A common practice amongst co-workers is to serve as an old school blogger and share links to a story they find interesting and touches upon the industry they’re situated in. We do that a lot amongst ourselves which is nice, because we all have our favorite sites and therefore a good variety of content gets passed around. However, I have a personal rule against sending articles along to customers, investors, etc. unless it’s absolutely necessary. A lot of them are just ego boosters, because they validate your message and I’ve never liked the “See somebody else is saying it too now do you like me?” sales approach, because if your customers and investors are smart, which you expect them to be, then they’ve already been reading these stories. Yesterday, for the first time in over a year, I asked Adam to forward along this article from MediaPost’s “Online Video Insider”. The only reason I did is upon reading it I thought I was seeing our pitch. Although we are focusing on casual/social video games to start, video won’t be far behind and the challenges of each medium are effectively the same. Without spoiling the article for you it’s the theme of searching for a “Cadillac” type product that I latch onto the most, because that has been one of the more challenging points to convey–we’re a high-end niche product in an industry famous for commodity products–because it’s new to this space. The market shift is on, slowly but surely, yet now I’m feeling better that this bumpy ride is going to be a lot more fun. Sort of like taking advantage of the off-road capabilities of your grocery getting SUV.
Adam Greenberg, Co-Founder and Head of Business Development for Actslike, talked baseball, Buffet and business with host Gregory Skidmore on the Greenwich Entrepreneurs Show this morning. [Click here for podcast] The show aired November 20 on AM1490WGCH in Greenwich, CT. Gregory Skidmore is the President of Belray Asset Management. Adam and Gregory were joined also today by our hard working attorney Jeffrey Blomberg who is a partner at Withers Bergman LLP. So if you heard the show and would like to get in touch with us, please drop us a line at firstname.lastname@example.org. We’re always on the lookout for new customers and awesome investors and we’d love to talk to you! You can also catch up with Adam, Ben and Marc on Twitter. We were there before Oprah!
I have a lot going on in my world these days and for some reason when my brain is congested with so much traffic, while a helicopter is hovering overhead, I end up fixating on one topic. Problem is the traffic has been beating out the actual time required to put thought to keyboard, yet I just decided to sneak up on my world, put a bag over it’s head and tell it to chill out for a bit while I get this post out.
Maybe this is related to me paying more attention to the matter or being unable to avoid it, but the talk about monetizing content is overwhelming. How many stories have you read or presentations witnessed regarding who is going to save the newspaper business? This week’s savior is Google, who plans on implementing a version of their checkout software to help the newspaper business generate revenue from their content. Earlier this year I saw a presentation by Microsoft on how Seadragon will help the newspaper business and the subsequent advertisements as well. It was very cool and if you see the pattern here it’s about shifting print media to the digital space. Smart move, but we’ve known this for more than a decade now. Think about how costly it is to find paper, ship gigantic rolls of finished paper, get ink and so on and so on. If anything going digital is most likely more environmentally friendly and easier to distribute where your customer base went from regional (most newspapers) to global. The lingering problem though is that the advertising is atrocious and fundamental site design is based off of re-creating a newspaper model online. Why are we re-creating print in a space that allows for so much more flexibility? This leads to a bigger question. Why is television content re-purposed online under the same model as traditional television? It’s even more frustrating when I see that coupled with banners surrounding the content. Basically our primary revenue generating solution, after 15 years with modern web browsers, is to take two offline models and incorporate them online. Where did we go wrong? We’re content. Why have we settled for this? We’re lazy. Who has the power to incorporate the change? Anybody with the guts to speak up.
I have a DVR so I can watch television programs on my own time in a scenario that I control. I also love that I can fast forward through the majority of ads that lack any creativity. I don’t even care if I’m not the target audience I’ll watch a good ad, but I’ll tell you that I might watch one for every two hundred. It’s great for the publishers that the same pre-roll ad, when played online, cannot be skipped, but who honestly pays attention to them? Who wants to engage them and how many of you know that they are all hyperlinked? On top of that watching a program on my iPhone or laptop does not give me the same feeling as sitting on my comfy couch with a bowl of mint chocolate chip ice cream as I cozy up to watch “The Office”. When I’m on the Acela and need a quick break my attitude is to get it over and done with asap so I can get back to what I was doing. Why then are you holding me up with re-packaged TV spots? There has to be a better way.
The better way is to leverage your platform and get creative. By creative I mean create original ad content specifically for the web. No, banners, flyovers, etc don’t count. Most are horribly conceptualized and poorly executed. When you’re working with Flash, for example, you have the option to do so much more, such as capture sales leads, make a sale, directly communicate via chat or voice with a customer or send the customer on a choose your own ad adventure experience. I am not buying the “It’s too costly” argument either. For the price agencies charge for simple banners you can get this done with the right people. On top of that if you’re a brand who spent a small fortune on a product placement deal why are you not securing your online spot to have your ads surface the second your product comes on screen?
Many publishers just want the revenue and aren’t going to worry too much about creativity, but if I was running one of those organizations I’d tell the advertisers to get far more creative by creating original ads that speak more directly to my audience. How can you put so much effort into making a great program and yet not apply the same standards to your advertising? Why not create a more positive experience for the viewer? It’s hard to find anybody who hates good advertising.
We weren’t sure when this story was being published, but we knew we wanted to share it with all of you. Every start-up has a story of how it came together and the people who are part of it bring their own unique background and values along with those precious stories. We’ve got a unique one and it so happens that one of our founding partners, Adam Greenberg. happens to be a professional baseball player. Adam has the most unique story of any of us and four years after his infamous story began Sports Illustrated stopped by to check in on Greenie. It’s a story that honestly touches the heart and we wanted to share it with you, because in the end you cannot help but root for him. Though his Mom and fiancee would argue with us, Ben and I are his number one fans.
In case you’re sucked into this story like many have been you can watch Adam’s ESPN “Outside The Lines” segment.
If you love Adam as much as we do then you can follow him on Twitter. We’ve finally got him tweeting away like a madman, which means we may have created a monster.
This story, to some, will seem more like fallacy than fact, but I assure you that what you are about to read is true and not something that we, as professionals, consumers, leaders, etc can only dream about. What I’m sharing with you is not just about social media. It’s not just about Twitter. They are just tools used by leaders to effectively communicate to those who otherwise would have never been given the chance to be heard or appreciated. These tools offer one the ability to add the human touch to experiences that have been, up to this point, utilitarian, boring, fake or worse frustrating. From my end, dealing with the service side of global corporations, as a customer, felt like I was just another character in “One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich“, locked in a prison yearning for better days to shine upon me. This story is about leadership and the desire to go the distance in order to prove that your brand is worthy of my attention.
First we need to fire up the Flux Capacitor and take this back a few months. I noticed Scott Monty, Ford Motor Company’s Director of Social Media, posting tweet after tweet about Ford’s new attitude, their commitment to quality, innovative design direction and so on and so on. I paid attention, but I wasn’t a “Ford Man” so it didn’t matter that much. Then the automotive apocalypse hits. The Big 3 CEO’s are sent to the Principal’s office AKA Congress and everyone in America decides they will blame them for our economic woes, especially since they so obnoxiously flew in those fancy corporate jets to DC. If I may, do you see the irony in them flying commercial given how many bailouts the airline industry has received over the years? I, for one, am glad they never chose that option. All of a sudden Ford says that they don’t need any money and Scott Monty has his ears and eyes on every corner of the social media landscape while sharing The Ford Story (To be honest I still prefer West Side Story). I bite and start paying closer attention. I begin to notice their messaging and pick up on feedback from Ford lovers exulting that their products were created to compete with my beloved Volkswagen and Audi, two brands that have been part of my car owning life for the past fifteen years. I also noticed that the pricing is relatively the same between Ford and zee Germans Now that got my attention. German cars are supposed to be more expensive. They are supposed to be of a higher quality. You are supposed to put your family second and driving your German car first in life’s priority list. How the heck can Ford be as good and charge as much as Audi in some cases?
I needed to get to the bottom of this so I sent a tweet to Scott; “Can you please send me your email addy. I have a few questions.” which he obliged. Here is a condensed version of how that email exchange went. I predicated my questions with the fact that I haven’t been inside of a Ford in years, with the exception of a new Shelby Cobra which I thought was an over the top thrill ride yet too extreme for comparison, and for the life of me cannot believe they are as good as my Audi.
ME: C’mon Scott. Let’s be real. How can Ford get away with saying this?
SCOTT: Before Ford hired me I drove an Audi. It was terrible. My wife hated it, but I loved it sores and all. Now that I’ve been driving a Ford for a while I have to say it’s a fantastic car. I’m a true believer now.
ME: Fortunately I only had your typical minor car issues with my Audi’s so I can’t relate. Are you a company man now spitting the PR rhetoric?
SCOTT: Believe me they are great products. Alan (Mulally) has made it his mission to make Ford products the best in the world.
ME: OK, so if Ford’s are so great and can justify the prices what are they doing to reach out to current owners of Audi’s or VW’s in order to at least get our attention and consider switching?
SCOTT: Actually nothing that I know of.
I’ll be honest that answer irked me. My feeling is that if you believe in a product so much and claim it to be as good as others then put your money where your mouth is and come up with ways, short of jumping in front of my car holding a sign “Can we talk for a minute”, to grab my attention. I consider myself a conscious consumer who is always in search of the best bang for his dollar. I’ll listen. Prove it to me.
Months passed and I was within a year of my lease ending, which is when I start getting the itch to move into something new. Naturally when you lease it’s easier to roll out of a lease early when you go back to the same company you leased from. After fifteen years I just figured Audi, especially given that their sales were down during the first half of this year, would want to shed some inventory and also sell off a used (sorry pre-owned) vehicle to help their bottom line. Same for VW, given it’s the same company and their sales were worse. I tried and I tried to work with them, but the VW dealership I went to turned out to assume I was an idiot even though the salesperson said to me, after being unable to answer too many questions about the Tiguan, “It’s obvious you know more about this car then me” and given that comment tried to pull one over on me with the negotiation. Audi, much to their credit, couldn’t keep the Q5 on the lot so I tried to see what I could get for an A4, but the numbers just weren’t working out and though I have been a loyal customer of Prime Audi for years I never got the impression that they truly cared about my business, because they assumed there was no way I was going anywhere else. I needed a third option and I remember saying to Scott that I would test drive the Ford Edge one day and so a shade over a month ago I did. I liked it so much that I brought MrsGiro back a few days later, but to a different dealership, because the one I went to the first time blew me off. I was irked, but I can’t totally blame the brand for a dealership that doesn’t want my business. The feedback from MrsGiro was “I really like this. If we can get a good deal I think we should get it.” I honestly never expected to hear that from her.
That is where the story took a detour that will go down as one of my favorite life moments. I sent Scott Monty a tweet; “I’m test driving an Edge for the second time this week. Have Alan Mulally call to tell me I’m not crazy.” If you know me you know that was me just joking around like “ha ha I know you and Alan are hanging at a BBQ this weekend so why don’t you guys ring me up when you have a few in you?”. Something funny happened. Scott sent me a direct message on Twitter asking for my phone number that following Saturday morning. “Hmm” I said. “That can’t be. He’s not going to have Alan call me”. I honestly figured Scott was going to call to give me some insight into the Edge. When my phone rang with a Michigan number during my daughter’s birthday party I let it go to voicemail. I would call Scott back after. When I finally checked the voicemail it was not from Scott Monty, but rather Alan Mulally. He was singing the praises of the Edge and what I thought was looking like a cute PR stunt ended up being a sincere message with the request to call him back. Let’s pause for a second and process this. The CEO of Ford Motor Company, a global mega-brand run by a man who is probably more busy than all of my friends combined, is taking time out of his Saturday to call me? Seriously? No, seriously? So I called back. Alan picked up and we talked. I shared my experiences. Alan listened. He listened to me explain my loyalty to VW/Audi. He listened about my need to save money while I bootstrap my entire life as we get ActsLike up and running. He listened while I ranted about two dealerships blowing me off. This went on for over twenty minutes. Instead of saying “Thanks for your time. I hope you buy the Edge.” Alan put some serious wheels in motion. Alan first said that he really wanted me to get into a Ford, because he believed in it so much and if it helped offered me friends and family pricing (Amen!). Anyone would be ecstatic at that point, but he went on to tell me that we needed to get this dealership issue resolved so he was going to contact their General Sales Manager, Randy Ortiz, to have him follow up with me. An hour later Randy calls. An hour after that Vincenza “Enza” Sleva, the New England Regional Manager, called and then while on the phone with Enza I received two separate calls from the owner of Sentry Ford, Fraser Lemley and his son Chris who is the President. I was overwhelmed to be honest, but everyone made themselves available to answer my questions and to provide me an education on Ford and how they do business. Each and every one of them was available over the course of the month it took me to get everything squared away to the point where I was ready to make the deal. Everyone collectively worked on this deal too. The Ford corporate team did not just pass the buck to the dealership. They stayed actively involved. I made suggestions for carving out a better deal. They made productive counter-offers. There was never a no in the negotiations. They wanted to make it work and in the end it did.
I’m fully aware that this is not a normal life experience and I’m not somebody with access to the golden gates of global icons either. As a professor of entrepreneurship at Boston University I always stress the importance of leading by example, respecting everyone around you, exhausting all solutions before saying no and consistently doing the unexpected. This is how you win people over and become a great leader. Not only does Alan Mulally have a big fan, but he also has a new customer.
Thanks to everyone. I’m glad I asked.