The Sky Zone story and CNN video

Inc. Top 10 Fastest Growing Companies in L.A.

I’ve been meaning to write more about Sky Zone ever since changing jobs in December.

Lucky for me, CNN recently shot a video that provides a great overview of the company, including one of the most interesting parts of the Sky Zone story:  how it started with one idea then pivoted to another, creating a new category of out-of-home entertainment in the process.

 

This entertainment category — indoor trampoline parks — is expanding quickly.

Sky Zone, by far the largest player in the market, was just named to Inc.’s Top 10 Fastest Growing Companies in Los Angeles (and #273 on the Inc. 5000 list of the fastest growing private companies in the U.S.).

Sky Zone and other competitors are opening parks around the world. E.g., Sky Zone recently announced park openings in Saudi Arabia. A recent Bloomberg article highlights this expansion.

Here are 3 more videos to help introduce the company and what it stands for.

The brand manifesto:

 

Some of the activities inside our parks:

 

Dodgeball is one of the most popular activities. It’s played year-round inside the parks — pick-up games, within events & parties, and some local tournaments. However, the biggest event is our international competition, Ultimate Dodgeball Championship:

 

If you haven’t visited a Sky Zone yet, I hope you have the chance to check it out. Jumping isn’t just a lot of fun, but a great workout, too.  If you do, please let me know your thoughts.

 

New Year, New Job

2015 started with a big career change for me.

Just before the holidays I resigned my position at NBC Universal. I came into the new year excited to be starting a new role in a very different organization, Sky Zone.

Sky Zone is the original indoor trampoline park. It’s the category leader, with over 95 parks now open in US, Canada, Australia and Mexico.

Job changes, as you already know, are the norm these days and something most people are accustomed to. But for me it was an unusual NBCU 15-Year Pin in boxexperience, having worked the past 15 years (two thirds of my adult life!) with Universal Studios.

Coincidentally, my tenure was almost exactly 15 years to the day. It felt a bit surreal to receive a 15-year anniversary pin and leave the company the same week.

But more so, I saw this timing as a sign that I was making the right decision. It felt harmonious. I had completed a circle.

In any event, I went for it….

So where exactly did “it” take me, and why?

First, The ‘Why’

Mainly I was craving newness. A new environment, new industry, new competitors and challenges.

It was like the famous movie title, “The Seven Year Itch.” It just took me twice as long to get there.

Seriously, one reason I’d been able to stay engaged at Universal for such a long time was that there had been considerable internal change. During my tenure Universal was sold numerous times — from Seagram to Vivendi to GE to Comcast — with each parent company influencing the culture, processes and priorities in its own way. Also Universal itself expanded and changed with the growth.

On a more personal level, my job responsibilities shifted over time. Plus the nature of digital marketing changed radically and rapidly along the way, and, therefore, so did jobs such the one I had.

But eventually I felt the need to make a more radical change. I needed to shake the tree.

Luckily, I found an opportunity with an exciting company offering a fun, fitness-oriented product I already enjoyed.

Sky Zone

Change is what I wanted, and change is what I got.

Sky Zone Franchise Group is extremely different than Universal, especially in terms of company culture.

Sky Zone is, and has the ethos of, a Millenial-run company. It’s not hierarchical. There’s a strong spirit of transparency. The office space is wide open and dog friendly. I went from having a corner office to having a middle desk (or, as I like to put it, from having an “open door” policy to having no door at all).

Business-wise, there are considerable differences between implementing marketing programs for an ‘owned and operated’ company like Universal and a franchise business. All things franchise-related is a great learning opportunity for me.

Actually, I feel the whole situation is a great opportunity. Sky Zone Franchise Group is a small company filled with incredible talent, and the company is expanding rapidly, both domestically and internationally.

Historically the company did not put a strong emphasis on marketing. It’s growth (and also the emergence of category entrants / competitors) has been fueled by the strength of its concept.

Another full circle

The situation I find myself in at Sky Zone reminds me of my early days at Universal Studios, when almost nothing was being done on the digital marketing front, and thus the potential impact of new programs was considerable. In many cases the fruit isn’t low hanging, it’s on the ground.

It’s exciting for me to think about the potential impact increased marketing can have on the business growth.

I’m invigorated by the need to start fresh, learn about a new industry, adapt to a very different company culture, roll up my sleeves and start the building process again.

Also I’m happy to be marketing a product that promotes active, healthy fun.

Please wish me luck in the new venture, and please stay in touch for updates along the way.

Mark it up, price it down

Sale standeeMark it up and price it down.

That retail practice is alive and well. Thriving actually, according to an article in today’s Wall Street Journal (The Dirty Secret of Black Friday ‘Discounts’) that’s a great read for anyone planning to do some shopping Thanksgiving weekend.

It’s an interesting article about common retail pricing strategies, including how most deals are actually “a carefully engineered illusion.”

It also goes a long way in explaining why the Banana Republic near my house has a “Save 30%” or “Save 40% today!” standee by the front door seemingly every weekend.

This data really jumped out at me:

“The number of deals offered by 31 major department store and apparel retailers increased 63% between 2009 to 2012, and the average discount jumped to 36% from 25%, according to Savings.com, a website that tracks online coupons.

Over the same period, the gross margins of the same retailers—the difference between what they paid for goods and the price at which they sold them—were flat at 27.9%, according to FactSet. The holidays barely made a dent, with margins dipping to 27.8% in the fourth quarter of 2012 from 28% in the third quarter of that year.”

Not to take all the fun out of holiday shopping, but the article highlights the relevance of trying to determine true bargains (e.g., loss leader discounts) from illusory deals.

Shoppers are already wary of paying full retail prices. After reading this article, you may find yourself even more so.

Speaking of retail practices and holiday shopping, I’d like to share a book recommendation: Paco Underhill’s Why We Buy: The Science of Shopping.  It’s one of my favorites. If you or someone on your gift list enjoys marketing and/or business books, it’s a well-written and interesting look at shopping that’s based on his research as a retail consultant.

Do you have any favorite marketing books to recommend? It’d be great to hear. Please share in the comments or via the contact form. (Or just send it to me as a holiday gift. Haha, just kidding).

$hift to Digital

100 Billion

A few weeks ago I read a data point that struck me as noteworthy for anyone interested in the growth of digital marketing and the trajectory of the advertising industry.

That data point, highlighted in a WSJ article, is that “Procter & Gamble Co. is now spending more than a third of its U.S. marketing budget on digital media…”

The article continued:

P&G chief executive A.G. Lafley said the consumer products giant’s digital spending on things like online ads and social media ranges from 25% to 35% of its marketing budget and is currently near the top of that range in the U.S., its biggest market.

This budget shift is of particular interest because it’s P&G, owner of the world’s largest ad budget and a company renowned for brand marketing.

Traditionally brand marketing has foremost meant television commercials, but the WSJ article also highlights a significant media-consumption milestone:  2013 is projected to be the first year that Americans spend more time with digital media than watching TV.

Which nicely segues to data included in an eMarketer article published yesterday:  eMarketer projects that in four years (2017) total U.S. digital advertising expenditure will be $61.4 billion, closing in on television’s projected $75.3 billion.

Within digital, the fastest growing format is video advertising. According to another eMarketer article from earlier this week, U.S. digital video advertising will increase by about 40% this year and next, and it’s growth is coming at the expense of television ads.

That article highlights research from the Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB) that finds “much of that increased digital video spending will come out of former TV budgets. Seventy percent of buy-side US senior executives told the IAB they would likely move TV dollars to digital video in the coming year.”

Earlier this summer I wrote a blog post talking about the growth of online video. In that post I included an eMarketer projection estimating U.S. digital video ad spending will more than double from $4 billion in 2013 to $9 billion in 2017.

Putting this growth another way, eMarketer’s data indicates that video advertising will go from being approximately 6% of TV advertising in 2013 ($4.1b vs. $66.4b) to about 12% in 2017 ($9.2b vs. $75.3 billion).

A $9b market is relatively small but not insignificant. And as I explained in my earlier post, Google is especially well positioned to benefit from the shift in ad budgets.

More upside?

To add a personal prediction, I think there’s a good chance eMarketer’s forecast about upcoming video advertising growth is understated.

From my experience as a digital ad buyer, video ads have been surprisingly effective, not only for the brand-awareness building for which they were mainly purchased (targeted impressions were the primary goal) but also in terms of tracked view-thru conversions (i.e., online purchases made by people within 30 days of seeing the ad, meaning the video ad was likely at least one factor in the purchase decision).

As more digital marketers experiment with video advertising and as marketing departments overall continue to become more metrics focused, I believe there’s a strong likelihood that the shift to video advertising — and its increasingly sophisticated audience targeting — will rapidly increase.

Online video: eyeballs, headlines and ad dollars

"Airport" by .michael.newman (Michael Newman). Used under a Creative Commons License.

(Photo by .michael.newman)

There’s been one news story after the next about online video.

The stories have ranged from Netflix and Amazon expanding original programming for their respective streaming services (“Arrested Development”, etc.) to DreamWorks Animation buying a YouTube video creator (Awesomeness TV) for $33M, to the ongoing bidding war for Hulu.

Two news stories that especially caught my attention highlight the mainstreaming of mobile video viewing:

  • Verizon Wireless paying $1 billion for rights to expand the NFL games its customers can view via smartphone
  • Twitter and ESPN expanding their collaboration to distribute (and monetize) sports highlight clips

The underlying situation is that online video viewership continues to explode, and more and more of this viewing happens on mobile devices.

Regarding the first part, the numbers are staggering:

  • comScore recently reported that 181.9 million Americans watched 38.8 billion online content videos in April 2013
  • YouTube’s monthly global audience is now 1 billion unique visitors. According to YouTube’s official blog, this audience watches “more than 6 billion hours of video each month on YouTube; almost an hour a month for every person on Earth and 50 percent more this year than last.”

The shift to mobile is also remarkable:

  • YouTube says that its traffic from mobile devices tripled in 2011, and 25% of global YouTube views now occur via mobile

It doesn’t require a crystal ball to see that news about the online video industry will continue to come rapidly. It’s a young, growing industry with a shifting landscape (e.g., Viacom’s recent licensing of exclusive streaming rights for Nick Jr. content such as “Dora The Explorer” to Amazon).

One story we’ll surely hear more about:  increased ad dollars flowing to online video.

The shift of ad dollars from TV has been on the slow side but that’s changing as more advertisers are becoming – or are being made to become – more comfortable with online video. Inevitably, as the saying goes, ad dollars follow the audience.

eMarketer estimates US digital video ad spending will more than double from $4.14 billion in 2013 to $9.06 billion in 2017.

Truck loads of cash heading toward Mountain View

Google should continue to be a big winner in the competition for these growing ad dollars. Foremost because they own YouTube, the single largest platform, but also because of their existing search-ad relationships.

And very importantly to me as an advertiser, they offer the most innovative ad products. (I previously posted a similar opinion)

These products belong to YouTube’s TrueView category of video ads, a distinguishing feature of which is that advertisers only pay when viewers don’t choose to skip their ads.

An example TrueView ad format I particularly like is called “in-stream.” These ads appear before or during another video on YouTube. Viewers are required to watch the first 5 seconds of the video ad, and then have the choice of continuing to watch it or to skip it. Advertisers only pay when a viewer watches for 30 seconds (or to the end of the ad if its length is less than :30). So if an advertiser puts a 30-second ad on the platform, costs are only incurred when 100% of the ad is streamed.

Add robust geographic-targeting options, view-to-conversion tracking capability and the ability to test campaigns with minimal budget, and I have to wonder why advertisers wouldn’t initiate a test campaign with YouTube.

I believe more and more advertisers will start placing TrueView ads once they understand the program better — perhaps driven by more aggressive selling by the AdWords sales team.

As advertisers become more comfortable with the ad formats, a likely result will be the development of more creative customized for online viewing. For example, front-loading content specifically aimed at preventing viewers from hitting the “skip ad” button right after the mandatory 5 seconds of in-Stream ads.

It’s hard for me to imagine Google not gaining a significant revenue boost from the shift to online video advertising in the coming years (especially since I believe the budgets are more likely to transition out of traditional ad formats than out of other digital ads such as paid search).

Contradictions Lead to Crazy

Confusion! by LuluP (creative common license)

I’m reading the book “Conscious Business: How to Build Value Through Values” by Professor Fred Kofman. While only a short way in, so far I’ve found it to be very insightful.

Based on this, I started following Professor Kofman’s “Influencer” posts on LinkedIn.

I really appreciate and recommend his two most recent posts.

In the first — titled, “Is Your Job Driving You Nuts?” — he discusses how to recognize stress-inducing contradictions that may (or likely do) exist in your workplace.

Here’s a key passage:

When you combine unattainable goals with contradictory managers you get double binds, those emotionally distressing dilemmas that can cause schizophrenia. Argyris found double binds of the following kind in every organization he studied:
1.    The manager gives a contradictory order.
2.    The manager makes the contradiction un-discussable.
3.    The manager makes the un-discussibility un-discussable.

Making the “un-discussability un-discussable”… stress-inducing indeed. At a minimum, it’s frustrating and makes good employees long for a less thought-stifling environment.

He goes on to explain:

Inconsistencies and misunderstandings are inevitable… The good news is that inconsistencies are necessary, but not sufficient to create double binds. The condition for craziness is un-discussability… A culture of mutual learning, in which people are open to discussing dilemmas, is the best antidote.

In his subsequent post, Prof. Kofman addresses how to reduce or “dissolve” organizational contradictions.

Here are links to the full articles:

Is Your Job Driving You Nuts?

Discussing The Un-discussable – How To Stay Sane At Work

If you’re interested in following Professor Kofman on LinkedIn, here’s his Influencer page.

Fall In Love with Someone Else

Image courtesy of Ani-Bee (Creative Common license)

A recruiter recently contacted me about a marketing position. After describing the role, he told me the hiring executive’s ideal candidate would have experience working in three specific industries.

I looked up the hiring executive’s profile on LinkedIn and – surprise! – his background matched what he wanted from his ideal candidate.

I was reminded of the Seinfeld scene in which Jerry tells Kramer that he’s fallen in love with a woman who’s just like himself:  “Now I know what I’ve been looking for all these years. Myself! I’ve been waiting for me to come along. And now I’ve swept myself off my feet!”

In the case of the hiring executive, looking for such a close match to his own background was a somewhat extreme case (perhaps driven by an insecurity that’s allayed by thinking, “I’m really good at my job; so for someone else to be good they need to be like me”) of what I see as an all-too-common mistake:  filling positions with people of similar professional backgrounds.

It’s obviously very common to see job postings that ask for experience in the same industry as the given opening.

In my opinion, the value of this similar experience is greatly exaggerated.

In fact, in most cases it’d probably be better for hiring managers to look for intelligent and curious people from other industries. Every company is already filled with people who know its particular industry. What’s more valuable is adding outside perspectives.

Sure, new employees coming from different industries will take a little longer to get up to speed. However, in the case of intelligent hires, that’s only a short-term issue.

Medium- to long-term, the slower learning curve will likely be outweighed by the benefits of an outside perspective:  asking different questions, generating different insights and adding new ideas.

Team leaders who want to foster innovation and creative problem solving should apply the lesson of America’s melting pot (that the convergence of people of many different backgrounds yields creative energy) not only to racial/ethnic/cultural diversity but also career-background diversity.

As for Jerry Seinfeld’s character, he learned the hard way. After getting engaged to Jeannie Steinman, he confessed to Kramer, “I think I may have made a big mistake… All of a sudden it hit me and I realized what the problem is… I can’t be with someone like me, I hate myself!”

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For a laugh:  I found the following video — someone stitched together the Jeannie Steinman story line and uploaded it to YouTube.

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(I didn’t upload this video to YouTube. I’m pulling into the post a video somebody else uploaded. If the legal copyright holder has any concerns, please notify me using the Contact form found via the above header navigation).