+Aziz seeks to do for Middle Eastern indie music what the Velvet Underground did for rock and roll: create performance art. On June 21-22 at New York’s Hotel Particulier, +Aziz and a group of musicians will draw upon music, ambient sounds, and theater to take his audience on a journey through Middle Eastern culture. In doing so, they’ll share in a tradition established by artists such as the Velvets, Laurie Anderson, Brian Eno, and Peter Gabriel: daring an audience instead of entertaining them.
In fact, the Kuwaiti songwriter and indie musician revels in the prospect of liberating music from what he perceives to be the strictures of entertainment. He rejects music glorified on mainstream Arab media, which he derisively refers to as “plastic surgery pop.” Instead, he seeks to synthesize natural sounds with music and cultural flourishes from the Middle East, such as the use of incense to enrich a performance. He will also perform three songs in Arabic (and provide translations). Also, catering will be provided by taïm, a falafel food truck.
The performance, titled UNCOLLECTABLE, is part of a larger project developed by +Aziz alongside ArteEast, an arts nonprofit focusing on contemporary Middle Eastern art. Those interested in a discussion of Middle Eastern sound art can find a published eMagazineon ArteEast’s website. Part Two consists of the June performance. And then Part Three will consist of an art exhibit from June 20-July 10 at Hotel Particulier in Soho.
+Aziz will draw upon his passion for music and cultural trend spotting (he works at brand strategy firm FATHOM + HATCH and is a regular contributor to PSFK) to fulfill his vision for synthesizing culture and music.
On May 7, music mogul Jermaine Dupri and I were fortunate to have a byline published in Fast Company concerning four tips for successful co-branding. Co-branding — or sharing your own brand with an outside brand — is an increasingly popular way for celebrities like Justin Timberlake and major corporations such as Budweiser to generate awareness and to promote launches of products and services. The following post contains the unabridged version of our byline in case you’d like to have a bit more context about how my employer iCrossing has successfully built a co-brand with Dupri. Our bottom line: don’t co-brand to create hype. Focus on co-creating value.
To build your brand, sometimes you have to share your brand. And increasingly, big companies like Budweiser and Harley-Davidson choosing to co-brand with celebrities like Justin Timberlake and Kid Rock through relationships that range from sponsoring each other’s activities to the celebrity taking on quasi-roles such as strategic counselor or creative director.
But for co-brands to endure beyond the superficial level of a one-off press release, both parties need to stipulate realistic goals and co-create value. Those are among the lessons iCrossing and Jermaine Dupri have learned through an unusual co-branding relationship that has helped reinvent Dupri’s image as a technology leader, increased membership for his Global 14 social media community, and developed iCrossing’s image as a creative, socially savvy agency.
After forming our relationship in February 2012, within 10 months we boosted membership for Dupri’s Global 14 community by 43 percent, improved Dupri’s Twitter following from 381,000 to 620,000, increased iCrossing’s own Twitter following by more than 40 percent, and, most importantly, gave both iCrossing and Dupri recognition among mainstream influencers.
Here’s what we’ve learned along the way.
Define Realistic Goals
A co-brand starts with an understanding of what you both want out of the relationship before you start working together. And your expectations need to be realistic. In 2011, Madonna and Smirnoff formed the Nightlife Exchange with goals of building digital reach for Smirnoff and generating business for both Madonna and Smirnoff.
According to Christopher Swope of Live Nation, the relationship (which featured a special global dance talent search in 2011) has helped Smirnoff achieve double-digit sales growth in key markets (with the help of a specially branded Madonna VIP Access Smirnoff Limited Edition pack) and generate 1.8 billion media impressions. The relationship also helped Madonna make her MDNA tour the highest grossing of 2012. Not bad at all.
The relationship between iCrossing and Jermaine Dupri also started with agreed upon goals and a plan to achieve them. Dupri wanted iCrossing help to drive membership for his Global 14 community, which he launched in 2011 as a platform for young entrepreneurs and musicians to share common interests with himself and each other. He was already a music legend. He also wanted to develop his reputation as a technology and business leader.
iCrossing wanted build our reputation for thought leadership, creativity and social media by tapping into the convergence of entertainment and technology.
But our goals needed to complement each other, too. Had Dupri aspired to increase his visibility among the hip-hop community, he didn’t need iCrossing’s help. But iCrossing could definitely help him drive Global 14 membership through social media and content marketing. Conversely, iCrossing needed to define goals that Dupri was in a position to help iCrossing achieve, such as increasing awareness for our own social media and thought leadership expertise.
Co-creating means co-developing products, services, and ideas. U2 and Apple ignited the flame of celebrity/corporate co-creation in 2004, when they collaborated on the launch of the iPod U2 Special Edition, housed in a special black case, and laser-engraved with the signatures of each band member on the back.
As part of their co-brand, Apple and U2 also made U2’s single “Vertigo” exclusively available on iTunes as well as a first-of-its kind digital box set of U2’s catalog. What made the arrangement special was that two icons were sharing their most prized assets to create specially branded products, a model that we’ve often seen emulated, a recent example being Kid Rock and Harley-Davidson agreeing to offer limited-edition, co-branded Rebel Soul merchandise featuring a line coined by Kid Rock: “I can’t hear you over the rumble of my freedom.
By co-creating content, we are both developing a product to support our goals — akin to Justin Timberlake and Budweiser actually making a beer together. Co-created thought leadership is important because content consist of iCrossing’s product given the work we do as an agency.
iCrossing also acts as a co-publisher, relying on our own social spaces to disseminate our ideas and Dupri’s among Fortune 500 influencers — our own clients.
Find Natural Areas of Interest
A hip-hop mogul and a digital agency. The mogul runs a record label. The agency helps companies like Coca-Cola build connected brands. What do they have in common? Well, it didn’t take long to find out. Dupri loves social media and technology; so does iCrossing. Dupri hustles content ranging from his blog posts to Instagram photos. So does iCrossing. We’ve defined a credible intersection of our shared pursuits that makes sense for our brands.
Finding common passions makes for a more authentic relationship. For instance, Dodge Ram and country musician Zac Brown have successfully joined forces around a common interest: community goodwill. In 2010, Ram and Zac Brown launched the Letters for Lyrics partnership to deliver 1 million letters to U.S. soldiers, and in March Brown and Ram joined forces to put up for auction his own Ram truck in order to benefit Camp Southern Ground, which provides programs for children including those with learning disabilities and behavioral disorders. The relationship is no gimmick — Ram has a history of working with country artists to support charitable causes, and Brown founded Camp Southern Ground. Theirs is a relationship centered on a true passion for both brands.
Defining common areas of interest also helps you rule out activities that don’t help us meet our goals. For instance, it does not make a whole lot of sense for iCrossing to promote Dupri’s gigs as a DJ. We are not in the music and artist promotion business. Nor will you find Dupri collaborating with iCrossing on a paid search campaign anytime soon. We’re focused only on the activities that make sense for us both.
One announcement does not make a relationship. A co-brand, like a garden, needs to be nurtured to grow.
Certainly Nike and Michael Jordan created the gold standard for a committed relationship between a company and a superstar individual brand. After launching their relationship in 1984, the two brands embarked on a journey that helped change the way brands and celebrities work together — and a journey that has endured highs (six NBA championships for Jordan) and unexpected turns (such as Jordan’s shocking but temporary retirement from basketball to play professional baseball). Jordan did more than collaborate with Nike on the launch of a line of shoe wear; he literally became a business partner. The Jordan Brand, a division of Nike, helps Jordan earn $80 million annually in retirement. And Nike has obviously benefitted, releasing its 28th shoe in the Jordan franchise in 2013 and commanding 58 percent of the shoe market in the United States according to SportsOneSource.
Jordan and Nike have provided a model for anyone who aspires to create a long-term relationship, including iCrossing and Jermaine Dupri. We have also stayed committed to achieving our goals for more than a year, investing our time and effort to brainstorm on ideas, adjusting our approaches when needed, and refining our messaging as Global 14 has evolved. We focused first on creating content on social media and then more actively brought event appearances into the mix, and we’ve also adapted our story to bring in fresh thinking, such as how a CEO like Jermaine Dupri can become more effective thanks to social media.
Relationships are going to experience occasional hiccups, such as the awkward moment that occurred when it was reported that Alicia Keys uses an iPhone after she signed a co-brand with Blackberry. No relationship is perfect, and you’re both going to need to be open to learning and growing together in order to succeed.
We believe that iCrossing and Jermaine Dupri are creating a model for co-branding because of our focus on creating content together. Stay tuned. We’re just getting warmed up.
On November 1, I was honored to appear onstage with Jermaine Dupriat the PSFK Conference San Francisco 2012, where we discussed how Dupri’s Global 14 social networking site brings community back to social media. The entire conference featured designers, creative thinkers, and marketers who shared innovative ways to operate businesses and build brands. The underlying theme was that brands should seize the opportunity to do good, not just make money.
Global 14 helps emerging musicians develop their careers and creates an environment for all members to share ideas, not just social updates. (“We have lost communication on social networks and have become a social notifying world,” Dupri said.)
Regina Ellis of the Children’s Cancer Associationdelivered the most powerful presentation, which concerned the business of spreading joy. She opened her talk by describing the loss of her own daughter to cancer — an experience that Continue reading →
How he’s used Global 14 to broaden his brand beyond hip-hop and into fashion, relationships, and other lifestyle interests.
The integration of Global 14 with the offline world, as seen through his recent Crown Life 1414 Tour, which saw Dupri visit 14 cities in 14 days to introduce Global 14 members to each other via parties he hosted.
The Social Media Week panel gained coverage in publications such as Black Enterprise, Differences, Mashable, Heidi Cohen’s blog, and PSFK. As I note in my Great Finds post, I think smaller, specialized sites like Global 14 are resonating because they speak to people and brands looking for an alternative to the sprawling and impersonal world of Facebook. What do you think?
As a senior executive at a Fortune 500 firm recently told me, “I became a believer in real-time marketing because I got tired of spending months formulating ideas for brand campaigns only to see that consumers had changed by the time I had launched the campaign.”
This blog post comes to you live from the PSFK Chicago Salon, “Fueling Imagination.” During a morning session, Mig Reyes, Brock Rumer, and Colleen Wilson discuss the employee culture inside Threadless, the successful T-shirt designer and merchandiser that famously crowdsources designs.
The Threadless team expresses bemusement at all the news media attention devoted to Threadless. To them, there is no secret to the success of Threadless: be human and rely on friends. That’s all there is to it: seek ideas for T shirt designs, quickly act on the good ones, and be cool to people as you do it. Spread good karma and get good karma.
According to Team Threadless, successful T-shirt design ideas can come from anywhere including inside Threadless — customer service, the CEO, anywhere. And it’s not just a matter of crowdsourcing designs — Threadless also crowdsources ideas for improving the way the company operates. Mig says that encouraging employees to generate ideas was inspired by Facebook and Google, two companies that make it a point to set aside time for employees to think creatively.
According to Brock, Threadless discourages prima donna behavior and encourages employees to embrace their inner whackiness, including the manner in which employees tweet. According to Colleen and Mig, Threadless also encourages people to be human. The culture is open with a come-as-you-are vibe in the office. (“We want to work with people who are not afraid to embarrass themselves,” says Mig.) And that authenticity extends to the way Threadless markets itself. Threadless does not typically use models to show off its T shirts but real employees who look like you and me. If the company makes a mistake, a real person owns up to the problem and deals with it. You don’t get a bland “Sorry for your inconvenience” message from a phone tree if a T-shirt order is botched, but a “Man, we messed up” from a real employee — a personal approach partly inspired by Zappos, Mig says.
Have fun. Be human. Be respectful. And do it all with friends. Those are the principles of the Threadless culture. And that culture shines through in its marketing and service approach.
PS: great to be at a PSFK Salon and meeting Piers Fawkes, and I enjoyed reconnecting with Brock, a former Razorfish Chicago colleague.