Not admitting to missing Toy Fair.

For the second year in a row, I skipped Toy Fair. My phone, email, and Facebook have been figuratively “ringing off the hook” with people trying to set meetings.

This got me wondering why I stopped going. There is the obvious …… I don’t work in the toy business. And the not so obvious …. I’m totally focused on interactive experiences – gaming, gaming everywhere – just not toys reliant on the retail shelf.

That doesn’t mean I’m not still interested in what’s up at the American International Toy Show. There’s always a lot of cool stuff and this year a lot of cool stuff featuring cutting-edge technology and innovative play patterns.

Here’s a couple things I wish I’d seen in person.

“Angry Birds Knock on Wood” – Mattel game based on the massive Angry Birds franchise. It’s great to see one of the first brands to break out from the phone to the toy world.

“Sweet Talking Ken Doll” – Apparently this doll will say what Barbie wants to hear. Should be amazingly successful and good training for guys everywhere.

Cisco Products has a “Digi Piggy”. This is a digital piggy bank that let’s you track what you are spending or saving.

Barbie has a new “I Can Be” line. Now in addition to being a Fashion Model or Rock Star, little girls can be a Computer Engineer. Wearing pink, but still a Computer Engineer.

LeapFrog has a kid’s iPad device for $99. It has a camera, plays Apps, and books.

Lego Hogwart’s Castle.  With so much discussion about social play, it’s nice to see a toy that by nature is social. You need a Harry, Hermione, and Ron to help you put this massively amazing project together.

Fisher Price has an iPhone holder so that little kids can easily play touch screen games. This is a really nice idea for little ones.

And finally,  apparently Lego created a life-size Johnny Depp as Jack Sparrow from Pirates of the Caribbean. That alone would have made the trip to the Jacob Javits Center worth it!

What’s your favorite toy announcement?

Blogging, 1 year later. Still on The Next Big Thing.

Forgive me blog for I have sinned. It’s been 3 months since my last post.  How did that happen? I’ve had something to say every day, but somehow, I couldn’t commit it to my blog. Until today. When the CEO of a company I really respect called me up and said “I was reading your blog” …. And a moment of panic set in …. “you mean the blog I haven’t posted on since September?”

So here we are. January 14. Nearly a year since I started the blog ….which was focused on Thinking about the Next Big Thing.

Here’s some Big Things I thought about in 2010:

1.     Social Games.  Spent real money buying a virtual Cathedral for my City, a Corvette for my Sorority Girl, and a whole lot of seeds for my Farm. Realized there was a big business here, but it wasn’t really gaming like I thought.

2.     iPhone.  Like High Heeled Shoes, it looks pretty, but hurts like heck when I use it. Dropped calls. Mystery voice mails when the phone never rang, but quite simply the center of my work/life universe.

3.     Mobile Games.  A refrigerator that’s always full where most of the food is free. Angry Birds. Tapulous. Scrabble. I started wishing the flight from Oakland to Burbank was longer.

4.     Facebook. Truly the single best way to stay connected with anyone – and a direct line into what all the college kids in my family are into.

5.     Education. After seeing “Waiting for Superman” I fully realized that the business of learning is where I want to be.

6.     Start-ups.  I advised several small companies and got inspired by the founders, the ideas, and the positive energy in starting something new.

7.     eBooks. I stopped buying real books, downloaded Barnes & Noble for iPad and starting reading 3 books concurrently. Just amazing to think what this will mean for the book business.

8.     Fundraising. I met a lot of VCs.  Most of them were wearing Khaki pants and blue shirts, went to Stanford/MIT/Harvard and “liked my idea”.

9.     Apps. FourSquare . Groupon. LoseIt!, Flixster, Instagram, LinkedIn, TripIt – life made better for free.

10. Video Games. The business was down 5% in 2010. It’s not the economy. It’s a radical change in the way consumers think about and play games. Realize that items #1 – #9 may have something to do with that.

I’m now Working on the Next Big Thing. You can read my next blog post to find out what that is.   Happy 2011!

My customer acquisition

Now that I’m a marketing gun-for-hire I’m talking to a wide range of companies serving up various kinds of content experiences. Companies that make games. Companies that provide services. Companies that connect people. Companies that educate people. Companies that build communities.  Every meeting starts with the same conversation ….. what’s your objective?  what do you want your company to be? what do you want from marketing?   what problem are you trying to solve?  I’ve been surprised that the answer’s always the same : Customer Acquisition.  They want to grow the customer base. More people installing the app, playing the game, becoming a fan, inviting friends, engaging in the community, etc.  “I can help you do that!” ,  I say enthusiastically.  Because as a savvy marketer with the right skills, I can, but is that enough?    I’ve been curious  that no one’s asking to grow brand awareness.  This has made me wonder whether   brand awareness is somewhat passe in the Facebook world  where a referral from a friend is reason enough to try something new.  Trying something new is easy when it’s free and unique, but I suspect it won’t be so easy to grow once consumers become more savvy about viral marketing programs and advertising is ubiquitous.

This brings me back to brand awareness. It’s only logical that the pure web businesses will need to think about building their brand in all facets from customer experience to content.  And it’s only logical that an improved customer experience creates more engaged consumers …. the definition of brand building.  This is a classic chicken-and-egg  for marketers – thinking about connected goals –  huge customer growth and a well defined and visible brand.

In the meantime, I’m still focused  on my own “customer acquisition”.

What I learned at GDC aka Game Developers Conference

I’ve spent the last two days at the Game Developers Conference in San Francisco. When I had a “big” game job in publishing, I looked at this event as a total geekfest and sent producers to represent the company (and didn’t attend myself).  Fast forward to 2010. I’m now a self annointed Marketing Maven in the interactive content space (see my beautiful new business card)  and am happily rubbing elbows with anyone who will listen at GDC. And it’s been inspiring!  GDC is absolutely buzzing. Social Gaming is everywhere.  Two days and over 30 sessions on social/mobile gaming alone and lots of great discussion on what the success of Farmville and Facebook games means to the game industry at large. As well, much discussion about the “Game-ification of Social / Web Apps” and how game play can improve all kinds of activities from booking travel to losing weight to child rearing. Interesting times to be a marketer focused on the kids and family space and interactive content.  Someone asked me “how will the grayhairs of gaming make the transition to web and social”?  Once I ascertained that he wasn’t referring to my invisible gray hair we had a good dialogue. Experienced game folks – both marketers and developers will have a place in the new world. Content will always be king, but metrics and an analytics based approach to developing interactive content that works will be the hallmark of this generation of games. Interesting times to be a marketer. Gray haired or otherwise.

Looking. Up.