Steering a Large Ship

When you are in a small raft, you have enough influence and power to pilot the entire thing in a completely different direction. When you are on a massive cruise ship, you have no power at all and must go with the flow. Nothing you can do as a cruise ship passenger will change the direction the boat is sailing (unless you can convince everyone otherwise, mutiny the bridge to navigate, or sink the ship).

The analogy applies to companies and brands. It is much easier to have stake in and pilot the direction of a small company than a large one. Big companies are much more difficult to steer and big brands much more difficult to reposition. One man or woman will fight an uphill battle if he or she wants to inspire change from within an established, large organization or industry. One man or woman can sink an organization or brand alone, but I doubt the resulting consequences and reputation will be worth it.

Cruise ships have many amenities and benefits worth the ride. You can really travel through life in style in a reputable large organization. If the company treats you well enough, it may be worth the complacency of a vacationing passenger. But do not expect to change anything you do not favor from within the bureaucracy.

If you truly want to make a difference on your own in your field, consider building a faster raft and inspiring the cruise ship to keep up. Competition may be the only key to making a difference and steering a large ship.

Live Performance

If you want to connect with your audience, you must share a room with your audience. You must get up on stage and entertain. Campaigning politicians and rock stars learned this a long time ago. Beyond entertainment alone, a successful live performance can communitize the audience around your personal brand. Everyone sharing a room together will feel apart of a big family, a family with your surname. Audience applause and energy are contagious; spread adoration for you and your product by collecting or streaming as many fans as possible into one room.

Unlike Netflix’s Reed Hastings, Steve Jobs never hid behind the veil of a press release or blog post. He stood on stage, fielded questions without fear, and put on a live show. I am convinced Apple succeeded on the foundations of its audience’s oohs and aahs at these keynote events. I am convinced Apple advanced forward because Steve Jobs knew how to put on a show. The collective power of audience intrigue spreads like a virus, and that intrigue can only be fostered in person and en masse.

If you want to build a brand, learn to overcome stage fright and put on a great show. This goes for anyone trying to make an impression on the market or on the world. You must show your face to the crowd.

Side note: one of the best live performances I’ve ever seen in person happens every Sunday night in Santa Monica. If you haven’t already, all Angelinos you must check out The Toledo Show – a “Cabaret Funk” band that performs every Sunday night 9pm at the classic Harvelle’s. $10 cover, two-part set until around 1am, totally worth every minute. The new definition of “cool.” Thank you, Adam Speas, for introducing it to me.

The Controversy of Change: Netflix, Facebook, and Chameleons

Many people freaked over Facebook’s face lift and Netflix’s reorganization. Yes, these changes are inconvenient. Some may break your routine or even damage your business. But what would you prefer instead? For the company or service to stay exactly the same?

Companies that fail to change fall prey to the market evolving around them. Inevitably, they are slain by the next best thing. By asking them to stay the same, you are asking them to fail. You are condemning the brand you embraced for so long to a slow death.

No, change may not always be good or necessary. But you cannot know until after you try. And neither can brands. No one has a crystal ball. Not even Steve Jobs. Smart leaders fail more often than lesser leaders and learn from their mistakes. They know that the biggest risk is avoiding risk altogether. You deserve to be eaten if you sit still in the savanna.

Like puberty, change may always be an ugly process. Some coast through it smoother than others. Those who make it out clean never forget who they are or what they believe in. A strong brand transforms with the market, but keeps its core mission at heart.

Embrace the chameleon business. Invest in progressive brands with solid foundation, not products destined for revision or absolution. If you truly believe in a brand, you should trust in change. Forgive the minor transgressions and take pleasure in discovering the next step along the way.

Regular Programming [Film Friday]

I’ve learned from blogging and observed the same results from others: releasing content daily dramatically increases your chances of attracting new and returning audience members. How do you think television and radio built so much traction in the first place? When audiences can expect to find you at a certain time or place, it lubricates the exhibition of your content and dramatically reduces marketing costs. You build a relationship with your audience over time, and keep them coming back for more.

By committing to releasing content regularly, you also dramatically increase your chances of producing a hit. 5 Second Films have produced so many short films and told so many jokes that the handful of hits they’ve had propelled the group into web virility.

If you cannot produce enough content to release daily, then commit to releasing content “regularly” – and publicly define the recurring time frame through which they should expect new content (weekly, monthly, every third Tuesday, etc.). At least some level of audience expectation makes a huge difference for audience retention.

Random splashes are risky and expensive to promote. Arbitrary releases rarely build traction. Do not bet on it. Consider curating an audience and regular programming instead.

Maximize Controversy

Want to be heard? Then consider stirring things up. Michael Moore makes his living on political controversy. Facebook experiences counter-intuitive user growth during periods of privacy backlash. The mainstream media makes a living blowing events out of proportion. As a business, brand, or individual, you could, too. Like a fist fight in the street, controversy makes a scene. People usually turn their head toward the loud. And controversy stirs easily. Understand, however, that if you lose the fight, you lose the favor of your audience. Make a splash if you choose, but understand the risks.

Advertise What You’re Advertising

I appreciate the need to launch marketing spots or materials to build brand awareness. But when you want to drive attention to a product, then make sure you . . . drive attention to your product. I am astounded by the number of designs, commercials, prints, and public gimmicks I see on a daily basis that fail to clearly communicate the product they mean to sell. Every good marketing campaign should tell a story, make the product clear to the customer, and clearly articulate where the customer can find the product.

For the last several weeks, my company has been running a spot for our latest web series on national television. Perhaps you’ve seen it? The spot is failing to communicate that it’s a web series that you should watch online. Am I crazy?

Proof Your Graphics

Like proofreading published text, it is important to run your graphic work by others before release. If you can, run it by a few members of your audience. Make sure the people you run it by are honest people.

Take, for example, the Winnie the Pooh Blu-ray cover. Can someone please tell me what Eeyore is doing with both of his hands?

Man of Many Hats and Hours

After an extremely dense 21 hour work day, I am finally publishing my daily blog post and passing out. Today, I did many things. Among them: assembled marketing materials, mitigated technical footage issues, juggled digital assets for a foreign deal, supervised a large film production, scheduled editorial for promotional spots, edited music tracks, directed a second unit film crew, filtered accounting paperwork, coordinated promo videographer crews, supervised visual effects on multiple large shot setups, caught up with an old friend, and ate three meals. All while running on three hours of sleep. I produce, supervise post production, coordinate marketing, and manage all foreign show deals for my company. Too many hats, too many long hours.

Don’t mess with me. Good night.

New Media: Content Autonomy? [Film Friday]

This is the second post in my series, “Understanding New Media.”

Last week, I differentiated between “Casual Video” and “New Media.” We left off with the assumption that any content financed, produced for, and released exclusively on the web that only ever lives on the web could be dubbed “New Media.” But there are two big curve balls that sidetrack this definition: marketing content and spin-offs.

Releasing promotional content on the web is considerably cheaper nowadays than launching a campaign on television or billboards nationwide. Therefore, more and more companies are generating content tailored specifically for the web to promote their products. Commercials, movie trailers, and sponsored skits litter YouTube and the Internet beyond. These pieces are “financed, produced for, and released exclusively on the web.” So are they “New Media?” Or just advertisements released on the web? If you chose the ladder, you sit in the popular majority. Most would still call this “advertising.”

So, then, one would be inclined to append “narrative content” to my definition above. But we cannot be that myopic. There is plenty of non-narrative content online financed and produced for the web that drives considerable revenue. And some promotional skits or spots otherwise considered “marketing” are themselves “narrative,” so it would be far too general to affix a “New Media” definition with the word “narrative.”

What about spinoffs? Recently, several television shows and feature films have produced content for the web to build community, expand the scope of programming, and promote the source content. Ghost Whisperer is famous for this. Do these episodes constitute “New Media” or do they serve a greater marketing purpose? Very wide gray area. Expanding the canon of a larger body of work has been in practice for ages. I suppose it depends on, again, the producer’s original intent: was the content produced primarily to drive traffic to another program? Or was the content produced to expand the story or characters in a structure better-suited for the web?

I suppose one clear distinction between marketing or spin-offs and “New Media” is “autonomy” – whether or not the content online acts on its own, or serves a bigger product. The web series we produce are original intellectual property and do not play a role outside the web browser sandbox. They serve their own needs independently and do not require or serve content on other platforms. A movie trailer or blooper reel may air online, but they serve a bigger purpose beyond the Internet. Same could apply to a spin-off. What greater purpose does your content serve?

As it stands, our “New Media” definition goes a little something like this: “content financed, produced for, and released exclusively on the web that serves itself and no other.”

Next week, we’ll explore an industry-seeded counterpoint to content autonomy: what happens when a marketing promo or referential spin-off generates its own revenue online?

Bootlegging Yourself (Marketing Controversy 101)

A few days ago, a bootlegged version of a red band trailer for David Fincher’s latest film, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, hit YouTube with a vengeance. Before Sony Pictures pulled it for “a copyright claim,” the video had nearly 2 million hits after only two days. There is speculation that Sony launched the trailer themselves to kick-start a viral marketing campaign. Whether or not this is true, the video’s premature release certainly did not hurt Sony or the film. The leak was awarded widespread coverage in press and online. If audiences were not aware the hit novel trilogy was being adapted for the American screen, they definitely are now.

I find the entertainment industry’s preoccupation with piracy amusing. Sure, I am a filmmaker and can appreciate revenue lost to piracy. But as veteran studio executive Bill Mechanic once pointed out to me, “Pirating means that people want to see your movie.” As I see it, stolen entertainment media suggests one of two things: your content is not good enough to pay for or too difficult for the average consumer to find. Both problems are your fault and worth solving. iTunes rivaled music piracy by promoting easier access to music: it became easier to buy a song on iTunes than steal it from a torrenting site. With bandwidth evolving and platforms like Netflix and YouTube on the rise, movie studios are running out of excuses not to open their libraries. Simple: help audiences consume the entertainment they want to consume. Most people will gladly pay for that. And pirates will help spread the word in the meantime.

But I digress. In a world saturated by media noise, it has become necessary for marketing materials to have unique stories wrapped around them. The Dragon Tattoo leak promoted three levels of discussion: the bootlegging of the trailer in the first place, whether or not Sony released it on purpose, and finally the irresistible quality of the content presented. Trailer discussion spread the word and inadvertently spread the message: “She’s coming.”

Movie studios should bootleg themselves more often. And you should too.