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Grant McCracken hosts this thing called the “Minerva Contest”. They are in my view intellectual compare and contrasts on topics that are seemingly similar but not. The contests may be intellectual bragging rights but I’ll take it. The task is as follows here. It was on the difference between PBS’ “Antiques Roadshow” and The History Channels’ “Pawn Stars”. I’m honored to have won the most recent Minerva Contest. Below is my entry. Enjoy.
“When apprised of this intellectual compare and contrast of Antiques Roadshow versus Pawn Stars my initial inclination of those who watch either show or participate was that the primary difference would be in level of educational attainment. Immediately there’s a snob factor when you think about a distinction between the shows.
After a conversation with a producer of Antiques Roadshow, Sarah Elliott, I came to believe I was over thinking it a bit. Or at least I couldn’t find any hard evidence to support my hypothesis.
What I discovered was that while the shows could be seemingly similar, the core differences with the shows really have to do more with the nature of each show.
According to Ms. Elliott, “Antiques Roadshow is filmed over the summer. We visit six cities and travel with about 75 or so professional appraisers. Each event attracts some 5000 to 6000 attendees and sees appraisals of 10,000 to 12,000 items in a one day event. We produce 18 original shows and two compilation shows for a total of 20 shows each season. It’s a pretty well-oiled machine.” About her Anecdotal observations Ms. Elliott continued, “In my 11 years working on the show I can honestly say that it truly attracts the widest cross-section of America imaginable.”
Your price of entry into an Antiques Roadshow event is an item to be appraised and generally the item is legitimately believed to be antique.
Although as Ms. Elliott said, that she’s come across the “widest cross-section of America imaginable,” that’s not the focal point of the show. That’s an unintended outcome arrived at as a result of an object. When producing Antiques Roadshow she noted that they make the “object” the focal point. As far as the appraiser or person with the object being entertaining is almost purely a matter of luck.
The most important distinction about Antiques Roadshow is that there is no buying or selling of items on Antiques Roadshow. Thus motivation becomes an important factor. Once an item is appraised on Antiques Roadshow what the individual does with that item is then up to them.
In some cases clearly people will likely look to sell/auction the item but in many cases the item’s sentimental value outweighs the financial value. In one episode a gentleman has a Civil War era canteen appraised that was a gift from a dear friend. The appraiser estimated its worth at around $5000 whereupon the gentleman says, “I guess I better keep it in a secure place then.”
With Pawn Stars motivation in almost all cases is financial. There is a financial need or want. A person enters Gold & Silver less concerned about the item’s integrity and more concerned with the cash transaction. Or put this way, they’re only concerned about the items integrity in relation to its dollar value.
To further this dynamic there is often a level disappointment on Pawn Stars because every item the Harrison family comes into contact with they evaluate from the perspective of how much they can in turn sell it for. This means people often leave unable to have made any money.
While both shows are “reality” TV shows, Pawn Stars is produced as such and built around the dynamics of the family. This exposes a few things most notable it seems to me is pride – both generational (wanting to make Dad proud) and individual (wanting to “win” by extracting the most profit). There is also the element of risk. In many cases you see the Harrisons taking on an item, having it restored and hoping they can make a profit on the item. One could equate the Harrisons to stock brokers or traders.
“Pawning” is believed to have existed for more than 3000 years, its history rooted as a means of banking
From an article by Vonda Shines the history of pawn shops, “The word “pawn” comes from the Latin word ‘pignus,’ which means to pledge. The principle of pawning is simple. Someone has an item of worth against which they’d like a monetary loan. A pawn broker accepts it as a pledge – or collateral or pawn – in exchange for money. If the loan isn’t repaid according to its terms, the pawned item is offered for sale to the public.”
However, you rarely see the Harrison’s enter such a contract. Of course that would add an entirely new and complicated dimension to the show. Nevertheless, the character of the Harrison family still comes through clearly in the art of the transaction.
Consider this passage from a book called “In Hock” by Wendy Woloson.
“Pawnbrokers and their staff are not unlike bartenders or beauticians, whose relations with their clients are at once both professional and personal. For many the place plays a special role in both social and economic aspects of their lives.”
Antiques Roadshow originally began on the BBC a mere 31 years ago and in the US, 13 years ago via PBS. This means the show has weathered economic ups and downs.
According to the Simply Hired web site, their most recent Las Vegas trends data shows “Las Vegas, Nevada jobs have decreased 41% since April 2009.” Thus it stands to reason that the Harrison family’s Gold & Silver might see some brisk business these days. One would wonder whether given that we’re at one of the worst economic lows in our nation’s history if that has an effect on Pawn Stars success or even viability.
In short, the difference between the two shows is simple yet robust. One is about the thing and the other is about the people.
Woloson, Wendy. 2009. “In Hock: Pawning in America from Independence to the Great Depression”
Roath’s Pawn Shop, “History of Pawnbroking” – http://www.roaths.com/pawnbroking.htm
Sines, Vonda ”The History of Pawn Shops” – http://www.helium.com/items/1445253-history-of-pawn-shops
SimplyHired.com – http://www.simplyhired.com/a/local-jobs/city/l-Las+Vegas,+NV
Interview: Sarah Elliott, Producer, Antiques Roadshow, December 8, 2010″
My next three posts are going to be about our relationship with content primarily with respect to marketing.
The first will discuss the mistakes we’re currently making with social media, the second will discuss what makes great ads great and the third will make the argument that our TV is by no means what it used to be.
With that that, here goes nothing.
Recently I was fortunate enough to watch a TED talk which featured a designer named Emily Pilloton. Emily Pilloton is a pretty impressive young woman. She wrote a book called Design Revolution about 100-plus objects and systems designed to make people’s lives better. “At age 26, convinced of the power of design to change the world, she founded Project H to help develop effective design solutions for people who need it most.”
“In February 2009, Pilloton and her Project H partner Matthew Miller began working in Bertie County, North Carolina, the poorest and most rural county in the state, to develop a design-build curriculum for high-school kids, called Studio H. In August 2010 they began teaching their first class of 13 students.”
In my view there is a considerable shift going on culturally in the United States with consumer choice and it has largely to do with our expectations of design.
A lot of people would view America as lagging behind places like the Europe (Netherlands/Germany) when it comes to design but I firmly believe that this is gradually changing and it’s as a result of people like Emily Pilloton.
However I think it’s also as a result of companies, like Apple or Target. Some would argue that Apple’s market capitalization is an example of how thoughtful design can affect the bottom-line.
The other example I provided was Target. Often, I will use a Target vs. Wal-Mart analogy to help clients try to understand the types of their customers. An example would be Citibank is to Target as Bank of America is to Wal-Mart. Target has differentiated itself among big-box stores with design. Target even has a discussion of their “Focus on Design” on their website.
Target changed the perception of the big box store forever and arguably its ads are stylistically some of the most imitated by far. Target however is remarkably mainstream but has brought good design to Middle-America with its product selection (think Mossimo and Method).
Perhaps you can help me… What does the effect of good design say about our standards culturally and the impact and expectations on choice? Do companies like Apple or Target have that much of an effect on our overall design sensibilities? Are we better because of them? Can design in fact change the world as Emily Pilloton asserts? Does it take a confluence of things to help us evolve our relationship with design to see where else good and effective design can be applied? What are your thoughts?
One of my previous posts was about how we view written content via mobile devices. It got me to thinking about the debate of whether or not “print is dead?” This too is a question pondered by Stephanie (@stooffi) from the Penn-Olson blog and in which I’ve borrowed some points of data from. It’s also contemplated by Steve Laube in another excellent post.
They both share my sentiments that they don’t see print going the way of the dodo however we differ somewhat in our rationales. What I’d like to do here is offer some observational reasons as to why I think print isn’t dead to augment Stephanie and Steven’s very good more data driven arguments.
If you subscribed to conventional wisdom you might think that let’s say that within 10 years magazines would be ancient history with books to follow shortly behind them. You might think that certainly about newspapers and there is a decent case for that.
Some quick stats to initially contradict those who firmly believe print is bound for extinction (from @stooffi via Sketchee):
- 93% of adults in the U.S. read magazines
- 96% of adults under 35 in the U.S. read magazines
- Book sales are up 11.4%
- Sales for higher-education publishing have increased 27.4%
- E-book sales have increased 204% (keep in mind this is a category that didn’t exist a mere few years ago so I’d take that growth with a grain of salt)
- 60% of consumers say they plan to purchase a tablet device within three years (what isn’t known is if they say they will purchase that device in place of a laptop)
Considering the data alone, I’m not so quick to put a nail in print’s coffin. With this being said, I’d like to offer a defense of print that is more observational relative to behavior/culture.
The first is case for print is that print is tactile. People like tactile. People comment on things like paper stock and gloss or matte finish with reverence.
The second is people like pictures. Big glossy, shiny, pretty pictures.
To be fair, I think it’s necessary to place a distinction on content that can be read versus content that can be viewed. The former would be lifestyle/niche magazines and the latter being more business, news and to some degree sports publications.
Logic would tell me that business, news and sports news magazines very well might have one foot in the grave because I think there’s a dramatic shift occurring in how people consume that type of content as my previous post “Where I’d like to read it” would suggest. As I write this, US News & World Report announced it is shuttering its print edition. And to add even further support this consider this recent article from Mashable.com clearly indicating that among smartphone users mobile is exactly how they like to consume.
However, I think we’re highly unlikely to see the demise of magazines entirely anytime soon. In fact in July 2010 there were 68 new magazine titles added versus 34 in July 2007. The difference is that most of the new titles were largely specialty magazines or magazines to serve a certain niche (often content to be viewed).
Consider a reason why? Have you been in a teenager’s room lately? If you’re looking at BOP or Tiger Beat online via an iPad, you can’t rip out the picture of Justin Bieber or Katy Perry and put it on your wall. Or rip a picture out from eurotuner of that sweet tuned BMW M3. Or the rad picture of Shaun White flying out of a half-pipe.
In addition, I believe a good amount of people still appreciate the “coffee table” book. This and certain magazines are a way we brand ourselves. For many they’re forms of “decoration” carefully placed around the home.
Chief among the reasons I don’t see print as going away anytime soon is that we haven’t changed how the youngest learn to consume print. Yes, my two year old niece can take out her Dad’s iPad, turn it on, flip three screens and start a game but how she learns to consume print will likely not change anytime soon. In fact, recent research would suggest that college students haven’t taken to eReaders as expected. And this might be a logical place to begin to see a cultural shift. I’m still not entirely sure we’ve crossed the chasm with eReaders/tablets. There I said it.
Granted my father-in-law is 74 and has had a Kindle since its inception. This inspired me to ask a few people with eReaders why they bought it. Number one reason? Because they travel a lot and that way they don’t have to carry a physical book. Airport bookstores consider yourselves warned. However, this lumps those who purchase eReaders/tablets into a specific category. In this case the eReader fill a specific need that people are willing to change how they consume content.
I’ll offer one final example of how embedded the way we learn to consume written content is.
I have two daughters ages 7 and 4. The two of them participate in a program called the “Thousand Book Club”.
This is a program where at their elementary school there are some 200 bags of books. Each bag has 10 children’s books. The goal of the program is to either read (or be read to) 1000 books by the time they finish kindergarten. It’s a wonderful program as you might suspect but the point is that it’s a heavily quantitative experience with books.
At the end of the day we’ve only barely begun to change how we interact with written content and until that happens drastically, I don’t see print going away.
What do you think?
Today, one can argue that the consumer marketplace is exceptional fractured. As a society we may do things in groups but what these groups look like has changed dramatically. Companies segment consumers all sort of ways but it generally involves falling back on household income, gender and race or ethnicity. For the purposes of any efficiency in marketing it is still required to find the greatest number of individuals to market to. But the reality is as most commercials will show, there’s really very little actual insight there.
Take a look at most commercials and they either simply push a product or play off a general consumer sentiment. Beyond that there is usually very little there to actually connect with the consumer.
Not too long ago I was approached by the agency for New Era, the baseball hat and apparel company. They said that there was a flaw in their segmentation of customers and wanted help understanding what it was and perhaps a better way to segment their customers. They segmented them by “Urban”, “Suburban” and “Fan”. The flaw was simple. You could reside in suburbia, have urban sensibilities and be a fan. Furthermore it didn’t really tell you anything about their customers. We designed a segmentation based on how people wore their hats. The initial breakdown was as follows:
So how does this new possible segmentation inform?
It can inform in multiple ways. It enables us to truly understand the consumer and what social groups they might belong to. Are they action sports kids? Maybe. But that’s not good enough. Because there are sub-cultures within action sports groups. Are they action sports hip-hop kids or action sports metal kids? BIG DIFFERENCE. Are they college frat boys? Are they girls? Are they “rad” girls or “bad” girls or “good” girls or “emo” or “goth” girls or “preppy” girls?
If you map the types of hats to sales you can identify patterns or anomalies that will heavily dictate what and how much product you might supply to various retailers. You can identify where you might participate in or sponsor events. You can identify which radio stations you might advertise on or if you do at all. The insights and variables are virtually endless.
As the consumer landscape becomes increasingly fragmented, it’s not something to be scared of or intimidated by but it is necessary to get out of your traditional comfort zone and start being creative with understanding your customers. And funny thing is, the more you actually show that you truly understand your customer, the greater loyalty you will inspire.
As I gear up for tonight’s episode of AMC’s “The Walking Dead”, I was struck by something from last week’s episode.
If you haven’t been watching the new AMC series, the story is that a Sherriff awakens from a Coma to discover that the world has been overwrought by flesh eating zombies. Simple premise however character development is really quite excellent as you’d expect from AMC.
In last week’s episode there is a scene where a young man in his mid to late teens is being asked to investigate if there is a safe way out a certain situation. In this scene he’s reluctant because he’s typically been by himself and ever since he’s been a part of a group all hell has broken loose.
The Sherriff defaults to be a natural leader and tells the kid, to speak his mind. An interesting dynamic is taking place here and isn’t to go unnoticed.
He basically says he’ll do it but if he’s going to do it, he’s going to do it his way. The Sherriff agrees on behalf of the group. What happens next is interesting. With tactical precision this “kid” proceeds to say what he’s going to do and how and then gives precise orders to everyone else. Everyone has a specific job for a reason.
This moment would not have struck me if I hadn’t actually witnessed something similar a several years ago (sans the zombies).
I was at a bachelor party in Montreal and a bunch of 35 year old guys were going to try our hand at paintball. We’re all smart, well educated guys with a passing interest in military and cop movies and so forth and we thought we’d do pretty well. Especially when we saw who we’d be competing against. A bunch of scrappy 16-18 year olds with pimples and ill-fitting pants. We would fail to observe that they all brought their own equipment and that they were discussing strategy from the moment they got there.
The game would commence and ten well-educated 35 year olds would be “dead” within the first 5 minutes of the game. It was like shooting fish in a barrel for these kids.
How the hell did this happen?
It’s simple. Most of these kids grew up not having read one Tom Clancy book but have all mastered every one of the Tom Clancy X-Box games and had done it in “groups” via headset with other kids all over the world. Not only were they able to live out close quarters combat via first-person shooting games and mastery of strategy but they were able to live it out real-time as well via paintball. And they were good. After two games of getting our asses summarily handed to us we did exactly what you might expect. We bribed two of their best kids to trade teams if only to save our pride. Then we proceeded to let a 17 year old tell each one of us where to go and what to do.
This was hardly a life or death situation but we recognized that left to our own devices we didn’t stand a chance. While it might seem counterintuitive for a bunch of type-A alpha males to default to some kid, it was the smartest thing we could have done.
We won by a hair.
So when the world is being overrun by Zombies… I’m looking for those guys.
“RT @MalikYoba: RT…Twitter makes me like strangers I’ve never met and Facebook makes me hate people I know in real life.”
I couldn’t help but agree but I didn’t know why. That was until I received a copy of Grant McCracken’s new book, “Chief Culture Officer”. This is an excellent read named one of the best Innovation books of the year by Business Week and one of the best Big Idea books by CEO Magazine.
But I digress.
In “Chief Culture Officer” McCrackan references the old Nike ad “Tag”. I remember the ad vividly.
In it is a live version of tag played out in the middle of the day on urban streets. Mr. McCrackan offers a few theories on why this ad resonated and what it meant to us culturally. The third of those theories is what he calls the notion of the “generous stranger”.
Although referring to the ad, he might as well be referring to Twitter as well in saying,
“’Tag’ evoked a third trend we might call the ‘generous stranger’. For many of us first notice came in the form of a bumper sticker that read ‘Practice random acts of kindness and senseless acts of beauty,’ a phrase so influential it now has its own Wikipedia entry. Several thousand years of cultural practice and religious teaching had encouraged us to think of generosity as a personal gesture that passed between known parties. The ‘generous stranger’ trend suggested that it was better when things passed between perfect strangers. “
And thus Twitter suddenly makes perfect sense.
Recently I was having a conversation with a colleague. She’s a director of marketing at a large .com enterprise. We’ll call her Julie.
She was describing to me how hard her job is these days and how little confidence she has in decision making.
When I look at advertising today and most marketing for that matter I believe that this is a sentiment shared by many a CMO/Director of Marketing.
We’d like to say there is tremendous innovation going on but if I’m not mistaken, didn’t the Super Bowl ads sell out a full three months ahead of schedule this year?
If you live in places like New England, around this time of year you’re faced with having to deal with leaves. The once beautiful foliage is now dispersed all over your yard and to preserve your green grass you’re advised to do something with it. Techniques vary, my personal favorite is to pay someone else to deal with it but my wife has frugal sensibilities and thus there I am on a lovely Sunday with this 2-stroke contraption strapped to my back known as a leaf blower. This is hardly a precision instrument but useful.
As leaves are flying about it dawned on me, this is what Julie was talking about. This is what consumer marketing has become. An exercise in trying to corral leaves.
Once upon a time, they sat on trees and were easily categorized. Oak, Maple, Redwood, Japanese Maple and so on.
But then they all changed colors, fell to the ground and there was no order anymore.
And so is the job of anyone who works in marketing these days. To try and create a natural, efficient and sensible order to the chaos of these leaves being blown amok.
Several years ago I was with a good friend and mentor Paul McKinnon. He used to run human resources for Dell. A job which he now does for all of Citigroup. He’s a very smart and affable guy with grad degrees in behavioral science from MIT.
At the time we were talking about Mac vs PC and he said this… “You know the Apple market represents about 5% of market share for all personal computers. Always have and always will. We really don’t worry about them.” In other words, they kind of just let them have it.
Obviously Apple is a much different company from when I had this conversation but I think you’ll see the point.
Lately there’s been a lot of talk about Apple and Steve Jobs. Well there’s always a lot of talk about Apple and Steve Jobs. But in particular three things struck me.
- The first was a tweet I saw that “60% of Apple’s revenue was from products that didn’t exist three years ago”.
- The second was an article about whether iPhone’s “closed” or Android’s “open” would prevail.
- And the third was Steve Jobs comments about his “competition” and subsequent feedback from CEOs from RIM and Android.
Here’s the deal. Apple innovates. Period. The end. Everyone else essentially copies. Apple sets the standard and everyone else tries to reach an acceptable level to be adopted by the masses.
The question for Apple is if they’re content being that company. That’s where Steve Jobs’ comments perplex me a bit.
In my opinion, the best businesses in the world are the ones in which the CEO (and employees) know what business they’re really in. It’s not so much as knowing what to do but rather knowing what not to do.
In this case I think it’s for Apple to not even think about BlackBerry or Android or the other tablet devices and accept its position as a company of innovation. There will always be a market for those that just have to have it. The key is for shareholders to recognize this as well and not pressure Apple to be something it isn’t. Yes it’s a trade-off but in my mind a critical one. Author Kevin Maney does a great job talking about this in his book aptly titled just that… “Trade-Off: Why Some Things Catch On and Other’s Don’t”.
Because at the end of the day, as Harvard Business School Professor Yoffie said: “Apple will lose its overall leadership, but maintain a share of the market that could easily be in the 25 percent to 30 percent range… That’s enough to sustain a very large and very profitable business.”