February 14, 2009

Brand Memory, Addendum

Posted in Web tagged , , , , , , at 7:00 pm by Andrew McMillen

Brand marketing lesson: it’s just as quick and easy to disappoint your fans as it is to satisfy them.

In this case, it’s as quick and easy as an errant article appearing at the top of a news feed.

My previous post discussing RHUM‘s great personal touch is now overshadowed by the first sentence I read upon loading their site today.

Screenshot of RHUM homepage, 14 Feb 2009 (click to enlarge)

Screenshot of RHUM homepage, 14 Feb 2009 (click to enlarge)

See it?

Headline: “Girls I’ve Had Sex With“.

Great! If I were visiting with Penthouse Confessions in mind, or Tucker Max, or the zillion other smut repositories online.

Awful! If I were visiting the site for some well-written critique on Australian youth culture. You know, music, the arts, film.

That’s why I visited the site. For good, relevant content. Not for the infantile scrawl of some punk who wants to share his sexcapades under a pseudonym.

RHUM is an Australian web publication targeting creative youths. Their mission statement:

RHUM – Rabbit Hole Urban Media – is a non for profit arts-media organisation. RHUM works together with musicians, writers, visual artists and all sorts of other like-minded creatives as well as events, gigs and festivals Australia wide; connecting the peeps with all that is worth a read, ramble and a bit of showing off too.

RHUM, ball = dropped.

Sure, there’s a place for that kind of content within the guidelines stated above (“..a bit of showing off too”).

But – front page?

First item?

Is this the kind of image you want to portray?

Advertisements

January 27, 2009

Design By Humans’ Music Series: Fleetwood Mac

Posted in Music tagged , , , , , , , , , , at 11:37 pm by Andrew McMillen

User-generated shirt design website Design By Humans have partnered with Fleetwood Mac for an upcoming world tour:

Taking a page out of rock n’ roll’s history book of music icons, DBH will be partnering with bands that span the spectrum from the great classics of all time to the hottest emerging musical artists today. Packed with tons of cool prizes and a chance for worldwide recognition, the DBH Music Series brings a whole new level to the world of t-shirt design contests.

First prize: $1500 cash, $200 DBH store credit, and 2 backstage passes to a Fleetwood Mac concert with an opportunity to meet the band.

Nevermind that Fleetwood Mac aren’t cool anymore – this is a great example of an industry dinosaur adapting to the community-based nature of the web. Hot Chip ran a similar contest in conjunction with Threadless, though the winning shirt was only available online.

No tandem announcement on the band’s website, which is a missed opportunity. While DBH would have a sizeable database, how many of those are fans of the ‘Mac? Though, maybe they’re not necessarily targeting fans of the band: the chance for your design to appear behind the merch desk of a hugely popular band’s world tour is a unique proposition.

But it shouldn’t be.

Artists across the world should buy into the opportunity to foster community participation in their merchandising decisions. Advertise, outsource talent, and encourage your fanbase to vote and comment on the result.

Unhappy with the designs presented by local artists? Advertise online describing the look you’re after, and see what comes back. A fan on the other side of the world might have kick-ass shirt ideas and the talent to deliver. So why bother with the same tired plain-colour-with-chest-logo formula that many bands still follow?

Interesting, non-standard shirt designs attract attention. I wear Threadless and, more recently, DBH designs because they’re far more remarkable than the marginally modified crap that popular Australian labels churn out each season. They stand out, so you get noticed. Which is great, if that’s your goal.

Furthermore, I know that the design I’m wearing was made by a person who was rewarded for their efforts. That’s how Threadless and DBH work: you submit a design, and if it gets printed, you get paid in cash and store credit. And your name (or pseudonym) is attributed to your work, which appears online and on the neck of the shirt.

All of these factors add to the stickiness of user-generated clothing designs. They’re worth sharing, which adds to your brand equity. People talk about your brand. The successful designers are happy because they’re rewarded for their talents. They show their friends and family. They promote their work on their personal websites.

All of these factors create a community – a tribe – around your brand. A group who’re happy to champion your cause and improve the quality of the result. If that’s not your goal as a company in 2009, it should be: maximise returns by engaging with and listening to your userbase.

I’m glad that Design By Humans are working with popular musicians to form tribes around their merchandising, which is an area of fiscal pertinence in an era of diminishing returns on recorded work. For all but the biggest bands, it’s no longer a matter of selling albums: instead, the goal is to maximise the amount of ears that hear your work in order to encourage tour attendance.

January 21, 2009

Content Analysis: National Australia Bank’s Songwriting Competition

Posted in Music tagged , , , , , at 12:02 am by Andrew McMillen

National Australia Bank (NAB) debuted a songwriting competition in April 2008 to commemorate 150 years’ banking service. In their words, it’s “initiative designed to inspire, unearth, and educate Australia’s next generation of great song writer”.

Awesome! Let’s examine their execution.

Their method of presentation is out-dated, very web 1.0, if you will. The competition barriers presented are very limiting, especially for the lyrics section – “write lyrics to one of these three songs”. No streaming video; very little interaction between those who wish to enter and what the company is trying to represent.

It’s all very static. “This is the world we’ve defined, these are the rules, play within them or get lost.”

Hilariously, they ask for all entries to be mailed as a playable audio CD to a physical address. How very 90s. NAB are a bank with access to huge resources. Why couldn’t they source a vendor to build a MP3 uploader? Or commission a YouTube channel (or equivalent) solely for entrants to submit their songs in video form? This would allow them to see the songs being played live and to judge the marketability of each entrant.

But now I’m thinking outside of the confines of the competition, which exists primarily to find and promote songwriting talent. Not whether or not the artist is attractive or performs well in front of a camera.

The site is very vague with regard to the competition terms.

Get your song recorded in a major recording studio.” Which one, with which producer?

Win the opportunity to have the song performed live at a major Melbourne music event, late 2008.” Which one?

These are important questions that any serious entrant would want answered before they devote their time to the project. Why would a writer of a plaintive, introspective acoustic guitar-accompanied piece want to record with, for example, an electronic producer? Similarly, wouldn’t the same performer be discouraged from entering if NAB stated that the song would only be played between bands at a dance music festival?

It’s this ambiguity that robs the competition of a clear goal. It’s as if it were defined from a high-level, upper management perspective, and the marketing department couldn’t organise the specifics in time for the project launch. And then the content wasn’t updated once these decisions were made.

This is a real flaw; it makes the whole exercise appear as a self-serving, NAB-centric exercise instead of focussing on the artistic talents that they’re attempting to promote.

Community and sharing are what’s missing. Having the competition judged by four music industry ‘experts’ (plus a bank manager – wtf?) is fine to an extent, but very old-school thinking. And very web 1.0. Music is evolving online at a far greater rate than most labels can adapt. Hence CD sales diving, the increased popularity of digital downloads, the massive exposure gained by bands whose fanbases existed online before any label had heard of them (Arctic Monkeys, Black Kids, Eddy Current Suppression Ring, you know)…

So for them to seal off the competition so tightly is a major missed opportunity. No interactivity, no user rating, no user commenting.

The primary competition could still exist in this format, but NAB could also have an off-shoot for ‘fan’s choice’ or ‘blogger’s choice’, wherein Australian music bloggers are sourced to critique entrants’ work.

The Judging Panel page is also very static. Okay, so this Ian James guy has “credible and intimate knowledge of the Australian music business that is second to none” – link me to more of his work. I want to read his blog. He doesn’t have one? Then why is he on the panel?

There was a time and a place for these reputable, experienced figures within the Australian music industry. But if they’re not actively engaging with the Australian music community via the internet – blogging, starting discussions with fans, sharing their thoughts on what’s occurring within such a crucial entertainment industry – then they are not relevant. This point is hugely important to me: I’m easily irritated by high-level theoretical bullshit when it comes to music.

The only relevant dude on the panel is Paul Anthony, CEO of Rumblefish, a company aimed at “bringing a creative, financial and legal perspective to any licensing project with music from a pre-cleared catalog of handpicked artists”.

Interesting concept, and it seems to be succeeding. It certainly demands further study. Here’s an article from May 2005 profiling Anthony and Rumblefish. An excerpt:

Then Anthony hooked up with Neal Stewart, brand manager for Pabst Brewing’s resurgent Pabst Blue Ribbon beer, for what became the first test of Anthony’s bigger idea of music identity. Because PBR wanted to maintain a kind of grass-roots image — and also because its marketing budget was lean — the brand wanted to be associated not with hit songs but with up-and-coming local bands that connected with its product. Rumblefish researched the music scenes in two markets, Kansas City and Cleveland, identified a handful of appropriate bands, and executed a quasi-underground program that involved helping those artists cut singles (in PBR-branded packaging) that they could sell or give away as promotions. That way PBR was positioned as a supporter of local indie music — a part of the scene rather than just some outsider trying to exploit it.

If I were serious about establishing NAB as a committed “grass roots” backer of Australian’s music by differentiating from competitors and connecting to the younger generation, I’d:

  • Get several popular indie labels on board (Modular, Speak N Spell, Eleven, Ivy League, Mistletone, Inertia, Elefant Traks, Dew Process, Plus One etc) with partnership deals
  • Recruit passionate fans of bands on these labels to initiate discussions within popular Australian music portals – FasterLouder, inthemix, Mess+Noise etc. This one is hard, because it has to be believable and not fabricated; it also introduces a conflict of interests into the equation, as fans will want to assist artists they like, but might not want to be seen as being involved with a corporate agenda
  • Recruit popular/relevant artists from those indie labels to appear as guests or judges or anything associated with the project. This lends social proof: as long as a project or initiative is genuine, worth supporting and is associated with musicians that I respect, I’d give it my attention
  • Book an associated promotional tour featuring bands from the indie labels. Include the website link on the tour artwork, but don’t ask bands to mention the project/initiative: if they believe in it, they will mention it without being prodded. The promotional nature of the tour should not deter fans from attending, as long as the line-up is attractive. See: MySpace Secret Shows, which are thoroughly covered with MySpace advertising but the kids don’t care because they’re knowingly partaking in an online social movement.
  • Contact the top hundred or five hundred Australian music bloggers and give them access to everyone associated with the project. Community involvement is essential: employ someone to personally contact each of these writers, and monitor and respond to every conversation that they start
  • Film every element of planning and execution associated with the project and publish online
  • Write about every element of planning and execution associated with the project and publish online

January 19, 2009

All Tomorrow’s Parties 2009: Eternally Yours

Posted in Music tagged , , , , at 9:51 pm by Andrew McMillen

That saxophone melody. I realise on the bus ride down the mountain that I could probably listen to it forever.

The band had the restraint not to play the song as on record, which frustrated me for several minutes. Here it is, in many ways a perfect song, and they have the nerve to modify it? 

Which is, of course, an entirely irrational line of thinking, and it was soon flung from my mind.

And so five humans stood before me, carefully dabbing with brushes at the canvas of a masterful creation. That saxophone melody fills me with the most extraordinary feeling of elation, optimism, joy, compassion. Some truly primal emotions were awakened within me, and as I don’t fully understand them, I feel inadequate to even mention them.

“See you again in 2034,” smirked the guitarist, as they left the stage.

Damn him. Damn him and his band and their talent and whatever remained between them for 25 years.  This was a musical experience on par with few others in my lifetime. I am thankful that I will get to experience a similar performance at least once more.

The above was written following the All Tomorrow’s Parties festival that took place at the Mount Buller Ski Resort, January 9-10 2009.  The band in question is Ed Kuepper‘s Laughing Clowns, and the song is Eternally Yours.

My short review of the weekend:

Friday is for wide-eyed exploration of the festival’s unique locale: hitching a chairlift ride just metres away from the main stage’s massive sound system is exhilarating. We bear witness to Bill Callahan as Smog, accomplished blues artist James ‘Blood’ Ulmer at the Ampitheatre and five Kim Gordons masquerading as Beaches – a compliment, make no mistake. Not-so-secret mystery act Grinderman squint into the afternoon sunlight and pound out a powerful set of masculine depravity, which provides stark contrast to the restrained brilliance of improvisational maestros The Necks.

Dirty Three greet the night with an edited performance of Ocean Songs, while The Saints re-enact 2007’s Pig City performance with striking accuracy and largely without passion. Guitarist Ed Kuepper is much more comfortable fronting the reformed Laughing Clowns on Saturday, who turn in an enrapturing performance of their jazz-affected post-punk and conclude with the towering saxophone melody and festival highlight of Eternally Yours. 

The aging faces of Silver Apples and Harmonia are visually anachronistic and aurally futuristic, yet this doesn’t stop the buoyant crowd from engaging with the pioneering electronic sounds of either act. This open-mindedness rates among the most attractive trait displayed by festival-goers; though, perhaps this willingness to trial uncharted sounds is more indicative of our trust in the curators’ judgement, which remains impeccable across two days.

The earth-shattering electronic distortion of British pair Fuck Buttons is sonically distant from the cute thrash-pop of Japanese girl duo Afrirampo, yet both acts win legions of new fans following outstanding performances. Greek lyre-playing wonder Psarandonis inspires mass-gypsy dancing as light fades on Saturday evening, before Spiritualized conquer the main stage with their powerful, gospel-inspired noise rock. Fourteen arms and fourteen legs comprise festival curators Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, who see off a memorable weekend in their affecting, incomparably badass style. 

While failing to reach venue capacity, All Tomorrow’s Parties organisers succeed in ensuring that the inaugural ATP Australian festival is smoothly-run and highly memorable. It’s heartening that this boutique event can cater for the more discerning music fan; the overwhelmingly positive consensus among attendees leads one to believe that the market for future events is only going to increase.

I reviewed the Brisbane Riverstage ATP show, too.

The Gold Coast Big Day Out yesterday was such a departure, or more accurately, a return to the reality of Australian music festivals. Unpleasant isn’t the right word, but it’s the first word that comes to mind.

Where ATP was about open spaces, hand-picked artists, musical exploration and community, BDO represents crowded spaces, populist musical decisions, overt nationalist pride and exceeding one’s limits, ostensibly in the name of a good time. Like some kind of devolutionary race to the bottom.

I’m not complaining. I chose to attend, and I enjoyed myself. It’s just interesting to compare the objectives for but two of the dozens of festivals that dot the Australian summer calendar.

December 2, 2008

Speak N Spell Music’s Customer Service Sucks

Posted in Music tagged , , , at 10:23 pm by Andrew McMillen

There’s a band called The Zillions, who’re led by ex-Sidewinder frontman Nick Craft.

I’ve read some good things about their music, so I want to buy their album. 

I looked at JB Hi Fi Online and found that I could order it for $19.99. But since they’re a small band on an independent label named Speak N Spell Music, I thought I’d try buying it directly.

I browsed to the label’s online store and found that the only Zillions release listed was an EP.

Frustrated, but still intent on purchasing directly from the label, I sent this email to the contact address nominated in the page header:

Hi,

Here’s the deal: I want to buy the Zillions album online and I’d rather purchase from you guys than JB Hi Fi. 

The album is not listed for sale in the store (http://www.speaknspellmusic.com/store/).

How quickly can you make this happen? I can pay for the album via credit card, PayPal or direct deposit and would like to have it in my possession this week.

I’m in Brisbane.

Thanks,

Andrew

It’s been two full business days since I sent that email on November 30. I’m yet to receive a response.

So, why is this a big deal?

  1. I went out of my way to buy directly from the label, not a franchised record store
  2. The label hasn’t updated their web store with an album that’s been available for almost a month
  3. The label is unresponsive to a direct sales enquiry
  4. The label is not satisfying a potential customer
  5. The potential customer is now sharing his negative sales experience with the world

There’s a disconnect within Speak N Spell Music’s organisational structure. Nobody is responding to their primary online sales point of contact.

A shame, because I’d really like to hear that album.

November 12, 2008

Notes on Q Music’s PR, Promotion and Marketing Workshop

Posted in Music tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , at 11:54 pm by Andrew McMillen

I attended Q Music‘s workshop at the Troubadour last night. The topic was music promotion, marketing and public relations; speakers included Brent Hampstead (Media Hammer), Jo Nilsen (Butcher Birds), Megan Reeder (Secret Service/Dew Process) and Kellie Lloyd (Q Music/Screamfeeder). The venue was filled with seated bodies, mostly youngsters, who were privy to some valuable advice from the four experienced industry representatives.

What follows is a series of notes I took in chronological order. It’s best to take each paragraph as a separate thought, though they are all joined under the umbrella of music promotion, marketing and public relations. My interjections are italicised.

Introduction: marketing your music incorporates promotion and publicity.

Steps as an artist:

Record some music.

Decide whether you’re distribute it online or in physical form.

Write a marketing plan with specific targets. Budget? Street press goals? MySpace? Pitching to radio station? How do you plan to spend your budget?

Decide and arrange how you wish to present your image as an artist. Use a creative photographer. 

Conduct a cohesive launch of your product into the market.

Create a community from a grassroots level – since that’s where you’ll be starting.

Don’t overcommunicate your message; people have their own lives.

Andrew: If they’re willing to take the time to listen to your music, that’s great. If they’re willing to reach out and communicate with you, that’s amazing. I don’t think enough time was spent discussing this. Getting a person to hear your music in an accomplishment. Being remarkable enough for a person – not a friend, family member, or acquaintance – to take the time to add you as a friend, send you a message, give you feedback on your creative output – that’s incredible. That’s to be cherished. It’s the equivalent of a person stopping you in the street and commenting on your appearance. That shit rarely happens. If I were a musician, I would not take my first fan for granted. The first ten. The first hundred, the first thousand. Attention is a scarce resource, and I think this is absolutely worth keeping in mind.

Personalise your responses to any feedback or thanks, wherever possible. To be successful and valuable at any level of media, ensure that you engage in personal, polite and professional feedback.

Acquire or subscribe to the Australasian Music Industry Directory (AMID). This contains key information that you’d otherwise spent hours Googling. Brent mentioned that the importance of the AMID was one of the strongest take-away points.

Electronic press kits aren’t used much anymore. Instead, press releases via email – bio, photo, compressed mp3.

Mailing physical copies of your recorded CDs is a waste of valuable merch money. These products are just added to a pile in an office and are easily ignored.

Megan suggested targeting blogs before street press. She didn’t really expand on this. Jo mentioned Before Hollywood, Is By Bus and Turn It Up To Ten.

Megan explained that Dew Process have people devoted to digital content creation and maintaining interest in their artists, through MySpace updates, video blogs, regular content to reminder each artist’s fanbase of their activity.

Brent stated that you should think about online content as early as possible. Record and document as much as you can, as you’ll never know when you’ll want or need it. Andrew: This is an important point that they didn’t really dwell on – this generation has greater access to information and the ability to record and publish than any other. The cost of storage and data is constantly decreasing. Take advantage of this.

Brent mentioned Short Stack as a great example of a band who have built a strong online community around them which has translated into success, popularity, tours and a record deal.

Some web companies will provide content for free. Jo mentioned Moshcam, who’ll record your show (in Sydney) and provide you with a DVD recording free of charge. Andrew: This sounds a little hard to believe and requires further investigation.

LastFM, FasterLouder, Mess+Noise, FourThousand and The Dwarf were all mentioned as valuable online resources and communities that should be leveraged on a local, national and international level.

How do you attract people to your site, or your online community? This relates to setting out a coherent marketing plan. Target, in order: blogs, street press, newspapers, community radio, JJJ, television.. solidify each community before moving on. Andrew: They forgot to state that this takes time and requires patience, and dedication. But I guess that goes without saying.

Prepare a biography that tells a story. How do you want to be presented? Answer the obvious questions – how you met, where the name came from – to avoid these being repeated in interviews. Though you’ll always get writers who have under-researched. Brent stated that your bio needs a hook – you need to give someone a reason to want to read about you.

Print media runs on two types of lead times: long and short. Bigger publications such as Rolling Stone and Jmag tend to set a deadline six weeks in advance for the majority of content. Street press generally run on a one or two week lead time. Online is shorter again, due to the ability to quickly turn around content. Andrew: I just discovered that Rolling Stone Australia has no online presence. What a missed opportunity.

Set a release date for your product – single, EP, album, gig – and work backwards from that point. Stick to it. Plan ahead so that you’re not caught out. Organise marketing efforts – remember, this incorporates promotion and publicity.

With regard to street press – don’t hound them. Politely request interviews, reviews, features. They’re generally nice, but constantly under pressure to turn content around on a weekly (in the case of Rave, Time Off and Scene) or monthly (Tsunami) basis. The best way to get your name out is to gig regularly and be heard. Social proof! Again, Brent stated the importance of personalised invitations – in the mail, if you’re willing to go to the effort, since it will often be appreciated. Email costs nothing and takes little time.

Extensive discussion which indicated that Richard Kingsmill decides whether you’re played on JJJ and effectively holds the keys to your national career. No one commented on how sad this is. Brent cracked a joke about how JJJ is taxpayer-funded: if you’re a taxpayer, it is your right to be played on the station! Though perhaps you’ll require greater tact than this to improve your chances.

Create a network of friends – interstate bands, radio announcers, street press and blog writers. If they like you, they’ll become your champion. Andrew: This is absolutely true. Word of mouth musical recommendations are still my biggest influence; if the word’s coming from a respected or esteemed mouth, then I’m highly likely to listen.

Being a musician is a constant juggling act: releases, gigs, merch, press, radio. Brent stressed the importance of multiple impressions across as many media as possible. Be relentless! But don’t overcommunicate. The more impressions that you’ve got circulating out there, the more potential eyeballs and ears to see and hear your output.

Advice on approaching bands, promoters, street press, radio, or anyone throughout your life in general -just ask. Put yourself out there. Be tenacious, and sneaky on occasion. If you’re serious about making this work – what the hell are you holding back for?

Advice on the music industry in general – be meticulous, patient, and prepared. Always.

Andrew: Hopefully this’ll be of some use to those who missed out, or whoever stumbles across these notes in the future. The above summarises the thoughts and opinions of four music industry figures in late 2008. It’ll be interesting to look back on this post in 12 months’ time.

November 10, 2008

Effective Tribe Management: 200 Nipples

Posted in Web tagged , , , , , , , , at 7:40 pm by Andrew McMillen

200 Nipples is an online t-shirt store with a twist:

That’s how many nipples we assume will be covered by any single run of our high-quality shirts. (We’ll have the third-nippled buyer in there occasionally, but we didn’t want to count on it when naming the company; this is serious business, after all.) 

One hundred shirts per month, individually numbered. Shirt prices range from US$1 to US$100 inclusive. First in, best dressed.

I’ve had my eye on them for a few months, since they were mentioned on Seth‘s blog. Funnily enough, I can’t find the post where he initially linked to them.

I received notification this morning, Brisbane time, that a new shirt was due to go onsale later that afternoon. I set a reminder in my calendar and went about my business for the rest of the day.

At 4pm, I logged onto the site and found that their 100-item cart showed that no shirts had been bought. Weird. I proceeded to checkout and received order confirmation of my longsleeve shirt, which cost US$11 including postage. Sweet.

Except that their shopping cart and database broke, and 76 users thought they’d snapped up shirts for a dollar or two. Whoops.

This potentially painful ordeal was handled brilliantly by Wade, 200 Nipples’ founder. He replaced the storefront with a temporary ‘out of order’ page and kept hundreds of repeatedly-refreshing users in the loop by updating two blog posts.

A couple of dozen users chatted amongst ourselves in the comments sections until Wade initiated a ‘do over’at 4.30pm. Best of all, Wade defused the fiscal situation by creating and publishing a 33%-off coupon, which was valid for an hour. 

Shirts 1-30 were snapped up in minutes, but I snagged #11 for US$11.

200_nipples_intrusion

This year, Seth’s all about tribes. He posits – bolding mine:

Tribe management is a whole different way of looking at the world.

It starts with permission, the understanding that the real asset most organizations can build isn’t an amorphous brand but is in fact the privilege of delivering anticipated, personal and relevant messages to people who want to get them.

It adds to that the fact that what people really want is the ability to connect to each other, not to companies. So the permission is used to build a tribe, to build people who want to hear from the company because it helps them connect, it helps them find each other, it gives them a story to tell and something to talk about.

At a guess, Wade’s tribe numbers in the low hundreds right now. His tribe was brought closer together today, by sharing a disruptive experience that was elegantly and openly managed. 

We ended up taking a $150+ hit on the coupon code, but that’s OK. Above all else, we always want to deliver a good experience to you, the users of the site. The overwhelming majority of our customers were very cool about it. Thanks so much for your understanding.

Perfect. This is the kind of experience that gives Wade’s tribe a story to tell and something to talk about. You can bet I’m going to tell this story to everyone who asks about my long-sleeved shirt.. which mightn’t be worn for months, since it’s almost summertime in Australia.

200_nipples_intrusion_guy

Tribes is a great concept and a book that I look forward to reading. 200 Nipples is an example of gathering a tribe around a niche concept – attractive, limited, (potentially) cheap shirts – and today, a great example of masterful tribe management.

November 3, 2008

Marketing Juice

Posted in Life tagged , , , at 11:33 pm by Andrew McMillen

I bought a Spring Valley juice at university the other week. Apple and blackcurrant, on a whim – not my usual drink of choice, but it satisfied.

I wasn’t too impressed by the copy on the side of the bottle, though:

After just one sip of this heaven-sent, preservative-free juice, that halo perched precariously above your head will flicker back to life like a broken neon sign. This of course signals the start of repentance for the pain you’ve put your body through over the weekend.

springvalley.com.au

This is stupid, because they’ve defined their target market as young people who get hammered every weekend and only drink juice as a hangover cure. Alcohol-inflicted injury is what I’m lead to believe the ‘pain’ refers to.

This is their marketing ploy. No preservatives. No added sugar. Drink this when you’ve been a dumbshit binge drinker over the weekend. 

Not the best assumption to make about your target market, right? The ‘liddle facts‘ under the lid are cute, but they don’t gel with the message on the side of the bottle. And they list an impersonal web address.

Contrast this against the copy on the side of a Boost Juice cup. Verbatim:

So, now you’ve got your Boost. Tell us:

Does it taste amazing?

Did our boosties make it for you in a flash?

Did they make you feel good for coming to Boost today?
Please let us know if we reached our usual giddy heights of brilliance today. We love hearing from you, the great stuff as well as what we can do better!

love life

(Janine Allis‘ signature)

janine@boostjuicebars.com


I like this a lot. The tense switches are appropriate. She calls the workers – often young females – boosties, which I’d guess would make them like their job a little more. Like Subway‘s sandwich artists – or maybe not. Maybe they take the piss out of it and hate their jobs. But the ‘boosties’ I witness usually seem pretty happy. 

The copy isn’t overwhelmingly, desperately happy. Just positive overall. And aside from the awesome-tasting juice, the service is one of the reasons I return to Boost. Their assembly line system is tight, even when they’re busy and the queue is dozens deep. Everyone knows what they’re doing, and their work is on display, all the time. Their training regime must kick arse.

And the inclusion of Janine’s address at the end is another nice personal touch. Sure, she’d most likely have assistances reading for her, but I get the distinct impression that I’d receive a reply if I were to email that address. I’ll try it out, and I’ll include a link to this article.

Two different marketing strategies for two different brands targeting two slightly different segments of the juice market. One assumes poor past personal behaviour on their customers’ part; as a result, their tone comes off as haughty, and vaguely offensive. The other makes their loyal customers smile, and extends the opportunity to open a dialogue between producer and consumer.

Which of these is sustainable?

October 20, 2008

Website review: Time Off Magazine

Posted in Web tagged , , , , , , , , at 11:55 pm by Andrew McMillen

Imagine that you run a free weekly music publication. A pretty popular one named Time Off, that’s read widely across Brisbane, a city home to 1.8 million. You recently got bought out by – sorry, merged with – Street Press Australia, who own several similar publications across the country. You decide to upgrade the magazine’s website, which has become outdated.

You’ve got two options: fast, easy and crappy, or slow, meticulous and attractive.

Which option do you think Time Off chose?

Time Off Magazine website screenshot, 20 October 2008

Time Off Magazine website screenshot, 20 October 2008. Click for full size.

I think it’s pretty obvious. 

It’s an out-of-the-box, CMS-based site with minimal focus on design. Okay, fair enough; not every site needs to be eye-catching, so long as it gets the job done, right?

Unfortuntately, the redeveloped Time Off site fails to get the job done. Content is cumbersome and slapped onto the site directly from the latest printed issue with little rhyme or reason. 

Mysterious capital letters abound throughout the site’s content. Album reviews are awarded SEO-unfriendly URLs, and they’re grouped per-issue on the same page. Nice one.

Two live reviews from last week’s issue – #1395, 15 October 2008 – are attached to the same article named ‘Feedback’, which is the name of the live review section in the print magazine. The fact that they opted to devote that issue’s entire Feedback section to 2000 words about the Time Off-sponsored Sounds Of Spring festival is another discussion. What’s more, that review was part one; part two will be printed in #1396. Can’t wait.

Clicking the top-level Time Off item on the site’s menu results in the following page, cleverly named ‘Rock’:

 Rock

Wow, useful! When were these articles published? Let’s click one to find out. Gig guide, sure. Oh, another page, that lists those three associated articles. Two named ‘gig guide’ and one named ‘venue guide’, all authored by ‘Webmaster’. I’m really glad that it shows me how many ‘hits’ each article has! Unsurprisingly, the gig guides are pasted in a plaintext format that’s needlessly difficult to process.

Okay, so their content sucks, and it’s evident that no one within Time Off gives half a crap enough to check for consistency, or anything resembling quality control. That’s fine, I didn’t really want to use the website much anyway.

But after clicking around a bit, I uncovered some truly awful content that I must paste for posterity, as they’ll surely change it once someone decides to actually.. I don’t know.. look at their fucking website.

This is under the readership section. Subtitle: Who are our readers?

Time Off readers are divided equally between male and female.

Time Off readers are predominantly aged between 17– 30 but the nature of the industry and the refusal of bands such as Rose Tattoo to call it a day suggest readers will more often than not continue to pick up SPA publications well into their 40’s.

Time Off readers are avid consumers of music, entertainment and technological devices and products. They own iPods, Blackberrys, video game consoles, Macs, Laptops, Wiis, records, record players, Mobile Phones, DVDs and MP3s. Their need to have the latest model/product available coupled with the urge to spend rather than save sees readers replacing said items as frequently as once every 6 months.

Time Off readers have access to the internet both at work and at home, on which most time is spent accessing websites of bands and performers, shopping online, watching video clips on You Tube and blogging about how the band they saw play last night changed their life…. or destroyed it.

Time Off readers go to shows, get their hair cut, buy new jeans, are addicted to coffee, see films, occasionally turn up to Uni and party hard. And wherever they are doing these things, SPA publications are within reach.

Time Off readers are a product of a consumer driven age where brand awareness has taken place of literacy and social etiquette. They were born in the ‘80s when greed was good and they know what they want and when they want it, which is sooner rather than later. This puts them and their peers ahead of their game.

Time Off readers have one best friend that never lies – the mirror. They preen, puff, spray, squeeze, flash and luck all in the name of fashion. They buy what they don’t need and are willing to try anything once if it’s considered hip, regardless of cost.

Time Off readers are educated and informed. They value substance over transparency and integrity over wit. The wool is not often pulled over their eyes.

Nevermind that it’s the most awkwardly-worded piece of copy you’ve read this month, possibly this year. Nevermind that nobody at Time Off cared enough to edit out all the instances of ‘SPA publications‘.

No – most of all, I’m genuinely disgusted that Time Off, or moveover, Street Press Australia felt it necessary to attempt to classify their readership using some broad, sweeping statements that are neither funny nor accurate. I’m not sure which outcome is more disturbing – the fact that someone was commissioned to do a half-arsed hack-and-paste job to create content just for the sake of it, or that the above paragraphs made their way onto the site apparently without quality control.

What a fucking shambles.

Hey, Time Off. This is 2008. People use the internet all the time; they check your website, and if it sucks, you’re going to get called out about it. Invest the time and money into planning a genuine strategy for the website to complement the printed magazine, or don’t do it at all.

The old site sucked too, but at least it didn’t describe me as someone who “preens, puffs, sprays, squeezes, flashes and lucks”. 

The bullshit readership copy quoted above was at least partially correct, though: I’m educated and informed. I value substance over transparency and integrity over wit. The wool is not often pulled over my eyes.

So who the fuck are you trying to kid, Time Off?

Disclosure: I write for fellow Brisbane street press Rave Magazine – who have a functional, attractive and well-utilised website – and I work for a Brisbane-based web development company. The sentiments expressed above are my own, and should not be attributed to any entity other than myself.

October 16, 2008

Musings on Music Writing and Everett True

Posted in Music tagged , , , , , , , at 12:05 am by Andrew McMillen

Pig City author Andrew Stafford interviewed Everett True before an audience at Brisbane’s Barsoma last week, and I was one of the nineteen in attendance. True incurred the wrath of Australian mainstream music fans in August, upon which I commented at the time. The event was held as a pilot for QMusic‘s proposed series of music-related public interviews, and while it was poorly attended, I have a feeling that this was due to minimal promotion on QMusic’s part. Some retrospective Googling uncovers that a few sites picked the event up, but it still flew under my radar; evidently, I wasn’t the only one.

During a Q&A discussion about critical discourse within music writing, or the lack thereof, one audience member asked the group how many writers from Brisbane’s local street press were in attendance. My hand was the only one in the air, which he then used to attempt to prove a point about local writers’ general apathy, or something. But dude, come on. I only found out about the event after being nudged by a fellow FasterLouder writer.

Everett stated in his characteristically humorous, self-promotional manner that his goal as a writer is to make everyone jealous of Everett True, and to make people talk about Everett True. In his words: “if you’re not writing to be read, then why the fuck are you writing?”. He and Andrew spoke about street press audiences, critical discourse within music writing, and established that all music writing is inherently subjective, which is something I’ve long since realised. It’s foolish to ever attempt to hide behind the veil of objectivity when discussing music you either do or don’t like.

The interview and resulting discussion certainly prompted internal debate regarding my writing method and purpose. I came up with a few answers, but I expect more to reveal themselves to me in time.

I review concerts primarily for free entertainment, and because live music is the most exciting and readily available form of public entertainment I’m comfortable with. The fulfilled expectations, the brilliantly unpredictable deviations from the standard rock ‘n’ roll script: those are the moments that excite me. There are loads of bands – local, national, international – with whom I’ll happily share my evening.

Of late, I’ve become more concerned with sound dynamics and artistic merit than a conventionally ‘entertaining’ performance, which often translates to the musicians occasionally ambling around stage. This may be simple subterfuge on my part, as I’ve recently become enamored of enormous-sounding shoegaze-type bands, though as ever, I still find the time and place for tastelessly entertaining bands – Bluejuice is the example that springs to mind.

I write about these events because I fucking love them. There’s also the attached personal challenge of whittling several hours of physical and musical theatre down to a few hundred words.

Audience has never been a huge concern for me, and still isn’t. My first reviews were for the eyes of my family and a few close friends; I’ve since become happy to let my articles stand alone, without the need for self-promotion. I update my LastFM journal with a copy of each review as they’re published, which allows fellow event attendees to read my words if they’re so inclined.

But by and large – though I still share published work with my family – I write for myself. Freelancing, as it were, though obviously still subject to the discretion of my editors. I know that my articles get glanced at in print by bored commuters, but the web audience is entirely different: they’re there because they’re interested enough to click.

It’s essentially a thankless job, which I am completely comfortable with. I know the nature of the game that I volunteered for. Not just anyone could do this, as most people don’t care enough to put pen to paper.

I really enjoy thinking about the historical impact that I’m having, though mostly on a personal level: words written at a particular time and place, when linked with my personal writing, will provide a rich tapestry of experiences upon which I’ll reflect fondly in my later years. The same principle applies for the artists I’m writing about. I like that my words capture a snapshot of an artist at a point in their career.

Maybe my sense of realism is unique among music journalists, I don’t know. I’m constantly mindful of the responsibility attached to my words, which are attached to my name.

But to return to my core purpose, free entertainment: all of my work up until this point has been to make a name, carve a niche for myself among my editors, so that I’m more likely to be chosen to write about the artists I want to see.

I suppose that I’m a faker, somewhat, because I wouldn’t write about bands if I wasn’t required to. I didn’t review the handful of shows that I paid to attend this year. I certainly enter a show in a different mindset if I’m reviewing, notepad in back pocket. Fewer beers are often consumed. Which is not to say that I enjoy myself less if I’m reviewing, fuck no; it’s just that I’m more mindful of my peers, my surrounds, and the context of the performance.

All of these ruminations spring from the fact that my music writing is a hobby, a personal passion. The thought of pursuing this as a career has not seriously crossed my mind in years, and funnily enough, not at all during the sixteen-odd months I’ve been a paid music critic.

While following the discussion between Everett, Andrew and the vocal audience, I reflected on whether I was being critical enough in my writing. Whether I was producing memorable words; or offending enough people, if I were to subscribe to Everett’s shit-stirring journalistic methodology. His goal was, and is, to be memorable, perhaps because the inverse possibility would be financially unsustainable.

I think that there’s an inherent sadness in being known first and foremost as a music critic. I mean, fuck, you sit around listening to bands by day and stand around at night watching bands, actively analysing their sound and craft for perceived weaknesses. Stewing on appropriately clever ways to judge their artistic output in a snarky or humourous manner. I know, because I’ve been there. What kind of profession is that?

I disliked how Everett spoke of the lack of critical discourse within music writing; that is, that there’s not enough writers out there sticking the boot into subjectively crap performers, as if it’s some kind of Herculean effort worthy of merit to chastise sub-par musicians. Because I get this picture of a middle-aged, wizened journo spewing forth bile onto his keyboard in the middle of night, this bitter, repulsive person, and I think – fuck that. My imagination may get a little carried away at times, but that image scares me a lot.

Of course, I’ve been concentrating on the negative side of music criticism, as that’s my first connotation. Its antonym is praise, which is what I tend to dole out in my music writing, as I tend to only see artists who I like. And that’s to my advantage, as like I said, music writing – while an undeniably strong passion of mine – is still a hobby. I can’t help but admire those who dedicate their career to writing about music, as they have more energy than I. 

I’m simply content to keep carving my niche, honing my craft, within the small pool of Brisbane music journalists. Memorable? Maybe. Honest? True.

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