Wednesday, May 29, 2013

The Reality Of A Market In Transitional Change

Over the weekend, I watched a good amount of the Cooking Channel. 

For those of you who do not watch it, the Cooking Channel is Scripps Networks remake of Martha Stewart’s Living Network.

Its also where Scripps moved its prime time base of demonstrative cooking programming to as it elected to showcase more “contest programming” shows on Food Network.

I think I wrote a blog about a year ago about how a lot of the network leadership has sunk into the mindset of placing more value on ratings vs. more value on brand stewardship. 

Food Network and GSN (Game Show Network) are becoming more and more and more like one another. 

And the Pawn shows are now found on everything from TLC to History Channel to National Geo to TruTV.    

Enough about the lack of network brand leadership.

I watched a show that aired on Cooking Channel at noon on Saturday that is a great demonstration of what I will term a catalyst of change.

The name of the show is My Grandmother’s Ravioli hosed by a guy named Mo Rocca.  The show features grandparents cooking treasured family recipes in their home kitchens.

The Italian grandparents featured on the show struck me personally.  They reminded me a bunch of the heritage of my family roots.  The grandmother was a lot like my grandmother who actually was a professional Italian cook.

They didn’t measure the ingredients, they didn’t craft the product for the camera, and they referred to the ingredients partly in abbreviated Italian names and partly in English.

It brought back real images that I fondly remembered from my days growing up.

I was intrigued two-fold.

Several years ago, I wrote a blog about YouTube and how it was changing market perceptions of “staging” in filming and bringing to life reality TV. 

The broadcast industry reacted and two camps emerged.

One camp quickly emerged that embraced the YouTube format … in fact, actually produced shows that were comprised of nothing but video clips posting on YouTube.

Networks like MTV, SPIKE TV, VH1 and TruTV quickly integrated YouTube reality TV largely driven by the belief that the younger emerging audience group – that each network was fashioned around reaching – would quickly shift from watching reality video online to watching their network programming on the TV.

Few networks understood what was actually emerging in front of them.  Few networks ever really reached a level of the success they had envisioned.

The other broadcast industry camp believed that it was their mission to differentiate the quality of production and provide the viewership base with much richer film quality versus “that cheap stuff” being posted on YouTube.

More ad agencies posted membership in the second camp than in the first camp. After all, what could those "masses" out on the streets even begin to know about the art of filming a commercial?

And to film a commercial that cheap???

I have no idea who the catalyst of change was housed at the Cooking Channel, but someone perhaps up there in Knoxville, Tennessee got to sipping some of that Smoking Mountain Kool-Aid and ventured out with a camera in the back of the pick-up truck to produce a new television show.

What intrigues me even more was how this show might very well be a catalyst of change in we are re-rooting ourselves in the reality of just who we are and our heritage.

There was nothing contrived in the show.  Nothing staged.  No primping.  Limited special lighting.

The show captured a scenario and information set that is of value today.

As the Boomers re-discover the kitchen and Millennials experience it for the first time, Betty Crocker’s recipes are honest, real and truthful… something of a rarity in our new electronic world.

The show captured a sense of roots. 

Something that is returning whether individuals seek it out in Live-Work-Play communities or individuals are confronting as employers chuck the idea of moving teams around every two or three years.

The show captured a reality that we can place ourselves in that is believable and true.

What catapulted Archie Bunker and All In The Family was that it brought to the screen something that was not only perceived real in its staging, but more than anything, it confronted the really of what took place in many homes.

If you read the Wall Street Journal (WSJ), you cannot help but be connected with the brand and operational challenge faced by JC Penney.

I vow to write a blog about JC Penney and highlight it as a great example of what to avoid doing with a brand.

But for the purpose of this blog post, I will only use it as a great example of where reality was dismissed at the expense of staging the brand.

In today’s WSJ, there is an article about Sears and how its CEO’s push to become the mass brand for technology and entertainment is not driving sales.

My bet is that 90 days from now, that CEO will be replaced.

Speaking of being replaced, the CEO of P&G was replaced with the resurrected past-CEO of P&G.  That is also becoming an ongoing drama in the WSJ.

To P&G’s credit – and perhaps the past CEO who was ousted – a number of their household cleaning and detergent brands have been crafted to reach the emerging Millennial home-makers.

My bet is that there are many at P&G who cannot accept that there are market changes that truly challenge the conventional models that moved Consumer Package Goods brands in the 1990s.

On the surface, My Grandmother’s Ravioli is a great experience to watch.  You will learn some very genuine ways to cook great family dinners. You will also find the show to be very real and identifiable.

From a brand and business perspective, My Grandmother’s Ravioli provides a glimpse into the architecture of what is emerging in the marketplace that smart brand teams will embrace.


Monday, May 13, 2013

What's Really Driving Neighborhood Change

Neighborhoods change.

I am sitting in a coffee house early on Sunday evening in an Atlanta intown neighborhood called Virginia-Highland.

This is where I lived for10 years before selling my house and moving into the Brookhaven neighborhood about 4 miles to the north.

When I purchased my home back in 2001, the neighborhoods was one of the true hip and hot Atlanta ‘hoods.

Homes were being renovated, new indy coffee houses were opening up and fun, funky retail sores were staying packed well into the evenings.

While not all, much of the renovation and new retail moving in was being birthed by the Atlanta gay community and bohemian couple-hood.

It was truly a fun neighborhood to live in back then.

Now as I sit here, I cannot overlook what some refer to as the “breeders.” 

Not only have the “mom & pops” pushed out the true mom & pop shops, but they have changed what had been cool to what is now true Gen X cocoon heaven.

When I walked into the coffee house tonight, I was notified that the place would be closing down at 8pm.

“After all, tonight is a school night when parents need to spend time with kids doing home work.”

Neighborhoods do indeed change.

On the drive over here I passed by a real estate office.

They had a sign out front stating that there is a shortage of homes to sell and if a person lists one with the firm today, they would get a rebate on the commission to sell it.

In fact, that sign is communicating something that is hitting the home page of the news websites and the top news stories on the digital television sets.

There are now more folks looking to buy versus folks seeking to sell.

The news media talks a lot about the impact of economic recovery. 

Yet, what is really driving real estates sales is more an affect of a generational change wave than true economic recovery.

No question that corporate career mobility is no longer dependent on where people physically reside. Thanks to the Internet, people can work from virtually anywhere.

Physical flexibility is freeing up many businesses to adapt more quickly and operate more flexible than the past… and that’s a very good thing.

Another factor at work is that so many home-owners are still faced with appraised value of their homes and larger mortgages that they owe.  

The cost of real estates still has not recovered to pre-Great Recession price points and many of today’s homeowners purchased their homes with little-to-no down payments.

And then there’s the generational shift that’s taking place that the media simply overlooks in what they report.

The Millennials are now entering into the nest-forming life-stage. 

With more and more of the Millennials entering into their 30-something years, owning a home is their #1 goal… much more important than corporate or career commitments.

Some of the folks that I present this information to quickly come back and say that many of the homes that are selling are 3+ bedrooms in size and conclude that first time home buyers are really not what’s driving home sales.

As I share in this blog, at least once a month, I try to get out on the streets and talk with audience groups.  Dwelling behind the walls of an office quickly generates a very restrictive viewpoint of the marketplace at large.

About two weeks ago, I interviewed about three-dozen Millennials about their house hunting journeys. 

Many of those I interviewed not only talked about their goals of finding a home they could call their own and “sinking down roots,” but they also talked about finding a home that they could “grow into” over time.

A side observation… they didn’t seem to have too much of an issue with rooms sitting empty in the home right now… as long as they had space over time that they could make use of versus having to go back through the home buying search all over again.

Millennials do not plan to engage in the home search again when they decide that they are ready to make the $1 million investment in birthing a kid.

Other business folks I talk with still hold onto the belief that once the first time homebuyers elect to have kids, they will move out to the ‘burbs.

Whether it’s the frustration of the home buying and banking game or the frustration of engaging in commute traffic, Millennials are very reluctant to consider any move further out into the ‘burbs.

If in reading this blog you become more fascinated about the driving force of new home sales, I encourage you to spend time watching the HGTV, DIY, TLC, BRAVO and Food Network neighborhood, real estate and home design shows.

The vast majority of those shows center on the Millennial home-buyers.

Part of the commentary Millennials make when working with their living space is driven by a high level of expectation that what they see in home looks like what pops up on their mobile version of Pinterest. 

Other commentary is driven by what all they believe can be down with a visit to IKEA or the neighborhood flea market.

Neighborhoods do indeed change.

But so do the dynamics of the generational group moving in. 

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Onward Beyond Co-habbing With The Ad Agencies

Part of change is coming to terms and accepting that it is indeed taking place and embracing it.

Howard Schultz wrote a super book that premiered a couple of years ago titled, ONWARD.  The book is about “how Starbucks fought for its life, without losing its soul.”

Schultz shares the challenges that the coffee house icon embraced in a rapidly evolving market… and a rapidly evolving organization.

I think in my reading it, I was most moved when he elected to shut down the entire chain for a day – in the middle of the week – and re-focus the core product delivery, its presentation, its packaging and its product quality.

He also goes on to share about how the brand team had to re-evaluate its space style, look and design. 

And he also talks about the refinement of the logo… something that I believe I challenged in one of the early blogs I scripted some 100 blogs ago!

I am writing this blog in my new space in Atlanta. 

Note, I did not say “office” space.

I am sitting in a place that carries a brand name:  ROAM.

While the space I am sitting in is very cool and I plan to share more about it in future Emails, the intent of this blog post is to share more about the change I had to embrace… and the change that others are challenged to embrace as well.

About three years ago, I made a decision that part of me regrets… I moved my office space for part of my week into shared space offered by an ad agency.

A year ago, I shifted from the space at one agency to the space offered by another agency.

This is something that I will never do again.

Both of the agencies are staffed by nice, good, talented people.  Both agencies are owned by very nice, good and talented personalities.

Problem is, ad agencies really no longer work… not that they don’t do stuff and spend time crafting things.

While the teams inside the agency walls today come together every day, what they generate is more often what the business should not be doing.
And many of those agencies remain confined in physical walls that they spend a bunch of dollars on making look hip and cool!

Ad agencies are out of sync. 

If you do not believe so, go Google a set of agencies… big ones, small ones, national ones, local ones… you will see a bunch of consistency.

The focus is most on making their clients happy. 

They will showcase their own branded “planning” process.  They will all talk about going in and speaking with top client management, marketing and sales.

They will highlight how they take what clients say about their products and how they develop creative to communicate it and media plans that will generate the reach and frequency to convince customers to believe it.

If you ask them what they do, the mantra is memorized.  And it has not changed. 

Sure… they will talk about integrating social media and online communications, but it’s all anchored around “building brand awareness” and the ability to “interact and sell in their client’s brand.”

My scripting this Email was delayed by about an hour while I contacted one of my client’s media teams. 

The media team brought a plan to the table two weeks ago that the client’s retail manager quickly dismissed and voiced concern over in that it “was no different” from what had been brought to the table before.

When I dwell among creative free lancers, film producers, ethnographers, brand inventors, entrepreneurs, app engineers… I hear them speak in a very different context than the context spoken inside ad agencies.

Many of these folks work in non-conventional space and rather inventive environments.

They elect to explore new ideas and challenge others with whom they relate.

As colloquial a phrase as it is… they do “break outside of the box.”

Here at EXPERIENCE, we are driven on a set of fundamental principles that truly do not match up well with the environment of the conventional ad agency.

Our strategy is not driven by the client, but instead by the consumer.

We challenge convention, make clients feel uncomfortable and do not shy away from it.

We re-invent conventional models of doing things relative to the execution of the brand experience, its delivery and they way it is brought to life in the communications dialogue with the consumers defining it.

I am writing this in the year 2013.  The year 2014 is now on the flow charts of my clients’ annual plans. The year 2018 is in the five year projection stats.

Ad Agencies had their hey-day in the 1970s to be sure.

I moved into a new context of work environment and will not move back ever again in my ownership of EXPERIENCE into the ad agency surrounds.

As Howard Schultz write… it is now moving ONWARD… and beyond!