Heart and Def Leppard in Atlanta…Electric…Literally!

Last night the atmosphere at the Lakewood Amphitheater was electric…literally! I experienced one of the strongest displays of thunder, lightening and rain that I have ever seen just before the Def Leppard/Heart concert was to begin.

The venue lost power during Saturday’s viscous storm, which led to an hour of will-there-or-won’t-there-be-a-show guessing as fans waited for the gates to be opened. My friend Nick and I stuck it out! It wasn’t a pretty start, but most fans attending would likely agree that the concert was well worth the wait.

Eventually, with the storm passed, electricity restored and safety concerns cleared, the concert was a go, with Heart taking the stage at 9 p.m. for a condensed 40-minute set What a shame…they have some great hits, but anyone who has seen Ann and Nancy Wilson and the rest of Heart live before knows that the sisters put their all into everything they do.

Though Ann’s voice was lost in a poor mix of the opening “Cook With Fire,” the sound clarified for the sweetly sexy “Never,” re-dressed with an acoustic foundation and harmonica, and “What About Love.”

Ann, looking slimmed in black leggings and boots and the eternally cool Nancy, who came onstage wearing a top hat and still, at 57, managed to scissor kick her way through “Crazy on You,” navigated a powerful set high even if short on time.
The ‘80s hits “These Dreams,” steered by Nancy’s wispier voice, and “Alone,” anchored by Ann’s husky pipes, have easily retained their singalong quality – a necessity at this show – even if they represent the poppier side of Heart.

No one should forget Heart’s roots, and I guess that is why they were a perfect match for Def Leppard last night, the sisters and the four members of the band, including the indispensible Debbie Shair on keyboards and percussion, tore through a trio of classic rock staples – the serrated guitar steamroller “Barracuda,” the prog-rockish “Magic Man” and, to end their set, a thunderous version of “Crazy on You.”

At 10:15, after the recorded strains of Def Leppard’s traditional pre-show song, AC/DC’s “For Those About To Rock (We Salute You),” boomed through the nearly sold-out venue, a mirror ball dropped above the stage and the quintet appeared, banging out the new “Undefeated.” A four-on-the-floor fist pumper born to be played relentlessly at a stadium near you this fall, the song, from the just-released live “Mirrorball” CD, represented the only detour for a band that hasn’t much altered its playlist the past few tours.
Performing on a spectacular tiered stage lined with panels of video screens and beneath a ridge of relentlessly spinning lights, the band had ample space to rock n’ roam. The light show was so well done it almost matched nature’s dazzling display before the show.

Singer Joe Elliott’s voice has always been a gruff instrument, and on this night, while it was sometimes swallowed by the huge sound of the band, it just as often soared on long-held notes in “Animal” and “Rocket.”

The front line of bassist Rick Savage and guitarists Vivian Campbell and (shirtless) Phil Collen infused the band’s songs with gorgeous harmonies – always a hallmark of Def Leppard’s sound – that are the perfect complement to their metallic guitar riffs and drummer Rick Allen’s steady electro-beats. I am still awestruck by the Allen’s expertise with one arm he is still one of Rock’s best.

“Foolin’,” in particular, sounded full and fresh, and the extended version of the beautifully complex “Rocket” included a dynamic interplay between Campbell and Collen.

Though it appeared that Elliott wasn’t going to talk to the crowd, instead to focus on fitting in the band’s full set, when he, Collen, Savage and Campbell sauntered down the catwalk extended about a dozen rows into the crowd for an acoustic segment, he indeed had something to say.

“We weren’t going to let a little proper rain spoil the party were we?” Elliott asked as the crowd roared. “But you should all get a pen and paper and write to your local electricity board and [tell them] that their generators suck!”

With that statement Elliott and the boys strummed through “Two Steps Behind” and “Bringin’ on the Heartbreak,” which kicked into its full electric grandeur midway through.

Savage pulled out his Union Jack bass for the zippy instrumental “Switch 625,” which segued into what is perhaps Def Leppard’s most epic song, the melodically layered “Hysteria,” which aped its recorded counterpart with technical proficiency and lyrical heart.

It was impossible for most in this generation-spanning crowd to refrain from playing air guitar or air drums at the first notes of “Armageddon It” and “Photograph.” I am sure by the last moments of the show the band had erased any trace of hindrances of earlier in the night. Electric.

Summer Lovin’ For Gen Y with Live Concerts and Mobile Marketing

We all know that no demographic is changing as quickly as the coveted Gen Y demographic.

We also know that for a growing number of brands, they’re the segment that is not only the most important, but also the most difficult to engage. But what marketers may not know is that experiential marketing is the best and surest way to reach this elusive set, especially this summer.

Between concert festivals, outdoor sporting events, travel and the general excitement that comes from being “out for summer,” the coming months are the perfect time for marketers to get out and about themselves, engaging with these consumers face-to-face.

Gen Y now numbers more than 60 million. They’re around town, leveraging social media and taking control of every second of their lives and most importanty they are on mobile. This summer they’ll tune into whatever they want as easily as they’ll tune it out. As a result, brand marketers around the world are retuning how they go to market.
There are some interesting stats from a recently conducted a survey with the Event Marketing Institute, surveying several thousand Gen Y consumers. The results may surprise you and help to shape your marketing plans as you try to reach this elusive demographic.

94% of Gen Y consumers say they would be more likely to buy a product as a result of a good experience at an event. Think about it. If you went to a concert for an up-and-coming pop star and left wanting more, you’d be more likely to buy her CD or download her single, right? But creating that “good experience” is no easy task.
MillerCoors understands this and is ramping up mobile at every turn.

Gen Y’ers are the first generation that has grown up with the internet as a normal part of everyday life and now the web is in their hands 24/7. In fact, almost half of those surveyed have posted something (a photo, a status update, a Tweet) from or during an event. Because of this proliferation of technology, Gen Y presents a different set of challenges for marketers. Marketers in all brand categories need to plan campaigns that connect with consumers, whether they’re live or on mobile or both at the same time, and the experiences have to reach consumers’ minds.

Clearly, marketing to Gen Y is still a tough audience to completely crack. To succeed, marketers need a new rulebook. Here are four rules for ensuring experiences make the critical connection to the Gen Y consumer:

Let them in. And we mean all the way in. You already know that savvy brands use experiential marketing to create ongoing dialogues with consumers. What you might not know is that those conversations now give consumers a chance to weigh in on everything about your company — 99.4% of Gen Y consumers say they welcome ongoing communication with a brand after an event.
There is a real opportunity to connect here — not only with how you market to them, but also with what you market to them. Solicit their input on product design and functionality; get their feedback on what services you could offer to better meet their needs.

Show, don’t tell. The brand must serve as an experience guide, not an experience dictator. Give the consumer room to construct his or her personal meaning from your product or experience. Show your product or service — demonstrate not only what it is and any benefits and attributes it offers, but also its relevancy to consumers’ lives.

Sell it. Events are the best place to get consumers excited about your product — and with the report finding a high percentage of consumers willing to buy on mobile, savvy brands are capitalizing on live engagements, selling directly at their events and seeing a huge, immediate return.

Constant contact. Gone are the days when companies connected with consumers simply at an event. Now the live event is part of a larger continuum of brand connections and the total brand experience. Brands need to create a successful series of gestures. Engagement starts well before the event rolls into town, and continues long after it ends.

Events continue to act as a relationship catalyst, a springboard for further conversations. And consumers want continued conversations: When asked how they would like to continue the conversation after a live event ends:

Almost 21% of survey respondents said they’d like to be driven to a website;
22.1% requested email correspondence;
20.6% asked for promotions;
16.9% wanted invites to future events.

Interestingly, only 0.6% said they didn’t want to continue communicating with a brand. The stats speak not only to the power of events as a relationship catalyst but also to the ways with which brands need to ignite post-event communications.

To amplify your brand communications, you need to build in reasons to reconnect in person over time. And then layer in communications between your live events. As summer approaches and the opportunities are greater than ever to reach millennials while they’re out and about, smart marketers will use events as “pearls on the string” of engagement, turning a series of touch points into full-scale, holistic, long-term — and many cases, true lifetime — relationships.

Twitter Cofounder Shakes Up the Credit Card Biz

Jack Dorsey specializes in simple ideas with outsize impact. Twitter, which he cofounded in 2007, began as a way for users to broadcast quick status updates to friends. Now it’s a 200-million-member communications platform, where Dorsey serves as executive chair.
His new company began with similarly modest aims: give anyone the ability to accept credit card payments through a tiny reader that plugs into their iPads and smartphones. Called Square, it has signed up hundreds of thousands of merchants and processed $66 million in transactions in the first quarter of 2011 alone. The startup is also building a vast database of financial information that its customers can tap into. It tracks each sale conducted through its credit card readers, allowing the company to calculate everything from the busiest sales day of the week (Saturday) to the average price of a cappuccino ($3.09 as of April 18).

The power of that kind of data analysis helps explain why Square was able to close a second round of funding in January: $27.5 million from Sequoia Capital, Khosla Ventures, and others, which valued the young company at $240 million. Then Visa invested an undisclosed sum in April.

The biggest bargain on the planet, the US Postal Service.

After reading Devin Leonard’s Bloomberg article about the United States Postal Service I have a renewed respect for “my” mailman.

It is no secret that the postal service’s business model is so badly broken that its collapse is imminent. With the rise of e-mail and the decline of letters, mail volume is falling at a staggering rate, and the postal service’s survival plan isn’t reassuring. Elsewhere in the world, postal services are grappling with the same dilemma only most of them, in humbling contrast, are thriving.

The USPS is a wondrous American creation.
My Post Office in Sandy Spring early 1800.

Six days a week it delivers an average of 563 million pieces of mail — 40 percent of the entire world’s volume. For the price of a 44¢ stamp, you can mail a letter anywhere within the nation’s borders.
The service will carry it by pack mule to the Havasupai Indian reservation at the bottom of the Grand Canyon. Mailmen on snowmobiles take it to the wilds of Alaska. If your recipient can no longer be found, the USPS will return it at no extra charge. It may be the greatest bargain on earth.
It takes an enormous organization to carry out such a mission. The USPS has 571,566 full-time workers, making it the country’s second-largest civilian employer after Wal-Mart!

It has 31,871 post offices, more than the combined domestic retail outlets of Wal-Mart, Starbucks, and McDonald’s. Last year its revenues were $67 billion, and its expenses were even greater. Postal service executives proudly note that if it were a private company, it would be No. 29 on the Fortune 500.

The problems of the USPS are just as big as the USPS itself.

It relies on first-class mail to fund most of its operations, but first-class mail volume is steadily declining — in 2005 it fell below junk mail for the first time. This was a significant milestone. The USPS needs three pieces of junk mail to replace the profit of a vanished stamp-bearing letter.

During the real estate boom, a surge in junk mail papered over the unraveling of the postal service’s longtime business plan. Banks flooded mailboxes with subprime mortgage offers and credit-card come-ons. Then came the recession. Total mail volume plunged 20 percent from 2006 to 2010.

Since 2007 the USPS has been unable to cover its annual budget, 80 percent of which goes to salaries and benefits. In contrast, 43 percent of FedEx’s budget and 61 percent of United Parcel Service’s pay go to employee-related expenses. Perhaps it’s not surprising that the postal service’s two primary rivals are more nimble. According to SJ Consulting Group, the USPS has more than a 15 percent share of the American express and ground-shipping market. FedEx has 32 percent, UPS 53 percent.

This should be a moment for the country to ask some basic questions about its mail delivery system. Does it make sense for the postal service to charge the same amount to take a letter to Alaska that it does to carry it three city blocks?

Should the USPS operate the world’s largest network of post offices when 80 percent of them lose money? And is there a way for the country to have a mail system that addresses the needs of consumers who use the Internet to correspond?

Senator Thomas Carper (D-Del.) said last month, “If we do nothing, we face a future without the valuable services that the postal service provides.”

Many countries have figured out profitable ways to run a postal service. The U.S. could learn a lot from them. Last summer the USPS sent a small team of analysts to Finland, Sweden, Germany, Switzerland, Austria, and Canada. It is fascinating to learn what they discovered.

Three decades ago, most postal services around the developed world were government-run monopolies like the USPS. In the late ’80s, the European Union set out to create a single postal market. It prodded members to give up their monopolies and compete with one another. The effort roused an industry often thought to be sleepy and backward-looking.

Many countries closed as many of their brick-and-mortar post offices as possible, moving these services into gas stations and convenience stores, which then take them over…in Tokyo 7-11 was a great post office.

Today, Sweden’s Posten runs only 12 percent of its post offices. The rest are in the hands of third parties. Deutsche Post is now a private company and runs just 2 percent of the post offices in Germany. In contrast, the USPS operates all of its post offices.

Some of these newly energized mail services used the savings to pursue new business lines. Deutsche Post bought DHL, a package deliverer that competes with FedEx and UPS. “More than half of our workforce is outside of Germany,” says Markus Reckling, executive vice-president for corporate development at Deutsche Post. “It’s pretty much the same thing for our profits.”
Many used their extra cash to create digital mail products that allow customers to send and receive letters from their computers. Itella, the Finnish postal service, keeps a digital archive of its users’ mail for seven years and helps them pay bills online securely. Swiss Post lets customers choose if they want their mail delivered at home in hard copy or scanned and sent to their preferred Internet-connected device. Customers can also tell Swiss Post if they would rather not receive items such as junk mail.

Sweden’s Posten has an app that lets customers turn digital photos on their mobile phones into postcards. It is unveiling a service that will allow cell-phone users to send letters without stamps. Posten will text them a numerical code that they can jot down on envelopes in place of a stamp for a yet-to-be-determined charge.

Anders Asberg, Posten’s head of marketing and development, says the service is experimenting with these initiatives, and he expects some will prove to be lucrative. “The customers are all on these digital interfaces now,” he says. “That’s where the growth is going to be in the future.”

Posten can afford to take chances. In 2009 the Swedish mail carrier merged with Post Danmark, the Danish postal service, creating PostNord, a company with $6.2 billion in net sales and $320 million in EBITDA. In 2010 the latter rose by 43 percent, to $490 million.
It seems the European countries are on a reasonably viable course. The U.S. is not.

The USPS needs to close post offices, as many foreign postal services have done despite real opposition. The USPS also needs to create products for its wired customers if it wants to play a role in the future of communication.

But last but certainly not least, 44 cents is still the biggest bargain on the planet Raise the price…sure we will all complain but think of how inexpensive that is next time you send a note to your mom in Anchorage from Miami, door to door!

Have You Heard of the Five-Second Rule?

Have you ever heard of the five-second rule, where you can pick up food that has fallen on the floor within five seconds and eat it without risk of illness? Do you follow it?

I do after living in Bangkok and eating at every street vendor in the city I guess either I have a death wish or I am immune to almost any bacteria…after all consider eating an M&M after hitting my floor in Atlanta versus eating fried grasshoppers on Sukhumvit Road in Bangkok…which would have the higher health risk?
In 2003, a then science intern at the University of Illinois, Jillian Clarke, conducted a survey and found that slightly more than half of adult men and 70 percent of adult women knew about the five-second rule and many said they followed it. Clarke then conducted an experiment to find out if various food became contaminated with bacteria after just five seconds on the floor.

For performing this first test of the five-second rule, Clarke was awarded the 2004 Ig Nobel Prize in public health by the Annals of Improbable Research. Why didn’t I perform that test?

Clarke’s study inspired another research group at Clemson University to investigate several questions regarding the five-second rule: Does the type of contaminated surface affect the numbers of bacteria collected? How many bacteria does a food item collect in just five seconds? Does it collect more if it sits on the contaminated surface longer? Does it collect enough to make you sick?

To answer these questions, a Clemson team conducted several experiments of floor-to-food contamination. I won’t bore you with the details but they found that the type of contaminated surface affected the number of bacteria that the food slices took up, and the length of time that the food remained on the contaminated surface did affect the numbers of bacteria they absorbed.

Apparently, this amount of bacteria is potentially enough to cause illness in people; the infectious dose — the smallest number of bacteria that can actually cause illness — is as few as 10 for some Salmonellas.

But consider that Clarke, the original investigator, found that bacterial contamination was so low on the floor at the University of Illinois that it couldn’t be measured, unlike the levels of contamination that the Clemson group were using for their studies not to mention my living experiments in Bangkok.

So the likelihood that a cookie, quickly picked off the floor and consumed, can make you ill, is somewhat remote, but it is a factor worth considering if you are in an area where there could be significant levels of bacteria present like Soi 12 in Bangkok.