Friday, July 27, 2007
The first might be obvious - but you absolutely have to BELIEVE in your vision - sincere and honest passion for what you are doing is critical to success. Be willing to die on the field of battle to achieve your vision - but choose your battles wisely. The EXPERIENCE refers to the Guest/User/Fan experience - making sure that each and every interaction point is designed to delight, inspire and fulfill - never settling even on the smallest details. No product succeeds without a deep understanding of your AUDIENCE, and their needs, desires, actions and expectations should be in your crosshairs every step of the way. And finally, without the right TEAM, your vision is quite simply doomed to fail.
Sunday, July 22, 2007
First, I spent a lovely Saturday doing basically the same thing as a record-breaking 8.3 million other fans across the world - reading Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. I find J.K. Rowling inspiring - she is the creator of probably the best-known and certainly the best-loved character in contemporary fiction; she is also the author of her own escape from destitution, with no job and few prospects. She definitely has earned her place as one of the best. Now I can't help but mention that my FAVORITE part about the book was probably the conversations we started at all the tables around us when my husband and I pulled out our books and started reading in a swank Los Angeles restaurant Saturday night, but I digress...
Sunday then provided another 'best' look with an awe-inspiring performance from Savion Glover, in town to perform with the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra. Savion caught my attention as the basketball-toting tap phenom in 1989's "Tap" with my personal hero, Gregory Hines. I then had the pleasure of meeting him in the early 1990's as he was again performing alongside Gregory in the Tony-award winning "Jelly's Last Jam". I knew then that he was something special - but I don't think I possibly could have imagined that goofy kid would grow and evolve into one of the greatest hoofers (if not the greatest) that has ever lived.
But watching Savion this evening with a beautiful rainbow bursting into color across the late California summer sky, it got me thinking about Seth's book - and about finding your niche to truly be the 'BEST' at whatever it is you do. Like many of you, I am also on this journey - scraping my way and picking up these refreshing reminders of how much is really possible for those with the focus, talent and determination to get there. Do you have it?
Monday, July 16, 2007
Sunday, July 15, 2007
Log line: In the continuing saga of the Empire, follow the adventures of a simple farm boy - Luke Skywalker – and a collection of unlikely allies (Chewbacca, C-3PO, R2-D2, Ben Kenobi and Han Solo) as they attempt to rescue a beautiful princess from the evil Lord Vader. The ultimate battle between good and evil is about to be joined by new generation of heroes.
Log line: Han Solo was a rogue on the run. Princess Leia was a rebel leader trying to save her people from destruction. They had nothing in common and everything to lose. But together they would discover a love greater than all the powers of the galaxy.
Log line: Anakin Skywalker abandoned his greatest love for the powers of the dark side and set out to conquer the galaxy in the name of the Empire. But now, after his twisted dreams of dominion and hate have been fulfilled, he will find that the remnants of that love may spell his doom in the form of a naïve farm boy and his rag-tag band of allies.
Log line: After encountering a droid with a hidden message, young Luke Skywalker heads off to rescue the beautiful Princess Leia from certain death at the hands of the Empire and the evil Darth Vader. But first, he’ll have to leave the only home he’s ever known and learn to master the underlying force that controls us all.
Log line: Luke Skywalker and Han Solo, a pair of unlikely traveling companions, find themselves at odds when they both fall for the beautiful Princess Leia. But before either of them can get the girl, they must travel the galaxy, battle Storm Troopers, attack the fearsome Death Star, and defeat the evil Lord Vader. The ultimate battle between good and evil has never been so much fun!
Log line: George Lucas' spellbinding "Star Wars" sequel, the battle to save the galaxy from the evil Empire rages on. Join Luke Skywalker - the owner of a droid with a secret message who discovers the ancient secrets of the Jedi . . . secrets Luke will need when he encounters the Dark Side of the Force in the ultimate battle between good and evil.
Friday, July 13, 2007
But what I want to talk about is the craft that has been applied to the Monk show site. If you haven't been there, go and play - but for observers who want to learn something about truly bringing a brand to life, pay attention to the details that make this site a benchmark for extending the experience of character and story to life online:
- Sticky games stick to the story
Bringing a character to life outside of the actual show is extremely difficult - most character/show sites succeed in having cute names that fit the show and interaction that fits the theme... but that's as far as it goes. Monk's games are not only totally addictive - every teenie tiny detail ties in with the story and celebrates the quirks of the characters.
Take, for example, Monk's Mind Game. This is a wonderfully designed flash game that uses a combination of high-quality still photography and animations to bring to life Monk's phobias - like straightening pencils so that they are all perfectly parallel or cleaning smudge marks with disenfectant all before time runs out. These games are not only incredibly fun to play, but absolutely every interaction is based on reinforcing the core elements that fans connect with in the story.
- Purified promotions that pack a punch
Not only do the games bring the core themes to life, but this site also has a new contest to help fans clean up their own act offline - a total closet makeover. What better for a Monk fan? And they do a great job of encouraging viewership by asking two pretty detailed questions from the show that have to be answered to qualify to win (I thought I was pretty good at this, but I actually got one of the questions wrong - I'm so ashamed)
- Germ-free Community
Community features are a key component to keep Monkaholics involved in the show, and in addition to the standard message boards and a fan of the week feature - this season they've introduced the community-based 'Monk Across America' where fans upload photos of their Monk bobblehead in different locals across the country.
Brilliant - since in order to enter you have to HAVE a Monk bobblehead, which of course was featured in the primary series campaign and also in the season premiere. Now that's integration: community + brand + commerce.
It's tough to bring characters to life and make it look & feel this easy, but hat's off to USA for creating a benchmark for how a small-ish show site can get it done. yay!
Photo Credit: USANetwork Fan-Uploaded Photo
Tuesday, July 10, 2007
for those of you that are not familiar, our host explained that there are many types of 3D displays: stereoscopic 3D displays a separate image to each eye; autosteroscopic 3D displays do the same, but don't require any special eye wear or head tracking; and holographic 3D displays reproduce a light field which is identical to that which emanated from the original scene.
So today we were talking primarily about stereoscopic, or those 3D methods that provide a totally separate image for each eye. In production terms, that's like creating two totally separate features. Hmmmm... double the work, but does it have the potential for double the impact?
Well, award-winning Producer Chartlotte Huggins kicked off our panel with an in-depth discussion of the elements she looks for in a script that can really come to life in a 3D format. And I have to say that she really wowed the audience with a 3 min. clip from her upcoming Animated Feature "Fly Me to the Moon".
Forgeting that it's 3D for a moment, I thought that this clip was one of the most beautifully crafted and enjoyable CGI animation sequences I've seen recently. The stylized fly characters were absolutely joyful. Adding in the field depth of a photorealistic fantasy space setting and the extension beyond the plane with the characters drifting in space... wow. I hate to sound so dang positive through this whole thing, but Holy Buckets! I call this one 'plug-worthy', so look for it at your local IMAX theater. (Photo Credit: nWave)
Next up on the agenda was Jeff Kleiser - and if you don't know the name, you definitely know his work in visual effects that spans the decades from "Tron" to "X-Men United" and "Fantastic Four".
Jeff took us through some gorgeous concept art that was used for the Eddy award-winning Spiderman attraction at Universal in Orlando (really wonderful stuff, ALMOST worth visiting Florida for), and showed us part of the "Santa Lights Up New York" for "The Radio City Christmas Spectacular" project. The "Santa" project story was particularly interesting as they actually revisited it a few years after the original cut to freshen up everyone's favorite fat man with the latest CGI techniques... but I digress.
***TANGENT ALERT: To digress even farther, I just checked out Jeff's bio on IMDb Pro to find out that his brother Randal Kleiser is a pretty amazing Director as well. It makes me giddy as a schoolgirl to know that I was sitting three seats away from the Director of Grease! WHOPBODDALOOBOP-A-WHOP-BAMB-BOOM!!!***
Anyway, Jeff then then told us a bit about a project that his company Kleiser/Walczak produced for Bush Gardens based on the very simple concept provided to them... "Irish". Now known as "Corkscrew Hill", which takes audiences on a 3-D adventure back in time to experience the mythical creatures of 18th Century Ireland.
I wasn't as in love with the creative direction of this as with the previously discussed "Fly" feature - but only in terms of style. From a conceptual point of view, this is a story brilliantly written specifically to make the most of 3D. The audience actually gets to be a part of the story - watching the action from within a 'box' found by two small boys. It's a fantastic way to deal with the limitations of the 3D 'window' created by the film screen - and at one point a troll seems to actually pluck an audience member out of the box and try to eat him!! Very, very cool!
Unfortunately, at this point the evening was running a bit behind schedule and I had to depart due to a previous engagement... but my hat is off to Jeff and Charlotte, and my thanks goes out to Joe Russo from the Guild for providing this great session!
I'm glad to see 3D making a comeback and taking such enormous strides in quality. I did enjoy the recent release of "Monster House" in 3D, and also the Disney 3D versions of "Chicken Little" and "Meet the Robinsons". Although "Chicken" wasn't a story that lended itself to 3D as well as "Monster" or MTR. But if the effects that we saw this week are any indication, we will be seeing enormous strides in quality in this next gen of 3D cinema and park attractions. HOORAY!
NOTE: BTW, it should be clear to you that I am NOT an expert on either animation or 3D. But I'm always learning, and I'm definitely an afficionado! Please feel free to comment or correct!
Sunday, July 08, 2007
For those of you who haven't heard of it, I'd like to introduce you to Bluefly.com. Bluefly is a commerce site selling top designer goodies like Marc Jacobs, Prada and Vera Wang at deep, deep discounts.
Today I want to talk about STICKY SWEEPSTAKES. Not really a sweeps gal, I have been surprised to find myself as an addict of the Bluefly sweepstakes. They run these 3 or 4 times a year, and the build of these sweeps is simply one of the best examples of great usability you'll find on the web. Check it out for yourself, but here are a few of the key practices that they employ that absolutely every ecommerce manager should know and model:
- Give 'em what they really want
The first thing that they do really well is tap into what their core users really, really want - free high-end merchandise. Take the current sweeps running today, every day someone wins a $1000 shopping spree on the site - with the deep discounts that's enough for a fabu Marc Jacobs bag or pair of Jimmy Choos. Yipee!
- Make it fun
After logging in, the sweepstakes is always based around a totally fun and easy flash mini-game. The current one is on a fishing model, but past games have included the balloon toss, throwing darts, and fishing for Versaci in a jam-packed treasure trunk. They make it fun and anyone can play.
- Reward engagement
In addition to the grand prize, they also always offer secondary prizes that keep you feeling like the BIG win is just around the corner. For example, 10% discounts on shopping, Bonus Plays, and other digital goodies that provide a feeling of accomplishment.
- Encourage world of mouth
And for those shoppers who just can't wait another day to enter, you get an extra play for 'telling a friend'. A great way to make it viral and expand your audience.
- Once you've got 'em, keep 'em
After you've played for the day, you then get dropped into a 'Thanks for Playing' page. But it doesn't just thank you, it leads you to 'Shop Now' with photos and links to the hottest products. If you can keep them in the site, they're more likely to spend. Isn't that why you invested in a sweepstakes in the first place?
- If you lose 'em, invite them back
Next, they offer a feature that will send you emails to remind you when to play -but ONLY if you ask for it. The wording of the Opt-in is brilliant: "YES! I GOTTA WIN THIS! Send me an e-mail every day!" It's a great way to drive you back to the site. And if they don't hear from you for a while, they will send you an email invitation to come back to the site for more - often with an additional 10% off code to keep make it hard to ignore.
- And finally - you don't always have to SELL to sell
It's all about the positioning. Bluefly really understands their audience and positions their site and sweeps as 'we're just like you'. Take their tagline... "the ultimate hook-up for the fashion obsessed". It's the perfect spin. This is reinforced with their 'fun' take on sweeps, and also an awesome blog with an inside look at the fashion world. Positioning your brand wrong can be the kiss of death, but when you do it right - like I believe Bluefly does - it can make the entire experience fun and exciting.
You don't have to be into fashion to appreciate this experience. How could you implement these practices in your own promotional efforts?
Both have to do with NOT wanting to go back to school. Don't get me wrong - I loved school, it was fun, the people were great, and I learned some great stuff. But I've never wanted to go back in a serious way.
Then last year I discovered a service that's really amazing: The Great Courses. See, in addition to Business, in my youth I also studied Classical History. And although this knowledge isn't something I use on a daily basis, I still like to keep my hand in. And I've been taking courses via - yes, again - my trusty iPod. History, Science, Literature, Mathmatics and more - they can be downloaded via MP3 and suddenly I'm learning from the Ivy League, Standford, Georgetown and other top Professors the world has to offer. A great way to pass the drive to San Diego or time on the treadmill!
The other is much more well-known, and is one of my favorite late night hobbies - training on Lynda.com. Lynda is the guru behind the popular FlashForward conference, and has some of the best instructors and video training on the planet. I am currently working through Adobe After Effects CS3 Professional - and am having a blast. If you want to learn Flash, Photoshop, Illustrator, and dozens of other cool software skills this is a great place to start.
Again, both of these services allow you to sample a course for free so that if you DON'T think it's cool or fits your lifestyle, then you don't lose anything trying something new.
So what AM I reading? Well, like I said - just the stuff that I find entertaining. A few of the recent titles for me have included:
- Bad Luck and Trouble by Lee Child
- The President's Assassin by Brian Haig
- Simple Genius by David Baldacci
- Hades by Russell Andrews
- The Overlook by Michael Connelly
- Obsession by Jonathan Kellerman
And like everyone else, I've been re-reading the Harry Potter novels looking forward to Book 7.
Saturday, July 07, 2007
Okay, let me roll back the clock one or two (or twenty) years. The core of everything I loved to do is the core of what kids are up to these days. We used to dance like idiots, sing along to music at the top of our lungs even when in the most inappropriate places, fight for things we thought were important -- I can't even get my head around how unbearable I would have been if the Internet had been around and the world was my platform. (yipe!)
But mostly, the young naked spirit that was 'me' was just like these kids today:
I was amazing! I was talented! I had the greatest friends on the planet! And if someone would just give me a chance, I would take over the world!
This same wonderful feeling is what I get when I watch kids like these online (or the flip side... "I'm trapped. I hate my life. My friends are all big fat jerks").
People ask me all the time for the inside track, or the really good answers to "How do we tap into kids and capture the teen market?" And today's special, just for YOU, because you absolutely deserve to know... I'm going to tell you what I tell them:
- Think like a teen, but don't forget that you aren't one anymore
- Remember that inexperience and a lack of intelligence are NOT the same thing
- Know what's important to your audience
- And if you don't know, Ask (research, research, research)
- Keep up with the trends
- But DON'T try to follow the trends unless you can keep up (the Helio is SO 30 seconds ago)
Most of all, don't try to market them, try to connect. Teens absolutely hate to be marketed to. Find ways to integrate your product or service into what they are already doing in a way that is valuable and obvious.
Okay - so right about now you're saying... "What? You're only going to state the OBVIOUS?" And this is the point where I say "YES". Yes, connecting with kids & teens online is hard - but only because we are too experienced, too set in our ways or too convinced that we alone know what really 'sells'.
I say shake it up! Tap into your inner teen! Do a REMIX on your own assumptions and expectations, and spend some time talking with your target audience in relation to your product. The answers will reveal themselves. All you have to do is listen.
Friday, July 06, 2007
So this passion of mine is what makes one of my latest past times so unusual. Over the course of my career I've found that I prefer to spend my reading time on entertainment versus business learning. So I've been reading less and less from the great leaders of our time, and more silly fiction that feeds my soul but not necessarily my career. This has been troubling me over the last year, and I've been feeling that I'm missing out on things I really NEED to know to keep improving from a professional perspective.
Last month I discovered Soundview. This is a subscription-based service that provides book summaries of the best business titles via pdf, CD and scripted audio summaries and reviews. Their choices are pretty extensive, and the 'audio' option is what I've really fallen in love with. Each month I can download audio summaries to my iPod and listen to the latest management thinking in the car, on a plane, or in the background when working in my office on other things.
My only complaint is that this service is pretty much only focused executive business learning and leadership. One of my favorite topics - but wouldn't it be great to have this same type of thing for branding and technology titles? Ooooh - even better yet, how cool would it be to have audio summaries with training titles such as those on Lynda.com? (another best in class service)
Now I'm not affiliated with Soundview in any way - I'm just a schmuck who had been looking at their advertisements in SkyMall for years and finally decided to check them out. But I've really found that being able to listen to the key points of a BUNCH of different books has truly helped me keep my mind sharp... and to be honest, I don't even read the printed versions that they provide. Although a couple of the summaries I found so awesome that they drove my decision to purchase a title I wouldn't have otherwise been exposed to. And for the ones that I don't agree with, I don't have that annoyance that I wasted the money on the full book.
Check it out, you can try out at least 1 free summary. Then let me know if YOU fall in love or love to hate.
Thursday, July 05, 2007
I’ve done quite a bit of research over the course of my career, both as a facilitator and/or ‘manager’ of the research and also as a Product or Marketing Manager looking to find answers. I’m not saying I’m an ‘expert’ – I know way too many talented professionals to put myself in their class – but from a creative point of view, let’s just say that I’ve put enough time in the field to have some lessons to share.
So if you plan to be behind the mirrored glass anytime soon, here are the 8 key rules you MUST follow if you want to get to the naked truth.
#1 Hire the best
Most of us don’t have unlimited funds for research. You might WANT to do five geographically-desirable cities with full rotations of multi-day sessions, but you’ll be lucky if your budget covers a single day in a city you can drive to. So hire the absolute BEST. Schedule around them, accommodate their needs, do whatever you have to do – but make sure you don’t skimp on the talent that will help you get the information you need and work around your limitations.
#2 Talk to the right people
Product Managers generally work with research experts to set up their research and therefore ‘trust the expert’ to complete the screening process on their behalf. The “screener” is the script that the research expert will use to choose who will be in the room to tell you what they think in regards to your product or service. Inevitably the ‘expert’ doesn’t have anywhere near the level of understanding of the target audience as the product guru, which can result in full groups or sessions that are a complete and total waste of time.
A colleague of mine had a great example of rule #2 with a session this week featuring an online product that will use tons of video and 3D animation. Because the screener didn’t weed out dial-up users (are those really still out there?), one entire hour was wasted on a Mom who not only wouldn’t be able to experience the product – but who was seriously disgruntled and used the time to vent her frustrations about high-bandwidth content. In a 12 hour/10 group schedule, that was 10% of his budget out the window.
You know your audience and what you need to learn – make sure that EVERY cent counts. Now if you follow #1 and hire the best, then you should also TRUST the best and use their expertise. But don’t do it blindly – you need to contribute too. And the screener is the critical step that ensures that when the day comes, you’ve got the right people in the room to give you the answers you need.
#3 Deliver your materials as early as possible, and then iterate
It is inevitable that Product Managers and Creative Directors will be tweaking concepts or prototypes up to the absolute last second to be able to test as ‘real’ a product as possible. This irrefutable fact often results in the facilitator not seeing the product until the day before or the day of the research.
Why is this bad? Because you want your facilitator to be totally, completely comfortable with your product so that they are focused on the people in the room. If you are sharing your demos iteratively leading up to the sessions, they will be much more at ease and can focus totally on asking the RIGHT questions at the RIGHT time – and will be much more likely to get to the core of why people are responding to (or more importantly, NOT responding to) your materials.
#4 Show everything in context
This is not rocket science, but if you are testing a website, then make sure to show your pages within a web browser. If it is an email, set up a fake email account for pick up or at the very least show screenshots or boards that place your email in the most popular email hosts. If your concept is related to a movie, a TV or an established product – then start off by showing a clip or demo of the current product. This quickly gets the respondent thinking in terms of how they ‘feel’ when interacting in a certain way or with a particular property and therefore helps them to provide much truer answers to your questions. Provide the expected context so that the focus is on the message, design or feeling you are trying to convey.
#5 Preparation is everything
One of the biggest mistakes that I see Product Managers make is in not putting together the materials in a way that the facilitator can manage them. This is especially true with anything that has to do with new media. Keep in mind that most facilitators are NOT web experts or email marketers or film producers or product designers. Their core strength is generally in making strangers feel comfortable, connecting with them, and asking great questions that get to the heart of a matter. Let them do that – by making sure that the flow of materials and what they have to do to keep it moving is 100% idiot proof.
#6 Shut up and listen
The best groups are those that have great big servings of positive AND negative discussions. In fact, the things that people DON’T like about your creative are generally much more useful than the things they do like. After all – wouldn’t you rather know before you put your product out in the marketplace? Listen to absolutely everything your respondents have to say, even if they don’t give the answers you were hoping for.
#7 Schedule breaks
Another key to success is to schedule a good break or two throughout the day. A lot of the time we are so eager to get as many sessions in as possible that we put no more than :15 min breaks in between each session in a schedule that rolls straight through from beginning to end. This is a mistake!
Not only is it highly likely that you will run behind your planned schedule due to forces beyond your control (late respondees, technical issues, whatever), but some groups might just take longer. If you don’t have a good medium or long break, your later sessions will suffer as your facilitator gets tired. The reason a tired facilitator is so bad is not that you’ll miss out on the obvious questions from your script, if you hired the best this won’t be an issue. It’s the opportunity cost of missing that critical follow-up question that digs deeper or keeps people on track and off of extended tangents.
#8 Be a positive force
There is no rule more important than this one – if you want peak performance from your facilitator, then be a positive force. If you feel the facilitator is leading the respondents, missing key questions or misrepresenting the product – DON’T tell them everything they are doing wrong in between sessions or when they come out for notes, even if it's a disaster. Beating up your facilitator typically results in just getting them flustered – or worse – focusing only on exactly what you told them and then messing up the things they were already doing right.
Focus on the positive, tell them what a great job they are doing, and give a maximum of two notes at a time. If you did a good job of preparing for the big day you won't need more than small nudges to provide direction. Treat your facilitators not only with respect, but also provide support and encouragement throughout and they will work harder to do the best job they can to get you results.
Tuesday, July 03, 2007
Our friends over at VFXWorld posted a fantastic interview recently about the amazing creative accomplishments of Weta Digital for a liquid, reflective shine for Silver Surfer in the new Fantastic 4 sequel. We went to see the movie today and have to agree, the Surfer in particular represents some of the best effects work we've seen to date. And according to Vfx supervisor Eric Saindon, the biggest challenge was beating the clock - having only from the end of January this year to the end of April to complete around 300 shots. Unreal!!
Check out the article - it's an extraordinary peek behind the scenes, and even though I'm afraid you have to register to read it... if you're into effects (like I am), it's worth it.
Sunday, July 01, 2007
So I’ve been struggling for a while around blogging and how to focus my thoughts. I’ve been thinking through those things that I care about the most – what really sparks my passion. I’ve been going back and forth between new media, movies, tv, animation, branding… those things that get me excited from both a personal and professional perspective. See, I’m both a professional working in the entertainment & new media industries, AND a total media junkie who wants to talk about popular culture and the stuff that I love (and hate).
What has become clear to me is that the naked core of what I care about is the audience.
When I was in college (about a billion years ago), I took a graduate class in media statistics. We learned to use massive computers to perform statistical analysis around consumer engagement with movie and tv marketing. I LOVED it. Cause and effect. We do this, you do that. Brilliant! Then, I got interested in the 'why'. WHY did you do that? And that was when I learned about focus testing doing research with college students to find out what made them respond or not respond to advertising messages in the college paper (I was a Sales Account Exec at the time). And I thought - WOW - if you ask people what they think, they will actually tell you! Amazing!
That was the beginning of the fall for me – really thinking about behavior. The difference between what people think they will do, what they say they will do, and what they ACTUALLY do. Some people might think it an odd combination that I am both a member of the Producer’s Guild and also the Web Analytics Association, but to me it just makes sense. I’ve just gotta KNOW what makes consumers have to have the next big thing, why audiences laugh or cry, how marketers succeed or fail at reaching them, and how Producers create the experiences that keep ‘em coming back for more.
So welcome to Naked Insight. It’s naked cuz I’m stripping to the core of what audiences love and hate, and what companies are doing to reach them. I hope you like it and keep coming back for more. J