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.

Facebook Top 10

Facebook Year In Review 2014

I’m happy to share Universal Studios Hollywood made Facebook’s Year In ReviewMost Checked-Into Places in the US” list for the 3rd straight year. This year the park was #2, up 5 spot’s from #7 in 2013 and #8 in 2012.

Congratulations to the social media marketing team I’m proud to have hired and led, and everyone at Universal Studios Hollywood who helps make the park so much fun (i.e., a place where guests want to tell their friends they are visiting).

Facebook’s Year In review includes other Top 10 category lists, including the Most Talked About Global Topics.

Here’s their overview video if you haven’t seen it yet.

New Halloween Horror Nights Videos

 

Just a quick follow-up to my post about Halloween Horror Nights last week. The event keeps many Universal Studios employees, including my team and me (with digital advertising, social media, website content and e-commerce ticket sales) busy this time of the year. Luckily it’s a lot of fun to work on. For these reasons, I’ve got Halloween Horror Nights (a.k.a., HHN) on the brain.

While the event is top of mind for me, I know some readers aren’t familiar with it and may be curious to learn more, so I wanted to share two new videos we just released.

The video above is our first Guest Reactions video of the year. It provides a glimpse of what the event experience — i.e., walking through the themed mazes and scare-zones — is like. It also showcases why we don’t recommend HHN for kids.

We’ve been putting out Guest Reaction videos for years and, in the spirit of “imitation is flattery,” are proud to note that many other Halloween events have copied the style.

We also create Behind the Scenes videos. This is the latest in the series:

 

I’m happy to share that we’ve received a lot of good media coverage, such as this USA Today article.

If you’re in the L.A or Orlando areas and like Halloween / Horror content, please check out this year’s event.

 

(Disclosure and disclaimer:  As noted throughout this blog, I am an employee of NBCUniversal / Universal Studios Hollywood. All company information mentioned in this post is publicly available. All opinions are personal and do not represent the opinions of the company. See media relations website for official press contacts and press releases. To state the obvious, the achievements of Universal Studios Parks & Resorts are the result of the hard work and commitment of many people.)

Halloween. It’s back…. Again!

 

One year ago I wrote a post just before the start of Universal’s Halloween Horror Nights 2013. It looked at how our use of social media to market the event reflected the major developments in mainstream U.S. social media since the days of MySpace.

Now another year has flown by. Tonight marks the start of the 2014 event, including the opening night Eyegore Awards ceremony.

Halloween Horror Nights is a great event to market. The nature of the content — gruesome entertainment largely created in partnership with horror-film directors and producers, TV shows (such as The Walking Dead), and musicians (like this year’s collaboration with Slash) — combined with the young-adult target audience allows for a lot of creativity.

The content and the audience are both perfectly suited to digital marketing.

As in past years, we’re creating videos to highlight the guest experience as well as our entertainment team’s creative partnerships; for example:

 

Social media fan engagement is a year-round activity but naturally intensifies during the event period. We have active fan bases on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. This year we also started posting on Snapchat.

My team and I are responsible for the event website, a work in progress as we always continue to add videos and photos as the event progresses. Please check it out. (Note: it includes some gory images).

For commerce, this year’s ticket store is optimized for mobile check-out.

All this work keeps us busy but it really is a lot of fun.

If you’ve been to Halloween Horror Nights, please share your thoughts about the experience in a comment below.

(Disclosure and disclaimer:  As noted throughout this blog, I am an employee of NBCUniversal / Universal Studios Hollywood. All company information mentioned in this post is publicly available. All opinions are personal and do not represent the opinions of the company. See media relations website for official press contacts and press releases. To state the obvious, the achievements of Universal Studios Parks & Resorts are the result of the hard work and commitment of many people.)

Video ads poised for takeoff

One of the noteworthy digital marketing stories of last year – the growth of video advertising – is picking up momentum.

Expect many more headlines about this trend in 2014.

I posted about the topic last summer. Half a year later I’m even more confident the market will quickly expand.

I anticipate significant growth and innovation in the video ad space this year, both on the advertiser side (from the number of buyers to an increased willingness to test creative specifically tailored to the medium) and on the publisher side (e.g., the types of formats made available).

Factors driving video ad growth include:

Expanding audience

There is increased consumption of the digital media that supports video ads, especially via mobile phones.

Increasing number of ad vehicles

For example, Facebook introduced video ads last month. Expect Facebook, Twitter and other ad sellers to tweak their existing video ad formats and to add new ones.

A front page story in today’s Wall Street Journal discussed the WatchESPN app, which ESPN owner Disney sees “as a way to cash in on growing demand for online video.”

Media agency recommendations

Agency planners are more frequently recommending video ads as a component of comprehensive advertising campaigns.

Increasing comfort level of ad buyers

As ad buyers themselves watch more online videos it’s natural they’ll become knowledgeable about, and interested in, video ad formats.

Meanwhile, Google took a step to comfort some more traditional-minded marketers when it recently announced it’d allow advertisers to test the use of Nielsen measurement tags on YouTube ads. (Nielsen reportedly expects this to become permanent in 2014.)

These tags will provide third-party metrics similar to Nielsen’s television audience ratings and should lead some hesitant marketers to initiate YouTube video ad campaigns.

More inventory made available on ad exchanges

Publishers are increasing the amount of video ad inventory available on a growing number of so-called programmatic platforms/exchanges, which makes it easier to plan, execute and optimize large-scale ad buys.

Predictions

1.  Many of the marketers who step into the arena for the first time in 2014 will quickly increase their expenditures on video ads.

They will be impressed by the flexibility and measurability of video advertising. For example, the ability:

  • Target specific DMAs (defined geographic areas) at low cost; e.g., to expand into additional markets, including international ones, that are beyond the reach of their TV ad campaign budgets
  • Test creative executions head-to-head while monitoring metrics such as completed plays, clicks to website and online conversions

2.   More marketers will run tests to see how their target markets respond to broadcast plus online video ads

My former Universal Studios colleague and now co-founder of a digital marketing & analytics agency, Frank Vertolli, recently published an article that references such a test his agency ran on behalf of a travel industry client.

3.  Customized creative executions

We will see more examples of video ads that take advantage of the medium’s unique opportunities to engage target audiences.

One of best video ads I’ve ever seen in the wild (i.e., while going about my business) targeted me based on a previous YouTube.com video view.

I was on a weather site when I saw a video thumbnail image featuring the stars of the Comedy Central show, Key and Peele. The comedians’ faces caught my attention because I’d recently watched a few of their show clips on Comedy Central’s YouTube channel.

I clicked the “Play” button. The video opened with voiceover saying, “We know you like watching Key and Peele on YouTube, but you’ll love watching the whole show even more on Comedy Central.” After a snippet of comedy the spot ended with the comedians pitching benefits of watching on TV.

The ad was a fantastic example of a creative execution specifically made for a given situation.

Here’s one of the ads from the series:

For many advertisers the easiest way to get video ads online is to reuse television spots. However, in time we’ll see more advertisers embracing the fuller potential of video ads by creating content geared to the medium.

All the trends and opportunities mentioned above reinforce one another, which strengthens my belief that 2014 will be a year of impressive growth in the video ad market.

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).