July 2011

What Ever Happened to Mike? His Pen Pal knows.

Just recently, because of Facebook, I reconnected with a dear, old friend from college. I guess you could call her my college crush. I haven’t seen or spoken with her since 1985, so it was actually pretty awesome to find her after all these years. Facebook gets serious points from me for that reason alone.

My friend and I began to correspond on Facebook, sharing bits and pieces of our life in a staccato fashion: a little here, a little there. It reminded me of when we were young, and how we would write letters to each other over Christmas and Summer breaks. Only those letters were much longer, by pages and pages. Then this year, for my birthday, she surprised me with an incredible, yet slightly weird gift. She packaged all of our college-years correspondence into a binder, in chronological order!

Wow! Did I really write that much? BY HAND? It got me to thinking about a few things. One: do younger people still write long letters, even if it’s in an email? Or is the majority of correspondence today done in short, quick messages? Two: does anybody actually write anymore? I recently heard that many schools have dropped “hand writing” and “writing in cursive” from their standard curriculum. Everyone today communicates with the keyboard. And many times, it’s in 140 characters, or less! The third thing that I thought about was: holy cow, I was a strange person when I was 19. Those letters that my friend saved were a window into my past. I had kept journals when I was younger, but I couldn’t tell you where they are, or if they even exist. But reading those letters gave me some real insight to who I used to be.

Knowing who I was when I was a young man gave me enormous compassion for who I am today. I was brought back to a time when I was full of passion and the world was my oyster, so to speak. I couldn’t wait to get started with my adult life, and the possibilities seemed endless. I had hope and courage and joy. Somewhere along the way, that exuberance was covered up by reality and life’s problems. Reading those letters gave me permission to tap into that passion again, and to see the world, even if for just a short period of time, as I did when I was young. The young man who wrote those letters is alive in me today, and I am grateful to my college sweetheart for safe-guarding that man for all these years.

Life in a Day with Cosmic Panda

A few days ago, I compared notes on both YouTube and Vimeo, the two leading video sharing sites in social media. Today, I’d like to highlight just a few exciting things about YouTube.

YouTube is releasing a full-length feature film today titled “Life in a Day,” produced by Ridley Scott and directed by Kevin MacDonald. The film is described on YouTube in the following way:

On July 24, 2010, thousands of people around the world uploaded videos of their lives to YouTube to take part in Life in a Day, a historic cinematic experiment to create a documentary film about a single day on earth.

Now, it’s time to watch their story unfold on the big screen.

Directed by Oscar winner Kevin Macdonald, Life in a Day wowed audiences at the Sundance, Berlin and SXSW film festivals and during its YouTube world premiere in January. This summer, you’ll be able to watch the movie in a theater near you.

It’s an interesting idea, kind of like a DIY Koyaanisqatsi, if you remember that film from the 1980’s.  The big difference being these are all shot by “you”, as the trailer says.  So, we’ll be hearing lots of original dialog and seeing genuine human interaction.  I’m really looking forward to it.

The second bit of news, and it’s not , if you remember that film from the 1980’s.  The big difference being these are all shot by “you”, as the trailer says.  So, we’ll be hearing lots of original dialog and seeing genuine human interaction.  I’m really looking forward to it.

The second bit of news, and it’s not really news because it was debuted a while back, it the beta version of YouTube’s next incarnation: Cosmic Panda.  YouTube is giving viewers and users a chance to preview their next upgrade and offer feedback before they actually upgrade.  I’ve gone on and tried it out, and found myself pleasantly impressed.  The major changes that struck me first were the slick new channel view and the way it displays your playlists, and the viewer window and the playback of videos.

Upon exploring more closely, I noticed that YouTube is offering movies for rent (under a “movies” tab) and a “music” tab that displays only music videos, along with a chart of the most popular songs. This is huge, and will probably put an end to DVD rentals. (Or at least put another nail in the coffin.) Very exciting stuff.

The drawbacks I can see (but maybe just haven’t found a way around yet) are the disappearance of my friends section and the auto-play function on my channel. It may take some getting used to, but I have a feeling the upgrade will be pretty amazing.

I love YouTube, and it’s good to see cool stuff happening.  Check out the trailer for the YouTube movie and the beta version of Cosmic Panda and tell me what you think.


What’s So Funny? Using Humor in Advertising

A little humor goes a long way. Sometimes.

Since the dawn of advertising, humor has played an integral part in humanizing products and brands. Laughter helps us to remember things with a smile. Think about someone you know who recently made you laugh, and you’ll probably smile just as you are remembering them. You may have the kind of product or business that could really benefit from the application and use of humor. If you do, give it a try. But also keep in mind certain “rules and regulations.” This stuff also applies to social media marketing. As a caveat, before we begin looking at humor, there are definitely certain products and services that don’t take well to funny. One such industry that comes to me right away is healthcare. I don’t think people find healthcare very funny, so really think hard before you use humor in the advertising of healthcare, medicine, donor support, etc. I guess that kind of goes without saying. But I said it, anyway. Oh, and politics. I bet there’s nothing really funny about politics, especially today.
Usually when what you are trying to sell or promote is risky, costly, or sensitive, then humor probably is not the best route.

I think one of the most important rules or laws with humor in advertising is that everybody gets it. When you really have to explain where the humor is, well, then it’s not really funny. Test it out on some folks. Sometimes what makes you laugh in your head is only funny to you. Also, be very aware of who your target market is. An older, more mature audience will not find humor in the same things that a Gen Y audience might find funny. Usually.

Don’t use humor just for it’s own sake. You may have a great, hilarious idea, but if it doesn’t relate to your business or product, then don’t use it in your marketing efforts. People will find this self-indulgent, and it may backfire on you. Also, and this should go without saying, don’t be insensitive. Humor at the expense of others will probably do more harm than good. Take a peek at this Tweet by Kenneth Cole shortly around the time of the riots in Egypt. The Tweet was taken down immediately.

KC-backfire

Another thing about humor: it has a short shelf life. If you are going to run your media again and again, you better make sure the humor has staying power. There are some jokes that are really funny when you hear them for the first time, but are annoying when you hear them again…over and over again. However, there is a magical formula for some funny bits that don’t seem to lose their luster. Like this plumbing company vehicle. I’ve seen this a million times, but it always makes me laugh.

funny-truck

I think with the advent of YouTube, humor in advertising has found a new niche. Lower production costs and higher turnover rate make YouTube a great place to experiment with humor. Humor helps to level the playing field between large, big-budget advertising and smaller, yet more clever campaigns. Catch these low-tech spots for Otter. Just another reason I love YouTube (and funny stuff). Give us some feedback. Do you use humor in your online marketing and advertising? Are you willing to try it? Do you use it without even realizing it?



Book Cover Design as Part of Your Personal Brand

If you are a speaker, or any kind of small business owner where your company brand is associated with your name and image, then self-publishing a book is an excellent way to really assert your brand. (Companies like CreateSpace and LuLu make this process a little easier than you would think.)

The most obvious way is that you can strengthen your area of expertise, and the perception that you are an expert, a book will give you opportunities to research and dive deeper into your subject matter. It will ground your brand in a point of view. I think this is particularly useful if you happen to be a public speaker. Perhaps you speak on the topic of “Leadership.” By writing a book on how to become a strong leader, you quickly will establish the perception (or fact?) that you are an expert on this topic, and the angle you write from will convey your point of view. Maybe you have a unique and radical way that you look at leadership. Or, maybe you have a pretty traditional way to look at it, but that way was how you became a success, and you just want to relate your success story and study the process.

The second way is to associate yourself with other authors and experts. The single most effective way to do this is to write a book, and then to have others give glowing testimonials of your work. It is a common practice, and not that hard to accomplish. Testimonials sell more books than any other information on the back cover.

Those two points seem pretty clear. The third point, and the one I feel more qualified to comment on, is the most visual element: the book cover. This is the most instant way to relay to your reader, or potential reader, your personal or business brand. If you understand your customer, and you understand the market for your book, then you are in a good place to start. Then, of course, is the difficult task of branding your title. This is just as important as the visual design. Both of these steps are prerequisites before you begin working on the cover art. It is important to get support in this area, perhaps from a branding expert or a group of trusted colleagues. Really take your time with this step, because it will be your foundation. The book title and cover will need to be a stand-alone brand as well as align with your own brand.

From there, ideas will spring forth. Use a competent graphic designer to help you brainstorm, and keep in mind things like color, fonts and typography, clean visual balance, simplicity, and photography or illustration. These are the elements that go into good book cover design. I’ve designed a few covers in my branding career, and the way I like to start is by going to a bookstore and immersing myself in the section of the store that relates to the project I’m working on. Whether it be Self-Improvement, Business, Women Studies, Health and Fitness…keep to your subject matter. Narrow down your area for inspiration. I bring my notebook and take notes. What is the current trend in cover design? What colors seem to really pop out, or what colors are closely associated with your topic?

7-women-cover

I worked on the cover design for The Seven Women Project. There were many decisions that went into the design of the cover, but the most important elements were the bracelet image and the font. We made a conscious, group decision to have the bracelet be a representation of the Seven Women (with seven beads), because it was feminine and simple. Then we played with the idea of an illustration and gave that a try. The idea to photograph the bracelet stemmed from a marketing idea : if we found a bracelet we could sell, then we could use that as part of merchandising and marketing the book. The font we chose was reminiscent of fashion magazine typography, and that was another important marketing angle for us.

As for Lori Siegel’s book pictured above, it was important for us to show Lori and make her the main focus. She was the expert, and she was also launching her speaking career. People needed to see her face. Portrait photography became a very important element, as did the color palate.

It takes 15 hours, on average, to design a book cover. The cost of a professionally designed cover ranges from $500 to upwards of $4,000. By working on some of the elements and issues presented here, you can really shave some money off that higher-end fee.

YouTube or Vimeo?

I subscribe to both video posting services, but have only just recently been using Vimeo a bit more regularly. I’m going to muse upon the strengths and weaknesses of both.

For Vimeo, I can look at this with a fresh perspective because I’ve only begun to get reacquainted. What I find refreshing about Vimeo is that there is no nonsense to wade through. It’s a “professional” service when compared with YouTube. It’s a bit more complicated to use and set up, but I believe that is what helps it to stay “pro.” It has the reputation, or brand, of being higher quality than YouTube, but I believe YouTube has made plenty of upgrades to elevate it to the same level of quality. There is no time limit on Vimeo, so filmmakers and professionals like that they can upload works uninterrupted. However, many of the bells and whistles and higher quality options also come at a monthly fee on Vimeo. YouTube is absolutely free. Also, Vimeo has one definite advantage over YouTube: I looks cool. It has a much more appealing visual design, which always gets points in my book.

As for good chances that you’ll be seen along-side countless other videos. But, for marketing purposes, increased number of inbound links and SEO, and for being found on the first page of Google, YouTube seems to be the way to go over Vimeo. I’ve had lots of positive experiences with the visibility of videos on YouTube. Plus, YouTube as a networking site, really very similar to a MySpace. You can gather subscribers to your “channel” on both services, but YouTube seems to be a bit more social, more networking-friendly. I use YouTube in many ways like I would Facebook or MySpace.

The final verdict for me is that both are great. I can find uses for each, and so I’ll use both. There are many other services out there (including Veoh, Viddler and Facebook), and they all have their advantages and disadvantages. This may sound like a cop-out, but I seriously believe that video, which is an art-form, an advertising tool, a family heirloom, a prank and joke teller, and a blog tool, is a huge and vast medium of expression. We’ve only just scratched the surface of its versatility and function. So, it stands to reason that there will be many different services that store and play video, each with different assets and flaws. I’m sticking to YouTube to get the word out, and to Vimeo to just to look good.

YouTube:

Vimeo:

Karen Davis Design: Philosophy from Mike ThreeSixty on Vimeo.

A “How-to” Video Would be Great for You!


I was stumbling around on the internet the other day, and I was struck by the wealth of information available to us in video format.  There is a “how-to” video on almost anything.  How to fix your car, how to cook recipes, how to paint in oils, how to use social media…incredible.  And it’s almost always free.  Of course, there are also websites you can use like my favorite Lynda.com which have a vast amount of knowledge and information, and are really worth the cost.

It got me to thinking:  if the words “how-to” are some of the most searched words on the internet, why not create a “how-to” video of your own?  Drive traffic to your site by embedding how-to videos on topics and challenges that relate to your business or area of expertise.  If you are a landscape architect, lets say, and you want to put a video on your blog or website, make it a how-to video.  First of all, giving away information for free is a great way to build brand loyalty.  People will appreciate the “free” information you are giving them, and your business or service will become more attractive to them.  Secondly, especially if your video is on Youtube or Vimeo or another large video search engine, you can increase visibility just by using the words “how to” in your title.

I also recently came across this site: VideoJug.  This looks fascinating to me, and I’m ready to explore.  Like other sites that you can use as temporary landing pages or websites, VideoJug is an amazing tool for online marketing.  Create any sort of page you like, and become a part of another resource and search engine.

I’ll be using a local client of mine, “Landscape Management Services” from Houston, Texas as an example.

Check out this webpage that took me, honestly, 15 minutes to put together!   It’s based on a video I already produced early this year called  “How to Use Rainwater for Drip Irrigation, a Step by Step Demonstration.” The hard part was finished when the video was complete, but once you have yourself a cool “how-to” video, the fun has just begun.  Plus, you’re advertising on Youtube and Videojug and you are twice as likely to be found online.

Here’s the original video I produced:

Rainwater Harvesting by Landscape Management Service from Mike ThreeSixty on Vimeo.

Keeping a Brand Photo Album

I just read an interesting article on personal branding.  In it, Dan Schwabel was discussing the photo album, and how it acts as a representation of our authentic brand and how it has evolved over the years. He then went on to correlate that to the elements and qualities of our online brand. Our online presence can act in many ways like a photo album, charting the growth and evolution of us and our business as it changes over the years. Customers or others that may follow us over a period of time have the opportunity to see how we’ve changed. Our style, our look and feel, the colors and design we use,  the content and material we put up. We display these materials in online photo albums like Facebook and Flickr, an in our blogs and other social media sites.  What is your online photo album saying about you?

Crystal Washington is someone who I have met recently, and have had the privilege to work with and learn from, mostly from our work together on Socialtunities, the social media learning program she has put together with Karen McCullough. Crystal is a marketing strategist, a social media consultant and a keynote speaker, and is in a generation younger than me. (She’s a Y, I’m an older X)

The first time I met Crystal Washington, I was struck by several things about her. They all contributed to her personal brand: her creative look (including an Afro and a scarf arranged in a headband) that caught my attention: her open and smiling face; her wide, expressive eyes; her generosity and willingness to share  These were the things I took away from her at first.   As I began to know Crystal better, and work with her over the past several months, I continued to learn more about her. I went to her website, and found it to correlate seamlessly with what I first discovered about her. The colors of her site, her profile photograph, the tons of information she offered; they all reminded me of that first lunch meeting I had with her so many months before. When I worked an event with Crystal, she showed up dressed stylishly, with a smile and an open personal attitude. She spoke openly and honestly with everyone, taking questions and answering them as thoroughly as possible.  Her information was relevant and abundant.  All of these qualities were first apparent in our very first meeting.

I’m excited to follow Crystal’s career and watch it unfold, along with her personal brand.  I want to see her online “photo album” come together. One of the things I’ve learned from Crystal is  that there are elements that she considers non-negotiable.  Her Afro, for example.  I see it as a part of her style, who she is right now.  Crystal is not going to show up without some kind of incarnation of that identifiable Afro puff; it is a part of her brand.  What is behind the Afro is Crystal’s personality, her content, her generosity and attitude of sharing, her giggle, her straightforwardness, her expertise, her success, her following…and many other things.  Her Afro does not define her, it helps to identify her visually.  I think it’s an important distinction.  I also know of many other business owners and entrepreneurs and speakers who focus on their visual markings and less on all the other qualities.  The kind of qualities that make Crystal such a powerful brand.

Think of your business and your personal brand as photo album.  What photos are you showing us?  What are you wearing in them?  Does your style shine through?  Is your content there to back it up?  Or are your messages confusing, and your style erratic?  Do you use a stylistic crutch to convey something that your content and delivery should be conveying?

Let your personal brand unfold and develop, all the while as you make careful choices about what you show us.  And it helps to smile.  I’d love to know other ways that you have built your online brand.

Watch This and Buy It!

Research has shown that people today would rather watch a video to learn about something than to learn the same information by reading. This is especially true on the web. Given a choice between a page of copy describing a new product or service or a quick video describing the exact same thing, overwhelmingly the choice seems to be the video. If you have a website, this is a great tool to use. In addition to being the preferred choice of most users, video can also give the user a fast, authentic feel for you and your business.

This is especially true when it comes to training or involved instructions. Studies prove that people also want to learn in private, without the pressure of others around them. Furthermore, when learning, statistics show that folks would rather receive content without extra (superfluous) entertainment factors. All of this is great news for businesses that want to teach their customers important information about their products or services. Think of the possibilities… and the simplicity of inserting video in your website at crucial times/locations.

If you are a restaurant or specialty food supplier or vender, you could highlight products by having your chef or food preparer demonstrate the freshness, or versatility, or deliciousness they offer. Home contractors or interior design professionals can show how to create more attractive or more functional living spaces. Clothing retailers or designers can record fashion shows or demonstrate tips on dressing well. Landscapers and gardeners can beautifully demonstrate how-to’s and before-and-afters. Companies like Zappos and Lowepro are using this technique, as are countless others.  The possibilities are literally endless.

Here are some tips for creating informative videos:

1. Start with a script. Use simple language. Don’t say too, much, let the visuals do the talking!
2. Use a professional camera and microphone! Or better yet, hire a production team or company.
3. Use titles to reiterate what is happening. The viewer needs to be shown in at least two ways how to do something.
4. No talking heads! People would much rather see a demonstration than hear somebody talking about it. Plus, studies show that we retain 80% what we see, only 20% of what we hear.
5. Keep the visuals exciting and moving. No long, static shots.

Check out how LL Bean uses video to sell many of its merchandise in its LL Bean Video Catalog.

How to Make Testimonial Videos

Testimonial videos are excellent marketing tools!  Remember the style of “old tyme” commercials?  A roaming camera man in a supermarket asking shoppers how white their clothes get.  A man on the street asking you to try a Pepsi or a Coke.  Or, more recently, what kind of cell phone service gives you the most coverage and best rates.

It’s tried and true, and it is a perfectly good way to sell your product or service on your website.  Think this way; what better method to encourage sales than direct word-of-mouth advertising right on your home page.  (Hint: fake or rehearsed testimonials are easily identifiable and ineffective.)

How to create testimonial video clips:

First, get a video camera that has external microphone capability.  This is important, because without it your audio quality will be shoddy and distracting.  Hire or rope in a like-able personality type to interview your customers (or, interview them yourself while you operate the camera, if you can do both).

Second, prepare your subject with what to say.  Don’t give them a script, but encourage them to speak clearly about the features and benefits of your product or service.  Suggest that they end their comments with a call to action.  “I recommend brand X whole-heartedly” or “if you haven’t tried product X’s service yet, hurry up and do so!”  Ask them to keep their comments direct and concise.  Long, rambling testimonials will bore the viewer, even if they have great content.  It begins to feel like the hard sell.

Third, edit the short clip and post it on your website.  Keep your testimonials current and fresh.  Don’t leave them up for too long, or they will feel stale to repeat visitors.  Ideally, prepare many short testimonials to give the feeling that there are many happy customers.  Just one clip will look weak.

Is That Your Real Voice?

Recently I had to opportunity to film a speaker I hadn’t worked with before.  She was delivering a talk to a fairly large group of business owners in a conference. I’m somebody who has seen a lot of speakers in my day, and what immediately struck me was the speaker’s child-like monotoned voice.  It wasn’t exactly high-pitched, but after about 20 minutes of it, I was ready to take off my headphones.

I didn’t think much of it until later that day while I was replaying the footage on my computer.  Somebody who works in my building just happened to be nearby working on some computer issues, and he turned to me and said out of concern, “Do you have to listen to that all day?”

Yes, I really do have to listen to it all day as I edit the material.  I’m paid to do it.  But what about the audience members who have made the choice to spend an hour of their day in front of this speaker?  They must also experience a similar reaction to that high, monotone voice.

It struck me how important it is for a public speaker to modulate the pitch and tone of their voice.  While I’m sure more experienced speakers are well aware of this, and actually work on their craft and their voice as if it were a musical instrument, the more novice speaker may not even realize the importance of this.  Even if the person is delivering a talk that is mostly technical, or content-heavy, it is important to modulate the sound and tone of the voice so that the audience stays engaged.

OK, now I’m being totally self-indulgent and referencing a clip from The Man With Two Brains, one of my favorite Steve Martin movies, to prove my point. It’s a far-fetched and slightly inappropriate scene, but it gives me a chance to make my point. View at your own risk, and probably not safe for work.