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    Thursday, January 24, 2008

    Death of Garage Bands = Value in Space

    Anyone living in a mega-city is painfully aware of the lack of space. It's quickly obvious to those who move that life is slightly different when space is removed from the equation. I have continually asked myself where do the musician's practice without the basement or garage?

    Super interesting article in the NYtimes about the lack of affordable spaces for musicians. NYC is the one place that has largely ignored the real estate trend, with continual rising prices. NYC Performing Arts Spaces runs a site where musicians can book practice time in rehearsal studios, ranging from $10 to $50 an hour.

    Famed historical club CBGB's was closed last year due to rent issues, now to return as a clothing brand. (Slight painful and certainly selling out.) It would seem that music is on the unfortunate side of a struggling economy. Raising rents are forcing musicans out like never before. But its a bit of a paradox situation. We live in an era of technology, where anyone with a computer can grab and mix samples to become the next Dangermouse. Music has seen a revolution of power, with independent artists creating their own fame and fortune (i.e. Merge's Arcade Fire). Radiohead just said F U to the labels, iTunes models by setting its own price. Music can be free. So the value must lie elsewhere.

    While technology makes music easier to share (not necessarily achieve) it adds value most to what it eliminates. Physical space. Revenue leaves formats, it must reappear somewhere else. That means marketing, experiences, live events, art etc. Quite strange for an aural experience.

    But for the garage band who whose physical space is merely to practice, and not to churn profits this is death. What was once free, is now the ultimate luxury and a point of emphasis to generate profit. What will the impact be of a loss of creative spaces? Is this a music revolution or evolution? Many would argue now is music's greatest age, an era of freedom and privateering. But what is the price? Interesting times ahead



    Thursday, January 17, 2008

    Van's Finger Fracture

    All hail Advergaming. Vans has created a nifty videogame for the iphone that is part advertising, part casual game, and all smart. Decorate your rider with real-life Van's Models. Participate in a worldwide leader board. It implements a touch screen to do tricks, think of the mini finger boards 2.0. Which makes for intuitive control. Great use of media here. Rumor has it, its from a Miami Ad School Grad. All you early adopting Mac-heads pick this one up.
    KickFlip Fakie


    Wednesday, January 16, 2008

    Clean Sneakers - Jason Markk

    Product Alert!

    Cool Hunting just reminded me about a Staple Design(ed) Limited Edition version of ths. Who needs sneaker cleaner? Well prepare to have your mind blown away sneakerheads. This product works and the design is top notch. Get yours if you want your kick game right.



    Sustainable Shoes

    Nike is usually on the brunt of environmentalists' attacks. Seems that are trying to make notice of when they play nice with Mother earth.

    Saw this article on CNN that dives into Nike's slow to realization "Considered" line.

    Nike is using, the year of the 23 to blow out its most important personality. Not just because he played bball at UNC. The Air Jordan XX3, is the first basketball shoe shaped by what Nike calls "e-Considered," "approach to design that favors environmentally-preferable materials, reduces toxic chemicals and curbs waste." Considered debuted in 2005, as a niche brand , with an god-awfully weird but happinesss-inducing leather boot. It used vegetable dyes, was bonded without chemical glues and had hemp laces. Being a sneakerhead, it caught me by surprise. Smart, but not necessarily a brand burner. Apparently , the "Considered" philosophy has umbrellaed over to more and more products.

    This is a great step for Nike to take the lead. As the article points, "going green" often comes at a sacrifice of style and substance in the name of the environment. The real deal still exists if people will buy the shoe for this or for the style that has iconified Jordan and Nike over the last few decades. Will the shoe change the industry or is this a marketing ploy? It certainly feels good now, but time will tell if all shoes begin to be made this way. And will consumers sway to purchase this because its green or because its Jordan and looks damn good? I always say its about the product, not the marketing, but this might be a rare combination.

    For a more interesting look, check out the designer who helped helped create the idea, Jeff Staple; with interesting perspective on this sole creation. He lists the criteria for a "Considered" product as is:

    "To be qualified as CONSIDERED, is must maintain these benchmarks:
    1. Must be made from recyclable materials. (i.e., 100% recyclable plastics or veg-tanned leathers.)
    2. Zero Toxins. Zero chemical adhesives. (no glue.)
    3. Mechanical vs Chemical. (using mechanics and engineering to put the shoe together instead of chemical solutions.)
    4. Closed Loop Technology. (the shoe must be able to come back 100% as another shoe or something else. Nothing goes to waste.)"

    [ed. note - Thanks JS for the link! Have to make it down to the store sometime soon]



    Monday, January 14, 2008

    Location-Based Coffee

    Location based software has blown up recently. Going beyond GPS, the web has championed a whole new era of twitter's, Dopplr's and more.

    Apple looks to change retail with a location-based Starbucks partnership. A quickpay system, allows consumers to customize and purchase their coffee from their iPhone, thanks to a special software system that recognizes when iPhones are in proximity.

    Can it save Starbucks from being the neighborhood office? Probably not.. Can it save it from McDonald's coffee attack? Probably not either, but its a fancy way to up convenience while incorporating technology.

    If the future has more of this sign me up!


    Tuesday, January 08, 2008


    I saw a great example of scalability the other day and havent been able to shake it. Its also know as "Colonization" in the fantastic (and dense) book The Plentitude. Scalability is slightly different than categorization, in that its not necessarily a process from an unowned or new to the world category. Categorization takes a category and advances it (i.e. Football --> Pay to watch football --> Watch on tV for free --> NFL network gets paid to show games -->Pay to play virtual football on your xbox 360). I'm thinking of scalability pertains to a particular product and brand within a category. Slightly different...

    So Gizmodo a personal favorite site for me with all its geeky tech stuff and being an amateur photog, i have been following Oakley's forays into the digital realm. Oakley has created a RED camera, which while it costs $17500, is comparable to the high-end cameras found in use with most of hollywood's epic motion pictures. Oakley has essentially created a consumer-accessible version of a once-unobtainable piece of technology. Much like the digital camera and high speed internets were equalizer, this should shake up the game a bit. Consumers (Rich ones) could be high-end. Their site states "The idea behind the RED camera system is simple. Design and build a high performance digital cine camera with the quality of 35mm film and convenience of pure digital. RED delivers unmatched image quality with no recording system limitations." Scalability stretches a brand through its products, creating multiple emotional equities.

    While Oakley isn't known for electronics, its an interesting space for them to play coming in through technology and the advantages of lens. They also throw in their ruggedability and they have an interesting disruptor in the market. Even better is their scaling of the product, with a high-end production model as well as a lower consumer version. While almost every company has a skew, an ability to segment consumers behaviors through product offerings can allow them to maximize their revenue without overlapping consumer segments. Nothing new there, except most companies have too many sku's and overdo it. TVs are a prime example, with so little differences hardly the retail salesman can differentiate. Oakley makes it simple and that makes it accessible. Not to mention stylized and sleek. Function and form, are a good combo, just ask Apple.

    Scalability also impacts brand value on a larger scale. A virtual product can impact the physical one. Look at what Madden Football has done for football. There are now generations growing up that educate themselves solely through a videogame, without stepping onto a field. Not to mention how this grows awareness and popularity of a sport, often in football absent areas. In recent times technology has created more economies and added more value to products, than real life counterparts.A recent NYTimes article, looks at the impact of Magna Carta, and its impact on the currency of information. A replica, has increased in price despite the face that information is now free and abundent. Yet most copies are virtual, and they only drove up the price of the real object. Real value can come from real or virtual impacts. Good innovators create products that are scalable out of the box. Ask yourself next time you are in a brand or product creation, are you adding a value that can be applicable to both consumer and business?

    So scalability can work both ways. It can be used to segment consumers, and create different types of products (real, virtual or a mix) within a market. And it can be used to add value to a brand or, even larger such as product's market.

    Scalability is a necessity when innovating, as it helps brands stretch in conjunction with products that can establish different types of equities. Products can build functional equities, allowing a brand to stretch emotionally. When used in conjunction a brand can be "stretched" or scaled.



    Friday, January 04, 2008

    Direct Distribution - Branding Access

    Seemingly since the history of time, the middleman has been there. The retailer that sold us that horse, or the general store owner who had the last outpost before the Oregon trail, or that car dealer with the shiny cadillac. Really not doing much beyond being the outlet or distributor of content or a product. Not terribly exciting, but a decent way to make a living.

    I just heard about Jackass's new movie being completely digital, i thought wow this is cool. And downright scary at the same time to avoid the traditional model of revenue. But if Radiohead can do it, hey it just might work. But what happens to the theaters who were counting on at least modest to crappy sales to bring in the teen set?

    Having spent some time recently working on a client that could be called a distributor or provider of sorts i have really tried to wrap my head around the idea on how an organization or brand of this sorts can stand for something. anything beyond the content itself. In other words, branding access. Especially if its product is a commodity much like the examples above were at the time.

    Technology offers a good example landscape. Downloading is apparently our next birthright and beyond simple. No one owns it. It shook up the music industry up, so much it had to be rebuilt from the ground up. Why do i need the radio when i can hear, download it, own it on my own? I can access it on my own. Look at the video industry, now in a completely different model thanks to brands like Netflix. The the new Jackass movie is only launching online and is now on sale to consumers, online only. Avoiding the theaters. Completely. Who needs the theaters anymore unless you want a big big screen experience? Technology has created universal access and killed the middleman in the process. It allows for consumer's to build a more personal experience in their own home.

    Ok so why haven't companies disappeared completely then if everyone is doing it on their own or just bringing it home? I mean if access is universal shouldnt we be able to be a self-sustaining society?

    Many would argue that branding is the stopgap between this access and complete consumerism chaos. Netflix has grown a decent bit by only providing access to a product thats a commodity. And thats the problem. Branding access is extremely difficult, if not next to impossible. I can buy it for almost the same price on 100000 other websites. Is that due in part to its effective branding? Amazon offers everything, and i can recall the brand. But it doesnt mean i care about it. Google is the mother of access brands, yet tell me what Google stands for?

    Attempts to brand this access have often been in a way that often defines an experience for consumers. The no-haggle car buying? The freshest produce, the largest toy selection. A point of difference can give emotional credibility in addition to a functional benefit of access. In today's world, distribution is often direct to consumers (if they aren't making it themselves) and access is universal for most of the world. That means middlemen don't matter so much. I can buy that car online and completely avoid a dealership, or go to craigslist and pick up a used couch. Access is a commodity and how do you brand that?

    I would argue that while branding is a somewhat effective tool, the product is still the king driver. I got to store A because i want product x. I'm always looking to purchase a product, and not necessarily a brand. Sometimes a brand, if i want to show off my livestrong bracelet or ipod, but most purchases are for the functional or emotional benefits directly from the product.

    So really maybe branding access isn't the answer to a loss of middlemen or the ability to get those Northface ski pants direct from the manufacturer in China. Lets take it further upriver and make it about the products. Netflix communicates about genres, while companies like AutoTrader and Amazon are about the width of their product scope. Ebay takes a strange route thats about the thrill of winning ( i personally hate competing bids on a product, i just want to win...easily every time). Yet these brands are ultimately about the products they have, and not the experience or access. Sure its great the ebay seller is in Taiwan, but im just happy to find and bid on that smiling cat.

    Which brings me to the conundrum in the first place.

    I see a Whole Foods as the ultimate distributor of sorts. The food isnt necessarily any better or fresher, but comes with a cache and shopping experience that is somewhat unmatched. Not to mention the breadth of products available. Still a go-to for foodies, if they can't find that organic whole wheat crunch in the local mom and pop shop. But its just food, much of which can be found in any ordinary supermarket. The setup isn't different at all, a few products are. How has WF established itself as a unqiue channel or distributor, selling a commodity? Is it just process or provenance? Or is it access and availability? Or is it the shopping experience?

    [ed. note - unfinished thoughts are totally acceptable to finish in questions]

    Is whole foods more about a pleasurable buying experience with access to the best and freshest, or Is it about the products themselves?

    Merely an effective marketer in a new age?


    Thursday, January 03, 2008

    80 things to watch for in 08

    This list just came across my desk (published Dec 26th) from JWT's trendhunting department. I don't necessarily agree with all of them, or really that we should be watching celebs (seems a bit populist no?) but its an interesting list nonetheless

    JWT's list of 80 Things to Watch in 2008, in alphabetical order:

    1. Africa (foreign investment and development in)
    2. Antibiotic backlash
    3. Assisted marriage
    4. Beijing 2008
    5. Blue replacing green as the environmental movement's color du jour
    6. Brain exercises
    7. British actress Keira Knightley
    8. Carbon tax
    9. Chinese hurdler Liu Xiang
    10. Classical musician Gustavo Dudamel
    11. Climate sightseeing
    12. Continuation of comebacks (Indiana Jones, The Cure, etc.)
    13. Cooperative consumption
    14. Couch surfing
    15. Country branding (Oman, Indonesia, etc.)
    16. Designer Phillip Lim
    17. De-teching
    18. DJ Tiesto
    19. DNA-based exercising
    20. E-clutter (and e-clutter consultants)
    21. Eco-fatigue
    22. E-mail etiquette
    23. Facebook suicides
    24. Fashion label Vena Cava
    25. Foreign government investment (e.g., China, UAE) in U.S. companies
    26. French President Nicolas Sarkozy
    27. Game 3.0 (gamer-generated global gaming)
    28. Google's Android
    29. Gossip Girl
    30. Gphone
    31. Green weddings
    32. Higher education online
    33. Hip-hop's Retro Kids
    34. Humbling of the hedge fund manager (anti-excess post sub-prime)
    35. Hybrid taxis
    36. Indian actress Deepika Padukone
    37. Intellectual luxury
    38. Investigating ingredients
    39. Japanese designs (Tsumori Chisato, Uniqlo, Muji, etc.)
    40. Kitchen appliances as new power tools
    41. Lifestyle curators
    42. Lipstick trumping lip gloss
    43. Manga-inspired clothes
    44. Mobile technology explosion
    45. Mobulimia
    46. Music as awareness driver; concerts and other residuals as cash cow
    47. Musicovery (music tailored to moods)
    48. Myanmar
    49. Nollywood (the rise of Nigerian cinema)
    50. Outsourcing to Ukraine (and other Eastern European countries)
    51. Pakistan's Benazir Bhutto
    52. Pantone's 18-3943 (blue iris)
    53. Pets in the office
    54. Prius homes
    55. Radical transparency
    56. Radiohead repeats (name-your-own-price music)
    57. Recycling into fashion (Nau, Gary Harvey, etc.)
    58. Selfless as the new selfish
    59. Sex and the City, the movie
    60. Shiny Toy Guns (the band)
    61. Skiing in novel spots (Kashmir, Japan, Greenland, Russia, Korea,
    62. Single men saying no to sex
    63. Skype sex
    64. Smart Cars in American cities
    65. SNS (social network service) brand communities
    66. Spanish actor Javier Bardem
    67. Staycations
    68. Sturking
    69. Tequila as the new wine
    70. The N-11
    71. Third screen (the mobile screen) rivaling the first screen (TV)
    72. Trans-ertainment
    73. U.S. gymnast Shawn Johnson
    74. U.S. presidential election
    75. Vicarious consumption
    76. (Video) Gaming Olympics
    77. Virtual gifting
    78. Wannabe young Internet entrepreneurs (a.k.a. Mark Zuckerberg
    79. Weak dollar/strong euro
    80. Women juggling men



    Wednesday, January 02, 2008

    The Behavior of Infrastructure

    I used to be fascinated with process and i would continually reread this book by David Macaulay called The Way Things Work. I found it completely engrossing as he used clever drawings to illustrate the components, physics and behavior behind some of man's best and most common creations. Of how i love books that put the parts in the process! I think all strategically-oriented folks share some type of passion for the the how behind the what.

    This holiday season I was lucky enough to find this book under my tree. I was also blessed with the first time in ages to be able to read something not work related.

    The Works by Kate Ascher, is a magnificent book about the infrastructure of an urban environment, using my current home of New York City as a canvas. Kate has a deceptively simple illustration style which deep dives on the inner structures and workings of a city on a massive scale. She weaves graphics, and facts between mountains of data and topics we take for granted. From tracing the city's drinking water path to the number of riders on the subway at key times to the amount of manpower and scope to regulating trash or paving streets, Ascher brings a metropolis to life.

    Being a strategist i found the book an incredible lens on the behavior of consumers. Why do people live in certani places, or eat certain types of things, or how those water tanks really increase the quality of a consumer's life. Whats equally credible is the evolution of infrastructure due to population and behavioral changes such as widening streets, or how waste was once divided by trash, recyclable and organic waste in the 1800s. As my sister said, its city planning in an easy how-to guide, but for me, its a wealth of knowledge that provides insight to the "what" in now predominant lifestyle of metropolis living.

    I cant but help to only imagine in how our infrastructure will evolve now that we are all wireless and using information rather than horses and carts. Goodbye Interstates and hello internetstates. This book helped me visualize different types of micro-economies that are just beginning to emerge. It also helped me to dimensionalize key consumer behaviors from traveling to work to brushing your teeth. How often do we look at problems only within the context of the problem? Maybe the problem with the work commute isnt the shitty tires on the car, but really the lack of available public transportation? This book examines problems and solutions on a grand vista, always keeping the core problem within its sights as it scales outward.

    This book is highly recommended for all those with a curiosity of why things are the way they are and what lies beneath the surface.





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