Take Chances, Make Mistakes

Pop star Beyoncé caused a bit of a stir when she was alleged to have lip synched ‘The Star Spangled Banner’ at the Presidential Inauguration ceremonies on Monday, January 21. Just 13 days later, she found herself on one of the world’s biggest stages at the Pepsi Super Bowl XLVII Halftime Show, making a resonating statement in favor of her incredible talents.

The Thursday before the big show, Beyoncé opened a pre-Super Bowl press conference by belting out the anthem with both finesse and emotion to hush her critics. She addressed the controversial inauguration performance, noting that she only utilized a backing track, a very common practice for high profile musicians at special events, in order to ensure a great performance under ‘difficult conditions.’

Then, on Sunday, during halftime of an exciting Super Bowl matchup between the 49ers and Ravens, Beyoncé put on a show to be remembered, singing and dancing with an incredible energy that clearly demanded a special talent. Without resorting to any tricks or shortcuts, her vocal performance was an absolute stunner. There may not have been as many surprises or twists as some other recent halftime productions, but simply put, she dazzled.

In the digital age, the rules and definitions of celebrity and stardom have certainly changed a bit. With so many more media channels available to us than 20, 30, or 50 years ago, it does not necessarily take as extraordinary a talent to rise to fame. On the other hand, the figures who reach the very top are even more prolific than their predecessors. Our expectations of a star, or someone who is at the forefront of any discipline, for that matter, are that we will witness flawless performances each and every time.

Just two Super Bowls ago, Christina Aguilera famously botched the lyrics of the national anthem singing live before an audience of hundreds of millions of people worldwide. On the biggest stage possible, it seemed like a disaster for the diva. One might think such a nightmare would wreak havoc on her career, but instead, she chose to admit her faults openly, and was highly praised for her authenticity and honesty in performing with no safety net. With so many stars turning to pre-recorded tracks to avoid such mistakes, Aguilera showed that she was dedicated to giving the people her best, whether or not it was absolutely perfect. It turns out the latter practice is far more valuable to fans than the former.

With her genuine performance at halftime on Sunday, Beyoncé has now righted any wrongs and reaffirmed her status in the upper echelon of our celebrity culture. Leaders in other fields, like business or politics, should take away a fresh understanding of the value of taking risks, making mistakes, and avoiding the ‘safe play’ in order to truly shine.

Lost in Translation: The Social Marketing Disconnect

We are well aware of the power of social networks to effectively disseminate a brand message and create real, mutually-beneficial relationships between consumers and brands. But there are two sides to the coin – a great deal of the content brands perceive as engaging to audiences falls short of expectations when the metrics on conversions and ROI come in. Likewise, some communications and activities that consumers find compelling are seen as less worthwhile by marketers. Without consistency and quality, brands can quickly find their audiences leaving for greener pastures.

The kind of brand loyalty generated by social media is certainly unique in the current marketplace. With consumer behavior becoming increasingly personalized, brands have an opportunity to garner eager ambassadors, willing to share experiences with others. This is a powerful tool in the marketer’s arsenal, but it comes at the cost of the expectation that the consumer will gain something from the relationship, whether a promotion, prize, or even simple recognition. Customers on social media platforms are constantly seeking this “social currency.

Meanwhile, a 2012 study conducted by The CMO Council and social media technology firm Lithium showed that about 60% of CMOs believe their customers interact with social media for the content related to the brand philosophy, new products, and news. Just 33% thought that fans are looking for incentives or rewards, with even fewer operating under the impression that customers are actively seeking rewards or exclusive offers.

Therein lies the disconnect. It’s plain to see that consumers and marketers are speaking two different languages. So, if it’s really about the ‘social’ for the customers, why are brands so focused on the ‘media?’

Businesses must resist the temptation to promote themselves on social media platforms. They are simply a different animal than traditional marketers are accustomed to. Social customers expect to be rewarded for connecting with brands online, and there is no shortage of ways to please them. The more investment made by the brand, the more value contributed by the customer. The people have spoken, and marketers must adapt to bridge the gap and capitalize on the potential of their loyal customers.

Are You Ready for Some Football?

It’s no secret: Americans love football. The Sunday tradition of gathering with friends and watching our favorite teams beat up on each other is an experience that resonates with millions. We have already discussed the status of the National Football League as an elite brand ‘juggernaut’, but looking at the number of digits on its bottom line, the success of the NFL lies in more than just the passion of its fans. With the teams now set for the Super Bowl – the league’s signature event and arguably greatest spectacle in all of sports – here’s a look at how the NFL has turned a humble sport and its loyal fans into a well-oiled, multi-billion dollar machine.

Engage the Customers
Over the years, the game of football itself has changed significantly. The size, strength, and speed of the athletes has increased, mandating that the style of play needed to win had to change. To compensate, the league has imposed salary caps and free-agency restrictions in order to maintain as much parity among competing teams as possible. The popular adage ‘any given Sunday’ speaks to the excitement of how every team has a chance to win, grabbing hold of the attention of the audience, and never letting go. In fact, as the season wears on, the stakes are raised. In the playoffs, the level of engagement only intensifies, and the marketing efforts of the league and the individual teams ramps up accordingly.

Understand the Value Proposition
At the close of the 2011 season, the average NFL Franchise was worth more than $1 billion, a number that has climbed substantially this year under the terms of the league’s new Collective Bargaining Agreement, negotiated last summer. TV deals with CBS, FOX, NBC, and ESPN are at the crux of these earnings, each bringing in an average of more than $3 billion dollars annually to the NFL. The league has successfully parlayed its rabid viewership into a bargaining chip that all but guarantees the new contracts will be even larger when they are renewed after the 2013 season.

Protect Your Assets
If the fans are the customers, and the game is the product, the players are the employees. The NFL has always pushed to give its customers the highest standard of quality, and that means keeping the players healthy and happy. Players have always been well-compensated for their work, and they are deserving of it: while the common man grumbles about pro athlete salaries, the truth is they generate more profit for their bosses than employees at just about any other business. The latest challenge facing the league has been an epidemic of injuries, particularly concussions that can limit a player’s lifespan in the big show. In response, the league is working to change rules and improve equipment that will keep its invaluable star players on the field. On the surface, it doesn’t seem like it matters that much, but maintaining a talent base that operates at the highest level week in and week out is pivotal to the appeal of the league.

Stay Current and Innovate Constantly
Despite all its successes, the NFL has often had to identify ways to improve, especially as the emergence of a better ‘at-home’ viewing experience has threatened ticket sales over the decades. The league has always been quick to adopt new technologies and even pioneer some of its own, often shaping the way the other professional sports manage and market their game in the process. As the next generation arrives, expect the NFL to be the forefront.

Lessons from the CEOs – Culture

In this series, we will explore some less-frequently discussed ideas about running a successful business utilizing the experiences of real CEOs.  In this first installment, we find some wisdom from Tony Hsieh, CEO of Zappos.

After selling internet advertising startup LinkExchange.com to Microsoft for $265 million in 1999, Tony Hsieh joined Zappos as an investor, eventually rising to CEO as he created a unique culture that breeds happiness in its employees and customers and gives a lot back. He has even written a book called ‘Delivering Happiness,’ an illustration of his perspective on the goals and values of the company.

Hsieh at his desk

To Hsieh, Zappos’ work is meaningless if customers are not delighted and the greater community does not benefit. So how does Zappos execute Hsieh’s vision?

First off, Zappos is known for exceptional, even extreme standards of customer service. For example, the performance of customer service representatives in call centers is not measured in the traditional metrics that usually come to mind; where it is clearly more profitable to keep call lengths to a minimum, this company celebrates employees who have the longest lasting service calls, not the shortest. Zappos also pays $4,000 to any new hire who decides to quit during the training period, in order to foster a culture of employees who are committed to the brand and the culture, not just money.

Working towards building desirable culture within a company is already well known to be extremely important. Large companies spend millions allotted specifically to retain talent and boost productivity. Of course, thousands of studies and surveys conducted in the last 20 years will tell you that happy employees are more productive, but the crux of the idea goes far beyond the notion of simply rewarding your workers with higher salaries or letting them wear Hawaiian shirts to work on Fridays. As the example of Hsieh and Zappos shows, the focus when designing and realizing a great company culture must be to engage employees with the values and goals of the company as a whole.

The people at the front of an organization – the entrepreneur, the business owner, even the executives, usually have the best understanding of the vision of the company and the environment and culture needed to stay on a successful track. The capacity to get others on the same page and find employees to fully buy in remains the challenge. Take a page from Zappos and consider stepping up efforts to make sure the crew is on board; the results may be surprising.

Honest Abe

Directed by Steven Spielberg and featuring a cast of acclaimed actors headlined by the venerable Daniel Day Lewis, the recently released film Lincoln was destined to be a big hit at the box office. What was less expected, however, was how resonating the film would be as a master class on leadership.

Anyone familiar with American history understands that landmark pieces of legislation have often been met with strong opposition. In the case of the 16th President, the passage of the 13th Amendment was a signature work that now echoes in our society and is frequently paid tribute to, such as in the case of this film, although that infamy exists despite a great deal of resistance in its time.

Mirroring political history, the greatest strides forward many other facets of our world are often made in the face of those reluctant to change. Hesitation to adopt new technologies is a barrier for innovative new businesses, and doubters in the board room prevent the risk-takers from reaching for the stars; yet thanks to those willing to step up and lead, business, culture, and life can move forward.

Any politics aside, the Lincoln portrayed in the film (and the real man, for that matter) is remembered and even revered for his unequaled understanding of what it means to lead. In particular, 3 qualities demonstrated by the Tallest President come to mind:

Humility: Lincoln prioritized the good of the country above his own personal interests. He listened to others and considered their opinions before making decisions.

Honesty: Lincoln truly earned his most famous nickname, Honest Abe. Despite the prevalence of bribes and lies in politics at the time, he maintained a dignified authenticity at all times, bringing honest pleas to his cohorts to accomplish progress the right way.

Perseverance: In the face of a seemingly impossible goal of ending both slavery and the Civil War, Lincoln refused to compromise, and pushed until the very end to ensure victory on both fronts.

There have been countless books written and seminars held trying to describe what it means to be a leader in business, whether as an entrepreneur or an executive. Some might argue that there are only born leaders, while others believe that personality makes all the difference. In the end, what we can take away from this film and the historical record of Abraham Lincoln is that our actions are crucial to earning the respect and trust of our peers and our customers. Win the admiration and respect of the opposition, like Lincoln, and success will follow naturally.

The Hat Trick

A little over 2 months into the a lockout between the National Hockey League and its players, the results of a public opinion poll were published in an editorial in Canada’s The Globe and Mail suggesting that the league’s brand had suffered damage equivalent to or even worse than British Petroleum (BP) following the 2010 Deepwater Horizon explosion.

On Sunday, the league and the Players’ Association reached a tentative agreement to end the lockout and begin the 2012-2013 season, but the immediate response from fans was not uniformly enthusiastic. For the generally rabid followers of the fast-paced sport, which doesn’t typically get the same media attention as the other 3 major North American professional sports leagues, the feelings of the moment are summed up by disinterest at one end of the spectrum, and betrayal at the other.

The NHL's customers, the fans, joined players in being 'locked out' from their beloved game.

Considering the loyalty and passion of the sport’s fanbase, it doesn’t seem too surprising that Level5 Strategy, the firm behind the research, would suggest that the NHL has truly committed such a serious grievance against its customers. The people who watch the sport on television, buy tickets to games, and fill their homes with merchandise have had their trust in the league severely breached. Following its catastrophic oil spill, BP put in a serious effort to initiate cleanup, pay out damages to affected citizens and businesses, and ultimately agreed to pay the enormous fines that resulted.

It is highly unlikely that the NHL will do anything but move on as if nothing happened at all.

This most recent lockout marked the third under current commissioner Gary Bettman, a figure employed by the league but frequently maligned by the fans. For more than a decade, die hard followers of the sport have called for change, citing Bettman as an ineffective leader, detrimental to the game of hockey. The league is fundamentally a business, focused primarily on creating a quality product to generate revenues, a fact sometimes forgotten or intentionally ignored by the fans, but this latest development and the toll it has taken on the reputability and integrity of the league should be enough for the owners to realize how important the management of that brand truly is.

Many fans will reluctantly return to the rink to watch the game they love, supporting the NHL in spite of the frustration that the lockout has caused. Under Bettman, the league has more than tripled its annual intake of ‘hockey-related revenue,’ and notwithstanding the losses accrued from 3 months off from the regular season, might still be on track to continue growing richer over the next 10 years of the new collective bargaining agreement. All of that success is placed in serious jeopardy, however, should the owners fail to recognize that its customers are the lifeblood of the business, a fundamental truth across all industries. The NHL brand faces a long road back from the damage suffered during the tenure of its current commissioner. It must take measures to win back the trust of the fans, or die.

A Year in Review

A Snapshot of our Blog in 2012

2012 was truly a year worthy of conversation. Facebook’s IPO opened the world’s eyes to a new understanding of social media, mobile technology continued to grow and captured more of our attention and our dollars, the Summer Olympic Games unfolded in London, Hurricane Sandy became the most digitally captured event in history, and the nation caught the fever of a Presidential election that set new standards for advertising spending while highlighting the state of business and the economy in America.

We try our best to write about the topics that matter most to doing business in the context of an economy unlike any other experienced before. Here is a look at the influential topics we discussed in 2012, and some that we believe will be on the forefront of conversation in 2013:

We are also extremely proud to share our Annual Report: Sustainability in a Fragmented Marketing Economy, which presents a short timeline and history of marketing to shed light on a fundamental truth about successful business communication that we think will spark a trend next year. Read the report, share with your network, and join the conversation in the comments section below or tweet us @junctioncreativ.

Thank you so much for reading Strategy. Impact. Results. We look forward to offering our insights and perspectives, and seeing what unfolds in 2013!

Who Are the Experts?

Although the dawn of all things digital began back in the late 1990s, it has truly just in the last handful of years that we have entered a definitively new era of marketing brought on by internet technologies. From our perspective in the present, it is evident that there has been a transition from what we traditionally might classify as various forms of ‘advertising’ to an entirely new way of doing business, and it has occurred extremely quickly.

Now that the game has changed, and building brand ‘experiences’ is the modus operandi, many professionals, even those with a lifelong education in speaking to customers, are finding themselves unsure of exactly what it is they are doing. The people who used to be the experts are now just along for the ride, trying hard to hold on and survive the turbulence.

We have often discussed the new wave of platforms and outlets that are now the major drivers, many of them focused on what is social, local, and mobile. Immediately, a huge number of marketers who have been around for a generation or more have been left in the dust, having failed to listen to the dialogue of the rapidly evolving market and adapt accordingly. Many marketers are also ambivalent to the plethora of data at their disposal thanks to humongous advances in metrics reporting over the last 5 or so years. Some aren’t even aware of who their customers really are. Trying to build brand equity and garner loyalty with audiences you do not understand is like buying a gift for someone who you have never met.

The result of this shift is an increased emphasis on the importance of constant learning. As marketers and businesspeople, we must maintain our curiosity and be enthusiastic about tackling the learning curve that comes requisite with such drastic change. If we take that first step and honestly concede that we are no longer the experts, we can really listen to our customers and begin to make these new channels work for us.

The Name is Bond, James Bond

These days, lasting for more than 2 years constitutes an impressive lifespan for a pop culture phenomenon. November of 2012 marked the 50th Anniversary of cinema’s most enduring franchise and what has now become touchstone for multiple generations. Coinciding with this anniversary, Skyfall, the 23rd film in the series following British Secret Service agent James Bond (or 24th, counting Never Say Never Again, which exists outside of the official canon, having not been produced by Eon Productions) was released to the public, a huge box office hit.

In an era where prolonged success is so fleeting, how has the Bond franchise managed to sustain itself through changing trends and an evolving audience?

As much as the world has changed since Dr. No, the first installment of the series, debuted in 1962, the films themselves have stayed true to their roots. As we discussed in Junction’s 2012 Annual Report, the makers of the iconic films have never deviated from a pure understanding of what has worked in the past and why. Even as the principal actors portraying the suave and bulletproof Bond himself have passed on the reins, the character himself has become seemingly more everlasting. Each entry in the series has similar qualities, marked by memorable villains, witty one-liners and double entendres, and fast paced, standard-setting action sequences. Yes, the film industry has advanced dramatically over the course of the past half-century, but as visually gripping and pulse-pounding as the Bond films become, these core pieces are parts of an equation that has resonated with audiences for decades now, and shows no signs of slowing.

Bond films are the perfect blend of nostalgia, tried and true, with what is cutting edge and new. This marriage of innovation and tradition is a perfect example of an approach which works in many contexts, whether in business or in Hollywood. In 50 more years, James Bond will likely still be as smooth as an expertly made martini – shaken, not stirred, of course.

Get Your Game Face On

The rise of Generation X as a dominating consumer group has brought some changing attitudes towards the role of many new and innovative niches of the marketing ecosystem. Throughout 2012, social enterprise generated buzz as the latest new development in the explosive growth of social media. Facebook’s billion dollar buyout of Instagram in April symbolized how enthusiastic we were about these startups, but towards the end of the year, the excitement has certainly subsided, with current trends suggesting a changing wind.

Another genre beginning to come to the forefront of many marketers’ minds is the concept of ‘gaming.’ Startups are springing up offering services aimed at providing game-like experiences in contexts outside of the traditional realm of board games, video games, etc. The idea fueling these newcomers is that games help make technology more engaging, which is appealing far beyond just the entertainment industry. As we continue to better understand consumer behavior patterns, we may be entering a new era of “gamification.”

Humans are competitive by nature. Several years ago, the education industry discovered that games could be used to focus children’s attention and improve learning retention through this type of medium. A slew of new companies entering the current marketplace are asking a fair question – why not apply the same principles to consumer education?

InfoArmy recently launched a completely crowdsourced business research platform using several gamification techniques. Members receive badges, rankings and compete to top leaderboards for conducting online research. Not only does the service leverage our competitive nature to get users engaged, it provides an eloquent solution to logging and organizing data. Within the thrill of the ‘game,’ there is real potential for positive impact on data quality, learning, and ultimately ROI.

Other new startups are focusing on gaming for the purposes of reputation management and social mechanics, including ideas like social performance platforms for employees and HR. It is easy to think of multiple possible applications where gamification could provide a significant boost – any situation encouraging desired behaviors in order to solve problems.

It’s already part of our nature. The way we are captivated by professional sports or inclined to ‘keep up with the Joneses’ is indicative that this may be a trend whose lifespan is much longer than the average tech sensation.