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.”

I am on Facebook.  In fact, I’ve had a profile on Facebook for about 5 years now (just writing that shocks and embarrasses me a little).

At first, like any college student on Facebook, the ability to connect with high school friends and browse through my current school’s “directory” of peers simultaneously, was incredibly exciting and entertaining.  But since then, my interest in the relationships we are able to build through Facebook has shifted a bit.  Facebook is not only a tool for social extension between individuals, but between brands, too.  Not everyone is sharing my excitement though.

A sense of worry and suspicion has begun to surround Facebook and the enormous pile of consumer information they sit on.  Yesterday, in WIRED’s “Your Facebook Profile Makes Marketers’ Dreams Come True,” Eliot Van Buskirk wrote:

“Never before have we voluntarily publicized so much of our personal data and consumption preferences, especially not in very structured ways that ease the work of marketer’s data scrapers.  And most of it accurately reflects what’s going on in our actual lives.  But the individualized nature of social networking profile pages means that some of the resulting marketing campaigns target specific individuals too, which is what concerns privacy advocates.”

I understand the concern over privacy, but should we (consumers) really be afraid of being marketed to in more relevant ways?  The way I see it, it is happening now and nobody seems to mind all that much.

Take Pandora: I enter “Jose Gonzalez” into Pandora and a mix of a dozen or so different (but similar) artists–most of which I have never heard of–is instantly streamed to my iPhone.  I love most of what Pandora creates for me, but I only come away purchasing ONE song (Sean Hayes’ “Rattelsnake Charm”) that day–the only one song I wanted to be sure I had “on-demand.”

Or, take Amazon: I search for Seth Goodin’s, “Tribes” on Amazon and I’m given a list of related titles.  A few of them I find particularly intriguing and I add them to my “Wishlist,” for future consideration, but I don’t buy any of them.

Sure, these are both niche channels, but they are also microcosms of this “personality aggregation” phenomenon.  They are perfect examples of an online network using my personal information and preferences as a way of delivering the most relevant products/services to me.  Does anyone really dislike this?

As Rob Walker explains in Buying In, we all want to feel like we belong.  Whether it’s through association with other like-minded people or through participation in activities we feel define us best–we want to belong, and brands and symbols help us satisfy this basic need.  Wouldn’t it be a positive thing if our interests (music, books, movies, TV, etc.) could be delivered to us in a more efficient way?  Wouldn’t this actually empower individuality?

Maybe we’re afraid of having more and more relevant products and services tempt us–I find it hard to believe we are that submissive.

For so many reasons, owning a Smart Car makes sense.  It is an unbelievably effective model for owning a car these days, especially if you live in the city.  On average, cars spend something like 8-16 hours parked per day!  Smart Cars simply make sense and so does the creation of So-Smart URL.

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I’m not usually one for marketing gimmicks, but this little service created by Smart Car is not only brilliantly on-brand, but practical, too.  Don’t be surprised if So-Smart becomes the tool of choice for millions of “tweeters” looking to include lengthy URLs while still staying within the 140 character limit–even Twitter’s “tiny urls” can be too big.

Trent Reznor Gets It!

April 8, 2009

Today, WIRED released a really nice piece on Nine Inch Nails‘ Trent Reznor, who has probably been one of the most forward-thinking “brand managers” of the last year or so–and I don’t mean music-specific branding either.  The report was sparked by news of Reznor’s upcoming release of a NIN iPhone App.

The free Nine Inch Nails app, scheduled for release as soon as it gets final approval from Apple, is a mobile window on all things NIN: music, photos, videos, message boards, even — thanks to a GPS-enabled feature called Nearby — the fans themselves.

Nearby is “kind of like Twitter within the Nine Inch Nails network,” says Rob Sheridan, Reznor’s long-time collaborator. “You can post a message or a photo by location, and if you’re at a show you can see conversations between other people who are right there.”

A couple of months ago, I wrote about the power of branded iPhone apps and asked why more brands (STILL!) have not created their own. So, it’s always nice to hear these kinds of announcements–industry leaders, like Reznor, truly grasping the opportunity and capitalizing on the value these “brand-extending tools” can add to the overall experience you create for your customers (fans).

As WIRED notes,

[This] is the culmination, at least for now, of a process that began a year-and-a-half ago, when Nine Inch Nails succeeded in extracting itself from its contract with Universal Music Group’s Interscope label…Since then, Reznor has pioneered a new, fan-centered business model that radically breaks with the practices of the struggling music industry. His embrace of “freemium” pricing, torrent distribution, fan remixes and social media seem to be paying off financially even as they have helped him forge deeper connections with the Nine Inch Nails faithful.

I will admit, I’ve never been a huge fan of NIN’s music, but their apititude for brand building–especially in today’s so called “unknown” environment–gives them huge props in my book.

Business Week’s Rob Hof reported today on the possibility of Google acquiring Twitter. The speculation is “the two companies are considering working together on a real-time Google search engine.” Interesting, indeed, but what struck me here was when Rob mentions the public’s reaction to the deal:

A lot of bloggers seem relieved, their belief that Twitter would wither under Google surpassed only by their even firmer conviction that it would be even worse if Microsoft bought the company.

I am definitely a strong believer in Google’s products and their business. I am an even stronger believer in their potential down the road, so, while I do agree with the public response, the fact that a Microsoft acquisition is being used as the other, more extreme, alternative–one that would be even worse for Twitter–is a pretty strong signal of the current state of Mircosoft’s brand.  Especially for a company that was once THE tech company, THE “Google” of their time, I cannot think of many things worse than having my brand used in this way…”Well, at least it’s not Microsoft.” That’s not positive at all.  People use sentences like that when they say things like, “Well, at least it’s not Syphilis.”

I do think Microsoft is doing some good things to remedy the public’s perception of their brand, but this just proves how much work they have ahead of them.

Not very many, I would imagine.  If you are eight years old and are up at 10:30pm on a Monday and you are watching reruns of Seinfeld on TBS, your parents are twits.  But, regardless of whether or not Seinfeld has become a secret obsession of eight year olds around the world, this spot struck me because of how dissimilar the spokesperson is to the apparent target demographic.

We all know Microsoft is smart and isn’t blind to the fact that very few eight year olds are up at this hour.  In these tough economic times, we have to believe they are not just paying for random time slots without care or measure.  No, the “8 year old PC” spot IS meant for me and I think the stealthiness of it is brilliant.

At first, however, the “I’m a PC and (fill in the blank)”  campaign did not impress me.  In fact, I really didn’t like it.  Maybe it was because Microsoft abrubtly pulled Crispin’s first series of the brand’s “face-lift” (featuring Gates and Seinfeld, which were, in my opinion, too smart for the masses/TV) and replaced them with the apparent “Plan B.”  Maybe I was just annoyed they didn’t decide to go with “I’m a PC” from the get-go.  Either way, the first spot of the campaign seemed like Microsoft was crying about how Apple was making fun of them (via I’m a PC and I’m a Mac), and, in a certain light, seemed like they were desperately trying to win over the youth/creative culture.  It was a little embarrassing to watch.

Looking back though, these spots were just the “growing pains.”  Microsoft and Crispin have worked out the kinks and have started to unleash an onslaught of spots that are truly relevant, substantive and engaging.  These are the kinds of messages that, I think, will help to humanize and, ultimately, revitalize the Microsoft brand.

As someone in his mid-20s, I am not exactly amazed at the PCs capabilities (which the eight year old clearly demonstrates), but I am amazed at the kid’s creative spirit and technical knowledge of, and comfort with, the machine.  I may be part of the current creative culture, but I wasn’t mixing and editing movies when I was eight–my creativity was limited to “analog.”  This kid represents the future youth/creative culture that even I can’t totally relate to…they are “The Rookies.”

Microsoft, realized they couldn’t fake their presence in the current creative culture, so they decided to attach themselves to the future.  Not only do these capable youngsters–with their bright futures and enthusiastic attitudes–make us smile and feel warm and fuzzy, they remind us, even though you and I may be Macs, the future youth demographic is still fair game and could end up putting Microsoft and the “PC” world back on top.

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.