The Echo Chamber Election

Most terrifying to me is that I cannot find a single satisfied pro-Trump comment in my Facebook feed this morning. That means half of everyone else woke up this morning to feeds loaded with genuine celebration and triumph (and very little contest). I obviously have friends who voted for Trump and post regularly, so what gives? Seriously, Facebook, what have you done? Zuck, you’ve contributed to building a very dangerous world.

We now live in echo chambers designed for our individual convenience and engagement, “safe” from opposing opinions. Frankly, the press failed in this election (indisputable, no matter what side of the aisle you’re on) in large part because they cannot reasonably compete in profiteering contexts with social media feeds that serve our deepest sentiments and surround us only in reflections of our own uncontested opinions. Friends, your world now literally feels like “your world” in total ignorance of the actual world around you. And that’s fucked up. Consider protesting these platforms for that reason. I could not have been more wrong when predicting the outcome of this election…and have the press, an antiquated system of polling, and social media algorithms to blame. Tech elites, developers, product designers, and advertisers…you all fucked up, too, and we have a lot of work to do to make the world a better, safer, smarter, and more connected place.

Press, it’s your job to inform the people and put everything into perspective, not pander to our sentiments. Don’t try to compete with social media; go back to building brands around trust and truth. We have the first amendment and a free press to hold us all accountable from tyranny and its tells. But we now have a President who has not been transparent with us (where are your effing tax records, Donald?), never once taken responsibility for mistakes (of which there are a great many in his businesses and campaign), and has no functional plan or reputable team assembled to actually make America “great again.” America just put in for a four-year order of another reality show. Unlike “The Apprentice” or “Miss Universe” that were of trivial consequence to our day to day lives, we’ll all be contestants on this reality show and required to play whether we wanted to or not.

To be clear. I do not contest the outcome of this election or issue any ill will against our President Elect, for I still hold a great deal of faith in our representative democracy. Contrary to his remarkable accusations, the system isn’t rigged and we got what we asked for. That said, we have a responsibility now more than ever to better-inform and educate the people, to better involve them in our government and policymaking, and to hold our leaders accountable.

Motion Pictures: An Expendable Commodity Experience

In a world where a billion people can create and share content, Hollywood studios compete against their own consumers for audience attention. Hundreds of thousands of hours of video reach audiences through a growing number of channels each day. Web Video Platforms enabling your four-year-old nephew to compete with studio mega-moguls struggle to sift through the infinite noise to help you find the best entertainment. Hollywood Studios struggle to efficiently recapture audiences after the curtain closes, left only to throw billions of dollars marketing desperate pleas to past successes through a record number of franchises, sequels and remakes. As a consumer, building a loyal relationship with either continues to prove as difficult as siding with a parent through a divorce.

The theatrical and home video businesses treat content as a commodity, marking up ticket and a la carte prices to record-high margins. The television and internet businesses treat content as expendable to sell advertising and subscriptions. The answer, for consumers most loyal to great storytelling, lies somewhere in the middle. As the music industry learned through live shows versus lost sales via easily transmittable mp3s, sustainable value lies not in the content itself but the experience through which people consume it. Great content markets special experiences. Rather than fighting an uphill piracy battle, consumers continue to challenge the industry to focus on making it as easy as possible for them to access content in any and all formats that maximize their personal experience. Greater the experience, greater the value.

In the Information Age, consumers expect better quality at their own convenience. Make them wait or jump through hoops and they will likely go elsewhere or steal from you. Are they criminals? The law says so. But the studios are responsible — for failing to build a better relationship with and serve audiences who love their content. As the Internet evolves into a responsive utility with no prejudice between screen sizes or location, producers have the opportunity to reach limitless platforms with ease. What are we waiting for?

With the capacity to reach any screen at negligible distribution cost, how can the industry create the illusion of value in content itself? Commodity value comes from scarcity — supply and demand. Digital can transmit anywhere, anytime, ad infinitum. Unlimited supply. No scarcity. When movies exist as ones and zeros, good luck convincing audiences to pay $30 for a file or stream.

Scarcity, then, can only come through wrapping the movie with an unforgettable experience. The “wrapper” can manifest as a better video player, larger screen or infused relationship with a fan community. But that’s only the beginning. Sure, digital can transmit ad infinitum, but “once in a lifetime” experiences cannot. Exclusive themed dinners, costumed extravaganzas or private viewings with filmmakers all fit the “once in a lifetime” thesis. An experience you cannot rewind or replay. An experience worth paying for. How much would you pay to sit next to Steven Spielberg and watch Jurassic Park or E.T.? The more inventive and unique the experience, the greater the value. Popcorn and surround sound do not sell tickets anymore.

Want to compete against small screens, millions of content “producers” and the Internet abroad? Make content easy for audiences to consume and help fans live your stories.

Don’t just make movies; create memorable experiences.

Culture Is More Important Than Product

People want to be a part of something and have a good time. That’s why fancy restaurants make the big bucks. Product is important and the focal point of a solid business foundation. But the atmosphere around a product is the key differentiator. If you can build culture around a product, it’s like having an open front door to a raging house party. Something people want to be a part of. The most successful restaurants on a block are packed with people having a good time. Music helps. Alcohol helps. Great service helps. But without those things, great food means very little next to the fun house party. The aura you build around your brand makes a huge difference. Spend as much time developing your cultural recipes as you spend on your product recipes.

Woah There, Hot Shot! Take It Easy On Self-Promotion

You walk a fine line to promote yourself. How do you share your value with the world without boasting about it? How can you exude confidence without coming off as haughty? Blowing your own horn turns people off. I know I prefer to follow brands and artists that spend little time praising themselves and provide value to my life. Who wouldn’t? If Ramit Sethi spent less time praising his own accomplishments, I would spend more money on his content.

The key to building a great brand? Consistently providing great value. Without question, a brand like the one Ramit built will grow if you continue to deliver on your promise. People are thirsty for good content and will follow. However, the distance between a strong brand and a sustainable one can be measured by humility. Without too much self-deprecation, a brand must genuinely acknowledge weaknesses, listen to all parties invested and restrain bragging rights as much as possible. Celebrate success with your fans, defend your gifts to the world – and hold back the rest.

I have learned through nearly a year of writing this blog that headlines, tweets and content centered around myself or plugging my writing perform far worse than direct content. I beg you, dear readers – call me out any time my writing is sullied with boasting. No one likes content adulterated by too much Craig Ormiston.

Early Bird Gets the Attention

If you are first in line, there will be more water in the pool to make a bigger splash. If you hit the market first, it will be much easier to make some noise. Get in people’s queues first, and you will be read before the next guy. I have seen a direct correlation to the number of people who read my blog per day and the time of day I post – the earlier, the better. The early bird gets the worm. Or in this case, the attention.

There is a flip side to being first: a responsibility to quality. While you may secure for yourself a smash hit opening weekend by launching first, sustaining that hit overtime is a completely different story. In journalism, it’s always a race to publish first. But if the accuracy of an article doesn’t check out, the premature launch could adversely effect the organization’s credibility. To build a sustainable hit, you must keep quality high and consistently beat everyone else to the punch.

While my blog has little at stake to post “first,” I doubt I could have earned your readership if I published daily nonsensical poop jokes. Without question, quality counts in the long term. But if all you want is attention and immediate gratification, you better cross the finish line in first place.

Service Beats the Hunt

We now live in a world where we can expect things to come to us directly. News, messages, deals, and ideas push their way to us instantaneously. To compete in today’s innovative world, you must play this game. You can no longer expect customers or users to come to you; you must find ways to reach them directly. In many ways, this has always been an issue for businesses. The challenge is not just getting people to come through your door, but to keep them coming back. In an era where infinite options compete for our attention, you must fight harder to stay relevant. The 24-hour news cycle is shriveling up. Windows for theatrical film releases are collapsing. Tweet trends often last less than an hour. Before long, consumers will miss you entirely.

If you want your brand or product to have a presence in your audience’s lives, you must find a way to remind them you exist. You must continuously roll out useful content to keep things fresh. And you must go out of your way to deliver it to them directly as soon as it becomes available. From here on out, most people will prefer services that bring to them what other services would expect them to hunt. If you want to stay alive in this feeding frenzy of a world, you must become your own paper boy.

The Ugly Path to Beautiful Design

Design is difficult. Perfectionists want to nitpick until they are blue in the face. Most never finish satisfied. The few who feel they got it just right invariably get torn apart by the public or by passing time. Burdened by stress herein, many never finish at all.

Beautiful design seldom comes from a single stroke or first draft. It takes iteration upon iteration to arrive at success. The path to creating widely accepted design depends entirely on feedback. No single designer wields a universal sensibility, so each design must be put to the test.

No matter how focused or specific your target audience is, you have no way to inherently know how to approach the look and feel of your creation until you drop your pants and present it.

Put out something ugly first so people can call it ugly and help you define what pretty is. Listen to the criticism carefully and identify the common taste denominator woven throughout your core audience. Without compromising your vision, steer work in that direction. Before long, your audience, you, and your design may find common ground.