The Growing Impact of Online Video

Several weeks back I was interviewed by my old friend, Mark Yoshimoto Nemcoff, at BlogWorld Los Angeles about eBay’s increased adoption of video in their communications strategy. And while I can’t comment on the larger eBay philosophy, I can say that in my role at eBay Partner Network, we’ve worked really hard to make video content a priority in our comms plan for the last year and a half. While this video obviously speaks to my work with eBay, I think the fundamental principles discussed here are important for every company to think about.

Are you using video in your marketing strategy? Why not? Does the cost seems prohibitive? Do you think it’s too much work? If your business is using video, what made you take that leap? How has it changed your relationship with your customers? I’d love to get your thoughts in the comments below.

A Look Back at BlogWorld Los Angeles

A Look Back at BlogWorld Los Angeles

Last week I attended BlogWorld Los Angeles in my capacity as Evangelist / Community Manager / Blog  Lead at eBay Partner Network. BlogWorld is always one of my favorite events each year because of the swell of creativity and passion that overflows from each attendee. In addition to meeting lots of new people, it’s always great to connect with old friends and reminisce about the old days of podcasting and the infancy of blogging. This year showcased the continuing maturity of the social media and online content space. Brands continue to take notice and choose to be part of the conversations on a very social level.

I put together this video recap as part of the latest season of ePN TV. Take a look:

You can read more about my experience over at the eBay Partner Network Blog.

Reed Hastings is No Steve Jobs

Reed Hastings is No Steve Jobs

Only a few weeks after proudly announcing their new brand, Qwikster, Netflix, again, very publicly announced they had made a mistake. Apparently Reed Hastings has seen the foolishness of his decision and decided to go back to doing the thing they should have done all along – keep Netflix as a single entity:

“It is clear that for many of our members two websites would make things more difficult, so we are going to keep Netflix as one place to go for streaming and DVDs. This means no change: one website, one account, one password… in other words, no Qwikster.”

Hallelujah. Praise Jesus. Can I get an Amen?

While I think it’s great that Netflix came to their collective senses, I feel like this may have put the final nail in Hastings’ coffin. How much more will the board take before they tire of these Romper Room-like CEO brand adventures?

With Steve Jobs still fresh on my mind, this got me thinking about how you’d never see this kind of public meltdown from Apple. Even their most colossal missteps were handled with more grace and sure-footedness than this Qwikster debacle. So while we all continue to wax poetic about Steve’s achievements and what they’ve meant to our everyday lives, let’s not forget the way that he so perfectly guided and led Apple to avoid catastrophes like this latest from Netflix. Don’t get me wrong – it’s not  fair to compare Hastings to Jobs or hold him to the same standards. Not even a little bit. Steve was a once-in-a-lifetime genius. Hastings is, well, probably not long for the Netflix world I would think. My guess is ouster comes before the holidays.

What do you think of all this Qwikster, no Qwikster stuff? I’d love to get your comments below.

Netflix Stumbles Again with Qwikster Rebranding

Netflix Stumbles Again with Qwikster Rebranding

This morning I got an email and saw a blog post from Netflix CEO, Reed Hastings, that started with the words “I messed up. I owe you an explanation.” Well, Reed, strike two. After reading your blog post, I’d say you messed up again. Let me explain.

Reed was emailing the Netflix subscriber base (it initially appeared) to apologize for the price increase fiasco that happened a short time ago:

“It is clear from the feedback over the past two months that many members felt we lacked respect and humility in the way we announced the separation of DVD and streaming and the price changes. That was certainly not our intent, and I offer my sincere apology.”

Instead, Reed was really writing to announce that Netflix would be spinning off its DVD-by-mail service into a new company called “Qwikster” (Horrible name by the way). Reed says they chose the name because “it refers to quick delivery.” Um, more likely because there are slim pickins’ out there for  dot com domains and you took the best of worst available. Anyway, this is where I think Netflix made a huge PR and marketing faux pax.

Why would anyone choose to birth a new brand under the dark cloud of an apology? It’s bad enough that the apology was flat and showed no remorse for their recent actions:

“I should have personally given you a full explanation of why we are splitting the services and thereby increasing prices. It wouldn’t have changed the price increase, but it would have been the right thing to do.”

In fact, it wasn’t an apology at all, but instead a bait and switch. Netflix didn’t understand then, and still doesn’t seem to get it now, that people aren’t upset over the way the price increase announcement was made. Customers are pissed because Netflix doubled the cost of their service overnight without providing any extra value. In fact, when you take into account the Starz debacle, Netflix has actually starting charging much more, for much less. Notice how that massive decimation of their streaming catalog wasn’t even mentioned in this morning’s apology/rebranding announcement. My guess is that this is going to inflame the situation even more. Not only did they tear the Band-Aid off an already raw wound, they did it under the celebratory shish-boom-bah of launching Qwikster.

So, if I could, I’d like to boil this down to a few key takeaways that are applicable to all brands:

1. Don’t apologize if you’re not willing to fix the problem. Doing so just refocuses the spotlight on your screw-up.

2. Understand why your customers are upset before you make a ham-handed attempt at fixing it. The Netflix team thinks that this announcement is going to appease their irked customers – it won’t. Today’s parade was all about Netflix – not about their users. That tells me that Netflix doesn’t understand the core issue.

3. Never announce an unrelated new initiative under the cloud of a mistake. Netflix would have us believe that Qwikster is their answer, their “make good” on the mistake they made a couple of months back. Not only does this not address customers’ frustrations, but it taints the launch of a new brand  birthed in the wake of controversy.

4. Communicate things to your customers that are of valuable to them, not just because they’re valuable to you. While Netflix basks in the glory of their new DVD-by-mail brand, their customers are still choking down that massive price increase. To make matters worse, they’ll now have to decipher two separate charges on their credit card statement from two different companies. That sounds like a value-add, right?

In closing I want to say I’ve long been a fan of Netflix. In fact, I’ve praised their customer service on this blog before. But, their actions as of late puzzle me and make me wonder what’s really going on over at HQ. It seems to me that the time for a competitor to step up and eat their lunch is upon us. Any takers?

Standing Up for Your True Value

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?

Celebrate Your Business

Celebrate Your Business

This week in Santa Barbara we’re celebrating “Fiesta.” Traditionally, it’s a celebration of our Spanish heritage – an excuse for those that live here to enjoy our town and the people that live in it while watching parades and tossing back drinks. This got me thinking about how businesses could (and should) be doing the same things within their walls (maybe sans drinks and parades). How do you celebrate the people that make your organization great?

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

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?

Pushing the Limits of Your Brand

Pushing the Limits of Your Brand

Business sense 101 tells us that brands are sacred and that we should do everything possible to protect them. That obviously means different things to different companies, but one thing that most would probably agree on is that they’d be a little apprehensive in going down the same road as shoe company, K-Swiss. You may have seen their previous  campaign with Danny McBride in his Eastbound and Down persona, Kenny Powers. This month, they’re going another round  with another short film and even more celebrity star power including NFL quarterback Matt Cassel, Biggest Loser alum Jillian Michaels, Transformers Director Michael Bay and MMA champ Jon Bones.

GETTING COMFORTABLE

I’m a huge fan of HBO’s Eastbound and Down. Kenny Powers has become a cult favorite and the show has catapulted McBride’s career. What surprises me is the K-Swiss side of this equation. There are two-dozen things in this commercial that people could find offensive. How did K-Swiss get to the place internally that they felt good about green-lighting this concept? Would you see another lifestyle shoe company go this route – Nike? Converse? Adidas? Highly unlikely. In fact, let’s take it out of the clothing world – can you imagine Google’s agency pitching this concept to them?

PULLING THE TRIGGER

Clearly K-Swiss felt they were in a position to take a controlled risk. Their sales are not what they used to be and they’re hardly a marquee player in the lifestyle brand arena. Clearly somebody felt that stirring things up and causing some controversy couldn’t hurt their position. It should also be mentioned that this was their second campaign with Kenny Powers. If the first one had blown up in their face we wouldn’t be having this conversation right now. It’s always easier to push the limits once you’ve tested the waters.

ASSESSING THE PROPER FIT

There’s no doubt that this has been a stroke of creative genius in reviving a flailing brand, but how do you gauge the right fit for your clients? What makes K-Swiss a good fit, but Nike not? What stops me from writing a blog post for my clients with curse words, penis humor and pictures of half-naked women in it? Well, besides the obvious answer of “common sense,” I think it’s more nuanced than that.  You have to really know your client and understand their identity. What lifestyle are they trying to project? What are the values of the brand? Where is their comfort level around using humor, profanity and sexuality?  Where do they currently sit in their particular vertical’s food chain? A brand that is stagnant or on the way down may be more likely to take a risk than one that is perched at the top.

WOULD YOU?

Most of us wouldn’t feel comfortable playing this video at work for fear of someone hearing it and taking offense, let alone would we pitch this idea to our boss. What would you have done if you were on the K-Swiss ad team? Would you have been bold enough to take this risk or would you have played it safe? I’d love to get your feedback in the comments.

Do the Unexpected

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?

BlogWorld New York vs. Las Vegas

BlogWorld New York vs. Las Vegas

Since I returned from New York last week people have been asking me how BlogWorld compared to previous years in Las Vegas. I knew it felt different from the first day I set foot into the Javits Center. I couldn’t put my finger on it until just the other day. It all comes down to jeans and Chuck Taylors.