I’ve been tagged by Stephanie Cockerl to participate in a b5media’s meme about 7 (G-rated) things you may not know about me.   So here it goes.

  1. I went to high school in Texas.
  2. I am still in the same apartment I moved into after business school (two words:  rent control).
  3. I am addicted to Japanese vinyl toys, a la KidRobot in Soho.
  4. I was once ordered to make a halloween costume for someone at work – and I did.
  5. I’m a little embarrassed that I’ve never been to Governors Island (it’s been open to the public since, uh, 2004… hey, I’ve been busy!).
  6. I am a huge fan of subway art.
  7. The only other language I know so far is… Latin.  So if I ever have to take the SATs again, I’m ready.

I have tagged 7 other people to participate:

Mark Potts:  Recovering Journalist

Sam Taylor;  Reputation-Dynamics

Paul Dunay:  Buzz Marketing for Technology

Saul Colt:  Smartest Man in the World!

Jarvis Cromwell:  Reputation Garage

Steve Sieck:  SKS Advisors

Joe Jaffe:  Crayon + other endeavors

According to The New York Times, a meme “is an infectious idea or any other thing that spreads by imitation from person to person… the World Wide Web is the perfect Petri dish for memes.”  It seems like a 21st century chain letter to me but (a) neither I nor any of my family was threatened with death if I didn’t ‘pass it on,’ so that’s an improvement, and (b) it seems a harmless way to connect with people and to promote websites and blogs not only inside your existing network but to a broader audience, as well. 

Perhaps memes could be worked into fresh “Refer A Friend” online customer acquisition campaigns.

Richard Branson’s Virgin is one of the biggest brands in the world – nearly everywhere but the United States. There have been plenty of launches over the years:  Virgin Mobile by all rights could perhaps be considered the most successful.  There has also been Virgin Cola, Virgin Megastores, Virgin Comics and, most recently, Virgin Money.  Someone please let me know if I’ve missed any others. 

Cleverly, most of these come out of Virgin USA, which describes itself as a venture capital organization that looks for and invests in underserviced consumer markets that could be transformed by Virgin’s trademark characteristics of “value for money, good quality, innovation, exceptional customer service, fun and a sense of competitive challenge.”  Goodness knows it does seem to work everywhere else, with 50,000 employees generating $20 billion in top-line revenue each year from Virgin-branded companies. 

Now comes Virgin America, which launched its U.S. service on August 8 and so far, so good.  Like JetBlue, my opinion is that this new airline is trying to focus on what matters to flyers – that is, of the factors they can impact – including attitude, routes, prices, a robust frequent flyer program and decent seating/well-considered planes.  This is not to say that the consumer technology isn’t way cool, because it is.  A superior seatback in-flight entertainment system that offers PPV movies, games and live satellite TV, with high speed Internet access coming next year.  And for the truly lazy such as myself, I can swipe my credit card and order a sandwich without having to raise my arm aaaaall the way up to push that little button.  Plus, the airline hired one of my favorite shops, Anomaly, to do everything from advertising to merchandise to uniforms.  I knock none of it.  As a marketer, I know that this is what branding dreams are made of.   But this business in this country? Yikes.  I’m just skeptical that being “the most geek-friendly airline ever invented” is what will ultimately attract a loyal, long-term audience in the U.S.  We Americans tend to ask for style in our airlines but favor price and routes.  So we’ll see.   

One note on Americans and Virgin America:  we sure gave the company a tough go of it.  The DOT forced the airline to replace its founding CEO, shed most of Branson’s stake and appoint an independent (U.S.) trustee to represent his remaining 25% share and report to federal regulators any loans Branson might make to the U.S. carrier. As usual, Branson kept on going, prompting Transportation Secretary Mary Peters to note that it’d be “tough to think of a company that has done as much to meet our standards for becoming a commercial airline.”  And it took a Brit to do it!

I grew up in an airline family and can remember just about every new launch, crash, failure, strike, pension collapse, and major snow storm since 1979.  It’s a wild business.  But while the runways may be absurdly overcrowded, this sector, like many, could always use a little entrepreneurship to keep folks on their best game.

And for you bloggers out there… click here for some amusing back-and-forth between Fake Steve Jobs and Fake Richard Branson.

“Are we in heaven?”

September 11th, 2007

“Are we in heaven?” asks one of the videos’ guests. 

No, Dorothy, we’re at Neiman Marcus.” Or so the high-end department store chain would have us respond on this, the store’s 100th anniversary.
Neiman Marcus has created a 4-part online video series called “The Mystique” and it’s getting its share of criticism online. For some reason, Neiman decided to run Part 1 on the home page of Youtube.com – and paid for it with some criticism. Comments range from “Neiman Marcus= needless markup” to “This is a seriously pointless video.” Other, more positive comments were logged, as well. Why did Neiman Marcus pay $250,000 to spend one day on the home page of Youtube in the first place? A little undercooked thinking is behind the plan, with the VP of corporate communications quoted as saying “Like with anything, you hear people in meetings say, ‘Did you see the thing on YouTube?'” Except Neiman Marcus isn’t “anything” – it’s not a video of someone killing an iPhone in a blender, or your crazy Aunt Agatha falling off the roof – it’s one of the greatest specialty retailers in the country.  Truly a story of American entrepreneurship, Neiman stands for luxury, fantasy and “retail theatre” in the grandest sort of way. It’s not for everyone – what luxury brand is? – but then again that’s why it doesn’t belong on YouTube.

And speaking of luxury, the videos are beautiful. All four are lovingly shot, produced and inspired in their thinking. I do have a beef with the editing, in that each of the four is a bit of a story hodge-podge, jumping between ideas such as design, store display, the history of the chain, the importance of designer relationships, etc.  Neiman would have been been better off reserving each of the four for one theme, and then naming each segment accordingly, so that each story had its own thread and viewers could tell what they were about to see (i.e., name the first installment “The Story” instead of Part 1, the second installment “What is Luxury” instead of Part 2, etc.). But they were fun to watch all the same. Lastly, I’m curious as to where NM is, in fact, running the series in order to reach its key constituencies, whom I see as shoppers and would-be well-to-do visitors, designers, vendors and partners (outside of employees, whom I hope can find them easily on the NM intranet). This intrepid blogger could not easily find them off the NM homepage, nor by Googling “Neiman Marcus, “Neiman Marcus video” or “Neiman Marcus 100 anniversary video.” I wandered luxury sites and blogs – no dice.

Let’s hope that Neiman is using its own customer list, at minimum, to make sure its most valuable friends and family see and enjoy this work. And how do you get a viewer to watch 4 separate vignettes? Give them something for doing what you ask. Neiman Marcus has long had one of the most successful frequent shopper rewards programs around, InCircle. If I were running the ship, I’d give each viewer at least 100 InCircle points (reward levels don’t even start until one has 5,000 points!) for giving me their email address and for watching each of the four videos. The viewer is inspired and rewarded, and I get them back into the store, feeling the magic.

Using new Internet capabilities – blogging, podcoasting, online videos –not to be part of the media pile-on (“yay, we’re on Youtube!”) but to draw your supporters even closer, make them even more loyal? Magic, indeed.