Ouch! I’ve been branded!

I just
returned from speaking at the Word of Mouth Marketing Association conference in 
Las Vegas.  My panel was on branding.  There I was, seated next to some giant Brands like Southwest Airlines and Doubletree Hotels (I have to say I did love hearing my shows and Southwest Airlines mentioned in the same sentence.  I made a joke that our advertising budget on My First Time is probably about the same amount as one business class airline ticket). 

The speaker from Doubletree told the story about the infamous PowerPoint presentation prepared by two very unhappy Doubletree customers that appeared on the internet in 2001.  I call it the “Complaint Heard ‘Round the World” and for me it represents the beginning of the new era of customer/user reviews and the use of the internet as a word of mouth weapon for your consumers.The Doubletree representative said that this complaint was meant to “inflict pain” on Doubletree.

And that’s when I realized something about branding. In the media world, I think we’ve forgotten where the term “branding” comes from.  It comes from cattle.  When ranchers don’t want to lose their cattle, they take a red hot iron and burn their “tag” into their skin.

In the cave man days of advertising, this is exactly what the big companies did.  They spent millions on major advertising buys (TV, print, etc.) and since there was no competition, these big buys were the equivalent of a red hot iron used on the consumer.  The consumer had no choice, especially when faced with an iron the size of Proctor and Gamble’s, etc. And without even knowing it, all of a sudden they had a P&G brand on their butt. But times have changed. There are more choices now.  And customers have their own branding irons:  blogs, user reviews, creative PowerPoint presentations, etc.  And they’re a bit PO’ed.  Wouldn’t you be?

So what do you do as someone with customers who are ready to brand back?

Be prepared to take it. 

The best companies recognize that power is shifting.  They recognize that in this consumer driven market, their ass is sticking up in the air waiting for a customer to burn their “tag” into them. And online, those tags are permanent.  They never go away.

And when you’re that exposed, the only way to really CYA (cover your ass) is by being responsible to your customers. The great thing is, not only will you win with your customers and make them even more loyal, but they’ll probably go out and burn the butt of one of your competitors.

A picture is worth so much more than a thousand words.

I bet you thought this post was about the strike, didn’t you?

Why wouldn’t you?  The first thing you looked at was the picture, right?

And who could blame you for looking at the picture first.  Pictures are pretty. They have color.  They tell a story very, very quickly and with little effort required. But this post is not about the strike.

See, I was looking through my previous posts and I noticed that they had one thing in

common:  no pictures.

I have committed the cardinal sin of maintaining a web site and for this I am very,

very sorry. So, the community service that the blog gods are forcing me to do is to share the following with you:

All of the websites that I have managed and maintained have had one thing in common. The most popular page on all of the websites was the photo gallery. Always.  Without fail.  Photos are what visitors to websites want. 

So if you have a website for your show or your product (even if it’s a MySpace page), make sure you have more pictures than you can take.  And update them constantly.

More pictures mean more visitors staying on your site for more time. Who could ask for anything more when marketing on the web? 

Strike Thought of the Day: What’s wrong with a little therapy?

something to consider as all of you contemplate which “side” you’re
on in regards to the current Broadway Stagehands strike.

The mayor of
New York City offered to provide both the League and Stagehands with a mediator
as well as neutral territory to help bring this strike to a quicker
resolution.  You might recall that his help was instrumental in ending the
Local 802 strike in 2003.

Local 1
continues to refuse his offer of assistance.

The League has
welcomed his help.

Hmmmm . . .

Why would the
Stagehands not welcome an objective party to help bring these two organizations
closer together which would put people back to work faster and satisfy
thousands of theatergoers sooner? 

Could it be
that they are afraid that an objective and impartial mediator would take a look
at their demands and current work rules and advise them that what they are
striking for is not fair in the current economic climate on Broadway and in the
United States?

If this
contract negotiation were like a marriage going through a troubled time, then
Local 1 would be the stubborn husband who refuses to go to therapy.
What’s wrong with talking to someone, Local 1?  It’s just a therapist.
They don’t bite.  Although, if you have cheated on your partner, then you
may end up sweating a bit . . .

This marriage
needs help.  Divorce isn’t an option.  Both parties have kids to
think about.  And those kids really, really want to see The Little

I owe a lot of people a lot of money.

The stagehands
are going on 
strike tomorrow morning, which means I lost my bet.

But, as an
Off-Broadway producer of three shows that will be up and running throughout the
strike, I am happy to pay up.  🙂

I’ll comment
more on the strike and why I was wrong later.  Right now I’ve got a few
things to do to make sure people know that Off-Broadway is open for business!

Not everyone should play poker.

Anyone that
has played a lot of poker knows that if you get a player that sits down at the
table that doesn’t know how to play very well, it can really affect your game.

Oh, you’d
think you could just take all of their money pretty easily, but it’s not that

Bad players
make stupid bets not based on odds, drive up the pots, read the cards wrong,
and play on emotion.  And they can even win a big pot every once in awhile
making them think they know how to play.

And sometimes,
they can draw you in to playing their style of the game.

And when they
pull you in, you end up making bad bets and the next thing you know, you’re
heading for the buffet, as they are buying tickets to the latest Cirque show
with your money.

Or they just
mess up the game for everyone else that’s trying to play.

This happens
all too often in the theater, a business where sometimes a big checkbook is all
you need.  Most recently, I watched a high profile show whose fate had
been sealed some time ago start doing random media buys, including full page
ads in papers, etc.  And then this week, they sent out an offer for free
tickets to every single one of their performances . . . to a list of people
that usually paid for tickets (guess which list is going to be hard to retrain
that they have to pay for theater now – thanks for ruining that hand for the
rest of the players, guys!)

And after all
that . . . this week, they announced their closing. 

When you see
big ads, and lots of questionable media, it’s easy to start to think you need
to do the same thing.  But don’t get sucked in, just because someone
raises the bet.

Good poker
players sit back behind sunglasses and play the numbers, calculating pot odds,
determining when to raise and when to fold based on data first and then gut,
while watching others flail around.

Oh, and knowing when to fold and
close a show and limit your losses to your investors is one of the hardest
lessons to learn, but one of 
the most important.