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May 2009

Microsoft Bing - Do We Need Another Search Engine

Microsoft announced this week the introduction of Bing, not a search engine, but a decision engine.  I do appreciate the nice positioning twist on this.  Now Google works fine thank you very much, so I don't quite understand why the world needs a Bing.  It is in the same vain that world didn't need a Zune when we all liked our IPOD so much.

I can't understand why Microsoft continually violates the law of branding. There are #1 brands and #2 brands and they don't change places.  #3 brands are out of the game completely.  Live and Microsoft are the #3 brand in search.

Now I haven't seen Bing so I have no idea if it truly reinvents what a search engine is and can do.  The only way that a brand can change the physics of branding is to either wait for the #1 or #2 brand to walk away from the category benefit or for Bing to be so innovative that they completely disrupt the balance of the search universe.

My guess is that Bing will work well, just like the Zune does.  And just like the Zune, it just isn't an IPOD or in this case, it can't out Google, Google.  That said, Yahoo appears adrift.  It might be time for Microsoft to push Yahoo out of the race for #2.  If they can't, Bing will be a Bomb through no fault of Microsoft .  Physics is physics and not even Balmer and Gates can change that.

GM Marketing - It's Time to Step up Your Game

I'm somewhat envious of the marketing team.  Failure opens up the door to innovation and risk.  Success causes caution and reliance on the tried and true.  My favorite experiences were working on suffering or underdog brands.  If forces out of the box thinking creates an environment where everyone is willing to separate themselves from being constrained by their personal history.

With this in mind, I find it confounding that the General Motors marketing team hasn't come up with a more innovative approach then their current "buyer assurance plan".  The advertising campaign promises 1) resell value protection, 2) a year on OnStar and 3) 5 months of salary protection if you are laid off.

To break it down, we'll protect the value of a car that wasn't selling well before, 2) we'll provide OnStar, which is a nice to have, but not enough of a discriminator to beat Honda and Toyota and 3) we'll also match that offer invented by Hyundai and that we copied.  Yawn.

For the sake of the country, I hope that General Motors starts to step up its campaign.  If your cars are truly different then sell them in unexpected new ways.  Create an offer that says wow instead of "that's nice".  The truth is that most consumers do not want GM cars.  Until you solve that problem, all the reassurance in the world doesn't work. The campaign might get individuals who normally buy GM into the show room, or maybe a few American car enthusiasts, but as the market is proving it's not enough.

Now I feel bad for GM.  The sub prime crisis and credit tightening were not of their doing.  And truth be told some the cars look pretty good.  My suggestion is to work on getting GM into the consideration set.  It means starting with the first date. 

I'm waiting to be asked out again (after some dates early in my car buying life that didn't go so well).

The Film Industry of the Future

The economy and the entertainment industry are going through a structural change. While many in the film industry fear the threat of digital downloads, while a very real threat, it isn't nearly as significant as structural changes in consumer consumption of content.  There is confusion in the market between the requirements of the older "passive massive" film generation vs. the interactive expectations of younger generations.

  • It's the difference between the generation that is comfortable watching 5 hours of TV a night vs. the generation that can tell all or part of a short story using the 140 characters allowed by Twitter.
  • It's the difference between linear story telling with a beginning an end, vs. reading part of a story without knowing where you are in the narrative.
  • It's about a generation that feeds on the firing of neurons in the brain vs. a generation that is willing to allow the story's author the time to provide a neural reward.

All of the constituencies that support the film industry, from film makers to fans are struggling to reconcile the film revenue and distribution models of prior generations and the current environment. The threat of digital film theft aside, structural change in the industry is the true threat to the status quo.  The last structural change n film was in 1963/1964 at the start of the independent film movement. As the movement matured it became organized and legitimized by festivals such as Sundance (1985).

Today, change is being driven by the impact of technology and consumer behavior on storytelling. On-going episodic approaches are replacing stories that have a neat beginning and end. The MIT center for the Future of Storytelling , an initiative run by David Kirkpatrick, a former President of Paramount, is quickly becoming the bell weather of the "new “ storytelling movement.

Change is slowly taking route in the way advertisers tell stories. Recent initiatives such as "colors" advertising from SONY, and the Cadbury Gorilla are both examples of the new creativity and interactivity where the raw footage of the commercials were made available for the audience to re-cut and reinvent.

Today, narrative has a time value. What gets to Sundance is old by the time it is released at the festival. Even SXSW represents a point in time vs. an on-going phenomenon. When the Kindle 2 was introduced, the Steven King book released exclusively for the Kindle became an instant best seller. The book was marketed in a way that ensured success at a particular moment in time. In the future, film festivals like Sundance will not be able to survive unless they are on-going participants in the narrative.

The film festival itself has many attributes of "old" Hollywood.  This includes:

  • 1x Per Year Meetings for those that can attend
  • “Mainstream” Independent longer length films
  • Elite People in attendance
  • Film Maker to Audience (passive)
  • Brands imposed on “Hollywood” by Advertisers

The film festival of the future will:

  • Operate and organize everyday, 24 hours a day
  • Genre and film length have no constraints or definition
  • Open to all
  • Invites active and passive collaboration
  • Meeting place open to all
  • Brands engaged in storytelling consistent with their relevant metaphor

Marketers continue to be amazed (and quietly worried) that brand Barak Obama was able to jump to the head of the political line. What should those that aspire to lead the film industry do in the future to keep newer firms that are born in the age of Web 3.0 at bay? .  One immediate action to take is to  become the Voice of the New Industry by acting like the new industry. Some ideas include:

  • Start by collaborating vs. guarding assets.
  • Confirm and articulate a vision of the new storyteller.
  • Write a position paper.
  • Act as the forum for the new generation of storytellers.
  • Bridge the old with the new. Welcome both.
  • Organize amateur and professional industry participants including:
  • Writers
  • Producers
  • Cinematographers
  • Artists
  • Photographers
  • Directors
  • Publicists
  • Fans

. Other things I'd do as the leader is to :

  • Find new models to reinvent and monetize each stage of the film lifecycle.
  • Provide opportunities for a new generation of co-creators.
  • Provide Tools to re-cut and re-mix
  • Work as a Partner/Friend to guide, teach and support
  • Education for those wanting to participate
  • Establish Scholarships for talented individuals that need time to develop (vs. the pressure for immediate success)
  • Provide the tools to publicize all manner of thought (path to Twitter, Gaming Platforms, Tivo etc.)

Of course all of the above would come with many of the elements that make film successful. This includes:

  • Raw material for Inspiration/Ideation
  • Forums
  • Fan Participation and Awards
  • Work Spaces
  • Story Ideas for others to build on
  • New Genre Development (mash-ups, length)
  • Education (formal, informal training, help)
  • Early audience building and support
  • Brand Sponsorship of area and specific forums (targets; writers, thinkers, innovators)

To be the leader in this space a company will need to demonstrate that they can help others:

  • Turn Ideas into Reality
  • Develop scripts and finish them
  • Provide Workspace Tools
  • Advise on Legal Protection

Like the economy at large, the coming storm in the film industry is being driven by changes in the way we consume content. There is a unique opportunity for a new leader to not only emerge, but monetize the associated activity.

DirecTV Advertising Loses Focus

It's time for the satellite television industry to step up their advertising game.  DirecTV appeared to be on a roll with the singer Beyonce singing about "upgrade, upgrade".  More HD for TV lovers.  I get it.

It's curious that their current campgin is the old style bunch of cable execs in a conference room being amazed at DirecTV's benefits.  Maybe that advertising worked in the 1989's, but today cable is a technological leader. It's story telling that is getting in the way of the story.  Inexpensive telephone, high speed internet that is lightening fast and HD is the value proposition from cable.  DirecTV is worrying the cable company guys, so what.

It's time to move on.  As Beyonce said, "upgrade, upgrade" your thinking and do something that reflects the true potential of telvision satellite technology.  Or better yet, focus on DirecTV as an upgrade.

The guys who are almost doing it right is Dish Network.  At least their advertising is focused in their long running "get more for less" platform.  The only problem with Dish Network advertising is tthey never just come out and say "get more for less". It's what they deliver.  You wonder why they just don't come out and say it.