Sunday, September 30, 2007

Opera Stadium Style--Fusion of High art and Pop culture

The San Francisco Opera broke barriers on Friday when it simulcast the final performance of Samson and Delilah in its entirety to a crowd at AT&T Giants Stadium. Some folks waved hand painted "Go Samson" banners. There was even tailgating. In a delicious display of RenGen fusion, America's love of sport met its growing passion for art--in this case opera. More on the event from WIRED.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Moment of Truth

There is a magical moment before the curtain rises, or a speaker steps to the microphone. Before a word is uttered, the audience willingly suspends their disbelief and opens up. Tony Award winner Frank Galati believes it lasts less than thirty seconds. Once the show unfolds, the audience decides. They either enroll or resist.

Yesterday in Chicago, the CEO from a global company stepped up to give a keynote. Everyone sat transfixed, waiting to hear his perspective. He runs one of the largest, most successful operations in the world. He manages a brand known in the farthest reaches of civilization. In the audience were elected officials from around the world, people who can affect his destiny in local markets. It is a golden moment. What does he do? He presents a forty minute commercial for his company. No insights on trends, no market analysis, no pithy remarks. Punctuating his comments were actual TV ads from the company. Five 30 second spots in total. The buzz that evening was downright hostile toward him and his company.

We often underestimate these opportunities to make a human connection. It can be tough to remember that business isn't life--it's part of life. The business community is like any other tribe--it has its own customs and oral history that give it meaning. I had the pleasure of working with
Jack Welch last year, and he used his status as a business legend to convey powerful, intimate lessons about the struggles he faced growing GE. People were changed by the experience.

In those moments when people gather to hear speakers, we in the business world have an obligation to our audiences to make meaning. As
Seth Godin aptly blogged, "Big groups are perfect places for the efficient communication of emotion." That pendulum of emotion can swing either way.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

When the Job's Emotional

I just finished reading a new research report on Emotional Labor--how it rewards and what it drains away from the worker. Massage therapists, PC repair people, dentists, shrinks, teachers, librarians, even accidental emotional workers such as bartenders. What struck me, is that we rarely factor in the cost of doing business in emotional terms. Yet, we all feel it to some degree. As a marketer, I think mainly about the customer's emotions. Are they delighted,satisfied, coming back for more? The big finding about emotional labor is that the people who do it love it. Their gripe is that they want the rest of the world to respect it a little more. Not as manual labor, or technical support, but emotional heavy lifting. (Sorry, no link to the research yet. I read the raw form of the report.)

Educating the Big Apple

Yesterday, the Broad Foundation awarded the New York City school system its top honor for overall improvement. Over one million students are served by the system. It's the largest in the nation. While there are critics of No Child Left Behind, and even more naysayers forecasting doom for the American system of education--it's what we have. I admire those who muster the courage to take on the challenge of making it work.

Managing the Experience

Managing life in the blog-writing, iPod-wearing, gadget-tethered, self-expressive, indie-luvin' knowledge society takes work. It's mental and emotional effort. Enter It helps you keep tabs on all the ideas, music, books, people, info that make your life joyful.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Ideas are the Power Behind Social Engagement Networks

Does success kill? Rupert Murdoch is successful, no one questions that. He’s rich, powerful, buys ink by the barrel. But will that same success kill a social network like MySpace? I know that Murdoch-owned MySpace now has a population that makes it the 12th largest country in the world. Clearly a benchmark of success. But when more consumers aspire to be non-conforming creatives—does Murdoch’s midas touch kill? There are RenGen winners, losers and wanna-be’s. MySpace may be a winner on the way to being a wanna-be…and eventually a loser.

My post about MySpace inspired a couple emails that make me believe Facebook will rule the RenGen. Yes, yes, they may attract the segment of youth with the most influence and disposable income. But class has less sway with the RenGen. What is really engaging about Facebook is that it's managing its brand like it’s still an idea, not another media outlet. Remember that traditional advertising and marketing drove free-thinkers into their homes and into the arms of TiVo. Social networking offers a different social premise. To reach the RenGen, who are loading their profiles onto Facebook, a brand has to be an idea, it must inspire more and more expression of self. That goes for customers and employees alike. Hat tip to Danah Boyd for FaceBook insights. Photo from FaceBook Garage.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Is it RenGen? MySpace To Unveil Content Relevant Ad Service

Today, the social networking site MySpace will officially announce a refined advertising service. No longer serving mass ads, it will target members based on their interests. New York Times reporter Brad Stone described the social networking scene as a vast, "creative canvas for personal expression." Damn straight. MySpace, owned by Fox Interactive Media, has been experimenting with ways to aggregate and deliver highly relevant ads to its over 110 million users by enthusiast categories rather than demographics. What will matter now is a user's stated interests: film, music, travel, books--but boiled down from general genres to passion points. Meaning it can drill down from music to country music to y'allternative.

Will it click with the RenGen?

The ad serving algorithm helps micro enterprises jump in with relevant offers. For instance, a punk band can promote their local concert by searching punk enthusiasts. Enthusiasts may see this as a service. RenGen don't mind commercialization if it gives them something else worth value--information, ideas, insider freebies.

Less promising:
User rights activists will organize on the web and thwart the approach if MySpace fails to embrace three things:
1. Transparency--be transparent about how it will use member info, and what stays sacred. If it will become a commercial mosh pit, then say so upfront.
2. User control--let users continually refine the algorithm by opting in and out for stuff they enjoy. Keep it a dialogue.
3. Enhance the experience--if users feel the ads are more relevant, less intrusive and deliver more value to the member experience by allowing them to aggregate their own tribes and express themselves more fluidly, MySpace will win hearts and minds.

Potential dud:
The announcement may encourage further defection to Facebook. Recent analysis comparing user populations shows MySpace has become the public transportation of the Internet. It has been bleeding the young, middle class and upwardly mobile users that advertisers desire. This group is also savvy about dodging interruption marketing that invades their space.

Also, interesting is the MySpace's plan to become an advisory to its advertisers. This marks a point of maturity for social networking. Old school media have long ago ceased just selling. They blend ad sales with insights into their readership. This exchange of information was/is highly valued by advertisers.

I look forward to watching the MySpace story unfold as social networks, the most obvious evidence of the kind of massive creative outpouring that occurs in a renaissance, undergoes another rite of passage.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Ballet is the Hottest Ticket at Bumbershoot Fest '07

For the second year in a row, the longest lines that formed at Seattle's Bumbershoot Art and Music Festival were for performances of the Pacific Northwest Ballet(PNB). Bumbershoot is a brash, eclectic affair--a smorgasbord of what's edgy and extreme in art, dance, music, poetry and performace art. Of PNB Bumbershoot performances, Seattle Times reviewer Patrick MacDonald noted, "The wait to get into Pacific Northwest Ballet's performance at Bagley Wright was reminiscent of those never-ending E-ticket lines at Disneyland. Almost 900 people made it inside, but nearly 300 more were turned away." This excitement for dance has much to do with the visionary Peter Boales, who is the company's artistic director. PNB is a client of ours, and people like Peter are what we love best about our business. Brilliant and dedicated, Peter is canny about which risks to take. He pushes the edges with impeccable timing. His administrative team is as talented as his dancers. It's no surprise to me that they keep breaking records and growing appetites in the tech town of Seattle for ballet. A very RenGen fusion of opposites.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Green Goes Mass—The Beautiful and the Flawed

The organic movement and the ballyhoo to eat-local have taken root in the common culture. Farmers markets are booming. Some people are passing up Whole Foods for food delivered to their doorstep by local farm co-ops. In my new book, RenGen: Renaissance Generation, I observed that people are taking cues from the natural world, a fact that shows up in shopping habits, packaging, color choices, and even window displays. We have a new respect for Mother Nature. The cumulative affect of too many early springs, snowless winters, floods, hurricanes, and tidal waves have made an impression on the collective psyche.

Three lessons are now imprinted on our collective mindset:
1. Everything breaks. Extinction and rebirth are the inevitable cycle of life. Even things that look solid break down: rock, steel, planets, stars, ideas, texts, and art all decline, fade away, and fall into oblivion. Rough surfaces, raw edges and gnarled hemp designs are the new chic. The tyranny of Martha Stewart perfectionism is over and out.

2. Nothing is perfect. Even on close inspection, the most flawless objects are flawed. Security systems are breachable, viruses cannot be contained by universal inoculation, and whether we are talking about diamonds or tempered steel, flaws are unavoidable. Witness the success of the Dove ads celebrating real female bodies.

3 All things are incomplete. There is never an ending and beginning to anything. We can decide that enough has been done, said, or written about something. But that is a self-imposed demarcation. The renaissance generation will not demand the final word, a supreme of doctrine if you will. But instead wants to chip in a few ideas. Contribute to the conversation. YouTube and MySpace are perfect mediums to facilitate the exchange.

As I look out the window of my writing studio, I see the blue recycling bin resting near the composter. They are fixtures in my life now. Here things get broken down, change form and become something else. And it’s beautifully flawed.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Back to School

Fall is here in the Midwest. School buses slow the traffic. The magazines that clog my mailbox have gone from skinny to fat. The news is more robust. Psychologically, we are all going back to school. So, as we inaugurate a new “school” year, I am going back to school myself—figuratively. Over the next nine months, I intend to explore the world of learning and its connection to the broader culture. To kick things off, I will be briefing a group of education leaders from across the country about trends that will affect schools. I will also be exploring new connections between business and education, as both sectors grapple with the need to reform education and raise student achievement. Finally, I will be investigating some of the bravest experiments underway in the quest to break through to a rising generation of youngsters whose minds are wired, not spiral bound. Stay tuned for postings of my adventure.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

The World According to Naomi Klein

Meet Naomi Klein. You may know her from her anti-magazine AdBusters, available at Borders. You may know her from her provocative book, No Logo that criticized capitalism’s relentless marketing and the consumerism. If you are very tuned in you may own one of her many anti-logo products. Yes, Naomi Klein sells things even though she finds the whole marketing exercise repugnant. Her products are not so much about commerce as they are about making a statement. Klein brings eco-friendly, non-sweat shop products to the considerable counter culture-audience she has built, at a 200% mark up.

Now, she has a new book Shock Doctrine, and a companion video that is extremely powerful. The book’s premise is that governments exploit disasters and the shock they induce, to push through unpopular policies while people are still reeling. The book and film are timed to launch during the week of Sept. 11, in time to exploit the news cycle of the anniversary of the twin towers disaster.

I found Ms. Klein’s remarks to the New York Times curious, that “Fixing the world’s problems has become an increasingly elite affair--a matter between C.E.O.’s and celebrities.” She was commenting from the Toronto Film Festival where she and the film’s director, Alfonso Cuaron were promoting the new film short inspired by her book. You may have seen Mr. Cuaron’s academy award nominated film "Children of Men." Visit
Klein’s website and you can marvel at the A-list of movie celebrities who endorse the film and the book. For a regular gal from Toronto, Klein sure gets around.

Don’t be shocked when I confess to you that I admire Naomi Klein. I think she is one of the canniest marketers in the counter-culture business right now. She’s the new Abbie Hoffman.

Sunday, September 9, 2007

The Apple Flap

I don’t worry that Apple has gone rotten. I don’t think Steve Jobs has gone mad. I do wonder if Apple has taken a very strange gamble by reducing the cost of their iPhone by $200 bucks so close to its release. Naturally, early adopters are outraged.

The web sizzles with bloggers pledging mutiny from the good ship hip. After all, that’s what Apple always got right—the passion of consumers driven to differentiate themselves as non-conforming creatives—the ultimate hispters.

As I sat in my car listening to the radio banter about Apple’s daring move to cut the iPhone’s price, I watched the wooden gate the end of my driveway bang against the frame—my daughter must have left it open. The old hardware on the gate wore out long ago. I keep meaning to fix it. We use a bungie cord we jokingly call “the software” to fasten it.

If technology is a tool, Apple made it an idea. For that, they charge a premium. Now, they are testing new ground. Either they are cashing in on the broader audience of consumers wanting to join the ranks of the creatives—people who rebel against PC dronyism…or they are attempting something else. Perhaps the company is testing to see what the Applytes will give them permission to do. How far can Apple go jiggering with their recipe of sleek design and free-range interface targeted to discerning users. Can they go mass market with the iPhone, which demands a lower price point? I plan to stay tuned rather than assume Apple rotten to the core.

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

When Cool Gets Hot

I’ve observed that cultural consumers attach more “identity” to their music, art and fashion than do other consumers. A new Stanford University study, published in the Journal of Consumer Research, explains why. The research explores why consumers conform to groups that are hip or cool, but diverge or change their preferences when their choices get adopted into the mainstream. Consider that “identity signaling,” as it’s called, explains why cultural consumers remain loyal to a genre, say punk rock, for instance, but shift their preferences of favorite artists frequently. Hat tip to Dr. Bruce Vanden Bergh at Michigan State University, for pointing me to the study. Full title of the report for anyone who wants to learn more: “Where Consumers Diverge from Others: Identity Signaling and Product Domains” is published by Jonah Berger and Chip Heath in the August 2007 issue of Journal of Consumer Research, Volume 34.

Monday, September 3, 2007

Labor Day Message for Would Be Writers

Hopes and dreams matter. It is well known that one of the most powerful forces in marketing is aspiration. When consumers aspire to a certain state or lifestyle, it opens an emotional channel for marketers to relay messages aimed at those aspirations. A recent study in England of peoples’ career aspirations revealed “More Britons dream about becoming an author than any other job,” reports a new survey reported in the Guardian (”Writing tops poll of ideal jobs,” by Michelle Pauli).

Reading this study gave me pause. As the end of summer nears, I am getting ready for the national launch of my latest book, RenGen: Renaissance Generation. So many people have approached me with their own book ideas. I am impressed with all the thinking going on…and dreaming. Truth be told, writing a book is a mission not a monetary exercise. That is unless you are amazingly gifted or flat out lucky, or both. What drive the process for most writers is the quest, the mystery to be solved, and the unquenchable desire to write, write, write and then put it out there. Otherwise, as Bill Clinton surmised when he totaled the number of hours spent writing his memoir divided by his compensation, he was making about minimum wage.

To anyone nurturing the aspiration to write, I say be about it. I hope it’s a labor of love