Why Weird Al is a Marketing Genius

- - Adam Kidan
Mandatory Fun

This past week, the entire Internet has been abuzz about “Mandatory Fun”, the newest album by Weird Al Yankovic.

For over 30 years, since he first appeared on “The Dr. Demento Show”, Weird Al has garnered fans throughout all different age ranges with his goofy persona and clever parodies.  Nowadays, he is synonymous with the music parody genre, with such hits as “Eat It”, “Fat”, “White and Nerdy”, “Pretty Fly For a Rabbi” and “Amish Paradise”.  Last week, he released “Mandatory Fun”, his 14th studio album and, as he claims, his last.  In the 30+ years since Al started making music, the music industry has changed dramatically, with YouTube and social media saturating the market and making big record deals mostly irrelevant.  But by embracing the changes in the music industry, Al has not only been able to stay relevant, but become even more popular.  Why is this?  It’s because his approach to music isn’t exclusively about the music.  I recently came across an article discussing what it is that makes Al both a talented musician and a marketing genius.

Through talent, luck and incredible intuition, Al is able to select the songs that are part of (or about to become a part of) mainstream culture, and create funny versions of them that the audience will enjoy.  His parodies tackle regular and recurring subjects that will reach a wide audience, such as television, food, Star Wars and aluminum foil.  Such topics are widely recognized, allowing his music to reach a wide audience.  This is the first marketing rule that we can learn through this goofy musical comedian: success is dependent upon understanding your audience and creating content to suit their tastes.

Under the “fair use” provision of US copyright law, parody is perfectly legal, and Al technically doesn’t need permission in order to record his work.  However, as part of a personal rule, and in the spirit of creating good relationships with musicians, Al always makes it a point to seek personal permission from stars before he publishes his parodies.  This is another important marketing rule: learn to create strong relationships with key stakeholders and give them something of value.  When Al approaches an artist asking to parody their work, they consider it as a sign that they’ve “made it”.  By collaborating with these artists, Al has gotten both the attention and trust of these well-known people, meaning that they’ll be likely to help promote his parody.  Artists such as Chamillionaire, Nirvana and Michael Jackson, among many others, have spoken out in their approval of Al’s parodies.

A “major record deal” 20 years ago was essential for any artist looking to succeed.  Now, however, the advent of iPods and YouTube means that artists are seeing a decline in the money coming from their album sales.  For example, Aerosmith has now made more money from the game “Guitar Hero” than it ever did from any of its albums.  Al, as you would expect from any musician who has been able to stay relevant for three decades, was able to take these changes and utilize them.  The release of his newest album was anything but a cookie-cutter launch plan, however.  Through a number of features, interviews and posts on his personal Twitter, YouTube and Facebook accounts, Al was able to have a direct connection with his fans.  By putting these channels to work during the release of his album, and maintaining a strong Internet presence on each of them, he was able to get a lot of hype.  The week the album premiered, he released a new album every day, amping up the effort to drive curiosity and attention.

Even while posting these videos, Al didn’t rely on one exclusive medium, such as YouTube.  Instead, each video was a partnership with a different site.  The videos were showing up through Nerdist, CollegeHumor, FunnyOrDie, Yahoo Screen and many others.  By using these mediums, Al was able to reach the niche markets that each of these sites served, allowing his work to reach even more people, while also redirecting more traffic to each of the sites that hosted the videos.

A Good PR Team

- - Adam Kidan
Publizity

The TV show Publizity might satirize PR teams, but a good PR team is nothing to joke about.

Everybody’s got a story to tell, without a doubt.  And every business, whether it’s a food truck or a bustling restaurant chain, has got a story to tell as well.  When a company is ready to tell its story to the world, it’s essential to have an exceptional PR team.  However, what is it that makes a good PR team?  I recently came across an article that discusses what it is that makes a good PR team, listing five “secret ingredients” to an exceptional PR team.

In order to build a good PR team, you need the right people.  This requires finding the perfect mix of subject experts.  One example of this is the home improvement network Porch, which has an in-house team where each member has a different specific talent.  They encourage everybody to leverage their specialties, but also coordinate and collaborate with one another.  If you’re looking to hire a PR agency, there are some slightly different rules, but mostly it’s the same deal.  You should look for people with an expertise in your field, have strong relationships and understand your business.  They need to clearly understand your objectives and the value your products will deliver to customers.  You’ll also want to find out if they work with any of your competitors, to ensure that there isn’t any conflict of interest.

A company’s personal story is what gets people to take notice, like a tagline, motto or mission statement.  It’s what makes your business unique, personal and endearing.  Of course, the right outcome for any business should be to create great products for its customers, but how did they get there?  Curiosity is important, and the more questions a PR team is asking about your business, the more interesting the story they spin will be.  Leaders encourage their PR team to ask questions.  However, as company leaders and contributors discover answers to hard questions that spring up during the day-to-day journey of a business, they should funnel them to their PR team.  The answers will frequently reflect the true “heart and soul” of the company, and if you can capture those moments, then you’re on your way towards creating an authentic story that will help and establish an emotional connection with your customers.

A good PR team is one that is woven into the fabric of the business from the beginning, to ensure that their product and business story are aligned.  PR leads should be spending a good amount of time with the engineering, design and development leads of the business, since some of the best stories will come from those who are closest to the product.  Every company has hidden treasures that are PR gold, and they need to be mined.  By talking to different people in different positions, the PR team can find new ways to tell the company’s story.  If a PR team seeks out colorful personalities, then the results of those interactions can be the start for unlocking unique stories.

When and where you choose to share your story is one of the most important decisions a PR team can make.  There is no such thing as a “sure thing”, but you should never just be throwing darts at a board.  An effective PR team does their homework and spends a good amount of time understanding the industry and its influencers.  Who is it that will be interested in what you have to say?  What trends are they interested in?  What kinds of questions will they ask?  What types of medium do they use?  Knowing such facts will help you better understand your story.

In a lot of instances, the PR team will be the first ones to receive customer feedback.  Make sure that you pay attention to this feedback.  The PR team should even encourage it, as it provides insight that can then be used back in the office to ensure that products are utilizing a customer-centric lens.

 

A Salt & Battery

- - Adam Kidan

salt and batteryIn the United Kingdom, fish n chips is a greasy, crispy pub classic; indeed, it’s like most of British cuisine (this included) is made to cure hangovers.  However, while fish n chips shows up at every bar menu in the tri-state area, it’s not nearly as popular as American bar classics that show up just as frequently, such as such as nachos or buffalo wings, and for good reason: it’s frequently just greasy and bland.  While frying fish seems straightforward enough, it’s actually a delicate art that requires plenty of skill.  Any fool can batter a piece of cod and dip it into a fryer, but it takes true skill to make it exceptional.  Anybody who has enjoyed fish n chips in the UK knows this.

I recently came across an article about A Salt & Battery, New York City’s premier fish n chips joint, located in a trendy area in the West Village.  Its popularity has given fish n chips much-needed legitimacy in the eyes of New Yorkers, who had been jaded by the dish through their experience at “pubs” throughout the five boroughs.  For over 10 years now, A Salt & Battery are still churning out an exceptional product.  There have been a few changes, such as cod being replaced by pollock due to concerns about sustainability, but A Salt & Battery offers the most authentic chippy experience outside the British Isles.

The author of the article speaks about sole, a fish with a delicate texture and mild flavor.  While it doesn’t have as much meat as cod or pollock, it’s still good, and A Salt & Battery does a great job at battering and frying it.  The innards of the fish are soft, flaky and bursting with flavor.  The chips are also a perfect balance of chunky and golden.  The author insists that patrons shouldn’t douse them in ketchup, since vinegar and salt should give them all of the flavor that they need.  A Salt & Battery also does an exceptional shrimp n chips, cooked with tenderness without any rubberiness.

Outside of fish n chips, there are other delicious (and wonderfully unhealthy) dishes that A Salt & Battery offers to customers.  One of these is a deep-fried banger.  While possibly the worst thing out there for you, it’s a great food for anybody with a hangover.  They also offer mushy peas, which are made in-house and free of any sort of food dyes.

3 Likable Qualities

- - Adam Kidan

Business, like any other field, is ultimately more about personality than skill.  And indeed, businesspeople and entrepreneurs with better people skills have a competitive edge over others.  While these skills take more time, and are much more difficult to master, than simple technical and mechanical abilities, they’re well worth it.  To Likable Ladput it simply, everybody would rather work with people that they enjoy being around.  Therefore, if you’re likable, you can attract new clients while maintaining positive, long-term business relationships with not that much effort.  When clients are looking for somebody to hire, they base their search on if somebody is believable, likable and ultimately trustworthy.  No matter how competent you are, if somebody doesn’t like you, then they’ll be a lot less likely to work with you.  I recently came across an article that discusses the three most important traits in a likable business partner, which, according to the author, are empathy, reliability and integrity.

Empathy is your ability to relate to and understand somebody’s situation and perspective.  Indeed, strong and enduring relationships are mostly built on empathy.  This skill requires self-awareness, practice and experience.  Your personal and professional life’s ups and downs will influence both how and with whom you empathize.  Common experience is able to connect people through an instant bond and shared level of trust.  For instance, if you’ve experienced something like losing a job, starting a business, struggling financially or losing somebody you loved, then you can empathize with somebody who has experienced the same thing.  Of course, empathy doesn’t mean that you need to agree with others’ opinions, or try to please everybody.  Instead, you need to consider the feelings of your employees, partners and colleagues when you’re making decisions, which you can learn by reacting less, listening more and trying to put yourself in the other person’s position.

It’s important that a business is reliable, responsible and dependable.  When somebody needs help with something, they’re going to call up somebody that they can count on.  It’s about doing your job well in a timely and reasonable fashion.  Many of the most successful companies in the world have a reputation for being consistent.  If you’re in a foreign country and don’t speak the language, but see a Starbucks, you know that that cup of Starbucks will taste just the same there as it will back in the US.  Customers are attracted to this sense of security, since it provides a peace of mind for which most people are willing to pay a little extra.  It’s important to cultivate a reputation for reliability.  Deliver on a promise, and if you can’t fulfill your responsibilities, let your client know as soon as possible.  While an unavoidable mistake won’t necessarily scare away customers, misjudgment and deception definitely will.

Unfortunately, a lack of integrity has become commonplace in our culture.  Integrity is the highest level of professionalism.  It’s about doing what you know is right, no matter what, and standing up for what you believe in and having the courage to speak up.  Warren Buffett once said that when you look to hire people, it’s important that they have integrity, intelligence and energy.  While many people in the business world have intelligence and energy, not as many have integrity.  Those who do, however, are greatly rewarded.  Positive relationships, whether they’re personal or professional, require integrity and honesty.   While it might be difficult to behave your best on a bad day, it’s more than worth it.

Bitcoin ATMs Come to America

- - Adam Kidan
ROBOCOIN

A Robocoin kiosk.

People have been talking a lot about Bitcoin, the mysterious new digital currency that has started to make its presence felt around the world.  However, according to a recent article, Bitcoin will soon be coming to new high-tech kiosks, that allow people to buy the virtual coins and/or exchange them for cash.  According to Robocoin, the Las Vegas-based company that makes these machines, they should be coming to Seattle and Austin, Texas within the next month.

These are going to be the very first of these ATMs in the United States.  Robocoin has already installed such machines in Vancouver, and additional ones in Canada, Europe and Asia should be coming soon.  While Bitcoin is currently extremely popular amongst web-centric circles, it currently isn’t backed by any bank or government, and has no physical assets to prop up its value.  However, according to both Robocoin and Bitcoin itself, these machines are a step towards legitimizing Bitcoin to mainstream consumers.

Bitcoin has fluctuated in value since originally being created in 2009.  At the moment, the value of a single Bitcoin is about $636; in December, it was as high as $1,000 as investors began taking interest in the currency.  Businesses are starting to accept Bitcoin, although they remain low in number.  However, Bitcoin’s “anonymous” nature has led to its being used for shady purposes.  Bitcoin and other digital currencies have been used for underground websites that sell illegal merchandise.  Last week, the owners of the website Silk Road, where you can buy illegal drugs, announced that hackers had taken $2.7 million worth of Bitcoin from them.  Several other online Bitcoin exchanges were taken down after hackers started exploiting flaws to create transactions.

Robocoin wants their machines to help the currency effectively combat its negative reputation, even though this would alienate many Bitcoin users, who appreciate the currency’s anonymous nature.  To create an account with Robocoin, a user has to enter their phone number at a kiosk.  The machine then sends a code to that phone and, once the user enters the code, they scan the palm of their hand.  As the CEO explains, somebody’s phone is their user ID and their palm is their password.  The user then has to enter a government-issued ID, providing Robocoin a chance to verify the user’s name against government watch lists.  After that, the user takes a photo at the kiosk, which must be verified as a match with the picture on their ID card.  After their account has been verified, Robocoin users are free to buy Bitcoins at the kiosk.

The First Question Every Aspiring Business Owner Should Ask

- - Adam Kidan
Business Owner

Make sure you’re passionate about your business idea before opening your doors.

When starting a business from the ground up, there are seemingly innumerable things to consider.  Is there a demand for my product or service?  Is someone else already doing it?  If so, can I do it better?  At what point, if ever, will it become profitable?  These are just a few of the things any aspiring entrepreneur should think about before attempting to launch a business of any kind.  While these are all extremely important questions to ask, there is one you should ask yourself first.  Am I passionate about this?

Dave Lavinsky of Forbes.com recently wrote a piece on the subject, which makes some valuable points.  The example he uses is a hypothetical scenario in which you had two friends both trying to start a fitness company.  One has had personal experience struggling with weight loss and the other is simply doing it to cash in.  He argues that all things being equal, the friend with the personal connection and passion for the project will persevere.  This is an argument, that’s well, hard to argue with.

Starting a company takes a tremendous amount of time and dedication.  The early days of a new company are marked by long hours and heavily dosed with rejection, failure, and frustration.  Even though you may have an idea you think can make money, that doesn’t necessarily mean you are passionate enough about your project to dedicate the necessary time and effort to make it successful.

This is one of the reasons getting a business off the ground can be so difficult.  Not only do you need to come up with an idea that can make money, but it has to be something you are willing to spend almost every waking hour shepherding from your vision to reality.  In short, if you want to launch a business, start with what you’re passionate about.  Then, figure out how to make it profitable.  If you do it the other way around you’re likely to quit when the going gets tough.

The Modern Manager

- - Adam Kidan
Angry Boss

The stereotypical angry boss approach simply doesn’t work anymore.

The business world is changing. From workers preferring more flexibility to companies putting a greater emphasis on social media to companies implementing more and more information technologies, the business world is different from how it was ten years ago. As the world changes, the roles and responsibilities of people in business is changing.  Forbes recently shared an article about the qualities of a “modern manager.”

In particular, the things that made a manager effective fifty years ago, might not make him as effective today. Here are three qualities a good manager should have today.

1.The manager has to care more about their employees. As the country shifts toward a more service based economy, employee satisfaction now has a greater impact on the value of a company. Happy workers are exponentially better workers, especially when a skilled service is needed from them.

2.Managers need to understand technology enough, regarding how it affects their company and the competition. Being able to evolve and adapt to these technologies will allow them to stay ahead of the competition.

3.Instead of hiding information, managers should be willing to share. Because of the internet, losing workers can be quick and unexpected. When you share information about the company with your employees though, employees are more likely to feel like a part of the team. They will want to help out, and they will form an identity with the company, rather than go looking for the next best thing for themselves. Of course, not all information should be shared; but there should be a good amount of information sharing to make them feel like they belong.

The long and short is that a manager who might have been deemed effective 30 years ago, might not be able to thrive today unless they adapt to some of these changes.

Maria Sharapova Takes Product Placement to New Level

- - Adam Kidan
Adam Kidan on Sugarpova Name Change

Sharapova to Sugarpova. Shameless plug or brilliant publicity stunt?

In the crowded advertising landscape, businesses are constantly looking for ways to differentiate their products.  Using celebrity status has long been a staple of marketing and advertising, but tennis star, Maria Sharapova is taking that concept to the next level.  A recent USA Today Sports article discussed how Sharapova is attempting to combine product placement with her star status.

The stunt?  Sharapova is changing her name to “Sugarpova” for the two weeks of the U.S. Open in order to promote her line of candy with the same name.  Sharapova has reportedly asked the Florida Supreme Court to fast track her request in time for the Open.  There are questions about whether or not the name change would get approved by the court, nevermind whether or not the USTA would actually use the name in its official rosters and other materials.  The USA Today article also asks the question of whether not not TV coverage would use the new name since it would be only temporary.

These questions though, are somewhat irrelevant since it seems that regardless of approvals, Sharapova has already achieved her goal to a degree.  If news outlets like USA Today and others are covering the attempted name change, Sharapova is already getting a ton of free press for her line of gummy candy.  As they say, any press is good press.

Sharapova’s stunt calls to mind similar attempts at generating buzz around a product.  A recent trend is the annual list of “banned Super Bowl ads.”  Company’s often produce ads knowing they will not get approved to run during the telecast and then attempt to create viral intrigue by driving people to the “banned” ad.  It seems with all the hoops Sharapova would have to jump through in order to push through the name change, she (or her publicity team) may be trying something similar.

We’ll have to stay tuned to see if Maria Sugarpova ends up playing in the U.S. Open, but it’s already clear that she just aced the media in getting some buzz gratis.

Online Cable: The Changing Landscape of Television Delivery

- - Adam Kidan
Streaming services and traditional cable companies are both trying to adap to the changing content delivery landscape.

Streaming services and traditional cable companies are both trying to adapt to the changing content delivery landscape.

If you want to be a mover and shaker in the media business in 2013, the changing landscape of content delivery should something you watch closely.  With services like Netflix and Amazon Prime recently making a splash by attempting to transition to content creators as well as delivery systems, it’s no surprise that a familiar name is taking another step toward throwing its hat in the ring.

Ubiquitous tech giant, Google, has been in the news recently as they have been pitching a streaming television service similar to Netflix, but that would carry traditional cable channels to major media companies.  The proposal is lacking in details, but as this Wall Street Journal article reports, Google’s service could serve as an alternative to traditional cable providers.

These types of services have been an eventuality ever since internet speeds were able to handle HD video and there have been years of speculation on what something like this would actually look like.  One of the more glaring gaps in traditional cable service has been the lack of a la carte program.  Make no mistake.  This is not an accident.  Cable providers are leery of providing individual channels for fear that consumers would only be willing to pay for the ultra popular ones, leaving the niche offerings to wither.

Many people see online streaming services as a potential way to disrupt this system, but there are complications.  As the WSJ piece notes, providers who purchase larger packages usually get bulk rates, allowing them to pass the lower prices off on to the consumers.  If Google television service provided a la carte service, they may be forced to command a higher subscription rate.

Another issue not mentioned by the article is that many of the traditional cable providers have not been resting on their laurels when it comes to creating content.  Time Warner owns many of the cable channels it provides, and Comcast, the largest cable provider in the country, owns NBC Universal.  This could be a major stumbling block for services like Google’s as the may encounter media conglomerates who prefer to deliver their content through their own systems.

Startups: There’s More to Think About than Cash

- - Adam Kidan

Perhaps the biggest challenge to startups today is securing funding.  Funding for hiring, funding for office space, etc… Whatever it may be, new companies are always looking for cash to get the ball rolling.  So if you score big in funding, you’re a guaranteed success, right?

Wrong.  Hey all, it’s Adam Kidan again, and this time commenting on a really interesting article I just read on entrepreneur.com, about a company called Better Place.  The mission of Better Place, the article tells us, was to make electric cars both more affordable and more accessible worldwide.  How did they plan to do this?  By creating a network of battery stations around the world, where cars could swap out their used up batteries for more power.

Better Place was forced to close operations after raising $836 million in initial funding.

Better Place was forced to close operations after raising $836 million in initial funding 

Sounds like a great idea, right?  Investors thought so to0.  VC firms pounced on the idea, including investors like Morgan Stanley and General Electric.  In total, Better Place raised $836 million in initial funds upon their founding in 2007.

Fast-forward six years to May of 2013.  Better Place has now been forced to shut down its operations.  That’s right; a firm with over $800 million in its pocket is no longer in operation, according to the article.  Here’s a few reasons entrepreneur.com offers as to why, and some suggestions on how new entrepreneurs can learn from this mess.

First, make sure you’re immersed in your target market segment.  Distance can be tough on any business relationship… Especially when that distance is halfway around the world, as was the case with Better Place.  According to the article, Better Place was hoping to open these battery stations in Denmark, Australia, and Israel.  But Better Place’s headquarters were in Palo Alto, California.  Without an understanding of the area and culture of their target market, Better Place was unable to effectively implement their business plan.

Next, you want to make sure to build from the ground up, entrepreneur.com says.  Start small, and prove yourself by climbing a ladder of minor successes.  Better Place was of the mindset that their plan would attract millions of customers.  Had they operated on a smaller scale, however, they perhaps could have identified flaws in their service at a much lower cost, made adjustments, and continued to grow.

Lastly, the article advises not to lean back on past accomplishments.  Unlike Better Place, be sure to ground yourself in current data, current problems, and current solutions.  Past strategies may have worked in the past, but it’s important to re-evaluate and take things one situation at a time.

Don’t be scared though, entrepreneurs.  You can still have great success.  Take the advice mentioned in the article, do your research, and make sure you learn from the mistakes of companies like Better Place.