Saturday, September 26, 2009

Sometimes the Way To People's Hearts is Through Their Ears

John O'Neil is a writer and editor at the New York Times. He's also the wonderful father of a wonderful son, James, who was born on the autism spectrum.

John's natural instinct to share his experience with the greater community resulted in a profile of James in the Times which earned him a Pulitzer nomination.

Later, he began scribbling poems about living in a household with autism on the train on the way to work. He emailed a few to Jon Fried, the father of his oldest boy’s best friend, and co-leader (with his wife, Deena Shoshkes) of the band, The Cucumbers, who set the words to music.

Over the next two years, the group was prolific, writing song after song, representing many aspects of the disorder and the challenges families face, expressed in as many musical moods. John’s son Chris, even added his own lyrics, articulating the fears and feelings of a sibling of a child with autism.

With nearly two dozen songs written, John and Jon sought out popular recording artists who would not only only bring their music to life but also inspire interest in the project, which they called SingSOS (Songs of the Spectrum). Those who graciously answered the call were Jackson Browne with Valerie Carter (both shown above), Dar Williams, Marshall Crenshaw, Teddy Geiger, Jonatha Brooke, Richard Julian, Dan Bern with Mike Viola, Don Dixon with Marti Jones, Ollabelle, Christina Courtin, Ari Hest, Kelly Flint and, of course, The Cucumbers.

Funds were raised largely through concerts in people's homes on both coasts, where Jon and Deena performed the songs and John explained the genesis of the project.

SingSOS's message is striking a chord amongst both performers and listeners alike.

Dr. Ami Klin, Director of Research at the Yale Child Study Center, joined the SingSOS board after an in-home concert in New Haven, Connecticut. After one in L.A., Dr. Daniel Siegel, an author and psychiatrist at UCLA, offered to arrange for the group to present the material at the 2007 conference of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry in Boston.

"Thank you,’’ wrote a single mother of a boy with autism on the group's MySpace page, “I feel less alone.’’

And Jackson Browne said the experience of recording his song was, “deeply spiritual.’’

To make the project even more inclusive, SingSOS also held a contest, inviting artists with autism to submit work to grace the forthcoming album's cover and booklet. The submissions are stunning and many are included in the video below, which sets them to the group's song, "One Went Missing," as performed by the popular New York-based folk band, Ollabelle.

The group is now looking at ways to get their music into people's hands, either through downloads or on CD.

All proceeds from sales of SingSOS music will go to groups working to raise awareness about autism and working directly with people on the autism spectrum, including Autism Speaks' global programs, The New York Center for Autism, the Alpine Learning Group, the McCarton Foundation and the Connecticut Center for Child Development.

That should be music to a lot of people's ears.

– Mark

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Friday, September 18, 2009

Hear That? It's the Sound of Everyone Jumping on the Bandwagon

There's an old maxim in marketing that, "in tough times, you should spend more on advertising."

It makes sense: in a quiet market the squeeky wheel gets noticed.

Of course, this rule is rarely obeyed, as advertising budgets are usually the first to get cut. It's hard to justify such spending to those tasked with keeping whatever money is left, under lock and key.

But a new study by the e-commerce consulting firm the e-tailing group and online customer review firm PowerReviews suggests that recession-strapped companies are starting to realize the power of social media when fiscal prudence is the order of the day. It found that three-fourths of the 117 survey respondents have committed some degree of time and money to social media in the past six months.

And they were rewarded for it. The companies that had the highest levels of social media activity and engagement increased revenues by as much as 18 percent over the past year, while those that didn't saw a six percent decline in sales.

The companies that scored highest have dedicated teams working the channels they use. These teams can be as small as one person, but the point is that someone is strategically managing the effort. And the most successful of these companies have also spread the gospel of social media internally, creating advocates all across their organizations.

Said Lauren Freedman, the president of the e-tailing group, "The integration of community and social networking within e-commerce has reached critical mass and as such is now a benchmark that we will be tracking annually. Customer engagement has become a metric to be reckoned with, where failing to engage consumers via community and social media will have brand and bottom-line implications.

"All merchants must test and understand how to effectively deploy it for their brands to retain customers, encourage sales, and avoid abandonment to competitors who've better embraced its marketing potential."

The study identifies three things that are driving the exodus to social media:

1- Brands want to be able to put their own spin on products and services and mitigate "brand degradation" from consumers already using sites like Facebook.

2- They want to be seen as up-to-date in their online presence.

3- They're afraid their customers will leave them for competitors with more socially engaging experiences.

Finally, businesses are realizing that they can drive massive amounts of word of mouth and brand loyalty effectively, efficiently and measurably, through social media – at a fraction of the cost of traditional methods.

Which means that the old maxim needs to change to "in tough times, you should spend more on social media."

With this kind of data, even the folks watching the budgets can't argue.

– Mark

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Thursday, September 3, 2009

Practicing What We Preach

One of the truths of social media that we've discovered is that you should never talk the talk without actually walking the walk.

Which is why, at Extrovertic, we truly enjoy rolling up our sleeves and experiencing firsthand the solutions we recommend.

This doesn't mean you can't mix business with pleasure. One of the best ways to experience these tools as a consumer would is to work them into the context of your personal, non-working life.

(Yes, I know, a personal, non-working life is hard to come by these days. But bear with me anyway.)

For example, not too long ago, Dorothy hosted a French wine and cheese party on behalf of the French government.

They were a client of House Party, a company that we're very excited about for its unique ability to create brand advocates via such events. (They generally orchestrate one thousand such parties on a single night.)

We strongly believe House Party has enormous potential for healthcare and pharma companies looking to reach millions of extremely qualified consumers (or patients) at a fraction of the cost of traditional advertising channels.

Dorothy's trial party proved to us that it can be a lot of fun for those lucky enough to host or attend one of these highly engaging events. And that her guests all left highly jazzed not only about the products they had
just enjoyed, but the entire experience, itself.

But Dorothy doesn't get to have all the fun. I've been playing mad scientist in a lab of my own.

While in college in the late seventies, I played guitar for a punk band called Eddie Estrogen & the Hormones. We weren't bad, and played often at such seminal New York clubs as Max's Kansas City and CBGB's. (Perhaps a harbinger of my future interest in healthcare marketing, my nom de punk was "Marky Menopause.")

About 12 years ago, I had a tape of one of our Max's performances digitized and burned onto CDs as a gift for my former band mates.

Then recently, it hit me that I could make even better use of those songs and all of the photos I had been saving in an old scrapbook.

I learned how to convert the audio tracks into little films that could be uploaded onto Facebook, along with the photos. I wrote a little historical piece about the band and invited members of my alma mater's alumni association fan page to join ours.

Within a couple of days, more than 30 people signed on as fans. (Okay, that number includes a few sons, daughters, nieces and nephews of the band members, but who's counting?)

The thing is, I had the opportunity to experience firsthand how it feels to spawn a community. One that appears to be thriving at the moment.

I'm enjoying the experience of uploading a new song every day or so and watching the reactions, discussions and even submissions of our "fans".

I'm even enjoying the aspect of moderating the page, and occasionally omitting comments that seem – to my personal standards – inappropriate.

And while all this is fun for me, it's also a tremendous learning experience.

One that can help me talk the talk.

– Mark

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