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Details, details, details…

We marketers/ ad people have been devoting an awful lot of space on our blogs talking about engaging the community, understanding your customer, engaging in conversations, and all things social media. We’ve rightfully preached about transparency, authenticity, listening. But do we do the same with our direct customers, our clients?

As agency folks we typically work on more than one account, or brand, in our careers (or at one agency) and the expectation for each is that you are immersed in it. You understand the brand ID, the USP, the P&L, the sales cycle, the customer profile, the SWOT, you know, the whole enchilada of the product & the advertising. But what we often fail to do (as client services or creatives), is remember to understand the person we’re pitching or presenting to. How else to explain using a Sony laptop in a pitch for Dell? Or asking Bill Gates what’s on his iPod? Or talking about golf with the woman who just had a baby? Or bringing in a Starbucks when meeting with the Second Cup? [purely hypothetical situations of course...] Do we think the client won’t notice? They do. And it doesn’t help build the trust necessary to help them connect with their customers. If we don’t practice what we preach, why should they listen to us?

We need to be the shining examples of listening and communication… and the devil is always in the details. You wouldn’t let your PPT out the door with the wrong logo in it would you?

[photo credit: dotpolka on Flickr]

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url.com – a community focused search engine

A couple of weeks ago Sreekanth Sreedharan from url.com sent me a note with a beta invite to their new search engine with a twist; it aggregates results from MSN, Google, and Yahoo! and provides the rankings for each result, as well as user ratings on its usefulness. Users can also comment on results to provide further depth and human feedback to increase relevance. It humanizes and democratizes search, while continuing to take advantage of the power of each engines algorithms.

It’s a good concept and one I’m enjoying exploring. It’s a bit counterintuitive to the way I’m used to searching (they don’t call Google a monopoly for nothing…), but the idea behind it makes it worth the effort.

In terms of specific feedback – the homepage could use some context, it isn’t clear immediately what the purpose of the site is, how you use it, or how/ why you should participate. Also, it would be good if someone proofread the FAQ’s…

I do have a concern that, as with many ‘ranking’ related systems companies or individuals could try and game the system, but hopefully the community over time will develop enough to counteract any potential concerns.

All in all an intriguing addition to both the search and social networking spaces, and one to watch.

[photo credit: scienceduck on Flickr]

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Where’s the ballerina?

Continuing my Toronto culture theme today, I am loving the new National Ballet of Canada contest: Where’s the ballerina?

I received an email last week announcing the first week of the contest, as I have opted in to receive communications from the National. The email was elegant and simple, it matched the branding of the website, and it was compelling. The contest is fantastic & runs over a four week period – win two tickets to the gala opening of The Sleeping Beauty at the new Four Seasons Centre. And the hook… well, what can I say, I’m in love…

A ballerina has been sighted at various locations throughout the city of Toronto. Your job is to identify where she is from 4 multiple choice locations. The “clue” is a beautifully shot black and white video clip set to music from the ballet of the ballerina exploring the location. It’s visually stunning and engaging.

The contest, although simple and to the point, hits all the right privacy marks with opt-outs and policies upfront; and it encourages viral by building in a refer a friend for more chances to win option. Finally, the entry form design is excellent as it’s built into the page and doesn’t ask for more info than they need. In fact, they only ask for name and email address.

Bravo to the National Ballet for using the interactive medium in a intuitive way that speaks directly to the brand, the community, and the art.

Update: Although the campaign is terrific, one way to add depth and buzz would be to tie in the theme into an exclusive grand prize where those users who entered correctly all 4 weeks had an extra chance to participate… perhaps a 24 hour period where an exclusive ‘part 5′ is posted that is more difficult to decipher… with a chance to win tickets to a different ballet, or a pre-show chat with Karen Kain. Once you open the door to connecting so well with your brand and your audience, the possibilities are endless to increase the experience.

[photo credit: foreversouls on Flickr]

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What’s wrong with Toronto event planning?

I’ve recently attended a few professionally organized events in the city, ranging from the Virgin Music Fest to the Canadian Opera Company’sOperanation” gala last Friday, and in each case, for various reasons, the event planning was just… off.

They ran out of beer at the Virgin Music Fest and the rainy Saturday didn’t even draw a sold out crowd, which is just inconceivable in Canada, home of people drinking suds. But even worse was the planning surrounding the Operanation event at the brand-spanking new Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts.

Don’t get me wrong, I had a fabulous time, but the event itself, and the ambiance of the FSC left a lot to be desired. The truly tragic part was that with a little forsight it could have been a smashing success. Which leads me to the question – what’s wrong with Toronto event planning?

For starters, although beautiful and modern with fantastic views, the venue itself on a fall evening feels cold and cavernous. Walking into the event I was struck immediately that although the building was built to house our two world-class performing arts companies, the Canadian Opera Company and the National Ballet of Canada, there was nothing that felt like art. No history, no pictures of past performances or costumes anywhere in the lobby. Just metal, marble, glass, and wood. Nothing warm and inviting and dripping in culture. But there was a Land Rover. ;)

Which leads me to the event itself. The concept was fantastic – the food and drinks were themed around different opera’s, from bratwurst and beer for the Ring Cycle, to sushi and lychee martini for Madame Butterfly. Each station was housed in a different location, encompassing 3 floors of the lobby. Except… they were in horrible locations for foot traffic flow and ease of access. The sushi bar was at the top of the main staircase right next to the champagne reception area, and a small walkway that led to the tapas and sangria bar. To say the least it was difficult to navigate, and by the end of the evening, after the alcohol was flowing freely, it was difficult to navigate without getting spilled on. Did no one do a dry run with the number of people who would be expected at the event? Or a computer model of natural gathering places and walk space?

Last, but most certainly not least, was the acoustics. Part of the appeal of attending the event was to hear the DJ mixing arias and beats, as well as the three live performances of arias by up and coming opera stars. Well, good luck hearing anything much in that space. The positioning of both the live performance and the speakers was horrible. For the first opera performance we were standing directly above the performers (who were tucked away off to the side in a corner of the lobby) on the walkway of the second floor. We could barely hear them and there was no announcement that the performance was about to begin, or where they were located for the people who didn’t happen to be chatting above them. For the second performance we made it to directly in front of them, one row of people ahead of us. We couldn’t hear them at all. The crowd noise, the terrible acoustics at that location, it was awful. And frustrating. Again, where was the dry run with crowd noise and the noise of food and beverages being served? Why were they in a corner?

What’s wrong with Toronto event planning? Where is the pursuit of excellence that is so evident in events held in other world-class cities around the world? And who’s idea was it to have so few wait staff? Waiting 20 mins for a lychee martini only to have a manager come over and make them eventually didn’t feel “Opera Chic” to me.

Update: I almost forgot that my food options as a vegetarian were limited to bread or pastry at the French Bistro or an eggplant tapa at the Spanish Bar.

[photo credit: Bamcat on Flickr]

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GooTube opens the door to deep content

A lot has been written in the past couple of days surrounding the Google purchase of YouTube for $1.65 billion in stock, so I won’t rehash the obvious, but there are a few things about this merger that intrigue me… and I think some are underestimating Google’s long-term strategy in the deal.

Danny Sullivan believes it to be an eyeball & ad revenue grab that has little to do with the mission of the company – to “organize the world’s information”. Others feel that this was a shot across the bow to Microsoft and NewsCorp and lament that Google will be making money on that which is now free. And still others worry that we are back in the dot-com days with a bust around the corner.

I agree Google wanted eyeballs from YouTube. But to pretend it has nothing to do with search and deep results, and is mainly about inserting ads into videos, is shortsighted. Although YouTube doesn’t provide transcripts of videos, they are in heavy negotiations with major content providers to continue to develop their product, and have just announced deals with Sony BMG, Universal Music Group, and CBS. The partnerships are a sliver of the type of integration possible as we continue to explore the limits of 2.0 applications and user-generated content. The recent out-of-the-box online campaign with Saturn shows the potential of the types of targetting and cross-media promotion Google can deliver. Up to this point both Google and YouTube have been respectful of consumers lack of interest in watching a pre-roll ad before their video choice and I find it hard to believe they would abandon their model completely in a rush to make consumers watch ads while searching for relevant information. Much more likely is an integration and expansion of the current AdWords program as well as partnerships and other opportunities for advertisers.

Will there be monetization involved? Surely. Will there be Rich Internet Application integration? Count on it. With the bank of Google behind the efforts, building data rich and context rich video results won’t be an issue. I firmly believe that Google sees video (and audio) as a natural extension of organizing information – information throughout history has typically been an oral tradition… why not capture that essence of how humans communicate within robust search results? It’s a natural fit.

The Google founders are getting serious about integration and simplicity as well. The next few years will most likely see a type of bundling that Microsoft does so well, but with the end results being highly targetted and relevant information accessible from anywhere with an Internet connection.

While there are quite a few worries about business models and revenue generation out there in the 2.0 space, this deal in my opinion removes that concern from YouTube, which had a shaky, and ultimately unsustainable business model (free & with copyright violation concerns), and integrates it with the proven model of Google. A good deal all around for consumers, advertisers, content providers.

Microsoft may be trying to go the niche route, ala Apple vs. MSFT of old, in their foray into the social media space by developing their UGC Xbox game design software along with their Live Space social networking platform, but GooTube will be sure to cause a stir in Redmond. It will be interesting to see if they go the portal route or the software route in their strategy…

[photo credit: leafbug on Flickr]

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