3 Chart-Topping Lessons from “Weird Al”

It was great to see this morning that one of my personal heroes and role models, “Weird Al” Yankovic, officially has his first #1 album after 30 years in the music business.

Mandatory Fun” is topping the Billboard Charts after Al’s #8songs8days campaign.

Of course I love “Word Crimes”

But my favorite is “Foil” because of the surprise mid-song twist:

The projections I had seen indicated that he would hit #1 if he sold 80,000 albums in the first week; he blew past that with 104,000.

What lessons can we take from this?

  1. There’s no substitute for great content. Al is a comedic genius, and he’s also very musically talented. If content isn’t worth sharing it won’t be shared.
  2. Giving away content is the key to economic success in today’s economy. The two videos embedded above have combined for 22 million views as of this writing. Some of them have had pre-roll ads (which is one way way of monetizing), but anyone could watch and listen for free. Four of the songs on “Mandatory Fun” aren’t offered as free videos, but eight are. Even though he gave away all this content, he sold more than $1 million worth of albums in the first week. Or, to put it more accurately, because he gave away all this content, he sold that much.
  3. Find like-minded collaborators and give them a stake in your success. As the New York Times reported, Al’s record label, RCA, didn’t provide any budget for creating his videos. So he struck up production partnerships with online sites. For “Foil” it was College Humor. Then he gave them the exclusive right to host his video on their YouTube channel. He got the production help and access to their existing audience. They got a lot of new traffic when Al’s video went viral, and when he was featured in traditional media outlets.

Those are three top lessons I see. What do you think?

What else can we learn from Weird Al?

“Quality” in Media = Usefulness

Advertising Age had an interesting article Wednesday – “Lowered Expectations: Web Redefines ‘Quality’” – regarding the challenges big media conglomerates have in a world in which publishing has been democratized. Here a couple of relevant excerpts:

Publishers from The New York Times to Condé Nast to NBC have been arguing for years that, ultimately, demand for quality would give them advantages over online upstarts: Users would demand it and advertisers would always covet the environment that quality can confer.

But they’re facing two trends that appear to be inexorable. Audiences that do not intently seek out quality are increasingly inured to traditional media brands on the web. At the same time, agencies and advertisers are adopting technologies that allow them to target individuals independent of whatever media they may be absorbing, making the media brand itself less important, perhaps even irrelevant.

“Today there seems to be a bigger premium on popularity — substantiated or not — than there is on authority,” said Group M CEO Rob Norman.

Big, established brands are the ones that least need the authority of media, and indeed many are adapting to a diminished world of old media by producing their own content. Where it starts to hurt are smaller brands that don’t have those advantages. Mr. Norman said it tends to be smaller brands that rely on the “the conferred quality, authority and scale of more traditional media forms to deliver brand messaging or persuade audiences.”

While I think this article highlights an important trend (that of quality being judged by average users instead of elites and big media brands), I have a bit of a different take. I agree that big brands that already have a substantial degree of trust have a great opportunity to create content and reach consumers directly, but I don’t see that smaller brands are terribly disadvantaged. They have an opportunity through the Web to reach “audiences” or “communities” directly, just as the more established brands do.

But whereas Mr. Norman says the new standard of quality seems to be “popularity” as opposed to “authority,” I think the real standard to be met is usefulness and trustworthiness. Web publishing enables real experts (for example, physicians and scientists) to contribute content, as an alternative to journalists and the mainstream media. So it’s not always popularity vs. authority; it can equally be one kind of authority (medical, scientific) vs. another type of authority (journalistic objectivity.)

The real opportunity for those who have been advertising is that instead of paying to interrupt consumers of quality media content with unwelcome marketing messages, they can produce content of their own that people actually want. That they find useful.

ISHMPR Presentation in Sun Valley

Idaho has one of the unique state associations for hospital or health care marketing and public relations. It actually has a vowel in its acronym, unlike Florida (FSHMPRM), Wisconsin (WHPRMS) and Minnesota (MHSCN). But then again, they don’t really have a choice since their state begins with a vowel.

Here are the slides I’m showing as part of my presentation to ISHMPR today. You can follow and participate in the discussion on Twitter using the #ISHMPR hashtag.

Lee Odden Interview

I was honored last week to have a chance to be interviewed by Lee Odden, a fellow Minnesotan with a cool first name who also has one of the top PR, marketing and SEO blogs. Here is one of his 10 questions, along with my answer, published this morning in his post, “Social Media Interview: Lee Aase of Mayo Clinic”:

Do you test specific social media tactics or do you go full on with a social media strategy for each initiative? Knowing what you know now, what approach would you recommend that companies take when they’re starting out?

I recommend what I call the “MacGyver Mindset,” named after the TV character played by Minnesota native Richard Dean Anderson. Look at the tools and resources you have available and how you can adapt them to meet your communication and marketing goals, and empower staff to explore.

Focus first on the free platforms such as YouTube, Facebook and Twitter, mainly because that’s where you will find communities already gathered. This also enables you to prove your concepts before deciding whether to launch a community of your own.

Strategic thinking can be an excuse for inaction, and just as it’s easier to alter the direction of a moving car than it is to get one started from a dead stop, I believe it’s best to build social media momentum through low-cost experimentation and iteration.

Read the full interview here on Lee’s TopRank blog.

The Danger of “Core Competence”

Among the books I’ve been devouring recently is The Innovator’s Solution: Creating and Sustaining Successful Growth by Clayton Christensen. (I highly recommend it!) As I was listening to the unabridged audio version, the following statement — though read in the same measured tones as the rest of the tome — screamed its relevance:

Core competence, as it is used by many managers, is a dangerously inward-looking notion. Competitiveness is far more about doing what customers value than doing what you think you’re good at. And staying competitive as the basis of competition shifts necessarily requires a willingness and ability to learn new things rather than clinging hopefully to the sources of past glory.

The challenge for incumbent companies is to rebuild their ships while at sea, rather than dismantling themselves plank by plank while someone else builds a new, faster boat with what they cast overboard as detritus.

The context of the statement is a discussion of companies that outsource elements of their product or service that they perceive to be less important. For example, in developing its PC in the early 1980s, IBM outsourced both its microprocessor (to Intel) and its operating system (to Microsoft.) This enabled IBM to catch up with Apple, but in the process it handed over the two most significant revenue streams and sources of profit to others. Today Intel and Microsoft are still earning billions of dollars a year from the PC business, while IBM is no longer making PCs.

This is relevant not only for our organizations and employers as a whole but also for us as individuals, and now I’m speaking directly to those involved professionally in communications, public relations, marketing, advertising or related disciplines. 

I wish I had $82.43 for every time I’ve heard someone say, “All you need to do to use social media in your business is hire some young kids, just out of college. They really understand this stuff.” As the father of two relatively recent college graduates, I appreciate the job opportunities such a statement offers. But I offer a word of caution.

You need to understand social media yourself, and not dismiss them as being outside your “core competence.”

OK, that was 17 words. But the point is that as social media grow in importance over time, and as the audiences for mainstream media shrink, if you fail to adapt your “core competence” will become less relevant. That means less marketable.

By understanding social media, you will see how they can be applied to solve your business problems, or perhaps even as a whole new business model. Otherwise, as Christensen indicates, you will find yourself disrupted by low-end innovators.

To think more about the implications of disruptive innovation, get The Innovator’s Solution or anything else Christensen has written. I’m particularly looking forward to reading his books about health care and education.

To learn how to apply the sustaining (and in some cases disruptive) innovation of social media to your work, you’re at the right place already. Become a SMUGgle and we’ll learn and share applications together.