Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Cleveland Concert Reviews: Black Label Society & Slash with Myles Kennedy and the Conspirators

This weekend, Cleveland was treated to two outstanding concerts featuring two world class guitarists. It seems like when I was in my 20's that this happened more often. I remember some weeks I had 3 or 4 amazing concerts. This was back in the days when Cleveland was a can't miss stop on most tours.
Friday night, while there was some country concert going on at Progressive Field, Black Label Society was rocking Cleveland at the House of Blues. There is no other player out there that attacks the guitar like Zakk Wylde. Couple that with his voice that sounds stronger than it has in years. It's hard to believe that Black Label Society has been around for 15 years already. Touring in support of their newest CD, Catacombs of the Black Vatican (see my review here), they mixed in the new with some early material and the fan favorites. Throw in a 10+ minute guitar solo and you've got a killer show.
I do have to say that he used some recorded music as the intro to more than a couple songs. That's a huge pet peeve of mine. Luckily, it was clear when the band roared in...the volume increase alone made it easy to see when they took over for the recorded stuff. That's my only complaint. The set list was great and included his heartfelt tribute to Dimebag Darrell during "In This River" which featured Zakk on piano. Here's to hoping that he finds his way back to Cleveland soon.
I was still basking in the concert glow of Black Label Society on Sunday night as I made my way to the Hard Rock Rocksino for Slash with Myles Kennedy and The Conspirators. This was my first time seeing a show there and I was very impressed. The concert hall was very new and clean and the sound and acoustics were great. If only it wasn't out in the middle of nowhere, but I'll definitely be back there for more shows.
Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee Slash is currently opening for Aerosmith on their summer tour. I was mad they're not coming to Cleveland, but Slash more than made up for it with a 2-hour/20-song show that found him in top form.  He played 3 songs from his upcoming CD that sound like he's picking up where he left off with Apocalyptic Love. The highlight of the night for me was "You Could Be Mine". I was just watching the new Guns 'n' Roses DVD on AXS TV where they played that and thought I'd rather hear Slash play it. So that was an awesome surprise to have him pull that one out. "Rocket Queen" was also incredible as it featured an extra-extended guitar solo that almost seemed tailored to match Zakk Wylde's solo from Friday night.
You can no longer talk about Slash without mentioning Myles Kennedy on vocals, as well as the Conspirators. Myles has a great vocal range and is able to sing all of the solo Slash stuff, but also the G'n'R, Velvet Revolver and Slash's Snakepit songs as well. And, he nails all of them. the Conspirators, Brent Fitz, Todd Kerns and Frank Sidoris, provide the perfect rhythm section to round out the band. I'm hoping this incarnation of Slash will be sticking around for the long haul and they complement Slash very well.
Both of these shows were the types of shows that you just want them to keep playing for days and both have the catalogs that make it hard for them to play everything you want to hear. It was a perfect one-two punch for Cleveland that made for a great rock music weekend and the crowds were perfect examples of why Cleveland is the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Capital of the world...and deservedly so!
Did you see either of these shows? What concerts have you seen or are you going to see this summer? Or, just tell me your favorite concert of all time. Thanks for reading and please share this post with your friends!

Set Lists:
Black Label Society
Destruction Overdrive*
Hard and Fast
Funeral Bell
Night Train
Bleed for Me
Standing in the Sun
Heart of Darkness
Back From Cali
My Dying Time
Shots Fired
Damn the Flood*
Stone Blind - NEW
Fire it Up
You Could Be Mine
Guitar Solo
Dr. Alibi
Godspeed Hellbound
Not For Me
30 Years to Life - NEW
Rocket Queen
Angel of Mercy
No More Heroes
In This River
The Blessed Hellride
World on Fire - NEW
Concrete Jungle*
Suicide Messiah
You're a Lie

Sweet Child o' Mine
*Not completely sure if these songs are right

By the Sword - Encore

Paradise City - Encore

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

What I Imagine Cleveland Would Say to Lebron James About His Return

Photo by Mark Duncan/AP
Lebron James's article announcing his return to Cleveland was a masterpiece of humility, maturity, regret and hope. In a few heartfelt paragraphs, Lebron was able to not only make a lot of us forget the debacle that was his first Decision, but also show his growth. I know...I'm sure his marketing and PR people wrote it, but the President has speech writers, so I don't see this being much different. I do think it's appropriate that the city of Cleveland have the opportunity to respond. So, with that, I give you my take on that response (I'll be playing the part of the city of Cleveland):

We got some great news this week as Lebron James announced he was coming back to the Cleveland Cavaliers. Lebron, count me as one of the most excited that you're returning. I truly appreciated your article on SI.com (read it here). Color me impressed and touched by the sincerity you showed. It was the perfect antithesis to your "Decision" TV show four years ago where you publicly humiliated me. I understand you were younger then and you've grown. I've grown too. Back then, I was way too reliant on your celebrity status to attract fans downtown and to our restaurants and bars. 

Your leaving had a huge effect on my economy. It was a wake up call that I desperately needed. It forced me to build myself back up...but not based on any one sports star or team. This time we did it right. I've now got numerous world class restaurants and bars, two casinos, a brand new convention center, new hotels...oh, I did I mention how many people now are living downtown! We've still got the Rock Hall, Cleveland Clinic, University Hospital and our incredible museums. It's truly amazing how many people have stepped up to make me a better city and then to tell as many people as they can how much they love living here. You're absolutely right when you say that we work for what we get. We've worked hard  while you were gone and the country and world is taking notice. 
What I'm trying to say is that your returning presence is great for the Cleveland Cavaliers and for me. However, now it's an enhancement that adds to what we've built. You're not my identity. I hope you do actually finish your career here and win a championship with the Cavaliers. But, whether or not you do, I'm Cleveland and I'm damn proud to be. So, come back for one, two, four, five years or whatever. I'm glad to have you and wish you all the success in the world. Let's take this to the next level and have some fun together.

Well, that's my response if I was Cleveland. What would you say to Lebron? Are you excited that he's coming back? Are you still mad about him leaving in the first place? Tell me below. Thanks for reading and please share this post with your friends!

Also, if you're attending Content Marketing World in Cleveland, let me know. I'd love to meet and talk a little marketing!

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Not a Fan of QR Codes? Heinz® Ketchup and Trivial Pursuit-TM May Change Your Mind!

If you're in marketing, then you know what a QR Code is. If you're not, QR Codes (or quick response codes) are the weird square bar codes you occasionally see on products or advertising. They take a special reader (most likely downloaded on your smart phone) to scan and read them.

I've never been a big fan of QR Codes. To me, they've always been confusing and clunky. They were a quick fad with marketers who saw them as a cool new tool. However, it was never made easy enough for the mainstream public to really catch on. First, you had to download a reader, but not all worked well, so it could be hit or miss if it would actually read the code. Second, I don't think most brands provided any real value once someone did get to the content from the code. A lot of brands just used it to take you to their website...what a waste! The one use that works well is with the entertainment industry. They have the ability to offer exclusive content to their fans, but I haven't even seen them utilized much there either.
I had pretty much given up on finding any mainstream uses for QR Codes...until a recent trip to Ann Arbor. My wife and I went to a restaurant for lunch and I happened to look at the Heinz Ketchup bottle on the table. On the front, it said "Up for a game?" with Trivial Pursuit. We both like trivia, so I picked it up to see what it was. I turned it over and there was a QR Code staring at me. It had simple instructions "Scan the code to start the fun!". So, I did. It brought you to a website (www.heinztablegames.com) where you could play a game of Trivial Pursuit on your phone (3 rounds of 6 questions). After, customers can share their experience on Facebook or Twitter. Some restaurants offer a reward once you play.
I have to admit that I love this use of QR Codes! The whole point is to entertain families in the time between placing your order until your food comes. The hope is that this will increase customer satisfaction and encourage repeat business. I can't say if it will actually increase repeat business (especially if it catches on at multiple restaurants), but the game itself if fun, easy and absolutely fills the wait time. Bottom line is that it works. Could they have just listed the Heinztablegames.com website? I guess, but the code is part of the whole experience!

Have you seen other mainstream uses of QR Codes that you've been impressed with? Tell us about them. Maybe you'll get me on board with thinking that they could catch on after all. Quick side note: Scott Stratten has written a book called "QR Codes Kill Kittens" that I can't wait to read. I think he has a similar view of QR Codes as I do (this Heinz example aside). Look for a review of the book in the coming months.

Thanks for reading and please share this post with your friends! Also, if you're attending Content Marketing World in Cleveland, let me know. I'd love to meet and talk a little marketing!

Monday, June 30, 2014

Concert Review: Tri-C JazzFest Cleveland 2014 - Raul Midón

It's not often these days that I'm truly mesmerized by a musician. Maybe because I grew up listening to guys like Eddie Van Halen, Yngwie Malmsteen, and a multitude of speed, tapping,and outlandish guitar playing...yes, the '80's. Unfortunately, I'm not old enough to experienced true groundbreakers like Jimi Hendrix, Pete Townsend or Eric Clapton when they first hit the scene and blew people's minds. Sometimes, a new band will blow me away...most recently with the Winery Dogs, but not often. That's why the concert I went to on Saturday night was so refreshing. 
As you can tell (as if you couldn't before if you regularly read my blog...which I'm sure you do), I'm a big time rock guy. I don't vary much in genre. I like blues and rock and that's about it. I'm also a guitarist and am passionate about my guitar heroes and their influences. So, when I was approached to be a blogger and help promote the Tri-C JazzFest, I had to think about it. Ultimately, I agreed to because I support the overall live music scene in Cleveland. With Tri-C JazzFest celebrating its 35th anniversary, it's not hard to get behind a festival that has such a rich history in Cleveland, even if it's not my first choice in music. They offered me two free tickets to a show of my choice (full disclosure...the tickets were in exchange for my blogging). I like some jazz, more the bluesy type. I looked through the artists playing to see what appealed to me. I'm not big on horns, so I was glad to see their was a guitarist, Raul Midón. I'd never heard of him, so I read his bio (read it here), then looked him up on YouTube. 

First thing you need to know is that he's blind. His first CD came out in 1999, so he's not a new artist. I picked a random video on YouTube and checked it out. He was playing acoustic guitar with one hand, bongos with the other, singing beautifully and, at times, making trumpet sounds with his mouth (think Bobby McFerrin of "Don't Worry, Be Happy" fame). It was incredible to see. I easily decided this was someone I wanted to see. That was the only video I watched and I had an inkling of what to expect. I was more interested in seeing him play than in the songs themselves. But that was definitely enough to pique my interest.

So, now fast forward to this past Saturday night at the Hanna Theater. Not only was his playing incredible to watch, but the actual songs were just as good as his playing. It's just him playing...no backing band or anyone to accompany him. He started out with "Sunshine" which was the song for the video I had watched (above). To see it live was almost indescribable. You truly need to watch the video to experience it. 
For a full 90 minutes, Midón sang about his life, told us stories about being a little too enamored with one of his heroes (which he turned into the song "Don't Be a Silly Man"), joked around, played with passion and didn't miss a note. It was the fastest 90 minutes I can remember in a long time. His song writing tells simple stories in a way that keeps you listening...all the while just waiting for him to break into another guitar solo. His guitar playing includes a one-handed tapping technique that is different from Eddie Van Halen. Instead of using the tapping during the solos, he uses it for the rhythm while he is playing bongos with his other hand. He also has a sort of slapping technique that gives his playing a unique sound. To truly appreciate it, watch either of the videos here.
Needless to say, he easily made a fan of me. I'll be picking up his older CD's, as well as his new one that will be coming out later this year. He played a few songs from the upcoming CD and they were really good. Do yourself a favor and check him out. I don't think you'll be disappointed. I know I wasn't. I'll be keeping my eye out for when he comes back to Cleveland...maybe with the 36th annual Tri-C JazzFest!

Set List (to the best I know the titles...):
Sunshine (I Can Fly)
All I Need
God's Dream
Was it Ever Really Love?
Invisible Chains
Yardbird Suite (Charlie Parker cover)
Everyone Deserves a Second Chance
Listen to the Rain
Don't Be a Silly Man
Mi Amigo Cubano
State of Mind

Did you attend any of the Tri-C JazzFest concerts this year? If so, which ones and what did you think? Or, what artists have you unexpectedly become a huge fan of? Tell us in the comments below or share this post on Facebook or Twitter and tell us there! Thanks for reading and, as always, if you like my blog, please share it with your friends!

Disclosure: Tri-C JazzFest invited me to blog and promote the event. In return, they provided me with two tickets to the concert. All opinions are 100% my own.

Monday, June 23, 2014

There is No “No”, Only “Yes, If...”

I just got done reading “Dream It! Do It! My Half-Century Creating Disney’s Magic Kingdoms” by Marty Sklar. Sklar was a Disney Imagineering Legend and Ambassador. This isn’t a full review of the book...mainly because I didn’t love the book. There are a lot of stories about how they built different features and attractions for all of the Disney Parks, but there wasn’t much detail of how they accomplished what they did. He gives brief descriptions of obstacles they had to overcome. Then, Walt Disney would tell them to find a way to do it, and they would. He just didn’t say much about how they did it.

The title of the book is a bit misleading. It should have been called “Yes, If...”. That was the one recurring theme of the book. Sklar described the culture as one in which you didn’t say “no”, you would say “yes, if...”. They would then work to make the “if” happen. This was my biggest takeaway from the book and it’s very applicable to many of the things I work on, and probably on what all of you (you, reading this right now) deal with.

In my career, I’ve always worked on projects and campaigns that directly impacted customers. One of my strengths is that I understand the customer perspective. When I work on a project or implement new features or programs, I always take time to think how a customer will interact with whatever the new program will be. Sometimes that requires adjusting our current thinking to make the customers’ experiences better which means saying “no”. Granted, I almost always have a suggestion of what I think would work better, but sometimes it comes off as being negative.

“Yes, if...” accomplishes exactly what I’m trying to say, but also does much more. Instead of saying “No, Plan A won’t work because customers won’t get it (or whatever example).”, try saying “Yes, Plan A will work great if we can solve this customer issue.” This reframing of the statement eliminates the “no” and the negativity, plus the defensiveness that may result. It keeps the team engaged in the original plan and united in addressing the issues that can keep the program from being successful.

I’ve begun using “Yes, if...” anytime my inclination is to say no. One example came about just a few weeks ago. We’ve had a lot of in-store sweepstakes in the past that have not had positive results, so we had moved away from doing them. Recently, we were presented with a new opportunity with a great prize. Instead of saying “no”, I said “Yes, we can do it if we can make it an online promotion where we can better promote the sweepstakes, drive more benefit to our overall programs and report on the success.” The result is that we’ve put together what we expect to be an impactful online contest complemented by specific in-store promotional tactics that will bring added visibility to the promotion. It runs in July and I’m excited for the results.

Do you have any similar tips or experiences? Share them in the comments below! Thanks for reading. As always, if you like my blog, please sign up to receive it by email. Also, please share my posts with your friends!

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Need to sell something? Throw it in a box or crate!

Bark Box (Photo: https://www.flickr.com/photos/lorensztajer/9088478512/)
There’s a new fad in sales that seems to have exploded recently. You may have noticed it in your Facebook ads or heavily promoted during your favorite podcasts. You’ve heard them...Naturebox, Loot Crate, Bark Box...even Dollar Shave Club. You pay a monthly subscription cost and you get a box full of products. These might be healthy snacks, new products to sample or a collection of toys that they have nothing better to do with.
Loot Crate (Photo: http://www.flickr.com/photos/abennett96/11100116516/)
There are advantages to these programs to the companies as they’re able to sell directly to their customers without having to secure deals with retailers. Additionally, they’re able to have customers trial their products and they’re able to secure monthly recurring revenue (sources: http://www.mainstreet.com/article/smart-spending/monthly-subscription-boxes-trend-perks; http://subscriptioncommerceinsider.com/subscription-commerce-model/)
Naturebox (Photo: http://www.flickr.com/photos/nichellenewsletter/12123105995/)
Naturebox has been particularly successful by offering its own branded healthy snacks each month. They’ve grown from shipping 50,000 boxes in 2012 to over a million in 2013. They plan to triple that number this year. At the same time, they expanded their product line from 50 items last year to 130. (source: http://techcrunch.com/2014/04/14/naturebox-18m-canaan/)
Man Crates (Photo: www.mancrates.com)
There are subscription boxes for a wide variety of interests and the trend is growing. Here’s a brief list of the better known companies, what you get and their monthly cost:

  • Naturebox – 5 full size packages of nutritious snacks; $19.95/mo.
  • Loot Crate (my personal favorite!) - A box full of fun and unexpected geek + gamer gear based on a monthly theme; $19.37/mo.
  • Bark Box – A box of dog toys and treats customized to the size of your dog; $29/mo.
  • KitNipBox – Bark Box, but for cats; packages starting at $9/mo.
  • Man Crate (one time gifts, not monthly) – various packages based on many interests geared towards men; various pricing
  • Birch Box – Beauty, grooming and lifestyle samples; Women - $10/mo. Men - $20/mo.
  • Get many more listed here 
Birch Box (Photo: www.birchbox.com)
The only downside is that you may get products that you don’t want as most offer random products. However, most point out that they value of the box is higher than the price they charge. Does this new trend interest you? Have you ordered any? What did you think? Which appeal to you most? Thanks for reading and please share with your friends!

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Netflix vs. Verizon: My Thoughts on the Latest

A friend of mine asked for my thoughts on this article: Netflix refuses to comply with Verizon’s “cease and desist” demands.

I figured others might be interested too, so here goes. You can read the article, but here’s a brief recap. Netflix signed an agreement with Verizon (similar to the deal with Comcast) in which they’ll pay for a better internet signal for their customers. So far, the Verizon signal hasn’t gotten better yet, so Netflix is putting up a message specifically naming Verizon as having a crowded signal. Verizon doesn’t like this (obviously) and issued a cease-and-desist, as well as requesting a list of customers that received this message with a justification that this was the issue. Netflix answered back saying it’s just a test that ending soon, but that they plan to continue letting their customers know when the signal is crowded. They offer to work with Verizon on optimizing their signal. And, they did not offer a list of customers. Ok, caught up? Good.

The first thing that jumped out at me was that Netflix signed a deal to pay for a better signal and they’re not yet getting it. Verizon said it should improve by the end of 2014. My obvious follow-up question to that is “Is Netflix paying them yet?”. If so, then Netflix has every right to expect a better signal and to exploit it if they’re not getting it. If the issue is due to Verizon, then there’s nothing wrong with Netflix educating their customers. In fact, I love the fact that they are pointing it out.
Money talks, but maybe not if they're getting money, but not improving their signal.
The next major thing that greatly concerned me was Verizon asking for a list of Netflix customers that received the message. That’s a huge privacy issue. Verizon has absolutely no right to even ask for that list and it shocks me that they would even make that request. They simply need to know better. I’m not a Verizon customer, but if I was, it’s no business of theirs if I’m also a Netflix customer.

Overall, this all goes back to the net neutrality issue and Netflix is right at the center of it. I’m heavily in favor of net neutrality, as I think most of us are. I think they made a mistake when they caved to Comcast and agreed to pay them. That opened them up to having to pay all the providers. I get that they’re trying to help out their customers, but it weakens their argument. Since, they’ve made heavy arguments for net neutrality. I think it’s just a stronger argument when they can show the effects of on their customers, not on their revenue.

Well, those are my thoughts. I’m curious what everyone else thinks. Let me know. Thanks for reading and please sure this with your friends!