Understanding WHY in the context of HOW… Huh?

A recent discussion in a LinkedIn group led me to consider an interesting question, even if academic:  What’s more important, the answer to the question WHY or the question HOW?

I’m sure you’re thinking, like I was, it totally depends the intended application of the answer to those two questions.  imagesAre we talking about doing something ourselves (why should I? vs. how do I?)?  Are we interested in understanding someone else’s behavior (why did you? vs. how did you?)?  Or, are we trying to teach someone else something (why do you want to? vs. how do you?)?

Just thinking about it top-of-mind it’s easy to see that both questions (why and how) can yield meaningful answers.


In my professional life we are always trying to understand human behavior in order to innovate marketing and/or product solutions with and for our clients.  To me, I’ve come to find that the answer to WHY has significantly more meaning when understood within the context of the HOW.  I’m specifically referring to the answers to these questions in this way:  WHY do you do something, want something, or believe something; and, HOW do you do, seek, or believe something.  Looked at in this manner, the answer to HOW you experience that journey (think of a purchase cycle, a career decision, choosing a doctor, etc.) is most important because it shows you at what points and in what ways you have a chance to play a meaningful role.

As a company or a brand, you are in a much stronger position to create relevance, interaction, and utility in the lives of your audience (consumers, customers, prospects, etc.) if you understand HOW their journey is experienced; then the answer to the WHY has some meaningful context. It is in the context where powerful innovations come in terms of how to connect with people through your marketing, products, and/or services.

Consider this example.  Smoking cessation has been studied for decades. Clinically, doctors know why people continue to smoke because of the addictive power of nicotine, etc. Socially and functionally and emotionally, however, there are many more reasons why in terms of the benefits a smoker derives from the behavior. At the same time, many organizations have studies why people quit smoking — health concerns, family pressure, etc.

As a result, smoking cessation marketing for years focused on scaring people about the health concerns. Everyone today knows that, so the most recent trend for several years has been to promote the use of tips and tricks (mostly pharmaceutical) such as the patch or nicotine gum, etc. It works for many, but far more try to quit and then end up returning to smoking.

We focused our study for the American Legacy Foundation on HOW people successfully quit so we could understand WHY they do what they do in context. The result was a clear pathway toward resolve that must be followed for a successful quit attempt: desire to quit smoking, eager for life without cigarettes, acceptance for changes I must make, ready to make those changes, and confidence you will succeed. If a smoker skips this path to resolve, it’s highly likely they will not succeed in a quit attempt.

Picture 1So, what did it mean to marketing and product innovation? The American Legacy Foundation developed the Re-Learn campaign as part of their EX initiative. Instead of telling people to quit, they created TV ads, OOH executions, an online community, and other experiences that help smokers first identify why you smoke and then determine how to re-learn life without cigarettes. If you go to BecomeAnEx.org you’ll find a community of people sharing triggers for smoking and methods for replacing those triggers with healthier solutions. Once you’ve built resolve in this manner you’re asked to set a quit date.

When you understand HOW a decision is made, the WHY has the needed context to help you know how to connect. When you do this, you have a real chance to create relevance, interact, and add utility in people’s lives that results in a meaningful relationship with you (brand, product, company, cause, etc.).


02 2010

Focus on People = Focus on Jobs to Solve

I recently listened to a webcast by Tony Ulwick, CEO, Strategyn about his company’s approach to Outcome-Driven Innovation (ODI). The focus was innovation strategies to reach growth objectives by developing product solutions based on a clear understanding of the “jobs” people are looking to solve in their life.

Couldn’t agree more with the basic premise that Ulwick is promoting:  people are buying products to get jobs done; therefore, companies need to understand these “jobs” better in order to create successful solutions.  He defined a job as a task, goal, or objective a person is trying to accomplish or a problem they are trying to resolve.

“Customers migrate to products that get the job done best,” Ulwick explained.

This is music to my ears.  And Strategyn appears to have perfected the process of identifying and prioritizing consumer jobs and the desired outcomes that real people are seeking.  They use these insights to identify areas of opportunity and, ultimately, help their clients implement a growth strategy based on product innovation in those areas.

This simple insight (focusing on the jobs that real people are looking to solve) has as much application to marketing innovation as it does to products and services.  In the end, it is all about a company being relevant by providing genuine utility for someone.

The path I’ve been on for a few years now has followed a similar logic train as Ulwick…

People are not only buying products to get jobs done, they are consuming media and interacting with various influencers (people, places, and things) to get jobs done in their lives.  Within the context of marketing communications, let’s refer to these media and influencers more broadly as “channels”.  Like products they sell, these channels represent various opportunities, levers, or tactics that marketers can tap into in order to be relevant to real people.

In this way, the line between a product or service and a channel is becomingly increasingly hard to draw.  Consider the obvious examples of Nike Plus and apples iPhone.  Is access to tools and a community to help you track your running a product, service, or marketing channel?  Is an iPhone app a marketing channel or a product?  Both.

It follows, then, that understanding the jobs people are looking to solve in their lives can equally influence new products or new marketing channels you create.  And we can best understand these jobs by mapping the dynamics of the “system” in which these jobs operate–in this context a system is the interaction between people, influencers, products/services, and companies.

For example, think about the last time you went out to eat and you chose an Applebee’s or Olive Garden or Chili’s, some casual dining restaurant.  The system in this case includes you, the people you went out to eat with (we rarely go alone), the things that influenced your decision where to go, the food you ate, and the experience you had.  The jobs you were looking to solve range from the functional (hunger) to the emotional (social interaction), and could include any number of different things.

Ulwick’s approach, if you were one of those restaurants looking to improve your product, would be to understand what jobs you were looking to resolve through that visit.  And he’d likely probe multiple scenarios to get the full range of eating out jobs.  From that, you can see how it would be easy to define specific outcomes you (the one eating at the restaurant) are looking for when you go to a restaurant.  We could then measure how important each outcome is to you and find out how satisfied you are with the various options available to you to deliver that outcome.  This is awesome and makes total sense.

I would go a step further.  What if we were to study the jobs that you were looking to resolve at different steps of the process you went through in deciding where to go eat?  We’d likely learn that you had a set of restaurants you like, you quickly determined which met your key needs (the jobs referenced in the earlier graph), then you took your choice to the group of friends you were going out to eat with, and then you ended up going to the place that some other guy preferred.  Your experience at the restaurant would then help you decide where you’d go next time.

Mapping the entire decision cycle in this way gives us more jobs to define, and specific jobs we can assign not to the product but to the channels that help you arrive at your decision.  The simple act of thinking what restaurants you might be interested in at a particular time and place is the first job you’re looking to resolve.  In selecting the restaurant for the group you’re dealing with a slightly different job:  successful negotiation, and success can be defined in many ways.

Knowing this, we can determine which channels are most effective at shaping your short list versus facilitating negotiation. Perhaps the actual experience and/or word-of-mouth recommendations are the best at the short list, while coupons, limited-time offers, or promotional events are the most effective at helping you win in negotiation (get to go to the restaurant you like by giving people a reason to like it, too).

Armed with this information, a marketer can see where certain decision-making process gaps are and find new and better ways to solve real jobs that real people face.  These solutions, then, are as likely to be marketing channel innovation as they are new product innovation.

Kudos to Strategyn for the work they’re doing in this area.  I think the big opportunity that is even more real in the digital world today is to apply this thinking to both marketing and product innovation.

Ulwick referenced a quote by Christensen in his book Innovative Solution:  ”The job, not the customer, is the fundamental unit of analysis for a marketer who hopes to develop products that customers will buy.”

I would make a slight modification… the job is the fundamental unit of analysis for a marketer who hopes to be relevant and add utility in people’s lives through the products and experiences they create.

A little long… but, hopefully, you get the point.


01 2010

Apple Store – Another Sweet Retail Experience

There are some places that just get it.  Sure, they have their problems, but, generally speaking, you come to almost always expect the best when you get there.  When it comes to Apple, for me they deliver.

imagesThis morning, after an all too exciting meeting with our accountants, I had to drop out to the Apple store at the Barton Creek Mall here in Austin.  I needed to pick up some software and I was in a hurry.

I walked straight into the store, found the display version for the software, and then a nice young lady approached me and asked me if I needed help.  I showed her what I was there to buy, she went in the back and brought me the copies, and then the magic happened!

Ok, so it was the first time for me!

She pulled out her iPhone (maybe iTouch) and proceeded to complete my purchase with a bar code scanner and card reader right there


on her phone.  Within about 10 seconds I was signing my name with my finger and the receipt was emailed.  I got back to the office,filed the receipt in its appropriate place.  Apparently, they shifted to this procedure this Fall.

Obviously, I was impressed enough by the experience to now take the time I had expected I would spend in line (that place was packed and I figured I was stuck for a while just to make one quick purchase) instead sharing the love about the Apple experience.

Awesome demonstration of putting the customer first and creating relevance and utility in the experience.  Yeah, I realize they’d done it before with the PC-based handhelds, but this was way better, faster, and certainly had the cool factor.

Thanks, Apple!

Now, back to using that software to get some work done… the really weird part, I was purchasing MS Office (PC) software for the Mac (see my previous post and you’ll understand why).


01 2010

Physician Heal Thyself… On Being Consumer-Centric

How often have you found yourself doing exactly what you counsel others not to do?  I’m a parent of four kids, so I have to admit I’ve experienced that awakening once or twice at home.  But yesterday I found myself, and our team, facing the issue at work in a way that was ironic given our trumpeting the consumer-centricity horn.

Since we launched PURSUIT one year ago, we’ve put a lot of effort into the look and feel we wanted to maintain, project, and deliver as a brand.  We decided it was critical to convey a simple, modern, and elegant, but not aloof, feeling in everything from our logo to our letterhead.

Early on we made the switch to Mac over PC so we could use the presentation prowess of Keynote, Pages, and the like to be able to incorporate a higher order design into our work.  And we figured we’d deal with compatibility issues by always giving our clients nicely packaged PDF versions of our work.  No problem.  Well, not always a true statement.

Most times this has worked well.  And we’ve received the feedback about the look of what we do aligning with the value it provides many times.  But with one of our biggest clients we’ve continued to run into difficulty when we prepare our “deck” in Keynote and then convert to PowerPoint because this client wants to be able to view and manipulate files in the collaboration process.

It came to a head again yesterday when we had spent weeks getting what we thought was one of the best project deliverables yet.  The team even worked around the clock in the final hours the days before to make sure we posted the working draft for the client ahead of the scheduled time.  That’s when the “fun” began anew.

First, the PowerPoint conversion we did had problems when they uploaded it from Basecamp because of different versions of PowerPoint on either end.  Immediately, past frustrations on the part of our client emerged again, distracting right away from the content and thinking central to our deliverable (product).  Quickly, we fixed the version issue and re-posted only to hear they were still having issues with certain slides not appearing correctly even though on our machines it was clean.

Finally, we discovered we were using a specific font, part of our initial look and feel effort we worked on to set ourselves apart, that was not on their machines.  So, a few slides in the deck were still totally messed up on our client’s side when they opened it up on their end.

The frustration was high at this point because we knew little attention could be given to the content of our work and we knew our client, who appreciates what we do for sure, was reaching a point of wanting to figuratively slap us upside the head.  I kept thinking aloud (with members of our team) that I couldn’t understand why they wouldn’t just let us use the PDF version and communicate that way… then none of the compatability issues would be there.  Then they’d see the really great work we’ve done.

At some point, I heard myself talking and realized the obvious.  When have I heard a company say, “if only my customers would accept our way of doing things then they’d appreciate our work and see how good the thing we’ve made for them really is?”  Or, how about… “why do we have to make something that our customer can use?  We’ve made something that we know works, don’t they get it?”

Ok, so the obvious lesson, or slap upside the head, was the cliche “physician heal thyself.”  Our use of the tools we’ve chosen for our work meets our needs, not our client’s.  When we are able to present and control the delivery of the results it is useful, impressive, and helpful to our client because it’s clean, clear, and concise.  But, when our client needs something they can use and work with when we are not there, what we produced has considerably less value.

Relevance and utility.  That’s what we preach all of the time to our clients.

You have to consider your customer’s point of view and determine how you add relevance and utility in their life, on their terms.  If you miss that perspective you’ll push out products/services that look great to you, things that cost money, but things for which the value of is considerably less to the people paying for them.

Moving ahead… clearly we need different versions for different purposes:  (1) those in which we control the full delivery and, therefore, can use our Mac software tools to make them shine and tell a powerful story, and (2) those in which our clients need to be able to use the material on their own, so we’ll need to deliver the same quality on different software platforms.

The less obvious lesson in this experience is that companies who find themselves creating things that don’t add utility and relevance from the customer point of view are not always self-absorbed egotists.  Many likely find themselves in the exact situation we were yesterday… having created something they expect is grand, only to realize they’ve failed to truly listen to their customer.

The point:  it’s not easy to be consumer-centric, even when it seems obvious as does this example of our struggle.


01 2010

Is It Always the Thought that Counts Most?

IMG_0903Always on the lookout for those things that add relevance and utility to our lives, I was struck by the irony of this code blue emergency call service in a Fort Worth parking garage on a local university campus.

The point of a phone with a flashing blue light in a dark parking garage is what?  Well, I’m thinking it pretty much means if you don’t have a phone and you need help right away, come here, we got you covered.

Imagine you’re facing a real emergency, broken down vehicle or, worse, an attempted assault, etc.  You see the flashing blue light, you get hope for help, and you run toward the light.  When you get there you find a piece of paper taped to the phone with typewritten instructions explaining that the CODE BLUE isIMG_0902 OUT OF SERVICE.  But, have no fear, call this emergency number for help, if you need it.

Hmmm… if I have an emergency and wanted to use CODE BLUE it’s probably because I don’t have a phone in the first place.  So, while the thought is nice to give me the emergency phone number, it has absolutely no relevance nor does it add any constructive utility to my current situation.

They might argue and explain it’s temporary because things break down, so what are you going to do?  Well, I’d start with the suggestion that if an emergency phone line service with a flashing blue light doesn’t work, turn off the light and cover the phone with a canvas bag so it is never mistaken as a beacon of hope.

I can see no rationale thought behind taping a notice with an emergency phone number, temporary or not.  This action amazes me even further given the significant boosts in security efforts on university campuses in recent years after major crime sprees.

Here’s to hoping that no one faces that challenge here.


12 2009

Seriously… Who Comes Up With These?

I’ve noticed a recent uptick in spam email that apparently is too sophisticated for today’s filters to keep out.  I haven’t seen these for a long time, but spammers are getting smarter on the technical front, but obviously not on the creativity front.

The outlandish stories in these spam messages (written in broken English with terrible grammar) make you wonder who could possibly think this is real and reply to it.  Somebody must… a lot of somebodies.

Here’s a sampling of the most entertaining recent requests for my help:

  • Born Again Christian Mrs. Alyssa Walton and her late husband who worked with the Embassy of Iceland in Canada for 10 years before he died.
    When my late husband was alive he deposited the sum of 19Million Dollars (Nineteen Million United State Dollars) on the safe deposit Box with the diplomatic vault house.
    With God all things are possible As soon as I receive your reply I shall give you the contact of the diplomatic vault house.
    Any delay in your reply will give me room in sourcing for a church or Christian individual for this same purpose. Please assure me that you will act accordingly as I stated herein Hoping to hearing from you.
    I have set aside 15% for you and for your time and 10% for any expenses if there is any then remaining balance for the word of God.
  • Sponsorloterij Jackpot and Promotions and my lucky number winning One Million Euros.
    Please note in order to avoid unnecessary delays and complications, remember to quote your Ticket number, Lucky number, lottery Ref. number, Serial number, your full names, telephone number and address in all correspondence.
    Note:You are advised to keep this winning very confidential until you receive your lump prize in your account or optional cheque issuance to you.
  • 9/11 Victim David Angel and his $58.2M dollars I’ll share with you, courtesy of David Leung of the Bank of East Asia USA.
    I chose to reach you through (Internet)  because it is the fastest, surest and most secured medium of communication. However, this correspondence is un-official but private, and it should be treated as such. I also guarantee you that this transaction is hitch free from all what you may think of.
    Please include your telephone/fax number/ Home address when replying this mail and I will give you more information as soon as you indicate your willingness to assist in this transaction. I will use my positions to get all internal documentations to back up the claims.
    MR. DAVID ANGELL is an account holder in my branch; he owns a dollar account with the sum of 58.2M (Fifty Eight Million, two Hundred Thousand United States Dollars Only) deposited in a Secret account with my branch .In fact, since his death, no next of kin of the account holder nor any relative of him has shown up for the claim, this is because he has the account as a secret account thus he left all the documents for the deposit with me. The wife whom he signed in as his next of kin died with him on that unfaithful sad day.
    Do not be bothered that you are not related in any way to him as I am in position to affix your name as the next of kin. The whole Procedures will last only 9 working days to get the fund retrieved successfully without trace even in future. After the transfer of the money we shall share the money 60-40, which is I will have 60% while you will have 40%.
  • The late Iraqi Hassan Hussein who was killed by gunfire and left a $24.5M cash deposit and his personal oil well just for me.
    We later found out that Mr. Hassan Hussein and his family had been killed during the war in Gunfire that hit their home at Mukaradeeb where his personal oil well was.
    After further investigation it was also discovered that Mr. Hassan Hussein did not declare any next of kin in his official papers including the paper work of his bank deposit. And he also confided in me the last time he was at my office that no one except me knew of his deposit in my bank. So, US$24,500,000.00 is still lying in my bank and no one will ever come forward to claim it. What bothers me is that according to the laws of my country if nobody comes forward to claim these funds my government will confiscate it.
    Please, note, I am a family man, I have wife and children. I send you this mail not without a measure of fear as to the consequences if you decide to report me but I also know that no venture, no success.

I’m just sayin…



12 2009

AT&T Coverage Fight Totally Ignores Customers

I used to think it was crazy every time I heard AT&T claims of the best 3G coverage and speed across the country.  Why?  Because it’s just not true for me and the places I live, work, and travel to in my life.

imagesNow I can’t wait for the chance to switch to another provider once the iPhone exclusivity is up. AT&T’s use of Luke Wilson in the current round of their coverage fight TV ads have solidified that for me.

This public battle between AT&T and Verizon over coverage maps is hilarious.  It’s like two guys flexing their muscles and arguing back and forth looking only at each other, all the time the girl they were after has left.  Guys, the girls have left the room.images

AT&T will likely claim it doesn’t matter because we have the iPhone so the people want us.  True.  But, it’s not you we want, it’s the iPhone.  And you can bet the second I can get it service somewhere else I’ll check it out.

AT&T… instead of spending millions to make a crazy argument that you can’t even defend (and one that anyone who uses an iPhone would know you’re feeding us BS), how about finding ways to be more relevant and ways to add more utility to the lives of your customers?  This could mean spending that money on new products and services, innovations to wow and impress people because of how they improve daily living in an authentic way.

Or, hey, what about spending those millions to build out the network so the user experience is actually improved?

In that way, people like me would feel like maybe you don’t totally ignore us as your customers.  For right now… well, I’m pretty certain you ignore me and others like me.  You’re too busy arguing network maps with Verizon.

And I can’t help but wonder… do you really think I care about that map coverage argument?  If so, let me suggest that what I care about is what the actual experience is, how relevant your services are to me, and what you do to help me live me life the way I want to.

Focus on helping in these areas.  Then I’ll want you and not just the iPhone.

Social Media and Co-Creation… 30 Years Ago

large_magic-johnson519Co-creation, social media, engagement, viral campaigns, etc. New tools for today’s marketers? Well, yes and no.  The digital side is new… the practice is not.

I’m reading the new book by Magic Johnson and Larry Bird and came across a piece of NBA trivia new to me about the 1979 draft that landed Magic at the LA Lakers.  Little did I know it involved a co-creation exercise with a viral component and a social media spin.

The result was the Bulls missed out on drafting Magic Johnson and, instead, picked up UCLA senior David Greenwood.  But they had engaged their fans in helping make the decision:  ”heads” instead of “tails” was the consensus.

Turns out the Bulls and Lakers were up for the first pick in the draft, and Magic was the expected first pick.  On June 25, 1979 the issue was resolved by a coin flip.  But the Bulls general manager, Rod Thorn, didn’t call it out on his own.  The Bulls ran a fan promotion in which the poll results showed more fans wanted Thorn to call “heads” and win the toss to pick up Magic.

As reported on a NJ Nets fan page:

images“I’ll never forget that,” Rod Thorn recalled. “We had some sort of promotion with our fans, and we let them choose what we’d call. And Bill Sharman, the Lakers’ GM — he was on the line from L.A. — Bill was so gracious, he let me call it. Then I hear, ‘Tails, L.A. wins.’ I would have always called tails. It was always luckiest for me, but we did it for the fans.

“But it’s amazing and ironic how life works out, isn’t it? Had the Bulls gotten Magic, we never would have gotten Michael Jordan five years later. The Lakers won all those titles, but I’d say it worked out great for everybody.”

Fascinating concept:  engage your loyal fans to help win the prize on draft day.  So, was it good or bad for the fans given they ended up picking wrong?  Or did they?

Would it have been better to get Magic Johnson in 1979 and miss picking up Michael Jordan in 1984? Obviously, not a question you can answer… and not the point.

The real point is brands have been doing things to involve their customers for years.  Today’s tools make it so much easier, but the rules of needing to provide relevance and utility have only become more important today.

I think the Bulls’ actions show how brands have to be “all-in” to genuinely involve their customers in charting the future of their franchise.  And they have to be willing to risk that what you create together may not payoff in the short term.

Stick with it, though, and you just may find the next Michael Jordan in the process.

Who knew?  Sports, the NBA, social media, and co-creation… all 30 years ago.


12 2009

Jury Duty: A Tale of Two States

Life’s opportunities have kept me moving such that I’ve been posting life and not writing about it!

A recent life “moment” for me was jury duty in Texas’ 299th District Court in front of the Honorable Charlie Baird.  The day was quite a bit different from the selection process for a jury I served on in a 2005 murder trial in Sacramento, CA.

imagesSo, of course, it got me thinking about the customer-centricity of civil service on a jury (I’m weird that way). Can it be done in a way that meets the needs of the state while respecting the needs of the citizens?  Texas has a very different approach than California. But both have citizen-centric elements to their process.

First, Texas.  The process starts with a way cool online system for you to acknowledge receipt of the summons, selection of available dates, and assignment to a court and a specific starting date.  I was impressed and figured the experience at the court room would be as efficient, and as focused on making it easy for me to do my duty.  Well, not so much.

The day started in the courtroom lobby as we were all lined up and given specific numbers. The first 24 were asked to stand in line, but then we were asked to sit back down as we waited almost an hour for any stragglers.  One showed. Then we were back in line again and took our seats in the court room.

The selection process in Judge Baird’s court room was very Texas:  mostly polite, lots of talking, and very long. We listened to an hour of instructions from Judge Baird, then we listened to more than an hour of what was supposed to be questions from the prosecutor.  In reality, we were hearing part of her case in the child abuse trial about to start — and occasionally a few questions made it out.  Still, up to this point noone has been dismissed, we’re all there for the long haul.

Following a 90-minute lunch break, we reconvened to hear almost 90 minutes, or more, of the defense attorney rail into us about the corrupt political, legal, and law enforcement system in the US and how people like him are there to rescue the little guy.  His tirade, speeches, and general approach included even fewer questions than the prosecutor.  It was crazy.  Many of us were looking around wondering if we were going to be asked any questions to help select the jury.

We waited another 45 minutes outside while the judge listened to individual concerns about serving on the jury.  Then we returned.  Still, noone has been let go except for the doctor who early on said he knew a witness in the case and couldn’t be impartial.  The rest of us were stuck as the attorneys did their final selection.

imagesFinally, at 6PM the judge read the numbers of 13 jurors and it was over. The rest of us were free to leave.

Contrast this with the California murder trial jury selection process I was in from 2005. We gathered, same number of people, after we received our assignment in a large room on the first floor (nowhere near as easy up front as the Texas process).

The rest of the process was efficient, straight forward, and quick.  The judge told us the rules in about 15 minutes. He then asked people to stand with any major personal issues, and he let a few go.  He then probed directly on some tough questions and tossed a few out.  Then it was time for seating the jury.images

The judge put 15 people in the box, the first 15 numbers from the original random assignment.  The attorneys questioned those in the box they were interested in talking to, then one by one several were dismissed and a new person from our larger group was put into the box.  Once they ran out of strikes, it was over… and the jury was selected before lunch time.

Ideally, I’d love to see the Texas summons technique coupled with the California selection process in the court room to make it match the importance of what it represents and what it really is, but do it in a way that doesn’t subject people to a full day of legal arguments and posturing in a way that has nothing to do with selecting a jury.

Who’d a thought Texas could learn something from California?  Your thoughts…?


10 2009

Sport-Tweet Udpate: SEC Caves, NFL Going Crazy… Why?

Just as the SEC reversed course on its unrealistic ban of all social media by fans at SEC games, the NFL continues to take more steps toward restricting the use of Twitter and other tools to share content they want to “protect” for themselves.  Still sounds so much like the Napster scenario now being played out in the world of sports entertainment content rather than music.

As Adam Ostrow reported last month on Mashable, the SEC ultimately changed, or clarified, its policy to allow personal messages and posting.  But they are very clear about any video or footage intended to be used for commercial purposes as being outlaw.

“No Bearer may produce or disseminate in any form a “real-time” description or transmission of the Event (i) for commercial or business use, or (ii) in any manner that constitutes, or is intended to provide or is promoted or marketed as, a substitute for radio, television or video coverage of such Event. Personal messages and updates of scores or other brief descriptions of the competition throughout the Event are acceptable. If the SEC deems that a Bearer is producing a commercial or real-time description of the Event, the SEC reserves the right to pursue all available remedies against the Bearer.

Absent the prior written permission of the Southeastern Conference, game action videos of the Event may not be taken by Bearer. Photos of the Event may be taken by Bearer and distributed solely for personal use (and such photographs shall not be licensed, used, or sold commercially, or used for any commercial or business purpose).”

But the NFL took the opposite approach.  Some talk has been that in an effort to prevent Chad OchoCinco from flying in a fan to tweet during the game on his behalf, the NFL has officially banned social media starting 90 minutes before and during all NFL games.  According to Steve Raquel on the Bleacher Report, the restrictions put in place include:

  • Twittering during a game by either the player themselves or someone on their behalf.
  • Any social media activity within 90 minutes before and after the game.
  • Restriction applies to not only players, but coaches, team personnel, and officials.
  • Restrictions on play-by-play descriptions of NFL games (e.g. Twittering) to only authorized media.

Ok, so the idea of a player Tweeting in the end zone or on the sideline is a distraction and I get it, I guess.  But isn’t this about entertainment.  Doesn’t Twitter suddenly make the fanatic follower of a team feel he knows exactly what Chad OchoCinco is thinking at that very moment.  Doesn’t that make same said fanatic follower even more fanatic about following that team?

I love Adam Ostrow’s quote reported by Jennifer Van Grove, also in Mashable, in her very well written summary of the issue:

“Sure, these days someone could theoretically live stream a game from their camera phone. But a shaky, low resolution video from the upper deck of Yankee Stadium isn’t exactly the same as watching FOX’s telecast on your big screen TV. Social media should be viewed as a fantastic compliment to sports that is good for both fans and the TV networks, but at the moment, it seems that’s anything but how it’s being perceived.

That’s the point.  Hello.  Just like the blackouts that force their content to not be shown in local markets if the stadium isn’t sold out… the NFL needs to think about the people who feed their empire.  Sure, so many of us love football to the point we watch even with this silliness… but how much more would we do if more efforts were made to connect with the fan.

I think a bigger issue is the concern the focus in on the player and not the team.  If Chad OchoCinco tweets on the field, it’s not helping the Bengals, perhaps, as much as it is Chad OchoCinco.  They can’t allow individual player brands to be established, shared, and extended.

But, teams can do the same thing, and in an even more powerful way because they have the content people want or need to be fanatics.

Consider what the NY Jets have done (all since losing Brett Favre, of course!).  In August they held a contest to give away tickets to games to followers of them on Twitter (@NY_Jets).  They now have 4,500+ followers on their official Twitter ID.  The contest was put on by the Jets, not by their fans… an important difference, and an indication of an organization trying to reach out.

But the Jets seem to get it.  Again this week they launched a promotion partnership with JetBlue with discount fares for games in Buffalo and Florida — all promoted, shared, and extended via social media connections as well.

The Jets efforts very well may be attributed to blogger, Twitterer, wine connoisseur and social-networking guru Gary Vaynerchuk.  Apparently, he has launched Vaynermedia and lists the NY Jets as one of his clients.

Compare this with the Dallas Cowboys.  I couldn’t find an “official” Twitter feed, but there are 20+ fan-created follower groups of “America’s Team”.  The most popular, @Cowboys, has 13,000+ followers.  Imagine what the team could do with an official feed offering content, access, and connections to fans.

Another argument against the use of Twitter at sports is sharing confidential information, like the recent ban by the US Open to restrict players using it.  Andy Roddick called it right in my view when he explained you’d have to be a moron to share “insider information” that would call into question the integrity of the game.

Ian Paul reported on other decisions by teams in the NFL regarding social media during training camps and in the preseason, apparently to protect their trade secrets (avoid the infamous video taping of signals fiasco):

The Dolphins allow the media to tweet as much as they like for the first 20 minutes or so of practice, but once team drills begin all electronic equipment including computers, cameras, and cell phones has to be turned off, according to a report by the Associated Press.

Dolphins fans, on the other hand, are forbidden to blog, tweet or even send SMS messages while watching their team practice. The Dolphins aren’t the only NFL team wary of new forms of communication either.

Teams like the New England Patriots, Buffalo Bills, Indianapolis Colts, New Orleans Saints, Denver Broncos, and Detroit Lions all have similar restrictions, while the Dallas Cowboys and Carolina Panthers are running tweet-friendly training camps.

I suggest, rather than being so focused on protecting trade secrets or trying to ban players from branding themselves or try to keep fans from distributing content that they own, the NFL, and other sports entertainment brands, should look to how these tools can enhance the relationship with their most important assets: their customer base.

Bring some fan on Twitter who keeps up with what’s going on to the primo seat for free, in exchange for his or her building, promoting, and living the essence of that team. Conduct press conferences for exclusive content that only goes to your followers on Twitter first.  Incentivize your players to get a following, create venues for them to get together with these people who love what they do.

Have a relationship.  Don’t try to enforce or create an “arranged marriage”… those don’t work so well in our world today.


09 2009