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January 2010

Listening and Hearing

White-men-cant-jump-800-75 My Rabbi used to quote White Men Can't Jump.  Yup, religious figure, beard and all, teaching Torah, Talmud and ethics on the collegiate and post-graduate level, quoting Wesley Snipes as Sidney Deane.  Gotta love it.  But the lesson was a good one, and one we can apply to marketing especially.

"Look man, you can listen to Jimi but you can't hear him. There's a difference man. Just because you're listening to him doesn't mean you're hearing him."

My Rabbi would use this quote to illustrate the difference between listening to a lecture, and internalizing it.  But in a marketing context this lesson is true as well.

There's a fine yet drastic line between listening and hearing.  You can listen all you want.  You can pay vendors and agencies to gather the number and even find the insights.  But if you aren't setup to hear, you are only beginning to scratch the surface.

Listening tells you what they said.

Hearing is the internalization of everything you've heard.

It's far easier to pay someone to listen than it is to make what you've heard real.  Hearing requires an organizational mind-shift from telling to hearing.  Hearing requires both (a) the setup or utilization of an infrastructure to facilitate sharing of listening, and (b) the collaborative acceptance and strategic response to what you've heard.

Technology can give your brand ears.  But until you're ready to make it real, you are only listening. 

Technology listens.  People hear.

11 things the iPad isn't

  1. IPadA netbook replacement.  It's different, but not comparable.
  2. A friend to Barnes and Nobles.
  3. Flash capable.
  4. A phone.
  5. Small enough for a windshield.  Good bye navigation.
  6. The ultimate Skype device (no video).  Though I wonder about 3G phone calls over Skype.  Irony.
  7. An uber-battery friendly eReader.
  8. Everything the financial markets thought it could be.
  9. Verizon ready. 
  10. Mouse friendly.  Who wants to type on a keyboard and touch for a mouse?
  11. Something too many of us need.

But I'd still really geek out if I could get my hands on one.

Kudos to Alan Wolk @awolk for inspiring a few of these.

the danger of the swirl: when social escapes the bounds of social

2706040341_99cd7e04b8_b Something funny happens when social finally clicks.  Suddenly senior leadership wants in on seamingly random initiatives, and gobs of teams and divisions want to go live nowThought leaders come out of the woodwork, and scores of self appointed gurus claim they have the solution.  Words like listening, Facebook, Twitter and blog start popping up in random and often misplaced context, and everyone needs these magic beans in their near-term executions.  And while the brand erupts from within, all of the brand's agency's ears perk up and suddenly everyone has solutions and big ideas, while consultancies and niche agencies are shouting from the rooftops that "the big boys don't get it."

Oh, and the one or two dedicated "social" employees are in a panic.

Yet somewhere in this whirlwind of activity, someone with a cooler head needs to direct this excitement to drive real business.  While enthusiasm should be recognized and rewarded, someone needs to set expectations, educate, allocate resources, establish corporate policies, best practices, standards, legal clearance, message and design consistency and even customer facing brand clarity. 

The reality is that without a central governing and leading body, you will likely end up with community pages that live and die with campaigns (wasting the long term RM community potential), multiple overlapping and often confusing and nascent social pages (Facebook, blog, Twitter), wasted insights through unstructured and poorly shared social listening and insights, inflated expectations and poor performance tracking, a morale nightmare after employees are poorly managed or slapped around for taking the initiative, and multiple overlapping and confusing messages across social and traditional communications channels.

Escaping the Swirl - Taking a Step Back

The #1 goal of marketing is to solve a customer need through salable equity.  It's far from sexy, but there is a harsh reality that most brands have ignored for a while: there are holes in their solutions.  Most often this is either their customer service or a product design flaw.  Before you attempt to build new social equity for an established brand, you need to address what people need most, solutions for their challenges.  This is your preliminary reactive strategy.  (note that I'm recommending you start by being reactive rather than proactive)

Before going proactively live in social, you need to set the stage.  What is your current social footprint?  How are you being mentioned?  How does this compare to the competition?  What social accounts and pages are already active?  Are they all officially sanctioned?  How will you deal with rogue pages? 

Next you need to align your brand to social.  Find your voice.  Establish your personality.  Identify the conversational goals of your brand - which should be derivative of and map directly to you brand objectives. 

Now, after some education to all engaged parties you are ready to think about activating.  But remember, your goal is to drive social business. Yes, excitement and promotions and shiny objects are part of this, but at the end of the day your goal is to build value for the brand. 

Conclusion: The reality is that social is exciting.  But excitement doesn't make real business happen.  It's time to get organized.

please think before you bash my religion

I'm honestly ashamed of the conversations I have had to have, and unfortunately seen and overheard today.  Conversations with friends, conversations with people I thought were my friends.  Conversations with and among strangers.  Comments in social media.  Coverage in the NY Times.  Coverage on television and radio.  And the list goes on.

Here's the story:

Orthodox Judaism is a term used to refer to a group of Jews who strive to live their life in keeping with the laws of the Torah (very similar to the Old Testiment, but with lots of oral tradition and interpretation).  Religion to us, is more than a culture, it's a guide, both moral and practical, in which practice is often law.  One of these laws is that all men over the age of thirteen are to put on tefillin every morning, Sunday to Friday while they pray.  Typically this is done either at home or in a synagogue, but if you're on the road, you do it on the road.  This is a time sensitive commandment, one that must be fulfilled in the earlier part of the morning.  This is not an ostentatious or elaborate gesture (as many of today's conversations have claimed), it's an everyday thing.

Yes, taking off my jacket and rolling up my sleeve in an airport waiting area while I wait to board a 6:20 AM flight, and putting leather straps and boxes onto my left arm and head is not the most comfortable experience, but it's a meaningful one and something I am supposed to do every single day.  There are times when flights take off before sunrise and land well into the day, in which case I have been forced to pray on the plane.  I generally try to ask the people sitting next to me if they mind, and offer an explanation as to the odd-looking ritual I am about to perform.  In the one case where I thought the woman was going to flip her lid at the fact that she was sitting next to a Jew (she asked if I was one of the Jews), I spoke to the flight attendants and used the galley.  I fly just about every week and I have never had an issue.

Here's what happened today:

A seventeen year old boy put on his tefillin and prayed on an airplane.  When asked what he was doing, he politely explained.  The flight attendants were unfamiliar with this practice and notified the pilot, who made a judgment call (better be safe than sorry) and made an emergency landing at the closest destination.  This caused quite a stir, delays, etc.  Simple misunderstanding gone somewhat haywire.

Here's where it gets wrong:

I'm a noticeably Orthodox Jew.  You only need to look at my headgear to get that one.  But for some reason friends, friends of friends, and even a random person on the subway felt it appropriate to not only bring this story to my attention, but to ask why "you guys" need to be so ostentatious.  Why do you need to throw every aspect of our religion in everyone's faces?  These conversations didn't only take place in my small circle. Dozens of commenters on the NY Times, and even the some news media themselves expressed this opinion. 

This teen did nothing wrong.  He has every right according to US law, the TSA and even the airline in question to practice his faith... yes on the plane!  Other passengers may have been worried, but they could have asked and received a rational explanation.  I recognize that passengers and flight personnel are understandably nervous in today's security climate (I do work with an airline professionally and I don't live in a cave).  But the response to this episode is unacceptable.

This kid wasn't being ostentatious!  He wasn't showing off or shoving it in their face!  And honestly, when someone asks me why "you guys" always throw everything in "our faces" you're revealing a lot more about how accepting, open minded and pluralistic you really are. 

Shouldn't we be embarrassed when we misjudge someone?  Shouldn't we feel small when we miss-label someone based on preconceived notions or fear?  Whether it's religion, race, sexual orientation or anything else that makes us different, shouldn't we feel ashamed of the profiles we wrongly attribute to one another?  And what is it about pluralism that doesn't accept that some of our faiths are practiced differently than others?  I may wear a skullcap, someone else may wear a cross, but neither of us are offended by the other. 

So why is it suddenly socially acceptable for people to blurt out their opinions on how others practice their faith?

We're a diverse country.  We're a wonderful blend of cultures and faith.  Faith for some will be different than for others.  New York City is one of the most diverse cities in the world.  I love that I learn something new about a different culture nearly every day.  But if we can't learn to ask someone to explain their differences before leveling accusations, diversity and acceptance are nothing but lip service.

Seesmic Look: finally a "different" twitter client

Look Earlier today I had the unique opportunity to sit down with Loic and preview Seesmic's brand spanking new Look.

There's something funny about most of the Twitter clients.  They looks remarkably similar.  They have remarkably similar functionality.  They even have similar sized windows.

Look simply looks and feels different.  It's refreshing.  Not sure that I will use it everyday, but it just refreshing the first time you use it.  I recommend giving it a spin.

5 ways that Look is different

  1. It's feels bigger and less cluttered, which makes the experience feel lighter and more leisurely.  This design decision will also make touch interactivity far easier.
  2. It comes with an uber list of suggested users by category, and prominently features trends.  These are great features for newbies looking for conversationalists and topics, as well as anyone looking for fresh voices (or just bored with those they follow).
  3. It puts the social functionality on the side of the page rather than on top of each tweet.  I particularly enjoyed this design decision, as most of twitter interactivity is reading instead of writing.  Not yet sure that I'll be as likely to engage in @replys, but we'll see.
  4. It recognizes that photo and video sharing are emerging as a major twitter usage by auto-previewing all media in an integrated window.  I'd like to see the same auto-preview with all links.
  5. It gives brands an area to show their stuff.  This is a big deal, as Seesmic is the first client (to my knowledge) to create a brand/advertiser offering.  I'm not quite sure what the big win for the brands will be here (other than buzz or a platform for publishers), but kudos to Seesmic and the brands engaged for trying something new.
Look is not the ultimate Twitter client.  But it's fresh, it's new and it's different.  Sure, there are areas where it's not yet perfect, but it's a damn fine product out of the gate. 

another modest proposal: the new network dynamic

49568992_dc9619136f_o The pundits and the talking heads have been clamoring for some time that the networks are dying.  I agree that they are in decline, but they are far from down for the count.  However, if they want to maintain or grow their fairly prominent market positioning, they need to rethink much of their current operating and revenue models to address the new market reality. 

Below, please find eight bold ideas that I believe could set networks well on their way towards not only differentiating themselves to viewers and talent alike, but could set the stage for the future of the entire industry.

  1. Put all your new pilots online.  Give fans the ability to talk to the creators, the talent and gather with other fans.  This doesn't mean that the internet will choose your new programming decisions, but it will build hype while giving your audiences a voice in the process.  And if the program only really appeals to a rapid niche audience, put it on many of MANY niche cable networks.
  2. Sell one two minute commercial pod per hour.  If agencies can learn to scale down their commercials to 10 or 15 seconds for the web, they can learn to tell a deeper, more engaging story in 2 minutes.  As a viewer, I think I would appreciate some real story telling instead of soundbites and over-stimulation.  As an ad guy, I think it could really shake up the market, the negotiating table and the market expectations from advertisers overall.
  3. Layer the web on top of all of your programming.  Tune in online or via mobile while you watch for a richer, enhanced viewing experience.  I'm not just talking about hints, I'm talking about a live directors commentary on a drama or an alternative comedic, simpler or more expert opinion on live sports.  This will reward live-broadcast tune-in, while offering instantly available clickable ads.  Also, this will enable...
  4. Live social co-viewing As viewers, we're already doing it on Twitter, on Facebook, on AIM, etc.  Sure, live streams would be appreciated (and the technology exists to dynamically serve local ads), but at the very least, give us a hashtag, a chatroom, forum etc.  Celebrity participation in the chat would be an added bonus, and yes, it would help build your network's...
  5. Digital Personalities.  Every network has their core personalities.  These may be talk-show hosts, anchors, actors, writers or directors.  Not only will avid fans appreciate the participation of their favorite personalities, but these digital channels will create sell-able opportunities for advertisers.  This is more than a blog, it's a live interactive Ustream session every week, a personally maintained twitter presence, etc.  Entertainment personalities need to become personalities beyond the screen, they need to meet our real personality expectations in 2010.
  6. Redefine the network distribution model.  As a network, you make your money by creating programming that attracts viewers that in turn attract advertisers.  Your broadcast spectrum is only as meaningful as your local affiliates.  And your affiliates are with you for your content. Focus on your strengths (content), and diversify your distribution (with your affiliates as appropriate).  This is about more than Hulu or iTunes.  It's about live-streams (via local affiliate sites, setup by the network, with dynamic insertions of local ads), it's about a 4 hour broadcast delay to digital downloads instead of the vague 12-ish hour delay on iTunes.  It's about multi-platform, multi-channel, streaming and downloadable, ad-supported, fee based, pay-wall and hybrid models.  Make your content flexible enough, and there will be no need for piracy.
  7. Redefine the network talent model. Networks bring three core pieces of equity to their talent.  (A) A paycheck for their services, (B) resources and investment in their talent's programming and (C) attention, celebrity and fame (a fan base).  Seth MacFarlane may be incredibly talented, but he wouldn't have the fan base he has today without the attention and resources networks deliver.  Sure, his fans brought him back to Fox, but he wouldn't have had the fans without Fox funded and initially distributed content in the first place. 
  8. Rethink talent negotiations.  Really talented people can go rogue and build their own revenue streams independent of your network once you have invested in building their following.  Howard Stern could leave Sirius, keep a good portion of his subscribers by delivering his content via the web, and still make a killing.  He would then be his own network, his own distribution.  He could create his own programming beyond his show, and sell it to whomever he wanted.  This is the new celebrity reality.  It's time to adapt your talent's contractual model accordingly.

a modest proposal - why Conan should go digital NOW

3598295189_16906408f8_o I love Joe Marchese.  OK, let me revise, I love the way that Joe thinks.  In a recent MediaPost article, Joe carefully and thoughtfully articulated why Conan can't go digital.  To sum it up, there is no revenue model built for online video that delivers the scale and murky, possibly inflated numbers of broadcast television.

But I think this is the perfect time for Conan to take to the web in a serious way.  Conan can have his cake and eat it too, by building and ultimately selling a strong digital brand in addition to his broadcast presence. 

Conan now has the largest spotlight and the most active audience of his career. Conan has Team CoCo yelling from the rooftops and a stronger than ever buzz-factor.  If he were to embrace this audience, fuel their passion and build seriously in digital, he can craft a digital presence that brands will buy into.  This is bigger than a Twitter following, it's an online persona and a movement. 

Key Deliverables for Conan's Digital Transformation

  • Get your writers writing for digital and social.  Hire more if need be.  You've got your $40,000,000, put it to use.
  • Host a weekly 15-25 minute unedited, unscripted digital live-stream during the workday.  Be as incorrect as you want to be, just make it real.
    • Make this show available as an inexpensive, subscription download via iTunes.
  • Get into social media for real.  Be conversational, be light-hearted, be relate-able, provocative.
  • Embrace your community ala Stephen Colbert.  Give them a homepage to chat, a forum to vent, a blog to worship, and then send them out to edit the NBC Wikipedia page or vote to rename a bridge in Germany.  
  • Use both your digital presence and your on-air program (assuming you get one on Fox) to cross-promote the hell out of Conan the brand. 
  • Partner with brands in digital in a different way.  Don't just sell a tweet or a banner.  Think about doing something radically new.  Interview the product lead.  Do a joint interview with your web audience.  Bring the brand into your program in a way that fits the program.
  • Sell, sell, sell.

Hey Conan, if you need any help just shoot me an email.

viewers demand real-time social co-viewing, why can't the networks deliver?

For the past two years, nearly every major broadcast event has appeared as pirated streams on Ustream.  In fairness to Usteam, they have done a pretty good job taking down many of these streams.

However, when thousands of people are tuning in online to a poor-quality stream, and thousands more are online discussing these events in real-time on Twitter and Facebook, we are left wondering, when will the broadcast networks finally embrace these platforms the way their viewers do, in real-time?

Sure, the big networks make their bread and butter on broadcast ads.  But isn't it time we learned how to target and dynamically serve ads by broadcast region?  This would effectivley provide a scaled, local, plug and play option for affiliates while allowing for faster national scale.  Would this really detract from live tv viewing numbers?  I doubt it.  Would it be expensive deploy?  Sure, but it's an investment, an a good one at that. 

Integrated social chat is a cornerstone of the future of real-time interactive viewing.  If the networks want to eventually deploy interactive video, and if they want us to click on those interactive ads, they need to start by getting us leaning forward with our hand on the mouse instead of slumped back, passivley glazing over while the tv shouts at us.  Look at the early adopter viewing habits.  Our hands are already on the mouse, we're already chatting up a firestorm.  Now it's up to the networks to get us engaging with and through their properties.  They have to use their strongest asset - the content.  Let us engage with and through your content around our social lives.  Engage us, engage the audience properly, and I promise, we will end up engaging with and through you.

You can't fight change.  It just amazes me how long it's taking any of the major networks to embrace this particular change.