Amazon: One Industry to Rule Them All?

For once, Amazon is playing catch-up.

The great disruptor is just another player in the entertainment space. Amazon Studios, its TV and movie arm, is still looking for a blockbuster like Game of Thrones to compete in an elite league defined by HBO, Hulu, and Netflix. Amazon Music is a follower behind Spotify and Apple Music.

But recently Amazon has made some moves in a bid to transform itself from a follower into a leader. Let’s take a closer look. Continue reading

Blessed Are the Change Agents

Years ago, an agency asked me to define its target buyer as part of a brand repositioning. My client wanted to do business with companies eager to innovate. I recommended that my client stop thinking of its buyer in terms of a formal title such as CMO and instead seek out a persona I referred to as the change agent — which I described as a leader who is in a position to effect behavioral change needed for a business to grow and innovate. Find the change agents, I reasoned, and you find the wellsprings of innovation inside a company.

So I read with interest a new report from Brian Solis, The Digital Change Agent’s Manifesto. It turns out that over the past few years, Brian has been interviewing about 30 change agents (with a focus on digital change agents) to better understand them – and to provide a road map for change agents to flourish.

A Revelation

Brian’s report is a revelation. Here is a report that helps businesses identify change agents inside their own organization and set them up for success. His report is also a rallying cry for people who believe they are change agents or on the path to becoming one. Brian maps out the attributes of a change agents, calls out stumbling blocks to success, and identifies 10 mandates for change agents to prosper. Although he focuses on digital change agents — because of the distinct challenges and opportunities digital presents — the report is a manifesto for change agents of any type.

Why You Should Read Brian’s Report

Business leaders should read Brian’s report for one simple reason: at a time when digital disruption has become the norm, companies that can find and support change agents more quickly than their competitors will possess a distinct advantage. Companies that fail to nurture and support change agents will lose these visionaries to someone else who can. And change agents don’t exactly walk around wearing “Ask Me about Change” buttons.  In fact, they might be flying beneath the radar screen, by choice. Brian’s report will help a C-level executive find and uplift them.

Continue reading

The New CEO Job Requirement: Social Media

JDRichard

The sad results are in: 70 percent of all CEOs have no presence on social networks. And John Mackey of Whole Foods is the only CEO of a Fortune 500 firm who maintains his own blog — yeah, the same John Mackey who stepped in it by comparing Obamacare to facism in an interview with NPR. Hey: it’s time for CEOs to rethink their approach to social — or should I say get an approach since I doubt they think about social very much. Social media is a job requirement for the CEO.

In 2012, George Colony, CEO of Forrester Research (and an excellent blogger), delivered a presentation about why CEOs don’t use social media, and the reasons apply today: a general aversion to risk, lack of time, a generational bias against social, and the existence of regulatory constraints (as Netflix CEO Reed Hastings recently reminded us). Those constraints are understandable — but CEOs need to get over them. The fact is, CEOs need social media. Social helps CEOs better understand their market, their customers, their employees, and their own brands. Even better, social can help CEOs run their companies more effectively. An IBM study says that brands without social CEOs are less competitive, and according to Social Media Today, eight out of 10 employees want to work for social CEOs.

Recently, I sat down with Jermaine Dupri, to discuss how social media helps him be a better CEO of So So Def Recordings. As you might know, Dupri blew up the So So Def Recordings website and replaced it with his own social media community, Global 14. Dupri and I published the outcome of our conversation as a byline in Fast Company, available here. The byline discusses five ways social helps him run So So Def, an example being the way Global 14 gives him insight into up-and-coming musical talent. We also cite other CEOs who use social media effectively, such as Richard Branson, whose use of platforms like Twitter humanizes the Virgin brand.

If you are a CEO (or aspire to operate at that level), I hope our byline helps you embrace social, even if all you have time for is the occasional tweet. Just don’t blow off social.

Netflix: You Can’t Always Get What You Want

netflix-for-windows-8-app-review-0

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.”

welcome-to-fandor-where-great-movies-live

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.

Why Amazon and Netflix don’t always know best

It’s far too easy to allow ourselves to be led around by the nose.

Amazon tells us what to buy. Netflix and Pandora suggest movies and music based on our tastes. Facebook and Google+ suggest friends to us. Twitter tells us whom to follow.

But those tools reinforce what we know already. They broaden our horizons only incrementally.

To make a creative and intellectual breakthrough that forces you to grow, I believe it’s important to find moments of serendipity – when you stumble on new ideas that seemingly lack any immediate application to your life. You won’t find those moments by allowing others to curate your life for you.

Here are a few examples of how I’ve tried to spark moments of serendipity:

1. Getting immersed in a different setting

For most of my life, I was not interested in medieval history. So I had low expectations when I joined my family on my first visit to the Bristol Renaissance Faire a few years ago. The faire re-creates the town of Bristol, England, in the year 1574, complete with period costumes, jugglers, minstrel entertainers, and a visit from the Queen of England. And as I’ve mentioned on my blog, the faire enchanted me on my first visit.

It’s not just the passion and spirit of the fairgoers that attracts me – it’s those moments of personal serendipity that occur on so many visits. Recently, by complete chance, I discovered a band known as the New Minstrel Revue, who opened my mind to the gentle and beautiful sounds of Celtic folk.

One of my favorite things to do at the faire is to walk into the Compass Rose music shop and buy whatever the store is playing at the time. It’s a total hit-and-miss proposition that has introduced me to new music I might not have heard otherwise – such as Sacred and Secular music from Renaissance Germany (a selection that I doubt Pandora would have suggested based on my musical interests).

This year I happened to be walking through the dusty Bristol streets and heard a strange, beautiful drone-like guitar sound. By simply following the siren call of the music, I discovered the Darbuki Kings playing bouzouki and drums with a belly dancer. Even better, Antone Darbuki took the time to show me how he strums an exotic sound with an open G tuning on his bouzouki strings.

I had heard of the bouzouki — but I had no appreciation for what a bouzouki could do until this chance encounter at Bristol.

Continue reading

How to handle a customer divorce

How do you say goodbye to a customer who no longer wants you?

Smart marketers realize that ex-customers can help or hurt your brand depending on how you treat them when they want to leave. Here are two examples: one from a company that does not understand this reality, and the other from one who does.

The Bad: Earthlink

I recently decided to drop Earthlink for my Internet access at home. I grew tired of its bad service and of being harassed by my friends (“You use Earthlink? They still around? I’ll bet you’re a big fan of AOL, too.”)

After some easy surfing online, I found a phone number to call in order to drop my account. Well, wouldn’t you know? Right off the bat, I’m in phone-tree hell. After enduring the usual awkward voice prompts (“What are you calling about? Please say one of the following options”) and a lengthy hold time, I got through to a human being — who, of course, was disappointed to learn that I was calling to say goodbye.

The Earthlink dude subjected me to a battery of questions about why I wanted to drop the service and how come I wasn’t satisfied when his records showed I had had several conversations with its tech support team. He wanted to open up the service logs and discuss each issue I’d encountered and why those issues were not resolved.

I explained that the very fact those issues (some going back years) were not resolved was good enough reason for me to look elsewhere for service, and at this point it was just time for me to move on . . . so please, what was the next step to do that?

He transferred me to someone else in the billing department.

So the next Earthlink dude again subjected me to a battery of questions about why I wanted to drop the service – kind of like a rinse and repeat of my dialogue with the first Earthlink dude. Earthlink Dude #2 then warned me about all the emails to my dead account that would go unanswered forever (as if I always wanted to read those unsolicited offers to enhance my manhood).

And then he offered me a service that would allow me to check my emails even after I had dropped Earthlink (for a monthly fee, of course). So here’s what happened:

Me: “I have switched to another email provider, so let’s not worry about that. I know you have a job to do, but let’s just use this time to cancel my account.”

Him: “I would like to transfer you to tech support to discuss your issues at this point.”

Me: “Um, no. I’m really done.”

Him: “Then I must put you on hold for awhile to complete this transaction.”

Me: “How long?”

Him: “Just awhile.”

Me: “But we’re done.  Please. I’ve been on the line awhile. I just want to stop being a customer.”

Him: “I need to get information and confirm with Earthlink.”

On, and on . . . and on the conversation went. Eventually I was liberated (I think – I’ll really know when I stop getting billed for service.)

The Good: Netflix

I needed to do some budget cutting last year. Alas, I had to say goodbye to Netflix at least for awhile. Netflix made it easy – but also difficult, in a good way — to say goodbye.

The easy part: you just go online and drop your account by yourself. Just a few clicks and you are done. No muss, no fuss, no pushback, no guilt trip. The site uses clear but friendly language letting you know that you will be missed.

But Netflix makes you think before you drop your account. Via an online interface, Netflix offers you a few alternatives for saving money before you go away, like scaling back your subscription. The offer is not done in an annoying way, more like “Before you go, have you thought about these alternatives?”

And, if you truly do want to stop being a customer, Netflix offers to save your personal preferences for your account in case you want to return some day. Brilliant. In essence, Netflix is saying, “We’re sorry to see you go, but we won’t forget you if you want to come back.”

And after that, Netflix gently follows up with special offers just in case you might want to return – a great approach that only makes me wonder if customers might be tempted to drop Netflix in order to be courted again.

The lesson? Customers can be brand ambassadors or detractors long after they do business with you. Netflix understands. Earthlink does not.

 

Netflix wants to own your entertainment

According to Deadline Hollywood, Netflix has become a content creator (not just distributor) by outbidding HBO and AMC to underwrite the production of House of Cards, a 26-episode drama series directed by David Fincher. Deadline Hollywood says that the deal (probably worth more than $100 million) is for Netflix “probably the biggest gamble in its 14-year history” — and “could change the way people consume TV shows.” Here’s what Netflix gets out of becoming a content producer:

  • An opportunity to own the streaming entertainment experience. Netflix can exert more control over its product — not just streaming someone else’s movies but owning the creation, marketing, and distribution of its own entertainment. It’s as it iTunes became a record label.
  • New possibilities for pricing and bundling content. It will be interesting to see what kind of premium pricing and/or subscription incentives Netflix will bundle into the distribution of House of Cards.

The deal has its risks, too, not the least being Netflix’s two-year commitment to the drama series. If the series bombs, Netflix is stuck. By contrast, Netflix bears far less of a financial burden by sharing content created by someone else.

Another risk comes to the Netflix brand: a poorly received product will tarnish Netflix because the company has a stake in its creation. By contrast, we don’t blame Netflix when we rent a disappointing movie from its library as we know it today; we simply return the movie and try again, or stream something else.

Netflix has hedged its bets by investing into a project whose executive producer and director is the highly regarded David Fincher. Moreover, Kevin Spacey (whose work has been inconsistent in recent years) will star and executive produce.

You can expect more companies to act as publishers for one simple reason: thanks to the proliferation of self-publishing platforms like GoAnimate and YouTube, people have become their own content publishers and expect brands to follow their lead. In effect, Netflix isn’t breaking any ground here — the company is merely following the example set by you and me. But with a lot more risk and reward.

Redbox delivers a social experience

If you haven’t heard of Redbox, you will soon.

Redbox rents DVDs for $1 a day through more than 15,000 vending machines.  As reported by the Associated Press recently, Redbox is fast emerging as a rival to Netflix.  I’ve rented from Redbox several times and agree with Netflix CEO Reed Hastings, who said that movie rental kiosks will likely be the Number 1 competitor to Netflix, according to the AP.  And why is that?

  • Redbox is convenient.  The vending machines are often found near the entrances of supermarkets and drug stores.  It’s easy to combine a DVD rental with a quick trip to pick up some soda pop and chips.  But Redbox is also banking on the impulse renter. It’s just too darned easy to pick up a DVD on the way out of the store similar to scooping up a magazine or candy bar at the check-out lane.  The concept is brilliant.
  • Redbox is simple.  The pricing terms are easy: you rent movies for $1 dollar a night.  There are no complicated, multi-tiered pricing systems to understand.  And the movie rental categories are simple. You don’t encounter the dizzying array of specialty categories found at movie rental stores, like Family Favorites, Hollywood Favorites, Movies about Psychotics, Just Fallen off the Top 10, Classics for Kids, Classics for Teens, Romances Pre-1950, and so on.  Redbox has to keep the choices simple.  You don’t have a lot of time to ponder your options on your way out to the car with a gallon of cold milk in your shopping cart.
  • Redbox is social.  I don’t even think Redbox knows this yet.  But renting and returning DVDs is a social experience at Redbox vending machines.   I’m amazed at how many times strangers walk up to each other at a Redbox and seek out each other’s movie opinions or swap informal movie talk. (“You returning Revolutionary Road?  What did you think?”) Maybe I shouldn’t be surprised given that Redboxes are located in places where people congregate.

In the digital world, peer reviews of movies happen all the time.  Capturing that dynamic in the offline world is trickier.  Even still, I  would not be surprised if Redbox figures out how to capitalize on the surprisingly social aspect of renting movies from a vending machine.  It’s not difficult to imagine what would happen if you could find Redboxes near restaurants and bars, for example.

Redbox has its flaws.  The downside of a simple inventory is a limited inventory.  You still have to leave your house to return movies, and it’s possible for the vending machines to malfunction.  But until Netflix can figure out how to deliver movies on demand to your television set, Redbox is a fun, social alternative.

if you’ve tried Redbox, let me know what you think of it.

Avenue A | Razorfish Unveils Top 10 Digital Brands

In a previous blog post, I mentioned that my Avenue A | Razorfish colleague Joe Crump was going to discuss “Digital Darwinism” at the Cannes International Advertising Festival on June 21. Today I’m making available to you his final presentation courtesy of SlideShare. Make sure you check out the top 10 digital brands, which Joe unveiled at Cannes using the Avenue A | Razorfish proprietary Brand Genes Scoreboard:

1. Google

2. Apple

3. YouTube

4. Flickr

5. Netflix

6. Nike

6. eBay

8. IKEA

9. Coca-Cola

10. Mercedes

These brands scored the highest when we measured them against atributes like immersion (how easy it is for a consumer to become engaged with your digital home), social (whether a consumer finds your brand worth sharing), and adaptive (how well a brand responds to a consumer’s digital environment), among other qualities. By contrast, the Interbrand top brands are as follows:

1. Coca-Cola

2. Mercedes

3. General Electric

4. Nokia

5. Microsoft

6. IBM

7. Disney

8. McDonald’s

9. Toyota

10. Intel

Coca-Cola and Mercedes are the only two Interbrand top brands that make the Avenue A | Razorfish top 10 list. So . . . do you agree or disagree with Avenue A | Razorfish? For more reading on Digital Darwinism, go here.

Avenue A | Razorfish Unveils Top 10 Digital Brands

In a previous blog post, I mentioned that my Avenue A | Razorfish colleague Joe Crump was going to discuss “Digital Darwinism” at the Cannes International Advertising Festival on June 21. Today I’m making available to you his final presentation courtesy of SlideShare. Make sure you check out the top 10 digital brands, which Joe unveiled at Cannes using the Avenue A | Razorfish proprietary Brand Genes Scoreboard:

1. Google

2. Apple

3. YouTube

4. Flickr

5. Netflix

6. Nike

6. eBay

8. IKEA

9. Coca-Cola

10. Mercedes

These brands scored the highest when we measured them against atributes like immersion (how easy it is for a consumer to become engaged with your digital home), social (whether a consumer finds your brand worth sharing), and adaptive (how well a brand responds to a consumer’s digital environment), among other qualities. By contrast, the Interbrand top brands are as follows:

1. Coca-Cola

2. Mercedes

3. General Electric

4. Nokia

5. Microsoft

6. IBM

7. Disney

8. McDonald’s

9. Toyota

10. Intel

Coca-Cola and Mercedes are the only two Interbrand top brands that make the Avenue A | Razorfish top 10 list. So . . . do you agree or disagree with Avenue A | Razorfish? For more reading on Digital Darwinism, go here.