Category Archives: strategy

business connections

I don’t care for professional networkers … the glad handlers … the schmoozers.

However, I do enjoy meeting new people who have similar professional interests. And I absolutely love meeting people who are interesting.

But if our meeting feels like you’re trying to sell me something, you’re not making a connection. You’re just checking me off a list. It takes time and conversation to develop a professional relationship.

I think (most) people have gotten to the point that they can spot these people in the digital realm. You’ve been followed and then unfollowed by someone with 50,000 folllowers who is following 50,000 and has nothing but garbage tweets. You’ve been asked to connect by someone you don’t know who has 500+ LinkedIn connections.

But maybe easy digital connections have desensitized the process in real life. The professional networkers have always trolled their nets in business meetings. Watch to make sure they really want to connect or are just trying to collect business cards to hide in their secret cubby.

the one where I talk about kotex

When most brands try to integrate their social media and traditional marketing, it’s … awkward.

Here’s a current commercial for a brand and a product I am biologically unable to connect to:

You know what helps says the hipster female comedian … Come on, ad guys.

Anyway, the spot ends with the call-to-action of “Tweet #KotexforReal“.

Really? At some point, there was a meeting of ad and social media gurus where someone said:

Let’s integrate our traditional TV ad buy with a hashtag to synergize the social experience and empower our customers to connect with our brand and talk about their menstrual cycles.

Sounds like the bookstore from Portlandia.

So I’m watching the TeeVee while I’m on the Twitter and the spot comes on. I check the hashtag.

95% of the tweets are from 14-35 year-old males who are ridiculing the spot in a vulgar way.
3% are a variation of the tweet, “The TV said I should tweet #KotexforReal”. (which is scary).
The other 2% are #TeamFollowBack and spammers.

Does a personal hygiene brand really want to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars for a TV spot that generates “free” social media mentions like this?

When you try to astroturf social media buzz, you WILL get your hashtag hijacked. Social media marketing conversations are just like any other marketing conversation with consumers. If they’re transparent, they will fail.

It reminds me of one of my favorite quotes from Hugh MacLeod: “If you talked to people the way advertising talked to people, they’d punch you in the face.”

death of originality and creativity

One of the odder analogies I use when I teach and present is that of cooking and compression. When creating digital media, it’s best to work with the original uncompressed digital file for the best final result. Using compressed (cooked) files, you’ll not get a clean final product. To show this, I take audiences’ minds into the kitchen:

You can take raw hamburger meat and make a meatloaf.
You could chop up the leftover meatloaf, add seasoning, and create taco filling.
You could take that leftover taco filling and add it to a pot of chili.
You could take that chili and…etc.
Eventually, the meat will be processed repeatedly until it turns into an inedible mush that still has artifacts left over from previous incarnations.

Yum.

It’s an analogy that works for mp3s and jpgs, but it’s also what’s happening more and more with creativity and originality in our culture. Instead of new ideas, we’re recycling old ones. We’re using leftovers to fill us up instead creating a fresh standard.

They’re making a Broadway play based on the movie ‘Animal House’. Think about that while recalling what other classic movies and TV shows have been ruined by redux adaptations and reimaginings. Add that to the rote and repetitive grind of reality TV, pop music, sports, and other packaged entertainment for the masses.

And that’s just pop culture / entertainment. The same thing is happening in design, technology, and art where the mixup, mashup, reblog, retweet, adaptation, parody, and share are sometimes considered of more importance than the original.

Eventually, it’s all going to turn to mush.

Who will create fresh content and provide original ideas? Sounds like an opportunity for someone.

UPDATE: A few days after I posted this, James Lileks wrote a few great paragraphs (as always) that are related to this idea. Take a look at the last third of his post (after the dog and set parts).

brand leadership

Strong brands have strong leaders with strong personalities. This branded leadership will help organizations succeed because the audience will have confidence that the leaders will respond to their needs.

colonel sandersLeaders of the organization (at all levels) can influence brand perception. How they exercise that influence can have positive or negative effects.

But where does this leadership come from? There are three primary sources:

Shoppers trust Joe down at Joe’s Butcher Shop more than the corporate meat cutter behind the glass at the Mega-Low Mart. The product is similar in both instances. Why is there a major perception difference? It’s because shoppers perceive Joe as a guide, curator, and maybe even a friend. His personal integrity stands behind his product. The meat at the big box store is presented as a faceless commodity.

And the naysayers say…

“Well, okay, of course the small mom & pop business can do this stuff, right? That’s their strength. Major national brands can’t do it.”

Perhaps you’re reading this post on a product you picked up down at Steve’s Apple Store.

Steve Jobs was defined by Apple and Apple will always be defined by Steve Jobs (and Woz). Jobs’ personal credibility bled through to the brand. While he was infamously a hands-on micromanager in development and design, he didn’t personally sell iPhones, Macs, and the rest to consumers….Or did he?…You saw the personal connection between him, the brand, and consumers at when he unveiled a new Apple product when he was alive and you certainly saw it when he died.

You’ve seen this strong personal leadership that crossed the veil into the brand at several strong corporate entities. Tony Hsieh at Zappos. Richard Branson at Virgin. Herb Kelleher at SouthWest. Oprah at … Oprah. All individuals whose personal leadership made those brands great.

And the naysayers say…

“Well, okay, of course the founders of these companies made a huge impact on the corporate brand. But our founder is ____. (boring / evil / dead / etc) We can’t do it.”

No doubt Henry Ford, in his day, made as much or more of an influence on his company as any of the people I mentioned above. His influence on the Ford brand is finished. But with social media connections to people like Scott Monty (@ScottMonty), there is a personal leadership and connection to the brand. Through an effective social media strategy, consumers can talk “personally” to a brand and feel a one-on-one connection that is similar to Joe down at the butcher shop.

Another point to remember is that brand leadership happens at every level of the organization. The barista that you interact with every morning who knows your name and you know theirs is more of the face of Starbucks to you than Howard Schultz is. Develop a corporate culture that helps the people who are ambassadors of your brand (employees, volunteers, other customers, and more) show brand leadership.

People want to interact with personalities, not corporations. No matter where the leadership for that personality comes from, organizations will benefit from it whether it be from an employee empowered corporate culture, an interactive social media presence, or a visible dynamic founder.

prognosticators

groundhog dayIt’s Groundhog Day! The day that we look to a rodent to come out of a dark hole to tell us the weather forecast.

While it’s good fodder to fill up the morning zeitgeist every February 2, it’s temporal. People get a chuckle and go on living their lives of quiet desparation.

But why chuckle at the groundhog news story and then bite on the next one?

IRL and online networks are packed with pundits and prognosticators 365 days a year.

What will be the hot ad in the Super Bowl the ‘big’ game™ this Sunday? Who will win the actual game? Who will win the next election? What’s the best bet on your stock IPO?

These prophets and soothsayers appear as experts in their fields offering their own predictions of events. They backing those ideas with forecast models, statistics, and expertise. In reality, they’re all just looking at their own shadow and making their best guess.

the unwritten kodak bankruptcy post

Today’s news (that we’ve seen coming for weeks) is that Kodak is bankrupt.

I’m sure the SEO hungry Monday morning quarterback business and marketing bloggers living in their mother’s basements have had a post in draft mode for weeks just waiting to pounce. But if you’re late getting to the trough, here are some specific points to use in a blog post to advance pagerank on the backs of others’ misfortune.

  • Compare Kodak to other legacy industries (record companies, newspaper publishing, etc) who face the digital transformation and how none of them “get” it.
  • Since you have no skin in the game and have the advantage of 20/20 hindsight, point out where Kodak went wrong.
  • In a tsk-tsk manner, make the profound point that Kodak thought they were in the photo business when they were actually in the memory preservation business.
  • Specifically point out that Kodak could have gone digital early (they actually invented much of digital photo technology) and been dominant in the market because of their strong brand, but didn’t want to undermine it’s main revenue source (film).
  • Make sure there’s a Paul Simon / Kodachrome reference in your post.
  • End the post with a look the future. By shedding financial obligations in the bankruptcy, Kodak can now focus on rebuilding with new technology.
  • Encourage readers to leave comments or tweet the post.

brand strategy lessons from zappos cyberattack

Online retailer Zappos has been attacked via one of their servers in Kentucky. (yes, we have servers and electricity in Ky.)

Anyone who has spent any amount of time following me or listening to me speak knows I love to use Zappos as an example of great customer service. I even used them as a case study in Brand Zeitgeist. And once again, they are showing some smart reactions to a bad situation. Just a few important points to learn from this event:

Cyber attacks are a reality. If you have sensitive customer information in digital format, it’s not a matter of “if” this will happen to your organization, but “when”. Do as much as you can to prevent such attacks, but also have a plan ready of how you will respond when it does happen.

Communication is important. The knee-jerk reaction for most after an event like this would be to communicate with customers … which obviously is important. But a more important first step is internal communication. Customers will ask your employees questions. Employees need to know how to respond to those questions. CEO Tony Hsieh sent out an email to employees prior to the customer email going out.

They’ve gone to emergency mode by taking the call center offline and just using email as a single point of communication. They have pressed each employee into service as a customer service rep during this crisis. Most companies couldn’t dream of doing this. But, because of the unique culture at Zappos, even the janitors know how to respond to customers.

The social media lesson is that, even though they’re focusing on email, they are actually responding to each individual post on their Facebook wall and each tweet on Twitter.

Today, there are only the quick and the dead. Zappos didn’t have numerous meetings to only post a weak response a few days after the event. They worked quickly and decisively by resetting all passwords and initiating the first point of communication about the problem with customers. The first storyteller frames the narrative.

Well built brands can take a hit and recover. Much of what they’re doing with this reaction couldn’t be done if they had not spent the last several years creating a great corporate culture which bled through to a well-developed brand strategy. This is probably the most important lesson for brands to learn. You need to build your boat before you get to the water.

UPDATE: They’re even responding to the postive feedback:

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white (flag) coke

It’s something I say a lot…
You don’t own your brand.
You can (and should) develop a brand strategy to guide the message, but ultimately the attributes of the brand rest in the hands of the market.

coca cola white holiday cans 2011Coca-Cola is getting pushback on their white holiday cans.

Coke drinkers are mad about everything from the fact that the white cans are too similar to silver Diet Coke cans to furthering the global warming polar bear hoax. And to prove the theories of product sensation, some drinkers think Coke tastes different in the white cans. The whole incident harkens back to the Tropicana or Gap logo disasters.

Coca-Cola seemingly didn’t learn the lesson of their 1985 New Coke disaster and messed with another core attribute of their brand.

Coke is red. That simple sentence should be in their brand book as something to never mess with.

I assume their white can strategy was another subtle step to back away from Christmas messaging to more generic PC polar bear ‘holiday’ ads. But Coke can’t easily shed Christmas symbols they helped create like the iconic image of Santa Claus.

For over 100 years, Coke has become a part of the American cultural zeitgeist. They have done a good job making people have an emotional attachment to their sugar water. They need to be careful not to disturb those emotions.

the one about the music industry and record stores

Several years ago as a marketing consultant, I had a few independent record stores as clients. And I’ve had several other bigger music industry clients that I’ve done marketing projects for over the years. So it was with great interest when Adam Coronado contacted me for a piece he was writing for the San Antonio Current about the troubles of local record / music stores.

I enjoyed doing the interview. So much so, that I asked him if I could expand on his story by posting much of our interview here. (Lesson to bloggers: Never waste content.)

The following interview is from October 2011:

ADAM: From your vantage point, what is hurting the classic record store? For our purposes, when I say record store, I’m talking about a place that sells physical copies of music, not necessarily limited to vinyl. Is illegal downloading the major culprit?

CHRIS: While illegal downloads were the first taste of the drug and are still used, I think the main culprit is consumer apathy.

It’s like people who say they support local food movements and mourn the loss of local farms but, in a time/money pinch, will pick up a tomato at Wal-Mart that was grown thousands of miles away. People “say” they support the local music store or local bookstore because their conscience (and society) dictates they say that. And in their heart, they may really mean it. But given the chance to either leave the house and go down to the store or sit on their couch and click an icon, their true colors show though.

While the illegal download is still going strong, I think the true culprit is the recently departed Mr. Jobs and his 99-cent siren. I have never seen an entire industry so upended in such a short amount of time. While record companies were suing little old ladies for downloads, iTunes snuck in and took over. It completely changed the paradigm for the actual retailers of music.

The short answer to this question is that what is hurting the classic record store is that society and culture evolved. You can’t fight that. The basic consumption of all media has changed and it’s changing consumer behavior across the spectrum. Just over the past 20 years .. a single generation.. things like travel agents, bookstores, newspapers, film/photo processing, record stores, and hundreds of other areas have drastically changed. The future is arriving much faster than it used to. Adapt or die.

ADAM: Why is the record store still important? Why should we continue to support them? What should a record store that fires on all cylinders look like? In other words, what does one that won’t close offer? Is it a pipe dream to consider the idea of them never becoming extinct?

CHRIS: There will always be a remnant. There are still farriers to shoe horses. Even with GPS, people still appreciate a beautiful map. People like handwritten notes. They still actually make chariots.

Record stores should adapt from a “sell” mentality to a “curator and guide” mentality. I love the signs I’ve seen in several libraries that says something to the effect of “Google may give you a thousand results, but a librarian will give you the one you need”

That’s why a record store is still important and why the public needs to support them. iTunes Genius and Pandora may suggest items based on what you say you already like. But a personal curator of music can introduce new things outside of your comfort zone.

ADAM: Tell me what you think of (as in pros and cons):
-Cloud music services. For example: Spotify, Rhapsody and Grooveshark.
CHRIS: The pro with Spotify is Facebook. When music becomes social, it can spread. The con is also Facebook. I don’t care what some of my friends are listening to .. some of it stinks.

-Digital music services. For example: iTunes, Amazon, etc.
CHRIS: Much of what I talked about above with consumer apathy. But I think its best attribute is the idea of the single song. I can’t tell you how much money I’ve wasted on an entire album just for one song. The problem with that is discovery of the deep cuts. I think it will hurt the artists most. I foresee a day when the “album” will no longer exists. Artists will only put out singles.

-Illegal downloading. For example: the original Napster, Soulseek,
CHRIS: Napster got people comfortable with the idea of digital tracks. I think it also sowed the seeds of destruction for lots of areas. The biggest victims were the artists. It’s a problem in general with today’s web. The idea of ownership and copyright of creative content is slipping (has slipped?) away from us. Kids know it’s wrong to take a candy bar out of store without paying. But they think nothing of copy-pasting text or right-clicking and grabbing a photo from the web.

While it’s been building for a while, the societal shift happened with the ruling on the Shepard Fairly Obama hope image. I don’t think we’ll ever go back. The trouble with “illegal” things on the web in general is the lagtime. By the time some legislator gets outraged enough to change laws, the thing they’re fixing went out of vogue 18 months ago. Case law and technology are not synched.

ADAM: Does the metaphysical meaning of music get altered when its packaging goes away?

CHRIS: Absolutely. Placing importance on the abstract is a difficult sell. When people can hold something in their hands or see it, there is an emotional and physiological connection. “I have something” But digital tracks are kind of like insurance. It’s something we buy, but can’t hold. I think that’s the Achilles Heel of digital music and the opportunity for record stores. Back to a previous question, when people can come in and the music curator lets you hold the album cover or flip through the liner notes, there’s more of a connection to the experience.

**Read Adam’s full story in the San Antonio Current here.

oprah hates your billboard

I don’t think Oprah would be happy that you put a QR code on a billboard.

qr codes on highway billboards are dumbBut put aside the whole distracting driving and near certain chance of death thing and just use some common sense.

In this great article about the shortcomings of QR codes, the author found that:

it took an average of 47 seconds for them to take out their phone and find the application to read the QR code — not exactly a “quick response.”

My rule for highway billboards has always been “one idea, you’ve only got three seconds” as the audience zips past. QR codes just don’t fit that. That’s not to ban them from all outdoor or transit placements. In a place where people are bored and waiting (bus stops, subway platforms/cars, etc), I think they work great.

The bigger problem here lies in that what SHOULD be an excellent tool to sync your mobile marketing strategy is rapidly jumping the shark because marketers are misusing it. The idea of QR codes has also trickled down to the dead-wood-from-the-neck-up managerial level who have no idea what they’re doing. Use a QR code where it makes sense, not just because you can use it.

My list of bad placements for QR codes continues to grow:

  • Highway Billboard
  • Tombstone (not the pizza)
  • TV commercial
  • Tattoo (not the Fantasy Island one)
  • Web site (use a link, not a 47 second detour!)
  • What’s the worst placement of a QR code that you’ve seen?