Posts made in September, 2010

Book Review: Delivering Happiness

Posted by on Sep 28, 2010 in Books, Brands | 2 comments

Delivering Happiness Tony Hsieh Zappos Book I love the Zappos brand and admire visionary entrepreneurs, so picking up Delivering Happiness by Zappos CEO and serial start-up founder Tony Hsieh was a no-brainer for me. What was a surprise though – how I couldn’t put the book down and ultimately tore through it in about two days.

Instead of using a ghost writer, Tony wrote the book himself in a plain, conversational tone that helped bring the business-reading experience to a more personal, intimate level. I found myself way sucked-in to the early years of his entrepreneurial track, from founding a failed worm farm at age 9, to building a successful mail-order business out of the back of Boy’s Life magazine a couple years later; when you get to the part about selling his internet start-up LinkExchange to Microsoft for $265 million, it feels like just a step beyond the custom picture button company he passed on to his older brother after building a $200 a month business.

Whether your a Zappos fanatic like me, or just have a casual interest in building a successful business on more than just profits, the evolution of the company up to Amazon’s acquisition makes for quite an entertaining read. Tony jumps off the page as a leader that rolls up his sleeves to make things happen, like when he drove cross-country to Kentucky to open up a new warehouse, and is keenly aware of the nuances of human relationships, a lot of which he seems to owe to a more-than-adequate love of partying (raves and make shift night clubs play a pretty important role in his story).

All in all, I was left inspired, optimistic and totally wanting more Zappos interaction – thankfully, their brand book, all-hands meetings and tons of company culture videos are all online on-demand whenever you need your faith in capitalism restored.

You can buy Delivering Happiness: A Path to Profits, Passion, and Purpose on Amazon here.

If you’d like to borrow the book, send me an email or leave a comment here and I’m happy to mail you my copy.

Here are some other fun Zappos-related resources in the meantime:

The Delivering Happiness Bus Tour Site

Order the Zappos Culture Book free

Zappos Insights – Learn how to be more like them

My last blog post featuring Zappos

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Four Wonderfully Watchable Brands

Posted by on Sep 12, 2010 in Advertising, Branded Entertainment, Comedy, Entertainment | 2 comments

While everyone and their social media expert brother are talking about how brands can be “talkable”, I’m gonna go out on a limb and say there’s still value in the one-way media consumption model. Yeah, call me crazy, I think there are people that still just watch media, without participating in a two-way conversation.

Enter the Age of the Watchable Brand

Traditional broadcast advertising has been defeated by Tivo and DVRs – most people aren’t sitting through commercials – so a number of content-savvy brands are using their paid media time or organic word-of-mouth to drive viewers into other avenues of branded entertainment to deliver their message in a more compelling and watchable format.

Here are four examples of wonderfully watchable brands that are delighting viewers by embracing branded entertainment:

Toyota Sienna on Youtube

A lot of us have seen the clever and endearing “Sienna Family” series on tv – aging hipster mom and dad, candidly sharing how the Sienna fits into their lifestyle. But you probably haven’t taken the extra step to follow the call to action at the end, check out Sienna’s Youtube page and enter the world of the Swagger Wagon.

toyota sienna youtube

Their 6 million views rap video that smartly speaks to their target audience with lyrics like “Bring the beat back, cause yo I got more to say, you know I’m always front and center at the school play … cut the crust off the PB&Js chill the Yoohoos…” and over 20 other entertaining spots have accumulated over 10 million plays on the channel thanks to their consistent ad series and favorable industry word-of-mouth.

Click here to visit the Sienna family on Youtube

Zappos on Facebook

You’ll often find me talking about just how damn talkable the Zappos brand is – their infinitely sustainable word of mouth strategy is driven by their core value of delivering amazing customer service, the kind that well, people just have to rave about. Well Zappos is apparently an amazing place to work to boot (you may have heard of their hiring practices), and if you watch any of the over 130 videos created by employees and uploaded to their Facebook page, you believe it.

Zappos facebook page videos

Check out a few videos like “Banana Phone” or “Development Olympics” to see how the company delivers on their promise of employee happiness, transparently exposing their enviably utopic-seeming corporate culture.

Click here to visit Zappos videos on Facebook

American Family Insurance’s “In Gayle We Trust”

Insurance companies do a hell of a lot of advertising. Geico’s famous for theirs, everyone seems to love Progressive’s Flo series, Allstate is coming on strong of late, and State Farm, well, they seem to be confused. Considering this crowded share of voice battle in between shows, it makes perfect sense that the underdog, in this case American Family Insurance, would choose not to fight in traditional advertising ring. What we’ve gained instead is the wonderfully watchable In Gayle We Trust.

In Gayle We Trust

Viewers can engage with the American Family Insurance brand in two seasons of easily enjoyable bites (3-6 minutes each) on hulu or NBC’s website (the show was produced for NBC’s digital studio) following Gayle Evans Evans, lovable insurance slinger, as she judges the Maple Grove Chili Cook-off, raises money for the local children’s library and generally solves all the town’s problems like any reputable insurance salesperson should.

Click here to watch In Gayle We Trust on hulu

Ikea’s Easy to Assemble

Have you ever seen an ad for Ikea on tv? I don’t think so, because Ikea has taken it upon themselves to create their own TV show online, and two seasons of Easy to Assemble. Created by veteran actor Ileana Douglas and featuring a slew of recognizable actors like Ed Bagley Jr., Justine Bateman and Jane Lynch, the series has been applauded by Ikea fans and the entertainment industry as the best web series online.

ikea easy to assemble

Following Ileana’s departure from Hollywood and entry into the home furnishings customer service world, the show delivers a charmingly self-deprecating look at actors’ sometimes ill-fated career paths, working in Ikea’s trademark Swedish meatballs and faux-training videos along the way.

Click here to watch Ikea’s Easy to Assemble TV

Sum it up, Arik

Brands can be more than just products on shelves, recipients of our paychecks and 30-second interrupters. With well-crafted branded entertainment and extended web series’ can engage consumers longer, deliver more compelling and believable messaging, generate organic word-of-mouth and get invited to more cool kid parties, in general. There’s probably some sales upticks and purchase intent that comes along with that stuff too.

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North Carolina, game capital of the universe.

Posted by on Sep 7, 2010 in Entertainment, Games, Innovation | 4 comments

The 25 mile or so stretch from Durham or Chapel Hill to Raleigh along I-40 is the main artery that feeds North Carolina’s heart with hundreds of thousands of professionals in software, biotech and pharmaceuticals, and coeds and grad students of Duke, UNC and NC State, every day.

It also just happens to be one of the most densely populated game industry hubs in the world. Game companies of all shapes and sizes, from the world-renowned Electronic Arts to home-spun app development studios, are finding the Triangle region (named for the tri-city geometry) to be a welcome locale for game development.

Pictured below are 30 or so local game industry companies (for a text list visit the Wake County Economic Development gaming industry page) within what I’d estimate to be a 300 sq. mile area, and who knows how many dorm-room start-ups and ex-IBMer software studios are in the works as you read this.

View Triangle Game Industry Companies in a larger map
But why is North Carolina the gaming capital of the universe, isn’t it just another NASCAR-loving, bible-thumping, tobacco-growing red state?

If you don’t live in North Carolina, or haven’t had the pleasure of visiting the Triangle region, you may have an impression of the southern states that somewhat mirrors the question above. Well, there’s a few things about the Triangle that just may shed some light on why it attracts game industry pros, and a whole lot of others.

1. Smart people

You’ve got Duke, UNC, NC State, Wake Forest, and they’re not just turning out basketball fans – lots and lots of newly graduated Gen-Zers are ready to work, and on something they’ve grown up doing (much to their parents dismay). Not only are they potential future game developers, but they’re taking part in some innovative initiatives, like NC State’s Friday Institute for educational innovation (yes, learning with video games is the future).

2. Passionate community

When you know its there, you see it everywhere you look. Thanks to industry associations like the Triangle Game Initiative, start-up accelerators like Joystick Labs, support from the Wake County Economic Development Center, annual events like the Carolina Games Summit and civic leaders like Wayne Watkins, the gaming community is thriving with resources abound for up and comers and established game industry folks alike.

3. Tax Incentives

How about that? NC Governor Bev Perdue approved a 15% tax incentive for digital media production in the state, signing House Bill 1973 at the local office of Epic Games. The incentive reduces the tax on compensation of employees that develop games, or platforms for gaming. The wording is rather loose actually – “interactive media” to be exact – so this could have farther reaching implications for other creative and technology industries in the state.

4. Killer Place to Live

I just moved to the Raleigh area, and its easy to see why its one of the fastest growing cities in the country. Low cost of living and real estate makes opening up shop easy, and when developers are looking for a good time, Durham’s food scene gets national media attention, local microbrews are available in every watering hole, good music comes through town and people are genuinely nice to meet you out and about.

North Carolina’s Triple Threat

Thanks to the Triangle area’s continuing support of the game industry community, North Carolina has become what’s described as a Triple Threat: highly skilled, highly educated employees in Game Engine Development, Entertainment Game Development and Serious Games. And as the News & Observer points out, the triangle region only accounts for half of the state’s gaming industry employee-base.

Game Capital of the Universe

Sure, there are bigger gaming hubs out there, and Ottumwa, Iowa, of all places, has claimed the “Game Capital of the World” title, but in my often prescient and completely quotable opinion, we’re the Game Capital of the Universe. So keep an eye on innovation in casual gaming, app development, MMORPGs, educational games and games in the workplace, all coming from our growing game industry hub and decide for yourself.

A special thanks to Brandon Bryce of Largemouth Communications and Karen Albritton of CapStrat for inspiring this article.

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