Paul Wrote “Hey Jude” for Me

You don’t listen to great songs. You experience them personally. They feel like they were written just for you. They take on different meaning each time you experience them because as your life changes and the context of the song changes.

Sometimes even a song you’ve heard a million times can sock you in the gut. This morning I had a few spare moments and watched the famous video of “Hey Jude” from The David Frost Show, in which the Beatles share a moment of joyous communion with fans on a stage. Even though I had seen the video many times, I thought, why not? About three minutes into the song, I felt myself getting choked up.

Who can say why? Maybe the power of the words and music renewed my spirit. Maybe seeing the faces of John and George reminded me of mortality and loss — and brother, I’ve lost some important people over the past few years. Maybe I wished I could have been in the room with the lucky fans singing along with the Beatles.

Perhaps all those explanations are true or none of them is. But I’m grateful a song can move me even if I can’t put my finger on the reason why. In fact, I’m glad I cannot explain my reaction. When a song becomes personal, it burrows its way into your soul to the point where you cannot properly elucidate the power of its connection, just as you cannot rationalize the power of religious faith. An emotional bond does not require explanation.

Try experiencing a beloved song you’ve not heard for a while. Does the moment still move you?

Facebook’s Media/Entertainment Roadmap

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(Image source: Mark Boster/Los Angeles Times)

Facebook has hit a few speed bumps lately as the world’s largest social network heads down the path of becoming a media/entertainment business. About a week ago, company was accused of suppressing content from conservative news outlets in its Trending Topics news feed. Then, on May 16, Facebook, in a supremely ironic moment given the news of the previous week, botched a live video interview with President Barack Obama.

But make no mistake: Facebook’s transformation into a media/entertainment platform is inevitable.

Video

If you look at the big picture, aka 10-year road map, you see a company immersed in virtual reality, augmented reality, and video (among many other things). As Facebook shared at its most recent F8 developers conference, video is an important part of Facebook’s growth over the next five years. At F8, Facebook noted that 70-percent of all mobile traffic will be video by 2021, and Facebook wants to succeed as the shift occurs. In April, Facebook made a big step in that direction with the launch of Facebook Live.

What fascinates me about Facebook Live is how commonplace it seems to be already, just weeks into its existence. Say what you will about the technical glitches that marred the Barack Obama livestream, but Facebook is making live streaming an everyday part of the Facebook content sharing experience. Through Facebook Live, I’ve already taken a tour of new virtual reality products courtesy of Robert Scoble and discovered the Here Active Listening sound app with Guy Kawasaki. I’ve also watched Slash take a boring limousine ride down the backstreets of Las Vegas, but, hey, there’s a lot of drivel along with Game of Thrones on TV, too.

The point is, Facebook is not just talking: it’s delivering. Already brands ranging from World Wrestling Entertainment to iHeart Radio are using Facebook Live. On May 12, video gaming company Activision Blizzard announced it will publish daily live programming on Facebook, thus making Facebook at threat to Twitch. Boom, just like that: Facebook is a platform for the growing e-sports industry. Oh, and everyday folks are streaming childbirths. Why? For the same reason brands are streaming: to engage a big audience, which Facebook certainly delivers (1.6 billion and counting).

VR/AR

Longer term, Facebook plans to realize the potential of its 2014 purchase of Oculus Rift by making virtual reality (and augmented reality) a major content delivery platform. The company has supported this vision by making Oculus Rift available for purchase and unveiling a Surround 360 camera that captures 360-degree video easier for Oculus Rift headsets. Facebook is also training high schoolers to make VR.

Appropriately, VR and AR are longer-term plays whose uptake depends on a number of variables, including the well-founded skepticism that the public won’t be willing to shell out big dollars for a headset that makes you look like a total dork. But Mark Zuckerberg has a vision and patience to integrate VR and AR into a social experience that is more immersive, playful, and entertaining, like gaming. What’s more, the market is moving in his direction: AR and VR are expected to become a $150 billion market by 2020, and major players such as Google and Microsoft are developing VR capabilities right along with Facebook.

Music

While video and VR get the attention, Facebook is embedding music into its roadmap. As noted by Billboard, Facebook and Warner Music Group are testing a new feature known as Slideshow, which makes it possible for users to create soundtracks for video and photo albums by using music from major labels. A version is expected to be rolled out in Australia soon. Slideshow sounds like an answer to Flipagram or Musical.ly, which have become destinations for musicians such as Fetty Wap and Cam to have their music used by fans in their own visual stories.

Facebook is clearly making a move to become more legitimate as a music platform. In November 2015, the company unveiled a feature through which users can share clips of songs. Meanwhile, the real excitement for Facebook as a music platform comes from the artists (such as Metallica, which live streamed on Record Store Day). But it’s only a matter of time before Facebook ups the stakes for music live streaming — remember, Facebook Live is only weeks old, and it’s a natural way for Facebook to extend its reach into entertainment.

As a news delivery site — the “media” part of media/entertainment — Facebook has some major issues to iron out, and the alleged content bias is just one of them. Frankly I think Facebook’s equally difficult challenge is that its news feed is so stale and boring that it’s an irritant, not a value add. But Mark Zuckerberg will lick his wounds and figure out a way forward, just as he did when Facebook was criticized for not getting mobile a few years ago. Facebook makes plenty of mistakes, but Zuck always figures out a fix. With Facebook Live, he’s figuring out video (in a hurry). Whether VR and AR play out exactly he intends remains to be seen. But remember, it’s a 10-year roadmap.

When Brands Mess with Our Emotions

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Jess Goulart of BTRtoday recently asked me how I think branding has changed over the years. I told her that although businesses are sharing their brand stories in more inventive ways than ever before, some of the traditional elements of a successful brand remain unchanged. For instance, a company’s name and logo are powerful elements of a brand. Case in point: the Internet firestorm caused by Instagram’s new logo and Budweiser’s temporary name change.

On May 10, Budweiser went to “potentially ingenious, potentially absurd branding extremes” in the words of Fast Company‘s Mark Wilson by announcing that the King of Beers was changing the name on its cans and bottles from Budweiser to . . . America. In a press release, Budweiser noted that the renaming coincides with “what should be the most patriotic summer that this generation has ever seen, with Copa America Centenario being held on U.S. soil for the first time, Team USA competing at the Rio 2016 Olympic and Paralympic Games.” The voice of Bud noted that “that these cans and bottles aim to inspire drinkers to celebrate America and Budweiser’s shared values of freedom and authenticity.

The cans not only say America, but they contain text referring to the Pledge of Allegiance, the Star Spangled Banner, and America the Beautiful. The rollout for the special-edition cans and bottles features the tagline “America Is in Your Hands.”

Why the name change? Because nothing says America like swigging beer in the summer, right? And Budweiser has a history of appealing to patriotism with its branding. The renaming amps up something Budweiser has been doing already.

Not surprisingly, the rebrand evoked a response, and not all of it positive, as the predictable flood of tweets illustrates:

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On the other hand, the rebrand attracted a lot of coverage from A-list news media, such as Fast Company, The New York Times, and The Wall Street Journal — the kind of coverage, as they say, that you cannot buy with advertising.

For my part, on Facebook, I couldn’t help but consider the ironies of the rebrand in this most bitterly fought and surreal of election years. Would the special-edition American carry a corrosive taste resulting from bitter political squabbling and screaming into the social media void?

Meanwhile, as social media was going crazy over Budweiser, Instagram was changing its logo. And boy, did Instagram ruffle some feathers. By shedding its well-known image of a retro camera to a more conceptual, colorful image, Instagram annoyed the many members of the digerati who loved the old look.

Instagram unveiled a new logo Wednesday, and it may well go down as one of the biggest design fails of the year,” wrote Adweek‘s Tim Nudd in an article with the strident headline, “Instagram’s New Logo Is a Travesty. Can We Change It Back? Please?” Meanwhile, Chris Gayomali of GQ pouted, “Instagram spent YEARS building up visual brand equity with its existing logo, training users where to tap, and now instead of iterating on that, it’s flushing it all down the toilet for the homescreen equivalent of a Starburst. Sad!”

And, the Internet griped, as it did with Budeiser/’Murica. Liam Stack of The New York Times summarized much of the backlash in his article, “The Great Instagram Logo Freakout of 2016,” in which he pointed out some of the sarcastic Internet memes and otherwise widespread cringing that occurred.

Budweiser might have faced some backlash with a name change. But Instagram got crapped on.

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On Medium, Ian Spalter, Instagram’s head of design, analyzed the reasons for the logo change, which is a fine read if you want to dig into the rationale, but 99 percent of Instagram’s 400 million users don’t care for the backstory. They’re either going to like what they see or barf, and context be damned.

Why? Because names and logos create emotional connections, which is what branding is all about: the power of emotion. You can do all the left-brain analysis you want to measure the power of branding, using yardsticks such as brand lift, and you can analyze your reasons for the choices you make. But numbers and explanation don’t capture the emotional appeal of a brand.

People don’t like to have their emotions messed with, and when a business changes its name or its logo, that’s exactly what happens. But just as we get over romantic break-ups, the passage of time eventually heals the emotional break caused by a change in a name or a logo. Remember the uproar when Andersen Consulting changed its name to Accenture? The critics mocked the “accent on the future” meaning. Nobody’s laughing anymore, are they? On a less dramatic scale, Google raised eyebrows in 2015 when the company tinkered with its word mark. But now we are comfortable with the san-serif Google.

Yeah, we get over the hurt that comes when a brand crumples up our loyalty into a paper ball and tosses it in our faces. We scream and pout, but we move on. For that reason, I think the Gap made a mistake in 2010 when the company ditched its new logo amid howls of protest. Had the company remained patient, I can assure you no one would care about the old logo today except for fans of nostalgia.

At a time when consumers are supposedly more empowered than ever before, ironically the uproar caused by Budweiser and Instagram remind us of an essential truth: being empowered doesn’t mean we want to call the shots completely. We want a relationship with brands. And brands wield power in that relationship. Otherwise, why would we care so much about someone changing their name or logo?

You Don’t Have to Hug Your Fans

 

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Building fan love doesn’t mean pandering to your audience. Radiohead, which dropped its new album A Moon Shaped Pool digitally May 8, builds fan devotion by challenging and even confounding its audience, which is the right approach for a group whose music has always been one step ahead of everyone.

Radiohead’s actions in recent days — sending weird postcards to select fans and erasing its digital presence briefly — flies in the face of the “Taylor Swift lessons on customer engagement” articles that are floating all around the Internet. The Taylor Swift school of fan engagement emphasizes accessibility and warmth, with Taytay constantly flogging social media and bending over backward to return fan love. But Radiohead creates fan love through a mystique that approaches aloofness. Both artists demonstrate the importance of engaging fans in a way that’s right for your brand, which is truly a lesson that applies to any business, whether you’re an exclusive Louis Vuitton or crowd-pleasing Motel 6.

Radiohead certainly reaches out to its fans, but in its own peculiar way. For instance, the weekend of April 29, some of its fans received a vaguely worded leaflet with the sinister message, “We Know Where You Live.”

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Puzzled fans posted the leaflets on social media, triggering what would turn out to be accurate speculation that Radiohead was about to drop some new music.

But Radiohead wasn’t finished. On May 1, fans began to notice that the band’s Internet presence was disappearing. Its website gradually faded to black, its tweets began to vanish, and the band removed its Facebook content. Yup: Radiohead literally cut its digital cord, including its presence on the world’s largest social media network.

The silence didn’t last long, though. On May 3, the band posted on Instagram a 15-second clip of a stop-motion bird tweeting, followed by a clip of animated figures accompanied by staccato music.

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As it turns out, fading to black and posting some enigmatic images was a prelude to the release of real music: the strange, scary song “Burn the Witch” on May 3 (where the chirping birds and animated figures appear) and then the appropriately titled “Daydreaming,” directed by P.T. Anderson, on May 6.

Oh, and the band reactivated its digital presence to let everyone know a new album was coming digitally on May 8 (because why not a dose of Radiohead for Mother’s Day?) and in physical form June 17. In typical Radiohead fashion, no other details were supplied — no title, no album art, just release dates.

Not exactly the warmest and fuzziest way to super serve your fans, is it?

But that’s how Radiohead rolls. This is a band that knows how to build fan loyalty by being unpredictable and progressive, such as surprise releasing the album In Rainbows online in 2007 accompanied by the we-don’t-give-a-crap move of allowing fans to set their own price for the download. Give Beyoncé all the credit she deserves for dropping new albums with no advance notice, but it was Radiohead that pioneered the concept. And then there was the time Radiohead decided to publish an old-fashioned print newspaper, The Universal Sigh, to accompany the release of the 2011 album King of Limbs. Not only was the distribution of a print newspaper in the digital age a typically against-the-grain Radiohead move, The Universal Sigh was full of stories, poems, and other content that kept everyone guessing as to its meaning.

Creating this kind of mystique is perfect for Radiohead. Its music is, at turns, enigmatic, confounding, and thoughtful — music that manages to remain popular even while sometimes dividing critics and listeners. To follow Radiohead is to immerse yourself in the jagged guitar and off-kilter drums that shaped OK Computer only to have the band change courses completely with the atmospheric, abstract sounds on Kid A. Indeed, critics have described its music at times as “intentionally difficult” although by and large, the band is a critic’s darling for constantly reinventing its sound.

Taylor Swift doesn’t give a hang about mystique, nor should she. She is all about accessibility. She connects as personally with her fans as a pop star can. When she released her massive-selling album 1989 in October 2014, she surprised a few lucky fans by holding “secret sessions” consisting of exclusive previews of the album. She even brought home-baked cookies to the sessions. She is a constant presence on social media, commenting on her life, sharing visual stories, and reaching out to her fans on their own social accounts. Her social content is genuine, earning accolades from branding experts. Through social, she excels at “treating your fans like friends,” in the words of interactive marketing executive Joshua Swanson.

Taylor Swift hugs her fans. Radiohead challenges them, as Pink Floyd did at the height of their popularity.

Both approaches work. Billboard recently named Taylor Swift the top moneymaker of 2015. Radiohead has sold 30 million albums over the years — perhaps the only popular band still in existence that successfully relies on record sales, not singles, to build a fan base. Its new song “Burn the Witch” was viewed more than 8 million times within the first few days of its release, and pretty much the Internet went nuts following the band’s digital odyssey this past week. Its 2016 tour, playing limited dates, is expected to be highly successful. Just don’t expect Radiohead to serve cookies at the concerts.

I’m not suggesting that businesses examine the Radiohead approach for some pearls of wisdom. The larger point is that even in an age of customer empowerment, when your fans can say what they want about you on social media and demand rapid response, how you engage with your customers depends on the kind of brand you are building, and it’s a mistake to pander to fans. For instance, you won’t find warm fuzzies on the Prada website — as of this writing, the front page is actually jarring and even off putting after a few moments. For that matter, Red Bull doesn’t exactly hug its fans — Red Bull gets in their faces. Neither brand is rude, per se, but their choice of content and tone in their outreach creates a certain edge.

Always understand your brand’s north star — what you stand for. And then find an approach to fan engagement that works for your brand.