Service Era because, like the pretty music in Starbucks, it makes people feel special. When they can comment on a blog and see their name up there in lights, it makes them feel heard. When a brand representative responds to them on Twitter, they feel even more special. And I’m not saying this to mock people: it’s human nature. If someone in a position of power responds to you in a one to one fashion, you feel important. And in the Service Era, feeling important is important.

Look at Zappos, certainly one of the great success stories of the era (and, full disclosure, an occasional client.) Zappos has a corporate culture based on the ethos that the customer is king. Their ten core values revolve around that simple notion and it’s paid off for them in spades. Like Starbucks and Apple and Whole Foods, Zappos is far from the cheapest option. But in the Service Era, price is no longer the driving factor for purchase decisions and people add a “psychic discount” if you will, to the value of quality service.

Traditional advertising messages (as opposed to traditional advertising mediums) are at their lowest ebb in a Service Era, as their role here is less about delivering news (e.g. Just $49.95!!!) and more about reinforcing what people know from word-of-mouth (both digital and actual) and confirming the value of a superior brand experience.

In plain English that means that when Whole Foods runs a TV commercial, Whole Foods fans are reminded of why they love the store so much and what a special place it is, while those who have yet to experience the legend that is Whole Foods see validation that the misty-eyed ramblings of their friends and family members might actually be on the money. And while I’ve used a TV commercial in this example, a similar scenario plays out when Facebook friends read that “Chris has become a fan of Whole Foods” on their feeds. Marketing in the Service Era is about selling the experience; details are not what's important.

So how does this brand nirvana finally play out? Well, in time, a majority of brands will figure out that offering a superior customer service experience will increase their profit margins. Which means that their superior customer experience won’t be all that superior any more. Because it's only superior if it's better than what their competitors are offering. If everyone's customer service is the same, then that becomes the new floor and no one is special.

That means brands will once again have to figure out a way to set themselves apart. And since higher prices are a by-product of the Service Era, lower prices will be the key to differentiation. Customers, having become inured to the value of good service, will see low price as a an attractive alternative and start flocking to businesses that offer lower prices. This ushering in yet another Price Era and starting the cycle all over again.

The Shelf Life of Revolutions, Part 1
The Shelf Life of Revolutions, Part 2

Mar 26, 2009

Must Read: Clay Shirky's "Newspapers and Thinking the Unthinkable"


I had the pleasure of seeing Clay Shirky speak at SXSW and he's just as sharp in person as he is on the page. (He's the author of Here Comes Everybody, the much-discussed book about the effects of web 2.0 on the social order.)

This blog post, Newspapers and Thinking the Unthinkable has been getting a tsunami of buzz and once you read it, you'll understand why.

Once you're finished reading it, I'd ask you to substitute the word "advertising" for "newspapers" and/or "journalism" and see if you don't come to the same conclusion.


Newspapers and Thinking the Unthinkable

Back in 1993, the Knight-Ridder newspaper chain began investigating piracy of Dave Barry’s popular column, which was published by the Miami Herald and syndicated widely. In the course of tracking down the sources of unlicensed distribution, they found many things, including the copying of his column to alt.fan.dave_barry on usenet; a 2000-person strong mailing list also reading pirated versions; and a teenager in the Midwest who was doing some of the copying himself, because he loved Barry’s work so much he wanted everybody to be able to read it.

One of the people I was hanging around with online back then was Gordy Thompson, who managed internet services at the New York Times. I remember Thompson saying something to the effect of “When a 14 year old kid can blow up your business in his spare time, not because he hates you but because he loves you, then you got a problem.” I think about that conversation a lot these days.

READ THE REST AT CLAY SHIRKY'S BLOG


Mar 24, 2009

Experimenting in Public


One of the things I love most about the brave new digital world is the capacity to embrace experiment and failure. It stands in stark contrast to the world of traditional advertising, where any sort of experimentation is anathema and the slightest hint of failure brings out the long knives. (Witness the AIG-esque scorn and anger heaped upon any agency that fails to toe the party line.)

So I was pleased to see Fallon, the Minneapolis ad agency best known for it’s clever early 1990s advertising for small local clients try something new and different. Even if it was more or less a complete failure.

Fallon built something called Skimmer, a “lifestreaming” Adobe Air app that pulls in feeds from various social media sources (Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, Flickr, Blogger) and displays them in a single standalone interface.

The idea, as Chris Wiggins, the ex-Zeus Jones CD behind the effort explained to me on Adfreak was “an experiment to see if people would appreciate the type of experience that a creative agency, not a development agency would come up with. I think people tolerate the web 2.0 designed-by-developers experience because there aren't (yet) many alternatives.”

Fair enough, but I felt the lack of developer influence on Skimmer far more than I felt the lack of designer influence on Twhirl or Tweetdeck. Pretty is not the first thing I look for in an app. (Though a combination of the two would be nice.)

And to Wiggins’ and Fallon’s credit, they took on an exceptionally difficult project: FriendFeed (which Skimmer essentially apes) is a tough sell, no matter how much Robert Scoble and Steve Isaacs flog it. Most people are overwhelmed by having that much information. And, as I’ve noted here to much approbation, people tend to have vastly different groups of friends on Facebook and Twitter and many have given up on trying to have them overlap. (e.g. they’ve stopped having Twitter automatically update their Facebook status.) That’s lead to a behavior I’ll refer to as “double-dipping” where significant articles, photos, blog posts and the like are posted in both places, with a different spin for each audience. Skimmer's attempt to recombine everything in one app is swimming against the tide.

But the point I wanted to make here isn’t “nyah, nyah, you failed.” (Even if Skimmer was down most of today.) It’s to salute them for trying. For being open to learning from their mistakes and looking to do better next time out of the gate.

This stuff is all new. And there’s only so much you can learn from reading and listening.

Comes a point, you’ve got to start doing. And Fallon did.

Mar 22, 2009

The Value of Friends


Robert Scoble has a much-debated take on the new Facebook where he imagines a shiny, happy world full of people eager to get ads from merchants based on life events they’ve posted (e.g. getting a new puppy? Prepare for an onslaught of ads from pet supply vendors.)

But I’m not sure I agree.

Scoble argues vociferously that most people like being marketed to and like receiving information on something they’re interested in buying. That’s true to a point, especially if it’s unobtrusive, like a catalog. But one of the great things about The Real Digital Revolution is that it’s enabled us to stop relying on marketing messages and rely on peer reviews instead. Advertising is still necessary—we need a way to create an image for the brand, so that when we go to Google, “the safe car” is the one at the top of our list. But once we’re googling, marketing messages are moot: our fellow consumers will tell us everything we need to know.

So while a situation such as the one Scoble describes (he announces, via Facebook, that he is having a baby, he gets deluged by Facebook ads from car companies) is likely, I’m not sure it’s exactly welcome, particularly if the messages are just basic “our brand is great” messages. That’s the sort of advertising people are likely to regard as spam.

On the other hand, a very targeted message that offers Scoble a unique and tangible benefit, should be very well received. Something along the lines of “Congratulations on the new baby Mr. and Mrs. Scoble. Palo Alto Volvo would like to offer you a special Facebook offer of 20% off a lease on the new Volvo XC90.”

An offer like that serves two purposes: if the Scobles were on the fence about Volvo, that 20% off just might just push them over. And, if they’d never considered Volvo, a sweet offer might just get them to google it. Either way, Volvo comes out ahead.

If Zuckerberg et al can figure out a way to get very specific targeted offers to Facebook users-- and marketers uphold their end of the bargain by sending offers consumers might actually want and not just more spam-- he just might have figured out a way to make some money from his database. For while coupons and discount offer may seem unsexy, they do have the distinct advantage of being the sort of marketing communication most people welcome getting, especially for products they currently use. (And if I knew I’d get a $2 off coupon just for writing “washing my clothes with Tide tonight” in my status update– I’d probably do so. Especially if I really like Tide.)

UPDATE: The more I think of this, the less benign it seems. The likelihood of this type of scenario remaining uncluttered is practically nil: all sorts of advertisers will deluge us with all sorts of vaguely related offers (the scattershot theory of advertising still lives) and the result will likely feel like spam. At which point, we'll probably resort to code words and euphemisms to describe our activities, precisely to avoid advertisers.

Different Audiences, Different Perspectives

The print edition of Creativity (Ad Age's sister publication, aimed at the creative end of the ad business, both traditional and digital) has a section called "Creative Briefing" that deals with breaking trends. (I can't find it online, otherwise I'd link to it.)

One of the trends they spot this month is Twitter, citing the increased use by members of Congress (McCain twitters.) "You might say the last month or so has been a big coming out party for Twitter" the story opens

But ask someone involved in digital media when Twitter had its big coming out party and they'll likely tell you that it was at SXSW in 2008.

Different audiences, different perspectives.

Mar 19, 2009

Search vs Serendipity: Some Proof

Nick Kristof has a great column in the Times today called "The Daily Me" that lays out much of the research showing how new media options allow people to only see news they agree with. He doesn't offer a solution but lays out the problem in nice detail as some of the commenters here seemed skeptical of the proposition.

Mar 18, 2009

Transmedia Critter

Leo Burnett was something of a revolutionary in his day for the way he introduced his “critters” –animated characters who became the personification of certain cereal brands. (e.g. Tony the Tiger for Frosted Flakes.) It was breakthrough for its day because until then most products were sold on their attributes alone: creating a character to represent the brand was something completely different.

I’ve been thinking about how that would likely play out today: Tony wouldn’t just be a commercial spokesman. He’d have his own cartoon show, either online or on a cash-starved network that didn’t mind the blurring of the lines between editorial and advertising. Also available on DVD. There would be toys galore. T-shirts, sheets, Halloween costumes, board games, online games, theme songs… the whole shebang that propels something like Dora the Explorer into a multi-zillion dollar business. All carefully orchestrated and rolled out at once, unlike the original version where toys and tchotchkes were part of random promotional efforts.

Like it or not, he’d be a transmedia critter.

Mar 17, 2009

Search vs. Serendipity


One of the more interesting themes I heard at SXSW was the battle between search and serendipity and the ramifications of that for everything from our intellectual curiosity to the ability of new ideas to find an audience.

The battle manifests itself in so much of what we do online. Take reading the newspaper. When we read a physical newspaper, we often find things we weren’t looking for: a picture or a headline catches our eye as we flip through the paper and we wind up learning something new and unexpected.

But the current structure of online newspapers makes that unlikely. We only click through to read those 4 or 5 top headlines our homepage widget deems important along with the articles some self-selected news reader filter has brought us.

And it’s that promise: that technology can ensure we read and find only those things that interest us, that’s at the crux of the problem. Because what that paradigm ultimately does is allow us to limit ourselves to merely reconfirming things we already know. It doesn’t expose us to anything new and more importantly, it doesn’t allow us the serendipity of discovering something we didn’t know we were looking for.

As technology becomes more ubiquitous, this dilemma does too. Amazon recommends books and movies based on what we’ve read or watched. The iTunes Genius feature shows us songs just like the ones we already own. Websites show us headlines from media outlets based on our current interests.

Even something as seemingly innocuous as Facebook Connect only serves to reinforce this dilemma. Countless studies have shown that people tend to hold similar views to their friends and so a stream of recommendations from friends is bound to only give us more of the same.

The solution to search vs. serendipity isn’t an obvious one. Throwing in a “now for something completely different” recommendation is more likely to annoy than to entice: a random outlier is not serendipity. Technology is not yet at a point where it can predict those unexpected items that will appeal to us. And the very act of suggestion takes away the joy of discovery.

Yet at the same time, we want and need the benefits of search. We want to find thing quickly and easily and it would be foolish to pretend that we don't have explicit preferences as to the types of music, books, films, news or even food we prefer or that learning more about these subjects was somehow intellectually lazy.

The solution appears to be in the ability of user experience and design professionals to produce an interface that more closely resembles the literal experience of browsing while allowing us to find what we want when we want it. A "serendipity enabler," if you will. It’s something that community is already hard at work on, and I’ve seen some interesting starts, such as this prototype for The New York Times.

Until then, however, serendipity will have to be the result of a proactive decision.

UPDATE (3/19) - Nicholas Kristof has a great column in the Times today that lays out much of the research behind the "search vs serendipity" claim.

Mar 15, 2009

Twitter Killer?



So yesterday at a crowded SXSW panel hosted by Facebook's Dave Morin, Loic Le Meur, founder of Seesmic announced what could well prove to be a Twitter killer: A free-standing Twhirl-like app for Facebook updates. (Sound familiar?)

Now at first glance, the app has much less functionality than Twhirl: it's just a reader with no mechanism for replying to anyone within the app. (Clicking anywhere on a post opens a browser window that takes you to Facebook.) But since it's being called a "preview version" perhaps this functionality is forthcoming.

It will be interesting to see how and if Seesmic is adopted. As I've noted previously, Facebook is about talking to friends while Twitter is about talking to strangers. For the 50 million plus relative tech un-savvy people who have joined Facebook over the past few months, the former sounds like a much more compelling proposition. It will, however, mean a behavior change, as frequent status updates are not part of their current lexicon. If they can get past the initial hang-up that this sort of behavior is narcissistic, then Seesmic may have a real Twitter-killer on its hands.

Time will tell.

UPDATE (3/17/09) Tweetdeck introduced a pre-beta version that shows Facebook updates alongside tweets and allows you to send selected tweets to Facebook as well, a feature I've been wanting just about forever. It will be interesting to see if the two can live in harmony like that: many of my friends have all their tweets sent to Facebook, so it can feel a bit like stereo. If people start getting more selective about what goes to Facebook, then that will change too.

Mar 13, 2009

Announcing The Hive Awards. For The Unsung Heroes Of The Internet


So for the past couple of months, I’ve been busy pulling together a project that I’m unveiling today, just in time for SXSW. It’s called The Hive Awards and it’s designed to reward all the unsung heroes of the internet: the coders, the programmers, the user experience gurus, the content developers, the strategists, the planners, the designers, the writers and the like: the people who innovate and create but rarely get the credit.

The idea is to reward people for innovation within their industry silos, so that someone who worked on a really interesting b-to-b insurance site is not competing with mtv.com

We will have professional judges who are experts in their fields and their goal will be to help set standards and to give those entering the business something to aspire to.

Our community judges will be you: people who work building the web every day. Who know the difference between good and crap and want to see it reflected in who wins.

For more info and to get on the email list, check us out at hiveawards.com Or follow us on Twitter - @hiveawards

Details on how to enter, fees, and all that will be forthcoming, as will an official logo and color scheme (what's there is just placeholder) but figure roughly that the Call for Entries will be sometime in July or August, with judging beginning in November. The show in being run through the International Awards Group and since they have many years experience running about a half dozen awards shows, their expertise has been of great help to me in getting this off the ground while still going full bore with my consulting business.

If you’d like to volunteer, offer suggestions, be a judge, or all of the above, you can email me at wolk at hiveawards.com

Oh, and be sure to check out our Advisory Board-- we've got some pretty big names there, with more to come.

Mar 9, 2009

Work Less, Be Happier?


One of the more positive developments of The Great Recession is that people will likely start to work less hours. One of the great anomalies of the post-war era is that for the first time in history, the wealthy classes worked longer hours than the working classes. And both were putting in some serious hours, particularly here in the U.S.

But all around me, I see people questioning just what it buys them. A realization that if you’re making enough to pay your mortgage, take vacations, not stress too much about supermarket prices and still have some money left over for savings, any incremental increase in income isn’t going to come with a commensurate increase in overall happiness.

I see a gradual turn towards accepting that things like spending time with family, joining the Friends of the Library, the Elks Club, or even just reading for pleasure (online or off) offer far more psychic benefits than any of the pointless luxury items and services that extra income can buy. (And there's nothing like a looming bout of unemployment to hammer that home.) Along with the dawning realization that it’s a long way from senior partner to Mr. Howell and that winding up with an SUV the size of a yacht is a whole lot different than winding up with an actual yacht itself.

Two losers in this equation are purveyors of mass-market luxury goods themselves (not quite the oxymoron it sounds like) as their products suffer from loss of cachet, and purveyors of time-saving labor for the upper middle classes: everything from lawn services to cleaning crews to take-out restaurants.

The length of the Great Recession promises to be the deciding factor in whether these changes in our national psyche really stick. A recovery within the next two years makes them a temporary aberration, while a slower turnaround could result in a more permanent shift in behavior.

Mar 6, 2009

Waiting on Facebook

So Facebook announced a whole bunch of changes which my friend Ian Schafer neatly sums up on his blog. Foremost among them is the ability of brands to have actual pages that you can friend them on (and vice versa).

Which would, of course, seem to violate the cardinal principle of "Your Brand Is Not My Friend."

My initial thinking is that most of the Prom King Brands will have success with this. (A "Prom King Brand" if you recall, is any brand to whom a large number of people impute a certain degree of coolness; that coolness factor is all the "candy" they need to listen to the brand in the social media space. Prom King Brands include the usual suspects: Apple, Nike, Starbucks, plus sports teams and entertainment properties (rock bands, movies, TV shows, resorts.) The litmus test of a Prom King Brand is whether someone would unironically wear the logo on a cap or t-shirt. If yes, then you've got a Prom King Brand.)

I mean heck, I'm already friends with the NBA. But your average brand is likely going to struggle with this. But I'll wait till the redesign actually launches to give my long-winded take on how to play this.

Mar 4, 2009

TV Is Dead! Long Live TV!


When we say “TV is dead” we don’t mean no one’s watching it. People are watching more TV. But TV itself isn’t just dying, it’s dead, And has been for quite a while.

How can that be?

Because when we media and marketing types talk about “TV” we’re talking about a closed system of three (four if you count PBS) networks that broadcast live video content and that system began its death spiral with the expansion of cable networks in the early 1990s. And while many people are obviously still tuning in to watch NBC at 8 PM, the days when you could count on the vast majority of American households to be parked in front of one of those three networks on a nightly basis are long gone.

I’ve often written about how social media is a behavior, rather than a series of websites. And so is TV. But here, the behavior is watching long-form video content. And that’s increasing, not decreasing.

Why? Because we have more places to watch it. We can watch “TV” (or long form video content) on our DVRs. On Hulu and TV.com. On various network and series websites. On iTunes. Even on DVD.

People still like watching long form video content. When done well, it’s both entertaining and relaxing. And while the occasional misguided soul still talks about how we’re going to be interacting with our video programming, clicking to buy clothing from the characters on Law & Order rather than actually following the plot, or ignoring long-form video content altogether, that’s just not happening. Like Peter Sellers’ Chauncy Gardener in Being There, most of us just like to watch. And the fact that we’ve got more places to watch just means we’re watching more.

Now how to sell advertising in this new environment and how much to charge for it is a riddle that still needs to be figured out.

But the behavior itself? That’s here to stay. (As is the name: we seem comfortable enough referring to all of this long-form video content as "TV" even if we're watching it on our iPhones.)

Mar 2, 2009

The Times Just Doesn't Get It


One suggestion for how the newspaper industry can save itself has been for it to go hyperlocal, focusing on individual communities with the sort of local news usually provided by weekly Pennysaver type publications.

Patch Media
, a heavily VC (and Google) funded company, has jumped squarely into this space and, as of today, so has the New York Times. Both efforts are happening right in my hometown. The only problem is, The Times is not doing a very good job of it.

The Times site (like Patch) is aimed at the towns of Millburn, Maplewood and South Orange in New Jersey, commuter suburbs about 30 minutes outside Manhattan. But that’s where the similarity ends and the Times’ problems begin.

Maplewood and South Orange are known as the Park Slope of New Jersey for their liberal, artsy residents, pretty older houses and large gay population. The two towns share a school system which draws decidedly mixed reviews. One side denigrates them as gang-riddled hotbeds of chaos, while the other praises them as a Xanadu of tolerance, arts education and diversity. The result however, is that housing prices are fairly low for the area (hence the influx of artistic types.)

Millburn/Short Hills, on the other hand, is one of the wealthiest communities in the US, with a prized school system that winds up on most all the “Top 100 Public Schools” lists the various national newsmagazines compile, a factor reflected in the higher-than-average housing prices. It also has a large (if not majority) Jewish population (Millburn was the setting for Philip Roth’s Goodbye, Columbus.) And while the Short Hills section takes up the majority of the township and is far better known due to the eponymous upscale mall, the township and its schools are confusingly known as “Millburn.”

So let’s take a look at what the Times did wrong, because the lesson is easily translated to any brand, newspaper or not. And, fortunately for them, is easily fixed.

The Problem

It starts with the home page url. Patch has wisely used three distinct urls, one for each town, accessed via the patch.com home page. This way each town’s residents feel like they are getting something designed uniquely for them. The content plays out the same way: if you are on the Millburn section of Patch, the listings, events, simchas and the like are all only for Millburn. Patch gets the whole hyperlocal thing. In spades.

But the Times, for some reason, has only one url: maplewood.blogs.nytimes.com. So immediately they are marginalizing Millburn residents, many of whom are likely savvy enough to come to the conclusion that “oh, they just stuck us in there to bring up the median income so they can sell more ads.”

If that wasn’t bad enough, the welcome post from Tina Kelley, the editor in charge of the site, is a paean to being a hip artsy liberal Maplewoodite and Kelley does not miss a single hot button. It’s about as unwelcoming to Millburn residents as you can get and all but shouts “you're only here because the sales force made us include you.”

Now the Times’ news content itself is quite well done, but the mix of the various towns’ news seems forced and unnatural: the internal battles of the Maplewood and South Orange town councils are of no more interest to Millburn residents than the success of the Millburn High School lacrosse team is to the South Orange/Maplewood crew. (NB: Despite their proximity, the towns have very little to do with each other: with the exception of soccer, the high school teams play in different divisions, they’re served by two different YMCAs for youth sports, and the South Mountain Reservation, a 2,000 acre park, separates the bulk of Millburn from Maplewood and South Orange.)

Patch, on the other hand, provides separate and distinct news content for all three towns, which again emphasizes the hyperlocal nature of the site and reinforces the impression that nothing and no one is an afterthought. Even the grouping on Patch seems natural enough: this is just round one for the site and more towns will be added to the list in time. No forced lumping together of disparate elements.

The Fix

Fortunately for the Times, their issues are easily fixed: adding two additional unique urls is certainly simple enough, as is parsing the news content to ensure that Millburn residents only read Millburn specific news, etc. And a note from Kelley apologizing for the exclusionary tone of her initial post wouldn’t hurt (or, conversely, a new welcome post from someone else whose job it is to specifically cover Millburn would make even more sense.)

But Kelley must act quickly to save the site: first impressions are everything and people will be judging the site by their initial take on it. This is even more critical because the Times is playing catch-up here and as Patch is already doing the hyperlocal thing right, the Times may not get a second chance for their effort.

I’ll keep you posted on how things play out, but change “resident” to “customer” or “type of customer” and it’s easy to see how this plays out with brands, when we ignore or marginalize a portion of our customer base. The web makes it very easy to pay attention to everyone, or at least give the impression of doing so. And it's always surprising how many companies forget this.

Even the New York Times.

Boise Round-Up


As many of you know, I was out in Boise, Idaho last week, speaking at a Boise Ad Federation luncheon and then judging the local award shows.

I had a fantastic time and was very impressed both with the city and with the people I met there. Boise is a beautiful city physically and seems quite hip and forward-thinking for a city its size. The people who live there seem really happy to be there—there wasn’t any of the “oh I can’t wait to get out of here, if only I could live in NY/SF/LA” type moaning you often hear from creative types in smaller markets. And I can see why—in addition to the close-by Rocky Mountain scenery, Boise has a fairly thriving tech community and a burgeoning ad/digital one.

I got to meet a bunch of people I’d only known online, which is always a plus. Tac Anderson, HP’s social media guy and I had (oddly enough) met at a conference here in New Jersey a month ago, and it was great to be able to spend some real time with him. Tac and I had a long breakfast over at Big City Coffee, one of those locally-owned, free wi-fi providing coffee bars my own big city (NYC) is so painfully lacking.

And then of course there was Adscammer George Parker, author of The Ubiquitous Persuaders, the must-read ad book of the year. (As in I must read it, now that he gave me a copy, but just scanning it last night tells me it’s a very good read.)

Mike Romans, an old friend from A&L days had given me a tour of the Rockies after the lunch and we met George, his son Chris Parker and their friend Jack Fund at an outdoor table at the local pub. Which would have been a far more advisable notion had it not been about 40 degrees out. But even the cold couldn’t stop George, ever the gracious host, who is one of the funniest live storytellers I’ve ever met and is far happier (and less vulgar) than his blog would have you believe. Just don’t tell him I told you that ;) We hit it off so well, we had a second, indoor meet-up my last night in town, which you can see photographic evidence of.

Tac , George and Mike were all in attendance at the “Your Brand Is Not My Friend” presentation I gave to the Boise Ad Federation. (Picture courtesy of Tac Anderson) It was an interesting crowd- primarily traditional agency people, and so there were a lot of questions from the audience who were mostly interested in learning how to use and apply social media to what they were doing.

Judging the Rockies (the local Boise award show) was a trip too. While the work spanned a wide range (which it does at every award show I’ve judged) there was some really nice work for clients who didn’t have a whole lot of money, which impresses me far more than really nice work for clients who can spend a small fortune. Judging websites is always the toughest part of these shows for me: the whole form vs. function thing is a tough one, especially for sites whose primary function is to be a digital storefront. (There’s enough fodder in that one for its own post though.)

I was fortunate enough to be joined by three like-minded judges: Rocky Botts and Tom Scherer of Borders Perrin fame and Steve Laing from Tribal DDB. Spend two solid days locked in a room with three other creatives and you’ll understand the bliss of finding like-minded souls with similar senses of humor. (A special thank you to Robbin Gibson for running everything so smoothly and shepherding us everywhere. With Dylan Amundsen in for the assist.) Further thank yous to everyone from the Boise Ad Federation for hosting us and entertaining us: Ed Moore, president of the BAF, Jason Hamilton, and Greg Giersch, who coordinated all my travel arrangements and the entire speaking gig. (And apologies to all the other people I've forgotten to mention... such as Tim Pace, Tom Donahoe and David Jenson who also helped with the entertainment.

Final thank you is to Brian Harrison, who made this whole thing happen. Brian and I have been Twitter buddies for the past six months or so and finally meeting up with him in person was a huge plus. He’s as nice a guy in the flesh as he is on Twhirl and none of this would have happened without him.

Could not have asked for a better week. Thanks again.