Friday, July 31, 2009

A Summer Pace

This summer is slipping through my fingers. I want it to slow down. Savor it. We have one month left before the calendar kicks us into high-gear. We climb back onto the hamster wheel.

Last year, I packed up my kids and drove along the breathtaking coastline of Michigan to Mackinac Island. On the invitation of old friends, we joined their family for a July 4th celebration. Looking through the photos from that weekend reminded me that no matter how much our lives fill up with details and deadlines, we can never let them crowd out the moments that bring us joy.
Blink. It's August. The dog days are upon us. It's time to revel in what's left of the summer. Cherry pick each delicious moment: the family picnic, breakfast on the porch, a walk on the beach. I squirrel away these memories for the long, cold winter ahead.
Enjoy the rest of your a pace that feels like summer.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

College Marketers, Millenials and Making Change

Yesterday, I met with a great group of college and university marketers. I was struck by the passion they expressed for their work. I gave a talk about Millenials and new media, and the new culture being created by a generation of young people who see themselves as creative activists. Artists empowered and wanting to make change happen.

Sure, higher education can be faulted for its Ivory Tower remove from everyday problems. But lately, the great halls of the academy are ringing with new voices and bold messages. Have a look at this powerful speech by Elizabeth Coleman, president of Bennington College at TED 09. She brings people to their feet by suggesting that all good minds of our time must apply their gifts to solving social problems. She also lays out the plan she envisions for Bennington. (My son is a student there.)

I hope Liz Coleman inspires you.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Remix Alert: Culture Builds Upon Culture

In a post modern age, it seems nothing's new. As Samuel Beckett put it, "Having no alternative, the sun shone on the nothing new."

Where do you go for fresh stuff? Welcome to the remix culture. By reaching across genres, disciplines and time periods, people are combining ideas and imagery to form something new. Culture builds upon culture to break through to something fresh. Better yet, if the user has a hand in the remix.

Check out Nonsek. A new creative entrepreneurial venture, it allows you to select various images from artists' portfolios and combine them on a T-shirt of your own design. With the press of a button your T-shirt is configured, printed and shipped. Ostensibly, no two designs will be alike. Wholly unique, wonderfully fused, and very RenGen.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Sponsorship Monday: Why You're Not Getting Sponsors

Any sponsorship seeker living in the real world and paying attention to the news could be forgiven for cowering beneath their desk. These are tough times. We have been getting calls from organizations desperate to plug budgetary holes with last minute sponsorship deals. This is not a realistic approach.

Now more than ever it’s important to be practical. Take a deep breath. Then tick through the following list of real-world features that are common to successful sponsorship campaigns. If there are things on the list that are missing in your organization, address them.

Spend your time gearing up, not freaking out. The post-advertising age is scary, yes, but many of the tenets of sponsorship—connection to communities of consumers, powerful emotional context for brands, product infusion into settings to seed trends and engage users—are objectives at the top of any brand manager’s To-Do list.

The Reality Check, checklist:

1. Think about your organization’s reach. Do you have an established marketing effort in place so that your organization keeps in touch with its constituents through e-mail, a Web site, events, newsletters, conferences, town hall meetings, television, radio or print advertising, or parties or celebrations?

2. What do you know about your organization’s demographics? Have you collected recent information on who participates and why? Where they live? How far they drive to participate? Whether they are repeat users? Whether they are young families, empty-nesters, or teens? Your demographics dictate the sponsor categories on which you should focus your efforts and the ones you shouldn’t waste time and energy on.

3. Have you worked with sponsors before? Do you have any testimonials from a corporate executive about the value of your organization to its community of users? Do you feature those in press kits and other marketing materials for the organization?

4. What is the competitive environment like? Look around. Are other organizations of your organization’s type and in its region getting sponsorships?

5. Do you know your prospect base? To gauge the effort involved in reaching sponsors and meeting face-to-face, create a list of companies headquartered in your area. What do they produce, and to whom do they sell? Are there cross-promotions you can work up that will help them sell to one of your existing sponsors or team up with an existing sponsor?

6. Are you a member of civic organizations made up of businesspeople, so that you can gain insight and entrée into the business community? Relationships trump cold calling, period.

7. Is there an entrepreneurial spirit in your organization? Are new ideas welcomed, and do they receive thoughtful consideration? Have other commercial or revenue-generating initiatives been realized over the last five years?

Friday, July 24, 2009

Do I Belong? Revelry for Punch Card Promotions

Nina Simon's post about incentive punch cards got me thinking. It's a core need of young RenGen to feel like they belong. Nina points out, "There is no such thing as a town square for faceless individuals. When you are treated like a 'regular,' that connotes special value."
The special value she's talking about derives from a sense of community.

Community gets created when people interact. The humble punch card is an interactive tool. Better yet, it's lovely analogue if handled creatively. As Guy Kawasaki preaches, never underestimate the power of good analogue! The emotional payoff is a sense of belonging.

We've just completed a field study on young creatives. The sense of belonging, it turns out, is more powerful than the value of rugged individualism. Self-reliance is still important, but not at the expense of community. That's a shift from Gen X creatives who wanted to stand out more than fit in.

The photo above is a shot of the punch card system at Tina, We Salute You coffee bar in London. Loyal customers tally their purchases on the wall. It not only creates a cool visual, it kicks the sense of belonging up a couple of notches. Patrons can see and be seen on the wall. Powerful.

So, what's your idea for creating community through your organization? Will we "belong" to brands? Or will brands be left behind if they can't instill a sense of community.

It begins with the interactive solution: getting people to leave their mark on the experience. The coffee shop in London is on to something.

Hat tip to Nina Simon.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

My Summer Reading Program

Gathering my summer "wanna" reads. In August, I try to slow things down. I keep a beach umbrella in my car. On Fridays, I wear a bathing suit under my business attire. During July, I ask around for "good reads." I heed the advice of people I most admire. I've never been steered wrong. So far, I've got tucked in my beach bag a short story collection by Mark Richard entitled Ice at the Bottom of the World and a new non-fiction book A Vindication of Love by Cristina Nehring. Only thing missing is a trashy novel and I'm good to go. Suggestions anyone?

photo by Jnthynhys

Monday, July 20, 2009

Sponsor the World You Want to See

Operation Amped helps wounded veterans of the Iraq War rehabilitate through surfing. Teams of volunteers support amputees onto surf boards and into the waves. Founded in 2006 by surfer/journalist Tom Tapp, Operation Amped is sponsored by the talent agency William Morris Endeavor. As such, it is one of a host of philanthropic organizations across the country that have benefited from the major agencies' largesse.

As we look out at the world, there's a seemingly endless pile of problems to fix. Where to begin?

Having just completed a major study on Millenials and emerging media, it's clear to me that we are moving out of decline and into the renaissance powered by people who want to more purposefully create the world they want to see. Where to begin is by looking around. Finding something to start, get behind, or advocate. Or perhaps it's finding a sponsor, as Mr. Tapp did, who can share your commitment to a project that makes a difference.

Over the next few weeks, I will devote Sponsorship Mondays to giving hands-on advice for creating the world you want to see and finding sponsors who share your vision.
Photo credit: Donegalgirl, Flickr

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Nike's Sponsorship of Armstrong Rolls Out With Chalkbot

My brother-in-law Bruce is a cyclist in his spare time. A self-proclaimed fanatic, he follows the Tour de France with a vengeance. We love this about him--his passion. I believe that part of why he remains so stoked about the race has something to do with Lance Armstrong.

This year, Nike sponsored Armstrong's cancer survivor cause, Livestrong, in a whole new way. Meet the Chalkbot. It's a robot that paints messages on the Tour de France course that are tweeted from fans around the world. It's a brilliant fusion of sports deal meets cause marketing meets participation media. But it meets text book requirements for a great sponsorship effort:

1. It enhances the race by contributing a cool new element.

2. It helps support an important cause--the fight against cancer.

3. It gives people a way to belong.

Bravo! I emailed Bruce to see if he's tweeted a message yet. "I'm on it!" he replied. But of course!

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Gearing Up for Pitchfork Music Festival

In preparation for this weekend's indie-rock blow out Pitchfork Music Festival in Chicago, I am doing my homework on the venue. Sometimes, outdoor concerts are all about being in the right place at the right time. While I love just about every aspect of my job as a culture scout, nothing thrills me more than the chance to witness emerging artists as they strut their stuff. For this event, I'll be paying attention to which bands build movements around their music. It's all part of a cultural mapping project we're doing for indie-art and Millennial audiences.

Pitchfork opens Friday and the line up features more established indie-rock bands such as Jesus Lizard and Tortoise. What's fresh is the "Write the Night" feature that was added this year. It allowed fans to vote for the play list for each band in the line up. I'm puckered up with anticipation to see how this participation feature works in real time. Yeah, yeah, yeah.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Mad Men Flexes Its Marketing Muscles

Sterling Cooper may be fictional, but it's creative moxy is for real. As part of the launch of the Season 2 DVD of "Mad Men" producer Matt Weiner has incorporated vintage style ads for legacy brands like Clorox. Because “Mad Men” is an adult drama about the ad business in the 1960's it can woo partners for promotions that integrate well into the storyline. Marketing this way enhances the viewers experience rather than interrupting it. It's a rare fusion of content and advertising that strengthens both.

There is also some product placement for contemporary brands such as Banana Republic which is promoting “Mad Men” by offering the kind of clothing worn by Don Draper, the show’s central character. Banana Republic is sponsoring a contest touted in the August issue of Vanity Fair, along with an advertorial for the season two DVD that promotes a sweepstakes called “Mad” on Madison with prizes like “a ‘Mad Men’-inspired weekend getaway for two to New York City.”

The partners joining forces for the “Mad Men” marketing blitz include Banana Republic, Clorox, Vanity Fair and Variety. The efforts are more extensive than those a year ago, when Lionsgate released the first season on DVD and AMC was about to start season two on TV.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Med-Tech Firm Sponsors Jazz Fests to Reach Doctors

Many doctors are also jazz musicians. Who knew? CareFusion Corp knew. It's why the med-tech firm was so strategic in signing on as the new sponsor of New York's flagship jazz festival. CareFusion Corp, a San Diego-based medical technology firm being spun off from Cardinal Health, will be the festival's new corporate sponsor for an event next summer, replacing the troubled JVC.

More details here

Monday, July 6, 2009

Washinton Post Seeks Sponsors for its Reporters

For a tidy sum of $25,000, corporate sponsors were invited to meet privately with Washington Post reporters last week. As part of a Congressional confab including lawmakers and Obama administration officials. The meetings were to be held over dinner in the “relaxed setting” of Post publisher Katharine Weymouth’s Washington home.

The Post sent out a flier, which was exposed by, to a health care lobbyist inviting him to an exclusive “salon” July 21 at Weymouth’s house. The asking price from a corporate sponsor for a single gathering is $25,000 (the newspaper hoped to have two sponsors each session) with “annual series sponsorship of 11 Salons offered at $250,000.”

The invitation read: “Bring your organization’s CEO or executive director literally to the table. Interact with key Obama Administration and Congressional leaders."

Traditional media has always been active in offering event sponsorships. But the line being crossed here is the involvement with the journalistic product. No one needs more evidence that the newspaper business is crashing down. It's stunning to witness the ethics go with it.

More on the story here...

Thursday, July 2, 2009

"Free" to Be You and Me: Chris Anderson's New Book

Seth, Malcolm and Chris are in a bit of a dust up. The kvetch is about Chris Anderson's brand new book, Free: The Future of a Radical Price (Hyperion, July 2009). I’m talking about guru and author Seth Godin, author and frequent contributor to the New Yorker Malcolm Gladwell and Chris Anderson, author and editor at Wired magazine.

These three gentlemen stand at the pinnacle of thought leadership in American business. But as Chris Anderson points out in his latest book, the value of “authority” is rapidly eroding. I guess top-down paternalism ain't what it used to be. As seismic shifts transform our culture, part of what is needed, now more than ever in business, is perspective. While Seth, Malcom and Chris have plenty of insight, I'm not sure it lends fresh perspective. It's time for fresh voices. New faces. And dare I say it--a woman or two--to point a new way forward.

In March, I got the chance to sit down with Chris Anderson during the SXSW Interactive Conference. We talked about the concept of "free" in terms of broader social trends. I had read his manuscript on the plane and was impressed with his factual and dispassionate rendering of an otherwise crazy idea--namely, that you can make money giving things away.

I asked Chris if the style of the blogosphere, where writers pour their hearts out to their audiences, would eventually bleed into business writing. Will business writers ever unlace their wing tips? He sat erect and spat out a "No!" As he saw it, personal narrative is subjective, unreliable and, frankly, lazy. I see.

The posture and “voice” of authority remains resolutely unchanged, I remember thinking. It derives from a set of values dominated by a masculine, rational/technological orientation. Yet Anderson himself redefines business reality giving top-down authority has-been status. He plots out how "free" is changing everything. But not some things, I guess.

“Free” is a truly revolutionary concept. Anderson has balls for taking it on. But the book labors under the weight of a traditional approach to economics, marketing and business, influenced by a historical production-oriented bias. In such a realm, the tendency is to view “reality,” “information” or “knowledge” as concrete, absolute, real and immutable. In short, Anderson has taken on a bold idea, but the treatment of it stems from an absolutist position.

Meanwhile, the culture is adjusting to embrace a broader spectrum of values. Scratch the surface of the hopeful idealist of the rising RenGen--renaissance generation--whose job it is to detoxify a poisoned world and you’ll expose a deep cultural longing to feel connected. To join with something larger than themselves and to each other. It’s partly spiritual and partly social.

Connection, warmth, immediacy, humor, authenticity, intensity hold allure in the emerging culture. It's all about the intensity of experience—visceral, gritty, and emotional. In today's marketplace, facts and data remain on the B-list until they can cozy up to A-list types who tell self-effacing stories and reveal hard-won personal truths. So far, the masters of this style of communication have been female. (Although male bloggers are beginning to emulate them.)

The future of business will be forged by people emotionally in touch enough to realize that the customer wants to recover a lost sense of soulful connection. Be it through creative self-expression (blogging, Etsy ), forming social groups (Facebook, MySpace) or forging links to lifestyles that help people transition meaningfully between their digital and analogue worlds by establishing customs and rituals that transfer meaning (Apple, Starbucks).

Chris Anderson has written a brave book. It will be talked about. But will it change the fundamentals of business? Malcolm Gladwell thinks not. Why? Because there’s no there there in “free.” Seth Godin throws his hands up and says, "Hey, business is messy right now."

I say, if we are serious about addressing our world-wide problems and growing new enterprises, we must once and for all commit ourselves to alternative ideas, new voices and thought leaders whose experiences stretch beyond the Stanford Business School or the Ivys. Intriguing as it was to follow the wrestling match between the triumvirate this week, it made me long for an Oprah in the business community!