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Why YouTubers are Cashing In (hint: they are worth it)

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Why YouTubers are Cashing In (hint: they are worth it)

moneyteen I've read more than a few articles that sensationalize the large dollar amounts that Digital Influencers are making. I've also overheard many people having conversations about this that indicate they think this is frivolous. I want to tell you that when I hear anyone snicker at what Digital Influencers are making, I automatically think:

  1. That person is out of touch with the reality of marketing today - these kids in their bedrooms with their iPhones making videos are who people listen to (especially Millennials, who everyone seems to want to reach).
  2. That person is going to regret their dismissal of Digital Influencers when they are priced higher than the current market rates for other forms of advertising.

Just because you don't understand why this is happening doesn't mean it isn't happening. And it's only the beginning.

Doing The Basic Math

The simplest way to describe the value is by presenting the basic math. When you work with a Digital Influencer, you are getting more than someone sitting in their bedroom for a few hours recording and editing a video. You are getting video production/editing/direction, talent, natural amplification AND celebrity/influence.

If I was to conservatively price out a basic YouTube video looking for 100,000 views (equivalent views to a mid-range YouTube influencer with around 200,000 subscribers), it would look like this:

Scripting/production/shooting/editing - $5,000 (for really basic stuff) Hiring basic talent (with charisma) - Average $250/hr - ACTRA says you have to pay for a full 8-hour day - $2,000 Boosting - Assuming the CPV (Cost per View) is $0.05 = $5,000 for 100,000 views Influence/Celebrity - hard to price this, but Kim Kardashian makes $100,000/hr for appearances and Snooki makes $25,000. Neither of them show up on the most influential list. Let’s be conservative, though, and say $10,000 for the appearance.

That nets out to a very conservative estimate of value for a YouTuber with 200,000 subscribers (and ~100k views/video on average) to $22,000 per video.

And when I say that I was being conservative about this estimate, think about the costs of a 30-second TV spot - which is reaching fewer and fewer people (and, in my opinion will continue to decline in relevance...if there ever was much anyway). According to the American Association of Advertising Agencies, the average cost of a 30-second spot on television in 2011 was $354,000. That's a pretty penny.

So, when Jerome Jarre, who has 7.2 million followers (and rapidly growing) on Vine is reported to make $35,000/vine, I say those brands get a helluva deal! Don't tell Jerome, but he should be making $500,000+ if he was charging for just the boosting capability (his vines see >10million unique views)!

I guess the $1,000,000 offer he turned down was a good move after all:

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CIuJOYceU3o?wmode=transparent]

The Bottom Line

When you hire a Digital Influencer, you aren't paying for the few hours they take to record the video or the quality of the camera or editing work. You are paying for their SOCIAL CAPITAL, which in their world is VERY tangible.

You can see their subscriber numbers and the way their audience is deeply engaged in everything they do (from what they are wearing to who they listen to and beyond). They've spent years building deep trust with their audience by investing in them and being open and transparent. According to a study by Variety, Digital Influencers rate higher than Hollywood celebrities in influencing purchases.

To dismiss them for being too young or their work being too fun/easy or their content being too casual is to completely miss the reality of the situation: your brand should have invested in digital content years ago. Just one 30-second spot would fund anywhere from 1-10 YouTube stations for a full year (depending on your production investment + complexity). That sort of investment would mean a smaller long-term investment, bringing that efficiency that many companies look for today.

The building your own audience ship hasn't sailed quite yet, though. Condé Nast, under the amazing leadership of Dawn Ostroff, is investing in a better digital content strategy on YouTube and it's really paying off. Their audience is growing rapidly as are their organic views. Much of their content is modelled on the types of videos the audience enjoys: entertaining, funny and authentic.

I still believe that working with Digital Influencers is one of the strongest short term marketing tactics you can deploy today and going forward, but it's also important you learn from them and invest in becoming an influencer yourself.

Let me know how you are investing in an audience below.

[title image credit: Thinkstock]

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More Than Hauls + How-to's: The YouTube Tropes

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More Than Hauls + How-to's: The YouTube Tropes

tropes_header.png

So now that you understand that working with Digital Influencers is important and you are starting to recognize who they are and what makes them tick, it's important to understand HOW you work with them. One dimension of this is understanding the types of content that they are producing on a regular basis. Part of my job is to watch hours and hours of YouTube videos, discovering emerging talents and trends. Over this period, I've discovered that, barring a few outliers and pioneers, there are a list of tropes that the majority of YouTubers follow.

A trope is a commonly recurring motif - a type of video in this case - that you see across multiple channels. Not quite a meme, not quite a format, these tropes recur between groups of YouTubers to help connect their content.

Different vlogging communities have different tropes and will make fun of tropes that exist in other communities. For instance, the Makeup Tutorial Trope has been used as a comedic vehicle in videos like this one by Megan Mackay:

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zyNa9kqq8mk?wmode=transparent]

Many people recognize the Makeup Tutorial trope, but there are many others. Just producing Makeup Tutorials on a channel isn't enough to connect with your audience. In the How-To & Style category, there are many tropes that YouTubers use to connect with their audience. The most popular are the following:

  1. The Makeup Tutorial Trope
  2. The What's-in-my... Trope
  3. The Haul Trope
  4. The Lookbook Trope
  5. The Tag or Challenge Trope
  6. The What I Am Wearing Trope
  7. The Routine Trope
  8. The Review Trope
  9. The DIY Trope
  10. The Q&A Trope

All of these motifs recur frequently under the How-to & Style category and are the go-to video for most beauty and style YouTubers. For any company that is looking to collaborate or hire a YouTuber, you can use these to think beyond the product review.

The Makeup Tutorial Trope

The Makeup Tutorial seems to be the most commonly used and popular trope of all. Michelle Phan has made an empire from makeup tutorials - doing everything from a smokey eye to celebrity makeup:

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YFMaLuI1uxc?wmode=transparent]

Makeup tutorials are great because many women are searching for tips on how to recreate looks on YouTube all of the time. I, myself, have watched Kandee Johnson's Jem Tutorial multiple times (as it's my fallback costume).

These tutorials have a consistent pattern of:

a. show the finished look b. go to bare face c. go step-by-step to create the look (usually speeding through unimportant details) d. show finished look again

The What's-in-my... Trope

Even before it hit YouTube, What's In My Bag/Laptop Bag/Camera Bag/etc was a commonly used on blogs and photo sharing sites like Flickr:

[searching the tag 'whatsinmybag' on Flickr]

The What's-in-my... videos are exactly what they sound like: the vlogger pulls items out of her bag and talks about them one-by-one. Her electronics, her cosmetics, her essentials...she usually talks about the bag itself as well:

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y60mTWaizsE?wmode=transparent]

These are incredibly popular and are a mix of personal information and product reviews. It's not just a beauty vlogger phenomenon either. You'll find the What's-in-my... trope in other categories as well.

Other variations include: What's on my Phone (apps), What's in my Fridge, What's in my Drawer, What's in my Locker, etc. Audiences love these videos because it helps introduce them to new products that they may have not heard of before and getting the validation from their favourite YouTuber will go a long way to driving interest.

The Haul Trope

Hauls are, in basic terms, a showing off of what you just bought. Whether it was going down to the mall and buying a bunch of new clothes or makeup or ordering a bunch of stuff online, the format of a haul is to pull out new products one-by-one and talk about:

a. what you bought b. why you bought it c. what you paid for it (sometimes...and especially when it was a deal)

Some focus on specific shops (Sephora, Lush, Forever 21, etc), some focus on times of year (back to school, summer, holiday, etc.) and some are just big splurges.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TtpFYJNue9E?wmode=transparent]

Hauls have been the subject of much derision by the non-beauty community, but they are consistently popular for the YouTubers that use these tropes, though they tend to only do them a few times per year. Hauls, very much like the What's In My... Trope, drive interest for audiences.

The Lookbook Trope

Lookbooks summarize the wardrobe trends - usually for the season - for each of the YouTubers. They are usually done to music in various poses with closeups on details of the clothing and makeup. In these videos, the YouTubers usually point their audience to where they can buy these looks themselves:

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vJY7tmyXffM?wmode=transparent]

Modelling themselves after fashion house lookbooks, these videos are highly stylized and have a funky beat for a soundtrack. There is usually no voice over for this type of video.

Lookbooks are loved by fans if they are done right - beginning of a season, etc - because they give them ideas on how to pull together outfits for that season.

The Tag or Challenge Trope

Tags on YouTube are very different than tags as we know them on other platforms. Tags on YouTube are more "Tag, You're It!" than #hashtag (though they are tied together with tags/hashtags).

The way Tag Videos work is that the initial Tagger will create a series of questions and answer them in their video, then 'tag' a group of other YouTubers to answer these same questions. There are hundreds of Tag videos on YouTube under almost every personal topic including: Boyfriend Tag, Best Friend Tag, Sister Tag, Twin Tag, TMI Tag...and many many more.

Here is a great example of how a brand worked in their core message to start a Tag (disclosure: I worked on this campaign):

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sK64nPN-I_A?wmode=transparent]

Challenges are a bit different and are participated in more by men than women (women tend to do Tags on YouTube, while men do the Challenges). They usually involve something physical (ie. The Cinnamon Challenge, where participants are challenged to eat a spoonful of cinnamon on camera) and are more silly/fun than personal:

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=McLnCBacJCY?wmode=transparent]

Both Tags and Challenges are great ways for YouTubers to collaborate at a distance and create a sense of community on YouTube.

The What Am I Wearing Trope

OOTD or Outfit Of The Day videos are similar to the lookbook videos, but they tend to cover only one outfit (thus OOD). Like Lookbooks, they tend to be highly stylized and without commentary and point their viewers to wear they can recreate the look. These videos are an evolution from Fashion Blogging, where the fashion bloggers would take a series of photos - close-up details and full length shots - to demonstrate their daily fashion look.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lnDMelbfgf0?wmode=transparent]

GRWM or Get Ready With Me videos are a combination of OOTD and makeup and hair tutorials. In one video, you get a full routine. They usually revolve around an event (prom, back to school, wedding, date night, etc) so you can, literally, follow along to create the same look head to toe:

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FFEzEXlZaZo?wmode=transparent]

I call this category, in general, the What Am I Wearing Trope as they both deconstruct a specific look to try at home.

The Routine Trope

The Routine Trope brings you even closer to learning a day-in-the-life of a vlogger. Some of these routines are more instructional, such as My Workout Routine, but many of them are intimate like Morning or After-School Routines that take you a little bit behind the scenes of their lives:

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uzu1Bc9WWFs?wmode=transparent]

In these videos, you get to learn a little more about who the person is and what makes her tick. And many viewers feel that they can relate deeply to these very normal, very mundane lives.

The Review Trope

The Review Trope is also where many brands enter the conversation. There are a few ways that How-to & Style YouTubers approach reviews and it is very rarely a straight-up review of a product.

One of these approaches is to talk in general about the list of products and services that they are currently enjoying as in [insert month here] faves:

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZKHlVwORB9M?wmode=transparent]

Many brands want exclusive review posts, but what they fail to understand is that being included in these round-ups can actually be MORE beneficial as it comes across as more genuine. If a vlogger talks about loving a brand's face cream, then talks about the competitor's cleanser, it comes across organically vs an entire post dedicated to a single brand. The consumer audience is highly suspicious of sponsored content.

They will also do the negative side of the review in monthly round-ups of products they advise their audiences NOT to buy. If your brand ends up in this round-up, don't panic. This presents a great opportunity to reach out to the vlogger and say, "Sorry that product didn't work for you. Is there any others you are willing to try?"

The DIY Trope

Millennials and their Gen Z little sisters are very DIY. I chalk it up to them having gone through a long and arduous recession, compiled with the desire to actually create rather than be passive.

How-to & Style YouTubers with DIY just about anything from Halloween costumes to prom dresses to room decor. Anything that can be created with supplies from an arts & crafts store and a glue gun or some thread is free game:

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N2U3sLbxWvg?wmode=transparent]

What this trope teaches us is that this group loves hands-on.

The Q&A Trope

The last major trope I want to cover is the Q&A. This Trope usually emerges as a vlogger gains popularity and starts to get fans that are dying to know even more intimate details about her life:

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l6qw1uW-w14?wmode=transparent]

Usually the vlogger will ask her fans one week ahead of time to send in questions under a hashtag or in the comments. During the video, she will choose the best questions and answer them openly. Even taboo subjects get covered like Zoella's example above. And the more taboo, the more views these videos get.

The Importance of Tropes To Your Brand

As video blogging and YouTubers have grown in popularity, they've had to evolve to continue to entertain their hungry audiences. Their audiences are demanding to connect on a deeper level, to learn more and to be entertained. You don't just throw up a channel with a bunch of makeup tutorials any longer. For whatever look there is to create, a makeup or hair tutorial has already been done. There are only so many "recreate this celebrity look" videos you can do before people become saturated.

These may be common tropes today, but they have emerged organically with the demands of the audience and the inventiveness of the YouTubers. Within the next few months, different ones will emerge and within the next few years everything will look completely different.

Brands need to understand the evolving landscape and be up-to-date with what is happening now as well as recognize what is emerging in order to work well with this new influencer.

And if you happen to be looking to start your own channel, learn from these tropes, but understand what sort of audience needs they fulfill rather than just copying them outright.

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Hey there! I'm Tara Hunt, I lead the Social Digital team at MSLGROUP (Canada). I've been doing this internetty stuff for a loooong time (since Mosaic was the browser to use!). I wrote one of the first books on how the social web is changing business (so old, you can get it for $0.01!). I'm better at typing, but I'm trying out that YouTube thing. I like to brag that I'm influential in business circles, which means I don't get much for free stuff except books. That's a-ok with me! ;)

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If you haven't already, go back and start from the beginning:

Building a Strong Influencer Program: Part I: WHY Building a Strong Influencer Program: Part II: WHO

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It's Worse Than You Think: or why you should care about poverty, jobs and income inequality

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It's Worse Than You Think: or why you should care about poverty, jobs and income inequality

donothing.jpg

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[Row of Unemployed from Flickr Commons]

I'm afraid. Truly. I'm afraid of where we're headed.

We live in a world where the basic storyline goes something like this: we are born, we get educated, we go to work, we earn money, we buy a house and get hitched and have babies who are educated...and the cycle goes on. Of course this story varies in order, magnitude and timeline, but you get the drift. We get trained and then we work so we can afford to do it all over again generation after generation.

It's always seemed to me an odd way to exist, but it works well enough and there have been loads of benefits to this structure, including advances in our technology and comfort in general. The market that we work for and buy from gets more efficient and produces better and better outcomes for us. The incentive is comfier living, through income or better/cheaper stuff or whatever, but I certainly appreciate typing on this laptop while sitting in a warm office and having the ability to publish this for the masses to read. I have a comfy chair and a good cup of hot coffee while the winter elements whip around outside without touching me. Life is good.

povertyline
povertyline

And yes, I have Capitalism and the free market to thank for my good life. But there is no escaping it. We need to work to afford such luxuries. If I didn't have an income, I wouldn't have all of this. And I suppose I could eschew my current lifestyle and take to the land, but I don't really have the skills to snare rabbits and pick the right berries. I took a survival course when I was 14 that my parents teased me about (they called it "Camp Two Fingers" because I described the limited amount of food I could eat each meal - a two-fingered scoop), but I don't remember much of that. And I've been watching the AMC series The Walking Dead and took the 'How long would you survive' quiz and didn't do so well.Also, I like my laptop and wi-fi and power and heat. I'm quite fond of the ease of life I lead, so I'm willing to pay the piper.

But the story is getting harder and harder for more and more people to follow. The piper has more and more limited space. And we're going to have to write a new one if we want to survive.

DETROIT IS OUR CANARY IN OUR COAL MINE

We are nearing a job crisis of mundane proportions. As Chrystia Freeland outlines in her 2013 TED Global talk, The Rise of the New Global Super-Rich(I know, the irony, right?):

Since the late 1990s, increases in productivity have been decoupled from increases in wages and employment. That means that our countries are getting richer, our companies are getting more efficient, but we're not creating more jobs and we're not paying people, as a whole, more.

During the Industrial Revolution, jobs were created on a massive scale, moving the majority of people into cities to fill positions. But since then, globalization has happened, moving hundreds of thousands of jobs overseas to cut costs, displacing an enormous number of jobs. We've seen the effects this has on cities built around industries who now outsource like Detroit and Baltimore. But what happens when the skilled labor is outsourced? What happens when we don't even need people to do the job AT ALL?

Self-driving vehicles, artificial intelligent computers that may teach themselves to code, robots that do intricate tasks and smart homes that monitor and fix themselves are just some of the technology that is right around the corner and threatens unskilled AND skilled labor. Why outsource your coders when the computer can do it for you? Who will need cars at all? Forget mass transit. Seamstresses and tailors? Meh. Cooks? Who needs them. Plumbers? Electricians? The list goes on.

In fact, even the people who are BEHIND the technology that is leading us there are afraid of where this is headed:

Eric Schmidt, executive chairman of Google – a company that is working on emerging technologies such as self-driving cars and robots – is worried. “The race is between computers and people and the people need to win ... In this fight, it is very important that we find the things that humans are really good at,” he said. - FT.com, Automation and the Threat to Jobs, January 26, 2014

Sure, every advancement creates a new job and new opportunities to earn, but are the number of jobs and opportunities created enough to replace the ones lost? Are there? Because if there aren't enough new jobs to replace the lost jobs, no matter how much you berate the unemployed for being lazy jerks, there won't be jobs for them to go to. And the time period between unemployed and homelessness will be swift as the number of people living paycheck to paycheck (68% in USA alone) and buried in personal debt is staggering.

I wouldn't be so afraid if there was some sort of plan in place. If this was something we talked about openly and honestly and that economists were discussing in a public forum. But it's really difficult to find anyone talking about this except for a smattering of people here and there who are largely dismissed as paranoid and overreactive.

As an interesting aside, after watching Freeland's TED talk, I went to check out the numbers of people employed by the tech companies we know and love (these are worldwide numbers for the most part):

Amazon - 109,800 ($183B market cap) Microsoft - 100,500 ($305B market cap) Apple - 80,300 ($450B market cap) Google - 46,400 ($380B market cap) Yahoo! - 11,700 ($35B market cap) Facebook - 5,800 ($150B market cap) LinkedIN - 4,800 ($25B market cap) Twitter - 2,300 ($34B market cap)

TOTAL - 361,600 jobs

To put this in a bit of perspective, here are the headcounts for the 8  biggest employers in the US:

Wal-mart - 2,200,000 ($242B market cap) IBM - 435,000 ($192B market cap) McDonald's - 400,000 ($93B market cap) UPS - 400,000 ($89B market cap) Target - 355,000 ($36B market cap) Kroger - 338,000 ($18B market cap) Sears - 312,000 ($4B market cap) General Electric - 287,000 ($25B market cap)

Total - 4,327,000 jobs

Notice something about many of the employers on this list? Many of them hire part-time, minimum wage employees (the working poor), some of them hire unskilled labor (the automate-able - I can see the day when our Big Macs are assembled by robots, can't you?) and some of them are in trouble (Sears anyone?). Here is something to chew on: Target employs roughly the same number of people who Amazon, Microsoft, Apple, Google, Yahoo!, Facebook, LinkedIN and Twitter do COMBINED.

And if you don't understand the connection, the reason why I'm showing the largest employers is that many of them are retailers whose retail outlets are being threatened by technology - when retail outlets get shut down because people are ordering more and more online (just today, Radio Shack announced the closing of 500 stores), where are the new jobs being created to replace them? Certainly not with the new entrants.

[NOTE: Knowing how damned frustrating it is to get support at any of the tech companies listed (even the Genius Bar is backed up for days now and they direct you to the forums), I have some suggestions of where they could hire a few bodies. Am I right?]

THE GOOGLE BUS THING ISN'T REALLY ABOUT THE BUSES

It's about this. It's just a symbol of a much deeper issue. The Bay Area, is the next canary. It's awesome because people are finally taking income inequality seriously...and it's dislodging many heads from many a$$es.

DON'T JUST POINT FINGERS AT THE PLUTOCRATS - YOU ARE TO BLAME, TOO

As consumers, we should take on a big part of the blame here, too. It's not just companies trying to be more efficient and maximize profits. It's also our appetite for a 'deal' and our move to shopping online and on our mobile phones. As we demand lower costs and convenience, we force more human beings out of a livelihood. Hell, I love my Joe Fresh deals, but when the factory collapsed in Bangladesh last spring, I realized what my hunger for good deals was doing to the world. I'm making more of an effort to shop local now and when I get a hankering for some online shopping, I head to Etsy first.

And what about startups like Etsy and Shopify and Chloe + Isabel and all of the other peer-to-peer and home-based business boosting tools that are launching? Isn't there all sorts of money being poured into these pretty commonplace tools to help people grow their own businesses, releasing them from the shackles of traditional employment?

Sure. But just like their analog ancestors (Avon, Amway, Mary Kay and Tupperware to name a few), there will be only so many successful people in each neighborhood. For instance, I live in a pretty tight neighborhood (roughly 15,000 people and we all have dogs so we talk). If EVERYONE in my neighborhood bought $50 worth of Tupperware per MONTH, that would only cover costs of living in this neighborhood ($60k/yr) for 38 people (25% commission based). And that's being generous. NOBODY needs $50 worth of Tupperware a month. Here is a real stat: 65% of Etsy sellers made less than $100 last year. And as a big fan of Etsy, I know for a fact that these sellers are often barely covering the costs of their supplies. They try to remain competitive so they don't pay themselves very much.

Building a business online is the same as building a brick and mortar business. You need buyers. And with buyers going for the cheap and convenient options, there isn't much space for the artisan or hand-crafter. As a friend of mine said, "There is only so much jewelry I can buy!" when referring to Chloe + Isabel.

And speaking of buyers, what happens when unemployment soars? There will be even fewer buyers, which means ANY business trying to make ends meet is going to struggle, which will most likely lead to more layoffs, which will...well you know where this spiral leads.

SO ARE WE EFFED?

Well, if we keep burying our heads in the sand and moving in the general direction we're moving, yes. We're completely effed. Marketing, which happens to be the profession I've made a living at for 15 years now, is a BS job. I can completely admit to that. It's completely necessary in a Capitalist free market economy - because there is a confusing amount of options for customers and somebody needs to point them in the direction of your option - but in the automation and AI boom, it'll be made irrelevant.

In fact, many of the tech giants have already eliminated the marketer's role. Does Google hire marketers? Nope. Sales people and engineers. There are a few 'advocates' and 'futurists', but that's not the same. Does Facebook? Not really. Some people have the title of marketing, but they're role is more sales-driven, too. Microsoft and Amazon have fairly healthy marketing departments, but there are only so many jobs to go around there. Besides, once Google automates it for us (along with those engineering jobs), everybody will follow.

I know I'm a big downer. Sorry. If it makes you feel any better, this whole mess is still a few decades off. The singularity isn't supposed to hit until 2029. (Oh, which also reminds me that the person who invented the idea of singularity is...an employee of Google. Coincidence? You make the call.)

Truthfully, we need to rethink our economy altogether. Maybe the future of work is different? Maybe we don't work for a living anymore? Maybe we actually work on what makes us passionate without pay because we get a stipend? Or we don't need money anymore? Maybe there are different incentives? There are lots of people who have been rethinkingmoney for years and there is even a great crowdsourced currency contender (say that 10x fast!). Today's dollars are really only real because we think they are real. Sort of like Tinkerbell, if we stop believing it's real, it will cease to exist. (This concept has always fascinated me - since I studied the Brazilian Real Crisis in the 90's)

I had a conversation lately with my brilliant friend Heather, who said she read and watched The Hunger Games and didn't feel it was fictional at all. I agree with her. There are all of these showy excesses being waved around arrogantly while so many struggle. There is fear and awe now, but all we need is a Katniss to start the uprisings. I feel for Tom Perkins because, even though his Nazi Germany comparison is incredibly offensive, the Plutocrats are in danger. When wealth inequality is put under a microscope, it will affect him deeply. In actuality, he should have used the French Revolution as the example. But he wouldn't because many still uphold the French Revolution as a necessary balancing of power during a time of...great inequality.

Maybe there are think tanks and groups of people locked up in important secret boardrooms (beyond the lip service of Davos) coming up with awesome ideas. But seriously, folks. This is going to be big. And we can put it off and put it off, but at some point, it's going to catch up with us.

There are so many people out of touch with reality and though we shouldn't live with a cloud over our existence either, we really really need to think practically about our future. The higher we climb, the further we fall. Let's figure out how to prevent free fall in the future.

Let's not wait for those in power to come up with a solution...or we may be sending our children to a fight to the death arena in the near future.

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I've taken over the Fuck Poverty Facebook Page to share articles and continue this conversation. It's not much, but it's a start. Any additional suggestions, input, etc is very welcome. I've been thinking about this subject a LOT lately. I think the time is ripe for making it a priority.

I'm also reading The Lights in the Tunnel, recommended by my friend and associate, Lane Becker. Everyone should read it. It's awesome and covers stuff I said here with better examples, data and clarity. ;)

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How to be Creative

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How to be Creative

fairydust_vert
fairydust_vert

My work is fundamentally creative. There are loads of analytical pieces, but at the end of the day, marketing is about making a connection with human beings who are not as predictable as marketers would like to think. Yes, there are lots of studies on consumer behavior and human drive and we can move the needle by tapping into those things that motivate buying behavior, but so is everyone else and the companies that 'win' the loyalty and sales are the ones that are more creative.

Content marketing, which is the focus of my current consulting, is all about being creative. There is a good amount of noise out there: companies writing blog posts, producing video series and posting regularly to social media channels, and most of it really doesn't matter. It follows formulas and delivers the same old same old that we've read a million times before. There is nothing to distinguish one inspirational quote from another. There is no point of view.

So I am to dig deeper. Provide something different. Something valuable. Something thought provoking. I shoot for remarkable.

But thought provoking, valuable and remarkable take time. They take long hours of thought. And, frankly, most brands don't want to pay for that. We just got them to the point that (many of) them are realizing that content is important and some of them are willing to pay something for it, but that's only a small piece of it. Stopping there would be like giving someone a bathing suit and expecting them to swim across the Atlantic.

Francis Moran, a colleague of mine, recently likened the current state of content marketing to the early state of radio. Anyone with access to the tools could claim expertise in radio, but as it evolved, it was apparent that there were very few examples of radio shows that could hold an audience. And you need an audience to pay the electric bills.

One of the shows that stands out to me is This American Life with Ira Glass on Public Radio. There are very few radio shows that I can listen to for a full hour each week and even fewer that I will go back to listen to multiple times, but this is one of them. There is just something so incredibly entertaining and thought provoking about it.

And then this weekend, another colleague of mine, Mitch Joel, pointed out aGoogle Talk with Ira Glass in which the interviewer asks where he comes up with the programming week after week (for >18 years!) and Glass' answer is amazing:

Somebody will pitch a story that we all feel very excited about and that doesn’t go with any of the themes we have going on at the time, so we’ll just say “Let’s use that story as an anchor for some show” and then we’ll concoct a theme that could plausibly contain it. And sometimes we’ll come up with 2 or 3 different themes that could plausibly contain it and we’ll have other stories left over from other shows that we couldn’t use and see if we can glue anything to it and then we’ll start on a search. And that search could take up to 3 or 4 months often and sometimes even more. Finding ideas for stories is very inefficient.

One of the things when you start to do creative work that nobody ever asks is, “Where are ideas going to come from?” And you have this idea that they are just going to be sprinkled on your head like fairy dust…but you just have to surround yourself with a lot of stuff and a lot of ideas, because ideas lead to other ideas. So at one point, we’ll just go on a massive search…

Then he goes on to describe a very complex process with all sorts of questions and nuances that are unique to every story and every episode, including having to kill about 1/3-1/2 of every thing they start. And he adds:

You really can’t tell what’s going to work until you start to make that thing. It’s like you want lightening to strike as an industrial product (in the same spot) every week, and to do that, you just need to wander around in the rain...a lot. 

This is the key to creativity. It's not a linear process and it's not predictable. You need to give it space and lots of encouragement. If you are held to pumping it out like a factory, you are probably not going to nail it. And it doesn't come to you at the most opportune times.

In one of my favorite TED Talks ever, Elizabeth Gilbert describes a fantastic story where poet Ruth Stone would hear a poem thundering over the hills while she was working and have to "run like hell" to find paper and pen to capture it in the moment.

Creativity requires:

  1. Surrounding yourself with inspiration, stories and ideas. I'd say that most of those ideas should be on-topic (if you are trying to come up with a great story on wearable tech, surround yourself with conversations, articles and experiences on wearable tech), but you should also step outside of the narrow topic to get inspiration (think about it from the perspective of parenting or fashion or education, for instance).
  2. Space to breathe and  grow. You'll go down a million paths that will lead you nowhere. There is no fairy dust.
  3. A purpose. You need a direction. A point of view. A raison d'etre. For Ira Glass, it's the constant search for stories that will change people's perspective. Having an end goal or a point of view will help focus you enough on what you want to convey. Then you just have to deal with the how.

As you are probably already thinking, this process is far too free-flowing and unpredictable for most companies out there. It's why most artists are starving and why the world is full of mundanity.

The good news is that there is a happy medium to be struck between completely unleashed creative, interesting content - that is "inefficient" as Glass puts it - and completely lifeless outputs of formulaic, mundane content. But the current pendulum favors the efficient (while complaining that the ROI is less than desirable on this particular output). What we need to work on is the message that it isn't just any content that works. It's content that actually adds value (a term that is understandable to organizations). And adding value takes more thought than a 2 week RFP or a couple of brainstorms.

(The last creative agency I worked with operated on last minute series of brainstorms to come up with ideas for clients. I added some sanity to this by bringing market research to the meetings and presenting insights, but the output was still horrifying enough for me to back away from the whole circus. In an ideal world, agencies would work as partners with clients and evolve ideas over time rather than be given a creative brief, then expected to go into their creative cave and come out with brilliant ideas.)

And brilliantly out of the blue, Jeff Bezos' wildly popular appearance on 60 Minutes provides a fantastic example of a company that is winning and will continue winning by having a purpose, taking time and surrounding itself with inspiration (they spend a good deal on R&D, a dying department). Bezos asserts of their crazy sci-fi drone idea that it'll be 4-5 years before it is reality. But their incredible commitment to customer-centricity helps them get creative in their approach. It's how they became the market leader and how they will stay there.

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5 Things Customers Don't Want to Hear...EVER

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5 Things Customers Don't Want to Hear...EVER

Notlistening
Notlistening

Oh companies. Relationships are SO much easier than you make them. In fact, there are only a few things that you need to do in order to make your customers significantly happier. Or rather, there are a few things you must stop doing and saying that will change your customers' experiences drastically.

I've compiled a short list for you (though there are more). Here are some things you need to stop doing and saying:

1. "It's our policy."

Now, you may use this and think: "Why is this wrong? It enables a fair way to treat customers across the board."

The problem with trying to treat customers the same across the board is that not every situation is cut and dried. And, frankly, some policies are antiquated and outdated. The moment you have to let a customer down by saying "it's our policy," you are failing that customer.

And yes, I know that you don't want your customer service staff running all amok with bleeding hearts and breaking your bank, but that is why you need to train them properly and empower them to help your customers. A good customer service policy is to:

a. train your agents on multiple scenarios and then;

b. give them a buffer allowance each month and;

c. give them all sorts of ways to help the customer instead of shutting down the conversation.

If they have a certain budget to play with each month where they can make a decision on whether to give a customer a break or take a return marked "no refunds", they can use their training to decipher a reasonable response and then be empowered to make it. Here is an example:

A customer calls their cell phone company and says, "My bill is outrageous! I didn't realize that going over my data would cost me an extra $200! I can't afford this!" The agent then can walk through a customer's bill and figure out if the mistake was made in earnest and then either undo the $200 OR adjust the bill a smaller amount (maybe cut it in half), but talk the customer into a more robust ongoing data plan (which can help the company make the money up in the long run).

Of course, if a customer doesn't know what to expect, this is an issue in itself. Which leads me to #2.

2. "It was in your contract."

Newsflash: nobody actually reads contracts. I'm not sure why anyone uses a big long legalese document to give customers upfront information about a service. It's the worst way to present information in the universe. You may as well write it in Sanskrit on a stone tablet.

I'm not saying your customers have no responsibility to read what they sign, but when you are excitedly signing up for a new service or website or whatever, the last thing you do is to sit and read a long document. And the salesperson moving the sale through doesn't really give you much of a chance either.

Why not present limitations and terms and conditions in a readable, fun manner? A great example of turning boring, mandated information into something people will engage in is Virgin America's awesome in-flight safety video. Everyone knows that when those safety videos come on, our eyes glaze over and we focus on the book or magazine or anything else. But not when you are on a Virgin Flight:

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DtyfiPIHsIg&w=420&h=315]

Right? You don't have to go to that level of production, but why not make it readable and enjoyable? This way, you will never have to say, "It's in your contract." Your customers will know. In fact, they may even be able to sing it back to you.

3. "See our answer here [with link]."

Why not just talk to me? Seriously. If I ask something that is too long for a tweet, answer me with a few tweets. That's cool.

Scenario:

@myhandle: Hey cable company! Why am I on hold for over 45 minutes today? WTH?

@cablecompany: @myhandle Sorry for your inconvenience. Go check our outage schedule here: [link to website]

Grrrrrrrrrr. A wee bit of effort would help a whole lot here. I have probably already gone to your website to find your really hard to find number to call to be put on hold. I'm trying to use Twitter to get some answers and be more efficient. Don't make me click something else!

This would be better:

@myhandle: Hey cable company! Why am I on hold for over 45 minutes today? WTH?

@cablecompany: @myhandle Sorry for your inconvenience. I see you are calling from Toronto where there are lots of outages. Can I help?

@myhandle: @cablecompany Yeah. Do you happen to know what's wrong? When the cable service is expected to be fixed?

@cablecompany: @myhandle I just checked internally. It's a weather issue. :( It may take more than a few hours. Sorry! Time for a good book? :/

@myhandle: @cablecompany LOL. Okay. Maybe it's the universe telling me to hit the gym. LOL.

@cablecompany: @myhandle Hit the gym for me, too! Oy! ;) Sorry again!

Even if it doesn't go as smoothly as above, it's a MUCH better interaction. I can hang up the phone with a bit more information and reset my expectations. I also feel taken care of even if the representative couldn't give me a definitive answer.

4. [Insert Lame Company Excuse Here]

Just recently, we had a ISP tell us that their service was bad because one of their partners (the people who owned the fibre) were playing dirty.

Really? I couldn't give a damn. Fix our service. I don't need to get involved in your business drama. I've just paid you $300 to get my internet installed. I'm not your mediator. Guess what happened? We canceled, asked for a refund, then went to the partner in question. They seemed to have the upper hand and get things done. We wish we knew that in the beginning.

Your company woes are YOUR company woes...and quite often they are the result of bad decisions/deals you've made (short-term thinking). Your customers don't care, nor should they. They just want to get the stuff they paid for. Don't make excuses. Fix it. If you can't fix it, own up to it and refund your customers. Apologize and hope that they will forgive you and come back when you've fixed your stuff.

The customer experience should be seamless and simple. The mess and duct tape and hoops behind the scenes? Invisible to the customer's eye.

5. [Silence]

It's late 2013 and 72% of customers expect a response within the hour on Twitter from your brand after they complain. And it doesn't really matter if it's during business hours or not.

I, personally, have a black list of companies I will no longer buy from after getting radio silence to a concern or complaint. I'm sure I'm not alone.

Even the most angry complaints can be handled. People are just upset and need to be heard. One of the best pieces of advice I ever heard was to respond to an angry complaint like this:

A. Identify B. Apologize C. Assist

@myhandle: @restaurant FU! I will never eat at your awful overpriced restaurant again! 

@restaurant: @myhandle Oh no! What happened?

@myhandle: @restaurant After waiting for a table FOREVER, your server treated us like crap and the food was cold by the time it was served. Grrrr.

@restaurant: @myhandle Oh man, it sounds like you had the WORST experience. It's not what we aim for. Is there any way we can make it up to you?

@myhandle: @restaurant I don't know. I don't want to feel that way again. But I appreciate your response. Maybe it was just a bad night.

@restaurant: @myhandle I know you don't want to take my word for it, but it sounds like it may have been. Let us know if you want to try again. We'll set you up. :)

@myhandle: @restaurant Okay...well...I'll consider it. Thanks again. I feel kind of bad for being so angry now.

@restaurant: @myhandle I would have probably felt the same. Glad I could help.

Identifying completely diffuses a situation. Trust me on this one. Even if you can't help someone, just identifying and apologizing will help. And that customer will feel a bit bad for blowing up at you online. If they don't come back, they'll certainly tell the story differently. This time, you'll be cool...not a jerk that doesn't listen.

...

So there you go. Simple ways to respond to customers in a way that will help you build bonds and loyalty and probably a few more sales rather than letting angry customers fall through the cracks (and tell everyone they know about their awful experience).  In fact, take some of that billboard and other outbound advertising spend and put it into your inbound/customer service channels so you can totally empower them. It doesn't have to be a lot, but I guarantee you that these interactions will benefit you far more than that extra month on the billboard.

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Meritocracy is Almost as Real as this Unicorn

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Meritocracy is Almost as Real as this Unicorn

While living and working in San Francisco many years back, I learned a new term: Meritocracy.

It sounded like such a lovely thing - the idea that people are celebrated, rewarded and advanced by the merits of their talent and hard work. If I worked hard and produced great stuff, I would benefit the same as anyone else who did the same. And those who weren't getting ahead? They just weren't working hard or smart enough. And the poor saps that lack the talent and skills they need to rise to the top? They would still be recognized for their input.

But as time went on, I noticed that reality didn't quite match this romantic idea of meritocracy. Only a certain type of person seemed to get ahead again and again. And there were plenty of talented, hard-working people who were left behind.

But I still wanted to believe that the system worked. It just sounded so amazing! So I had some theories about the discrepancy between idea and reality:

  1. Those same types of people who kept getting ahead in a meritocracy had more time and resources to hone their skills and contribute. For example, a young single guy from a wealthy family could afford to work more on an open source project than a middle-aged woman with kids.
  2. There was some unchecked bias that was leaking over into this merit-based system. All we needed to do was check our bias at the door.

I was so naive. When I brought up the first theory, I would get the, "So, what are you proposing as the solution? That we reward people differently? That goes against the idea of a meritocratic system!" When I protested that we ARE treating people different by expecting 80 hour work weeks, thereby eliminating anyone with any sort of responsibilities, they accused me of being one of those socialist types that discouraged hard work.

The second theory was harder to prove - the very idea that meritocratic types had bias was offensive and any example I brought up was defensible - but lucky for me, a study came out a few years back (Dec. 2010) that looked into bias and meritocracy and guess what it found?

Not only is bias a factor that renders meritocratic rewards decidedly UN-meritocratic, it actually exacerbates bias!

Let me repeat: BIAS IS EXACERBATED IN A MERITOCRACY!

In three separate and controlled studies with 445 participants (pre-screened to have deep managerial experience), they found that time and time again, the participants rewarded male employees significantly higher than their female colleagues (in the same job, with the same supervisor, with the same performance evaluations). And even more interesting was that, when they controlled for a non-meritocratic condition, the female employees were rewarded slightly higher.

Wow, right? So those that strive for this utopic, egalitarian ideal of meritocracy are actually MORE biased. And why was this?

"Uhlmann and Cohen’s (2007) argument that  a sense of personal objectivity moderates the extent to which individuals act on their beliefs, including stereotypical beliefs, would also predict the paradox of meritocracy in employment settings. They showed that when people feel objective, they become more confident that their beliefs are valid, and thus more likely to act on them." p.27 (emphasis mine)

In other words, the more you believe in the soundness of the system, the more likely you are to leave your bias unchecked. It reminds me of when people say, "no offense but," then follow it with something incredibly offensive, believing their initial statement removes the speaker from responsibility for the statement.

The only way that meritocracy could actually work is in a world where:

  1. we are all starting from the same position of advantage. Time, money, ability, education, etc. [bonus: read The Invisible Knapsack of White Privilege]
  2. we had checks and balances on our biases.

In other words, a world in which unicorns and leprechauns exist. In other words, not in this world in 2013.

So let's please stop fooling ourselves that those that get celebrated, rewarded and advanced are the most deserving. We should know better by now.

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If you don't stand for something, you'll fall for anything.

8 Comments

If you don't stand for something, you'll fall for anything.

followtherules
followtherules

[title quote attributed to Alexander Hamilton as well as Malcolm X in various forms, image bought from Shutterstock]

I've been trying to put my finger on the problem with so much of the social content brands put out into the world. Why does it seem so damned flat and soulless? Sure, they post the occasional uplifting quote I can get behind, but mostly I just skip over the rest. And it isn't just that it's too self-promotional (though much of it is "me me me"), it's something more.

And then today it occurred to me:

ENGAGING SOCIAL CONTENT HAS A POINT OF VIEW.

The un-engaging stuff (pretty much everything else) just follows formulas and schedules and feels as alive as a silk plant. They get so close, but when you lean in to take a sniff, something is off.

But the stuff that we connect with, the stuff that makes us cheer and like and share and remember the brand, that stuff has a point of view. And that point of view is something WAY bigger than the brand.

Oreo's audience was merely humming along with their 'cookies as a character' campaign until one day, they posted this:

gay-oreo-cookie
gay-oreo-cookie

...and all hell broke lose. They chose a point of view that was both unpopular AND wildly popular.  They may have lost a few of their homophobic customers that day, but they gained a LOT of new (and renewed) customers who had long forgotten the brand.

And Coke, one of the most 'liked' brands on Facebook (baffling to me) has a dismally small amount of interactions with this type of post (which they do all too frequently):

Screen Shot 2013-10-19 at 10.43.33 PM
Screen Shot 2013-10-19 at 10.43.33 PM

But when it comes to this type of post...their engagement blows through the roof:

Screen Shot 2013-10-19 at 10.45.10 PM
Screen Shot 2013-10-19 at 10.45.10 PM

441 likes/53 shares (small from an audience of nearly 75 MILLION) compared to 5,081 likes and 274 shares. (though still lower engagement than I Fucking Love Science, whose most popular posts get tens of thousands of shares and hundreds of thousands of likes)

And though they aren't my cup of tea (so to speak), Red Bull has a VERY strong point of view and has built an incredibly loyal audience (and business) from it. And it isn't just about having a strong voice/tone. It's about knowing who you are and not being afraid to stand up for something you believe in. Standing for something.

Because if you don't stand for something, you'll fall for anything.

And I see this happens to lost brands all of the time. You can smell a brand who is following a formula or just follows advice and 'best practice' guidelines. Their voice is forced and weak. They won't take a position. They are afraid of what others think. They define themselves by what they ARE NOT, but refuse to own who they ARE.

One of my favorite people in the world, Nilofer Merchant, describes this in her concept of Onlyness. She describes it like this:

Each of us is standing in a spot no one else occupies. That unique viewpoint is born of our accumulated experience and perspective and our vision. This is your onlyness—the thing that only you can bring into a situation.

When you own that unique viewpoint, nobody can take it away from you. They can disagree. They can dislike it. But they can't deny that you own that space. And what will surprise you is that you will find new allies when you own your onlyness.

But how do you figure it out? Is there an exercise? A set of steps? A workbook? A tool you can pay $24.95/month to figure out your onlyness? Can you hire a creative agency to craft it for you?

Nope. You have to do this work yourself. It's your accumulated experience. It's YOUR point of view. You can hire someone to help coach you towards it, but you can't pay someone else to do it.

This is why, while social media gurus are a dime a dozen, social media is still so damned hard to do well. It's not something you can outsource, automate, hire an intern to do for you or even get your marketing team to create a plan for.  If you are the founder or a senior team member, you need to be involved.

Screen Shot 2013-10-20 at 12.30.16 AM
Screen Shot 2013-10-20 at 12.30.16 AM

And for those of you who think this is lightweight and a waste of time? Keep trying all of that other stuff that isn't working while you lose market share and talent to that other company whose success you can't quite understand because your product is superior. I'll bet if you look real close, you'll smell something different. That's the scent of onlyness. They stand for something. They know who they are. They haven't read a best practices article in their lives because they don't have to. They inherently know what to post and come up with great ways to connect beyond pushing out messages. They probably even like to hang out with one another on the weekends. And they don't worry about who talks to the press, because everyone can articulate passionately what their brand stands for, who their customer is and why they love what they do. Nobody needs a laminated poster to remember the company's core values.

If you want to keep copying companies with mediocre results to keep achieving mediocre-er results, go ahead. And by all means, read more articles by 'social media gurus' who haven't ever built a community or a product. Continue to spend the time you need to figure out your onlyness on random useless noise making.

Screen Shot 2013-10-20 at 12.31.36 AM
Screen Shot 2013-10-20 at 12.31.36 AM

But you have a choice and it's right there in front of you. You can stand for something. You can lead and be the example everyone wants to decode.

Be the case study, not the company that reads it.

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