January 2nd, 2009, 1 Comment »
We were in the McNally Robinson bookstore in Nolita yesterday. It’s an excellent store, full of great books. As it turns out, it’s Canadian-owned (other stores are in Winnipeg, Saskatoon and Toronto) and shares a space with a tea house owned by Moby.
Inside, I noticed a couple of book-selling ideas that were new to me. Neither was particularly original, I guess, but they struck me as clever ways to repackage the dead tree tome.
The first was a series of tree thematically-linked books, pre-wrapped as a ready-made-gift. Very handy for the lazy gift buyer (and wrapper):
I also spotted these attractively-packaged bundles of a DVD and the book on which it was based:
Neither idea is earth-shattering, but if I were a book seller these seem like to handy ways to sell more product.
This, incidentally, is an ancient but still very useful marketing tactic. I’ve written about it before: visit country X, steal clever ideas and implement them in country Y.
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December 2nd, 2008, 2 Comments »
I enjoyed Paul Graham’s recent essay on corporate bureaucracy, and how there’s such a thing as too many checks and balances:
Checks on purchases will always be expensive, because the harder it is to sell something to you, the more it has to cost. And not merely linearly, either. If you’re hard enough to sell to, the people who are best at making things don’t want to bother. The only people who will sell to you are companies that specialize in selling to you. Then you’ve sunk to a whole new level of inefficiency. Market mechanisms no longer protect you, because the good suppliers are no longer in the market.
In thinking about my day job at Capulet, this article really resonated with me. We’ve been lucky to have no shortage of work over the past few years, and the luxury to be pickier about which clients we take on.
We’ve got sundry criteria for what makes an ideal client. One consideration is the formality of their processes.
When talking with a potential client, I start to worry if they ask for a lengthy, formal proposal. It’s rarely worth our time to write such proposals (and, you know, they’re no fun to do). More importantly, such a request tends to imply that the client may be running a formal and (at least in my experience) inflexible operation. That may work for them, but we like nimble, open minded clients.
Generally our proposed strategies can be summarized in a longish email message. If that, plus referrals to existing clients, isn’t satisfactory, we’ll often take a pass. This is why, for example, we’re not likely to get much work out of the Olympics.
Another sign of this issue is if they want us to talk to a half dozen people in an organization. If they’re not respectful of their own staff’s time, they’re unlikely to be mindful of ours.
UPDATE: On a related note, Jeffrey Zeldman writes about 20 signs you donÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t want that web design project.
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November 23rd, 2008, 4 Comments »
I’m currently writing the chapter on YouTube in our forthcoming social media marketing book. I’m puzzling over a pretty basic phenomenon of the new media world: the stealth marketing video. Common examples include:
The process usually goes like this: These videos are posted with only obscure or oblique references to the brands they’re promoting. They’re remarkable and amazing feats (either real or CGI) make then viral hits on YouTube. Sooner or later, the companies behind them disclose the videos’ true origins.
What Do The Brands Stand To Gain?
As in the case of the Cardo Systems video, the company sometimes replaces the video with a new one promoting their brand. Alternately, as in the Ray-ban video, they add a link to their website.
However, in other cases–Levis and Guitar Hero–there’s still no indication on the video page that the video isn’t a legitimate, user-generated and unaffiliated with a corporation.
So why bother? The only tangible, measurable result that I can think of is the free media the companies earn when they go public with the revelation. Of course, this only pays off if the video itself is a success. How many of these corporate stealth videos never get revealed because they only received 8700 views?
There’s considerable value in that earned media. However, this article indicates that “Bike Hero” required four weeks worth of production by an ad agency. That’s quite an expense for what I imagine to be fairly middling media exposure.
As far as I can figure, there isn’t much of a brand awareness gain. After all, the videos usually don’t promote specific brands–that only appears in the subsequent media coverage. And “Bike Hero” isn’t effective unless you’re already familiar with Guitar Hero, the game.
There’s also the question of possible damage to the brand when it’s revealed that the videos are, in fact, from lame corporations. I don’t think that matters very much in the fluid world of YouTube, but it’s worth considering.
So what else do these brands stand to gain?
4 Comments »
September 5th, 2008, 11 Comments »
We started receiving these a couple of years ago. When we lived in Yaletown, I think they came from the NDP. Over the past week, we’ve received two from Conservative MPs Jay Hill and Ed Fast (do Tory MPs only get issued two syllables for their names?).
If you haven’t gotten these, they’re cheap-and-cheerful fliers (the graphic design work is sophmoric) focusing on a particular issue. They feature ridiculously heightened language (“many thugs, hoodlums and organized crime rings view these same cars as easy cash”) and a ballot, asking you to pick a party leader based on the issue. As you can see if you look at the larger version, these fliers ask “who do you think is on the right track on crime?” You fill in your details and send them back to ‘CRG-Government Caucus Services’.
I confess to being rather baffled by this particular direct marketing practice. I have a bunch of questions:
- Do politicos have a particular name for this kind of direct mail piece?
- Why does it originate from seemingly random Members of Parliament? I live in neither Peace River or Abbotsford–the two constituencies Mr. Hill and Mr. Fast represent.
- This isn’t, in any scientific way, an actual poll or survey. These fliers feature specific criticism of the Liberals and prominent photos of Prime Minister Harper. Are they just trying to collect my name, contact details and an issue about which I care, so that they can follow up with more targeted mail? That seems to be the case.
- Why is the execution so crappy? Because the parties are distributing millions of these around the country, in a kind of giant fishing expedition for more detailed information?
To me, these fliers have always seemed silly and wasteful. The rate of return must be abysmally low, and skews to the kind of people who have the time and inclination to complete and return the form. I’m guessing that that’s older supporters of the featured party.
Can some clueful, politically-minded sort explain the rationale and results associated with this old-school marketing?
UPDATE: This is why I ask questions around here–I tend to get fast and accurate answers from you, my dear readers. Wandering Coyote pointed me to his own partisan writings on the topic, as well as a Times Colonist article about these so-called ‘ten percenters’.
UPDATE #2: The Hill Times explains precisely what these fliers are:
The House spends about $7.8-million a year on printing services for MPs. MPs send out Householders four times a year into their constituencies. But they can also send an unlimited amount of “Ten Percenters,” or flyers to households across the country up to 10 per cent of their voters.
They are single page photocopied black and white flyers that the House Board of Internal Economy allows MPs to send to constituents in their own riding or in any other riding. Each Ten Percenter must be 50 per cent different from each other and, according to the Member’s Manual of Allowances and Services the MP’s name “must appear prominently on all Ten Percenters.” Once a month, however, MPs can participate in a “regrouping” where any number of MPs from the same party can send the same Ten Percenter to households anywhere in the country. The total number of Ten Percenters are not allowed to exceed 10 per cent of voters in each of the members participating in the regrouping and are coordinated through the parties whips’ offices.
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July 24th, 2008, 6 Comments »
While running errands yesterday, I discovered two small inventions which pleased me. They’re probably not new to you, but I don’t get out much.
Too Drunk to Handle the Basket?
First, I was at the Market on Yates (“and on Millstream”–brand extension problem, there), a grocery store. They have these shopping receptacles which work as a large basket or a small, rolling cart. They have two folding handles, and casters on the bottom:
They seem like the perfect solution for an urban grocery store with narrow aisles. They’re also a good fit for Victoria’s aging population, who buy small amounts but may not be able to handle a full basket. Apparently you can also find them at liquor stores, where you can deploy the cart features if you’re too drunk to handle the basket.
Hockey Cards for Hair Cutters
I also stopped in at a hair salon on Fort Street to schedule a haircut. It was my first time there, and it seemed like an ordinary enough place. I booked an appointment, and the receptionist handed me this little stack of cards. They’re essentially hockey cards for the stylists (collect them all!):
These seem to serve a bunch of purposes:
- They’re attractively designed, presumably reflecting the aesthetics of the salon.
- They’re a practical reminder of my forthcoming appointment.
- They’re a little conversation piece for me to take away and show potential customers.
- They make the stylists feel a little like a celebrity, which probably helps with morale and employee retainment.
They cost very little to produce, but they’re a striking differentiator in a business where it’s often difficult to distinguish one salon from another. Being “the place with the hockey cards”, is a great hook to hang a brand off of.
6 Comments »
June 20th, 2008, 2 Comments »
At Web Content 2008, I gave a talk and also ran a two-hour workshop. I thought I’d share a technique I used for the workshop, which was entitled “29 Web 2.0 Tools: What They Are, How They Work” I didn’t much feel like building a two-hour slide show, and anticipated dodgy web access. Instead, I wanted to encourage plenty of interactivity and audience participation. My hope is that, if people come to the session with questions, they’ll get them answered.
For this session, I developed a very low-tech educational aid. I wrote the names of the 29 tools on 5″ x 8″ index cards, and hung them, in random order, from a long string that stretched across the room. Here’s a blurry photo of what it looked like. I was fortunate to have a 50′ clothes line in a room that was 35′ wide.
I asked the audience to yell out the name of a particular tool. I’d pull that one off the string, toss it on the floor, and then talk about it for a couple of minutes. Sometimes I’d ask the audience member who choose the topic whether they had specific questions, or I’d ask the room if anyone had a related story to tell. Once that topic was exhausted (that took anywhere from 15 seconds to 10 minutes), I asked for another topic suggestion from the line.
29 Plays in 59 Minutes
I lifted this idea wholesale from a Theatre Skam show I saw more than a decade ago called “29 Plays in 59 Minutes”. The play begins with cards numbered 1 to 29 hung on a string across the stage. Each card has the name of a very short play or sketch on the back. The audience yells out a random number, and actors perform that sketch. Another number, another play. They try to get through all 29 in 59 minutes.
Back in 1996, I wrote a review of the show for the Victoria News (wow, that website suffers under my ad-blocking plugin). Unbelievably, I see that I faxed my reviews in. Here’s a bit of what I said:
Ã¢â‚¬Å“29 plays in 59 minutesÃ¢â‚¬Â covers a lot of ground. More ideas were present in this tiny, awkward space in one night than have been at the McPherson Playhouse all year. While it is not for the feint of heart, this is theatre as it should be: current, confrontational and provocative.
In looking for that review, I found something else I wrote–a little essay called “Random Theatre”. My favourite part of this kind of construction is the unlikely juxtaposition:
By themselves, most would be at least mildly engaging. It is their juxtaposition that makes them fascinating. How do we receive a skit about trying to get laid after seeing an affecting piece about the killing of fourteen women in Montreal? Are we touched or repulsed? Isn’t this just like changing channels?
It’s also a little like blogging.
Theatre Skam lifted the idea from the Neo-Futurists, who started it as “30 Plays in 60 Minutes”.
Next Time, Clothespins
It seemed to go over well. It’s a gimmick, though I’d prefer to call it a prop, or a bit of staging. I think it kept people on their toes, and it became obvious which topics people really cared about. It also gives the audience a preview of what I plan to talk about, and enables me to frame the topic without being limited to a prepared script.
When I do this workshop again, I’d make these changes:
- For each topic, I’d asked the audience member who chose it why they did, or whether they had something specific they wanted to learn about. I’d probably talk a bit first, then check back with them, so as to not make it a prerequisite of yelling out a topic.
- We got through all 29 topics in 90 minutes. For an hour session, I might prepare by making a quick note on the back of each card, reminding myself about a case study or explanation I could quickly rattle off.
- It would have been handy to have web access. I didn’t need it often, but explaining RSS is way easier with a live browser. I would have liked to play the Commoncraft explanation for Twitter (yes, I bought a license from their store).
- I’d buy clothespins to keep the cards on the line. I used tape, and it was unreliable. This made for a little entertainment during the talk (“MySpace fell again”), but it would make things simpler. Plus, the cards would be easier to re-use.
All in all, I enjoyed the random, slightly messy sense that accompanies this gimmick. I hope the audience did, too.
2 Comments »
May 27th, 2008, 5 Comments »
A couple of years ago, I posited that some day we’d be able to buy the DVD version of a movie that we’d just seen in the theatre:
I wondered out loud Ã¢â‚¬Å“why donÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t they just sell DVDs in the cinemas, so that you can buy them as you leave the theatre?Ã¢â‚¬Â That idea is probably heretical to the industry, but I wonder if it might not prove more profitable in the end?
LetÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s assume there are two kinds of DVD buyersÃ¢â‚¬â€œthose who see the movies in the cinema, and those who donÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t. The people who donÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t watch the movie arenÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t going to be affectedÃ¢â‚¬â€œtheyÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ll just get their DVD sooner. Those who do see the movie probably wouldnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t be too cannibalizedÃ¢â‚¬â€œtheyÃ¢â‚¬â„¢re coming for the experience of attending a cinema. Plus, the industry would enjoy a boon of impulse purchases from people leaving the show.
That hasn’t happened yet, but the New York Times reports on an interesting variation (registration required). Zack Snyder is directing the hotly-anticipated “Watchmen” for a March 2009 release. He’s directing another, related film:
The twist is that Mr. Snyder, known for turning the Spartan comic book series Ã¢â‚¬Å“300Ã¢â‚¬Â into a global hit movie, is also directing a separate-but-related picture that Warner plans to distribute exclusively on DVD.
The second film, tentatively called Ã¢â‚¬Å“Tales of the Black Freighter,Ã¢â‚¬Â follows a side Ã¢â‚¬Å“WatchmenÃ¢â‚¬Â storyline about a shipwreck and will arrive in stores five days after the main movie rolls out in theaters. The DVD will also include a documentary-style film called Ã¢â‚¬Å“Under the HoodÃ¢â‚¬Â that will delve into the charactersÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ backstories.
Of course, I can’t imagine that you’ll be able to buy this movie from the cinema itself. Even though that’s when you’re likeliest to buy, distributors would never let that happen.
5 Comments »
May 25th, 2008, 1 Comment »
Todd recently wrote an insightful post about marketing. The bit I liked the most came near the end:
But I think the opportunities are way bigger than the risks or challenges. Instead of mass-distributing brand awareness with loud, blunt messages, the awareness of what you offer gets passed from group to group like crowd surfing at a concert. ItÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s not falling, but itÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s sure not in any one set of hands, either.
I’m not sure who qualifies as the crowd, but I like how Todd doesn’t discriminate. Presumably some of those hands belong to marketers and some to other people behind the product (maxim du jour: everybody is a marketer). Most, of course, belong to everybody else. Call them users, customers or the people formerly known as the audience–they’re the crowd that your stuff (ideas, products, causes) surfs on.
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