Designing the Unseen Details

July 25th, 2014 by ddeal

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Superior design means getting little details right — even the parts that no one can see. In his landmark biography of Steve Jobs, Walter Isaacson tells the story of Jobs’s obsession to detail in the design of the breakthrough Apple II personal computer, down to the engineering of the power supply inside the computer. Jobs wanted the Apple II to provide power without needing to use a fan inside the unit because he believed fans were distracting. So he hired an engineer named Rod Holt, who created a new power system that was more efficient and superior to a fan-based supply. Isaacson writes:

Jobs’s father had once taught him that a drive for perfection meant caring about the craftsmanship even of the parts unseen. Jobs applied that to the layout of the circuit board inside the Apple II. He rejected the initial design because the lines were not straight enough.

One of my favorite examples of designing the unseen details comes from Outpost Trading Company, which created this Beatles T shirt that depicts A Hard Day’s Night:

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The design really gets interesting on the inside, which no one but the owner can see. Beneath the Outpost Trading Company label is an awesome silhouette of the iconic Abbey Road album cover:

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The discerning eye might note that the Beatles look like they are walking the wrong way, going from the right side to the left, instead of the left-right sequence depicted on the album cover. But when you wear the T-shirt, the Beatles are walking left to right as they did on the cover — unseen to anyone, like a private joke shared with the shirt wearer.

The unseen details make the difference between an ordinary product and a special experience that rewards the buyer with a more personalized feel. Unseen details also create curiosity: I definitely want to learn more about Outpost Trading Company in addition to admiring the T shirt.

These little details are often associated with premium products and services such as gourmet dining. But any kind of brand can embed unseen details in its products and services to achieve surprise and delight, as fast-food chain In-n-Out Burger has done with its “Secret Menu.” The Secret Menu originally consisted of custom-made food orders off the menu, available only if you knew to ask for them. The Secret Menu eventually became not very secret, but the concept still helps In-n-Out Burger position itself as a hip, even cult brand.

What are your favorite examples of unseen design?




How Four Teens Taught Brands a Real-Time Marketing Lesson

July 15th, 2014 by ddeal

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You have probably heard the story by now: a 16-year-old Omaha resident named Tom White is a media sensation thanks to an amateur photo of White grinning with Sir Paul McCartney and Warren Buffett. But Tom White and the three teenagers who helped him create the moment on the streets of Omaha are more than a passing story. They have taught brands a valuable lesson about how to do real-time marketing right.

As reported via an interview with CNN, on July 13, White, with the help of his friends Luke Koesters, Jacob Murray, and Drew Tvrdy, captured what appears to be a fortuitous brush with fame. Murray photographed White grinning and giving a thumbs-up while McCartney and Buffett sat casually on a bench looking like they were just shooting the breeze. After White posted the image on his Instagram account, the photo went viral. Within 48 hours, the image accumulated more than 4,800 likes and hundreds of comments. Paul McCartney tweeted the photo, and news media such as ABC, BuzzFeed, and Mashable covered the encounter.

Far from being a random moment, the viral photo is a result of four kids hustling to create their own news. Here’s what White and his friends did right — and what brands should be doing more consistently with real-time marketing:

  • Listened. On the evening of July 13, White’s friend Jacob Murray noticed an amateur Instagram post mentioning that Paul McCartney had been spotted on the streets of the Dundee neighborhood of Omaha. In fact, McCartney was in town for a concert and was going out for some ice cream with the legendary financial wizard Buffett, an Omaha resident. Murray did what many brands strive to do on a larger scale: performed some good old-fashioned social listening. Credit Murray for being hyperaware of a rapidly unfolding event.
  • Acted quickly. Uncovering an opportunity is one thing; acting on it is another matter. Murray quickly notified his friends of the Macca sighting. Koesters, Murray, Tvrdy, and White hustled over to Dundee with their smart phones and personal belongings to autograph, including a guitar and Abbey Road album cover. In the CNN interview, note how aware they were of the need for speed. White notes that by the time they arrived at Dundee, the Instagram photo that tipped them off was already seven minutes old — correctly noting that seven minutes is an eternity in the world of real-time marketing.

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New Report: Content Marketing Is “the Show Horse” of Customer Acquisition

July 7th, 2014 by ddeal

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Content marketing is the show horse of customer acquisition and retention — and second only to social media as a digital marketing spending priority among U.S. brands, according to my newly published report for Gigaom.

The report, Workhorses and Dark Horses: Digital Tactics for Customer Acquisition, examines how companies use digital to acquire customers (beyond awareness building). Content marketing emerges as an essential priority along with email marketing, social media, and search engine optimization. Workhorses and Dark Horses counsels brands to apply content systematically across digital touch points to guide prospects them along a path to acquisition and conversion.

64 Percent of Marketers Use Content Marketing Regularly

Workhorses and Dark Horses is based on a new Gigaom survey of 300 U.S. digital marketers. We wanted to understand how brands are using digital marketing tactics across the marketing funnel, spanning awareness, customer acquisition, conversion, and retention. We also asked marketers to tell us about their 2014 spending priorities. Our survey affirms that digital marketing is being used consistently across the entire customer experience. Here’s what we learned about content marketing:

  • 64 percent of marketers use content marketing regularly, making content marketing the fourth most popular tactic behind email, social media, and search engine optimization (SEO). The popularity of both content marketing and SEO together underscores the importance of inbound marketing.

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  • Marketers find content marketing most useful for awareness building and customer retention.

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Email and Referral Marketing: The Workhorse and Dark Horse for Customer Acquisition

July 1st, 2014 by ddeal

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Digital long ago established itself as a channel for brand building and direct marketing. But what are the most popular digital tools for acquiring customers? According to my newly published report for Gigaom Research, the unsexy tactic of email marketing is a digital workhorse, popular for awareness building, and customer acquisition, conversion, and retention. And referral marketing, not used as widely as other tactics, provides an especially strong payoff for its practitioners. My report suggests to marketers that acquiring customers in the digital era is like creating a mosaic: to achieve a beautiful outcome, companies need to apply the right blend of tactics. For instance, brands should consider using social media and referral marketing to complement lists created for email campaigns.

The report, Workhorses and Dark Horses: Digital Tactics for Customer Acquisition, is based on a Gigaom survey of 300 U.S. digital marketers. We wanted to understand how they are using digital marketing tactics across the marketing funnel, spanning awareness, customer acquisition, conversion, and retention. Our survey affirms that digital marketing is being used consistently across the entire customer experience.

Marketers told us that social media, already well known as an awareness-building tool, is also particularly useful for customer retention. Content marketing is especially useful for awareness and retention. And email is consistently used across the entire marketing funnel.

Digital Marketing Spend Set to Increase

Here are the key findings of our survey:

  • Nearly 60 percent of companies plan to increase their digital marketing spend in 2014.
  • Email marketing is the digital workhorse, deemed the most effective (relative to other digital tactics) for building awareness, acquisition, retention, and conversion. In fact, 56 percent of respondents identified email as being the most effective at retention, several points ahead of the second-most-effective tactic.
  • Social spending is set to increase, but we discern some buying on faith with social. More marketers plan to spend more on social media marketing than any other digital tactic. But when we asked marketers to describe their perceptions of social media marketing, more marketers agreed with the statement “It is difficult to prove ROI for social media marketing” than with any other statement.
  • Referral marketing is a digital marketing dark horse. Only 39 percent of marketers use it regularly, but 43 percent of those who do use it acquire more than 35 percent of their new customers with it. These numbers are double the percentage of marketers who report such acquisition rates using email. Brands that invest in referral can gain a competitive advantage over those investing elsewhere.

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7 Ways to Make a Content Junkie Cry

June 20th, 2014 by ddeal

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I am a content junkie. I read, watch, and listen to anything. The New Yorker, Vice, Rolling Stone, my daughter’s Instagrams, or Vine selfies from people I don’t even know: everything is fair game to be consumed at my all-you-can-eat content buffet. I even check my Facebook and LinkedIn feeds before I’m fully conscious of being awake in the morning. So it takes a lot (and I mean a lot) to lose me as an audience. And yet, some content publishers are trying very hard to do just that by polluting the digital world with tired, annoying content ranging from clickbait headlines to quizzes that test our tolerance for cultural trivia. Here are seven types of content that are ready for retirement now:

1. Stories that wallow in epic failure. 

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 2. Clickbait headlines. (Thank you, @SavedYouAClick.)

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3. 99.9 percent of all memes . . .

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. . . especially involving this kid:

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4. Political rants on social media. Hearts and minds remain unmoved. 

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5. Pop culture quizzes.

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 6. Definitely this guy. Everywhere. Every moment.

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 7. Articles that scold me for doing everything wrong.

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And what kind of content should make me vomit but doesn’t? Well, I know I’m destroying all crediblity here, but I’m a sucker for photos of cats doing strange things, and I can’t get enough of those YouTube clips of crazy Russian daredevils dangling off buildings and balancing themselves on tiny steel beams hundreds of feet in the air (although I usually keep all those posts to myself when I see them).  And that’s the rub: my inspiration is your soul-sucking waste of time. The lesson? Content is all about context. Content creates an audience, even momentarily. Content with context — shared at the right time to the right person — creates a loyal audience.

OK: what’s on your list of content that makes you want to curse the day the Internet was born?




Apple Buys Beats: The End of an Era for Apple and Dr. Dre?

May 29th, 2014 by ddeal

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Now that Apple has officially purchased Beats Music and Beats Electronics, we are left to ponder its broader meanings as the man who once rapped about gangbanging and reefer now becomes a high-profile Apple employee. I believe the deal symbolizes the possible end of an era: an end to Apple as an innovative brand, and a farewell to Dr. Dre as a music maker.

The Deal

As reported widely, Apple officially acquired music service Beats Music and Beats Electronics (which makes Beats headphones, speakers and audio software) for a total purchase price of $2.6 billion. As part of the deal, Beats co-founders Jimmy Iovine and Dr. Dre have joined Apple to take on unspecified roles.

The acquisition is widely viewed as Apple playing catch-up to streaming services such as Spotify and Pandora. Apple’s own press release stressed the importance of Beats Music. As a sign of respect for the Beats brand (and lack of belief in its own), Apple will keep the subscription Beats Music intact, alongside Apple’s own iTunes Radio. Beats Music has hardly taken the world by storm as a streaming competitor to Spotify and Pandora since being launched in January 2014. But Apple Insider reports that the service has a strong conversion rate, with the vast majority of tracks being streamed by paying customers. Meantime, iTunes, which relies on a download model, has seen its sales slump as consumers latch on to streaming services. iTunes Radio, Apple’s answer to streaming, has yet to take hold.

Apple Buys into Innovation

When I first heard the rumors of Apple buying Beats weeks ago, I remembered back in 2011 Farhad Manjoo of Fast Company touting Amazon, Apple, Facebook, and Google as the four economic titans fueling the “great tech war,” pitted against each other in a “battle for the future of the digital economy.” Apple emerged as the clear favorite of consumer innovation, reeling off one game-changing product after another. Facebook? Well, Mark Zuckerberg was riding the momentum of a business built off one compelling idea, that as naturally social creatures, human beings would flock to a digital place where we could emulate our offline social behaviors online. But on top of the core innovation of launching Facebook, Zuckerberg’s massive wealth, and Facebook’s phenomenal growth, was built off pedestrian advertising programs and ongoing tweaks to the core product as opposed to anything newsworthy (unless by “newsworthy” we want to count noticeable gaffes such as Beacon).

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Jimmy Page Shares Three Lessons for Content Marketers

May 22nd, 2014 by ddeal

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Jimmy Page: legendary guitarist, producer, all-around rock god . . . and a marketing teacher. Yes, the guitar magus knows marketing in addition to music. He not only founded Led Zeppelin but also influenced the band’s image, down to crucial details such as the choice of album artwork (most famously for Led Zeppelin’s untitled fourth album) and Led Zeppelin’s visual presentation in concert. Of course Led Zeppelin became one of the most successful rock groups ever. So when Page conducted an exclusive interview with the Berklee College of Music to discuss his career, as a marketer I watched the video interview closely. I listened to his ideas through the lens of content marketing given the nature of much of my own professional work. Even though marketing was not the focus of the conversation, Page is so image-savvy that he shared some useful marketing advice even when he wasn’t trying — especially about the importance of over delivering to your audience, being eclectic, and always learning.

1. Over deliver to your audience

In the interview, Page recounts the time when, early in its career, Led Zeppelin began building a loyal fan following by playing explosive concerts that could stretch for as long as three hours — even though the band had only one album’s worth of material under its belt.

Recalling the first time the band ever played a three-hour show, he says, “In the very early days we had only one album out, and the audience just wouldn’t let us go — they wanted more, and more, and more. In the end, we exhausted anything that any of us knew individually or collectively.”

In due course, Led Zeppelin would become renowned for performing mind-blowing shows, combining the power of the band’s music with a flair for the theatrical (as evidenced with Page’s choice of exotic stage garb). The band’s dedication paid off: by 1973, Led Zeppelin was playing to more than 56,000 people at Tampa Stadium, breaking an attendance record set by the Beatles at Shea Stadium.

Do you over deliver to your audience with your content marketing? Chipotle Mexican Grill certainly does. Content Marketing expert Joe Pulizzi says that Chipotle takes a “24/7″ approach to branded content. For instance, in 2013, Chipotle created a digital video and game, The Scarecrow, to spark a consumer conversation about industrial farming. Chipotle pulled out all the Read more »




Why You Need to Hustle Content: A Lesson from The New York Times Innovation Report

May 19th, 2014 by ddeal

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The recently leaked New York Times Innovation report has become required reading because the document provides a candid snapshot of a legendary brand struggling to embrace the realities of running a business in the digital era. In unsparing language, the internal report indicts The New York Times for failing to master “the art and science of getting our journalism to our readers.” I believe The New York Times Innovation report offers many lessons for content marketers regardless of your industry. Among those lessons: it’s not enough to produce great content. You have to be a content hustler, too.

Content hustling means sharing an idea across multiple distribution channels ranging from a brand’s website to its social media spaces. Content hustling requires companies to empower employees to act as brand ambassadors, relying on their personal networks to share corporate thought leadership. Essentially The New York Times takes itself to task for being a woeful content hustler.

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Don’t Take No for an Answer: Career Advice from Norman Reedus of “The Walking Dead”

May 15th, 2014 by ddeal

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If you want to get the job you really want, you can’t take no for an answer. Just ask Norman Reedus, who plays the popular character of Daryl Dixon in the AMC hit television series, The Walking Dead.

As Reedus shared in a recent Wall Street Journal Live interview, the role of Daryl Dixon didn’t even exist when he tried out for The Walking Dead. In fact, all the roles for the show had been taken. But he was so impressed with the show in development that he asked for the chance to audition, anyway.

“I said, ‘Let me come in and audition for anything,’” he told Paul Vigna of The Wall Street Journal. So he read the lines for a part that had been filled, already — that of angry racist Merle Dixon — hoping perhaps to be cast as an extra. His audition was so impressive that writers Frank Darabont, Charles H. Eglee, and Jack LoGiudice ended up creating a role for Reedus, that of Merle’s younger brother, Daryl. The tough, crossbow-wielding survivalist would go on to become so popular that he became a cultural phenomenon, with his own fan club, Dixon’s Vixens; merchandise; and strong media coverage.

Reedus himself has become a TV star. Because of his impressive portrayal, Daryl has been elevated from supporting role to a lead character on The Walking Dead, and Reedus has won an IGN “Best TV Hero” award. Producer Gale Anne Hurd says, “No one brings a compelling, albeit broken, character like Daryl Dixon to life like Norman Reedus.” He has a strong fan following across social media sites such as Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

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If you’re looking for a job, or are an entrepreneur trying to land a client, you can take away three important lessons from this story:

  • Go for it even when you have no apparent hope of succeeding. Reedus could have focused his energies trying out for a different show when he heard all the roles for The Walking Dead had been taken. But he was so passionate about the show he tried out, anyway. I’ve been in his shoes, and I’ll bet you have, too. Even when you’re told, “We have nothing available here for you,” you might suggest an informational interview, just to introduce yourself. Meeting in person can plant the seeds for a position or an opportunity that your prospective employer or client hadn’t thought about until they had a face to go with your name. Witnessing a compelling skill set in person is a lot different than reading a list on paper.
  • But don’t be unrealistic. By the time he tried out for The Walking Dead, Reedus was a respected but lesser known actor best remembered for his performance in the cult favorite The Boondock Saints. He also had minor experience writing and directing. This might sound obvious, but when trying out for The Walking Dead, he stuck to his bread-and-butter skills of acting instead of trying to get on to the show by directing or writing. It’s one thing to try out for a long shot. It’s quite another to make unrealistic demands of yourself. Get your foot in the door doing something you know really well — and build from there.
  • Be bold. What I especially like about the Wall Street Journal interview is what happened after Reedus landed the role: he did not adopt a meek, “I’m just happy to be here” attitude. He took ownership of the character and fought to shape the role that he felt would work best. For instance, the creators of The Walking Dead originally suggested Daryl would be a racist like his older brother Merle, as well as a pilferer of Merle’s drug stash. But Reedus fought to make Daryl different from his brother — rough around the edges but ashamed of his family’s behavior rather than accepting of it. The elements of shame and a determination to make something better of himself have made Dixon a more rich and sympathetic character. When you get the job you want, being bold is how you make your mark.

Refusing to take no for an answer doesn’t mean you need to act like a pushy jerk. You can be persistent and polite yet assertive, too. A few years ago, a college student reached out to me about the possibility of being an intern for hip-hop mogul Jermaine Dupri, with whom who I was working at the time. Technically, Dupri had no internship program. But the student was eager to learn and to help, and gracious. A few phone calls later, she got the job — because she created it.

Have you ever created a job or landed a business relationship after being told no? Tell me your story.




How Hip-Hop Legend Jermaine Dupri Writes His Own Rules

May 1st, 2014 by ddeal

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In the world of hip-hop mogul Jermaine Dupri, building excitement for new music means creating his own rules for using social media to engage with fans.

Dupri, Mariah Carey’s manager and co-producer, has been a lightning rod for criticism from frustrated Carey fans who have wanted more information about her career moves (especially the status of her new album) than they have received. But instead of appeasing fans with social, Dupri acts like a boxer, sometimes quietly absorbing the blows, and other times trading stiff jabs and upper cuts as he did recently when engaging with impatient fans on Twitter. The way he sees it, frustrated fans are good business because they build anticipation for music.

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“If you’re going to be a music executive in the digital era, you need to try different approaches for running a business with social media,” he reveals in an interview with me. “Conventional wisdom says you give fans everything they want when they want it, like all the artwork and information about a new album long before release day. Fans today are buying the promotion that leads up to the music, not necessarily the music. But giving away too much to fans can actually ruin the game plan for someone like Mariah Carey, who is very protective of her music, her brand, and her mystique.”

Applying social finesse is one of the rules that Dupri lives by as he reinvents the role of the music executive in the digital era. Music industry honchos who first made their marks in the analog era, as Dupri did, have famously struggled to embrace digital (hello, Napster). Not so with Dupri. In the 1990s, he exploded on to the music world by breaking successful acts such as Kris Kross and Da Brat before becoming CEO of So So Def Recordings.

The 1990s were a long time ago, though. Then, artists could make millions by dropping CDs like manna from heaven into the hands of hungry fans. Digital downloading was not a threat. No one had ever heard of social media. But unlike many of his peers, Dupri has made the leap into the digital era by making digital — especially social media — the epicenter of a career in which he plays many roles, including CEO, czar of his own social media community Global 14, a popular DJ, and manager of a certain diva who has sold 200 million records.

Here are Jermaine Dupri’s rules for reinventing himself as a digital executive:

1. Build a Home Base

Dupri creates a flurry of activity on social every day, on sites ranging from Facebook to YouTube. One moment he’s tweeting information about a club appearance with Fabolous. The next he’s posting an Instagram of himself with Pharrell backstage at Coachella or a YouTube video about a moment with Mariah Carey and her fans.

“I create my own social whirlwind,” he says.

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