Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Aspiration Ain't What it Used to Be

As the clock ticks down on the year 2009, I find myself wondering about what I want to spend my time researching in 2010. Topping the list is "aspiration."

Everywhere I turn, I can't help but notice the change in the way people express their aspirations. The other night, a group of college kids gathered in my kitchen. Over spaghetti and meatballs I listened as they talked what they envision for their lives. Not once did they mention buying or owning something. Instead, they talked about making videos, music, writing, building and fixing things-- and there were several mentions about "re-inventing" the way things work.

For decades, entire industries have relied on consumer aspirations to drive growth--automobiles, boats, real estate, luxury goods, fashion apparel. Face it, any product that is life-enhancing relies on aspiration to make the world go 'round.

In the year ahead, I plan to follow the theme of aspiration. Observe how it morphs. And then follow the brands that follow the user.

Happy new year.

Thanks for the photo Dana John Hall.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Holiday Mingling and Learning What Sponsors Want

The holidays have given me a chance to circulate among the marketers who make sponsorship decisions and find out what's on their minds. Here are some of the things I'm learning:

1. Sponsorship is expensive. The cost-efficiencies of web-based marketing are forcing new scrutiny on costs. Take another look at your package. The days of bundling frivolous add-
ons to justify a price tag are over.

2. "We're trying to get all of our marketing investments to help us work harder at other priorities like innovation and youth marketing." Sponsors want their partners to help them do things like listen to customers, test new innovations among key groups and wrangle new media.

3. Sharing is an important social theme. One
CMO I spoke with wants to help customers share with each other or otherwise join forces to tackle important issues and make something meaningful happen.

4. Sponsors are marketers, first and foremost. Most marketers are just looking to stay employed. All the hype out there in the business culture around innovation and risk-taking is just that--hype. The risk-takers are not sitting in the corner office. They are running their own companies. So look for ways to help partners take measured risks without losing their shirts. And make sure you have ways to measure ass-covering ROI.

The holiday season is a great time to re-think your approach to sponsorship. Things are slowing down. Take a fresh look at what you're putting out there. If your offer isn't helping your prospect market more powerfully and efficiently in a digital culture, you may be facing an endless sales cycle.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

My New Favorite Time-Killer

Hello. I'm Mo Hickey, newly-appointed editrix of the Culture Scout Blog. I got a new laptop fairly recently, and the first thing I did was cruise the iTunes store for podcasts. After subscribing to a few NPR shows, I typed "fiction" into the search bar, wondering if there were any podcasts devoted specifically to literature. The answer was a resounding "Of course there are, where have you been?" Thus I found the bounty that now takes up several gigs in my iTunes library.

My favorite series is the New Yorker Fiction podcast. It's everything I could ever want from free, downloadable entertainment. Once a month, a writer plumbs the back catalog of the New Yorker Fiction section to come up with a favorite story by another writer. The writer then reads the story aloud and discusses it with the New Yorker Fiction editor, Deborah Treisman.

The first episode I heard was Donald Antrim reading Donald Barthelme's story "I Bought A Little City", published in 1974. (The way Antrim reads is reason enough to listen to this one.) Another episode has Tobias Wolff reading Denis Johnson's "Emergency" and talking about how surprised Johnson was that "Jesus' Son" came to be seen by many as his masterpiece.

The coolest thing about this show is that all the artistic admiration, analysis, anecdotes and gossip come from a writer who truly feels the story he or she is reading. I love reading stories aloud myself--there's something about loving a story that makes me want to form the words with my mouth. As an aspiring writer, it's both exciting and comforting to see this level of appreciation between successful writers and to know that, like me, they love some stories so much that they feel a fundamental need to share them.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Sponsors Spooked by the Economy Look for New Media Value

On October 26, Patricia Martin posted this...
Unless you live under a rock, you know the economy has frozen many marketing budgets. Most sponsorship marketers, as my colleague Kim Skildum-Reid aptly notes, have their assets locked into long-term contracts with traditional partners. This leaves scant resources to consider new relationships.

So where's the white space? Which sponsors are breaking through with new deals? We interviewed 10 brand managers who are pioneering and winning. They are investing to reach young creatives. They told us they're looking for platforms that deliver live experiences mashed up with social media. For more insights, check out our FREE report.

Monday, December 14, 2009

The Five People You Meet in a Sponsorship Pitch: Part 3

Today, sponsors make decisions as a team. Each team member brings an agenda, which is often filtered through his/her personality. There are five personality types you’ll encounter in a pitch. We’ve covered two so far.

Here’s the next in the series. Meet Alan the Alpha.

Alan is an alpha male. He is physically imposing and most likely handsome. He is a strategist. Grunt work is routinely pushed down to his subordinates. His image is important to him, as is his sense of power. He will listen and reserve questions for the end as a sort of crescendo effect. This holds him above the fray. Because he works across many departments, he’s learned a lot about various aspects of the business. Hard data will interest him. Getting him to reveal his “switch” will be tough because he knows what you’re after and why. He treats the pitch meeting like a game he plans to win.

Level of power: High.

Level of Influence: High.

Power style: Establishes dominance with body language and tough questions.

Reason for being at the table: He’s there to vet your offer. He’ll sign off on the deal but won’t manage it.

Asking Alan to talk about his strategic marketing needs will get you nowhere. Instead, you’ll have to dodge and weave. Ask Alan something you’re pretty sure he won’t know--something esoteric about marketing. If he fumbles for an answer, then he’ll want to preserve his power in the room. So when you ask a follow-up question fairly soon thereafter, he’ll talk. Once you get him interacting with you and the others, rather than hovering above it all, the more opportunity you’ll have to find his “switch.”

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Death Becomes Us--How Culture Is Redefining the Way We Die

The holidays are no time to think about death. But then again, many of us will be re-connecting with extended family during the holidays, and we can't help but notice that our folks are "getting up there" in age. A new report from Northwestern University points out that obituaries have a large and loyal readership. Consider the fact that ranks in the top 100 websites, making it the world's most visited graveyard.

Death is a fact of life. But before Boomers face morbidity en masse, our culture will redefine it. Death is becoming newly-ritualized. The objects associated with it are being re-invented and re-designed. Check out the new "eco-pod coffin" from the Natural Burial Company. It begs the question: why leave a giant carbon footprint on your way out? How reassuring to be cradled in a recycled paper coffin as a final absolution for years of over-consumption.

Death will go the way of food. Online news sources and local papers will reshape how we communicate about it. Just as culinary icon Ruth Reichel observes, "America has become a food culture. It has moved from being in the women's section to front-page news." Similarly, obituaries will be elevated to new status. The trend is already being eco-coffin at a time!

This blog appeared on Huffington Post.
Hat tip: Core 77

Monday, December 7, 2009

Wine Producers Drink Up Sponsorship

Wine is truth, the saying goes. Maybe so. What's definitely true is that wineries are really embracing sponsorship marketing for entertainment properties, especially those that highlight food. Take Constellation Brands, for instance. Based in Victor, New York, Constellation Brands is the leading producer of premium wines in the world. The company manages over 100 wine and beer brands in markets around the world and likes to pair its brands with food-related events. In Europe, for example, it penetrated 73% of the adult population for its Hardys wine with sponsorship of Come Dine With Me, a combination event and television show platform that drove 36% increase in sales this year. Their core consumer groups are "High Potentials" and "Routiners". It makes me wonder. Can those categories be applied to any business as a way of structuring sales and marketing? Who are your "Routiners versus High Potentials"?

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Meet My New Blog Editor

I'm here at the bustling Metropolis Cafe in Chicago. It's Sunday afternoon. I'm meeting with a young writer, Mo Hickey, to discuss my blog. She hails from Bennington College, where she's in the writing program that has produced such talents as Michael Pollan, Bret Easton Ellis and Amy Hempel. Mo writes poetry and fiction. She'll be helping me improve this blog. Probably long overdue. She asks me good questions: "Do you like narrative to be threaded into the facts?" We discuss the practical matters such as hours and pay. I also lay out the other challenge. In other words, I explain what it's like to work with me. She smiles, undaunted.
Welcome, Mo.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Flash Mob Steals the Show for Steppenwolf

Every year, Steppenwolf Theatre Company selects a theme that unifies its season of plays. This year, the theme is "Believe." A recent experiment with flash mobs as a way to express the theme swept Chicago off its feet--literally. (Disclosure: Steppenwolf is a client)

Here's an example of how cultural brands that define their category--theatre in this case--because they also define "quality" for the category, have more elbow room to innovate. Our research shows that cultural brands that are not defining "quality" have less, not more license to innovate in the eyes of the cultural consumer.

In Steppenwolf's case, its experiment with flash mobs is highly efficient as an innovation tool because it serves many goals. It pushes the limits of their energetic performance aesthetic while allowing the company to tinker with outreach in a dynamic way: it's visual, newsworthy, demonstrates core brand attributes; it's participatory and viral--not to mention just plain fun!

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Are Your Crazy Enough to Succeed?

A decade into the new millennium and one thing is clear. Many of the skills and methods that led to success in the last century are useless. Business models are crumbling all around us--making way for the new.

The problem with the "new" is that it's so bloody murky. I'm re-reading Mihaly Csiksentmihalyi's important book, Flow, published in the 1990s. Many of the professionals he studied to gather insight into optimal performance were working in well established sectors. They had lots of rules and plenty of infrastructure. But look around you. Things are changing beyond recognition.Think about it. If you ran the New York Times in an era of FREE content, what would you do? Truth be told, the best course of action is one of experimentation. Risky, but essential, because it leads to innovation.

Much of the good that awaits us in the era of re-invention is veiled. Finding our way to it takes courage...the courage to be crazy. Have a look at this vintage Apple spot from the 1990's. Then go try something crazy.