Friday, January 29, 2010

Marketing 101

Last Christmas, I was hired for a retail promotion at one of the local malls. They were giving away 100 $10 Westcor gift cards to the first 100 people in line, then they had 25 more $10 gift cards wrapped up in 50 gift boxes and three people got to dive in and start unwrapping presents and claim as many of the 25 cards as they each could find and then finally, the names of everybody participating went into a bucket and they had a drawing for a $1000 gift card. It was a lovely event and I made a few observations.

I was situated across from "Coach"- the couture handbag company. The assistant manager flew out of their door inside of 5 minutes to complain about the music. I had to refer them to the landlord of the mall- who had hired me and placed me in front of their door... We turned the speakers a different direction but they gave me the stink-eye for the entire time I was there. I'll come back to that in a minute...

At the top of the escalator from me, there was a Godiva Chocolatier kiosk and they dispatched an employee down to the crowd with a nice basket full of chocolate for everybody in line and a little promotional brochure and a Godiva coupon. They gave me a piece of chocolate too and I thanked them and said over the sound system how delicious it was and I pointed out the kiosk at the top of the escalator- a "shout out" of sorts.

Back to Coach- I got another ration of crap from the 30ish store manager who was completely overdone with fake boobs, fake nails, fake spray on tan, fake lips etc. She was cartoon-ish in fact. I pointed out that she had 200 Christmas shoppers in front of her store and she was bitching at me instead of taking advantage of the promotion and inviting them into her store! I again referred her to the mall management who, incidentally, had actually asked me to turn it up. Here's the funny part. She was like an audience member on Jerry Springer- she was waving her pointer finger back and forth with a ridiculous fake nail on it and bobbing her head back and forth and telling me that nobody who is standing in line for a $10 gift card could possibly be a customer at Coach.

OK. Another story to finish my point on this one. I was providing music for finals week at Paul Mitchell School recently. It's a good freebie because I get to make a nice school day for about 120 young 20-something women who will be getting married in the next few years and who do you think they will hire? I've already booked several events off of a few ours of fun on a couple of Saturday mornings when everybody comes down for their free hair cuts with the students.

We were having some fun and one woman came running over with a towel around her neck and a bunch of foils in her hair and she said that I was doing a great job and that she was having a party soon and hadn't even considered having a DJ but that because she was having so much fun, she wanted to hire me. Had I done what the Coach lady did, (think to myself that nobody getting a free haircut can afford my professional fee) I would have missed out on a $1500 off-peak event plus a $200 gratuity! Turns out she lives in the wealthiest ZIP code in Arizona and the party was loaded with wealthy socialites. Her daughter is a student at Paul Mitchell School and she was being a good mom and letting the daughter work on her hair.

For marketing, you never know where the million dollar customer may be hiding. They may have been in that line at the mall. Maybe they were just killing time, enjoying the music, doing some people watching, partaking in the element of chance, maybe it was exciting for their 7-yr old to get a gift card, who knows? I'm sure there were some potential Coach customers among them. I would never shop there anyways, because I don't care one way or the other about expensive hand bags, but now I wouldn't shop there because they employ an idiot!

I went up to the Godiva Chocolatier after the event was over and said hello. They whipped up a chocolate shake for me and thanked me for the shout out. They said that 37 of those $10 gift cards marched straight upstairs and got spent at Godiva and the average purchase was $41! It was cool that the employee at Godiva was given the autonomy and the trust to make a decision of that nature. Nearly $1600 in sales in 1 hour (plus whatever regular sales they had in that time) for a $20 investment in some small chocolates and a chocolate shake for the DJ.

Food experiment + 50 days.

If you don't remember, I tested out my wits late last year by not going to the grocery store or any other store for 92 days. Gasoline and a couple of business items were the only things purchased during that time. Just lived off of what I had in the house or what I could grow. It's been 50 days since and I have a few more items to report on the experiment.

I went to the local farmers market today and that was only the 4th trip for groceries since December 13th. I purchased my 4th gallon of milk today and normally it would have been about triple that amount in that time.

My garden continues to produce abundantly and here's the pictures to prove it.

Butterhead lettuce



Fresh salad every 3rd day or so is great. It's been two months of fresh food for a few dollars of seeds! My garden is against a south wall and so there are about 4 feet of dirt that don't get any sunshine in the winter but the line of sunlight is moving about 2 inches per week and I have room for another row of stuff now and I'm going to harvest the last of my cilantro this week and the peas will probably be done in two weeks so I'll start planting some Spring vegetables shortly. I bought some strawberries at the market today because I have lots of arugula to harvest this week and it's a bit of a pungent leaf so you serve it up with peaches or strawberries to balance it out and some balsamic vinaigrette and toasted pecans. It's a fabulous salad!

An observation of note is the change in attitude towards shopping and eating. No more do I stand in front of the fridge or the pantry and say that there is nothing to eat. There IS something to eat but it's not the highly processed and loaded with sugar and salt and fat and convenience- I will have made some cookies in advance or there are peanuts or pistachios to shell or crackers with some Strawberry/Jalapeno jam or something. Impulsive eating doesn't happen any more. Meals are more deliberate. I think in advance about soaking some beans or grinding some wheat and what I may want to plant so I can have some food next month. Shopping trips are massively diminished- about every 10 to 14 days instead of every 3rd day.

If you noted some of the items that came up lacking during the experiment, they have been replaced with a redundancy stored in a different location in the house.

I did find that some pinto beans stored for about 9 years in #10 cans were a bit crunchy- not enough to break any teeth or anything, they were chewy and edible but they just didn't soak up the water and then soften up when cooked in the crock pot all day. People still store food for "someday" and if they don't rotate it and make home storage and gardening a part of their regular lifestyle, they will find that their bodies can't abide that kind of big diet change and that they have spent lots of money and effort and storage space for food that has spoiled or worse that they don't know how to prepare it for consumption in any case.

I may try the experiment again late in 2010 and refine the lessons learned.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Ode to Background Music

Most people only think of the value of a good DJ in terms of the dancing portion of an event. At most weddings or other social occasions, dancing may not happen until 3 hours into the event, but the DJ will have already provided a great deal of value to the event up until that point. Background music is one of those things that nobody is really listening to, but they'd sure miss it if it wasn't there.

As a society, we have become pretty casual. Nothing wrong with that, but weddings are one of the few things left that are still rather formal. Women wear nice dresses to weddings. Even the most casual of men wear a jacket and button down shirt. A wedding gives everyone a reason to consider their own relationships and there is always a bit of anticipation in the air.

During a sales presentation, I'll ask brides about the moments leading up to the ceremony. I explain that attendees are dressed up and there is excitement about seeing friends and cousins they haven't seen in a while and even old married couples are flirting with each other a bit because they have a special occasion for which to get dressed up. I'll ask brides, "What kind of music do you hear as your guests are arriving before the ceremony?" Owing to the formal nature of the occasion, classical music SPEAKS the moment. Even for people who don't know classical music very well, it feels familiar to them. It adds body and life and it compliments those feelings of anticipation.

People, individually, are pretty smart, but crowds, collectively, have a separate mentality and they need to be told what to do. I like to have the music provide the instructions so that the DJ or wedding minister doesn't need to speak any instructions. If the background music has been strings, I like to switch to a piano song and turn it up 15% to signal the start of the formalities. If it has been piano music, I like to switch to classical guitar and turn it up 15%. People know that something is different and they quiet down and sit up straight in their seats and turn their attention to the entrance of the bridal party without being told specifically to do so. The oft-overlooked background music has spoken it.

A mistake that many DJs make is #1) being too loud in general and #2) not taking advantage of the natural energy of the crowd and the occasion and then, not using good musical selections to enhance that energy. There will always be several animated and electric conversations going on and those conversations add to the energy of the space and that is a good thing! When a spoken announcement cuts into that, it can be jarring as people have to disconnect from their conversations to hear what is being said and then they will be more disruptive to the announced instruction as they now attempt to finish what was being said ANYWAYS! However, if the music speaks it, it can be far more profound and effective at quieting those conversations more naturally and having attendees direct their attention to the matter at hand- like the officiant and groom having taken their places in advance of the ceremony.

I like to keep the music about 5% below whatever the current level of conversation is in the space. I understand that a few voices rise specifically in response to the level of background music but please don't bust my chops over that issue. I've been around the block enough times to know how to gauge the level of music. I contend that more people raise their voices because they are excited and they feel comfortable being animated and gesturing largely with their hands and speaking excitedly. They want to be heard and they want to speak freely, but they would be embarrassed being heard above anybody else. The music needs to be there to mask each voice so that no single voice ever rises above the overall volume and people can feel comfortable being so animated.

Please take this next part as it is intended- with a smile. Most hotels and golf/racquet clubs have music playing in the restrooms. There are certain sounds that are rather satisfying to make in a restroom, but entirely unpleasant to hear or to worry about being heard. Background music masks it- thus adding to your comfortable experience.

I use a computerized DJ system that can play background music automatically with playlists that I have defined and I also determine how I want the computer to mix it and how many seconds each song will overlap with the next one. During automated background music, every once in awhile, a song may have a long "fade." The song may be effectively over, as it has faded from the range of hearing, but the computer does not know to start the next song because the file hasn't approached its actual end- it's still fading. As the music falls silent for 6 or 7 seconds before the next file plays, you'll see and hear a few of the animated conversations go into a brief pause, waiting for that next song before they can finish the exciting thing they were talking about because they don't want their voice to be heard above the rest. I usually make a mental note of such a song and edit it during the week to end a bit sooner so that the next song starts at the "effective" end and not the "actual" end for future airings. If a radio DJ ever spoke or played a commercial over the long fading "strike" piano note at the end of the Beatles' A Day in the Life, even though the song is effectively over, I'd have to call up the radio station and threaten a boycott of some sort.

Side note- during the dancing portion, I always mix live because there are several simultaneous queues that I may not want triggered automatically. I may want a lighting effect and a pose or hand gesture along with a dramatic musical element all timed exactly when I want them not when the computer thinks I may want them. I saw rock group "Styx" recently and witnessed a few such "Spinal Tap" moments. It was the second night of the tour and Tommy Shaw stepped up to his spot after the second song and shouted "Hello Friends!" and a computer triggered spotlight illuminated a empty mic stand on the other side of the stage. For my purpose, during most background music applications, such queues are not as crucial.

Another important element of background music is the flavor and the energy level of it. The ceremony portion may have one musical "flavor" and then the cocktail hour may be some traditional music that represents an ethnic heritage, the dinner hour may have yet another flavor. During dinner, does the customer want classic standards mixed with new school- Sinatra/Rod Stewart/Michael Buble? Or perhaps something more contemporary like Jack Johnson/Dave Matthews/Jason Mraz? Latin guitar? Old Jazz mixed with some Classic R&B? Classic rock like Van Morrison/Beatles? Properly selected background music will take the guests from what has been a formal ceremony to what will be a dance party after dinner without the DJ saying something stupid like "Yo people! Get up out ya seats!" The background music will have taken them there and naturally created an energy level conducive to dancing and they will fly out of their chairs and dance.

I like music that is rhythmic but not necessarily a vocal. For many of the reasons already described, a sung lyric may inadvertently disconnect people from that electric conversation as they tune in to the song lyric and tune out of the moment they are having at the table. I also generally avoid "elevator muzak" where all elements of a familiar song are intact but with a saxophone taking what would have been the lead vocal. It's vapid and it can still have the same effect of people tuning in to the music and out of their moments.

At about the time that the last table is served dinner, I begin to switch ever-so-slightly from background to dance music even though I don't really want anybody to dance before the bride and groom officially open the dancefloor with their first dance.

A song like "My Girl" by the Temptations is somewhere in the middle. It's a well known song, rhythmic, has a memorable vocal and it begins to naturally help people wrap up their conversation and disconnect from it and turn their attention to what will be a more communal experience as we celebrate the wedding with 3 generations of people out on the dancefloor dancing to the same song- together. After a couple of songs like that, I'll start to see tapping toes and snapping fingers and I'll see some attention starting to turn to me waiting for some direction on what to do next. At that point, it IS the intention to disconnect from those conversations. The energy that is lost as those conversations come to a close will be replaced with the energy that is contributed to the space by a packed dancefloor. Strangely, this will be the first introduction of the abilities of the DJ even though I will have provided a lot up to this point.

Here's a recent pic of me imparting some sage wisdom to the masses on a couple of cool dance steps. The magic really happens when the crowd and the DJ become one. People are out there dancing and getting into it, hugging each other, singing along with every word and they send that energy to me and I feel it and I dig down a bit deeper and amp it up and send a renewed energy back to them and they feel it and they get down and they send it back to me and I send it back to them... it's a party!