Thursday, June 23, 2005

The Zagat-i-zation of Things

I rely on the Zagat Survey for restaurant recommendations. The survey complied by Tim and Nina Zagat reflected the opinions and behaviors of New York City executives and upper middle class families dining out in the biggest food carnival anywhere.

To some extent this is a mirror image of me, so I can easily rely on the opinions expressed and have pretty good confidence that , food selection aside, expectations about ambiance, service, décor and overall experience are generally the same as mine. And while there are probably psycho-demographic variations from book to book, I’m still generally comfortable with the point of view expressed.

But as grassroots ratings begin to pop-up in almost every field, I’m not sure I know who is doing the scoring or what criteria are being used to assess performance. And as these ratings get circulated on the Web, they are apt to get blanket acceptance on their face by a public eager to search and find data on-demand, without careful consideration of the sources or bona fides of those creating this data.

On eBay or Amazon you can find ratings and reviews of all types. The problem is you don’t know who these reviewers are other than people who have the time or the ego to write reviews. In some cases the reviews are themselves rated for usefulness. But the same problem of meta data exists; we don’t know who the reviewer of the reviews is and other than their command of the language. Often after reading them you cannot establish either their biases or their expertise by inference.

Imagine how this spirals out of control when every brand and every product or service from doctors and dentists to retail stores to plumbers, roofers and electricians will have prices, performance and reviews posted online. How could any reasonable person sort through them? How could any brand either influence or respond to them? And short of trial and error how could anyone make use of them? This is a serious limitation to so-called customer-generated media.

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

Are You An E-Mail Addict?

If you thought you were the only obsessive compulsive that checks e-mail morning, noon and night --- think again.

Opinion Research Corporation and AOL surveyed 4000 people in 20 US cities and found that e-mail now rivals the phone as the communication tool of choice. Most people check their personal e-mail accounts 3 times a day and have more than one account.

Do you see yourself in this data?

61% check personal e-mail at work
60% check while on vacation
47% check e-mail sporadically throughout the day
41% check e-mail first thing in the morning
40% check e-mail in the middle of the night
25% check e-mail as soon as they get to work
23% check while in bed
18% check right after dinner
18% check at lunch time
14% check immediately on returning from work
14% check before going to bed
12% check while in class

If only the messages we got were as dramatic as these numbers.

Friday, June 03, 2005

Radio on the Rocks?

There’s something magical about radio. Everybody has two or three favorite stations. Radio is comfortable. Radio is convenient. Radio does it for you even though every so often you have to endure a track you don’t like.

Many of us have a genuine friendship with or a genuine animosity toward Howard, Imus, Rush and other personalities we’ve come to know through repeated daily encounters. Most of us have radio sound tracks embedded in our memories and rely on the radio as a free, mood-enhancing utility.

Yet radio is and has been the Rodney Dangerfield of media for sixty years.

Every new thing seems better than radio. Every new media grabs dollars from radio. Every new device will kill off radio.

The latest radio killers are satellite radio and podcasting. Both have generated huge hype. Though neither has yet collected significant or measurable audiences to threaten radio’s revenues. Plus the real benefit of both is the availability of niche programming and the absence of commercials.

But with almost predictable regularity the radio industry feels compelled to defend itself. And so the Radio Advertising Bureau ( , where I worked as CMO for five years, just put out a “Quick Guide to Dispelling the 8 Major Myths About Radio.”

Confronting “allegations” about commercial clutter, interactivity, reach among youth, creativity, branding, listenership and business practices, these two sheets make the case for radio using all kinds of data, some of which is ancient but still true. It reads like a desperate defense. And while the conglomerates that own the majority of radio stations won’t win any popularity contests, the medium is much more entrenched and enduring than you might otherwise think.

If this crisis runs like every other one, radio stations will adapt, convert and subsume the latest trends and hottest technologies. Some have already introduced podcasting formats. For addicts, paying for Howard, will be well worth it for others it will be a blessing to get him off the public airwaves.

And radio will go on loved but underappreciated.

Deconstructing Everything

We live in a world of tracks. Any one of us can deconstruct the packaging surrounding our favorite things.

Technology now enables us to buy one track (one song) without suffering through a whole album. We can select the sounds that make us happy and discard the artist’s attempt to try something new, old, borrowed or blue.

And we can build our own packages rather than rely upon marketers and promoters to package content for us. Very soon all our choices will be available for individual selection and combination. The pre-processed, fed-from-above world we once knew will become a giant salad bar free-for-all.

We’ll pick just the stories or just the writers we care about in print, watch only the great episodes of favorite shows, ditch the dreck baked into the compilations that programmers and packagers have foisted upon us in favor of our own podcasts.

Before long anyone will be able to mix their own newspaper, magazine, email newsletter, music, video or audio for use in fixed locations or to take with them. Imagine a world of specially mixed scenes on disk to amuse the kids during your drive to the beach. Or a different mix to get them ready for bed. The only gating factor will be having the time and interest to produce content for yourself.

People 30+ are not used to this process, even though as teenagers we made our own mix tapes using reel-to-reel recorders. But kids (20 and younger) hardly have the tolerance for traditional mixes, like TV networks, newspapers, albums or even DVDs and video games.

They think in segments. They expect tracks. They demand choices. They are incredibly media-savvy and judgmental. They are killers with a remote. They will invest in their own gratification because it’s intuitive, easy and accessible.

This completely changes the media game. We have to think like Billy Joel’s “Piano Man” in units of 3 minutes and 5 seconds max instead of 30 minute sitcoms, 1hour dramas or 2 hour movies. We have to understand that there is no more tolerance for the “boring stuff in the middle” because we have raised a generation that multi-tasks with multimedia and has lighting instincts and highly tuned filters.

As content producers we have to think and act like telemarketers. Sometime in each thirty seconds of conversation we have to “close” for the right to have the next thirty seconds of conversation. If we don’t, we’re tail lights. Similarly we have to conceptualize messages not as a cohesive thirty second spot, but as a string of bytes that can exist independently and hang together for thirty consecutive seconds of meaning.

Tracks make you re-think the whole game.
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