Dan Lagani Interview – “The Boss”
Fun Piece. Happy to be a included with the rest of the group!
Earlier this year I had the chance to spend some time with Jeff Fisher, who had just recently left his job as head coach of the NFL’s Tennessee Titans. We were speaking about a wide range of things but what struck me most was how he answered a question about the difference between winners and losers in the NFL. He was adamant that the skill levels of most starters in the league from team 1 to 32 were pretty close and that the real difference were the intangibles like attitude, outlook and resiliency.
Let me put out a radical thought: all the wonderful new tech innovations that we read about everyday and love playing with are actually creating the same scenario in business. Sure, it seems counter intuitive that technology brings parity, not advantage. But now that everyone has easy access to the same “cool new stuff,” it’s just the price of entry. So if the latest new gadget won’t drive business winners and losers, then what will?
Larry Kramer, the founder and former Chairman and CEO of Marketwatch, looks at the issue in his new book, C-Scape. He makes a compelling case that technology on its own isn’t what matters, but rather how businesses adapt technology to meet evolving needs of their consumers. He also observes that as technology continues to shift power to consumers, smart businesses will need to continue shifting how they market to their consumers including putting more resources against content and curation.
If you’re still skeptical, check out David Pogue’s recent New York Times column, which speaks to the same challenges unfolding in the cable TV space. Pogue applauds Comcast and its new Xfinity app for iPad for all its smart, user-friendly features. He also underscores that as smart as it is, it will give them about a one-second head start over Time Warner, Cablevision, AT&T, Verizon and DirecTV. Then it’s back to old-fashioned things like customer service and the overall quality of the product offering.
My prediction for the media and marketing business in general: we’re entering a new phase, a time where the great technology race becomes a great moment for established brands. It’s a moment where technology is critical—but like a great quarterback in a league where every team has one, it’s not enough to guarantee a win on its own. The real winners going forward: brands using technology in an authentic way, to meet genuine consumer needs while leveraging the trust and community they’ve developed over time.
Recent campaigns that smartly leverage technology and big brand equity include McDonald’s McCafé Shake “Social Fundraiser” on FourSquare; Dunkin’ Donuts giveaway promo for its Big ‘N Toasty Breakfast Sandwich on Twitter; and the Pepsi Refresh Project, arguably the breakout social media campaign of 2010. The same forces are driving the Reader’s Digest “We Hear You America” campaign, which since its start in November has inspired the participation of nearly 50% of every single town in America.
Whether in sports or business, what it takes to win is constantly changing—and no doubt, technology will remain a critical ingredient going forward. But the X-Factor to making consumers care and connect on a large-scale will increasingly be the combination of great brands and great technology.
One of the stories that wasn’t well covered in the recent Cablevision/ Fox feud is the effect it had on a sports fan’s ability to shout at the television while watching games. Non-sports fans may think this ritual is borderline idiotic, but real fans understand not only is it immensely satisfying to give managerial advice to the likes of Joe Girardi or Rex Ryan, but it’s also a great, low-risk way to blow-off some steam. Being wrong doesn’t matter: there are no back-page headlines that you made the wrong call on fourth down or questions about why you stuck with the starter rather than going to the bullpen.
Expressing your opinions digitally on the other-hand is entirely different game. What you say and do lives on long after the final out, demands a more thoughtful point of view and far more conviction than the average at-home outburst. Looking back on a Minsider column I wrote in the summer of 2009 on the growing problem of information overload), thankfully I wasn’t just shouting at the tv. I was convinced then–and even more so today–that with a combination of limited time and unlimited digital content, consumers need help sorting out what really matters.
When I took my current role at Reader’s Digest this past spring, I spent a lot of time speaking with consumers, clients and peers about the brand’s roots and greatest strengths. All had memorable stories about their experiences with the brand–from where they first saw it to their favorite columns–but the most important moment for me came while reading the biography of Reader’s Digest founder DeWitt Wallace. (Special thanks to editor-in-chief Peggy Northrop for both recommending it and trusting me enough to lend me her copy.)
Not only did it reaffirm everything I’d been feeling about the crush of digital media, but it also made it clear that Wallace understood–long before anyone else–the value of simplifying and curating the very best stories from across the country and condensing them each month into a consumer-friendly digest. His guiding vision was captured in this two-sentence quote from 1920: “We live in fast-paced times. People are anxious to get to the heart of the matter and we intend to search it out for them”.
Jump forward to the media landscape of 2010 with 8,500 magazines and newspapers, 2,300 tv channels, over 180 Mobile carriers offering Wi-Fi, plus more than 200 million websites, and Wallace’s vision has even greater relevance. Even David Carr of The New York Times observed in a recent column: “We have reached a moment in time when our ability to produce media has outstripped our ability to consume it.”
For the Reader’s Digest brand, it also means the future is clear: getting back to its roots as the original content curator and to its original mission of bringing people all across the country trusted, time-saving insights. The twist is that this time we’ll lead with a daily digital digest called the Reader’s Digest Version coupled with an iPad edition and more than a dozen mobile apps to guarantee that we deliver on another critical consumer expectation, offering content how, when and where they want.
With just about 12 weeks to go until everything launches it doesn’t leave me nearly as much time as I’d like to watch my favorite teams play–especially since Cablevision and Fox seem to have resolved their differences, for now.
Dan Lagani is president of Reader’s Digest Media where he oversees the Reader’s Digest branded businesses in the U.S.