Greg T. Spielberg

Archive for the ‘Distribution’ Category

The Economist’s wacky offer

In Distribution on August 15, 2010 at 9:33 pm

Cartoon from DavidsonMath & Amanda Davidson. Originally by Big Bill Watterson.

The Economist’s ad on Facebook is the strangest magazine-subscription pushes I’ve seen in a long time:

Best Introductory Offer
Best Available Offer. Pay just $12 for the first 12 weekly issues (85% savings) and then $29 for every 3 months thereafter.

1) No one uses “thereafter.”
2) Is it the best introductory offer or the best available offer? Or is it the best available introductory offer?
3) Why is there a “weekly” qualifier in there? Is the Economist trying to suggest that double issues or special issues aren’t included. Or are they assuming people don’t know it’s a weekly.
4) The math. The math is just so strange. $12 for the first 12 issues is a good deal, and they’re stressing that the offer is $1 an issue. Then, they move to three-month intervals, which is what 12 weeks is,  but they don’t want us to see $12=12 issues and then $29=12 issues.

So what’s the deal, then, actually? 12 +29(3) = 99. After all that clever number play, the deal is an expensive $100 or the deal-sounding $99. Clever


Tanning Streetwater (pt I): A Kosovan foothold

In Distribution, on facebook on March 30, 2010 at 6:13 pm

Besa Luci, a friend and Kosovan magazine editor helped me access a distant social circle.

I’m convinced that focusing on socially local people rather than geographically local ones is more important in building initial sw distribution. In a recent post, I explain why. But what about distant social circles? What about reaching the communities I don’t have access to but feel will enjoy Streetwater? Should I wait for them to find out about Streetwater on their own, or should I go after them? I think it’s important to go get them right away, for two reasons:

1) I want Streetwater to be tan from its inception.

2) I want Streetwater growing in multiple circles simultaneously rather than exclusively from my social center (family and friends I see frequently).

Tan is a Steve Stoute term he uses to describe the psychological makeup and tastes of a new generation. A Renaissance man, Stoute has managed Kid N Play, Nas, founded Translation Advertising and was recently inducted into the American Advertising Federation’s Advertising Hall of Achievement. His idea is that corporations shouldn’t break down young Americans – let’s say 40 and under – into racial boxes. Our cultural tastes are an expression of a diverse crowd; our tastes are tanned. (A good example of how a company communicates this is through the Chevy commercial in the New Yorker video below.)

Since I’m trying to build community rather than sell products, my approach to tan is a bit different. I need to consider how Streetwater looks to prospective members on Facebook, and a large part of how it looks is based on the nascent existing community. There are a few routes I could take. Nighclub method: Attract pretty women to become members and hope guys will follow. Country club method: Invite high-net-worth men and assume their families and other aspirational men will follow.

No and no. Instead, I want to hit a few socially diverse circles right off the bat. I want prospective members to see people in the Streetwater crew that are from different backgrounds, have different lifestyles, faces, names and perspectives. I want the crew to be tan. Immediately. While Stoute’s tan speaks to cultural tastes, my tan deals with community makeup. Here are two examples of how I acted on this concept to make it real.

Establishing a Kosovan foothold
Besa Luci was a year ahead of me at Mizzou grad school. I had heard her accent but couldn’t place it. She has great style, too – ballerina flats, skinny jeans, a peasant shirt and a handful of necklaces, which is a rare combination in Columbia MO. So when I approached her for the first time outside Lee Hills Hall, I said, “Are you Italian?” She laughed and said, “No, I’m from Kosovo.”

A few weeks later in the magazine lab, I asked her to tell me about Kosovo’s history, which becomes an explanation of Balkan history. I’ve always been intrigued that on one side of the Adriatic is Italy – a stable nation and internationally known cultural center. Meanwhile, the Adriatic’s east coast is comprised of a string of countries whose identities have always been in flux. In December, the express train between Belgrade and Sarajevo opened up for the first time in almost 20 years, a move that represents yet another regional healing process.

Kosovo itself only gained independence in 2008 (!!), an occasion Besa got to enjoy in New York City where she was finishing her Master’s project. Now, back in her hometown of Pristina, Besa is building a culture magazine geared toward the up-and-coming Kosovans enjoying national autonomy for the first time. This is beautiful, and from a distribution point of view, tapping Besa to recommend Streetwater to her friends is a monstrous triple crown:

1) I’m socially close to a cultural influencer, meaning she’ll follow through with the recommendation.

2) The cultural influencer gives me access to a distant social circle.

3) The distant social circle is part of a national culture that is forming its identity at the same time as Streetwater. We’re both startups.

Besa recommended Streetwater to friends, and as of March 21, a quarter of sw’s 250 members are Kosovan. Two weeks in, and Streetwater’s international; it’s culturally diverse. It’s tan. -G

More on Steve Stoute

Interview with Steve Stoute by Kelefa Sanneh, New Yorker (video)
A McKinsey of Pop Culture? by Tom Lowry, BusinessWeek (text)
Interview with Steve Stoute (part I) by Javid of the.LIFE Files (video)
Interview with Steve Stoute (part II) by Javid of the.LIFE Files (video)

Rethinking “start local”

In Distribution, on facebook on March 26, 2010 at 11:00 am

The curveball
Since the bit economy makes digital delivery cheap and social media makes contact easy, starting locally is no longer the first distribution consideration. For Streetwater, that’s a big deal. Shipping sw to a friend in Brunei is as cost effective and relevant to him as reaching my neighbor in the Lower East Side. To reinforce this, I think about walking up to a girl on the sidewalk. If I started Sugar, an LES diner, I would say, “Hey, you look like a nice person, come check out Sugar on the corner of Houston and Allen.” Chances are she would come by because the diner is only a few blocks away. Saying, “Hey, you look like a nice person, come check out Streetwater on the Internets,” doesn’t have the same geographic pull. SW’s initial form is digital, so the Internet takes the local advantage away from me. It’s as easy to type in as it is to type

As startups (I’ll pretend Sugar is a startup), Sugar and Streetwater lack a reputation to capture people’s imagination. There’s also no word of mouth yet. We lack defining names. What the hell is Sugar? They serve hamburgers, soup, bagels, cup cakes, orange juice and cheese sandwiches. Not exactly a tight product. What the hell is Streetwater? It’s an exploratory photo crew. Not exactly a tight product. The fall-back for Sugar is its geographically local position in the neighborhood. Streetwater’s fall-back is socially local friends and family who will promote the site in a cost-effective and timely fashion.

The playing field
I started Streetwater on March 5 using only the Facebook infrastructure. Enormous native traffic; established and visible social group; clean simple Web design; free. Interestingly, if we think of the Facebook page as a landscape, the socially local people are also geographically local. Friends and commenters run up and down the left and middle columns. The right column is furthest and reserved for socially distant advertisers and recommended friends. Technology companies help us out by bring socially local people closer — speed dial on phones, auto-finish for email addresses we frequently use.

I recommended Streetwater to all the “close” friends (those in the box beneath my profile). Obvious first step. Then, I asked  my younger brother, who lives 80 blocks north of me in New York, to recommend Streetwater to his friends. (I haven’t asked my older brother yet because he’s part of a staggering plan I’ll need to think about more.) Phil recommends Streetwater because of our social proximity. It’s nothing to click some buttons for your brother. That girl in the Lower East Side will come to Sugar to get coffee because it’s nothing to walk two blocks.

His rationale for helping me out is based on social proximity, not local proximity. If I still lived in Missouri, I would get the same result. It’s not like recommending fans for someone’s page is free. It takes roughly 7 minutes to click through 500 friends, a significant investment considering how much we hate electronic pauses. In a 2007 story about newbie Hulu, the anonymous marketingvox writer goes, “Eschewing the :30 dinosaur from the days of broadcast television…” In comparison, inviting friends is equal to six back-to-back dinosaurs that my brother has to run himself. Who would do that for less than a cup of coffee unless he is socially close? Who would check out a new diner unless she is geographically close?

(Priya Singh, creative head at Interactive Agency, just tweeted “Looking for a laugh? Have a short attention span? >> 5 second films)

After asking my brother, I tapped a high school friend who lives in Baltimore, and a college friend down in D.C. They both said sure. Phil lives near me, but Connor and Annie don’t, yet distribution wasn’t harder in proportion to geographic distance. I talk to all three frequently, so we’re socially local.

The strikeout
On the other hand — and here was a great failure lesson — I tried to cut corners with my ex-girlfriend’s former roommate. We’ve hung out a few times in Columbia MO and in Chicago where she now lives. But we don’t have a close relationship. We don’t talk or see each other, and the bridge that made us socially local — my ex-g — no longer bonds us. I was more attracted to her 1,871 friends and access to a Midwest market of new college grads. This is an outdated philosophy, anyway, breaking people down into “markets” and regions rather than communities of interest. I didn’t hear back and haven’t seen a crop of fresh-faced Midwesterners in the Streetwater crew. So, my guess is she passed. And why not? She’s not local. -G