Friday, August 27, 2010

MEDIAPOST: Trend-Spotting In The Wild

When I was a student at Syracuse, one of my professors said something that stuck with me. They said if you want to be good (great) at advertising and marketing, then become a true student of popular culture. That statement resonated with me and has shaped how I view media, from the perspective of a consumer as well as that of a marketer. To this day, when my wife and I go to sleep she reads Business Week and Fortune while I read Rolling Stone, Spin and Entertainment Weekly – that’s my line into the world of “what’s going on” because I’m simply not hip anymore. It’s where I start my regular trend-spotting exercise.

Trend-spotting is an interesting component of our business. Trend-spotting is the science of identifying where things are headed in popular culture before they get there. It’s actually unfair of me to call it a science when it’s just as much art as anything else. Trend-spotters are the ultimate professors of popular culture, but the web is a powerful tool in that arsenal and just about anyone can be an amateur trend-spotter. If you get good at it, it can have a significant impact from a strategic perspective, and positively inform your client’s business for years to come.

A great place to start is with search. Search is an active database of trends in action. Google Trends is the most logical place to start, and Bing has it’s own trends platform, but there are a host of other tools like TrendyBing that give you access to the 30,000 foot view of what’s going on in search. Reading search trends gives you insight into what people are trying to uncover and the topics that are garnering their attention at the current moment. Trending these searches over time will help you identify fads, failures and long-term directions that may affect your creative messaging. One of the best ways to maintain resonance with your target audience is to be topical, so integrating data and insights from search is a great place to start.

Beyond search, there are a host of digital tools and publications that you can peruse, but one of them (which not everyone likes but I find fascinating) is Cool Hunting. I used to read their site, but they came up with an iPad app that I find far easier for my puny little brain to comprehend. I find publications like Cool Hunting to be interesting because they integrate the best of fashion, design, architecture and music together and highlight products and occurrences that align with what’s “cool”. One of the most overlooked tools of the trend-spotter can be other trend-spotters in the marketplace. There are very few people who can see it all before it comes, so why not rely on the aggregate of the information to allow the best to surface. After all, your goal as a marketer is not to be first, but to understand what impact these changes should have on your messaging.

Of course you can only go so far by reading magazines, perusing publications and tracking search. You have to do some of the work for yourself. Transforming your own daily life into that of a trend-spotter can be an onerous task, bordering on the impossible. It’s not feasible to be 100% self-aware and an objective third party all at the same time. These two states of mind are combative; but what you can do is follow some basic advice and open your mind a bit:

1. Be aware of the world around you and look at people. People watching is one of the greatest ways to spot trends, but in doing so you have to turn off that cynical, natural human inclination to judge. You need to just observe and take notes.

2. Get out… out of the office, out of your house. Get out of your comfort zone and try to engage with different kinds of people, places and things. Try to observe new places and new avenues for learning and attempt to see the inputs that shape others outside of your typical surroundings.

3. Listen to yourself. Pay close attention to what excites you, what interests you and try to observe your own habits. A great way to do this is go through an average day and keep a running log of what you do, when you do it and how you do it. You’ll be surprised at some of the things you come across.

4. Attend conferences, but attend conferences from other industries that may seem interesting to you. See what’s new, see what’s interesting and most importantly, see how others are viewing their own business.

5. The last piece of advice, the one that I read in an article and really liked, is try and spot trends then assume the exact opposite of that trend. It’s a standard brainstorming exercise to pick up certain messaging and then apply polarized thinking, and it works here as well. Identify a trend, then see what happens if everyone acted in the exact opposite manner.

Trend-spotting is an art, and it is a science. Many companies invest millions of dollars a year into this engaging area of our business, but creative thinking requires that everyone can be a little bit of a trend-spotter in their own, unique way. Go out today and try it and you’ll see the strategies you develop may be fresher, more exciting and potentially more effective as well.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

MEDIAPOST: Online Advertisers Take The Summer Off

When was the last time you were in a record store? I used to go once a week. It was fun for me to browse the new releases, peruse the bins of my favorite artists and plow through the used CD’s to see if there was anything that I wanted to pick up. Times change though and that behavior has become as anachronistic as the pocket watch (and yes – I still like pocket watches).

The record industry has experienced more dramatic change in the last 10 years than almost any other category of consumer product. Don’t be confused by that statement because the music industry is indeed a very well defined consumer product, but the advent of digital media has created an entire generation of people that may well never set foot into a record store. A record store, for millions upon millions of people, was an experience in and of itself. It was a way to spend time, and a way to discover new music. Just last week I was dropping off a friend of mine when I was reminded of a song I wanted him to hear. When I played it for him, he mentioned that he hadn’t yet purchased that deluxe edition box set where the song originates from because he didn’t know where to go anymore! The joke was that just when he could have and should have gone to a record store, he didn’t even know where one was anymore.

Numerous articles have been written about how the music industry is dying, but that’s not what I’m here to write about. I’m actually here to raise awareness of the fact that it’s potentially better than ever. From my perspective, the industry is now set to experience a rebirth and a reinvigoration because I feel as though the stars have aligned, but the industry part is getting cut out and the artists are the ones to make the money!

Just look at the way we consume music now. Yes, it’s primarily digital and that means lesser sound quality and a less tactile experience, but that also means the art can come through in many new ways. Artists have the ability to create more immersive cover art than ever before and that can lend value to the experience. Why not create a virtual album cover that is digital video and 3-D rendered while being web based? When you browse through iTunes or Amazon, the primary ways that music is being purchased these days, you can catch the attention of the user with intensely visual artwork if you know how to do it. When you release songs as teasers online, the accompanying assets (video, graphical, flash, audio) are easily shared and passed along by fans and users of all kinds. Remixes and expanded versions are eaten up by online users and interactivity with your art further increases viral consumption. You used to make a mix and pass it along to your friends, now you can pass it along directly and with the right tools you can keep track of that virality!

Music discovery has never been so easy as it is now, with sites and services like Pandora and Spotify. It’s easy to uncover new music, recommend music and “try out” new music before you buy. It’s also easy to unearth rarities and classics from long-forgotten artists allowing them to reach a new audience altogether. And don’t even forget the ease with which users create content, and in that content they can easily integrate music. That music becomes exposed to a new audience and new fans are born!

Your browser and social media are the best record store you could ever hope for. Your friends are the new record store clerks and these services are a revenue stream that never existed before. I know the margins may not be as high as they were, but as the famous words were once spoken, “fat, drunk and stupid is no way to go through life, son”. The labels were fat, drunk and stupid and now they’re paying the price, but the artists are in far more control now than they ever were before.

Which brings me to the last point. The artistry is resurrecting. Some of the new albums from The Gaslight Anthem, The National and Arcade Fire are making me feel good about music again. Even pop albums from Katy Perry and a host of other artists make me feel there is creativity back in the business. So jump back in, feet first, and see what you think. Support the artists who are doing it right and let’s watch what happens!

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Digital Influentials Volume 2, Issue 9: I Was So Hungry I Almost Ate This Column!

This issue of the Digital Influentials is dedicated to that one common denominator which unites us all! It’s the single, solitary, unifying factor that brings us all together, regardless of race, religion or appetite. It’s all about food!!

No matter what the state of the economy or the temperature or the state of international politics (which I can almost assuredly say is never a fun topic), people gotta eat! Surprisingly the food category is one that is generating lots of innovations in the digital space, so this issue we decided to highlight the various sites and services we discovered that either helped us save money or discover new ways to prep and eat food!

Foodies and average joe’s alike go to the web in droves to search for everything food related. From “what to make for dinner” to a “gourmet meal for 25 people” you can find just about everything. There are articles, videos, pictures (some refer to this as food porn), blogs and more that can help you turn on your cravings and satisfy your tastes. Grocery shopping is a booming category as more data shows that consumers go to the web to prep their grocery lists and research their meals for the week. Let’s dive into some of what we found on our wild and wonderful route through the week!

Looking for a recipe that will twist your ears back and set your nose on fire? Then look no further than YUMMLY ( Yummly is a next generation recipe search engine that catalogs more recipes than you could ever possibly imagine cooking, and people who know and love food created the site! They know the ingredients and they know what you mean to do with them, so check ‘em out!

When was the last time you were stuck in the store not knowing which product to buy? It was probably yesterday, but if AISLEBUYER ( has its way it’ll never happen again! Aisle Buyer allows consumers to scan barcodes while in the store and unlock product reviews and information right while they’re in the store. You can even go that extra mile and buy from your phone, without waiting in line! Sounds like science fiction, doesn’t it?

Want to watch videos of your favorite cooking personalities, but you don’t want to watch TV? Then check out IN YOUR KITCHEN ( It’s video after video of succulent morsels being prepared by inquisitive culinary professionals! These folks love what they do and they want to do it for you, so take your laptop into the kitchen and cook with the best!

Sometimes the best place for foodies online is where they can check out the best pictures of food, so when you’re finished perusing your food porn with Flickr and PhotoBucket, check out PINTEREST ( Pinterest is a social image-tagging site that allows users to “pin” a picture from any page of the web to their pinboard. Some of the most beautiful pages are the ones dedicated to food. Check out the pictures of cupcakes and pasta dishes and you’ll leave with your mouth watering and your eyes drooling (yes – I got that backwards on purpose).

Maybe you don’t have enough time to watch a show or peruse pictures? Then look in your inbox for TASTING TABLE ( Tasting Table is a free daily email dedicated to the best in dining, cooking and drinking. It’s focused on a few select areas, but chances are high that if you’re reading this email, you’re covered!

As for the Apple-related world of iPhones and iPads (because who better than a company named after a tasty, healthy snack), check out the EPICURIOUS app for recipes and cooking suggestions, or check out any of the shopping planner tools like GROCERY IQ, SHOPPER or GREEN GROCER. All of them will save you time, money, or both!

That’s it for this week. I have to close up the laptop and get me a snack. My tummy is grumbling something fierce! Have a great week!!