"Sure, I Can Do That"

I say it to myself all the time. Each time, I know that the more I say it, the deeper I dig myself. And yet I keep going. I'm just not busy enough, apparently. Well, in the last couple of months I've been saying, "Sure, I can do that," a lot more than ever before. As busy as that makes me, I've found that I actually enjoy diving head-first into a project and just giving it everything I've got. My most recent projects are two new podcasts. I know. Shocking.

Since December, I've been working with some friends on starting a network of audio dramas based on our favorite comic books. We call ourselves Thought Bubble Audio. Our debut project is a Superman/Batman tale based on the origins of Supergirl as told by Jeph Loeb and Michael Turner. It's an awesome story and adapting it for audio has been a challenging but incredibly fun process. I've been blogging about it on our site, tracking our progress, and it continues to blow my mind that we're actually doing something. Pre-production is just about wrapped up now and we're beginning the daunting process of actually recording and producing what we hope will be an exciting and fun show. Check out the site and follow us on Twitter for updates and news about when we'll be ready for release!

Another project I've been working on for the last several weeks is something I've been thinking about for quite some time: a tech podcast. My good friend Justin Vactor of the Geekland, Entertainment Overload, and Gotham Central podcasts joined forces with me to create Tech Ramblings: a show where we talk tech with our own fun spin. Justin and I have known each other for over a year now, and I've always considered him a very knowledgeable and capable podcaster. He produces very high quality shows, and it's been a pleasure to work with him. We just have a great time talking 3 tech news issues each week, often giving our own opinions on what's going on. It's a rapid-fire snapshot of what's going on in the tech industry from week to week. I look forward to recording with Justin every week and I hope you'll look forward to hearing what we have to say!

On top of these new shows, I'm actually working on developing as many as 3 more, if everything works out. If everything comes together to make these shows happen, I'll be podcasting with some very cool friends who I've been looking forward to working with for a while now. Things are about to get crazy over here and I'm dying to get into it all. I'll be trying out some new things I've never done before. Sure, my life as a student, intern, and employee already keep me busy, but these projects make it all seem worth it. They keep me sane and give me something to look forward to. So here's to more podcasting!

Is the 30-Second Spot Really Dead?

In Life After the 30-Second Spot, author Joseph Jaffe states clearly and repeatedly that the 30-second television ad is a dying element of years gone by. He seeks to offer methods that businesses can use to invigorate their brand names by using new media alternatives to traditional advertising. Jaffe lists 10 Tenets for Marketing to a New Consumer and he offers 10 approaches that he says are changing the face of advertising and marketing. His overall premise is that the 30-second TV spot is dead, and that advertisers need to face reality and make effective use of new media alternatives if they are to succeed in the high-tech future that is already beginning to assert itself. He makes some valid points, as well as a few that have already been disproven in the short time since the book was written. Nevertheless, his ideas are thought provoking and I found myself agreeing with much of what he had to say.

One of the most important issues Jaffe addresses is how to market a product to new consumers. He sums up the 10 principles that advertisers must adhere to when targeting a new audience. These ideas form a solid foundation of thought upon which marketers would do well do build their operations. They are essential to a brand’s DREK: Differentiation, Relevance, Esteem, and Knowledge.

The first tenet is that today’s consumer is intelligent. Modern consumers quickly catch onto marketing tactics and they can differentiate between good and bad advertisements. If something is too contrived, they will see right through it. They also don’t respond well to condescending campaigns. A great example of consumer intelligence is the way they use technology to avoid exposure to unwanted ads. The advent of DVR allows the average TV viewer a chance to begin viewing a program while it is already being recorded. The smart consumer realizes that by waiting just 15 or 20 minutes before starting to watch a show, he can bypass all commercial breaks and still finish at the same time as everyone else who watched the entire broadcast live. Jaffe adds that mass marketing is no longer effective. He believes that the key to success is focusing on a smaller, more devoted target market that will respond well to the messages sent to them.

Jaffe’s second tenet of marketing to new consumers is that today’s consumer is empowered. It naturally follows that an intelligent consumer will be an empowered consumer. One of the most powerful tools that consumers wield is word of mouth. Consumers take each other’s opinions of products and services very seriously. If someone they know has had a bad experience with a product, they most likely will not take a chance on purchasing it because they fear the same will happen to them. That’s why it is imperative to maintain a positive image in the minds of your customers; what they think of often informs new prospects’ opinions of you.

Thirdly, the new consumer is skeptical. The burden of proof falls squarely on the shoulders of the advertiser. Why should the consumer believe you? They question everything. This, in part, ties back into the second tenet. Because consumers question everything, they turn once again to popular opinion to decide whether or not they want to make a particular purchase. Once they have the assurance of both manufacturer and man-on-the-street, only then will they go ahead and shell out the cash.

Today’s consumer is connected. In my opinion, this is one of the two most important parts of this discussion. The Internet is very near to complete ubiquity. More people than ever before have reliable access to the web on the go via their phones and even their iPods. I could easily walk into a store, find an item that I want, and within seconds, pull up a list of retailers (both online and brick-and-mortar) selling the same product for lower prices. That’s bad news for the high-priced retailer, but great news for the lower-priced consumer and me. In fact, on my iPod Touch, I have an application called Yowza. This app pinpoints my location and pulls up coupons from local retailers. When I find a coupon I want to use, I can select it and have the cashier scan the bar code off of my iPod’s screen. I’ve used it and it works like a charm. It’s a great example of how connected we are to the information we need to make an informed purchase.

In addition to being connected, new consumers are also time-pressed. People are busy and they don’t appreciate advertising that wastes their precious time. That’s part of what makes targeted Internet ads so effective. Advertising engines like Google’s AdSense can identify the subject matter of a website or even a simple search and use that data to only display ads that are relevant to that subject. This can be a huge time saver for the consumer who is looking for that special holiday present in a hurry.

Today’s consumer is also demanding. I think this is the other of the two most important parts of the new consumer discussion. Along with constant connectivity, demands are a huge part of what gives modern-day consumers leverage over advertising. Consumers don’t just want content; they feel that they are entitled to it. They believe they deserve it. It’s their right. Once again, new media like instant messaging, Twitter, and cell phone text messages foil the hopes and dreams of marketers. Consumers are so used to having all this information at their fingertips that they don’t want to sit through a five-minute commercial break every ten minutes; they’d rather just record the show on TiVo and watch it later without ads, or even wait until the next morning and watch it on Hulu with limited commercial interruption. They don’t want 20 minutes of ads for every 40 minutes of content. They want their entertainment without the fat and they’ll do whatever it takes to get it. Trying to stop them is just a bad idea. Instead, it’s better to provide easy, legal ways to give them what they want. Earlier this year, Apple’s iTunes store finally lifted its copy protection from the music it sells. No longer would consumers be forced to authorize a certain number of computers or iPods to play the music that they already paid for! Decisions like this are evidence of forward thinking industry leaders.

Jaffe contends that consumer loyalty is a thing of the past. I think what he means is that consumers are only loyal to a certain point. Their loyalty knows certain limits. As soon as consumers feel that they are being fooled or swindled, there is very little the offending brand can do to regain those customers’ loyalty and – more importantly – their business. This explains why some companies are so willing to offer discounted or even free products and services when customers are not satisfied. Cell phone service providers like Verizon and AT&T are notorious for this. When a customer expresses a desire to leave the service, they are sent to a customer retention expert who is authorized to give customers special discounts and freebies if they stay with the company. Smart customers know this and use it to get products and services for free or at drastically reduced rates.

The modern consumer is constantly accessible. This is actually something that advertisers can, should, and (to a certain extent) already do use to their advantage. We are almost always plugged in, be it via cell phone, WiFi, or plain old wired Internet. This means that advertisers have more platforms available to them than ever before. They can blast us with ads everywhere we look. The more we see a brand’s ads, if they are well-placed and appropriately spaced out, the better they sink into our minds, and thus the more likely we are to consume that brand’s products or subscribe to its services. But aside from giving advertisers more opportunities to access consumers, it also creates new consumer demands that must be met. It’s a double-sided coin. If we are constantly available to consume ads, then we also want the constant ability to consume content. Brands need to be reachable for customer service from anywhere and at any time.

Just as today’s consumer is intelligent, he is also ahead of the curve and savvier than the average brand. He uses his knowledge to find the best deal on exactly the product he wants, down to the unnecessarily long model number. Companies generally follow the trends set by their customers. They need some time to catch on. Consequently, they tend to treat the customer as if he is less intelligent or aware than he actually is. Consumers react by either losing patience and walking away from the brand, or by taking advantage of the brand to get only what they want out of it.

Finally, the modern consumer is vengeful. If they had a bad experience with a brand, they won’t hesitate to log onto Twitter and let thousands of people know about it in an instant. Smart companies like Comcast and Best Buy are using this to their advantage. Their official Twitter accounts (usernames @ComcastCares and @TwelpForce) offer consumers assistance and customer service over the Internet. They actually monitor what people are saying about them and try to give them assistance when they need it. The results have been incredible. People who Tweet about their bad cable experience get assistance from @ComcastCares and immediately begin extolling the cable provider’s virtues. It’s a brilliant public relations move.

These 10 tenets should be given careful consideration when planning any marketing strategy in this digital age, especially the two that pertain to consumer connectedness and consumer demand. Those are the keystones that hold everything else up. If a brand doesn’t understand the power that constant Internet access gives to consumers, and the fact that they will stop at nothing to get what they demand, then that brand is doomed in this new-media-driven world.

But Jaffe gives us more than just ideas to consider when wooing new consumers. He provides a list of 10 approaches that he believes are transforming marketing and advertising completely. The list is made up of the Internet, gaming, on-demand viewing, experiential viewing, long-form content, communal marketing, consumer-generated content, search, music & mobile devices, and branded entertainment. Though each of these items could easily form the basis of an entire discussion, I’ll focus on the one that I believe will have the greatest impact in the future: the Internet.

Perhaps the Internet seems like an obvious choice, but it is by far the fastest-growing phenomenon in modern society. It is almost everywhere, and I believe that within the next three to five years, it will be difficult to find a cell phone that doesn’t have high-speed Internet access. The web is the ultimate convergence medium; in many ways, it encompasses the other 9 approaches on Jaffe’s list. The possibilities are literally endless on the Internet. You can do absolutely anything with it. Google is a prime example of this. Google has their hands in every area imaginable: advertising (AdSense), search (Google Search), email (Gmail), digital books (Google Books), online video (YouTube), social networking (Google Profiles), web hosting (Google Pages & Google Sites), blogging (Blogger), telephone (Google Voice), and a whole host of others. The great convenience factor is that you can accomplish almost anything by just giving your information to one company. With a free Google account, you have access to an unbelievable offering of entertainment, business, education and information tools in one place.

This convergence means that people are using the Internet to do just about everything, which opens up tremendous marketing and advertising opportunities. Unlike TV, radio, and billboards, the web is a targeted medium. It’s much easier to ensure that your message only gets across to the people who are interested in seeing it. This can help to eliminate the age-old advertising problem observed by John Wanamaker, “Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted. The trouble is, I don’t know which half.”  By accessing only the people who are more likely to respond to your ads, your advertising dollars are better spent. A great example of this is the way sponsorships for popular Internet TV and radio shows are dealt with. Leo Laporte, former host on the now-defunct TechTV cable network, now has an internet TV and radio station of his own called This Week In Tech (TWiT). TWiT is supported by advertisers like Netflix, GoToMyPc, Ford, audiobook website Audible.com. These are all popular brands among technologically-minded people, and as a result, these properly targeted ads are extremely effective. I myself signed up for a Netflix account because of Laporte’s sponsored testimonials.

In that vein, it is much easier to measure the reach an advertisement has on the Internet than in other media. We might be able to gauge roughly how many people see a particular 30-second spot on TV, but on the web, we can measure exactly how many people click on an ad, and even determine how many people make an online purchase as a direct consequence of having viewed that ad. In the case of Leo Laporte’s sponsors, a coupon code is provided so that consumers get a special price, and the advertiser can measure the source of the sales.

Additionally, new media platforms are growing in ways that TV and other old media can never compete with. Facebook reached 350 million users in November 2009. That makes it equivalent to the 3rd most populated country in the world, right after China and India, but before the United States. That’s 700 million eyeballs on 350 million screens, just waiting to look at your ad. And to make things even easier, Facebook shows ads based on relevance to the user’s interests, and allows users to eliminate ads they feel are irrelevant. This just helps to target consumers even more directly, based on their own preferences. Similarly, Twitter, though not ad-supported, is a great way to do public relations and even some advertising. Believe it or not, people like Internet guru Chris Pirillo, accept money to advertise products to their thousands of Twitter followers. In Pirillo’s case, he advertises high tech equipment like computers and digital cameras. It’s a very effective strategy for someone like Pirillo who already reaches thousands of people because of his tech blogging and podcasting. Another new media platform is Hulu. People can watch their favorite ABC, NBC, or Fox TV shows on Hulu for free. The site is supported by video ads that are shown before, after, and during programs. But instead of 5-minute commercial breaks, typically only one 15- to 30-second ad is shown at each break. I think this will be readily available on TV sets in the future, bringing ads into the home in a similar, yet different fashion than traditional TV.

The most important thing to remember about the Internet is that it is a great tool to be used in conjunction with DREK. The web can be a powerful differentiation tool if used properly. President Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign is a perfect example of how using the internet can set a brand apart. He used blogging, online donations, and even a personal Twitter account to differentiate himself from his rivals in the earliest days on the campaign trail. It was also a very relevant campaign. Obama appealed to college-age voters by his use of the web. College students live in a digital world, and seeing a public official do the same was very attractive to many voters. That made many college students more likely to listen to what Obama had to say, just because his message was easy to access, if nothing else. As a result of all of this, esteem surrounding the Obama campaign improved among Internet users and young audiences. He projected a positive image of himself that people believed in, and still do to this day. Finally, he controlled the knowledge that people had of him. He effectively used the Internet to show people sides of himself that seemed genuine. He would update his Twitter with a mix of everything from campaign stops to movie nights with his daughters. He showed that was not boring, old, and bland, but rather young, dedicated, and exciting. People responded incredibly well to President Obama’s web-driven campaign, and advertisers really should take a page out of his book.

Finally, Jaffe looks to the future. He says that TV and radio will undergo major transformations and that technology will emerge as the victor. I personally agree with this main premise, but I take issue with some of his smaller points. For instance, while I agree that the advent of surround sound and HDTV in the home will be a renaissance for television and gaming, I disagree with his contention that radio will make the leap “from free to fee.” I think the struggle of satellite radio has proven that people don’t want to pay for radio. In many American households, the radio has been banished to the car. Most people are content with terrestrial radio because it provides free entertainment while driving. Satellite radio comes standard with most cars today, so many people enjoy the free trial and then cancel their subscription. A few stick around for the special offers SiriusXM provides, but not many people like it enough to pay full price. I think Jaffe has already been proven wrong here. HD Radio is both terrestrial and free, while offering a better signal than analog radio. Though the receivers are expensive, I see HD Radio, not satellite, as the replacement for analog radio in the future.

I also agree with his idea that print will remain. Many people have difficulty reading from a computer screen, and some simply prefer the feel of a physical book in their hands. While eBook readers like the Amazon Kindle are becoming increasingly popular, I think the traditional book will never completely die.

Jaffe’s final thought that content will be what people desire most is a sound idea. People will always try to avoid ads. The more you shrink down the typical “hour-long” TV drama from 45 minutes of content to 40 minutes, and eventually to 35 minutes, people will notice and they will find ways around it. They will use their DVRs and on-demand video as alternatives to long commercial breaks. Why not bring the Hulu model to TV? Showing shorter ads that are more relevant to the content being consumed could actually breathe some new life into the 30-second spot and keep it alive and kicking on TV, while bringing the consumer more content.

Overall, I think the 30-second spot is dying because of how it has been misused. Joseph Jaffe seems to think that it is already dead and that there is nothing we can do to stop it now. I believe that if the 30-second ad is re-tooled for the digital age, it can actually be quite useful for a number of years. I think eventually it will die as attention spans become shorter and shorter, but I don’t believe we’re there just yet. The bottom line is this: advertisers and marketers need to embrace new media now or else. Everything is moving more and more in the direction of the Internet. Brands must learn now how to use the web if they want to continue existing five years from now. Some are already adapting, but others are lagging behind. Only the brands that hire technologically savvy people who are alert to the changes around them will survive. The rest will just fade away. The 21st century is going to be an interesting time that will change the face of marketing and advertising. As a consumer and new media junkie, I couldn’t be more excited about it.

Goodbye Blogger, Hello WordPress!

I've been meaning to revamp the site for some time now, and I've also been meaning to switch from Blogger to WordPress. WordPress is much more powerful and versatile and allows for much greater customization. It just makes my life easier. I think I've picked out a pretty cool theme, though I'm not entirely satisfied with some of the smaller things. I'll be tweaking things over the next few days. I also want to give a shoutout to my friend Frank for hooking me up with hosting for the new site.

I really love WordPress. The user interface is clean and simple, but it's very powerful. A whole host of Plugins and Widgets make almost anything possible on this platform. I've always loved being able to customize things to my personal tastes and preferences, and WordPress makes it possible to do just that. There are limitless possibilities. If you're new to blogging and just want a simple place to collect your thoughts, WordPress.com provides a hosted solution. That means you don't need to worry about where to keep your site; it exists on WordPress's servers. You also don't need to worry about keeping your version of WordPress up to date. They take care of that for you. However, it also means you have less control over themes and such. But again, it's a great solution for less experienced users.

What I'm using now, though, is WordPress.org. There is a difference between the .com and .org versions. The .org version requires that you download the WordPress software and install it on a server of your own choosing. This means more work for you, but experienced users won't have a problem with that. The benefits make it worth the legwork. You'll find that the interface is more complex and capable of more. For one thing, you have complete control over the look of your site, down to every last line of HTML. Blogger allowed me to do this to a certain degree, but I'm now at the point where I've outgrown Blogger's basic capabilities and I'm ready to tackle WordPress's more mature way of doing things. So far I'm loving it. Really looking forward to playing around with this and learning how to un-tap its full potential.

Team Fake Comic Con FTW!

Just So Much Podcasting

I've been podcasting like a fool lately. I really love the medium and I'm always looking for a chance to speak my mind on a range of topics, so it really shouldn't be all that surprising, yet when I look at the hours I spend recording and editing podcasts, it is more than a little insane.

First and foremost, I'd like to announce the start of a new podcast hosted by friends William, Hunter, and myself: Lights, Camera, Podcast. As the title suggests, LCP is a movie podcast. Each week we have a great time making fun of each other while occasionally going into some movie talk, too. While that's a bit of an exaggeration, we do discuss the biggest new releases we all had the chance to see, as well as any other films -- both new and old -- that we managed to catch at our leisure. It's a ton of fun to record and we hope you'll enjoy listening to it. Our first episode covering Star Trek is already available on iTunes, and a second episode about Terminator Salvation and a number of other films should be up soon.

Then of course there is my most consistent show Echo Alert. Though Dollhouse is off the air for the summer, Andrew and I are very excited about the confirmed Season 2 pickup and will continue the show on a bi-weekly basis through the summer until the show returns. We've got some fun stuff lined up including a couple of soon-to-be-announced contests, guest co-hosts, and some other possible goodies, so stay tuned!

I should also mention some guest spots I've been doing lately. Both happen to be related to the world of comic books. At the end of each month, I host a segment of the Geekland Podcast entitled This Month in Superman. It's my chance to spend a few minutes gushing on events occurring in the Superman family of comics. My most recent segment appears in episode 85. In addition to that, just last night I was asked by my friend William (also of LCP) to step in and co-host this week's episode of Between the Panels, his own comics podcast. It was unexpected and last-minute, but I was really glad I did it, because I had a ton of fun talking comics with him. That episode (number 12) should be out within the next week.

Finally, there is the project nearest and dearest to my heart, FMF. It was my very first podcasting foray, and I'm proud to continue DJ-ing to this day. It's always a blast when I get a chance to sit down and record an episode, even though I don't always get a chance to do that as often as I'd like to. I look forward to keeping the show up for the foreseeable future going forward.

So as you can see, I've been very busy lately. At least that new equipment I recently purchased is being put to good use. Now I just need to strike it rich and get my own place with a dedicated podcasting studio. What?