Thursday, September 28, 2006

Now What?

The birthday wizard (for lack of knowing who the true gifter is) got me a subscription to Rolling Stone Magazine. I’m thrilled. I haven’t had a subscription since high school. While reading, I was intrigued by two print ads, both depicting bad events happening to a car (scratches, wrecks) and a bike lock sans bike. The only call to action/ID is “” which completely got my attention (and stayed top-of-mind).

Come to find out State Farm Insurance is behind the campaign and has created a very cool Web site devoted to educating how the company answers the question, “now what” after accidents. This site is proof that any client/industry/product can be cool – someone just has to make it relevant. In an industry where a talking Gecko or Duck are considered innovative creative icons, there’s a lot of room for improvement. State Farm improves the process.

This site is tailored to a Gen Y audience. People taking over their insurance policies on cars, rentals, etc. People not used to the confusing terminology and red tape that comes with the necessary evil. The site uses the language, imagery and navigation this target is used to.

Even cooler, State Farm (SERIOUSLY, STATE FREAKIN’ FARM) is figuring out how to be a lifestyle brand by incorporating info on concerts, a music player, AIM icons, a submit-your-photo opportunity and a partnership with iFilm to shoot your own “Now What” moment. Very nice.

Monday, September 25, 2006

Another year

A man’s riches are based on the things he can do without – Henry David Thoreau.

Today is my birthday. 27. I’m celebrating with a day to myself, which is the best gift I can ask for. My time. My decisions. My wonderfully enjoyable consequences. I had planned to take an early-morning run, but after waking up sore from the 22 miler yesterday, I decided cereal was a better option.

I washed my car. Have spent the morning (and now early afternoon) at one of my favorite places, Hi Hat Coffee, where I’m reading Ultramarathon Man by Dean Karnazes. With less than a month to go till the Chicago Marathon, I thought a little ultra-inspiration would be good.

The rest of the day is up for grabs. There’s a new Japanese art exhibit at the Kemper, which seems like a great idea. My family’s coming into town tonight for some pizza. What falls between is just icing.

I’ve been thinking about my life a lot lately. How’s that for vague? For some reason, 27 seems old to me. It feels like THE year. The year things become clear. The year I may just jump off one or more of the cliffs I’ve tiptoed to the edge of for years. I feel this great sense of immediacy in my life – like I need to solve things now. Figure out questions. Find a more permanent path.

I write goals for myself each year. This post is sort of part of that exercise, I guess, as I have a few penned, but not all. My goals for 26 were well met. Write original songs/play them in public. Show my art. Get a new computer. Make two new life-long friends. Run the Chicago Marathon. I missed a couple, but they weren’t the important ones. I can honestly say I’m happier now than I was this time last year. I’m getting paid a little more, which really only shakes out in better wine choices, more iTunes music downloads and a couple more lunches out each month. But that’s important stuff. I’m healthy. I’m blessed with an amazing family and loyal friends. I have a job and a car and a roof. My dog receives his heartworm medicine on schedule each month. Not bad.

But I’m not satisfied. And with 27 just a few hours away, I’m ready to reevaluate those cliffs. I keep going back to one simple question: what do you want to do? Think about it. Very few of us actually do what we truly want to do. Money is often the barrier. Perception. Confidence. Education. But when I look at the people I admire most, each has broken a mold and is pursuing a dream. They are first being true to what they want to do, and letting the other things follow suit.

I’ve gained a lot of perspective as a 26 year old. I don’t worry about much anymore. I’m quite confident and am content not following rules or shooting for irrelevant expectations. A lot of this has to do with my faith. A lot has to do with watching others around me and learning from their happiness/unhappiness. A lot of this perspective is driven by the idea that in the end, you’re only wasting your own time.

On the topic of time, Dean Karnazes currently is running 50 marathons in 50 days. I love this. His physical shape and mental toughness are inspirational to me. After reading the first half of his book this morning, his reasons for running are even more inspirational.

My 27th year will be occupied with a lot of running. Chicago in a month. The Houston Marathon in January. I’ll surely add a marathon in the summer and then be training for Chicago again when my 28th birthday rolls around. That means continuous early runs in the week, long runs on the weekends. That means being picky with my diet and saying no to another beer in favor of a longer night’s sleep. And to tell you the truth, seeing my next year dominated with this is very comforting. As if I’m building an infrastructure to ensure other things succeed, are enjoyed and done well.

Yesterday, around mile 12 of our 22 miler (the peak of our training program before tapering begins), I tried to fill my head with thoughts of why I love this running thing so much. Many reasons are obvious. I’m in the best shape of my life. I’m happier when I run. I feel good. I have better perspective of issues/stresses/decisions. Bad habits take a back seat to truly taking care of my body. Then I realized there’s a much more grounded, obvious reason I love to run: running has come to encapsulate many of the things I truly care about.

My runs are done with some of my closest friends. One I’ve known since elementary school – others I’ve formed an amazing bond with through sweat, pain, early mornings and mutual motivation. I also run with my dad, which has strengthened our relationship in incredible ways. We’re to the point now when one of us can sense the other’s struggle and instinctively put a fist out to bump or yells some words of encouragement. Moreover, my admiration for my mother – who has become our little group’s patron saint of on-route nourishment and encouragement – increases as rapidly as our mileage.

Running has taught me some of life’s most important lessons: motivation, faith, dependence, risk, reward. These things trickle into my off-pavement life. Running also requires its followers to sacrifice. There’s always a goal. Each day, during any training program, is an essential step to reach that goal. Focus is constant. Challenge is constant. Dependence on things other than yourself becomes more and more necessary.

So, with 27 about three hours away, I feel pretty good. This day is nothing more than another day in the grand scheme of things, but it’s afforded me a chance to take a look at where I’ve been, am and will go. Luckily, I’m pretty happy with my navigation, fellow travelers and means of getting wherever it is I’ll be this time net year.

Listening to - The Weepies, Say I am You

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

An example of great customer service

I bought a pair of Mion sandals this weekend. They are incredibly comfortable technical sandals. I love them. Other than the fact that they squeak fiercely. As in, "I hear Andy coming...from a state away." This will not do. So, I e-mailed customer service last night:

--Original Message--
Date: 9/19/2006 7:41:01 PM
Subject: These suckers squeak

I love my new Mions...I don’t, however, love the squeaking....any advice on breaking them in or ending this noise? I can’t wear them where I’d like to because of it.



Re-reading my e-mail to Mion, I laughed. "I can't wear them where I'd like to because of it." I wonder if they thought, "Oooh, I bet this guy lives in a monastery." Or maybe they think I'm a ninja.

Anyway, this morning I got the following e-mail:
On 9/20/06 11:22 AM, "MION Consumer Service" wrote:

Dear Andrew,

Thank you for your interest in Mion Footwear.

Your Mion Footwear is squeaking because two like-materials (EVA in the Footbed and EVA in the Midsole) are rubbing against each other. The squeaking will go away as the shoes break in. You can eliminate the squeak right away by putting powder under the footbed.

To learn more about Mion please visit our website at

If you have additional questions, please feel free to email us again.



Mion Customer Service

I love that. Thank you, Gayle. My questions are answered and you have a new brand ambassador.

The first birthday present just arrived....

From my running buddy Caroline. It's part running joke (there I go being punny) and part necessity as I run before sunrise.

This super-light, super-bright running headlamp will keep me safe in two ways:
1) illuminating my route
2) blinding the drivers of oncoming cars, causing them to swerve off the road, giving me more room to run

With this great hands-free get up, I have no need to turn on my house lights.

Monday, September 18, 2006

When all that buzz turns into zzzz

There's a crow feather between my teeth, folks. You'll recall I blogged on the Last Kiss Movie Soundtrack a bit ago. Via Zach Braff (of whom I'm a fan), MySpace blew up with all things Last Kiss. Frequent posts to from Braff to his "friend" list. Last Kiss premier video. Last Kiss Podcasts on iTunes. Last Kiss Video updates. Blog posts from Braff. Frequent communication on the soundtrack from many of the movie's great artists. I couldn't go one day - or hour, it seemed - without having my MySpace world rocked by The Last Kiss. Which I was fine with. It seemed like an incredible movie. The "community" that was created encompassed actors and musicians I enjoy. The edited trailers/video diaries/website met the perception created. In fact, if the movie was a quarter as good as the soundtrack, I'd be lauding it here, now. The problem? It sucked. It tanked. It disappointed. It verbed all bad things.

I have a lot of respect for Braff and his skills. He's an excellent actor, and a better marketer. He (and/or his people) have mastered building relationships in the blogosphere and through social networks. Until this point - until I lost my trust in his communication - I appreciated (as a fan and marketer) the way he utilized new communications and built his community. His influence can be seen in the cult following of Scrubs. In the amazing reception and continued chatter surrounding Garden State and in his keen ear for choosing music and launching musicians' careers. I give him all of that. Unfortunately, my analysis of this movie's promotion - and his key role in that promotion - changed drastically before and after the movie.

Before: more from Braff, a thought-leader and creative mind I respect...he's super pumped, therefore I'm super pumped.
After: the promotion was designed to get people to the first weekend screening because you sure as heck can't rely on the movie to carry buzz. And please give me back the 18 bucks. My date (who was wonderfully forgiving of my bad choice in movies) and I could have had a couple more glasses of wine, or maybe played putt-putt. Either would have been more entertaining.

The movie relied heavily on - and executed well - two vehicles for communication: iTunes and MySpace. They did everything right, except provide a worthy ending (product).

I'm sad that this didn't turn out the way I'd hoped. I looked forward to blogging on the movie's success. Unfortunately, this is a perfect example of the difference between marketing because you have a unique, relevant product and marketing because the bottom line - and maybe your career - depend on it. It's the difference between creating a window and a smoke screen.

We "new communication" marketers blog a lot on the origin of buzz. Buzz that's organic vs. buzz that's part of a seedy marketing plan. We applaud viral efforts and curse manufactured web spam. If I were to teach a class on marketing, I'd bring two videos to the first lecture to illustrate the different kinds of buzz.

Successful product (Garden State) + social networks EQUALS organic, good buzz.
Social network(ing) + buzz DOES NOT EQUAL a successful product (The Last Kiss).

The "buzz" that surrounded the release of this movie was not caused by social networks (people) but by social networking (person). And therein lies the problem.

Spend your money on the soundtrack. Or the Garden State DVD. Or the Garden State soundtrack. Or a couple more glasses of wine for you and your date.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Who's agenda is it anyway?

Blogging has been sparse lately. Lots of planning, proposals, new biz. These things take time. They also can be done either very well or very poorly. There's not a lot of middle ground - especially in new biz. You get one - maybe one and a half - chance to connect on multiple levels: financial, strategic, personal, emotional. I read an article on a collection of Bob Dylan interviews last night and it illustrated one of what I believe is the main tenants of new biz: clarifying the agenda. More specifically, who sets it, who follows it and how well is that agenda followed.

If you can read the article in its entirety do. As a music lover, closet journalist and history buff, I enjoyed the read. If you want the snapshot, read the transcript of an interview between Dylan and Playboy's (not linking to this) Ron Rosenbaum (at the very end). The set up to this interview is countless misunderstood interviews, wrong questions and lame answers, and a persistent lack of understanding what everyone was truly searching for: Dylan's inspiration and reasoning behind himself and his music.

Even Rosenbaum fumbles at first, but recovers by listening to Dylan's answer, which leads him like a leash to the heart of a great interview. In short, he allows Dylan to set the agenda, follows it, and follows it well.

Over the past couple weeks, I've seen potential clients practically scream their desires to be listened to: "Just do this one little thing for godsake! Stop giving me x, y, z! I want a!" and turn over the oars to my ideas: "Nothing's worked. Do something. Tell me how much it costs." A successful relationship is built when an agency's/marketer's/individual's agenda isn't pushed on a client, and more importantly, the client's agenda is clear. I get tired of marketers pushing plans that are irrelevant to a client's bottom line. Throwing a kitchen sink at a coffee-mug problem. Hounding prospects without bothering with engagement. Pounding the marketer's agenda instead of the client's. Come on, we're already asking them to pay us...why not make darn sure we know what they want to pay for.

We oftentimes make the mistake of thinking we know more than the prospect does. Maybe it's true. Often can be. But at least the prospect is humble enough to say, "I know widgets, but I don't have the foggiest idea how to market them."

As Rosenbaum figured out, it's not just about asking the right questions, it's about listening to all the answers.

Listening to: (how could I not) Bob Dylan, Live at the Gaslight 1962.

Monday, September 11, 2006

The highest lob shot

One of my final few reasons for having cable television has come to an end: the US Open. I love watching America's greatest tourney and this year was the best in recent memory. Though I wanted Roddick to beat Federer in the men's finals, their match was amazing. I have tennis withdrawl today...but Tango came to the rescue with these great images of a Dubai court in the sky - with Agassi and Federer playing.

How cool.

Friday, September 01, 2006

The Starbury sea change?

I'm writing this quickly, without much research or thought, just a buzz in my veins for a new line of basketball apparell that I believe might change the world. Irrational enough for you? Maybe, but hear me out.

Stephon Marbury's taking a different road than many of his NBA star peers and turning down lucrative endorsements with big brands. Instead of having his name on 150 buckaroo shoes, he's producing a line of 15 buck sneakers. And, he's going to wear his Starbury shoes on the court.

Slate has a good article on the popularity of these shoes and the juxtaposition of Marbury's line in a world of overpriced bling. Marbury's relying on organic awareness and a top-notch Web presence instead of a big marketing blitz (No, Spike Lee, we don't need you to direct the commercial). The guy has an exclusive retailer! His Web site is great - utilizing iTunes and telling a story to support his brand. My favorite line from the Slate article:

But these days, fantastic word-of-mouth can be as valuable as a multimillion-dollar ad campaign. And Starbury certainly has that.

Amen. I believe the Starbury line will prove that. However, I think it's impact will be much larger than just a learning in the marketing world. This is where I'm going to start to go overboard, but I think my points are worth talking about.

Marbury has:
1) Flipped an overpriced industry on its head, allowing kids to pay a CHEAP price to dress the same as a legitimate star. I remember begging my parents and saving my allowance for Air Jordan gear in which to play Biddy Basketball. That could all change. Could kids start buying their own clothes at a young age?
2) Created an opportunity for the big boys - Adidas, Nike, Reebok - to compete by cutting prices.
3) Built a brand around a person, instead of a person around a brand, which the "endorsement" model requires.
4) Generated buzz the right way: without a big campaign or strategy. Based solely on the product's merit/lure.
5) Reinvented style: I could easily find the desire to buy a pair of Starburys only to make a social/fashion statement. And that's how his brand is going to spread. Not only through schoolyeard kicks, but influentials of all ages supporting the new direction.

Heck, the guy might even lay the groundwork for a less materialistic society...OK...I'm getting too excited.

This is provocative stuff. And I hope this will be a brand that incites change and Marbury an agent of that change.

Let's hope the shoes are manufactured to endure the hype.