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December 1, 2005

Don't go to the zoo, go to the jungle has a good overview of what they call ''virtual anthropology,'' or the observational research of consumer behavior that's now possible on-line. They say:

As consumers around the world pro-actively post, stream if not lead parts of their lives online, you (or your trend team) can now vicariously 'live' amongst them, at home, at work, out on the streets. From reading minute-by-minute online diaries or watching live webcam feeds, to diving into tens of millions of tagged pictures uploaded by Flickr-fueled members of GENERATION C in Mexico, Mauritius, Malaysia and dozens of other countries.

The challenge of traditional marketing research techniques -- surveys, focus groups, and such -- is that they make several rather drastic assumptions:

  1. That consumers know what they value and how they choose to allocate their time and energy;
  2. that they can articulate that knowledge in a rational way;
  3. that they can accurately project that decision and value system to predict their future behavior (''yes, I would buy that product at that price...'); and,
  4. that the process of asking them about it doesn't bias the response.

Focus groups and surveys are representative of consumers ''in captivity'' -- they know they are being observed. On the other side, the evidence of their actual choices, their public behavior on-line, and their personal expressions as conveyed through the web represent their behavior ''in the wild.'' So, ''virtual anthropology'' becomes a useful part of the toolkit for understanding your audience, and experiencing the world through their eyes.

The Trendwatching article quotes Saatchi & Saatchi's Kevin Roberts on the subject:

''If you want to understand how a lion hunts, don't go to the zoo. Go to the jungle.''

UPDATE of 12/2/05: An interesting related article in Business Week describes how some companies are emphasizing more informal and observational techniques over formal focus groups.

Posted by ataylor at 8:34 AM | Comments (1)

December 2, 2005

It's not your grandfather's media format

You'll find some great perspectives on podcasting from Mark Glaser and his overview of NPR's strategic and successful move to the media format. Key to their success (so far) is their willingness to rethink their business model for the on-line world, to explore new content that's more suited to niche markets (not just repurposed radio content), and to reframe their relationship with affiliates to get content flowing both ways.

Another key, according to Kris Jacob, VP of Business Development for PodShow, is to remember that podcasting is not about pumping old content through a new pipe:

''The fundamental mistake that media companies, large and small, make is that they adopt the model but not the philosophy,'' Jacob said. ''They look at things as the adjunct to the core product that they're providing, and not as a fundamental shift in the way that they are creating media itself.... What listeners tell us is that mainstream programming converted to MP3 files and redistributed and called a podcast is interesting to a point, but it's not what they are really compelled by. What they are compelled by is unique independent niche programming that appeals to them and allows them to develop a relationship that they can't forge with mainstream programming.''

Think short. Think focused. Think compelling. And rethink everything about the structure and balance of your conversation with your audience.

Posted by ataylor at 8:23 AM | Comments (0)

December 6, 2005

Describing the vibrant creative community

I see lots of cities promoting a ''vibrant creative community'' in the wake of Richard Florida's Creative Class and other similar reports. But few actually define what they mean by it. Which is why I liked Ottawa's take on the issue on that city's Arts and Heritage web site:

The ingredients for a vibrant creative community are diversity, a spirit of innovation, and authenticity. Local arts creation and production, and a strong awareness of our heritage are key elements in developing these qualities of place.

Not bad.

Posted by ataylor at 9:42 AM | Comments (0)

December 7, 2005

So you want to accept donations on-line?

sample chartTechSoup has a useful report excerpt exploring the various ways smaller nonprofits can accept donations on-line (the full report is also available on-line from Idealware, but requires your name and e-mail to access it). The report authors reviewed 27 lower-priced online donation tools that can be used with an existing website.

Since each user has different needs, and each service offers different strengths, the report sets up useful guidelines to help organizations find the best fit. Among the essential decisions in the process:

  • Consider whether donations are just a small piece of a larger puzzle
    ie, do you need an on-line donation service, or a more integrated data system?
  • Decide whether to use a vendor’s merchant account or your own
    a merchant account connects credit card transactions to a bank account to receive the funds
  • Calculate the size and volume of donations you expect to get
    your choice of monthly fees and per-transaction costs will depend upon these variables
  • Decide if the donation form needs to look like your website
    uncustomized options are cheaper, but won't be consistent with your on-line 'brand'
  • Weigh the time required to import donations into your donor database
    don't make extra work for yourself or your staff if you can help it
  • Decide on critical features
    do you really need the Cadillac, or will a hatchback do the trick?

Also included is a handy fee chart that helps you determine the best fee structure for the volume of contributions you expect to receive.

Thanks to Idealware for their hard work in preparing such a useful report on such an essential topic. I look forward to more...

Posted by ataylor at 9:14 AM | Comments (0)

December 8, 2005

The private artist and the public good

Here's an interesting tidbit from Peterborough, New Hampshire, where town officials are challenging the nonprofit tax status of the venerable MacDowell Colony (here's the AP story via CBS News, and here's an update from the Keene Sentinal).

The Colony has been a famed retreat and work haven for more than 5500 artists since 1907 -- like Aaron Copeland, who wrote parts of ''Appalachian Spring'' while there, or Thornton Wilder, who used the town of Peterborough as his inspiration for Our Town. At issue are the property taxes the town loses by virtue of the Colony's tax status. In a general review of area nonprofits, town selectmen decided that fostering the creative work of individual artists didn't meet the requirements of tax exemption. Says the AP article:

State law defines a charitable organization as one that advances ''the spiritual, physical, intellectual, social or economic well-being of the general public or a substantial and indefinite segment of the general public that includes residents of the state of New Hampshire.''

The MacDowell Colony certainly benefits its artists-in-residence, but ''that doesn't strike us as being the general public,'' said Bob Derosier, one of the town's lawyers.

''From what we understand, their primary purpose is nurturing artists of the highest merit,'' he said.

It's a fascinating and horrifying debate, striking to the core public value of cultural organizations. Is there public utility in giving visionary people a place to expand, explore, and express? We all better hope so.

Posted by ataylor at 8:55 AM | Comments (10)

December 9, 2005

Fun with Riders

Pavarotti needs a golf cart, a lack of 'distinct' odors, and sofas on six-inch risers. Christina Aguilera needs Flintstones chewable vitamins, soy cheese, and a roll of film. Aretha Franklin needs a hotel room below the sixth floor and a $25,000 cash downpayment on her fee, handed directly to her. David Copperfield needs grilled boneless chicken breast with Teriyaki sauce ''at a moment's notice.''

No, these are not Christmas lists to Santa, but contract requirements of touring artists, as laid out in their backstage contract riders, lovingly collected and preserved by The Smoking Gun (thanks for the link, Derek).

For those who don't work with professional touring artists, backstage or contract riders are attached to performance contracts, and outline exactly what's expected during the artist's visit, and who will provide it. Quirky rider requests are legendary in the business -- such as a bowl of only green M&Ms or dressing rooms appointed entirely in white. A quick read of a rider can offer an interesting and bizarre glimpse into an artist's psyche.

While it's easy to write off the odd demands to hubris or vanity, an associate of mine who books these artists suggests: ''You try living your life in a different place 150 days of the year, and see what sort of environmental demands you make.''

A line in the Foo Fighter's rider sums up this perspective rather well:

Dearest Reader -- This rider is comprised of things that make the band rock you like a proverbial hurricane! Please make every effort to provide the following list. Please do not surreptitiously hack through things to save a buck or two. The silly items like gum and candy bars make a difference to these boys that are far from their families and friends.

Then the rider demands four pairs of white tube socks (US size 10-13) and four pairs of medium boxer shorts.

Posted by ataylor at 9:44 AM | Comments (1)

December 13, 2005

Dancing to another place

Just a quick note today -- amid many busy projects on my desk -- to point you all toward a wonderful conversation elsewhere on ArtsJournal. The forum of dance critics, choreographers, programmers, journalists, and others, explores the current hotspots for dance around the world, and asks if New York is still one of them. Says the weblog intro:

Is it true, as Gia Kourlas declared in the New York Times in September, that "New York is no longer the capital of the contemporary dance world"? New York has, for so long, been at the center of dance, the idea is taken on faith in the US. Has the city lost its edge? And if not New York, where are the new capitals of dance? In Amsterdam or Bucharest? Berlin? Brussels, Paris or Vienna? Or has some of the energy that used to propel the New York scene spread elsewhere in America?

A favorite quote, to date, comes from choreographer Tere O'Connor in this post:

One enters deeply into a willful state of marginalization the moment one commits to a mute, non-narrative form, one that leaves no product and is not (in the best hands) a translation of anything.

Shuffle on over and give it a read, all this week.

Posted by ataylor at 11:42 AM | Comments (0)

December 14, 2005

Talk about a radical restructure!

After a dozen years as a university and regional performing arts center, the Weidner Center for the Performing Arts in Green Bay, Wisconsin, is making a few small adjustments to its staff and programming. According to this article, and an announcement on Monday by the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay Chancellor:

The Weidner Center will lay off half its staff and get out of the programming business.... Nine top positions, including executive director, general manager, stage mananger, and director of development, will be eliminated.

The center also will turn its focus to campus and community arts performances, speaker series and educational programming....

The reason for the radical shift? The facility's role as a professional presenting organization of touring Broadway, performing arts, and entertainment was no longer economically sustainable. Subscriptions had dropped (by nearly 80 percent), and the margin on even the most popular touring Broadway was being eaten by higher promoter costs. Also in the mix was a brand new performing arts center in Appleton, just 40 miles away. According to the University press release:

The financial picture changed even more drastically than expected due to a decline in quality new Broadway product, changes in funding models and increased local competition for the discretionary entertainment dollar.

The combination of factors would have left a $2 million hole in the operating budget, with not much hope of filling it.

The exodus of the Weidner Center from professional presenting is yet one more indicator that the economic model of such facilities is getting squeakier every day. You can read more about my personal perspective on this trend in the current group discussion in the Hessenius Group (scroll down the page a bit to find it).

UPDATE: New Jersey is having a related conversation, as covered in the Star-Ledger: When should cities and states stop building performing arts centers?

Posted by ataylor at 9:12 AM | Comments (1)

December 15, 2005

Aggregating the distributed life

As the web offers more and more ways to automatically gather information, entertainment, and insights that are relevant to individual users (news feeds, podcasts, customized Internet radio, etc.), and as it offers more and more ways for individuals to publish elements of their own life on-line (weblogs, photo sharing, personal playlists, etc.), a new breed of web service is working to gather all these threads together.

Some have called these services Digital Lifestyle Aggregators, others just consider them the evolution of the personal home page (gathering not just information on you, but also dynamic content from your friends and favorite web resources). Either way, the emerging services are an indicator of what's to come in the on-line world.

Take Yahoo! 360°, for example, which draws together an individual user's photos, restaurant reviews, friend lists, customized LAUNCHcast radio broadcast, favorite lists of books and music, and on-line groups. The service also allows a weblog for the user to comment on all of the above, or something altogether different. Users can even publish text and photos to their 360 page from their mobile phone.

Or, consider SuprGlu, a service that pulls together all of your favorite news and information feeds into a single web page. You can then read or subscribe to that aggregated page, or share it with the world. As an experiment, I created the Artful Manager Sourcebook on SuprGlu (whose web site has been a bit flakey of late), so that I can easily read (and you can too) some favorite web feeds I use in pondering my weblog content (you'll also find a link to the Sourcebook in my weblog's right-hand column).

Or, visit Rollyo, which lets you create customized search engines focusing on your favorite web sites, and then share those engines with others. Or, you can explore search engines crafted by others around specific topics (Latino Culture, Interactive Marketing, Salvidor Dali) or famous personalities (you can search Arianna Huffington's favorite political blogs, for example, although I don't know why you would).

Like any medium, these aggregators can be used for utilitarian or expressive purposes. And both roads lead to fascinating things.

I might have mentioned before, but the web is dramatically altering how our audiences/donors/volunteers/artists/staff experience culture and content, express themselves and their interests, and cluster with friends or affinity groups. Arts organizations can explore these tools to understand those changes, or to express their own mission and meaning. Or they can ignore them at their own peril.

Posted by ataylor at 9:07 AM | Comments (1)

December 19, 2005

Off until the new year

It's time for a two-week break from blogging to focus on other things. See you all in the new year. And have a great holiday season!

Posted by ataylor at 8:41 AM

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