Apple TV+ Needs Cultural Relevance — and “Dickinson” Delivers It

Disney+ has The Mandalorian. Netflix has Stranger Things. What does Apple TV+ have to capture our imaginations and light the internet on fire?

Well, nothing approaching Stranger Things or The Mandalorian-level of widespread excitement. But the Apple TV+ show Dickinson is quickly building momentum and delivering what Apple TV+ needs: cultural relevance.   

Why Cultural Relevance Matters

Cultural relevance is essential for any entertainment company to succeed in the long run. Brands become culturally relevant when they connect with an audience through their attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors. Sometimes cultural relevance means shaping attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors, too. When brands achieve cultural relevance, they become so inextricably linked with our lives that we become lifelong members of their tribes.

Disney Masters Cultural Relevance

Disney is the master of cultural relevance. Mickey Mouse is more than a popular animated character. Mickey Mouse is an international symbol of childhood. Frozen is a pop culture phenomenon. The Lion King introduced the words “Hakuna Matata” to millions of people. The Little Mermaid inspired cosplayers for generations to come. And now, Disney+ is having a culturally relevant moment with The Mandalorian.

Almost immediately, The Mandalorian sparked passionate conversations on social media about Baby Yoda, Boba Fett, and Star Wars lore. I’ve not seen social media explode with such ferocity over a pop culture phenomenon since Pokémon GO hit. The Mandalorian did something else: it became the most in-demand original streaming TV show in the United States, unseating Netflix’s Stranger Things. Is it any surprise that Disney+ achieved more than 10 million subscribers on launch day? And all this excitement hit in time to unleash related merchandise for the holiday shopping season. 

Netflix Defines Cultural Relevance

Netflix, meanwhile, released Season 3 of The Crown on November 4. Here is a wildly popular show that connects with American audiences by tapping into Americans’ longstanding fascination with the Royal Family. The Crown inspired a wide range of commentary, some connecting the show to contemporary American politics, others offering insight into the importance of Welsh languageAnd the Royal Family itself commented on the opening episode

This is what culturally relevant shows do. They inspire conversation that transcends the show itself. Among the streaming companies, Netflix has created the gold standard for cultural relevance (although Disney may catch up and then some). Stranger Things has become a pop culture sensation by tapping into 1980s nostalgia (and arguably engineering that nostalgia). Tidying up with Marie Kondo connects with an American materialism (and its consequences) so profoundly that the show actually created a spike in donations to thrift stores. This is the entertainment company that changed how we watched TV and is responsible for vernacular such as “Netflix and chill.”

Along Comes Apple TV+

Now, what about Apple TV+, which launched on November 4? Well, the results are mixed, and Apple TV+ has been outflanked by The Mandalorian. The much hyped The Morning Show has failed to catch fire. Apple has delayed the release of theatrical film The Banker amid allegations of misconduct against one of the movie’s producers. But on the other hand, a lesser known series, Dickinson, has been steadily building a fan base.

On the surface, Dickinson focuses on the life of poet Emily Dickinson. But what makes Dickinson culturally relevant is that it’s more than the story of a poet. It’s a perfectly timed statement about female and LGBTQ+ empowerment. In addition, the casting is smart. For instance, Hailee Steinfeld, who portrays Emily Dickinson, connects effectively with Gen Z and the LGBTQ+ community. Wiz Khalifa, who portrays a personification of death, is highly relevant to music, fashion, and weed culture. And the show’s soundtrack, featuring artists ranging from A$AP Rocky to Billie Eilish, is a Millennial’s dream. As such, Dickinson is rapidly creating a fan base who call themselves “Dickheads,” and the show has inspired the term “Sexy Dickinson.” Now this is what cultural relevance looks like:

Dickinson has already been renewed for another season. 

Keep an Eye on Apple TV+

Creating cultural relevance requires an insight into consumer behavior, the agility to rapidly create content that taps into this behavior, and a platform to share that content at scale. Apple has the platform for Apple TV+ through Apple TV (and a new Apple TV app). As a media brand, Apple is getting better at tapping into consumer behavior and creating the right content. We all remember how Apple stumbled badly with its ill-fated forced download of U2’s Songs of Innocence album in 2014 – a miscalculation of consumer behavior (streaming was overtaking downloading, and people resented being forced to download music they did not ask for) and taste (U2 was out of fashion). But since then, Apple has adapted by launching a streaming service that now dominates the industry along with Spotify

Apple played catch-up and then became a leader in music streaming by becoming more culturally relevant with content that connects to millennial tastes, such as the Up Next program for developing artists and first-look album drops by artists such as Chance the Rapper and Drake. Original content alone was not the answer to the rise of Apple Music – culturally relevant content that connects emotionally was.

Apple TV+ has a long way to go before it attains cultural relevance. But Dickinson is a clear win. In addition, Apple has plenty of cash – and a lot of patience. You can be sure Apple is figuring out how to create its next Dickinson

Old Hollywood Loses Its Grip while Netflix Soars

Steven Spielberg has seen the future, and he doesn’t like it one bit.

At the 91stAcademy Awards, Netflix took home four Oscars including three for Roma, which had been nominated for Best Picture. In addition, Amazon Studios and Hulu both achieved Oscar nominations. Spielberg dislikes the notion of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences nominating movies from companies that stream movies in homes. So he reportedly wants to change the rules to block Netflix and its streaming competitors from nominating movies for the Oscars.

And Steven Spielberg is dead wrong. 

Spielberg believes in the purity of the big screen and the joy of experiencing a movie in a theater. He wants to keep a sharp distinction between movies shown in theaters and movies made by streaming services. As he told British TV network ITV News in 2018, “Once you commit to a television format, you’re a TV movie. I don’t believe films that are just given token qualifications in a couple of theaters for less than a week should qualify for the Academy Award nomination.”

With Amazon Studios, Hulu, and Netflix landing multiple nominations at the 91stAcademy Awards, apparently he’s feeling threated. A spokesperson for Spielberg’s Amblin Entertainment told IndieWire’s Anne Thompson, “Steven feels strongly about the difference between the streaming and theatrical situation. He’ll be happy if the others will join [his campaign] when that comes up [at the Academy Board of Governors meeting]. He will see what happens.”

Defenders of Old Hollywood believe the Academy’s nomination rules are too lax. A movie need not be distributed exclusively in a movie theater to qualify; a movie simply needs to appear in theaters. In addition, Hollywood studios follow an unwritten rule that movies should appear in theaters for at least 90 days before becoming available on video or streaming. Netflix doesn’t play be those rules. For instance, Netflix’s Roma appeared exclusively in theaters for only three weeks. A rule change could, say, require Oscar nominees to make movies available for a minimum period of time.  

Reports of Spielberg wanting to change the Oscar nomination rules have been disputed, but the controversy has drawn attention to his opposition of streaming services – an opposition is on the wrong side of history for a number of reasons, including: 

Viewing Habits Are Changing

There’s a reason Netflix has become one of the biggest brands in the world. Audiences want the flexibility of seeing movies on their own terms: at home, on the go, and in theaters. Streaming services are accommodating them. When recently I moderated a discussion about Old Hollywood versus Netflix on my Facebook page, Facebooker Brian Schultz summed one of the reasons why viewers want choice:

The theatrical experience isn’t what it used to be. Projection quality differs from theatre to theatre, too many previews, rude ass moviegoers, and high ticket prices make staying at home a better option.

You can see some movies from streaming companies in theaters, too. You could have seen Amazon Studios’ Cold War (nominated for Best Foreign Language Film) and Roma in theaters, on a TV screen, or on a device. (I prefer seeing movies on big screens. But I don’t always have the time and money to go to the movies. I saw Roma at home and Cold War in a theater. Both experiences were equally satisfying.)

And streaming is becoming even bigger. Disney will soon launch its own service, Disney+. AT&T will launch its own streaming service, capitalizing on its ownership of Time Warner to feature content from WarnerMedia, a newly formed entity that includes HBO and Turner Broadcasting. 

Old Hollywood’s war against streaming is going to be harder to fight, especially with Disney putting its muscle behind streaming. You don’t mess with the Mouse.

Streaming Services Offer Alternatives for Artists

Roma is an intensely personal movie from Alfonso Cuarón, who previously won multiple Oscars for directing Gravity. When Roma won multiple Golden Globe Awards in January, Cuarón was asked to comment on a perception that Netflix is threatening independent cinema. He replied:

My question to you is, how many theaters did you think that a Mexican film in black and white, in Spanish and Mixteco, that is a drama without stars — how big did you think it would be as a conventional theatrical release? I just hope the discussion between Netflix and platforms in general should be over. I think those guys, platforms and theatrical, should go together . . . They both together can elevate cinema, and more important, they can create a diversity in cinema.

Anne Thompson of IndieWire recently provided some inside baseball on how Netflix ended up with Roma:

The studios could have acquired “Roma.” Participant showed ten minutes of footage to seven companies with global distribution. There were no passes and three offers. Four companies explained that because a black-and-white film in Spanish would not qualify for their Pay-TV output deals, they needed to see the film (which was still in post and not available to screen). Once they could see the film they’d be able to seek a waiver from their Pay-TV output partners, as The Weinstein Co. did on “The Artist.”

Participant explored the three offers and after a month-long negotiation landed on Netflix, which gave the most persuasive (and financially viable) marketing, distribution, and awards commitment. The studios weren’t willing to step up to Netflix’s bid for worldwide rights (a bit more than $20 million), which included a commitment for a substantial global theatrical release (excluding China — which Participant kept and will open in theaters, having just passed the censors).

Alfonso Cuarón  is not the only big-name director working with Netflix. Even an Old Hollywood stalwart like Martin Scorsese is leaping into the arms of Netflix. Scorsese’s forthcoming movie, The Irishman, will be distributed by Netflix in theaters and via streaming. The movie is reportedly a long-time passion project of Scorsese’s. Commenting on Netflix’s involvement in the film, he said, “People such as Netflix are taking risks. ‘The Irishman’ is a risky film. No one else wanted to fund the pic for five to seven years. And of course we’re all getting older. Netflix took the risk.”

An Interesting Turn

The debate could take an interesting turn if a major streaming service such as Netflix cracks into the movie business. The idea is not far-fetched. In 2018, Netflix was rumored to be a potential buyer for Landmark Theaters but reportedly backed out due to the cost. Nevertheless, speculation remains that Netflix may crack into theaters in 2019. Rationale:

Given the enormous cost of developing content, Netflix may stay firmly rooted in streaming for the near term, making Amazon a more likely candidate to buy a movie theater chain (also not a far-fetched notion with Amazon expanding into the brick-and-mortar grocery and retail industries).  

Something Is Happening Here

Meanwhile, Netflix addressed the Old Hollywood-versus-Netflix story with a thoughtful Tweet:

Which evoked replies such as these:

Instead of trying to move the goal line for streaming companies, the defenders of Old Hollywood need to ask why exciting directors such as Alfonso Cuarón are turning to streaming companies and why businesses such as Disney are changing with the times, too. Old Hollywood can change just as record labels eventually adapted their business models for music streaming. Meanwhile, to paraphrase Bob Dylan, something is happening here, but you don’t know what it is, do you, Mr. Spielberg? 

Six Famous Movies That Lived up to Massive Hype

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What’s more impressive: the fact that 195 nations signed a global accord on climate change or that Star Wars: The Force Awakens lived up to the hype?

I’m going to go with Star Wars. The Paris Agreement to fight climate change still needs to be implemented. The Force Awakens has delivered the goods, earning a 94-percent certified fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes, and shattering box office records following an unprecedented $350 million marketing blitz from Disney.

Star Wars: The Force Awakens is the fastest movie ever to gross $1 billion worldwide, thus joining a short list of films have delivered against massive hype. Take a moment to walk with me down memory lane, as I recall six rare gems that exceeded the expectations created by their marketing. To qualify for my list, a movie needed to meet three requirements:

  • Noteworthy promotion that was worthy of analysis in and of itself — in some cases for being inventive and in others for just being over the top.
  • Box office success that exceeded estimates.
  • Critical success, as measured by whether a film received a “fresh” rating on the popular Rotten Tomatoes website, which aggregates reviews from critics and the public. A fresh rating means that at least 60 percent of composite reviews are favorable. All of the films I’ve selected are not only fresh but also “certified fresh,” meaning the earned positive scores from at least 75 percent of reviewers.

Here are six that stand out:

Continue reading

Apple and Disney Launch and Learn with Wearables

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Apple has some work to do with the Apple Watch. Early adopters are criticizing the new wearable for a host of problems, including limited battery life. In other words, development is progressing on schedule. Apple is breaking into a nascent market with an imperfect product just as another huge brand, Disney, did two years ago with the launch of the MagicBand wearable that manages most facets of a guest stay at Walt Disney World. Disney faced criticisms for a new device, addressed them, and is seeing strong uptake two years later. Apple will, too. The biggest challenge Apple faces is investor expectation that every new Apple product will take hold immediately like the iPhone or iPad. The Apple Watch is different: it represents an entry into an evolving market, more akin to the first Model T automobiles. (By contrast, the iPhone cracked an already established telephony industry.) As I discuss in a recently published white paper, both Apple and Disney are acting on a vision to change the way we live. Following is an excerpt discussing why I believe they will succeed.

Ease of Use

Apple and Disney designed the Apple Watch and MagicBand to look good, and they need to look good. The devices are designed to be visible extensions of you, worn prominently on your wrist instead of being tucked away in your pocket. Disney wants Disney World patrons to use their MagicBands to manage their entire stays, including checking into their lodging, buying souvenirs, reserving their ride times via the FastPass+ system, and getting their meals served — akin to using a wristband to live in a city. Apple has even grander ambitions: your Apple Watch is the key to not only buying goods and services, but also handling myriad other aspects of your life, such as managing your fitness.

Apple and Disney need you to feel comfortable about wearing your devices, and for good reason: wearables have been marred by ugly design, and who wants to wear a device that embarrasses the owner? Appearance is so crucial that Apple has departed from its usual custom of providing simple product options and instead provides 38 different Apple Watch designs, ranging in price from $349 to $17,000. Similarly, the Disney MagicBands are available in many different colors (at prices ranging from $12.99 to $29.99), and Disney makes it possible for MagicBand owners to “show off your Disney side” by customizing its look with accessories such as an R2-D2 Magic Slider.

But what makes Apple Watch and MagicBand game changers are their ease of use. Both devices eliminate an action: digging through your belongings to conduct an action. Have you ever found yourself fumbling around for your iPhone to search for a restaurant on Yelp? Dropped your Disney room key while trying to lasso your kids as you dig through your backpack? Apple and Disney just eliminated those aggravating moments and replaced them with more fluid, graceful user interfaces such as swiping, glancing, and speaking.

Pervasiveness

For the products to take hold, they need to be more than user friendly; they need to be pervasive. As Austin Carr of Fast Company notes, Disney designed the MagicBands to support your visit to a metropolis spanning 25,000 acres, comprising four theme parks, 140 attractions, 300 dining locations, Continue reading

Apple and Disney: Extensions of You

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Apple and Disney want more than your money. They want to influence your behavior. Disney’s MagicBand wearable is teaching hundreds of thousands of Walt Disney World visitors how easy it is to manage their vacations with a simple swipe of the wrist. The Apple Watch promises to empower consumers to use their wrists and voices to perform actions ranging from buying coffee to controlling the temperatures of their homes. I use the term “market maker” to refer to a person or business that shapes our lives and behaviors. Small, nimble businesses such as Airbnb and Uber are market makers because they have upended lodging and transportation by convincing people to share services with each other. But as Apple and Disney show, big brands can be market makers, too — and big brands wield more scale. The Apple Watch and MagicBand are imperfect devices that promise to get better as more people use them (the MagicBand, with a two-year head start on the Apple Watch, has already done so). But what makes Apple and Disney market makers isn’t their focus on making better products: it’s their vision to create an extension of you. My new white paper, Apple and Disney: Extensions of You, analyzes the three reasons why the MagicBand and Apple Watch are designed to succeed where other wearables have failed, and I provide tips for your business to embrace wearables successfully. I invite you to download a copy (no registration required) and let me know what you think of it.

How to Win the War for the Everywhere Customer

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The battle for the omni-channel customer experience has become a war for an “everywhere customer,” who uses multiple devices and channels for shopping and expects brands to be everywhere. On average, Americans own four digital devices and users who interact across multiple devices or channels are substantially more likely to purchase than those who do not. Some brands, such as Disney, Macy’s, and Wells Fargo, are moving from awareness to action by rolling out technologies that allow them to service everywhere customers online as well as in-store. And the early adopters will be rewarded: everywhere customers spend an average of 15-to-30 percent more than their counterparts.

Disney is an excellent example of a brand that knows how to design an experience that anticipates and responds to the behaviors of everywhere customers. Disney guides visitors through an online/offline journey at Disney World, from research to purchase to visit. The journey begins at the My Disney Experience website. Registered users rely on My Disney Experience for the most complicated part of their Disneyworld visit: planning. With Disney offering a wide variety of lodging, dining, and ticketing options, planning can be a complex task, and far too complicated for a mobile app. The website makes all those tasks easier. Users create their own profiles, which they may update as they build their itineraries. Users may also collaborate with one another on their vacation planning and reservations. The desktop experience is augmented with live chat, email, and click-to-call tabs for users, who need help planning their vacations or navigating the website.

As users update their itineraries, the Disney master ticket (a laminated card sent to users separately) updates in sync. When guests arrive at a park, their tickets contain up-to-date details such as lodging choices and Fast Pass ride times. Moreover, users may choose to link all their information to a Disney MagicBand, a smart wristband, instead of the laminated card. With the wristband, Disney creates its own customer service channel through the wearable device that is used throughout the entire Disney World experience. My Disney Experience also guides users to the My Disney Experience app, which can be used for managing onsite details such checking park hours and times for character appearances.

My recently published CMO.com column, “‘Everywhere Customers’ Are Your Future,” offers six steps brands can take in order to win the war for this important audience, which I believe define the future of American consumerism. Read the column here and let me know what you think.

How C2E2 Celebrates the Superfan

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Three years ago, I blogged about the first time I attended the Chicago Comic & Entertainment Expo, then in its second year. This fan culture event was overwhelming, and it was difficult to know where to begin talking about the experience. On April 26, I experienced C2E2 from a more personal perspective: my 12-year-old daughter Marion was among the throng of attendees who dress up as their favorite fictional characters ranging from Princess Mononoke to Dr. Who. Marion was adorned in a trench coat and black wings to honor Castiel, an angel in the CW Network series Supernatural. As I noted on a LinkedIn blog post, being with Marion helped me appreciate first-hand a superfan loyalty that is rooted in self-expression and spontaneous community.

Castiel

C2E2 has quickly become a premier destination for fans and companies to gather and celebrate each other over the course of one weekend. C2E2 attracted 53,000 attendees in 2013, up from 40,000 the year before, and the event has taken up more space in the Chicago McCormick Place convention center to accommodate the growing number of merchants and entertainment properties participating.

If you opt into the C2E2 email newsletter, your experience begins well in advance of the actual event. The pedestrian-looking newsletter and website serve up a steady stream of announcements about the show, such as autograph signings (for a fee) by comic book legends such as Stan Lee, a panel with Game of Thrones cast members, or the unveiling of an interactive booth for online game League of Legends.

But you really don’t begin to understand C2E2 until you walk into McCormick Place on the day of the show and take stock of your surroundings. Even before you enter the formal C2E2 convention area, you encounter the superfans expressing their passions. Continue reading

Why We Can’t Stop Talking about Steve Jobs

Apple CEO Steve Jobs introduces the new mini iPod in San Francisco in 2004

If Steve Jobs were alive today, he would be the first to tell you he was not the only person responsible for making Apple succeed. But let’s face it: Steve Jobs defined the Apple brand, a reality that has been underscored lately by grumbling among the pundits that Apple is in danger of losing its swagger and cool (examples here and here). Maybe Jobs defined Apple too well. But the reason we can’t stop talking about him today is that he transcended the Apple brand and did more than sell products. He was a market maker. I recently introduced the term market maker to describe business people who act like artists and change the world with their personal visions. Successful marketers sell things; but market makers inspire people to act, to believe, and to live their lives differently. Jobs is one of four market makers, including Ahmet Ertegun, Anita Roddick, and Guy Kawasaki, whom I profile in my recently published white paper, How to Be a Market Maker.  Jobs influenced entire industries, ranging from consumer products to music. But is he so extraordinary that everyday people cannot relate to his achievements? I think not. I believe we can adopt a little of Steve Jobs at his best by living our lives with passion no matter what we do.

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Steve Jobs is the kind of market maker we might call a creator. Creators are directly involved in the development of products and services for a company. Creators have a vision for how the world should work and are bold enough to impose that vision on those around them through the products and services they develop.

By now Jobs’s life is so well known it plays like the plot of a movie we’ve all seen hundreds of times (and, of course, we’ll soon be able to see a real movie about him): his explosive early years at Apple, when his company introduced a new vision for fusing design, user experience, and computing; the exile from Apple, when he founded the revolutionary Pixar Animation; and his glorious second act as CEO of Apple, when the company completely disrupted industries ranging from music to telecommunications by introducing wave upon wave of innovative mobile devices that changed how we consume content.

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Throughout his storied career, Jobs, more than anyone, humanized technology. So great was his impact on popular culture, that upon his death, his image graced the covers of publications ranging from The New Yorker to Rolling Stone. Macs came along when personal computers were widely perceived as the province of a nerdy few. Apple did something that still seems astounding: turned an impersonal computing device into something warm and desirable.(My family still owns our clamshell iMac from the late 1990s — even though we don’t use it anymore, we just love having it around because with its sleek cover and aqua green finish, it looks like a piece of art.)

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With the iPad, Apple essentially made a computing device a natural extension of our sense of touch. The iPhone transformed the mobile phone from a boring utility to a playful toy that we can’t do without. In fact, half of all Americans now say we sleep next to our mobile phones.

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And of course Apple helped disrupt the entire music industry through iTunes and the iPod — liberating music from the limits of analog and empowering consumers to make music part of their mobile lifestyles. As Randy Lewis of the Los Angeles Times wrote, “With Apple’s iTunes and iPod, [Steve Jobs] revived the single, put music libraries in fans’ pockets and posed a challenge to brick-and-mortar record stores and radio.” Record companies, betting on the long-term success of the compact disc, failed to respond to how Apple was helping to turn consumers from album aficionados to snackers of individual digital downloads. The music industry is still trying to catch up.

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Jobs’s legacy at Apple is so astonishing that it’s easy to overlook what he accomplished by founding and developing Pixar. Pixar would eventually do far more than create high-quality blockbuster entertainment. Pixar changed movie making. Pixar movies taught Hollywood how to gracefully fuse technology, humanity, and storytelling. The Pixar team created movies that somehow turned animated objects like toy cowboys into fully realized characters injected with humanity.

Pixar-Characters

In doing so, Pixar made it cool for anyone to enjoy a family film: single gay male urbanites, suburban parents, children, teens too self-consciously hip for Bambi — to name but a few demographics. Pixar has touched. Pixar launched animated movies that children can enjoy again as fully-grown adults — and that adults can enjoy for the first time without children in tow. By contrast, even Disney classics like Snow White and Pinocchio are forever remembered as animated family movies that children appreciate the most.

As Brent Schlender wrote in a Fast Company recollection of Steve Jobs, Pixar upended the entire business model of animation. Although Jobs’ contributions to Pixar were more financial than creative, the company succeeded because Jobs recognized that at its core, Pixar is a content company, not a creator of computer animation.

Steve Jobs best exemplifies a trait common to all market marketers: a burning passion. Steve Jobs “put passion into products,” noted James B. Stewart in one of the many heart-felt tributes to Jobs written in the aftermath of his death in 2011. In his acclaimed biography, Steve Jobs, Walter Isaacson describes the moment when unveiled iTunes to jazz trumpeter Wynton Marsalis, who turned out to be an indifferent audience:

“Watch what it can do!” Jobs kept insisting when Marsalis’s attention would wander. “See how the interface works.” Marsalis later recalled, “I don’t care much about computers, and kept telling him so, but he goes on for two hours. He was a man possessed. After a while, I started looking at him and not the computer, because I was so fascinated with his passion.”

Isaacson also recounts the time Jobs decided to make a major overhaul to the design of the iPhone as the project neared completion, telling designer Jonathan Ive that “‘I didn’t sleep last night because I realized that I just don’t love it’ . . . Ive, to his dismay, instantly realized Jobs was right.”

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In fact, Jobs expressed his passion for design in every aspect of his life. He personally supervised the construction of an old-fashioned brick factory-style building for Pixar, and according to Brent Schlender, if the colors of the custom-made bricks were not distributed evenly enough, Jobs made the bricklayers tear apart the bricks and start over. (But those exacting standards also had a down side. When people failed to live up to what he wanted, he could be brutal and insufferable, as you can read in Ben Austin’s Wired August 2012 cover piece, “Do You Really Want to Be Like Steve Jobs?”)

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All the market makers profiled in this white paper demonstrate passion.

Anita Roddick, founder of the Body Shop, was passionate about human rights, and, in particular, women’s rights. The entire premise behind the Body Shop was selling cosmetics without sexism and eschewing the cult of youth. Guy Kawasaki is passionate about injecting enchanting values and practices in the work place — and if you’ve ever worked with him, you know he has an equally strong zeal for clear, simple communication. Ahmet Ertegun, co-founder of Atlantic Records, was so passionate about music that he sometimes lived in the studio with the artists on his label.

It doesn’t matter whether you work for a pet food store or write for a living: you can be a market maker by acting with passion.

Netflix: You Can’t Always Get What You Want

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If the ultimate measure of a brand is what you do, not what you say, then Netflix is underperforming seriously. The company brags that “Netflix members can watch as much as they want, anytime, anywhere, on nearly any Internet-connected screen” and that members have can “instantly watch unlimited movies and TV shows streaming over the Internet.”  But in reality, members have access to a very limited streaming inventory a problem exacerbated by the newly announced HBO/Universal Pictures agreement that will box out Netflix for the next decade. And recent high-profile service outages have made a mockery of the promise of “anytime, anywhere” viewing. Netflix would do well to start taking accountability for its brand and consider revising its brand promise to manage the expectations of its members.

As has been widely reported, Netflix suffered embarrassing service outages on Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve. Netflix blamed Amazon Web Services for the Christmas Eve outage, and Amazon took accountability by apologizing and explaining the outage. Well, blaming Amazon Web Services helps members understand what happened, but the problem is that no one really wants to hear explanations, nor should they. We don’t need to know how the sausage is made; if we get a faulty product, we need accountability.

But for all the bad PR the services outages caused, a bigger, more ongoing threat to the Netflix brand consists of limited streaming inventory — a shortcoming Netflix attempted to redress with its December 2012 play for exclusive rights to Walt Disney Studios, only to suffer a setback in January 2013 when HBO and Universal agreed to a distribution arrangement that blocks Netflix from crucial content for years.

You don’t stream movies on demand on Netflix; you watch whatever Netflix can make available to you. In recent days, I wanted to watch four movies that Netflix lacked online: Breakdown, The Dead Zone (the 1983 version), Executive Decision, and Waiting for Guffman. In three out of four cases, the movies I wanted were available on DVD only, and the fourth, not at all. These are just recent examples. Too often, Netflix is not a place for me to stream a specific movie that I have in mind, especially with catalog titles — a major problem for the affluent and growing Baby Boomer population, which has money to spend and movie memories that date back a lot farther than The Hunger Games. Clearly, Netflix has a long way to go in order to fulfill its brand promise for people who want to stream movies. And remember, Netflix wants you to stream movies. This is the company that tried to foist streaming on its customers in the first place.

So what’s the solution? I think Netflix should take accountability where it matters: price. When a movie you want is not available, Netflix should offer you a rebate. When Netflix suffers an outage, Netflix should offer you a price break. Would putting its money where its mouth is motivate Netflix to become a high-performance brand? Moreover, Netflix could address the shortage of streaming inventory by revising its brand promise and setting expectations. For instance, movie service Fandor sets expectations by promising members “an online destination for watching amazing independent films from all over the world.”

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You won’t find Die Hard on Fandor, but you’ll have success with more esoteric movies such as the 1921 Buster Keaton comedy Hard Luck. By contrast, Netflix has engineered itself to disappoint by positioning itself as something of an all-purpose movie rental destination, which it certainly is not. Is Netflix the preferred brand for television enthusiasts? For recently run movies? I don’t know, but I’d like for Netflix to tell me. Unless Netflix does a better job protecting its brand, ironically Amazon will eat Netflix for lunch.

Co-creation is the future of marketing

I recently wrote a blog post for the iCrossing Content Lab regarding the Raytheon Sum of All Thrills ride — an intriguing experience in which you build your own virtual ride using computer design tools provided by Raytheon. I was excited to see Doug Williams of Forrester Research comment on my post through one of this own, “Co-creating Value at Disney World.” Doug goes beyond what I wrote to describe some other ways Disney World guests can create their own entertainment content. I hope you take a moment to read his post as well as this one by Joe Chernov on content co-creation.

Co-creation is the future of marketing. As my colleagues at iCrossing discussed in a white paper last year, both brands and consumers are acting like their own media now, with access to the same tools to publish their own ideas year-round. So it’s only natural that those two worlds would converge. Content co-creation occurs in a few important ways: