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Archive for November, 2005

Corante


This is exciting.

Very exciting.

Click on the Corante logo (above) and start reading. You can check out the contributors’ profiles, select specific blogs/archives, subscribe to their feed…

Putting so much insight in one place is pretty damn cool.

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- Atlas – all rights reserved, olivier blanchard 2005.

Read Part 1.

“You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink.”

Now there’s a lesson about the nature of DNA that you can apply to the business world.

No, I am not talking about your customers. I am talking about your clients. Your bosses. The executives of the companies you’ll never think to recommend to your family and friends. The people who choose to make the companies they run, average. The people who talk a lot about their businesses being numero uno, but are perfectly satisfied to be somewhere towards the top of the “also-in” crowd.

Put simply, here’s the sad truth: Some people just don’t get it and never will. It doesn’t matter how good your ideas are, how smart and insightful you are, or how desperately they need your help. You can lead them through the desert for weeks on end and take them straight to the one oasis that will keep them alive, and they’ll still refuse to drink.

Why? Because that’s how they are wired.

It isn’t in their DNA to ever consider the possibility that the way something has always been done might not be the best way to build a better today and an even better tomorrow.

Not everyone has the kind of confidence in themselves to reinvent the way they live, play and work on a regular basis, just because it makes sense to do so.

Not everyone wants to either.

My mother still refuses to learn how to use email.

My mother-in-law refuses to learn how to use a digital camera.

The business-world equivalent is a lot less cute.

Take Seth Godin’s perfectly timed little post about exactly the type of one-sided dialogue I am getting to today:

“The reason we hear about google and apple and jetblue and starbucks all the time is that these are poster children for re-architecting existing business models into something very different. The marketing is not slapped on. Starbucks is not Dunkin Donuts with a clever sign. If Dunkin Donuts goes out to hire a “senior marketer” and gives that person traditional senior marketer duties, not much is going to change.”

When, like me, you are in the business of helping companies become lovebrands, it is always heartbreaking to find yourself on the receiving end of this all-too-common death-rattle mantra:

“We’ve been doing it this way for 50 years, and it’s always worked great. I don’t see us ever changing.”

Um… ever? Really?

Well, obviously, it isn’t working all that well. If it were, you wouldn’t have to spend the equivalent of a third world’s GNP on ill-conceived advertising campaigns every year. You wouldn’t have to throw money at your customers to lure them into buying your products in July and December. You wouldn’t be so concerned about what your competitors are doing that your strategy for the next five years has shifted from leading the market to copying their every move.

Pick up a dictionary. Flip to “D”. Look up “Denial.”

Back to Seth’s little exchange:

The Other Person: “After much thought I want to go after a senior marketingperson. salary plus percentage of increase in biz and new bizdevelopment.”

Seth: “Do you mean a commission based salesperson who pretends to be a marketer? Do you mean a CMO who comes from ESPN or JetBlue? Or do youmean an advertising person?”

The Other Person: “A strict marketer who can take the existing biz, maximize both ends and find new revenue streams.”

Once again: If Dunkin Donuts goes out to hire a “senior marketer” and gives that person traditional senior marketer duties, not much is going to change. (Seth Godin)

You have no idea how many companies fill out purchase orders by hand.

You have no idea how many companies still don’t understand that the internet is their friend.

You have no idea how many companies still view the HR process as little more than “getting asses in seats”.

The saddest thing I heard all year was this paraphrased comment (from both the VP Sales and the CEO of a major international company): “Our company was never an innovator and never will be. None of our products will ever be cool. Our customers don’t care about our products. They just care about being able to buy them and knowing that they’ll work.”

This is from people who – between the two of them – probably had over 60 years of experience at that particular company.

What’s interesting to note is that the company’s immense success in its first twenty-thirty years was solely based on product innovation. Its ideas and proprietary products actually created whole new markets and changed the way an entire industry operates. (For the better, I might add.)

Having spoken to hundreds upon hundreds of their customers (and their competitors’ customers), what we found was that innovation (in product development, packaging, customer service and access to information) was exactly what everyone wanted.

These people’s customers were begging for cool new products. For a website that wouldn’t be a hassle to work with. For better catalogs. For friendlier customer service.

Begging.

But nobody was listening.

Ironically, the company (in spite of its uninspired management) experienced a burst of innovation this past year which will delay its inevitable demise by a good decade or so.

This isn’t about being stubborn.

This isn’t about egoism.

“This is the way we’ve always done it” really means “what you’re suggesting sounds like extra work, and I really don’t care enough to go there.”

Sad.

I guess there are two types of people in the world: Those who will spend their entire careers looking for ways to get better at what they do, and… everybody else.

Each group has its own DNA. While the first tends to be driven by passion, excellence, intellectual curiosity, altruism and the pursuit of evermore rewarding challenges, the second is a lot less… well, noteworthy.

What’s interesting is that both groups can look, sound and act exactly the same. This is not about ambition. It isn’t about greed. It isn’t about pride.

It is about motivators.

That DNA thing.

In yesterday’s Part 1, I promised you that I would give you some profiling tips so that next time you find yourself interviewing a potential client (or employer), you’ll know when to cut your losses and try again with a company worthy of your talents. Since this post is already getting long, I’ll put together a list in part 3. For today though, here’s how to identify the folks who will meet with you and talk about “growth” and “market share” and “exposure” but won’t actually follow your recommendations or do what needs to be done to turn their companies into extraordinary organizations:

1) Instinct. If you’re any good at this, you should know within 5-10 minutes of meeting them if they fall into the first category or the second.

2) Ask them what companies or brands they admire the most. (Netflix, Starbucks, Apple, Virgin = Good. Enron, GM, Disney, Burger King = maybe not so good.)

3) Ask them what magazines they love to read. Fast Company, Wired, Id, Dwell = Good. “I just read the Wall Street Journal” = Maybe not so good. (Bonus: “I subscribe to your blog’s RSS” = Very, very good.)

4) Ask them what they think their customers are saying about them now. Good and bad. Then ask them what they would like their customers to say about them a year from now. (If they don’t seem to understand the question… maybe it’s time to cut the meeting short.)

5) Ask them what their best customer service experience was. Movie theater, restaurant, hotel, airline, website, retail store, ad agency, whatever. Ask them what made it so great. Now ask them why they think that other companies they deal with on a daily basis don’t provide the same level of excellence. (If they can articulate even a modicum of passion in their answer, you’re probably okay. If not, well… you get the idea.)

A brand’s DNA isn’t something you’ll find attached to a building or locked away in a password-protected file. It isn’t a mission statement or a secret sauce. It isn’t a logo. It isn’t an ad. It isn’t any single product. A brand’s DNA lives inside the people who are at the core of what makes that brand breathe and grow, from its CEO to its executives to its staffers to its customers. I don’t care how big a company’s name is. I don’t care how cool it was in its heyday. You’re not dealing with ten years ago. You’re dealing with now.

I know it’s tempting to try and help companies that obviously could use your talents, but if the people running them are like the proverbial horse, you’ll just end up beating your head against the wall.

Don’t waste your time. Learn to interview. Learn to profile. Learn to find the strength to say no when you know you should.

Learn to identify companies whose brand DNA, whose true potential isn’t burried under layers of arrogance, bureaucratic nonsense and just plain ineptitude.

I don’t care how talented and skilled you are. You can’t help a company that doesn’t want to change, or whose management will make it impossible for you to effectively do your job.

Give your prospective clients and employers the DNA litmus test. You’ll be glad you did.

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I’ve noticed that the term “DNA” is finally starting to turn up in a lot of marketing and branding discussions on some of my favorite blogs. That’s good. That’s very good. We’re making progress. If anything, the semantic shift from the term “brand” to the more contextually appropriate concept of “identity” must have gained enough acceptance to warrant a further shift. We’re finally getting to the core of the subject here.

Good.

By now, almost everyone in the marketing world should be helping business folks understand that a) in order for brands to be relevant and effective, they have to be authentic, and b) in order for brands to be authentic, they have to be – at their core- nothing less than the articulation of their companies’ identities.

If not, shame on you. If so, so far, so good.

Following the same logical path a little further, it shouldn’t take anyone long to figure out that a company’s identity doesn’t just appear out of nowhere. A company’s identity has a blueprint. That blueprint is itself formed by a variety of elements – or building blocks. Genes, if you will. Among the most common:

Ideas.

People.

Talent.

Business models.

Designs.

Cool packaging.

Vision.

The list goes on.

A company’s DNA is the organization of these elements into the blueprint that will define its identity.

Still with me? Good.

Okay… Here’s where it gets a little tricky: DNA is the foundation. It comes first. It is what defines everything about a company. DNA is not an afterthought.

You don’t ever want to try and reverse-engineer a company’s DNA. Trust me. That’s just not the way to go. But I digress.

Check out this exerpt from one of Spike Jone’s latest entries in the Brains On Fire Blog:

In phone conversations over the past few days, I have found myself saying (almost yelling) that word of mouth HAS TO BE built into the very DNA of an identity.

Spike is 100% right: Identity crafting and brand-building find their roots at the very core of an organization’s DNA. For our work to be effective, the most important building block of a client company’s DNA must be this: Its principals have to be completely commited to – and passionate about – their company’s raison d’etre. Their company’s mission. Its purpose.

Put in perspective, it means that they have to be passionate about their customers.

Their core users.

Their true fans.

If they aren’t, if all they want is cool ads, stunning creative and expertly crafted PR, they’re going to spend a lot of money on what will equate to very short-term (call them “one-time”) gains.

Now… there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. Short-term gains are great. They can be worth billions in sales. They can help a company push back layoffs yet another quarter. There’s something to be said for that.

But stringing together expensive short-term solutions one after the other like a barrel of monkeys isn’t something any company can afford to do indefinitely. Without real substance binding cool ad campaigns and promotions together, (like fantastic customer service, cool products or top-notch quality,) the best anyone can hope for is just to keep pushing back the inevitable: Sooner or later, you just run out of monkeys.

There’s a better way. A more cost-effective way. One that builds the foundations for stronger, better, WOM-worthy companies. One that focuses on turning their customers into fans. One that focuses on making these customers come back again and again without having to lure them with lame gimmicks and profit-cutting promotions. One that is more about building relationships than it is about buying the next big superbowl ad.

(More on that in a couple of days.)

In the context of this particular discussion, it begins with people at the core of these companies deciding to take something that’s already pretty good and – with your expert help – turning it into something extraordinary.

Think Starbucks.

Think Michelin.

Think Pixar.

Think IDEO.

You want to find out what’s so special about these companies? It isn’t their advertising. It isn’t their logos. (Okay, yeah, maybe a little… but those are just extensions of their core identities.) Everything that makes these companies extraordinary (and unique) is burned into their DNA: You can start with their obsessive dedication to excellence. Their passion for research and innovation. The importance they place on not ever disapointing their true fans.

(DNA also forms the building blocks of that thing we sometimes like to call company culture.)

But back to the point: DNA isn’t something you can easily change. As I’ve said before, it isn’t an afterthought.

A company’s DNA is in a very real sense its soul. Some are open to change. Most aren’t.

If you’re a consultant, a marketing firm (or an identity company) and your professional mission is to help companies craft strong, unique identities, you have to learn, early on, to weed out the posers and focus on the companies whose principals truly have in their own DNA the drive, insight and passion that their companies will draw upon to become great.

Ultimately, that – above all else – will be the secret ingredient to your success… and theirs.

(Wasting your time on corporate bureaucrats who don’t get it is… well… a waste of your invaluable time.)

Sorry, but you can’t save them all from themselves.

Truth is, if you’re lucky (and really, really good) you’ll only save a few dozen in your lifetime.

The thing about a company’s DNA is that not all companies have “change”, “curiosity” or “innovation” in their bag of building blocks. You have to accept that. (All it takes is new blood in the skipper’s chair, sure, but even that isn’t a guarantee. Not by a longshot. And who wants to wait around for that anyway?)

My advice: Seek out kindred spirits. They’re rare, but they’re pretty-much everywhere. When you find some, get to know them. I mean really know them. Hang out with them. Let them introduce you to their friends, their colleagues, their business partners. Let them guide you to your next client. (Word-of-mouth, remember?) That’s where you have to start. They’ll enrich your lives, grow your business, and help you spread the good word, one little fire at a time. That’s how the revolution begins.

Remember: It starts with people and ideas. Why look anywhere else?

In tomorrow’s “Part 2″, we’ll look at how to a) become a brand DNA profiler, and b) how to use that new skill to save yourself a lot of grief.

Meanwhile, for some additional insights, check out Alycia Perry’s “Before The Brand: Creating the Unique DNA of an Enduring Brand Identity“.

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image courtesy of Coca Cola

Where do you go once you’ve mastered the art of reading satellite maps on the NOAA website? You go here.

Thanks to Coca Cola, you can now check the world’s current state of chillness… or bugness, along with weekly trends, % of change, etc.. The site also lets you zoom-in (Tom Clancy style) on whatever little corner of the planet you want, and find out more about unusual clusters of red or yellow (buggin’ and freakin’, respectively).

Cool site? Sure. Cool quantitative tool? Absolutely:

While the site doesn’t actually track Coca Cola Zero drinkers (or Coca Cola drinkers, for that matter), it does geographically track the site’s semi-viral spread. More interestingly, rather than showing you hits, it shows you where web surfers who choose to interract with the site are. Valuable info? In the right hands, you bet. The site literally maps out what you might call viral clusters… which… if you’re into designing viral campaigns, is kind of important. (The lack of data on the map is at least as telling as the actual colorful points of data, by the way.)

For more cool quantitative visuals (but unrelated to Coca Cola), click here.

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RSS 2.0

Graphic courtesy Leigh Blackall. Original Photo by Tom Harpel

I hope everyone’s Thanksgiving break was great. :)

Here is a fantastic article on the future of RSS, courtesy of Richard McManus and his blog read/write/web.com:

Here are some highlights:

(What I am talking about) “is the shifting of a website’s content from internal to external. Instead of a website being a “place” where data “is” and other sites “point” to, a website will be a source of data that is in many external databases, including Google. Why “go” to a website when all of its content has already been absorbed and remixed into the collective datastream.”
- Adam Green
* * *

One of my favourite articles of 2004 was a transcript of a speech by Tom Curley, CEO of the Associated Press. In it he said that “…content will be more important than its container in this next phase [of the Web]”. Why? Because “killer apps, such as search, RSS and video-capture software such as Tivo — to name just a few — have begun to unlock content from any vessel we try to put it in.”

* * *

Up till this year, most of us thought of RSS feeds as a way to subscribe to single sources of content. But over 2005 it’s become apparent that content is being remixed, mashed up and re-published across many sources – leading to heated ethical debates over content rights and confusion amongst publishers on how to ‘monetize’ (sorry I can’t help but use that word) their content. Fred Wilson had a nice post on this theme recently, entitled The Future of Media (aka Please Take My RSS Feed).

If you still don’t fully understand the role that RSS feeds plays in your industry (or what their value is to you if you have a company website or a blog), check this out:

Graphic Courtesy of Feedburner

Yep. If you’re in the business of getting noticed (or getting your clients noticed), you cannot afford not to become comfortable with RSS technology. Not anymore.

Thanks to Fred Wilson for the trail of bread crumbs.

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Here’s a potentially cool new book about making your business a little more… um… true?

The list of authors/contributors should look pretty familiar by now. (It’s always nice to see bloggers come together on projects like this.)

Jory Des Jardins
Lisa Haneberg
Rob May
Johnnie Moore
Marc Orchant
Robert Paterson
Evelyn Rodriguez
Curt Rosengren
Jeremy Wright

Check out the book’s companion site here for downloads and more cool info on the project itself.

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Didn’t we just discuss re-branding?

*sigh*

Read two great little articles on AT&T’s latest little exercise in futility here and here.

Also, if you’re interested in the evolution of the at&t (formerly AT&T) logo, check out this little chart. Lastly, for the telecom giant’s reasoning behind the whole thing, go here.

Exerpt:

“The new logo reinvigorates the AT&T globe — one of the most recognized corporate symbols in the world. The new globe is three-dimensional, representing the expanding breadth and depth of services that the new AT&T family of companies provides to customers, as well as its global presence.”

*gag*

Tip: When you already have one of the most recognized corporate symbols in the world, don’t just change it because… you think it needs to be more three-dimensional… or more appealing to a younger crowd. Your logo wasn’t the problem, AT&T. It’s probably the only thing about your organization that needed to be left untouched. Tsk…

So who’s next? Nike? Adidas? Coca Cola? Mattel? Sony? Volkswagen? Land Rover? Starbucks?

Let’s hope not.

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