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The Absurdity of the Apple Watch Edition

10 Mar

The Absurdity of the Apple Watch Edition

Yesterday Apple announced the details around the Apple Watch. Tim Cook announced three different product lines; Sport, Watch and Edition. The first two tiers fall in line with what you’d expect ($349 and $549 respectively) for a product like this. It was the third line, Edition, that caused many to do a double-take. I understand why Apple did it – why wouldn’t they want to compete in the luxury watch market alongside the likes of Rolex, Panerai, Cartier and Patek Philippe? Watches from those brands easily command prices from the low thousands to almost a million dollars.

What Apple seems to be forgetting is that other luxury timepieces are investments that, with proper care and maintenance, will last you a lifetime. In fact, many of those watches are passed down from generation to generation. So, yes, $10,000 for a Rolex might seem steep, but when you consider it could be part of your family for 50-100 years, you can see the value. Watchmaking is an age-old craft that mixes artistry and science. The precision it takes to produce a proper mechanical timepiece is incredible. And, that technology hasn’t changed all that much since the 17th century.

Now let’s think about spending $10,000 – $17,000 on an Apple Watch Edition. That watch certainly won’t be something you’ll pass on to your children or grandchildren unless the thought of passing on a rotary phone or your old Sony Walkman sounds appealing to you. Try to think about the last electronic product you’ve owned and actively used on a regular basis for more than five or six years. Can you imagine still using the first or second generation iPhone, for example?

I would expect Apple to offer some sort of upgrade path for those that purchase the Edition. Whether it’s the ability to upgrade the software significantly from version to version or a guaranteed trade-in amount toward the purchase of a newer model, it feels like Apple should address this in some meaningful way.

Personally, I have an affinity for watches. And while I don’t have any in the $10,000+ range, I do have a great swiss timepiece from Baume & Mercier. It’s simple and elegant and something I hope to pass on someday. The Apple Watch is fun and seems like it would be quite useful for many things. But as an investment timepiece? That’s a bridge too far Apple.

For the record, I’ll almost certainly buy one – either the Sport or Watch – but, I’ll look at them as pieces of technology with planned obsolescence, like an iPhone.

What do you think? Will you be buying an Apple Watch? What tier are you looking at? Leave your thoughts in the comments below.

SEO Best Practices: Content and Link Auditing

17 Jul

SEO Best Practices: Content and Link Auditing

As a content creator I understand firsthand how easy it can be to lose yourself in the afterglow of impactful blog posts or well-produced video segments. I’ve often said that content is king and that should be enough to distinguish yourself from the pack. The unfortunate reality is that we have to give more than a passing thought to SEO and how search engines perceive our website. Since Google released their Panda and Penguin updates, they’ve turned the online world on its ear.

Recently I produced a video for eBay Partner Network’s ePN TV about the importance of content and link auditing on your website and the types of things that marketers needs to pay attention to.

In terms of qualifications, you don’t get any better than my friend, Jordan Koene, at eBay. He understands SEO on a level that most of us can’t comprehend. The good news is that he’s a very generous soul that doesn’t mind sharing his vast wealth of knowledge.

I’m curious to know how Panda and Penguin have affected your website or blog over the last several months? Have you been able to avoid getting clobbered in search rankings? I’d love to hear what you’ve done to address these updates in the comments below.

Over-Sanitizing Your Content

16 May

Over-Sanitizing Your Content

Creating original content for your business is a great thing, but you’re not doing yourself any favors if you’re constantly scrubbing out all the dirt, bite and passion from your blog posts, tweets and videos. Sometimes getting a little grimy is good thing.

I speak with businesses every week that say they want to make their corporate communication channels compelling and engaging to their users, yet when it comes time to pull the trigger, they trim and cut out all the meat that made the content worth publishing in the first place.

Recently, Chris Brogan posted an article on his site about agencies discontinuing their blogs due to lack of engagement and readership. He believes, like I do, that if no one is reading your blog, it’s probably because it’s boring.

Businesses take risks every day. Some of them pay off and some don’t. Content creation is an investment – one that I believe is not only worthwhile, but essential to your business. If you’re going to spend the money and human capital to make a go of it, have the courage to push boundaries. Be bold. Speak your mind. Take a position on issues relevant to your industry. That’s what your users want to see and it’s what will help you build a passionate community around your offerings.

What do you think? Do you agree that we shouldn’t over-sanitize our corporate content, or is there more at play here? I’d love to get your comments below.

Taking Better Care of Our Customers

8 May

Taking Better Care of Our Customers

Recently I’ve had some shopping experiences online that have left a bad taste in my mouth. I figured that I had stewed over them long enough and wanted to jot some thoughts down on the blog and get your take. First off, let me say that in my opinion the gold standard in online shopping, shipping and customer service is Zappos – hands down. No one else even comes close. And while I don’t hold other companies to quite that high of a standard, they have set the benchmark and I’ve come to expect something in the same ballpark.

Rock n’ Roll Woes

Recently I bought some merchandise from a musician’s online store. I’ve been a fan of this particular guitar player for a long time and wanted to order a couple of t-shirts and a hoodie. I placed my order on a Thursday morning and waited. By the following Tuesday I still hadn’t received any sort of confirmation or shipping notification so I emailed the web shop. The first thing I did was respond to their initial “payment received” email. That bounced. Hmmm, why did that happen? Oh yeah, I see it here – the address in the reply field of their confirmation email was “sales@example.com.” Ok, so they never changed the template – sloppy. Undeterred, I went to their site and found a different contact email. That also bounced back with a “mailbox full” message. Finally, I found a .me address and sent an email there hoping for a miracle. Nothing. After two days I emailed again telling them that if I didn’t receive some sort of response that I would file a dispute with PayPal. I heard back within 5 minutes and they said my order would be shipping that day and that I’d receive confirmation within the hour. But, another day went by with no email. After emailing them again with no response, I finally filed a dispute with PayPal to get my money back. However, 10 minutes after I opened that dispute I got an automated email telling me my order had shipped – this was now a full two weeks after the order was placed. I noticed the order was being shipped from Las Vegas via USPS Priority Mail. I live in Santa Barbara – less than 400 miles from Las Vegas – meaning the package should have been there in 2-3 days. Yet, 6 days later, I still didn’t have my order. Finally, PayPal stepped in and reached out to the seller. Miraculously, two days later I received my package. Interestingly, it’s post-marked only two days earlier meaning it left their facility 6 days after they said it did.

Did you follow all that?

Post Mortem

Obviously this was a colossal screw-up for this business. They did make a half-assed attempt after I’d received delivery to make sure I had, in their words, “received my order and make sure everything was taken care of,” but there was no apology for the delay, deception and aggravation that I had gone through as a customer. There was no special coupon or credit offered. Honestly, it felt like their main focus was to make sure I closed the dispute and they got to keep their money.

A week later I ordered a watch from an online retailer, and while I won’t bore you with the play-by-play of that transaction, let’s just say that the combined frustration of these two back-to-back experiences inspired me to write this post.

It Doesn’t Have to Be This Hard

If you’re selling products online you have to have a rigid set of standards for your entire sales process from order placement to customer delivery. That includes acknowledging a customer’s order, their payment and notification of shipment. If you want them to feel good about handing you their credit card information, you need to make sure to get the simple things right, and let them know you’re an organization that can be trusted. By not sending out even basic confirmations you can cause unnecessary panic and mistrust amongst your customers.

I understand that problems happen sometimes. There will occasionally be times when an item is out of stock, or shipping is delayed. Instead of staying silent, be upfront and accountable to your customer. A personalized email goes a long way to smooth over any initial frustration and most will find it refreshing that a business took the time to explain the issue.

When you make a mistake, offer compensation. Offer to upgrade shipping, or email them a coupon for 20% off their next order. Not only will you smooth over any ruffled feathers, but you’ll be building goodwill towards your brand for future purchases.

These all seem like no-brainers to me, but clearly that’s not the case with a lot of online businesses today. When people make a purchase from your website, many are first-time customers. If you want them to come back, it is paramount that you provide a stellar shopping experience by keeping them informed, acknowledging those rare mistakes and compensating them for any hassle.

Does This Resonate?

Do you run an online web store? What is your philosophy on customer service? How do you ensure that your customers receive a great experience? What hard lessons have you learned along the way?

As an online shopper what are your pet-peeves? What companies do you buy from that provide stellar online service?

Standing Up for Your True Value

9 Aug

Standing Up for Your True Value

I was reading a post over at Philip Bloom’s blog about assessing your value as a vendor and getting paid what you’re worth. Philip’s post was talking specifically about camera and film operator talent, but I think it’s relevant for any contractor or consultant.

We live in an economy where there are a lot of people looking for work. That means that as a mid-senior level professional I’m competing with younger talent, fresh out of school that will work for pennies on the dollar – if not for free. How can I compete with that? Let’s set aside the well-known adage that you get what you pay for – or as Philip says “Pay peanuts and you get monkeys.” Even if I pitch to a client that understands the difference in value that my level of expertise brings over someone greener, how do I get them to actually pay me what I’m worth?

The video below speaks to this argument better than anything I’ve ever seen by putting it in the context of real-world situations.

Earlier this year I wrote about how much knowledge and information we should be willing to give away to a client without receiving some sort of compensation in return. I think that this discussion is just another side of that coin. In the end, it boils down to standing up for what you’re worth and not feeding into a trend that threatens to further de-value the talents of so many creative people.

I’d love to get your thoughts on this. How do you set your prices? What tips and tricks do you have for getting fair market value for your services?

How Do You Keep a Struggling Medium Alive? Ask Brian Williams

3 Aug

How Do You Keep a Struggling Medium Alive? Ask Brian Williams

The evening news on television is something that I enjoy watching. In fact, I make every effort to try be in front of my TV each night at 5:30 when Brian Williams goes on air here in California. I realize that I’m not part of the mainstream – viewership of the evening news has been steadily declining for years. These days, it’s mostly people in their 60’s and 70’s that typically don’t get their news online as it breaks from outlets like CNN.com, MSNBC.com or channels like Twitter. So, the television news business has something of a marketing dilemma that they need to overcome:

How do you keep a 30-minute new broadcast relevant for a more connected, tech-savvy generation?

I would love to pose that question to Brian Williams. He seems to be doing his part to stay relevant and implanted in the psyche of a younger group of viewers. Consider that he’s hosted SNL to positive reviews and regularly appears on shows like 30 Rock. This past week he was part of a very funny skit on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon:

I think this gets at the heart of why people like me watch the news. I don’t have to watch Brian Williams every night. I get my fill of the major headlines throughout the day online. By the time network anchors are in make-up, I’m up to speed. I watch NBC’s Nightly News because I like Brian Williams. I think he comes across as authoritative without being robotic. I also appreciate the fact that he writes most of his own broadcast each night so he’s vested in the news he’s reporting. He’s not afraid to throw his personality into the mix and show people that he’s an actual person. Sure, people like my grandparents may watch television news because they have a limited number of choices to stay informed, but if this decades-old platform is going stay relevant for my generation (or my daughter, Emma’s generation), then these personalities have to make you care about them. We have to be interested in who they are, while still respecting their ability to report the news. Brian Williams has done a masterful job of walking that line.

For this post I’m talking about TV news, but there are loads of other professions and platforms that are dying a slow death. What other parallels can we draw here? How do you stop the decline of an outdated product or delivery system? Is it even possible?

Do the Unexpected

21 Jun

Do the Unexpected

Playing it safe in the world of marketing is the norm. It’s easy to create parameters and then build your initiatives within them. It’s also lazy. Sure, I get that parameters exist for a reason, but sometimes we have to challenge ourselves and those around us to break free from those constraints. Take Woolite for example. You know, Woolite, the mild-mannered household laundry brand geared towards Moms concerned about their most delicate fabrics. Well, they took a sledgehammer to their marketing parameters recently when they teamed up with Rob Zombie to create this spot:

“Don’t let detergents torture your clothes.” Absolute genius.

The fact that Woolite went all-in on this is what makes it so compelling for me. They could have done a “spooky” ad with any number of qualified commercial directors, yet they chose to go for the jugular and get Rob Zombie. Not only is he renowned as a director of horror films, he’s a musician with hoards of fans and a ton of street cred. Clearly someone at Woolite understood the impact of juxtaposing two polar opposites of the brand spectrum.

What other campaigns can you think of in this realm? Who else has taken these types of risks in hopes of a great payoff? Could your brand make a leap like this?

Google and Amazon Are Leaving Money on the Table

10 May

Today Google announced the launch of “Music Beta,” their cloud-based music service. While it is invite-only and I haven’t seen it first hand, I do know that it is not Apple-friendly. You may recall that Amazon excluded Apple devices some weeks back when they launched their music service in the cloud. I think both Google and Amazon are making huge errors in judgment and showing some shortsightedness.

First off, Apple owns the tablet, smartphone and music player markets. By excluding these devices from your service you are pushing away the majority of the marketplace that would otherwise use your service. The masses have been clamoring for this type of cloud-based service for years. Amazon and Google both beat Apple to market, why are they squandering that lead out of the gate by insisting their products use Flash?

Second, both Amazon and Google are missing the opportunity for early adopters to plant the flag in their platform. Any cloud service is going to require a user to upload their music collection to the cloud for the first time – that is no small undertaking. I have just under 12,000 songs in my library – that’s going to take days to upload all of them to a cloud-based service. If Amazon or Google had launched their services with an iPhone or iPad app, I would have pledged my allegiance and stuck with them. We all know that Apple is going to be rolling out their own service someday soon, but I believe that once people take the time to dump their music into the cloud for Amazon or Google, they’re not going to be bothered to do it again for Apple.

So, what the hell is really going on here? Is it solely about Adobe Flash? I honestly can’t wrap my head around why any company would exclude the majority of their potential customers right out of the gate. It makes absolutely no business sense to me. I’d love to pick your brains here and see what I must be missing. Please leave a comment below.

Hashtagging Primetime

26 Apr

Hashtagging Primetime

I’m sort of a TV nut. Truth be told, I probably spend too much time obsessing about my favorite shows. In my defense I can say that I’ve drummed up more than a few content ideas for this blog by feeding my TV addiction. Watching what brands do well (and do poorly) in their television marketing has sparked more than a few tirades on these pages.

Two weeks ago I was watching an episode of Fringe on Fox. In the lower right hand corner of the screen, just above the affiliates ID badge, I noticed the hashtag “#Fringe.” For those unfamiliar, a hashtag is either a community or brand driven convention labeled with a “#” meant to add additional context to tweets. While using hashtags to promote a show may not be a new concept, Fox is the first network that I’ve seen use hashtag placement on screen for the entire episode.

So, who cares right? Well, as a marketer, YOU should.

FOX GETS TWITTER

Clearly Fox understands the power of Twitter. I also appreciated the subtly of their hashtag implementation. They didn’t beat it over our heads with a big explanation or garish graphics. Instead, they figured that if you are hip to Twitter, there was no explanation needed. To those of us dialed into the social web, that makes it sorta cool.

SAY NO TO THE DVR

One of the big obstacles that TV executives have been battling in recent years is the ubiquitous DVR. When people timeshift their favorite shows, they fast-forward through the advertising. That advertising is what keeps networks on the air.

I personally don’t know anyone that schedules time to watch their favorite shows when they actually air – do you? Instead, we program our season passes into our DVR and watch our faves on our own schedule. Instead of fighting that viewer shift, Fox is doing something that might actually have the power to affect real change on that behavior – they are creating a community experience around a shared passion.

Let’s use sports as an example – why do you think that DVRing sporting events hasn’t really caught on? I think it’s because sporting events are meant to be shared by a community – we feel connected to the fact that others in a relevant geographic zone are watching something at the same time that we are watching it. In fact, if you’ve logged onto Twitter or Facebook in the last week you’ve surely seen people live updating while watching the NBA playoffs. As humans, we get off on those types of shared experiences. Fox is essentially creating that type of communal event around Fringe. By creating and encouraging the use of a hashtag, they are inviting fans of the show to watch it as it airs and live tweet with millions of other enthusiasts. You can’t create that level of excitement with a timeshifted program.

SPREAD THE WORD

There is no better way to create buzz about your shows than with strong word of mouth. NBC can (and has) shown me all the promos for “The Voice” that I can stand, but I’m way more likely to watch it if I see members of my social circle talking about it online. Traditional advertising has it’s place, but you can’t beat the trusted recommendation of your personal social graph. By creating and promoting the use of a hashtag, Fox is not only connecting enthusiasts of its shows during their airing, but also generating trending buzz on Twitter.

SAVVY VIEWERS

Would this type of campaign work on a show like NCIS or Law & Order? Doubtful. Those shows tend to skew to an older, less tech-savvy demographic. My guess is that you wouldn’t find my Dad watching either of those programs while updating his Facebook profile. The audience for Fringe on the other hand is a younger, hipper demographic and Fox is taking advantage of that enthusiasm. For the record, I’ve also seen them apply the hashtag treatment to Glee as well. You don’t get a more rabid, vocal fanbase than the “Gleeks.”

MINIMAL INVESTMENT, MAXIMUM RETURN

These are the types of tactics that brands don’t spend enough time thinking about. If you break this campaign down, it involved absolutely no time, resources or infrastructure on the part of Fox to implement. Hell, their graphics department didn’t even have to create a badge! All they did was type #Fringe or #Glee into the character generator and apply it to the screen. Everything else is handled by the existing Twitter platform. It doesn’t get any simpler or more cost-effective to launch a marketing initiative than that.

What other tactics have you seen that are as easily deployed ? I’d love to get your comments below.

Bon Jovi and Business

24 Mar

Bon Jovi and Business

This past weekend I was watching the MTV European Music Awards and saw that Bon Jovi received the “Global Icon Award” at the telecast in Madrid, Spain. Now, we can debate the actual merits of this honor all day long, but beyond the award is what it represents: After more than 25 years in the music business, Bon Jovi is more relevant and successful than they’ve ever been.

As I watched them receive this Global Icon Award then close the show with a medley of their hits, it got me thinking about who else even comes close to their stature in music today. Can you think of a band that has been around as long as they have that continues to put out new music that people care about? The only other act that comes to mind for me is U2.

Readers of this blog know that I think about two things often: music and marketing. So, I started thinking about how Bon Jovi has achieved such sustained and explosive growth over the last 25 years and how this strategy could be modeled into business.

TOMMY AND GINA

With all the changes in music over the last two and a half decades, Bon Jovi has never veered from who they are. They know that songs like “Livin’ on a Prayer” put them on the map and they celebrate those songs today. Too often bands (and businesses) try to do whatever is hip and new and they end up looking silly and out of touch. Stick with what you know and do it well.

INNOVATE

I realized I just told you to stick with what you know, but you can still pursue innovation while still being true to your DNA. Bon Jovi released a greatest hits of sorts a few years back called “This Left Feels Right.” It was a collection of their biggest hits totally reworked with new instruments and melodies. A couple years after that they released “Lost Highway,” an album of country -inspired songs featuring some of the most popular artists in Nashville.  With both of these projects there were things that worked well and some that seemed like they were done more for the band’s own amusement. Either way, Bon Jovi decided that they wanted to stretch the limits of their comfort zone and do something unexpected. In the end, it still sounded like Bon Jovi and it served to show the world that they could pull off the unexpected on occasion.

In business you should be thinking the same way. Stay true to who you are, but don’t be afraid to take controlled risks and make what you do better. Just because something’s been done the same way for years doesn’t mean there isn’t a better way to do it. In the end, either way, you learn from it and you move onward and upward.

LEAD. IT’S NOT A DEMOCRACY

Regardless of what you may think and see in the media, Bon Jovi has a leader and it’s Jon Bon Jovi. Sure, they’re a band and they each have some say, but in the end, JBJ is driving that ship and it all falls on him. He’s had a hand in writing almost all of their catalog and he alone creates the setlist for their shows every night. They are a well-oiled machine of leadership and execution.

In business it’s crucial to have someone doing the same. In this startup world I know it’s the dream to gather a group of your friends and start a company. Make sure you know who plays what role. Who is leading your venture? Who on the team is responsible for executing on that leadership vision?

I know it’s much more rock n’ roll to not think about having a leader and just relying on the bonds of brotherhood to carry your band (or brand) forward, but it seldom works that way. After a while there will be disagreements of opinion and hurt feelings and before you know it you’ll find yourself on tour in London with no bass player.

RESEMBLANCE

I’ve been thinking a lot about which company draws the closest parallel to Bon Jovi in terms of longevity, innovation and relevance. To me, that company is Apple. Like Bon Jovi they went through some ups and down throughout their existence, but they’ve stayed true to their principles and have risen to the top of the technology mountain. They’ve continued to innovate and created products we didn’t even know we wanted, yet managed to stay true to their roots and stay true to their principles of form, function and ease of use. Finally, they did it all with Steve Jobs at the helm. The people at Apple never strayed from him and passionately believed in his vision. In fact, I’ve never seen a single person so tied to a company’s image and values as Steve Jobs is to Apple.

WHAT DO YOU GOT?

Whether you’re a fan of Bon Jovi or not, you can’t deny their impact in music. They have sold 130 million albums worldwide over a 25 year span. Currently they’re on tour selling out arenas and stadiums all over the planet. It’s safe to safe they are at the top of their game. That said, I hope that reading this post triggered some creative thoughts around your business. Sometimes going back to basics is what it takes to get us over a hurdle and to the next level.