Did All 238 Proposals Ignore Video Marketing Best Practices?

Tony Compton, Managing Director

The brick walls in your city look similar to the brick walls in my city…

According to Amazon, the company received 238 proposals from cities and regions in 54 states, provinces, districts, and territories throughout North America in response to the opportunity to land the company’s second headquarters. The list of The Salivating 238 is currently being evaluated by Jeff Bezos and crew and will soon be significantly reduced. A short-list of those still in the running for #HQ2 is expected early in 2018.

The gold-rush mentality that swept North America this Fall has been interesting to watch. Right up until it took the sum total of about two minutes to figure out that so much of what you were taught about sales and video marketing was violated by so many of those who can only fantasize about getting the final rose from Jeff Bezos.


ZERO Differentiation

Cue the commoditized feel-good, warm blanket safety videos. It seems as if every one of the 238 proposals has a two-minute Chamber of Commerce video attached to it. I get it. There’s nothing wrong with being proud of your city. Except this is competition to WIN. Not to attract more tourists.

I ran across a site that grouped together a bunch of the HQ2 video submissions. I bit, and checked out the content. I viewed one or two videos. Then a few more. I started to click on and off faster. To channel surf among the videos quicker and quicker. I felt as if I was watching city-branded videos produced by graduates from the same media production class using the same generic, Xeroxed template.

Skyline shots. Buildings. People. Fast moving pedestrians. Shorelines. Blue skies everywhere. Plus I dig those camera angles from fast moving videos where somebody is flying low in a helicopter over a body of water, racing to the shore while panning up to display the panoramic view of a metropolitan area on a gorgeous summer day. Can’t seem to get enough of those. The videos made me think of that, though I can’t be sure if that type of shot is actually in any of the videos. (I bet it’s in at least one of them!)

I saw boxes. Lots of brown boxes in one video. Or was more than one video with those brown boxes? Plus nice looking offices with advanced technology. Or so they claim. Flashing graphics. One, to the next, to the next, to the next… the videos stared to blend together. I didn’t watch 238 videos. Didn’t have to. I only watched a representative sample. But the message was clear: every town, in every part of North America is a great place to live and would be a great place for Amazon’s second home.

If I was trying to persuade the Recreational Club of Millennials in Western Iowa to send a group of tourists to spend a weekend in downtown Chicago with one of those videos, fine.

This isn’t that. This is a cut-throat, ruthless, winner-take-all business competition.

What Else?

Focus on Feature/Function

Today, there are two types of people in sales and marketing: Those that have received the message that you should not focus on feature and functionality in your marketing presentation and sales pitch (certainly not lead with those) and those who got the memo and continue to choose to ignore it.

The HQ2 videos I saw were either ordered by or produced by those who ignored the memo.

The HQ2 videos featured buildings. Lots of them. Buildings that could be in Anytown, USA or Downtown North of the Border, Canada. If you covered the name of the city on the video label and just presented the raw footage, you could play Name That Town!

No doubt Mr. Bezos knows the differences between visuals from Midtown Manhattan in New York and Michigan Avenue in Chicago, but I’d wager that the contrast among the 238 becomes fuzzier and fuzzier as the content reel rolls on.

But what are Features without some Function?

Transportation? Check. Anytown can get packages from here to there. Get people from to and from work. Roads, stoplights, fast moving, whizzing-by lights… Got it.

Technological advancements? Check. Anytown has computers that help get packages from here to there. Send and receive email. Connectivity to electricity.

So on and so forth…

Not to belabor the point about feature and function, but it’s similar to marketing and selling software. There’s usually a commoditization among tech products and solutions. The pitch and presentation has to overcome it. Differentiate from the rest of the field.

Commoditization can also found among the cities competing for HQ2.

Their videos I watched did not overcome it. They did not differentiate.

But I’m sure the videos instill a measure of civic pride. Something to show at the downtown luncheon where everybody pats themselves on the back while 20 stand on stage and claim credit. Until they finish second. Or are Number 238 on the final list.

Kudos to the folks at Amazon who have to stay awake watching those videos.

238 x 2 minutes for each video = 476 minutes. That’s almost eight hours of video content that looks, sounds and feels the same. That’s if every proposal had a video attached to it and if every video is two minutes in length. But that’s not counting the in-between breaks.

More, those videos are going to be front and center in this competition. They’re likely to be first up in any virtual or in-person presentation. They’re the safety valve. The default starting point and mandatory path of least presentation resistance.

Imagine the team of civic and hometown business leaders crammed into the presentation room on the day of, pitching their glorious city. The mayor says:

Good Morning, we’d like to start by showing you a video that brags about our town and why we’re the best choice…

Press Play. Game Over.


For those who want to WIN this type of competition, differentiate. If you’re going to use video and launch into your presentation with it, you’ll need to differentiate that, too.

I’m (somewhat) surprised at this. How did those producing video submissions not know that every other city in North America would be producing the same type of video for every one of their proposals? It’s like having the other team’s playbook and still losing the game.

This is a cut-throat, ruthless, winner-take-all business competition.

But isn’t every sales pursuit?

Then why were those HQ2 videos designed for corporate travel agents and the monthly business luncheon?


For more on Challenging the Status Quo of #Marketing and #Presentation Groupthink, follow me on Twitter: @tonycompton, @GettingPresence

For immediate #presentation & #publicspeaking tips, visit the GettingPresence website.

Hey [Voice Assistant]: Find Another Voice to Represent My Business

Tony Compton, Managing Director

For those of us who remain connected to television programming via cable or satellite, it’s hard not to notice the former CBS-TV network comedy The King of Queens relentlessly being played over and over in syndication. Scroll the on-screen programming menu offered by any cable or satellite provider and you’re sure to find it. The show is on several channels, in the morning, afternoon, and night. It’s on seven days a week.

I never watched the show when it was in its first run on network television. Never. Not once. Nothing against the show, but I just never watched it. But it’s now on television with such frequency that I’ve landed on the show more than once via late-night channel surfing.

A moment from one particular episode caught my attention. One of the show’s characters owns and operates a Queens, New York pizza parlor, and there’s a scene in this restaurant when he’s working behind the counter and in the middle of an in-person conversation. The character talks in a no-accent, Middle America, vocal style. No New York City accent. No Italian accent. No Mid-Atlantic accent. Nothing. Just a straight-forward thirty-something male voice from most Anywhere, USA. But during this episode, that conversation he’s having is suddenly interrupted by the restaurant’s telephone ringing. It’s a wall phone from the 1980’s and somebody’s calling to place an order. But instead of answering the phone in a typical “Hello, How may I help you…” tone of voice, the owner answers in a quickly-fabricated heavy Italian accent. “Hello, Angelo’s Pizza, How may I help you…” (Apply your own interpretive accent to that quote.)

The pizza order is taken, he hangs up the phone, and then goes back to his normal #voice for the balance of the previous in-house conversation. The bit lasts 10-15 seconds, max. It’s an amusing, family-friendly, network tv line from a sitcom, but one that held more of a business lesson learned than the show’s producers, writers, or actors could have known at the time.

Your Voice Assistant Can’t Provide That #CustomerExperience

I’ve read about #Amazon’s Alexa and #Google Home’s ability to locally order pizza from two of the national chains, provided accounts are set-up in advance. (Bugs and shortcomings in the system notwithstanding.) So let’s stay with that example, and imagine if you owned a local pizza place or a chain of regional Italian restaurants. Your target #customer is lying on the couch, watching The King of Queens on late-night TV and gets hungry for pizza. Instead of moving his lazy body to dial for delivery, sit up to use an app, or get up to find his computer, he only has to talk to his voice-assist enabled device sitting on a table on the other side of the room. But instead of delivering a customized audible customer experience, the generic platform voice is the front person for all pizza places within the system. Nothing unique, no Angelo, no Tony, nothing differentiated in the sound of the interaction with the restaurants. Just a computerized voice providing options, and it’s a voice that sounds exactly the same from one pizza joint to the next. At the moment of truth for the vocal and audible customer experience, the interaction is watered down. Homogenized. And that #sales, #marketing, and #customerservice process is going to have to change. One generic voice assistant representing your business – and those of your competitors – can’t last. As nice and sophisticated as your chosen platform’s voice assistant may sound, you don’t necessarily want that male or female voice branding your restaurant – or your chosen line of business.

Three #CX Predictions

1. Across all #platforms, voice-enabled transactions in the next several years are expected to total in the billions of dollars. Given that market forecast, businesses will have to quickly learn how to connect their products and services to this new form of vocal customer interaction, experience, and relationship. They’ll have to do so in a differentiated way or miss out on that future spend. It’s interesting to note that the use of voice-enabled assistants can level the playing field for many smaller or regional businesses (think Pizza Hut and Domino’s vs. Angelo’s New York Pizza), but it’ll be the smaller businesses that are slow to react and invest that could be the most vulnerable.

2. The market should move quickly in a direction that will allow #technology to be developed such that the current platform assistants can connect to corporate-owned, individually-branded voice assistants that will deliver differentiated consumer interactions. This is not a replacement of the current set of computerized voice assistants, rather a connection to one or more voices that specifically represents a particular company, #brand, or business. #Alexa or #Siri could act as a virtual switchboard to route users to any one company’s ability to use voice-assist and Artificial Intelligence (AI) technology in creative ways their competitor’s could never imagine.

3. For all of the technology and #AI, actual human voices will continue to play a critical role throughout this voice and branding process. I know this seems as if it takes away from some of the futuristic HAL 2000 thinking, but no supercomputer could provide the actual voice used for Tony’s Pizza in Chicago. Or Angelo’s in Queens. Or Hunter’s chain of Western Wear Shops throughout the State of Texas. I wouldn’t want a supercomputer voice to brand my Chicagoland pizza parlors with an automated voice-assist that sounds like a Joe Pesci from Goodfellas ripoff. And just ask somebody from southern Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi or Alabama if all southern United States accents sound the same. (They don’t.) Supercomputer voices have a long way to go to reflect the nuances in dialects, and that’s only considering the USA. (BTW, that includes anything uttered by #IBM’s Watson.) For the long foreseeable future, humans will be needed to provide voices for companies seeking to differentiate themselves in the voice-assistance world, and that should make those in the #voiceover industry jump for joy.

Of course the use of differentiated voices for company branding activities is nothing new. Companies have traditionally employed actors with the precise voices they want for everything from radio and television commercials, to Interactive Voice Response systems, to web and streaming media activities, to video games, to, well, computer-generated voice-enabled assistants. But it’s this still-developing link in the voice-assisted customer experience chain that provides the most excitement, and creative possibilities.

Linking AI, to customized voices and crafted sound experiences, through the in-home, in-auto, in-office, or handheld mobile device to represent your business has got to be compelling. Imagine the possibilities, and how your business can own that audible customer experience in ways your competitors could never imagine. I think I’ll stay up late, give some thought to how this economic and technology model can work, and order a pizza.

BTW, Chicago’s pizza is still better than New York’s.

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