Breaking Through Our ADD World

We are living in the age of curation. That term used to be limited to museums and film festivals but today everything is curated. How we get our news, social media updates, recommendations, even our birthday wishes. Like it or not in this on demand, oversharing world, algorithms serve up information, often based on highly personalized data. We are being second guessed by our newsfeeds and Netflix queues.

We no longer have to go to the library or the museum to do research. It’s all available online – search and discovery. Except that we are missing the experience. The accidental discovery by getting lost in the stacks. Even our shopping is curated. Who needs to go to the mall when everything is available on your phone. All of your favorites serving up whatever you need (or don’t need) on your schedule. And of course, the 800 pound gorilla called Amazon is always open, ready to deliver anything and everything. Some of it by just pushing a Dash button.

In our FOMO (Fear of Missing Out) world, we are always hungry for more. Driven to stay on top of our social feeds, emails, texts, we are always behind. Because there’s always more. And in this quest, we rely on newsletters (and Facebook) for the latest news and information and influencers who share their latest finds (often without revealing that these are paid endorsements). But with so much coming at us every minute of every day, how do you get my attention?

In my speeches, I tell the audience that they are all content creators and congratulate them. But then again, that’s also the problem. When everyone is a content creator, and algorithms are increasingly the curators, how are you supposed to get me to pay attention to your message? Another app? Join the club. You wrote a book? Halleluiah. So did 10 other people I know. Or their friends. New movie coming out? Good luck. My Netflix and Amazon Prime queues are locked and loaded for the next year. You get it. Breaking through is HARD.

And that’s why it should be #1 on your list. Marketing is everything and attention is job one. So who you trust to get and deliver information is more important than ever. Trust is key. It’s not a metric. It’s THE metric. And differentiation – thinking about why someone should care is the most important piece of the puzzle. With a constant bombardment of messaging, we pay attention to what is relevant to us.

Let’s face it, the old rules are dead. There are more channels to reach consumers popping up daily. And the big guys (Facebook, Google et al) control much of what we see. So we have to work harder at getting and delivering the unfiltered information we seek, whether it’s (real) news, reviews or social media posts from friends and brands.

Why When Matters

I was talking to the executive producer of the upcoming Michael Jackson Lifetime movie at an event yesterday. She is a legend in the business and yet she was concerned. About viewers. Will they know about it? Will they come? It’s premiering Memorial Day weekend – the first weekend of summer. It got me thinking about our changing times and why when you launch anything new is as important as the messaging around it.

When my TV movie aired in 1999, there were 4 networks plus HBO and Showtime to sell to. People stayed home to watch the Sunday night movie. (And in my case, the CBS Tuesday Night Movie. ) It was a staple in a world of limited choices. There was one screen – the TV that delivered long form entertainment. Obviously, our world is fundamentally different today. People now watch “content” on mobile devices and that means they aren’t forced to sit through ads or to watch a show all at once. They can watch shows when they air, or on demand, DVR or stream them through multiple subscription and free services. It’s the ultimate answer to the “I want what I want, when, and where I want it” problem. The networks are no longer in charge, the consumer is the boss. And there is more to choose from than ever before. Too much great TV, not enough time.

This issue of getting attention is true not only in TV but for launching any product or service. Timing matters. When you get attention matters. And yet, many entrepreneurs are so in love with their “baby” that they forget about the old rule: being at the right place at the right time. There is still a lot of emphasis on getting on TV or on a podcast or even in the newspaper. But here’s the thing, there’s no point in getting attention until you are ready. After all, unless you’re building a personal brand, you may want to wait until you have something to sell. Creating awareness is great. Converting that to sales is even better.

So next time someone offers you a launchpad for your new “baby” take a minute to ensure that the timing is right. That you are ready to make a splash. You know what they say: you only get one chance to make a first impression. Make it count!

Who Is It For?

I’m constantly approached for advice. I have an idea for…. a book, a movie, a speaking career, an app, a “fill in the blank.” I always congratulate the person for having an idea and then set out to (as nicely as I can) talk about the reality of bringing it to life.

When I ask about the “what” a fountain of information comes out. Because for the most part, the focus is about the “idea” usually coupled with how it came about. There’s often passion there and the exciting feeling that comes with beginnings.

I follow up this excitement with my no-nonsense (some would say unfeeling) advice which starts out as questions. And every single time the question is: who is it for? After all, you can create a great product or service, write a brilliant book or make a great film but unless you can figure out how to reach potential consumers, readers or audiences, it won’t be commercially successful. And “viral” or “social media” are not a “who” nor is “it’s for everyone.”

I acknowledge that it’s tough to know, especially if it’s something that doesn’t exist or is truly transformative but let’s face it; even a small tribe or club needs a few members (and no, aunts or nephews don’t count).

My advice is often ignored because the “who” is hard. And not as much fun as focusing on the product or idea. But guess what, if you don’t know who you’re creating for then how do you know what to create?

And yes, I’m familiar with the Henry Ford and Steve Jobs quotes but they’re the exception, not the rule. If you’re transforming the world (e.g. building a car to replace horses or a smartphone to replace the camera/cell phone/iPod/computer) please stop reading now.

Otherwise, be an owl. Keep asking WHO, WHO, WHO? That is the beginning of the journey. The next question of course is: how will you reach them? But I’ll save that for another day.

The Rise of Disintermediation (and the end of the middleman)

We are living in a time of extreme disruption. Right now there is a startup somewhere in the world working on upending the status quo of every industry. Technology is the common denominator but the impetus is the changing consumer and her demand for convenience. Or in Silicon Valley speak, they are solving a problem.

There are of course the obvious and much-discussed companies:
Uber is changing transportation in 2 ways. Firstly, by using the phone, it enables users to order a car to take them from point A to point B and know the cost, driver name and arrival time upfront. Secondly, it allows anyone (with a car) to become a driver and by doing so they addressed the complexity (and cost) of becoming a taxi driver.

Another sharing economy darling, Airbnb brings together travelers and hosts. It provides the platform and allows anyone with a room or house to rent to post photos and a description. Like on Uber, everyone can review each other to (supposedly) provide future users with insight. The company’s valuation at $30 billion makes it worth almost as much as Hilton and Hyatt combined. What makes that number remarkable is that it does not own or operate anything. Its tech platform provides a marketplace.

Netflix initially took the friction out of the Blockbuster experience (driving to the store, out of stocks, late fees) by mailing out DVDs and completely transformed the TV business with streaming. Binge watching, anyone?

And of course, there’s Amazon that started its ascendance by selling books online. And en route to retail behemoth (and world domination) eviscerated Borders and brought Barnes & Noble to its knees. It turns out that consumers are only too happy to avoid driving to the store, parking, walking the aisles and lining up to pay. Instead, they can find whatever they need in their PJs, on the couch, and choose when they want to have it delivered. As a leader in self-publishing, Amazon also provides would-be authors with a platform and the ability to bypass the agent and publisher altogether. The ability to reach consumers directly is perhaps the ultimate example of disintermediation. Of course, the downside is that some books suffer from quality issues. And the review system in place to fix that has its own issues.

Many other industries have been shaken up by the changes in distribution and the rise of social media. Even the beer industry has been surprised at the astronomical rise in craft breweries in the past decade. (More on this in a future post.)

Take a look at news as a business. Until 10 years ago I was still holding on to print; I subscribed to 4 daily newspapers and 40 magazines. Today that number is zero. Like most people, I get my news online. From newsletters that curate articles based on my interests to updates on social media from the media outlets themselves. Facebook and Twitter have made all of us content creators and provide us the ability to make or share news as it happens.

A great example of someone who uses Twitter to skip the middleman is @realDonaldTrump. His tweets before he became President and now as President provide him direct access to followers and then get amplified by news outlets as they report on his latest tweet.

Of course, the difference between non-celebrities and celebrities is that name recognition is key to winning the battle for attention. While it’s true that every one of us now has the power to put their words, photos, and videos into the world, the bigger issue is breaking through the noise. 
 
We will continue to see disintermediation in every industry that has intermediaries. Especially on the consumer side. Our connected world continues to remove barriers and our reliance on our devices, social media, search and crowdsourced reviews will propel us into a world increasingly shaped by AI as machines learn to not only understand our needs and wants but to predict them.

I’m waiting for personalized everything. Getting the information I’m interested in (news I care about, products I may want to buy, places I may want to travel to etc.) to come to me. Basically, my life as a Netflix recommendation engine. 

Authenticity and Transparency (in an election year)

Authenticity

If you are watching the insanity of the 2016 election (with 8 months to go) you’re probably shaking your head in disbelief. A lot. It is either the best or worst reality show in America. You couldn’t script this race any better. Or create better “characters.” When compared to past elections it’s downright exciting. And scary.

On one hand we have a colorful ex First Lady, Senator and Secretary of State going toe to toe with a Socialist Senator from the state of Ben & Jerry. On the other, we have a billionaire real estate developer and reality TV star, 2 youngish senators with Cuban roots and a governor of a midwestern state who seems like the adult in the playpen.

And while there are major issues facing the US. Important ones like ISIS, climate change, job growth, healthcare etc., we keep going back to character. Who do we trust?

In the old days (pre social media) we depended on journalists to help us dig beneath the surface. Today, it’s all out there for everyone to see. Hillary Clinton’s emails, Bernie Sanders’ activism, Donald Trump’s lawsuits etc. But what we’re learning is that while there are many facts to sift through, many voters on both sides are going with their gut. They’re looking less at transparency and more at the candidate they find authentic. Someone who meshes not only with his or her worldview, but makes them feel understood. Like they represent them.

This indeed will be a historic election. There’s a lot at stake and it’s still early. But come November, we will be looking back and wondering how in a world more transparent than ever, we can ignore the proof, the facts and vote for who we feel is most trustworthy and authentic.

Attention is Our New Currency

Attention is Our New Currency

We are more connected to our phones than ever before. Constantly checking to make sure we’re not missing anything (even if it’s not beeping or vibrating or ringing). It’s the last thing we check before bed and the first thing when we wake up. And yes, many of us are finding it easy to do since we’re increasingly sleeping with our phones. I almost had a heart attack last month when I left my phone in the supermarket by mistake. Some nice lady let me borrow her phone so I could run around the aisles dialing my number until I heard it quack. Phew. I realized at that moment that I am an addict. Always connected.

I am constantly in touch and have so many ways to communicate; it’s hard to keep up. Text, WhatsApp, email, Skype, FaceTime, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat etc. All in their silos. Each one with its own rules.

While there are more ways for us to communicate than ever before, this is also a huge issue. It’s harder than ever to get someone’s attention. Before email and cell phones, there was only one way to have a two-way conversation – the landline telephone. Often attached to the wall. Now we are always on. We can communicate with anyone anywhere in real time using any number of ways. We are no longer dependent on voice calls since we can now see each other while we’re talking. We can even broadcast live.

The intermediaries are gone. Everyone can be a “radio” or “TV” star. But there’s a rub. With access to the technology, there are more eyeballs. But they’re no longer staring at the TV. Their attention is on multiple screens and multiple channels. So the battle is no longer about getting your 5 minutes of fame, those who can get and hold people’s attention will win the war. But it won’t last because the shiny new thing is right around the corner. Just wait until AR (augmented reality) and VR (virtual reality) are widely available…

Rules of Engagement

Rules of Engagement Photo

I started seeing a new dentist recently after being frustrated by the constant salesmanship of my last dentist. I was very clear with him on my expectations and explained that I often talk about “the new consumer” in my keynote speeches. I’m sharing my requests regarding transparency and authenticity in case they come in handy.

  1. Be on time – respect runs both ways. If you schedule an appointment during my lunch hour, don’t ask me to wait while you finish yours.
  2. Don’t sell me shit I don’t need or want. I understand that you train your staff to sell, sell, sell but no, I don’t need the new $160 miracle toothbrush before I’ve even seen you.
  3. Develop a relationship first. Trust is established when we’re both honest with each other.
  4. Don’t ask me for reviews. See #3. If I’m happy, I’ll lavish you with praise.
  5. Don’t promote yourself on multiple deal sites (using different prices) and then tell me you didn’t know about it. I assume that your staff = you.
  6. Don’t use fear mongering to scare me into getting procedures. See #3.
  7. I’m not a monetization engine. Remember that you’re a dentist, not a used car salesman. I expect my doctors to treat me as medical professionals first, business owners second.

My Daily Reading List

Anat Reading WSJ

“A curator we believe in will take us places we didn’t previously choose to go, because we have faith in them.”
Bob Lefsetz

I’m an information junky. I love to keep up with the latest news but also in-depth pieces about worlds I’m interested in. Until 10 year ago, I subscribed to newspapers (The NY Times, LA Times, Wall Street Journal and USA Today) and 50+ magazines (everything from the New Yorker to Vogue to Wired). While I didn’t have time to read them all, I tried to at least peruse them and grab whatever tidbits I could. I was very popular with flight attendants on long flights out of LAX because I’d bring the magazines onboard and leave them behind.

Now I let others curate my “must read” list. Yes, I know about social media but I can’t keep up with my feeds on Twitter and Facebook so these newsletters are sent to my inbox.

Here’s my list of current favorites. No, I don’t always read them. That’s what the delete button is for. The good news is that there’s always another one on the way.

If only someone could curate these for me…

News
The Skimm

Next Draft

Media/Tech/Pop
REFEF

Startups
Product Hunt

Launching Next

Trends
psfk Daily

Trendera (weekly)

Finance
Term Sheet

Mattermark Daily

Women in Business
The Broadsheet

Social Business
Smart Brief

Entertainment
The Hollywood Reporter Live Feed

Beer
NBWA Daily Brew

Doing the Hard Work

Doing The Hard Work

We live in a shortcut culture. The weight loss industry had a $60 billion year, with many of these diets offering quick fix solutions. In contrast, the fitness industry is a $22 billion a year business. We’re entering the holiday season to be followed by new year’s resolutions that list losing weight and getting fit at the very top. Despite our good intentions, most of these resolutions won’t make it into February. Why? Well, most people are looking for the shortcut and aren’t willing to put in the effort. Let’s face it. Losing weight is hard. Getting fit is even harder. There’s no magic bullet. Just hard work.

I’m finding a similar attitude toward work, mostly among Millennials who some call the entitled generation.

I have a friend who is 24 and fits the bill. She’s beautiful and bright and until now, has had everything handed to her, often by the (successful) men she’s dated. Because we’re friends with a big age difference, I wanted to believe that she was different. That she meant it when she discussed her ambition and asked for career advice. So I shared that when I was her age I already completed graduate school and had a great job running a division of a hotel company. Lots of responsibility, long hours and constant (not always glamorous) travel came with tremendous job satisfaction and the knowledge that I was making a difference. But I was wrong about my (soon to be ex) friend. She wants the title and the prestige, but doesn’t want to put in the time and effort. Good luck with that.

I’m happy to report that not all Millennials I meet are looking for an easy ride to the top. A few years back, I was a keynote speaker at a conference and noticed a young woman in the front row. She was 25 at the time and told me how no one took her seriously because she was young and female in a male dominated industry. I had a horrible flu so I can’t remember what advice I gave her beyond: just be yourself and do the hard work. Prove them wrong. And she did. Today, she is a bona fide influencer with a major social media presence and is awaiting publication of her first book. She didn’t sit around waiting for things to happen or be handed to her – she went for it.

Americans are obsessed with overnight successes – especially in Hollywood and tech – but the reality is that there’s no such thing. There’s a lot of hard work behind the lucky break. And Millennials will figure it out like the rest of us.

Stop Outsourcing Your Social Media

Stop Outsourcing Your Social Media Image #2

Would you outsource your personality? That’s essentially what you’re doing by letting a third party represent your business. Social is exactly that. It’s about building relationships. Some are one to one and others are one to many. Your Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Vine etc. represent who you are – they are your voice – whether it’s in words or images. They reflect you and no outsider can copy that. Because no outsider can copy your personality. And yes, all brands have personality. Big or small they stand for something.

Many small businesses are afraid of social media. Mostly because they don’t understand it. After all, they’re busy running their business and just don’t have TIME. They see it as a foreign thing. They don’t speak the language and don’t understand the significance. They know it’s something they SHOULD do. And since they don’t know how to, they hire an “expert.”

I’m not saying that social media gurus or agencies are all bad. I’m saying that they should only be used when absolutely necessary. They can be helpful in selecting the appropriate social media platforms (for example, not everyone needs to be on Snapchat, especially if your target market is seniors), setting up the accounts, showing you how to build a following, or coming up with a promotion or contest. BUT I don’t believe that anyone can build relationships for you that isn’t you. Especially in the initial stages of your social media presence.

Social media isn’t just about content (yours or someone else’s). It’s about opinions, it’s about humanizing your business, and it’s about letting others in. To your value system, thinking, habits. The more authentic you are, the more engaged your fans/followers will be. Oh and the time issue, well, it’ll quickly become a non-issue once you make it part of your life and see the benefits. Believe it or not, it can actually be fun. Especially once you stop seeing it as a chore but as a way to share and to engage.

I’ve been advising a friend who owns a small business and wants to grow. He just hired a PR firm and part of their job is social media. They set up Twitter and Facebook accounts. These have miniscule (~100) likes/followers and almost no engagement. Why? The content they post (once a day) is boring — articles from blogs. They add little personality to each post so it’s basically vanilla content. More noise on people’s feeds but no real value. No reason to stop and read because there was nothing that reflects the company. So there are barely any likes or retweets.

Here’s the bottom line. People want to do business with other people. The advantage a small business has is that consumers can get close to the owner(s). They aren’t doing business with a faceless corporation. It’s why some consumers flocked to craft beer. It’s local. They can touch the brewery. Shake hands with the brewer. Or at least connect with him or her online. It feels real. It’s not just a purchase at the grocery store along with milk and bread. It’s a relationship. Not just a transaction.

When I released my film Beer Wars in 2009, my sister forced me on Facebook and Twitter kicking and screaming. She was an early adopter and already saw the value. I thought it was a time suck but gave it a try. I built a loyal following, wrote every tweet and post myself and developed relationships. Some even moved IRL (in real life) while others are with strangers who I feel like I know.

My theatrical and digital distribution partners both offered up their social media agencies. I declined, much to their surprise. I realized early on that no one would care as much as I do and that I wanted the relationships to continue long after the agencies were gone.

It ended up being the right call. On April 16, 2009, Beer Wars was a trending topic on Twitter! How did I do it? I partnered with other organizations that promoted the film, like Yelp and the Reason Foundation. I built trust and relationships early on. It turns out that social media is just like real life. It’s about give and take. Being nice and grateful. And most of all being real. That’s the best reason to tweet or post. Because you have something to say. And you say it best.