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Business Week reported yesterday on Motel 6’s room (brand) redesign, which has become part of CEO, Oliver Poirot’s “Phoenix Project.”

Motel 6 hardly has a reputation for good design. At best, the 47 year old chain has been heralded for simple, no-frills efficiency. At its worst, it has been the punch line of jokes about dangerous roadside love-ins…Executives wanted to revamp the chain’s decade old look…so the company turned to Britain’s Priestman Goode, which had previously designed airplane cabins for Virgin Atlantic and cruise ship berths for Norwegian Cruise Lines. Their experience, executives felt, would surely come in handy when tackling the small spaces of the standard Motel 6 room. Designers were briefed to keep construction costs low and to create rooms that could appeal to the broad cross0section of society, from tourists to traveling executives…The results are starkly different from the previous incarnation. The carpet was ripped up, and wood-effect flooring lends a pared down, spacious look. Platform beds add modernity and character. Ambient lighting has replaced old-fashioned lamps, while accent walls painted with bright bold colors give the room a style just short of hip.

Motel 6 is specifically trying to attract more and more corporate customers and it looks like they are well on their way to do that. “Last year, the company pulled in $60 million from business customers, but it forecasts $100 million next year, despite the downturn.” And, Motel 6 execs claim customers are already thrilled by the new rooms.

What a brilliant move.

At a time when everyone, even those with jobs, are making sacrifices and biting the bullet in order to save a little extra coin, Motel 6 has decided to give us MORE.

Customers will be completely caught off gaurd. Those anticipating the usual economy-style room, will be blown away. Expectations will be exceeded. Smiles will be cracked. Everyone will be delighted by the upgrade and think, “Wow, what a great deal? What a great experience. I’ll definitely be back.”

Well played, Motel 6. I never would have expected an innovative branding move from you. But you have added enormous value to your product and have taken a huge step towards creating a totally revitalized, game-changing brand experience.

Interesting story in the WSJ this morning about Alec Duffy, the 33 year old theater director from Brooklyn.  Duffy found himself in an opportune position after he won the rights to singer/songwriter Sufjan Steven’s, newest single.  According to the WSJ:

Duffy won the rights to Mr. Stevens’s song in a 2007 contest called the “Great Sufjan Song Xmas Xchange.” Mr. Duffy submitted a song that he wrote — called “Every Day is Christmas” — that Mr. Stevens judged the best. In exchange, Mr. Duffy won the rights to Mr. Stevens’s “The Lonely Man of Winter”…In describing the prize, Mr. Stevens’s Web site said: “Sufjan’s new song becomes your song. You can hoard it for yourself, sell it to a major soft drink corporation, use it in your daughter’s first Christmas video, or share it for free on your Web site. No one except Sufjan and you will hear his song, unless you decide otherwise.”

The contest created by Sufjan is indeed deserving of major props.  It is, however, not a concept that should be seen as terribly mind-blowing, especially in today’s environment.  Artists, or I should say, the artists who intend on surviving in this climate will continue to be the trendsetters in the utilization of social-networking methods and tools that connect with and empower their fans–making them feel like an even larger part of the process.  It is the only way to break through the clutter and engage with the loyal and devoted fans you’ve already hooked in; the only way to maintain your brand’s/band’s reputation.  Releasing a decent recording simply won’t cut it anymore.

For me though, the coolest part of all this was Duffy’s response to his new position of musical-power.  Instead of selling the song for some sort of commercial use–which, I am sure, millions of people would have done if given the opportunity–he sent out an invite on his theater company’s website for fans to come to his home in Brooklyn to listen to the song (on headphones), together.  “The experiment lures strangers to Mr. Duffy’s living room about once a week, to [as he says,] “recapture an era when to get one’s hands on a particular album or song was a real experience.”

Duffy describes Sufjan as “the wizard behind the curtain,” and it’s very cool to me how, without being guided in any way by the artist, he has essentially gone out of his way to perpetuate this artistic perception.  He has taken full responsibility for maintaining the brand’s (Sufjan’s) reputation, almost making it a fulltime job.  It’s an amazing example of a brand’s message being embraced and consequently strengthened by the “consumer,” organically.  Authenticity at it’s best…

My favorite quote of Duffy’s is when he says about the gatherings, “This is the finest way we felt we could curate this song. It brings people together, rather than being lost among 14,000 iTunes.”

Originally posted on 3.04.2009

The iPhone’s impact–the way it has completely revolutionized how the world thinks about mobile–can no longer be challenged. If you are still trying to debate this, you’re an idiot. Period. So, with that in mind, this story in the WSJ struck me as a bit nutty…

Basically, a few small interest groups and mobile providers are bummed they weren’t invited to the “Mobile 2.0-Party” and feel like they might never be able to hang out with the cool kids and the movement they’ve created as a result. In order to “promote competition” these smaller companies and interest groups want Apple to lift its exclusive agreement with AT&T so they can have the option of offering the device too. Although the primary target is Apple, the case for banning exclusivity would extend to other major providers who have done the same, such as: Verizon with Blackberry’s “Storm,” T-Mobile with Google’sG1,” and Sprint with Palm’s upcoming “Pre.” Business Week says,

“The Consumers Union, the New America Foundation, and the Electronic Frontier Foundation, as well as software provider Mozilla and small wireless carriers MetroPCS (PCS) and Leap Wireless International (LEAP), are lining up in opposition not only to the Apple-AT&T partnership, but to all manner of arrangements whereby mobile phones are tethered exclusively to a single wireless service provider.”

Now, I completely understand how not being one of the “pioneers” shaping Mobile 2.0 would leave you feeling pretty helpless, but, to me, fighting technological exclusivity is contradictory to the shift that the mobile market (phone manufacturers, service providers and consumers) is currently undergoing. The way I see it, AT&T’s brand and the iPhone are synonymous. If you bought-in to the iPhone and Apple’s AppStore platform, you’ve bought-in to the AT&T brand, too. If you’re a Blackberry guy or girl, and have started to sync up to their marketplace, you’ve bought-in to Verizon. G1 users? You’ve bought-in to the Google brand, but you’ve become a T-Mobile follower as well. These unique phones and their corresponding web-based platforms have become an essential element of the service provider’s brand.

More and more, individuals are choosing their mobile device based on the phone’s interface and the “marketplace” or platform it is tethered to. Every “platform” has its own unique features and functions (the technical pluses and minus), but they also have their own unique personality that the consumer associates with. This is a good thing and will eventually be the basis for competition.

If you are one of the smaller service providers that “wants in,” why don’t you start by creating your own? Don’t fight it, embrace it. Carve out your own niche in the already established, increasingly solidified, Mobile 2.0 market. Tech companies all over the world are developing their own “iPhone” or “G1” and are finding ways of tethering them to proprietary, web-based platforms. Find one of ’em! Choose a device and platform you want to represent your brand and start competing.

AT&T, who is obviously in the most fortunate position of the bunch, says…

“Exclusive arrangements are an important form of competition…The popularity of the iPhone and its innovative features and applications have provoked a strong competitive response, accelerating not only handset innovation but also the pace of wireless broadband investment and applications development.”

I couldn’t agree more. Get on board. Stop whining about not being invited to their party, create your own and invite your own friends.

The Verizon “Hub”

March 21, 2009

Originally posted on 12.26.09

Last night, I saw a pretty intriguing spot for the new Verizon Hub

Engadget describes:

The system boasts a 7-inch touchscreen display, and will work with Verizon wireless subscribers handset(s) to eliminate the need for a landline (people still have those!?) The idea here is that the hub can sync to your calendar, contacts, maps, traffic and weather reports via broadband. It can also send and receive text messages, and do all kinds of cute little tasks like send driving directions to your phone. Subscribers have to live in an E911-capable area, and will be able to bring any phone number with them if they want to sign up for new service. The hardware’s going to cost $200 (after a $50 mail-in rebate) with a subscription fee of $35 per month — which comes with unlimited minutes and texts to and from the device. It’ll be available starting February 1st. Get ready.

I think this is a perfect way for Verizon to extend the brand and solidify its own unique platform within the broadband/telecommunications world: I don’t know what Verizon is calling it, but I’m going to say “Life Operations Management.” The Verizon brand has become so strongly tied to the image of Blackberry that they needed to figure out a way of tethering the technology/ability to a more complete system for life management.

I’m assuming the Hub is primarily targeted towards the homemaker, or “manager” of a family’s overall needs and activities, and I think this could potentially become a very effective differentiator, influencing entire families to become more complete and loyal Verizon users. Essentially, everything the “Verizon family” does could be connected and accessible to the varioous members, and I think many families will find that concept to be an extremely appealing possibility.

The problem, or potential issue I continue to see with Verizon and RIM’s Blackberry, however, is the nascence of their marketplace-platform. With iTunes continuing to expand and become more comprehensive (with thousands of new apps created every day!), and Google, basically just being Google, with a massive amount of “liquidity” created through an ever growing line of products, it is hard to believe Verizon and Blackberry will be able to avoid having to partner with Google, who will end up being the only option they will have. Apple will undoubtedly come up with their own version of the Hub, which would scare the absolute hell out of me if I were Verizon.

It will be interesting to watch.

Originally posted on 1.29.2009

Generally speaking, I hate all car commercials and communications, especially when it comes to trucks. I understand that most generalizations of truck buyers/drivers have them labeled as sort of the ultimate example of hyper-masculinity in America: predominantly white males, who like big “pipes,” growling engines and off-roading, or other sorts of thrill seeking antics. Why else would every form of communications for pickup trucks (up until now) show the most macho, high-energy males on the planet, driving through the most ridiculous obstacles and “testing facilities,” ever imagined? Is this really connecting with them?

Mainly, what bothers me is that I think these messages devalue the true intelligence and purpose of the men (and women) who actually NEED a truck for the work they do–belittling its complexity and importance. We live in a world of constant connectivity and “smart devices”! Have we really assumed all this time that people who drive trucks are not part of this world?

Regardless of the horrible management and lack of innovation that the Big-3 have shown over the past, well, 20 years, I have to applaud Ford for developing a product that is, in my mind, both a huge step forward in modernizing the American pickup truck, but also a brilliant way of raising the expectations for drivers and carving out a niche within the truck market for, what I’ll call, “Smart-Trucks.”

As for the communications efforts, I thought Ford nailed it. The colors, font and imagery feel rugged, yet smart. Hiring Dennis Leary as the sarcastic, “no-nonsense,” spokesperson was, again, perfect for the message. While I think, the features and functions the new truck offer speak for themselves, Leary’s delivery and the pace and timing of the text forces the viewer to engage and communicates the product and brand message powerfully. Finally, I think by choosing to not have a central character representing the truck, it allows every pickup truck driver/potential driver to easily relate to the message and project their own lives and work onto the screen, without being forced to decide whether or not they like the guy on screen–even though Mike Rowe might be one of the most likable/relateable guys on TV these days.

I don’t own a car, let alone a pickup, but, if I ever did NEED one, a Ford F-150 would be at the top of my list.