Six lessons I learned flying to KBIS®

You’ve been on those trips where the people behind you talk incessantly. I realized this was one of those and heard the people behind me on the plane debate: If different weights were released from the plane, the heavier one would fall faster than the light one. One actually believed it would. I put on my headphones, cranked up the music and caught up on my reading. I knew I wouldn’t learn anything listening to them, so I turned to my journals. Here’s what I learned.

Lesson #1. Buyer Beware. “The online ad industry is facing a swelling crisis, one defined by fake traffic,” says Mike Shields, in ADWEEK’s “World Wide Rip-Off” article. This is a stunning critique of our advertising business, and you should read it. Its truth will shock you, and it supports what we have been seeing in our little B2B world. In fact, reading it will educate you to terms like “fake traffic…click farms…bogus traffic…invisible traffic…pop unders…bot traffic…click vendors.” Furthermore, every website in the story was another new world. Because we live in our narrow B2B space, reading this article was looking into the future of what is coming our way. As Wenda Millard, President of Medialink said, “People should be very, very worried.” I was. And I am. And you will be.

Lesson #2. Print is Alive. “I don’t think people are ever going to give up on print…what will happen is that print will become more and more appreciated as we are flooded with more and more digital products.” Joanna Coles, the editor-in-chief of Cosmopolitan wrote in “Letting All those Voices be Heard,” ADWEEK’s November issue. You’d expect the editor of Cosmo to say that, but we believe she is right. When a major publisher asked me to contribute an article to his newsletter going to approximately 1,700 building product manufacturers and advertising agency executives, he said, “Everyone else I talk to says print is dead. You’re the only one putting a positive spin on it. Would you write about that for us?” I told him it would be a pleasure, and will let you know when it is sent out in April. In one experiment last year, we underwrote the Reader Service Card (remember those?) for a major trade journal. Our deal was this: We will process the backend fulfillment of leads, as long as we get to keep the names. We received over 700 cards back! In our sister company’s piece – “WHAT ARE ADVERTISERS BUYING? Part 5: Tracking Reader Inquiries” – we said, “Without the reader service card, advertisers are forced to track ad effectiveness in other ways.” And guess what? They are still searching! Even Nielsen – who gets a lot of it right – is finding it difficult to measure within disruption! According to them, what’s throwing everything off is the fragmentation of media, the rise of Big Data, and innovation in measurement and analytic tools. Hold on, because the ride has just started.

Lesson #3. The Good Story. When Facebook tried to change the word “advertising” to “stories,” it didn’t really take hold. But that’s OK, because it’s all about the story, regardless what you call it. It’s always been about the story. Kevin Reilly, Entertainment Chairman at FOX Broadcasting wrote in “Everybody still loves a Good Story” that “So many viewing options have diluted both urgency-to-view and passive audience flow – the two opposing pillars that programmers have relied upon to generate tune-in and maintain circulation” That doesn’t change the fact that stories will outdraw noise every time. Why do you think reality TV is so popular? Reality TV tells a story – not a very good one if you’ve been exposed to good stories – but stories nevertheless. Some people called David Ogilvy’s “At 60 miles an hour the loudest noise in this new Rolls-Royce comes from the electric clock” headline the greatest of all time. We can argue whether that’s true or not, but you can’t argue the success of this long-copy ad: It tells a great story. Even if you never will buy a Rolls, you will read this ad. It has 13 bullet points. Storytelling then – and now – is how you sell stuff!

Lesson #4. Choices. Jeff Goodby, the co-founder of Goodby, Silverstein and Partners, wrote “The Big Human Brain Thing” in Adweek stating that something critical in understanding advertising today: “The attention span of the Big Human Brain – both as maker and consumer of stuff – is too short.” But then, it always was. However, his arguments – that we have to widen our horizons because we have so much to choose from now – are on the money. In fact, his advice is: “Hit fast. Succeed or fail quickly. Learn from it. Go on…that making people care about things has always been hard, but it’s especially hard in this environment.” It’s actually impossible to make people do anything – before or now. A Huffington Post article, “8 Things You only Believe because Advertisers Told you To,” stated that everything we believe – from giving people a diamond ring to Santa Claus – comes from those evil advertisers. She’s all wrong. And, with due respect to Goodby (after all, he’s the “Got Milk” guy), his campaign for milk didn’t make us care for milk. It reminded us about milk, which is all advertising really ever did or does. Individual decisions to buy or not buy – whether based on some pretext of “keeping up with the Jones” – are still individual choices. And what’s wrong with wanting to look cool…or eat well…or care enough about Wounded Warriors to give some of your money? Bob Stone, the father of direct marketing, said, “people won’t buy anything except for two reasons: to gain something, or protect what they already have.” Those two reasons are still the same today.

Lesson #5. Control. Bob Jeffrey, the Worldwide Chairman and CEO of JWT, in his Adweek article, “Digital Disruption, and Consumer Control,” said it best. “If anything has rocked our world more during this digital revolution, it is the transformation of the consumer form a passive spectator to an engaged activist.” What’s interesting about this comment is that the consumer has always been in control. The consumer either purchased or didn’t purchase. But now, as Jeffrey rightly points out, the consumer is an activist whether he or she buys or not. “Technology has enabled new levels of consumer participation that go beyond our wildest dreams,” he wrote further. And that scares a lot of people. Here is an example.

My wife and I attended Jersey Boys in Vegas. I was presenting two sessions at KBIS. Rather than rush back to Chicago and sub-zero temperatures, we spent an extra night and caught the show. Overwhelming performances. Oh what a night! (pun intended). During the event, Travis Cloer who played Frankie Valli sang the song, “Can’t Take My Eyes Off You” and thrilled the audience. I have a way of whistling by putting two fingers in my mouth that blows the eardrums off anyone near me. I put that in motion – the only whistler loud enough to go over the applause. Cloer (aka Valli) immediately looked my way, and smiled. Of course, he didn’t know it was me who whistled. After mine, others who had mastered the technique put whistles in motion throughout the theater. He soaked in the appreciation after a stunning performance and simply smiled, grateful.

At the end of the show, I was screaming, “More! More!” But, everyone was getting up as if I yelled “Fire!” I shouted, “Come on, join me! Start yelling and they will come back on stage.” Most people laughed and kept walking. I heard someone say, “Nice try.” My wife and I let the band finish playing, and then turned and went out, disappointed we couldn’t hear them one more time.

The next day, I decided to see if Cloer was on twitter. There he was: @traviscloer. I tweeted, he responded, and others chimed in the conversation.

Without social media, this kind of contact would never have been possible. Anyone can touch anyone now. That is what Jeffrey is talking about in his Adweek article. Is this activism? You bet it is. The sooner ALL companies and brands realize that this is what it is all about, the sooner you can turn activism into advocacy.

Think about it: Here is a star of a show, Travis Cloer. He didn’t have to respond (and yeah, even if someone is doing it for him, so what!), but by responding, he gets a fan for life. I didn’t know who Travis Cloer was before this show. Now, my wife and I will never forget him – or the others (some of whom did NOT have twitter accounts!). With less than 140 characters, Travis Cloer as a brand has a couple of fans – probably for life. So now tell me: What is the difference between Cloer and Tide? That’s right: nothing! It’s about the brand’s ability to engage with consumers. Thank goodness the technology tools are here! We are in control – of each other!

Lesson #6. Time. Susan Credle, the CCO of Leo Burnett North America said, “Today, everything that exists in the real world, also lives and breathes on screens…sometimes I wonder if reality has become the second.” Her Adweek article – “Lots and Lots of Choices – No More Time” – made sense of what we are all facing: The fact that most people live in two worlds now, not just one. This “blending” can be VERY confusing, especially for inexperienced people who because they have been largely wrapped up in the virtual world, don’t have any idea of reality. The two really have to blend, as Credle points out: “In the virtual world, time is not linear.” Actually, it’s not in the real world, either. We simply put a wrapper on it called 24 hours. We “sense” time passing. We have store hours…we eat at certain times. But the reality is, that’s only because it has become a habit. That’s what the “experienced” people find so frustrating with the virtual world. There are really no habits you can identify. Instead of having 9-5 hours, you have to be 24/7. Instead of this, you have to have that. It’s upsetting all the way around. However, Credle’s central question, “Why is someone going to spend their most valuable resource (time) with your brand?” is one we all need to address. You have to give them reasons to spend time with your brand. But, you have to redefine that your “brand” is, and what it means. Because “anyone can create something that everyone can see,” how can the brand use that “reality” to their advantage? There is only so much time available to anyone.

I had a 4:30 PM session on the first day of KBIS. I expected a couple of people. Why? Well, it was the end of the day, and there are lots of parties that go on after the show that manufacturers host. Through an error in registration, my course wasn’t CEU credited (it is, but not for this event through some silly misunderstanding). Why would anyone come at 4:30 to 5:30 when the show closes at 5 PM?

Over 40 people attended! I thanked each of them personally as they showed up, smiling. When the session started, I repeated my gratitude to them. When one asked why I was so grateful, I said, “Well, you’re going to give me one hour of your valuable time, and frankly, I didn’t expect this many people. So I’m very grateful. I’m going to make your time investment worth it.” It was a great exchange during that hour. In fact, afterwards, when the video tech (Tony) was taking my microphone from me, he asked, “What did you do to those people? They were all smiling when they left the room.” I said, “Better ask them, or better yet, come to my presentation next time!” Thank YOU for spending YOUR time reading this!

FOOTNOTE.Oh by the way, when I took my earphones out on the plane as we landed in Vegas, the people were still talking behind me, three and a half hours later. Their topic was now sports, not gravity. The one who didn’t understand gravity was saying how he didn’t think boxing was a sport because it had no measurable outcome. I almost turned around and said, “Is knocking your block off measurable?” but didn’t. After all, experience teaches us to keep our mouth shut and speak when we’re spoken to!

Let me know what you’ve learned on your last trip!

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