Friday, December 28, 2007

Guitar Hero + Slash + Chrome Hearts inspire Awe & Loyalty through Authenticity

If you know me even the least bit, you know that the things that I am into on a personal level typically garner the same level of fanaticism as my work.

Anyone who has spent more than 10 minutes with me over the last 3 years surely knows at least the following 3 things about me.

1. I "enjoy" Avalon during the summer months.

2. Guns N' Roses is my undisputed favorite band of all time.

3. I was never more excited to work with any brand more than I was when I signed Chrome Hearts. (Sorry Trump. Close second.)

For those of you who do not know:

Chrome Hearts in my opinion is the epitome of a luxury lifestyle brand that is successful on their own terms. They have been around since the late 80's and for the longest time have escaped the radar of the main stream by design. The goods (Jewelry, Apparel, Furniture, Crystal) are sophisticated and as high quality as they are high priced. They are aspirational in all senses of the word and they cater to the elite crowd through their 10 stores around the world. Their creedo is "F*ck You" and that sentiment adorns everything from their product to their marketing strategy. You have to love it. I do. I can't go to New York without hitting their store on 64th St and buying something I don't need.

Some CH Rings.

I first discovered them about 4 years ago and a few years later was fortunate enough to land them as a client. I had multiple visits to their L.A. HQ and got to go behind the scenes and spend time with all of the people in the CH family who contribute to their culture and identity including their founder. I'll never forget that during the first meeting I had with them, their founder had to cut out of our 3 hour meeting early because his 2pm was Nicky Hilton who had been getting antsy waiting for us to finish. Just a really cool experience all around set right in the heart of Hollywood.

I had been a big fan before, but once I got to get my hands dirty and got to hang out with them, they had a fan for life. Its the hardest I had to ever consciously try not to "geek out" repeatedly during a client meeting.

People who identify with them can only describe the experience as something akin to the affinity they would feel for their favorite rock band. The weird part is they don't make music they make jewelry... and boxer briefs that cost $60 bucks a pair among other things. (Yes I own some :-\)

My point in all of this is really related to the authenticity issue that I typically encounter on a regular basis and it always annoys the heck out of me. My biggest pet peeve is that half-way feeling that always seem to happen when you have an interaction with a brand or product that is skewed from its normal positioning or slightly modified for a broader appeal. Think the combo KFC-Taco Bell-Pizza Hut restaurants. Separately great (for fast food), but together they equal abbreviated menus, soggy tacos and stale biscuits. Like kissing your sister.

Now let's go 180 degrees take a look at Guitar Hero. To the surprise of everyone it actually took 3 installments and a sprinkling of Slash from GNR in the game for me to dust off my PS2 and buy my first video game since college.... And to the surprise of no one, I beat the game and became completely addicted to it in a matter of hours.

Now being a die hard fan of GNR and Chrome Hearts, when I finally unlocked Slash in the game I was interested to see what level of detail the game developers maintained when porting the rock legend into a video game character. My expectations were not high, but Slash and CH are pretty tight and its no secret that Slash wears CH gear on a regular basis.
Here is where the shock comes. I am going to go on record and be the first person to point out that for once somebody got it right. Slash is absolutely wearing the classic Chrome Hearts Oval belt buckle in all platform versions of the game. Needless to say I was pretty amazed, along with probably being the only person who in America who would play a video game and check out a characters jewelry for correctness. My girlfriend just looked at me and shook her head as I reveled in my moment.

Slash in-game, with magnified belt buckle.

The real belt buckle.

I wouldn't have spent an hour to write this if Slash was wearing generic gear - I wouldn't have been shocked at all - it is just a video game. But that extra authenticity has now even further transformed me into an evangelist of Slash, CH, and now also Neversoft, who makes Guitar Hero.

Whether it is Chrome Hearts, Guitar Hero or Pizza Huts, the consistency of the brand experience and living up to consumer expectations is paramount in maintaining the a customer's loyalty and opinion of your brand. What truly sets the great brands apart is their attention to that detail. It still shocks me when the big guys screw it up both online and off.

Every day my brand and business strive to make that same impact on our customers. I know other smart marketers do the same.

I'm also kinda hoping that CH sends me a belt buckle at cost for the glowing press. I don't really feel like dropping $1500 on a belt right now. Sheesh.

Anthony Bucci

ps - I know that was a long winded way to make a simple point, but I do love reliving that CH story. Also all the images I used came from google.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

There have got to be some royalties coming my way from Spencer Gifts.

In my previous vendor life, Spencer Gifts was absolutely toward the top of the list as far as noteworthy national accounts that I closed were concerned.

They were a fun brand to work with, were fledglings at eCommerce at the time and due to the nature of our long-term client-vendor relationship I had the chance to be part of many aspects of their business both online and off.

Our firm obviously positioned, designed, built and marketed the site, but some of my favorite things were the off the wall "well somebody's gotta do it" type tasks that came up which I ended up taking on.

It was through that account that I was able to (jokingly) add Casting Director to my resume. We did many photoshoots around different aspects of their business and seasonal events. Some had crazy Halloween themes, others had strange emo/goth kids in weird off-color tee's and others had scantily clad bikini models that I convinced to pose in semi-compromising positions with each other. Tough to say which ones I liked the best. (laughs) I even jumped in a picture here and there when we were short on folks.

My take-away from all of it was that some things worked and some things didn't. We tried not to make the same mistake twice and always tried to stay authentic. Authentic is always the absolute key - young people know when their being treated with kid gloves immediately. As a whole the 16-24 demo is not an easy one. They are as fickle as they are frugal concerning impulse buys online.

Now fast forward three years to last Friday.

For those of you that do not know, I am going to be a Dad this June. I thought it would be hilarious to go to the mall and pick up something irreverent for my child-to-be which I could stick in my girl's stocking, so naturally I wandered into Spencer Gifts to eventually find this:


After throwing the Onesie (is that really what that product is called?) under my arm I took a lap of the store for old times sake only to be transported into the bizzaro world.

Much to my chagrin I am on the side of every single piece of product packaging in the damn lighting section. Literally 100's of boxes in every store. Ridiculous.

Right now I am wondering if I ever signed a release. I guess it serves me right for commingling with the "talent".

I bought this laser thingy just as a souvenir. $14.99 for a box.

And you thought my days as a washed up male model were over. Ha!

In all seriousness - I'll pass on the royalties from the photo - just as long as I am able to cash in on the favor that they now owe me at some point.

Anthony Bucci

ps - Just so no one points it out in the comments, yes I took the lap of the store looking for cool guns n' roses action figures - so shut up.

pps - here are some links to the photoshoots Shoot 1 Shoot 2

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Reflections on Build Vs. Buy in eCommerce

I spent years preaching the benefits of technology outsourcing and as good as I am sitting here, I still stick by every recommendation to "buy" (outsource) I made during my career in eCommerce Business Development.

For the clients that I worked with it completely made sense. I can not even think of a seasoned brand that I pitched at any time who could have built out an internal team of technologists and managers capable of building an enterprise level system in a reasonable timeframe without incurring significant cost. When I say “significant”, I literally mean the difference between hundreds of thousands vs. millions of dollars.

I would however through different circumstance, occasionally be introduced to brand managers and business owners who had taken on the "build" approach. Whether they knew it or not, they had most likely bitten off more than they could chew, and by a stroke of managerial genius, pure luck or rockstar developers, had pulled off their feats without breaking the bank.

Most times we would talk about the pros and cons, but I never really was swayed in my position that as a rule of thumb the barriers to even start considering the "build" approach are usually great enough to stifle any musings of internal system construction. There was even one memorable instance in which I got in a full-on debate, which was partly tequila fueled, with the CEO of over dinner at Rosa's Mexican Restaurant in uptown Manhattan last fall during Looking back, it was hilarious (not sure how hilarious the other 8 people at the table thought it was), but I would be much more likely to end up in the middle of that debate than on one side or the other given my position right now.

My current business runs on a homegrown platform built in newer technology. It’s lean, scalable and stable and built 100% to internal specifications. It was nice to even be lucky enough to have the option to do that, which as I stated earlier, gets torpedoed pretty early for most companies for a slew of reasons (cost, time, inexperience, technology, talent, etc).

With regard to my venture, the biggest opponent to outsourcing (all upfront costs aside) would be the loss of agility. Since launch, one of our biggest weapons against the more established brands in our vertical has been the rollout and modification of features and functionality in direct and immediate response to customer and competitor information we have collected.

I decided to jot my thoughts on this down as I took a break from setting up a new product tagging and brand family supplemental navigation which was conceived yesterday morning, built in the afternoon, tested and implemented today. It has also been tweaked twice since its implementation at 5pm today. Now it just purrs, sweet!

Being a smaller company with a smaller budget to spend on marketing, our ability to adapt in minutes and hours vs days and weeks during this stage of growth is one of our biggest weapons against the big guys which would not be possible if we outsourced.

I rank the agility factor right now as one of the most important, if not most important, attribute of our brand. Without it there is no way we could have made the kind of impact out of the gates that we have.

They say that the average founder of a start-up's time is worth about $100 an hour. I'll gladly invest $600 to have a new feature in under 48 hours where I know I would have paid $1000's and waited weeks to modify someone else's system.

Come to think of it, if I had the chance to redo that tipsy Mexican dinner debate tomorrow, I think I would be sitting on the other side of the table tag-teaming with FansEdge against the Biz Dev guy preaching from his outsource soapbox.

I'm not saying that it doesn't make sense to outsource niche technology most of the time, but if you have the means and experitise to do it yourself, I say go for it. I would make the same decisions all over again without hesitation.

It’s funny what they say about walking a mile in another entrepreneur's shoes isn’t it.

Anthony Bucci

p.s. I know the picture is unrelated to the article, but I found it amusing for some odd reason and I hate long posts without a picture to take a break on... so :-p

Wednesday, December 05, 2007