Saturday, August 18, 2012

Adventures in Product and Consumer Development

Most people in business have heard of Customer Relationship Management (CRM) software that helps vendors sell to and keep track of the needs and profiles of their customers and potential customers. Such tools give vendors significant power in tailoring marketing messages to prospective users and purchasers of their products. There is a new trend developing in response to this targeted and one sided power, VRM.

Since the advent of Google, customers are increasingly picky about where and when we (they) are contacted and would prefer to be reached only when we (they) are looking to buy. Vendor Relationship Management (VRM) is a growing suite of tools to help consumers control and communicate preferences to vendors.

One example of this is like "do not call" lists on steroids. Just as you go to the post office and request a change of address card, these tools make it easy to do the same with your email, shipping preferences, etc. A single update allows all of your favorite companies to switch simultaneously to a new communication channel with you. Customers are going from being herded like cattle with advertising and marketing prods to being in control, and its the next big thing.

What if when you buy a car, you get to decide on the features before it ever gets to the dealership? Some companies already offer this, but what if you also get a say in price, without dealing with a sketchy salesman? Product managers of tomorrow get to deal with the (welcome) headache and opportunity of dealing with a thousand variant requests and sets of terms. As customer advocates, they also get to help bring this customer-in-control culture to their company cultures, or risk getting left behind.

Dominos already has a system in place that allows you to order truly custom pizzas online that are far more personal and tasty than what a traditional menu could have room for. I can buy a wheat-free pizza with pepperoni, steak, fresh tomato chunks, three kinds of cheese, and four other toppings, and have it delivered with a mouse click. I'll never walk into a Little Caesar's again!

What does this mean for Hollywood? Studios already commonly hold focus groups to determine the perfect ending, but what happens when customers can selectively filter out trailers unlikely to appeal to them before even seeing them, from the whole Internet? For example, I might select "no movies with strong language." (Expect this control to be built right into your Chrome browser or Google account.) Will this begin to shape how Hollywood movies are made and what content is included? What if I only opt to hear about a film after three of my friends have bought tickets or "liked" the trailer?

As a consumer who has been bandied about by all sorts of advertising, I welcome the change, and, given the option, might even opt out of all advertising altogether.

Of course, I wouldn't mind more customization in my movie ticket purchases. What if when I buy my ticket on Fandango I can also order my popcorn and non-soda drink? (Maybe a Vitamin Water.) Of course, the whole purchase and redemption will be managed by my virtual wallet on my iPhone 6.

Some people even think the pricing system for tickets will change. For example, you might bid on tickets to get into a first screening. Prices may go up and down to maximize theater seat use, which helps theater owners the most since they have more people to sell popcorn to. What if you bring five people to a theater and each buys a drink? Could your ticket price change?

There is a great book that I just downloaded that appears to delve into some of these broad issues. It was just released in audio yesterday and is called The Intention Economy: When Customers Take Charge by Doc Searls. Find it on You get the book and someone to read it to you!

Another trend: Have you noticed that as Apple's products have evolved, so have its consumers? This is really the case in all industries. Apple both anticipates and responds to changes in consumer demand. Consumers don't always know what we want until some visionary shows us. Three months later, it's tough to go back!

If you trace the development of any product or category, it evolves in response to or in anticipation of people evolving. Not only have products evolved, but we have changed, too.

I'm not saying we are soon going to have three thumbs to help us deal with a new controller from Nintendo, but our sophistication seems to break new ground every time supply and demand play another round. I look at pictures of actresses from the eighties and wonder how anyone ever fell for a girl with hair like that! Apparently men were just as bad.

All of this leads me to one more question: Are consumer preferences doomed to change forever, or are there certain principles and styles and choices that are and will remain timeless? Audrey Hepburn seems to have avoided the eighties type hair disaster altogether, and is still considered stylish. Is there a golden mean of product development that industry may someday reach, or are people as hungry for change as we are for perfection? A walk through the woods or on a beach suggests that we are all fickle, and perhaps nature alone understands timelessness. At least there will always be something new to blog about!

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Artist Management

I’ve spent the last week reading up on artist management, a discipline I am fairly new to...or am I?

I’ve previously mentioned the CEO of Paramount, Brad Grey, who worked in casting prior to forming enough A-list relationships to create a successful career as Executive Producer of television shows such as The Sopranos. Brad also created a company called Plan B with Brad Pitt and Jennifer Aniston prior to being chosen as Paramount CEO.

In my opinion, Brad’s secret to success is artist management. He knew how to speak to talent so as to involve them in his projects and companies on a level that is higher than a paycheck. In a very real way, the movie industry is not about making money or movies so much as it is developing artists who then make better and better movies and bigger box office, DVD, television, and international revenue, and I believe that is one reason why he was chosen to lead Paramount. Paramount is an organization of artists, and Brad speaks the language of artists who are gaining skill and momentum and the significance and stardom they crave. He also knows the people who can get them what they want next, or at least eventually.

If that is not what actually happened, Brad, my apologies, but I think it is exactly the way a studio should be run, and applies just as much with non-studio productions. Indy producers may not be able to offer top artists exactly what they want in pay, but they can offer them work that keeps them in the public eye while allowing them to play higher stakes, creative roles studios rarely green light but always admire (not to mention their peers admire.) Producers who learn to speak artist learn how to grease the wheels of business with their most important asset, creative partners who make their movies magic.

In other words, artist management is about more than managing one person’s career. It is about helping manage the careers of everyone you meet, especially the people who will make you and your entertainment endeavor successful. It is about collaborative relationships, which are the DNA of every successful film venture, whether it has a six figure or nine figure budget. Just look at the credits of your favorite film. The public may not need to know who the key grip was or may not even know what a grip is, but the key grip’s career is advanced by having his name in silver screen ink and correspondingly on IMDB Pro. A-list actors are even pickier about where their name shows up, whether in a title card or in a prominent place at the start of credits.

A Scarlett Johansen sized paycheck ($20 million for Avengers 2) is a destination that every film along the way can enhance the probability of, and every producer and artist should know it. On the road to that number is not only box office success, but critical success, which often requires a price tag detour or two (or ten), not just an eight figure look. It requires appeal to international audiences, which comes from making movies that appeal to more than just home grown America. It requires development of an artist as a brand of cross cultural, international, yet personal appeal.

Artist management, in short, is the core of a successful Producer’s education and philosophy, whether your goals are financial or fame or simply and deliciously art. It should also be a key desire of any smart artist to benefit from the artist management talent of not just their own personal or business manager, but of others in the industry who can help them advance.

How many and what caliber of artist’s creative teams are you directly and indirectly a part of? That is a measure of your influence and present potential in the entertainment arts industry.

Artistically and profitably yours,