Is There Room for Brands on Ello? You Bet

September 26th, 2014 by ddeal

Adweek

Meet Ello, the anti-advertising social network and gated community for the cool kids. Ello has already exploded in popularity by offering an ad-free network and by allowing members to use made-up names instead of their real names (unlike Facebook, which requires the use of your real name to have a personal account). Based on my own experience with Ello thus far, the site has already attracted a community of artists and designers, which is fitting because Ello was founded by artists and designers. (As has been reported widely, Ello also gained a surge of invitation requests and phenomenal buzz in recent days when members of the LGBT community joined Ello to protest Facebook’s identity policies). But being ad-free is not the same as being brand-free. Ello is already attracting brands such as Sonos and Adweek and may become a haven for content marketers as Tumblr already is. Moreoever, Ello will need relationships with brands to survive.

Essentially, Ello functions as a more private version of Tumblr. The site’s clean layout and uploading functionality make it especially easy to post visual content such as GIFs. The site is buggy, but it’s also in beta, and its coolness factor covers up a multitude of sins while users stand in line to be invited by Ello members or Ello itself (you can apply for an invite by visiting the site unless a friend invites you). But Ello is making headlines because of its attitude toward advertising, not its user-friendliness. As Ello states in its manifesto,

Your social network is owned by advertisers.

Every post you share, every friend you make, and every link you follow is tracked, recorded, and converted into data. Advertisers buy your data so they can show you more ads. You are the product that’s bought and sold.

We believe there is a better way. We believe in audacity. We believe in beauty, simplicity, and transparency. We believe that the people who make things and the people who use them should be in partnership.

We believe a social network can be a tool for empowerment. Not a tool to deceive, coerce, and manipulate — but a place to connect, create, and celebrate life

You are not a product.

You get the picture: “we’re not Facebook.” But if you join Ello looking to stay away from the gaze of corporate brands, you will be sorely disappointed. In fact, Ello provides another platform for companies (and individuals) to extend audience relationships via content marketing, which is not the same as paid advertising.

Content marketing — or building your brand by providing useful information and entertainment — has been a brand-building mainstay for decades, with John Deere producing a customer magazine, The Furrow, in 1895. According to Mass Relevance, 95 percent of CMOs believe content marketing is important to their business, and content marketing is a strong area of investment for customer acquisition, according to a report I wrote for Gigaom earlier in June 2014.

In other words, smart companies long ago complemented paid advertising by acting as publishers of branded content. And you can be sure smart brands are sizing up Ello right now, if for any other reason than to claim their own Ello identities in order to protect themselves from squatters. Lifestyle brands with strong design sensibilities may find homes on Ello. For instance, Ello is a potential platform for a company like Shinola, which creates and sells gorgeous watches and other products from its popular Detroit headquarters. (Ello co-founder Paul Budnitz has a brand page for his bike shop on Ello, by the way.) If Ello’s popularity with the LGBT community holds up, the site could also be a popular destination for LGBT-friendly brands. I also see Ello becoming something like another Etsty for artists. And forward-thinking celebrities could land here. (Lady Gaga could use Ello to drive traffic to her own Little Monsters community).

A note to parents: Ello will most certainly become a home for the adult entertainment industry based on its porn-friendly attitude (Ello will says it will enable NSFW flagging in order to help users screen NSFW content, as Tumblr does.)

I am careful to use “could” and “possibly” when I speculate about Ello’s future because Ello has a very long way to go in order to become a sustainable community. Joining a network is one thing; staying on one and being engaged is another, as Path demonstrates. Ello plans to support itself by charging users to add specific features to their accounts, but as Steven Tweedie of Business Insider points out, Ello’s ad-free model has already failed with Diaspera and App.net.

Ello enjoys a $435,000 seed investment from FreshTracks Capital. But if Ello is to have a future, I believe the network will need to find a way to create revenue-generating partnerships with brands and relax its “no-ad” stance (for instance, by permitting native advertising). If content marketers act like the publishers of engaging and useful information they are supposed to be, no one on Ello will mind.

Find me on Ello at ello.co/davidjdeal




What NFL CMO Dawn Hudson Can Learn from the NBA’s Comeback

September 24th, 2014 by ddeal

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Photo source: guinnessworldrecords.com

Dawn Hudson has a lot of work to do. As the NFL’s newly appointed CMO, Hudson enters a maelstrom of controversy caused by the league’s failure to deal with repugnant off-the-field behavior of high-profile players like Ray Rice. But the NFL is not the only big-time sports brand that has faced hard times. In the early 1980s, the National Basketball Association was on the brink of failure due to the outlaw reputation of its players. In 1980, the Los Angeles Times famously reported that 75 percent of NBA players were regular cocaine users. The league was plagued by dwindling attendance and low TV ratings. But eventually, the NBA reclaimed the loyalty of sports fans. Hudson would do well to learn from the three reasons why the NBA battled back from the brink:

1. Change Starts with the Players

Fortune smiled on the NBA when Magic Johnson and Larry Bird joined the league at the same time during the 1979-80 season. They were not only great basketball players who turned the Los Angeles Lakers and Boston Celtics into contenders; they were outstanding ambassadors off the court. Bird and Magic were not choirboys (a reality that would hit home many years later with Magic Johnson’s historic announcement that he had contracted HIV). But during a period when they were needed most, they gradually created fans with their earnest (in Bird’s case) and joyous (in Magic’s case) approach to playing basketball and living their lives.

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Photo source: historyrat.wordpress.com

Their dedication to teamwork and single-minded pursuit of excellence were like a throwback to another time, when sports stars earned attention for the quality of their play instead of their rap sheets. But there was also something different about these two: they had personality, and they didn’t embarrass the league with their off-the-court behavior. Johnson was charismatic and boyish. Bird was the cocky but likeable country boy.

And then during the 1984-85 season, Michael Jordan took the best qualities of both Magic and Bird — Magic’s boundless enthusiasm and Bird’s tough competitiveness — and created something that the public had never seen in an NBA player. His ascendance in the mid-1980s (along with the winnowing away of the generation of players who dominated the 1970s) slammed the door shut on the bad old days of the NBA.

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Photo source: Dick Raphael/NBAE/Getty Images

Long before he became known as the leader of the world champion Chicago Bulls, Jordan had already created a brand onto himself that transcended the NBA. He not only played hard but, like Bird and Johnson, off the court he drew attention for all the right reasons. He was the kind of guy people wanted to like, not just root for during a game. What he did for the game has already been well documented, but you cannot overstate his impact: he made even non-sports fans love the NBA.

A lesson for the NFL: The NBA’s turnaround started when a newer generation of players convinced sports fans that it was safe to start believing in the athletes, who are the heart and soul of any sporting organization.

2. You Need to Show Fans a Commitment to Improvement Read more »




Hey, Beyoncé: Let’s Call a Fraud a Fraud

September 18th, 2014 by ddeal

beyonce-1_2966465bPhoto credit: Jeff Daly/REX

Beyoncé has been busted again. Nineteen months after being criticized for lip-syncing during the presidential inauguration, she was caught lip-syncing at a recent concert in Paris (and doing so badly). Look, I understand why Beyonce or any artist lip-syncs in concert. Beyoncé has a $450 million brand to protect. These days, an artist’s every move is watched and recorded, and God help the unfortunate soul whose musical flaws are isolated and mocked for digital eternity. But, let’s also realize this: each time Beyoncé lip syncs, she commits a fraud and damages the authenticity of her precious brand. It is time for artists to start being human. Otherwise, holograms will take their jobs.

The promise of a live event — the reason we’re willing to fork over $300 to see Beyoncé and Jay Z perform together — is that each show is a unique experience. Together, the performer and the audience create a dynamic unique to that concert. The bond forged between the artist and the audience, however illusory and fleeting, feels real at the time. And the live nature of the performance is essential to forming that bond — the inflection in an artist’s voice, the personality she injects into a song through her live interpretation, and the interplay between her vocals, the music, and audience all help convince us to pay a premium price for a show instead of streaming her music on Spotify for a whole lot less money. For instance, during her ArtRave tour, Lady Gaga has turned her anthem “Born This Way” into a more intimate moment of audience interaction by delivering a slower, more soulful version instead of simply duplicating the hit you hear on Born This Way. (Lady Gaga, who has spoken out against lip-syncing, also invites a fan to join her onstage during the song.)

Lip-syncing undercuts the live experience. Instead of singing, the artist becomes a professional dancer or gymnast, carefully orchestrating her every movement with a pre-recorded track — an experience, however impressive, that you can watch for free on YouTube. Moreover, the experience is inauthentic. You really are not hearing Beyoncé sing when she lip-syncs. You are not hearing the Red Hot Chili Peppers play music when their instruments are unplugged during a Super Bowl performance. What you get is a musician aping the songs you can stream for free (and, ironically, doing just what the artist wants to avoid — making a glaring mistake — when the artist accidentally falls out of sync with the backing track, as happened with Beyoncé during the Paris concert).

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Photo source: CNN

In essence, lip-syncers make their personal brands inauthentic. And inauthentic brands eventually alienate their audience. We live at a time when customers can use social media to challenge and confront brands that fail to deliver on what they say they will deliver. As journalist James Surowiecki wrote in The New Yorker recently, “[B]rands have never been more fragile. The reason is simple: consumers are supremely well informed and far more likely to investigate the real value of products than to rely on logos.” Marketing expert Scott Monty, an executive vice president at SHIFT Communications, argues that authenticity is essential for brands to succeed in an era when customers can easily smell out a fake. “Authenticity is the quality of being genuine, and ultimately of being trusted,” he wrote recently.

Like savvy, well-informed customers, fans are exposing the fakes with their smart phones and YouTube videos. Beyoncé is far from the only faker. She joins a hall of shame that includes artists as diverse as Luciano Pavarotti to Shakira. Fans don’t like the fakery. And who can blame them? At a minimum, performers owe concertgoers truth in advertising. Don’t advertise a live show if you use prerecorded tracks. Let your fans know what they are buying.

If you cannot be authentic, be honest.




Apple Pays Dearly for U2’s “Free” Music

September 12th, 2014 by ddeal

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Photo credit: Marcio Jose Sanchez, AP

Let’s get something straight: U2 did not give away its new album, Songs of Innocence. To be sure, if you have iTunes, on September 9 you received a free copy (without asking for it) of Songs of Innocence. But Apple paid U2 an undisclosed amount to distribute copies of U2’s album to as many as 500 million iTunes subscribers — a deal announced on September 9 as part of Apple’s roll-out of the iPhone 6 and Apple Watch. Now, let’s do some math: in 2013, Samsung paid Jay Z $5 million to distribute 1 million copies of Magna Carta Holy Grail. Consider the lucrative sum U2 must be scoring ($30 million according to one estimate). And ponder, if you will, the $100 million marketing campaign the band is getting courtesy of Apple. These old rockers from Ireland have found a way to make a killing off a dying art form.

The distribution deal has created some backlash for both Apple and U2. For instance, music blogger Bob Lefsetz wondered why U2 would choose iTunes as its distribution platform, when more popular (e.g., YouTube) and hip (e.g., Spotify) distribution platforms are available. “They’d have been better off releasing it on YouTube, that’s where the digital generation goes for music,” he wrote. “iTunes is a backwater. It may be the number one sales outlet, but it’s not the number one music platform, not even close.” Plus, the approach of a forced distribution of content on to 500 million iTunes accounts is being viewed by many as obtrusive.

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Photo credit: Peter Neill

On the other hand, what is a rock group supposed to do in order to make money off its music in the digital age? Album sales have reached an all-time low. Getting noticed for your art is harder than ever at a time when music is just background noise for our digital games, advertisements, and movies. Musicians are not making money off streaming services, and YouTube is hardly a sure bet to monetize music. No wonder Kiss frontman Gene Simmons recently declared that “rock is finally dead.”

Yes, dropping content into our iTunes account without our permission is a controversial move. But the approach is fresh and new, and the old ways are not working anymore in the music industry. The relationship with Apple has given U2 two precious assets: money and attention. By participating in the most important and high-profile day in Tim Cook’s history as Apple’s CEO, U2 has turned an album launch into a global event. Tell me: who else can do that? The $100 million marketing campaign will keep the album in the public eye in the run-up to Universal’s official release of Songs of Innocence October 13 — and, more importantly, will serve as advance notice for the inevitable tour.

And you can be sure a tour is coming. Because that’s why albums still matter: as a launching pad for other revenue streams, such as tours and merchandising deals. U2’s last tour raked in $736 million from 2009-2011. U2 just primed the pump for what comes next.

Update, 22 September 2014: since I wrote this post, the backlash against Apple and U2 that I mentioned has intensified, obviously. As Adweek reported, social media sentiment dropped for U2 by 41 percent in the wake of the deal. My take: years from now, the U2/Apple (and similar Jay Z/Samsung album drop from 2013) will be viewed as flawed but necessary experiments in monetizing music, and others will improve upon those approaches.




How an Album Cover Helped Unleash an Outlaw

September 8th, 2014 by ddeal

nelson-willie-611-lDuring the golden age of album-oriented rock, when a Led Zeppelin double album could sell a million copies before its ship date, country music was for rednecks who wore manure-crusted boots to bed — or at least, that’s what the recording industry believed. But in 1975, Willie Nelson released an album that helped make country — and outlaw country at that — a national phenomenon. His masterpiece, Red Headed Stranger, tells a striking story of loss, sorrow, and redemption that resonated with the record-buying public. Not only is the music memorable, but the album cover art told a visual story long before anyone had ever heard of visual storytelling — which is why I have featured Red Headed Stranger in my series of posts on memorable album covers.

After years of making other singers famous with his songwriting skills, Willie Nelson was starting to enjoy success as a solo artist when he recorded Red Headed Stranger. Based on the 1953 song “Red Headed Stranger” (written by Edith Lindeman and Carl Stutz), the album tells the story of a preacher on the run after he kills his unfaithful wife and her lover. The songs, a combination of covers and originals, are violent, beautiful, reflective, and romantic, as they relate different episodes in the preacher’s life as an outlaw. The album applied to country all the devices of album-oriented rock, which was at its apex: a cohesive theme, songs arranged in a thoughtful manner, and album art that complemented the music inside.

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Photo credit: Philip Gould

Designed by Monica White (with art direction by Howard Fritzson), the album cover art not only molded Nelson in the image of an outlaw but also contributed to the rise of the entire country outlaw movement, which catapulted the careers of Nelson, Waylon Jennings, and Kris Kristofferson. For starters, there is the front cover, which consists of a drawn portrait of Nelson. With his piercing eyes, pitiless gaze, long hair, grizzled beard, and cowboy hat, he looks like a Wild West gunfighter who knows how to deal out rough justice. His name and the album title are rendered in an old-time script over a thick red border, as if branded on a fence post.

On the back cover, pencil drawings guide the reader through the album’s songs, akin to a graphic novel. The outlaw’s life is laid bare. One panel depicts a scene from the song “Red Headed Stranger,” in which the preacher shoots his wife and her lover in a bar. The drawing captures the moment when the lover tastes one of the preacher’s bullets. His head jerks back, his hat goes flying, and his hand remains closed on a glass of whiskey even as the drink spills. The preacher’s wife is slumped on the table, her head down. (Apparently, she was the first to go.)

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In another panel drawing, the preacher accosts a would-be horse thief: he leans back and casually plants a bullet in the chest of the thief, a woman with blonde locks and a pink dress. But the back cover also contains a larger story arc, depicting the preacher dancing with a newfound love in one scene and relaxing at a riverbank in another. The episodes on the back of the album also contain song lyrics that go along with each scene — a clever approach that tells a story and advertises the songs.

The front and back cover made a statement: Red Headed Stranger was not a typical contemporary country album but rather a journey to another time and place. And the album itself fulfilled the promise. Featuring little more than Nelson’s plaintive voice, a guitar, a mandolin, drums, and a harmonica, the music was a radical departure from the lush arrangements that typified country. The songs themselves consisted of a collection of originals and covers, such as “Red Headed Stranger,” “Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain,” and “Hands on a Wheel,” which spanned a gamut of themes such as loss, remorse, and redemption — everything the album cover advertised, and more. Once you heard those songs in one sitting, you understood the symbolism of Willie Nelson’s face on that album cover: Nelson wasn’t just channeling the Wild West; he had become the red headed stranger of his own songs, a moniker and mythology he would own for the rest of his career.

The album reached Number One on the Billboard country charts, and eventually achieved multiplatinum sales. Nelson’s cover of Fred Rose’s “Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain” became Nelson’s first Number One hit. The album also earned critical praise. According to Mother Jones, “Texans have known for 15 years what Red Headed Stranger finally revealed to the world – that Nelson is simply too brilliant a songwriter, interpreter, and singer – just too damn universal – to be defined as merely a country artist.”

And therein lies the appeal of Red Headed Stranger: the songs sounded country enough to please traditional country fans, but Nelson’s singing style and the themes he chose to dwell upon hit a universal chord. The album also made the record industry realize that yes, country artists could unleash massively popular best sellers just as rock stars could. Country enjoyed a commercial breakthrough, with albums such as Wanted! The Outlaws and Waylon & Willie enjoying massive success. For the rest of the 1970s, Nelson would ride a wave of popularity as the de facto leader of country’s outlaw movement until he became a more mainstream pop singer (albeit with country roots). Meanwhile, Red Headed Stranger would go on to be positioned among the Top 500 albums of all time by Rolling Stone (the album was ranked 184) and Number One in Country Music Television’s 40 Greatest Albums in Country Music. In the August 28, 2014, issue of Rolling Stone, Associate Editor Patrick Doyle, profiling Nelson, would note that the Red Headed Stranger album cover, combined with the music, made it feel like “Nelson was stepping into the boots of a John Ford character.”

Today visual storytelling is so important to image building that entire books are written on the topic. (The Power of Visual Storytelling, by Ekaterina Walter and Jessica Gioglio, is the visual storytelling Bible for brands.) Nearly 40 years ago, Red Headed Stranger set a high standard for visual storytelling — and changed an industry.

Here are other albums I’ve profiled in my series on memorable album covers:

Ray Charles: Modern Sounds in Country and Western Music

Al Green: Greatest Hits

Led Zeppelin: Houses of the Holy

Led Zeppelin: Untitled

Pink Floyd: The Dark Side of the Moon

Bruce Springsteen: Born to Run

Also related:

From Goldfrapp to Pink Floyd: How Great Album Covers Tell Visual Stories

Can Wu-Tang Clan Save the Record Album with “Once Upon a Time in Shaolin”?

 




“It’s the Only Way to Go”: Ekaterina Walter on Influencer Advocacy and Sprinklr’s Acquisition of Branderati

September 3rd, 2014 by ddeal

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The Beyhive rallies around Beyoncé. The Mouse Fans flock to Disney. Raider Nation venerates the Oakland Raiders. They are known as super fans — the passionate followers who will go out of their way to share their love for a brand every chance they get, whether plastering their cars with bumper stickers or spreading the love on social media. Both super fans and every followers of a brand comprise a powerful source of advocacy marketing — so important that firms such as Branderati specialize in helping brands figure out how to monetize customer love. The logic behind advocacy marketing is simple: consumers trust each other more than they do brands. Savvy brands are figuring out how to cultivate relationships with fans and encourage word-of-mouth marketing. As Gartner Analyst Hank Barnes wrote recently, “I strongly believe that Advocacy Marketing should be at the top of the priority list in terms of marketing investment.” But according to marketing expert Ekaterina Walter, brands need to think in terms of influencer advocacy — or capitalizing on the influence of advocates who also have measurable followings. Walter, CMO of Branderati, has staked her future in the growth of influencer advocacy: she is becoming global evangelism lead at Sprinklr, a social platform that announced its acquisition of Branderati on September 3. The combination of the two companies promises to integrate social media and customer advocacy more effectively across the entire enterprise, making influencer advocacy a more scientific and measurable process. Consider Walter a super fan for influencer advocacy, as she demonstrates through the following interview:

How do you define influencer advocacy? How is it different from word-of-mouth marketing?

We believe that there are influencers who are passionate about specific brands. And instead of looking for influencer or looking for advocates as separate categories, brands should be finding people at the intersection of the two. People who love a brand but have decent influence within their niche communities (it doesn’t necessarily mean big following, by the way). Just paying influencers for a “one-night-stand” type of content isn’t enough (and isn’t authentic to begin with). Brands need to go beyond counting views and follower numbers and need to identify and build relationships with the right people.

Why is influencer advocacy important?

Because people will listen to their peers, they will share each other’s passions.

According to McKinsey, marketing-induced consumer-to-consumer word-of-mouth generates more than 2X the sales of paid advertising. Deloitte states that customers referred by other customers have a 37 percent higher retention rate. And according to Zuberance, advocates spend 2X more than average customers on their favorite brands.

You have to build relationships with people who drive such a big impact on your bottom line.

How should marketers think of social media in context of influencer advocacy?

Well, consider this: while many brands are experiencing less than 10 percent reach across their social platforms, with direct access to their advocate influencers, Branderati clients have experienced as high as 68.5-percent social sharing engagement. They also realized that the cost of this authentic social sharing ran between 1/7th to 1/25th of the cost of incremental social sharing driven through their media campaigns. Pretty powerful numbers, right? Marketers need to change their mentality from creating one-off campaigns and TV spots to building sustainable brand advocacy inside and out (through employees and customers).

You are also renowned for your expertise with visual storytelling. How is visual storytelling affecting the way brands practice influencer advocacy?

Content is a critical part of driving sustainable engagement. Allowing your advocates to tell their stories and helping them do it in visual way will increase the number of passionate conversations around your brand. Branderati platform empowers just that.

What is the significance of the Sprinklr acquisition of Branderati?

Sprinklr bought us because Ragy [Thomas] understood that advocacy has moved from hype to real business driver. Sprinklr’s charter is to provide end-to-end social media infrastructure. To fulfill this mission, the company needed to add advocacy marketing as a core, integrated module that acts as a seamless extension of the social stack.

Branderati technology and expertise brings several things to the equation.

First, our screening technology captures API and self-reported data to align potential advocates with predefined profiles of ideal ambassadors. This technology is critical for any brand looking to create highly vetted advocacy networks at scale. By combining this screening process with the ability to identify candidates across moderation, social listening and CRM, we will deliver the most complete advocacy recruitment solution in the marketplace.

Second, from an engagement standpoint we bring the ability to create entire members-only programs that are highly targeted and personalized to each ambassador. By combing this engagement platform with the larger campaign management and scheduling functions in Sprinklr, the platform becomes a unified command center for activation of both advocates and the broader community.

Third, from a measurement standpoint there are very specific types of tracking data we provide in order to track ambassadors’ true impact. By bringing deep views of this insight into the main reporting suite of Sprinklr, we provide a single source for nearly your entire paid owned and earned social impact.

Lastly, Sprinklr acquired focused expertise. We have been managing sustained advocacy programs since 2010. The experience and best practices will be a huge benefit to future Sprinklr product development and to their clients.

What’s next for you?

With this acquisition my role will evolve. I am joining Sprinklr as global evangelism lead. It is a natural fit as I’ve been the biggest cheerleader of Sprinklr’s mission for a while. As someone who worked for/with Fortune 500 companies on social business strategies, Ragy’s vision of reimagining the front office for today’s C-suite reality is near and dear to my heart. That is the future. It’s the only way to go.

And just as I’ve done over the last year, I continue to be very passionate about the integrated advocacy message we developed at Branderati. I will work with both Sprinklr and Branderati teams to continue to spread the vision and help lead C-Suite in redefining their marketing mix to address their current challenges and meet, or rather exceed, evolving consumer expectations.




Selling Elvis in the Age of Instagram

August 26th, 2014 by ddeal

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Image source: Vegas.com

Elvis never left the building after all. Seventeen years after his death, Elvis Presley remains one of the most lucrative names in show business. According to Forbes, he is the second wealthiest deceased celebrity, earning $55 million in 2013 through merchandising, licensing of his image, and his Graceland estate. And now, thanks to hologram technology, he will come to life in the digital age. Welcome to 21st Century branding, where yesterday’s artists can endure as immersive brands for a visual generation that speaks the language of Instagram and Vine.

According to Adweek‘s Michelle Castillo, Authentic Brands Group (which manages his estate) and Pulse Evolution are creating an Elvis hologram that will appear in commercials and movies — and host a residency in Macau and Las Vegas, the latter location being especially fitting given the legacy Elvis created in the 1970s through his extravagant shows at the Las Vegas Hilton. The residencies may even involve holograms of Elvis and Michael Jackson performing together (the King of Pop has already appeared at the Billboard Music Awards thanks to Pulse Evolution’s technology).

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Michael Jackson hologram appears onstage. Image source: Rollingstone.com

Jamie Salter, CEO of Authentic Brands Group, told Adweek, “We want you to go to the show and say, ‘Wow, oh my God! I saw Elvis 50, 60 years ago, and this is exactly the same thing.” But will the Elvis hologram appeal to a Millennial generation that never saw Elvis perform? I believe the virtual Elvis will resonate with both the Baby Boomer generation and Millennials for these reasons:

  • Elvis is a massive brand. Elvis lived large, died before his time, and captured the public’s imagination. As his standing in the annual Forbes list attests, his name is as big as ever. Everyone knows who Elvis is even if not everyone cares too much for his music, and name awareness is a strong foundation upon which to strengthen a brand.

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Image source: arts-stew.com

  • An Elvis hologram is tailor made for the concert experience, and concerts are one of the few reliable ways that the music industry can generate reliable revenue streams  across all generations (as I mentioned to Michelle Castillo in the Adweek article). Elvis was a charismatic performer onstage who engaged an audience. It makes perfect sense to bring him back for a residency, where all audiences, including Millennials, will see him in a new context.
  • A hologram is the perfect way to make a brand relevant to the Vine generation. Holograms are visual. Holograms are sexy. Holograms bring music to life visually. Elvis was a visually savvy musician who famously used both his body and his stage costumes to complement his singing.

Holograms will not work for every famous musician who has passed away. You need a musician with a strong brand, visual appeal, and a reputation for delivering memorable stage performances. We’ve already seen holograms create tremendous buzz for Tupac Shakur and Michael Jackson. I can easily see Jim Morrison, Freddie Mercury, and Whitney Houston some day returning as holograms. Elvis is a classic, cool brand launched in 1954 when he began recording at Sun Records, just as the Ford Mustang was launched in 1964. And now we can conceivably enjoy several “Elvis models”: the swaggering country boy in a gold lamé suit, the confident man in black leather, and the larger-than-life spectacle who changed the nature of live shows in Las Vegas.

Who do you think will get the hologram treatment next?




How Acting in a Renaissance Faire Has Made Me a Better Executive

August 18th, 2014 by ddeal

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Photo credit: Steven Bourelle

This summer, I have been living two lives. During the week, I am CEO of David J. Deal Consulting, helping companies build their brands with content marketing. But during the weekends, I transform myself into Nicolas Wright, a vainglorious barrister who walks a fine line between good and evil as he campaigns to be lord mayor of Bristol, England, in the year 1574. As a member of the cast for the Bristol Renaissance Faire in Kenosha, Wisconsin, I have been scolded by Queen Elizabeth, robbed by gypsies, and stabbed with a bread loaf by a swashbuckling baker. On hot, humid days, my family and I, along with 400 cast members, wear layers of historically accurate clothing more suitable for a Chicago winter as we re-create the day when Queen Elizabeth visited Bristol, England, 440 years ago.

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Photo credit: Bristol Renaissance Faire

Why do I do it? Well, at age 51, I’m having a summer that children would envy. I am also learning lessons that are changing the way I do business and live my life — such as how to take a leap of faith, and the difference between elevating your customers instead of simply servicing them. Here is what I’ve learned so far.

1. Leap, and the Net Will Appear

I seldom make a decision without doing extensive homework. I don’t buy a bag of bagels without doing a cost/benefit analysis. But the Bristol Renaissance Faire has taught me the importance of making a decision based on faith in things unseen.

Bristol has been described as a cross between Williamsburg, Virginia, and environmental street theater. My family and I have attended for years because the make-believe Renaissance village north of Chicago hums with energy and good vibes as jugglers and fools mingle with courtiers, merchants, lute players, and all-around cool people. This year, we auditioned to join the cast in order to spread the joy that the faire has given us. We were excited when we all received the good news that we had become professional actors for 10 weekends this year. But when I told my friends and colleagues that our family had successfully auditioned for cast parts, I encountered plenty of skepticism — mostly in the form of polite but concerned questions such as, “Can you handle this kind of commitment?” “Won’t it get hot walking around all day in costumes?”

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Photo credit: Steven Bourelle

Indeed, being a cast member is a commitment. My wife, daughter, and I leave our home at 6:30 a.m. each Saturday and Sunday for a 55-mile drive one way, 10 weekends total during the hottest weeks of the year (plus five weekends of training and rehearsal onsite before opening day). Once we arrive at Bristol, we spend the morning preparing for a 10-hour, high-energy day of interacting with patrons who pay good money for an authentic, fun experience, rain or shine. On Saturday nights, we arrive home after 9 p.m. for precious rest before hitting the road again Sunday morning. By Sunday night, I am exhausted after portraying a bombastic barrister who campaigns Read more »




How Old-Time Radio Flourishes in the Digital Era

July 31st, 2014 by ddeal

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Photo Credit: Amanda Kulczewski

If you had visited Chicago’s Public House Theater on a recent June evening, you would have witnessed a most curious sight: a dozen actors and actresses adorned in 1940s-era suits, hats, and dresses gathered around microphones and performing an old-time radio comedy in front of a cheering crowd. You would have met a bearded ex-pirate named Captain Jonathan Sunset, four harmonious women sounding strikingly like the Andrews Sisters, the voluptuous Southern Belle, and a space-traveling detective named Joe Jupiter. Welcome to the world of Locked into Vacancy Entertainment (LIVE), a Chicago acting troupe that has re-imagined vintage radio shows for a digital society. In an exclusive interview, LIVE Founder Shane Hill shares with me lessons for making content from another era relevant and engaging to the Millennial generation.

LIVE, which recently celebrated its one-year anniversary, consists of actors and musicians who perform a mix of comedy and mystery just like radio programs of the 1940s and 1950s used to do. The group — described on its Facebook page as “Harnessing the Sticky Goo of Inspiration” — conceives of, and delivers, a whacky series of adventures featuring characters like the time-traveling Joe Jupiter (portrayed by Hill),who encounters a random assortment of aliens and oddballs while swapping random one-liners that sound like a cross between Adventure Time, Doctor Who, and radio noir. As Hill explains in the following interview, LIVE shows are geared toward families, both parents and kids alike. In doing so, LIVE has a seemingly formidable task: make an entertainment format relevant to Gen X, Y, and Millennials who were not alive in the golden era of radio.

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According to Hill, entertainment from the analog era, if done well, feels fresh because it’s new to the digital generation. And in a sense, by developing characters like Joe Jupiter and Captain Jonathan Sunset, LIVE is doing what Marvel Comics has accomplished on a larger scale by making World War II-era archetypes such as Captain America appeal to the present day.

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Unlike Marvel, LIVE relies on no computer-generated special effects. The LIVE shows are performed in the manner of vintage radio, using live music and sound effects in front of a live audience. LIVE then makes the shows available via podcast on its website and social channels — thus tapping into the surging podcast market.

LIVE performs every few months at the Public House Theater, with its next show occurring September 14. As Hill explains, LIVE is steadily expanding its audience beyond Chicago by sharing its shows digitally. The live shows reward an in-person audience with the visual appeal of a cast mugging as they read scripts into microphones, relying on their voices, clothing, and body English to create energy. On podcast, listeners create their own intimacy with the LIVE team and fill in the details with their imaginations as was done in the radio era.

“LIVE provides theater of the mind,” Hill explains. “Theater of the mind will appeal to anyone if it’s done right.”

Read on for our interview, which provides insight into an imaginative theater experience.

Describe Locked into Vacancy Entertainment in one sentence.

Locked into Vacancy Entertainment is an old-time radio experience with a modern-day approach.

Where did the idea for LIVE come from?

LIVE was inspired by The Thrilling Adventure Hour, a production in Los Angeles also captures the spirit of old-time radio. I have always loved those great radio comedies and mysteries that flourished decades ago, when radio was the primary way that American families brought entertainment and information to their homes. About a year ago, I found some old radio scripts for the holidays that inspired me. Some fellow actors and I agreed that those old scripts would still sound great in a podcast environment. We were inspired to create our own shows with original material. Conducting LIVE shows is like time travel: the audience and the cast together experience a form of entertainment and cultural expression that was popular many years ago.

Where did your love of radio entertainment shows originate? Read more »




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. Unseen details also send a message to customers: our brand trusts you. We trust you to take the time to notice something subtle about our product, and we trust that you’ll appreciate the effort we have taken to go the extra mile and do something other brands might not do.

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?