Tag Archives: big ideas

the one about the music industry and record stores

Several years ago as a marketing consultant, I had a few independent record stores as clients. And I’ve had several other bigger music industry clients that I’ve done marketing projects for over the years. So it was with great interest when Adam Coronado contacted me for a piece he was writing for the San Antonio Current about the troubles of local record / music stores.

I enjoyed doing the interview. So much so, that I asked him if I could expand on his story by posting much of our interview here. (Lesson to bloggers: Never waste content.)

The following interview is from October 2011:

ADAM: From your vantage point, what is hurting the classic record store? For our purposes, when I say record store, I’m talking about a place that sells physical copies of music, not necessarily limited to vinyl. Is illegal downloading the major culprit?

CHRIS: While illegal downloads were the first taste of the drug and are still used, I think the main culprit is consumer apathy.

It’s like people who say they support local food movements and mourn the loss of local farms but, in a time/money pinch, will pick up a tomato at Wal-Mart that was grown thousands of miles away. People “say” they support the local music store or local bookstore because their conscience (and society) dictates they say that. And in their heart, they may really mean it. But given the chance to either leave the house and go down to the store or sit on their couch and click an icon, their true colors show though.

While the illegal download is still going strong, I think the true culprit is the recently departed Mr. Jobs and his 99-cent siren. I have never seen an entire industry so upended in such a short amount of time. While record companies were suing little old ladies for downloads, iTunes snuck in and took over. It completely changed the paradigm for the actual retailers of music.

The short answer to this question is that what is hurting the classic record store is that society and culture evolved. You can’t fight that. The basic consumption of all media has changed and it’s changing consumer behavior across the spectrum. Just over the past 20 years .. a single generation.. things like travel agents, bookstores, newspapers, film/photo processing, record stores, and hundreds of other areas have drastically changed. The future is arriving much faster than it used to. Adapt or die.

ADAM: Why is the record store still important? Why should we continue to support them? What should a record store that fires on all cylinders look like? In other words, what does one that won’t close offer? Is it a pipe dream to consider the idea of them never becoming extinct?

CHRIS: There will always be a remnant. There are still farriers to shoe horses. Even with GPS, people still appreciate a beautiful map. People like handwritten notes. They still actually make chariots.

Record stores should adapt from a “sell” mentality to a “curator and guide” mentality. I love the signs I’ve seen in several libraries that says something to the effect of “Google may give you a thousand results, but a librarian will give you the one you need”

That’s why a record store is still important and why the public needs to support them. iTunes Genius and Pandora may suggest items based on what you say you already like. But a personal curator of music can introduce new things outside of your comfort zone.

ADAM: Tell me what you think of (as in pros and cons):
-Cloud music services. For example: Spotify, Rhapsody and Grooveshark.
CHRIS: The pro with Spotify is Facebook. When music becomes social, it can spread. The con is also Facebook. I don’t care what some of my friends are listening to .. some of it stinks.

-Digital music services. For example: iTunes, Amazon, etc.
CHRIS: Much of what I talked about above with consumer apathy. But I think its best attribute is the idea of the single song. I can’t tell you how much money I’ve wasted on an entire album just for one song. The problem with that is discovery of the deep cuts. I think it will hurt the artists most. I foresee a day when the “album” will no longer exists. Artists will only put out singles.

-Illegal downloading. For example: the original Napster, Soulseek,
CHRIS: Napster got people comfortable with the idea of digital tracks. I think it also sowed the seeds of destruction for lots of areas. The biggest victims were the artists. It’s a problem in general with today’s web. The idea of ownership and copyright of creative content is slipping (has slipped?) away from us. Kids know it’s wrong to take a candy bar out of store without paying. But they think nothing of copy-pasting text or right-clicking and grabbing a photo from the web.

While it’s been building for a while, the societal shift happened with the ruling on the Shepard Fairly Obama hope image. I don’t think we’ll ever go back. The trouble with “illegal” things on the web in general is the lagtime. By the time some legislator gets outraged enough to change laws, the thing they’re fixing went out of vogue 18 months ago. Case law and technology are not synched.

ADAM: Does the metaphysical meaning of music get altered when its packaging goes away?

CHRIS: Absolutely. Placing importance on the abstract is a difficult sell. When people can hold something in their hands or see it, there is an emotional and physiological connection. “I have something” But digital tracks are kind of like insurance. It’s something we buy, but can’t hold. I think that’s the Achilles Heel of digital music and the opportunity for record stores. Back to a previous question, when people can come in and the music curator lets you hold the album cover or flip through the liner notes, there’s more of a connection to the experience.

**Read Adam’s full story in the San Antonio Current here.

insurgents in your organization

Late last week, Alex Bogusky was elevated from CD of Crispin Porter + Bogusky to “Chief Creative Insurgent” of the ad agency’s parent company MDC Partners.


Since, by definition, an insurgent is a rebel who revolts against authority or acts contrary to the policies of their organization, Bogusky has his work cut out for him. He’s fighting against “The Man” while simultaneously being “The Man“. That’s tough work.

While I typically despise jargon-ish job titles that have no meaning, the big idea behind this insurgent idea is right on target.

Every organization should have an “insurgent” that provides a contrarian point-of-view for the group. There needs to be someone to stand up and challenge the “that’s the way we’ve always done it” mantra.

The trouble is that most businesses quickly get rid of…or chase off their insurgents. There’s less chaos in the organization when everyone colors inside the lines. There’s also less opportunity for new growth and the ability to react / evolve to a world and market that’s changing faster everyday.

And insurgents have a rough life. They’re usually hated by fellow members and leaders of the group.

Maybe this CP+B move is smart. Maybe having “The Man” be the insurgent is the answer. If anyone can pull it off, Bogusky can.

the one where I talk about international marketing

In late November, I was fortunate enough to be included in the third of three groups of American entrepreneurs invited to London by British Airways as a part of their Face of Opportunity conferences.

I’ve often said that it should be a requirement for all high school or college students to travel abroad. I was lucky enough to travel internationally at that point in my life and it helped to make sure I didn’t have a myopic worldview.

Today, I would think anyone in business could easily see the implications of the global economy. And I would hope that anyone who spends anytime online can see the global associations caused by the Internet.

But they really don’t.

Yes. Online connections can be made with anyone in the world. Some of my first heavy commenters when I began this blog back in 2005 were a woman in Canada and a guy in Russia. Even today, when I look at my Google Analytics traffic map or my Twitter followers, it blows me away that people from all over the world are reading my thoughts.

But just as barcamps, tweetups, conferences, and other real world meetups help cement relationships that we build online with fellow countrymen (and women), I think these real world meetings are even more important with the global community.

There’s the old saying that you really don’t understand someone until you’ve walked a mile in their shoes. People in your same country share your same cultural shoes. You really don’t understand a foreign culture until you’ve lived it for a few days.

And this is especially important in marketing. While participants in the groups that I spoke to at the British Airways event had many questions about doing business internationally — especially about logistics, one other common question was about international marketing. No matter the group you’re marketing to, it’s all about understanding the target group’s values, traditions, and worldviews. You cannot market to a culture that you have never personally experienced.

You also have to understand the current and long-term trends as they apply internationally to be successful in creating a global marketing strategy. One of the most striking quotes from the Face of Opportunity conference came from one of its best speakers, Digby, Lord Jones of Birmingham:

“We (the British) ruled the world in the 19th century, you Americans owned the 20th. This is Asia’s century, and how we all play that will define commercial success for the next 100 years.”

The worldview we have become accustomed to is changing. And when developing a global marketing strategy, you’ll have to throw away all the old ways of thinking and preconceived ideas. An incident during another presentation at the event highlighted this issue. A speaker used the example of the Chevy Nova not selling in Spanish speaking countries because the name supposedly translates into “it doesn’t go”. A member of the audience interrupted and called the story bogus as proven by Snopes and others:

Assuming that Spanish speakers would naturally see the word “nova” as equivalent to the phrase “no va” and think “Hey, this car doesn’t go!” is akin to assuming that English speakers would spurn a dinette set sold under the name Notable because nobody wants a dinette set that doesn’t include a table.

But I think most business people’s knowledge of international marketing only goes as far as the Chevy Nova and other false examples like baby food in Africa. If you’re planning a global marketing strategy, you need to start fresh with thinking approaches to marketing and not rely on old models as the world is a drastically different place than just a few years ago. Of course, as previously mentioned, the best thing you can do to help your marketing is go experience the country you’re planning to expand into.

But here’s the thing. Even if you don’t think you’re a global business, you are. If you’re online, you’re global and you need to think that way.

–Kent Bernhard, Jr. gives a much better a great play-by-play account of the British Airways Chicago-to-London Face of Opportunity events for Portfolio.
–Disclosure: British Airways provided my travel expenses for this trip.

the little things

People get excited about and take photos of little bottles of shampoo.

Studies show that tips increase when the diner is given an after-dinner mint and the tip increases even more when the mint is personally handed to the diner by the waitstaff.

Free wi-fi is appreciated (and sometimes abused.)

The little things that you think you can easily cut — are the same things that are making your whole thing tick.

marketing using fear

the_screamIn today’s economic climate, I see lots of companies abandoning sound marketing strategy and retreating to adopt a fear based marketing strategy. While fear can motivate, it also camouflages real underlying problems. If you want to survive these unsure times, you need to have a plan that will keep you afloat today and lets you emerge as a stronger business at the end of the tunnel.

First off, kneejerk short-term strategy is always a bad idea, both in grim times and in upbeat ones. When you’re implementing plans that reflect what’s going on today, you also need to look at what those plans mean for tomorrow. Ask yourself if the cost cutting changes you’re proposing would also make sense if it was a boom time. If they don’t, then you’re making a mistake.

Right now, lots of companies are pulling back on customer service options, cutting off communication paths to potential markets, and cutting back on the quality/quantity of the goods they sell. All bad ideas because they hurt long term relationships with the customer.

And it’s a slippery slope. Sure, eliminating one customer service rep, cutting the ad budget, or making a quarter pound hamburger with 3.5 ounces of meat saves a few bucks today. But when you think you’ve gotten away with it, you are tempted to go further and further. Eliminate an olive today and become a hated industry tomorrow.

I’ve heard some marketers say it’s a great time to make the most of the situation and use the fear that’s out there to the company’s advantage. I say becoming an advocate of today’s fears makes you look like an idiot tomorrow after the real or supposed danger has passed. Remember the companies who thought it was a really smart marketing move to capitalize on Y-2-K? They marketed their products using fear of the millennium bug in the same way that lots of companies are using fear of the recession today. Fear marketing hurts your long term brand equity.

I’m not saying that you should keep marketing as if nothing has happened. The zeitgeist has changed. People have adjusted their buying habits. The first thing you need to do is reevaluate the mindset of your customer and adjust your marketing plan accordingly. If you’re a necessity, then there may not need to be much adjustment. If you’re a luxury, then major modifications may be needed. Or maybe you need to really step back and figure out if your customers view you as a necessity or a luxury.

But as you adjust, remember this: A strategy of fear makes you look weak. It infers that you’re unsure. And just like animals, people can sense fear.

There is a huge opportunity for marketing right now. I’ve always said you should market against the grain. While everyone is cutting back on marketing, step yours up. It will be more impactful. And while everyone is running fearful and pessimistic marketing, be bold and market like you’re going to win.

may i have your attention

I had a conversation today where one of the participants said that most people consider advertising annoying.

I responded that people don’t think advertising is annoying. They think irrelevant advertising is annoying. But these days it’s hard to separate the two.

I’ve often used the example that advertising is like the biblical parable of the sower. Too many advertisers broadcast their message to eyes and ears that really don’t care. Some of it takes root and grows, but most of it is wasted. It’s better to narrowcast the message to an audience that you’ve cultivated. You’ve done the work to find people who might be interested in your offering and are more likely to pay attention to a message that is relevant to them.

Narrowcasting takes more effort on the marketing side, but the ROI is incredible. It’s much more effective and cheaper just to talk to the people who have need of you. Today’s targeted technology helps. But you can also do a good job narrowcasting using traditional media too.

This type of advertising is extremely useful to the recipient. When you deliver a marketing message to me that solves a problem that I have, then we both win.

When you do a generic message thrown out to the masses, then…
You’ve wasted your money.
You’ve wasted your time.
You’ve wasted my time.
You’ve wasted my attention.

While money and time are important, the real trouble here is the attention. People recover pretty quickly after a waste of time or money. (some even enjoy wasting time and money)

But after you’ve wasted my attention a few times, I’m just not going to pay attention to your message anymore. And that’s a death knell that you can’t recover from.

maslow’s business strategy

I had no blog posts last week. I also had no power. I had no heat. Each day, I fought windmills. Finding a place to keep the family warm. Cleaning up from where the trees crashed into the house and all over the yard. A nightly battle to keep my pipes from freezing — while during the day in an ironic twist — I was also trying to keep a deep freezer and fridge cold.

We’re OK now. The mess has been cleaned up. Appliances are sucking energy off the grid. Insurance people will visit. Life is returning to normal. While there was a part of me that enjoyed the challenge of keeping everything going in less than optimal circumstances, it occupied my entire life last week and other non-essential things got pushed down the list of priorities.

It’s something to keep in mind as we enter what appears to be either a real or perceived downturn in the economy.

You’ve probably heard of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs which basically gives a stairstep / pyramid order of what a human needs to exist and be productive. The base consists of your personal physiological needs and sense of safety. Until those basic needs are met, the higher level functions of creativity, problem solving, and higher level thinking aren’t that strong.

People say that a down economy is a great time to start a business. But, is it?

As people are just trying to keep their heads above water, they may not have what it takes to make a successful venture. Until they have that sense of security and safety, they’ll have a hard time finding the creativity and problem solving skills to start something new.

So just as I’m currently in the process of Y2K-equiping the house for the next time the power goes off — maybe you should start planning your marketing and business plan for a worst case scenario while you’re still snug and secure. The best time to build a lifeboat is before you get in the water.

maybe you should cancel your meeting

Here’s something that sounds weird coming from me: Most conferences and meetings are a complete waste of time/money/resources for both organizers and attendees.

I do several events a year as a marketing speaker. Since, no matter what business you’re in, everyone needs information on marketing — I get to go to meetings for a diverse range of groups and industries and be a third party fly on the wall. As I have worked at these meetings and conferences over the past several years, I have noticed a few things:

  1. Most attendees are not there for knowledge. They’re there to play golf, go to the casino, work on a tan, wine/dine, etc.
  2. If God did a session where He dispensed Perfect Knowledge, there would be at least two guys after the session talking about why His ideas won’t work in their business.
  3. During that break after God’s session? The conference organizers paid the hotel $15/person for coffee. Seems like this is where to cut the budget, not in the programming.
  4. Panel discussions and cock fighting are similar activities. Put several huge egos on a stage and see who can win with a moderator who doesn’t understand what the panelists are talking about.
  5. The amount that people corporate expense accounts pay for alcohol/food/etc increases exponentially during a conference.
  6. Instead of paying for good speakers who know the content and can be entertaining while they present it, let’s just have some executives get up and read in a monotone voice the slides that someone else prepared for them.
  7. There are hundreds of people who have mutual interests together at the meeting. Very few of them make connections with each other except for maybe a greasy business card exchange.
  8. 99.99% of presenters have no idea how/when to use a PowerPoint deck.
  9. Interesting presenters/speakers with new actionable ideas are given 10 minutes to speak. Presenters/speakers reading old information verbatim off their slides are usually given 2 hours.

There are lots more — but the biggest problem that I see over and over is this:
The entire concept behind the meeting is to get a bunch of people who think the same together and have them listen to people who also think that same way.

Mark is getting calls to come to meetings during a tough time for people in his industry and wonders why some of these gatherings aren’t just cancelled. And I agree with him. If your conference / corporate meeting will consist of the “same tired old subjects from the same tired old white guys”, then yes, you should cancel the meeting. And remember that some of those same “old subjects” include new things. If your meeting is just giving lip service to viral-marketing-facebook-web2.0-social-networking new media buzzwords, then re-write your agenda. This is not just current recession/depression/end-of-times thinking. I would say it’s an even bigger problem in boom times as more meetings attended means more missed opportunities.

Having said all this, I have been to many great meetings and conferences that were beneficial for the attendees — while they were at the conference. Even if you have a great experience at the meeting, the real danger time is the day you return to the office after the conference. The kitsch and tchotchkes that were picked up in the exhibit hall get a place on the desk, but what happens to the knowledge? Most often, it’s lost. People and companies that can implement ideas picked up at a conference or meeting are the ones that you see succeed.

I hope you don’t cancel your meeting. While everyone else is sitting on their hands waiting for the storm to pass over, I hope you use this time to put together a meeting that will cause inspiration and action — both at the meeting and when everyone gets home.

(that’s the end of the blog post — here’s the commercial)
If you’re looking for someone to present new ideas and shake up your organization’s thinking at a conference/meeting, you can find more info on how to bring me to speak to your group here.


So over the past two years gas prices rose about $2/gallon from what they were. Supply and demand? That can’t be causing it. The oil companies were sticking it to us. Let’s start a chain email to not buy gas on a certain day. That will show them. If gas prices change that dramatically in only two years, the outrage in the streets showed that something must be horribly wrong.

Meanwhile, gas prices have fallen back down the same $2/gallon in only about two months. Where’s the congressional inquiry this time?

In 2004, Bush won 50.7% of the popular vote. We were told this meant the country was divided. Last week, Obama won 52.6%. We’re being told this means the country is united.

Prior to big news the next day, the main news story on Sept 10, 2001 (and for many weeks before) was about an FBI intern who might have been murdered by a US congressman. Can you remember either of their names?

In the end, marketing is nothing more than telling a story to people who want to hear it. And even though they are not viewed as marketers, the media and government are some of the best marketers on the planet. While your marketing budget struggles to achieve proper reach and frequency, those who have constituencies or who own printing presses, transmitters, and online attention have a constant captive audience who don’t filter information the way they might from other sources.

An unfortunate side effect of the 24 hour news cycle is that there’s a lot of filler. And sometimes the filler becomes important just because there’s nothing else to take the place. All the really smart people I know keep their mouths shut 99% of the time. When they do speak, what they say carries some weight and you know it’s important. When you used to read a single newspaper and watch one of three nightly newscasts, the important stuff was distilled out for you. People are still consuming it that way, even though it’s no longer produced that way.

And throughout history, politicians and governments have steered the masses. Everyone knows this. But other than a few who are well-informed, everyone usually goes along with the propaganda.

Here’s the marketing lesson for you: People are irrational and will ignore facts, common sense, and their own memories if you can manipulate their worldview.

But how to manipulate that worldview? Tell them a story they want to believe.

I think this coffee is better because of how the company selects the beans. Every one knows that this computer OS is better than the other one because of the kinds of people who use it. Everyone is wearing these jeans. This car is superior because of how the company produces it.

With all the facts and common sense, we’d see that many current consumer decisions would be different. But marketing is not about the facts. It’s about the perception. And perception is reality.

old vs new

According to Emily Post, the classic correct formal introduction is along the lines of:

“Mrs. Jones, may I present Mr. Smith?

Of course, that devolved into either introducing oneself or something casual along the lines of:

“This is my friend, Chris.”

Today, the basic introduction goes along the lines of:

“omg facebook says we know each other … Wanna 2b friendz?”