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Archive for September, 2008

The Social Marketing Construct

Via Chris Carfi comes this brilliant little presentation from John Gatrell and Sheryl Altschuler on the evolution of brands in the age of customer communities. For many of you, this deck is going to look and pretty familiar – how many times do we have to go over this? – but most corporate executives AND advertising agency AEs still haven’t, so I guess we’ll have to keep rolling this up over and over again until the old school “marketing monologue” mentality finally gets kicked to the curb for good.

Now don’t get me wrong: I am not saying that messaging is dead. Classic marketing tools like advertising, PR, sponsorships, special events and promotions shouldn’t go away. It’s just that they’re only part of the picture now instead of being THE picture. Unfortunately, many companies still look at their “marketing” tactics through a 25-year old lens – which is essentially a 1983 lens. Even those among us who are only ten years behind in their thinking are stuck in 1998.  Scary.

There is more to reaching customers and growing your breadth than throwing marketing copy, pretty pictures and special promotions at your “market” and then expecting folks to love you for it. Especially not in this economy.

To help your CMO, CEO, client or team find their way to 2008, click on the big yellow box above. Feel free to forward it to everyone and anyone who plays even the most remote customer engagement role in your organization. This is knowledge worth spreading around.

Have a great day!

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Perhaps calling it a “bailout” was a little counterproductive. Whether or not you support a bill to inject liquidity back into the market in an effort to get the credit machine rolling again (and whether or not you believe that such a bill is even necessary) it became pretty clear today that calling the effort a “bailout” certainly contributed to HR 3997 not getting the votes.

Watching MSNBC, CNN, Fox and Bloomberg today, I heard a common thread: Constituents of representatives who voted to defeat the bill simply didn’t want to see their hard-earned money go towards “bailing out” ginormous banks on Wall Street. In other words, President Bush, Speaker Pelosi, Secretary Paulson and the press probably killed the initiative from Day One by calling it a “bailout.” Perhaps if the plan had been referred to as something else, like an “Asset Purchase,” an “economic intervention” or even a “national credit adrenaline injection,” we probably wouldn’t be looking at the Dow’s worst day on record. Regardless of election-season politics, could today’s failure in Washington simply be due to a poor choice of words when it came to giving it an identity?

From Ina Fried over at Cnet:

I’m going to try to briefly accomplish in a few paragraphs what it seems to me our government has completely failed to do in this financial crisis.

No, I don’t have $700 billion of my own to shell out. But to me, Congress’ failure came not today on the House floor, but over the past week as both elected officials and members of the administration failed to translate the crisis into terms that have meaning for everyday Americans.

I’ve heard the phrases “Main Street” and “Wall Street” a lot, but what I haven’t heard is plain explanations of what credit really means and how essential it is to our system of doing business.

Here goes.

If the credit markets should freeze up–which many say is happening and will continue without massive intervention–everyone that borrows money will face a cash crunch. That means companies that take advantage of short-term loans to get by won’t be able to buy raw materials or make payroll. Even businesses that don’t need short-term capital may defer purchases to preserve capital.

If even banks are having a hard time getting money, what does that say for the small and midsize business? The Wall Street Journal had a story on Monday on how companies like McDonald’s may face a squeeze as their franchisees are unable to get loans to purchase or upgrade stores. I suspect that is just one visible example of a growing issue for businesses across the country.

We are stuck trying to move forward with new loans–essentially to keep the economy moving–while dealing with clearly bad ones of the past. While much of the attention has focused on concern over home loans, there are also construction loans and business loans that are at risk of default, risks that grow as those businesses find themselves essentially shut off from getting any new capital, extending the vicious circle.

You don’t have to take it from me.

Here’s C.H. Low, CEO of social-networking software start-up Orbius and a serial entrepreneur.

“When financial markets don’t function well, the ramification is broad,” he said in an e-mail interview on Monday. He said he is disappointed that the bailout is so misunderstood. Even the term bailout, he said, is a misnomer.

“This is an asset purchase, not a 100 percent bailout expense to taxpayer,” he said. “There is risk but also possibility of making a profit. Government’s main function is to do things that private sector cannot handle. This Market Stabilization Bill…is as necessary as having an Armed Forces to defend the country.”

Low noted that the main beneficiary is not Wall Street.

“As an early stage start-up, we rely on venture investments to carry us through a few more stages before we can be self-sustaining,” Low said. “With turmoil, smaller venture funds which fund many early stage companies themselves get anxious and their own investors may be affected and may affect their capital call. We ourselves planned for a rainy day but even we don’t have that much for a prolonged monsoon.”

He said that the seizing up of credit creates uncertainty in every sector. “Doing nothing is the worst of all choices,” he said.

Read the rest of Ina’s piece here.

Whether HR 3997 was a good plan or not – let’s face it, transparency about the latest contents of the bill hasn’t been great, – perhaps if it had been dubbed something other than a “Wall Street Bailout,” our representatives in Washington wouldn’t have been under so much pressure to vote nay on Monday. Lesson: Regardless of how great you think your product is, you probably won’t be able to launch it if you start by calling it the wrong thing.

The words we use matter.

PS: Since it is election season, click here to find out if your elected representative voted on HR 3997 the way you wanted them to. ;)

Photo by Christopher Wray McCann

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From Seth’s blog:

I’ve seen it before and I’m sure I’ll see it again.

Whenever a business cycle starts to falter, the media start wringing their hands. Then big businesses do, freelancers, entrepreneurs and soon everyone is keening.

People and organizations that have no real financial stress start to pull back, “because it’s prudent.” Now is not the time, they say. They cut budgets and put off investments. It’s almost as if everyone is just waiting for an excuse to do less.

In fact, they are.

Growth is frightening for a lot of people. It brings change and the opportunity for public failure. So if the astrological signs aren’t right or the water is too cold or we’ve got a twinge in our elbow, we find an excuse. We decide to do it later, or not at all.

What a shame. What a waste.

Inc. magazine reports that a huge percentage of companies in this year’s Inc. 500 were founded within months of 9/11. Talk about uncertain times.

But uncertain times, frozen liquidity, political change and poor astrological forecasts (not to mention chicken entrails) all lead to less competition, more available talent and a do-or-die attitude that causes real change to happen.

If I wasn’t already running my own business, today is the day I’d start one.

Yep. Investing in your business during uncertain times isn’t so much a question of courage as it is business savvy. When would you rather spend money to stand out and gain market share: When your competitors are gunning for you full bore, or when they’re cowering in their holes, waiting to see if the sky will fall? This type of crisis is giving smart companies the perfect opportunity to bound ahead and plant the seeds of their next growth spurt. Maybe not tomorrow, maybe not next week, but definitely within the next 6-12 months.

You have two choices: a) Cower and hide, or b) grab the bull by the horns, take a leadership position and go win some new business. Financial crises aside, if you had a valuable product a month ago, you still have a valuable product today. Don’t let fear paralyze your business. Use your competitors’ hesitation over the next few weeks and months to your advantage. Strategy 101.

Have a great Monday! ;)

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Farewell to Paul Newman

Read the recap of Paul Newman’s life on CNN.com

No need to point out that Paul Newman created Newman’s Own, one of the very first (and most successful) brands of natural/organic foods. The guy believed in his products so much that he put his own face on every jar, bottle, box and package. And with humor, at that. Every bit of after-tax profit, he donated to charity. Forget that he was a movie icon for a few minutes, and consider his life as a whole: Married since 1958. Created an organic food empire AND used it to improve the lives of thousands of kids.

To date, the company (Newman’s Own) — which donates all profits to charities such as Newman’s Hole in the Wall camps — has given away more than $200 million. Newman established the camp to benefit gravely ill children.

“He saw the camps as places where kids could escape the fear, pain and isolation of their conditions, kick back and raise a little hell,” Forrester said.

Today, there are 11 Hole in the Wall camps around the world, with additional programs in Africa and Vietnam. Some 135,000 children have attended the camps — free of charge.

The Association of Hole in the Wall Camps “is part of his living legacy, and for that we remain forever grateful,” the association said in a statement.

A real maverick (the type who doesn’t scream it on the rooftops), when most of his peers would have chosen to spend their days napping and playing golf, Paul raced cars, ran a food empire, and worked to leave the world a little bit better than he found it. The guy was an example of integrity, enthusiasm, empathy, entrepreneurial vision and honesty. Perhaps even more importantly, he lived with unapologetic passion. His body may have grown old, but his soul, his spirit, his heart stayed young until the end. You could see it in his eyes. On so many levels, Paul was a hell of a role model, and he will be sorely missed. He was one of the great ones.

And he was a pretty good actor as well.

Godspeed, Mr. Newman. You will be sorely missed.

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Great post yesterday on Infuse about brand and campaign alignment and influencers:

Influencer engagement is ALL to do with alignment. It’s about finding out what influencers do, when and how they influence, and what their agenda and motivations are. Once you know this you can (and should) align your outreach activities with your influencers on an individual (or at most clustered) basis.

So what? There are two traps to fall into when considering alignment with influencers:

The first is that it’s actually quite hard to align yourself with a host of differing types of people. In fact, it’s hard enough aligning with different types of journalist or analyst. What about academics, community leaders, customers, regulators and the other numerous influencer types? Some discipline and structure is required..

The second trap is perhaps less obvious, but it is more commonly encountered. It is that alignment requires you to align with the influencers, not the other way around. Most vendors want to get influencers to agree with them. You should be looking for ways to agree with influencers, even if this means changing fundamental things about your business.

They are the influencers, after all.

Read the post here.

Additional reading: Super-Influencers

Note: Adding Infuse to the blogroll. Influencer50 has some pretty solid content on that little blog.

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Brad Pitt is a brand. Karl Lagerfeld is a brand. Seth Godin is a brand. Sarah Palin is a brand. And guess what: you too, on some level, are a brand. No, perhaps you aren’t a movie star, a haute couture icon, a new marketing pioneer or a sudden political celebrity, but you are – in your own right – a brand as defined by what makes you who you are both professionally and on a more private level. Your identity, your reputation, the way you interact with others in your sphere of influence, your ability to help others in some way, what people know about you and how much they care about what you have to say, the way you dress, the way you behave at parties – all of these things make up the brand that is you.

Especially now that you’re on Facebook, MySpace, Twitter, Buzznet and Seesmic.

Back in 1999, Tom Peters defined personal branding thus:

Regardless of age, regardless of position, regardless of the business we happen to be in, all of us need to understand the importance of branding. We are CEOs of our own companies: Me Inc. To be in business today, our most important job is to be head marketer for the brand called You.

[...]

The main chance [at the individual end of the corporate spectrum] is becoming a free agent in an economy of free agents, looking to have the best season you can imagine in your field, looking to do your best work and chalk up a remarkable track record, and looking to establish your own micro equivalent of the Nike swoosh. Because if you do, you’ll not only reach out toward every opportunity within arm’s (or laptop’s) length, you’ll not only make a noteworthy contribution to your team’s success — you’ll also put yourself in a great bargaining position for next season’s free-agency market.

The good news — and it is largely good news — is that everyone has a chance to stand out. Everyone has a chance to learn, improve, and build up their skills. Everyone has a chance to be a brand worthy of remark.

[...]

The Web makes the case for branding more directly than any packaged good or consumer product ever could. Here’s what the Web says: Anyone can have a Web site. And today, because anyone can … anyone does! So how do you know which sites are worth visiting, which sites to bookmark, which sites are worth going to more than once? The answer: branding. The sites you go back to are the sites you trust. They’re the sites where the brand name tells you that the visit will be worth your time — again and again. The brand is a promise of the value you’ll receive.

[...]

Instead of making yourself a slave to the concept of a career ladder, reinvent yourself on a semiregular basis. Start by writing your own mission statement, to guide you as CEO of Me Inc. What turns you on? Learning something new? Gaining recognition for your skills as a technical wizard? Shepherding new ideas from concept to market? What’s your personal definition of success? Money? Power? Fame? Or doing what you love? However you answer these questions, search relentlessly for job or project opportunities that fit your mission statement. And review that mission statement every six months to make sure you still believe what you wrote.

No matter what you’re doing today, there are four things you’ve got to measure yourself against. First, you’ve got to be a great teammate and a supportive colleague. Second, you’ve got to be an exceptional expert at something that has real value. Third, you’ve got to be a broad-gauged visionary — a leader, a teacher, a farsighted “imagineer.” Fourth, you’ve got to be a businessperson — you’ve got to be obsessed with pragmatic outcomes.

It’s this simple: You are a brand. You are in charge of your brand. There is no single path to success. And there is no one right way to create the brand called You. Except this: Start today. Or else.

Read Tom’s fantastic article here. Bookmark it. Print it. Revisit it daily. It is that important.

* * *

If you want more, Paul Singh (Results Junkies) picks up where Tom leaves off by bringing us these five exercises in “rethinking” your personal brand:

  1. See the Big Picture
  2. Build a community, but steer towards business
  3. Widen your lens, narrow your focus.
  4. Organize for ideas (Carry a Moleskine notebook. They work better than cocktail napkins for jotting own ideas.)
  5. Be persistent

One last little tidbit from Paul to help get you started:

“What I learned is that success favors a “best-of-breed player”, a company devoted to one line of business. The people that focus on dominating a single market usually destroy the people that try to be the best at everything.”

Good advice. Ultimately, unless you want to be known as a jack of all trades, master of none, even the most multi-talented among us need to decide how to give focus to their personal brand. Like any other corporate identity, yours has to make sense. It has to fit in a 10-30 second explanation.

In three-to-five words, your value is defined by what defines you in the eyes of others:

The best graphic designer in the city.

The most plugged-in industry connector.

The kid who gets it done.

The lawyer you want to have on your side.

The best copywriter I’ve ever worked with.

The best web designer in the state.

You get the idea. Start by figuring out what your elevator pitch is. How your identity gets distilled down to its core: What are you best known for?

What do you want to be best known for?

If the two aren’t the same, how do you reconcile the two? (That’s something for you to figure out, the more you work on it, the more the exercise starts to look like a game of connect the dots.)

An obvious word of caution: Be careful what types of images and content you post on Facebook, MySpace, etc. Sometimes, people will get offended over nothing, which is not a big deal. (Don’t be afraid to express yourself. The last thing you want is to become so PC, so vanilla, so unremarkable that you effectively become irrelevant.) In a way, as soon as you start standing for something, as soon as you start becoming remarkable in some way, a certain percentage of the population will turn against you. It’s just part of the dynamics of brands – personal or otherwise.

That being said, try to keep your wits about you as well. Treat any website you post something to as a file in your permanent record: Unless you want to be known for being the guy who gets fall-down drunk at parties and then posts photos of his debauched exploits on the internet (not something most employers and potential clients tend to get super excited about), don’t. Always try to exercise good judgment when posting web content.

Your brand is on 24/7/365. It is also on regardless of the medium. You are everywhere now, news travel fast, and reputations can be made or unmade with a single email, click of a phone camera, or push of the send button.

Don’t let the fear of these dangers paralyze you or scare you away from the medium, however. There is a fine balance to be struck between being aware of the dangers we just covered and working towards making this unprecedented level of access to media, social tools and communication channels work to your advantage. Find that balance. Do the right things, develop your image, and broadcast it using the proper tools in the appropriate manner.

Easier said than done, but hey, it’s a start.

Hat tip to Dan Scawbel’s Personal Branding blog for breathing new life into this conversation. :)

brandbuildermarketing1

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Reminder: Marketing 2.0 ‘s very first CMO 2.0 Conversation live broadcast is today!

The conversations will showcase leading marketing thinkers as we cover a) the issues they face in their marketing role and b) how social media are transforming marketing. The best part: The conversations will follow an “open mic” format to allow virtual attendees to ask each guest questions. (Pretty cool.)

For the first of these events (today at 1pm ET), Francois Gossieaux will be interviewing Paula Drum, VP of Marketing for H&R Block. You can register here.

On the roster for upcoming conversations: The VP of marketing at Fiskars and the CMOs of both Best Buy and HP.

Join us today for this great little experiment and let us know what you think!

image source: the always brilliant Christopher Wray McCann

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Via community Strategist Connie Bensen comes this great little list from Tish Grier that outlines the seven core traits of a great community manager:

  1. Commitment to “the cause”. It’s very important for your community manager to believe in your cause. Their communications need to be transparent & authentic. The job has many challenges so they need to inherently believe in their work & the brand.
  2. Love people. The position is about connecting & communicating. There is interaction with all types, so a community manager needs to enjoy it. (This is why it’s a great position under marketing).
  3. Must enjoy technology. It’s a web 2.0 job. Technology is changing quickly. The tools are constantly shifting & evolving. One has to thoroughly enjoy being immersed. And if your product/brand is technology oriented then it’s natural to be involved in product development & providing feedback.
  4. Must understand online culture. Did I mention this a web 2.0 job? Working online is a bit different than face-to-face. A person needs to maintain a sense of humor & not take things personally. Working online requires a level of perceptiveness so that you can interact with all types of people.
  5. Powers of Observation. I just mentioned being perceptive but it’s more than that. Providing feedback on trends, monitoring brand & being ever present require one to be ever watchful. As a metacustomer the community manager is the eyes & ears for the company – all teams – and responsible for providing feedback from the customers.
  6. Flexibility. Community work is 7 days a week. Checking in on my communities & responding to their needs isn’t a 9 – 5 job. (I do sleep though). But I’m cognizant of the time zones when I add people to teams. It’s nice to have people providing assistance from around the world (so I can sleep! :) ).
  7. Life experience trumps youthful energy. Tish’s point is to not entrust this important job to an intern or someone who is a short-timer. The more life experiences a person has, the more they have to offer the community.

I like that “commitment to the cause” was #1 on the list. If I could add a few more, they would be:

8. Coupled with #2 (love of people) is the need to be a solid communicator. Even a great one. In any type of management – especially community management – understanding the value of communications (and being a natural communicator) can have a tremendous impact on the success of that community. (Note that the description of #2 is 100% about communication.)

9. Connectedness. Natural community managers tend to be active in a number of communities already. Look for a diverse socio-professional network on their LinkedIn and Myspace accounts. Also look for telltale signs that they are social media power-users (Blog activity, Twitter, Plurk, Seesmic, etc.) The ability to mesh social media tools with their propensity to be an active member within their chosen communities is a sign of good things to come. Also in the connectedness vein, great community managers tend to be natural connectors: They see the synergies between communities, organizations and individuals. They are often the folks who will provide the types of introductions that will strengthen bonds within communities and organically recruit new members.

Also picked up from Tish’s original piece:

“Your potential community manager should be open, congenial, and can handle difficult situations with tact and diplomacy (not like a cop or Marine sergeant).”

“Don’t confuse liking technology with loving it beyond everything else.”

Remember (per Tish) that “a lot will be riding on this person – more so than which tools are used. Your community manager should understand people well and be good at creating and maintaining relationships and ability to create relationships, regardless of which tools are available.”

With so many companies turning to user/customer community engagement to strengthen their brands, this little primer is worth its weight in gold.

Incidentally, Connie will be speaking at the Social Media Strategies Conference in San Francisco (October 29-30) with fellow Marketing 2.0 contributor and social media expert Francois Gossieaux, Jive Software CMO Sam Lawrence, and a very solid panel of other (hopefully) familiar names. Check your calendars.

Cheers.

Image source: TID

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Pure genius from Gavin Heaton (again):

We all shuffle into the meeting and take our chairs. We greet one another, sip our coffee and lift our pens in silent readiness — after all, one never knows when an action point will be thrust across the room.

Before long, even the most strategic of strategy sessions will be punctuated by tactics (and let me admit I am as guilty of this as anyone). In a bizarre twist on meeting bingo, marketing bingo is littered with words such as “viral”, “youtube”, “facebook” — and increasingly, “social media”. Much of this is driven by short-term, campaign oriented thinking and a focus on short-term objectives. However, when it comes to advising our clients (whether they be internal or external), it is important to remember that campaigns (and microsites) are no longer stand-alone. Google has seen to that.

Where once we built our discrete campaigns around various plans to raise awareness, generate demand, build brand, stimulate sales, accelerate trial etc, brand custodians now need to consider a longer term narrative line that incorporates the way that consumers engage with the brand over time. We no longer have disconnected brand campaigns but discontinuous brand interactions. The crucial link between each of these campaigns is a combination of social media powered by Google. That is:

  • The articles or references that bloggers make about your campaign (whether it is digital or not)
  • The perspectives published by the media (advertising media as well as other publishers
  • User generated content that riffs off your campaign

All of this can be found by Google. More importantly, it can be found by Google well into the future — long after your campaign has ended. For example, when I search on some of my old projects, I can find all the pointers, the conversations and the discussions AROUND them, but the project has passed. The microsite has gone. All we are left with are traces leading nowhere. This is brand equity being squandered.

In the future, we need to think about brand lifecycles. We need to think about brand “through lines” — and design experiences with entry and exit strategies. We need to start putting as much thinking into “reversing the launch” as we put into the start of a campaign.

When we reverse the launch, we can draw upon the P-L-A-Y framework, delivering an experience that enhances and continues the conversations that evolve around your campaign. In fact, part of your strategy could be to build upon some of these user generated conversations as a catalyst for ongoing dialogue. After all, creating the talking point is one of the early challenges, maintaining or stoking that conversation requires much less effort and attention.

This reminds me of a lesson one of my English teachers shared with me one day many years ago: Try telling your story backwards. Start from the end, and work your way back to the beginning. (This is basically the writer’s version of proofing an equation.) There are very definite applications here, especially for those of us who look at brand development as more than just a finite sets of tactics and campaigns. As Gavin points out, the reality of today’s digital world is that nothing in communications is finite anymore. (Not that it ever was.) Search engines, blogs and message boards keep a record of every conversation, every opinion and every intersect between your campaign, launch or other tactic and the public at large. The ripples keep spreading long after you’ve dropped the pebble in the water.

As one of my weapons instructors told us before our first group live fire exercise: “You can’t call back a bullet.” Once you unleash a product, a message, a campaign, you’ve unleashed it. Even if it runs very far away and you forget about it over time, it’s still out there.

It isn’t enough to just build, launch and move on to the next thing anymore. You have to look at the effects of every brand-to-people engagement in terms of ripples. In terms of momentum. In terms of intersects with other ripples. This is the difference between looking at things from a strategic standpoint and looking at things almost solely from a tactical standpoint. The pickle that many companies find themselves in these days is simple and comes in two forms: a) Too much tactical, not enough strategic (not enough focus on strategy to guide the tactics or give them purpose and continuity) and b) Confusing strategy with tactics (the subject of an earlier post).

None of this stuff is rocket science, but when companies spend too much time operating in response/fighting fires mode, they tend to miss out on the big picture. There’s a reason why rally drivers have co-pilots: When you’re racing along treacherous roads at 100mph, you need one guy to drive and another guy to read the map and tell him what’s coming up next. More often than not, CMOs don’t get to hold the map anymore because they are too busy pushing buttons or turning the crank. Without someone dedicated to managing the map and calling out the next obstacles, even the best drivers will put their car in a ditch – or simply fall out of the race.

If you’re a high level exec – especially a CMO – take the time to take a step back once in a while. Remind yourself of the difference between strategy and tactics. Invest time, thought, and resources in a solid strategy. Hire people whose insights you trust, even if they aren’t experts in your particular industry. Surround yourself with people who can help you develop and implement tactics based on that strategy. Map out your process. Sketch it out. Model it visually. Then, once you’ve built a solid strategy and a framework of tactics that will help you bring that strategy to life, work your way backwards – from the end back to the beginning. (Hint: Do this at the “official” end of each tactic as well to see if you’re still on target. If the plan is still whole. Each time a tactic gets reviewed through a “post mortem,” go ahead and cover the tactics you already put to bed weeks or months earlier. Have someone do research on what little nuggets these tactics have left behind. See how what you find fits with the brand image you would like to enjoy.

Brand development work is about much more than marketing tactics and thanks to social networks, connectivity tools and the evolution of communication channels, your brand’s playground is now much larger than it used to be. Make sure you adjust your outlook accordingly.

;) Have a great Wednesday.

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For better of for worse, countries and cultures – like companies, products and people – have identities too, and whether many of you in the US realize it or not, the US brand just experienced a very radical shift this month with a) the financial house of cards starting to come down on Wall Street, and b) the way that Washington responded to the crisis with its spectacular $700 BILLION “bailout” proposal.

Hat tip to ISB alumn Laurent Longin for forwarding this hilarious yet astute piece from Time’s Bill Saporito: “How We Became The United States of France.

This is the state of our great republic: We’ve nationalized the financial system, taking control from Wall Street bankers we no longer trust. We’re about to quasi-nationalize the Detroit auto companies via massive loans because they’re a source of American pride, and too many jobs — and votes — are at stake. Our Social Security system is going broke as we head for a future where too many retirees will be supported by too few workers. How long before we have national healthcare? Put it all together, and the America that emerges is a cartoonish version of the country most despised by red-meat red-state patriots: France. Only with worse food.

Admit it, mes amis, the rugged individualism and cutthroat capitalism that made America the land of unlimited opportunity has been shrink-wrapped by a half dozen short sellers in Greenwich, Conn. and FedExed to Washington D.C. to be spoon-fed back to life by Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke and Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson. We’re now no different from any of those Western European semi-socialist welfare states that we love to deride. Italy? Sure, it’s had four governments since last Thursday, but none of them would have allowed this to go on; the Italians know how to rig an economy.

You just know the Frogs have only increased their disdain for us, if that is indeed possible. And why shouldn’t they? The average American is working two and half jobs, gets two weeks off, and has all the employment security of a one-armed trapeze artist. The [Bush] Administration has preached the “ownership society” to America: own your house, own your retirement account; you don’t need the government in your way. So Americans mortgaged themselves to the hilt to buy overpriced houses they can no longer afford and signed up for 401k programs that put money where, exactly? In the stock market!

Now our laissez-faire (hey, a French word) regulation-averse Administration has made France’s only Socialist president, Francois Mitterand, look like Adam Smith by comparison. All Mitterand did was nationalize France’s big banks and insurance companies in 1982; he didn’t have to deal with bankers who didn’t want to lend money, as Paulson does. When the state runs the banks, they are merely cows to be milked in the service of la patrie. France doesn’t have the mortgage crisis that we do, either. In bailing out mortgage lenders Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, our government has basically turned America into the largest subsidized housing project in the world. Sure, France has its banlieues, where it likes to warehouse people who aren’t French enough (meaning, immigrants or Algerians) in huge apartment blocks. But the bulk of French homeowners are curiously free of subprime mortgages foisted on them by fellow citizens, and they aren’t over their heads in personal debt.

We’ve always dismissed the French as exquisitely fed wards of their welfare state. They work, what, 27 hours in a good week, have 19 holidays a month, go on strike for two days and enjoy a glass of wine every day with lunch — except for the 25% of the population that works for the government, who have an even sweeter deal. They retire before their kids finish high school, and they don’t have to save for a $45,000-a-year college tuition because college is free. For this, they pay a tax rate of about 103%, and their labor laws are so restrictive that they haven’t had a net gain in jobs since Napoleon. There is no way that the French government can pay for this lifestyle forever, except that it somehow does.

Mitterand tried to create both job-growth and wage-growth by nationalizing huge swaths of the economy, including some big industries, including automaker Renault, for instance. You haven’t driven a Renault lately because Renault couldn’t sell them here. Imagine that. An auto company that couldn’t compete with a Dodge Colt. But the Renault takeover ultimately proved successful and Renault became a private company again in 1996, although the government retains about 15% of the shares.

Now the U.S. is faced with the same prospect in the auto industry. GM and Ford need money to develop greener cars that can compete with Toyota and Honda. And they’re looking to Uncle Sam for investment — an investment that could have been avoided had Washington imposed more stringent mileage standards years earlier. But we don’t want to interfere with market forces like the French do — until we do.

Mitterand’s nationalization program and other economic reforms failed, as the development of the European Market made a centrally planned economy obsolete. The Rothschilds got their bank back, a little worse for wear. These days, France sashays around the issue of protectionism in a supposedly unfettered EU by proclaiming some industries to be national champions worthy of extra consideration — you know, special needs kids. And we’re not talking about pastry chefs, but the likes of GDF Suez, a major utility. I never thought of the stocks and junk securities sold by Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley as unique, but clearly Washington does. Morgan’s John Mack calls SEC boss Chris Cox to whine about short sellers and bingo, the government obliges. The elite serve the elite. How French is that?

Even in the strongest sectors in the U.S., there’s no getting away from the French influence. Nothing is more sacred to France than its farmers. They get whatever they demand, and they demand a lot. And if there are any issues about price supports, or feed costs being too high, or actual competition from other countries, French farmers simply shut down the country by marching their livestock up the Champs Elysee and piling up wheat on the highways. U.S. farmers would never resort to such behavior. They don’t have to: they’re the most coddled special interest group in U.S. history, lavished with $180 billion in subsidies by both parties, even when their products are fetching record prices. One consequence: U.S. consumers pay twice what the French pay for sugar, because of price guarantees. We’re more French than France.

So yes, while we’re still willing to work ourselves to death for the privilege of paying off our usurious credit cards, we can no longer look contemptuously at the land of 246 cheeses. Kraft Foods has replaced American International Group in the Dow Jones Industrial Average, the insurance company having been added to Paulson’s nationalized portfolio. Macaroni and cheese has supplanted credit default swaps at the fulcrum of capitalism. And one more thing: the food snob French love McDonalds, which does a fantastic business there. They know a good freedom fry when they taste one.

Whether you agree with Bill’s point of view or not, it’s certainly something to think about. ;)

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An astute brand valuation reminder from Tom Fishburne today:

“If you act enough like a commodity, sooner or later consumers will treat you like one.”

(Yes, even in uncertain economic times.)  BOGO isn’t for everyone. Don’t fall into that trap.

Read his post here.

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Social Media blogger extraordinaire Shel Israel interviewed my friend and Marketing 2.0 co-blogger Francois Gossieaux earier this month about the Tribalization of Business study he and Beeline Labs conducted earlier this year that looked into the way that companies incorporate communities into their business model.

The basis of the Tribalization of Business study:

We wanted to understand how companies leverage communities as part of their business processes and how they measure the progress and success of those efforts.

We quickly realized that for those companies who were doing it right we were looking at something that was transformational. We were tapping into an age-old human behavior, which we came to recognize as “tribalism.” Halfway through the project, we changed the title because of that observation.

The interview is fantastic, but I find these portions particularly important to the discussion:

What do you think makes us tribal by nature and why should a business strategist care?

People want to hang out with like-minded people and want to help and be helped by people who care. By providing a massive platform for participation, social media has allowed that tribal behavior to return to the forefront. Whether you like it or not, there is probably a good chance that your consumer tribe already hangs out in some corner of the online world. While at times a bit dense, you can find a collection on the most recent research Consumer Tribes.

Your survey showed the five most frequent goals of a corporate online community were close to tied: (1)insight, (2)idea generation, (3)loyalty, (4)word-of-mouth and (5)marketing. Did you find communities do better when they serve multiple purposes or a single purpose?

Communities can start out with a single purpose, but inevitably, they will end up serving multiple purposes. You need to prepare for that. If you start a customer support community, for example, people will eventually give you new product ideas. If you are not set up to execute against those product or service suggestions that the community finds important, they will lose interest and leave – it’s as if you are not listening to them. They don’t care what your internal goals are for the community. They care about having a better complete life-cycle experience with your product.

Your study seems to indicate that engagement is a more valid goal of an online community than say, revenue per customer. How would you measure either?

I am not sure that we found engagement to be a more valid goal of an online community, but it is what many companies try to measure. I assume that much of the reason why companies are looking at engagement as a success metric is because many of them are building their communities in partnership with their agencies.

What we did find is that those companies who were most satisfied with their community efforts were those who measured the effectiveness of their communities in the same way as they would measure the effectiveness of the business processes that the community was intended to support. For example, if you measure the success of your customer support call center in a certain way, then measure the impact of your online community-based support program in the same way.

The same is true for new product innovation-focused communities or co-marketing communities. Whether the original measurement framework is the right one or not, it is one that the department heads understands and which tends to be institutionalized across the company.

It was amazing to see companies, who normally measure all their marketing programs based on increased sales, all of sudden measure community efforts based on page views and time spent on the site – even when the community interactions were happening mostly through email and text messages. These are all clearly signs of an early market with lots of customer confusion.

Read the entire interview here.

Additional reading:

ROI and the scalability of social media.

Online Tribalism + The Future of Social Media.

photo credit: ecowordly.com

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Excellent article from Bob Garfield in AdAge on the subject of data mining + inspired analysis = serious monetization. (Hat tip to Scott Templar.)

Here’s a taste:

Volunteered data, priceless as it is, nonetheless takes a marketer only so far. To create a genuine bond, an intimate relationship, requires a thorough understanding of consumer behavior, consumer interests, consumer sentiments, consumer moods, consumer movements and so on — not the sort of information that you can put in a sign-up form, even if anybody were patient or generous or honest or self-aware enough to part with it. This requires what Sherlock Holmes called deduction. Also a bit of extrapolation, inference, intuition, divination, prediction and imputation. Or, put another way, guesswork.

[...]

“Let’s say you’d been on eBay three days ago and searched for a particular term,” [Matt] Ackley [ VP-net marketing at eBay] says. “We store that in the user’s cookie, so when we see that user out on the web again and we’re serving an ad — on Yahoo Mail, for instance — we’ll see that cookie. What we then do is pass that information to our banner ad. Now our banner ad is not a banner ad at all; it’s a miniature application. And what it does is then goes to eBay and finds items that are like that keyword and pools them into the banner ad.”

But beyond ad optimization, there is so much more going on. For instance, eBay algorithms intuit gender from the user’s first name and age from the shopping categories chosen.

“We know young people buy iPods and older people buy Longaberger baskets. This is the type of information you can tease out. Well, if you know somebody’s age and somebody’s gender and what kind of categories they’re active in, you can more or less predict what they might be looking for next.”

[...]

“We no longer have to rely on old cultural prophecies as to who is the right consumer for the right message. It no longer has to be microsample-based [à la Nielsen or Simmons]. We now have [total-population] data, and that changes everything. With [those] data, you can know essentially everything. You can find out all the things that are nonintuitive or counterintuitive that are excellent predictors. … There’s a lot of power in that.” [Dave Morgan, founder of Tacoda, the behavioral-marketing firm sold to AOL in 2007 for a reported $275 million.]

[...]

Reed Hastings, founder and CEO of Netflix, [describes] not only his company’s methods but also the essence of collaborative filtering, which is one of the “ABCs of predictive marketing.” B is behavioral: tracking your path online. C is contextual: paying attention to keywords, and A is associative: divining your tastes and interests based on patterns established by people like you.

If Netflix can figure out I admire “Manhattan,” “Strictly Ballroom,” “Happiness,” “The Girl in the Café” and “Downfall,” how badly can “Rabbit Proof Fence” and “Fitzcarraldo” disappoint me? The consequence is a great boon to me: easier selection process, fewer duds. It’s an obvious boon to Netflix, which had 239,000 subscribers when Cinematch was launched vs. 8.4 million today. And it is a veritable godsend to the movie industry — not to the Hollywood-studio part of the industry; “Spider-Man 17″ or whatever will do just fine on its own. Netflix’s impact is on cinema’s everything else, the so-called Long Tail of moviemaking.

The Long Tail is the coinage of Wired Editor Chris Anderson, whose seminal 2004 magazine article on the subject yielded an ongoing blog about it, which in turn yielded a best-selling 2006 book about it — the “it” being how digital technology has ended the near-monopoly on distribution enjoyed since the Industrial Revolution by mainstream blockbusters at the expense of niche goods and services. The fat head of the Long Tail is “Spider-Man.” Way, way, wayyyy down in the skinny middle is “Fitzcarraldo.” But now I can rent them both in one click.

[...]

Compare prefiltering, then, to post-filtering — collaborative filtering — which, with the ultimate benefit of hindsight (it operates only in hindsight), knows everything. This is especially useful in a digital, Long Tail universe of seemingly infinite choices. Like my friends, former Soviet refugees, who walked into their first American supermarket and burst into tears, we are easily overwhelmed by the astonishing array of items on the internet’s virtual shelves. This phenomenon is often described as “information overload,” but Clay Shirky, author of “Here Comes Everybody” and professor of new media at New York University, says that’s not quite right. We suffer, he says, “not from information overload but filtering failure. The minute people are exposed to reality, they freak out. What collaborative filtering does is replace categorizations with preference.”

To truly appreciate the article in its full glory and start divining ways to apply some of the lessons learned here to your own business, go here.

Have a great Monday!

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Hat tip to Gavin Heaton for pointing us to this crystal clear and refreshingly insightful explanation of the what, why, how of the current financial crisis on Freakonomics. This is absolutely the best summary I have read yet on the subject, and we have Douglas Diamond and Anil Kashyap to thank for it.

Read the full thing here. It’s excellent.

Have a great weekend, everyone.

Update: Hat tip to SteveAtdFruit for this great update.

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Great post from Gavin Heaton over at Servant of Chaos this week about the changing face of business management. Gavin mentions an emerging new breed of business leader that might sound a little familiar if you’ve been paying attention to what our little community of Marketing+ bloggers has been talking about these last few years. Check this out:

By far, the most radical transformation will be the one thrust upon us by the generational change that is now under way. With 60 million baby boomers about to be replaced by 60 million Millennials, the workplace will never be the same again. Managing the “knowledge transfer” that needs to take place over the next 5-10 years will be a fundamental responsibility of the Business Designer.

What is a Business Designer, I hear you ask? Per Gavin:

The Business Designer does not sit in a creative studio. Rather, she operates across business units — touching marketing, customer service and new product design. The BD has a finger on the pulse of finance and lives cheek-by-jowl with the legal team. There is the touch of the management consultant in the way that the BD navigates the org chart — but also the fervour of the evangelist. She may be T-shaped. She may be a green egg. But above all, she is an experienced business professional. That’s right — she knows how to get things done.

The BD will perform the important role of “change manager” or perhaps “transformation manager” — for the domino-like changes that will occur in every facet of a business will change the nature of the enterprise. What has been rough and ready in the consumer space will become refined and repeatable in the business world for the BD will select and orchestrate the practices, tools and approaches that correspond with a company’s business strategy. Of course, this will breed a whole new round of innovation in the technology space — we have already begun to see this with Yammer, the business version of Twitter.

And there will be a corresponding transformation in the process of business, and the goals and approaches of groups charged with managing brand touch points. This goes without saying.

What’s the difference between a Business Designer and a traditional business manager? The way I look at it, the difference lies in a handful of subtle yet crucial traits exhibited by this new biz whiz breed:

1. The T-shaped trait: These folks combine a strong mix of Marketing Management and Experience Design, and understand the importance of storytelling, Brand Strategy, and Experience Design. They are gifted strategists with extremely well developed creative, communications and context-building skills. They are intellectually curious, deeply entrepreneurial problem solvers.

2. The Green Egg trait: Process improvement, an eye to new markets and a passion for Innovation are their biggest professional drivers. These folks are agents of change. These are the people who will take your company to the next level in its evolution (if you let them).

3. The “good enough” aversion trait: These folks are way too passionate to tolerate a “good enough” mentality. Their job is about much more than turning a crank and picking up a paycheck. They’re change agents – not for the sake of change, but for the sake of driving to necessary leaps in a business’ evolution.

4. They ideation trait: These folks bubble over with ideas. They sketch a lot. They prototype. They like to test out their ideas. They seek out peers who can help them bring their ideas to life. They tend to be gadget and accessories freaks, even if they only own a few. They are designers at heart, if not technically in practice.

5. The connected trait: These folks have connected with their time. They understand the underlying strategic shifts going on right now that will change the landscape that your company operates in. They are good at connecting the dots: By being plugged-in to the world today in ways that most are not, they can clearly see what the business landscape will look like in two, five and ten years. This gives them the ability to be the architects of your company’s future. You may frown at their interest in social media tools like Twitter, Seesmic, Yammer and Facebook, but these are the tools of their trade: This is how they connect with their peers, with information, and with the shifting tides that will drive the market changes that will either sink or remake your business in the next decade.

Here’s more on that from Gavin:

We are also reaching a certain maturity in the way that marketers work with social media. There are now case studies on the effectiveness of social media, there are tools that help us measure and react to conversations and there are an increasing number of corporate roles for “community managers” or even “directors of social media”.

In this environment, the focus is no longer on learning the tools, but on refining the way that we interact with them. It is about bringing social media into our businesses, integrating it with our other marketing efforts and focusing efforts in a way that deliver business results.

Read the whole post here.

I am glad you brought up the notion of this new type of business leader, Gavin. I’ve been trying to put my finger on this for a few years now. Still not quite there yet… But for those of us living at the intersection of Business Management, User & Community Engagement, Marketing Communications, Product Design, Innovation, and the evolution of Social Media tools, starting to put a name to the thing is way overdue. With most business leaders spending at least 85% of their time turning the crank and making sure their businesses run properly, who is in charge of actually driving the business to its next evolution? Department managers? Sales? The COO? The CMO? 15% or less of a business leader’s day potentially devoted to improving – not just running – their business. Scary. In a rapidly changing world/economy/market, it pays to have at least one person (better yet, a whole team of them) a) focusing on what’s next, and b) getting the business ready for it.

Does the opportunity for such folks exist as a layer between the CEO and the other C-suite execs (CMO, COO, CFO, Manufacturing, Design Engineering, Sales, etc.)  Is the role better suited to function as a team-based cluster of upper-mid-level Business Directors? Perhaps a Brand Czar who provides direction to all departments but answers directly to the CMO? Is there a better name for the role? Can this type of individual force an overhaul of the traditional corporate org chart?

Big tip of the hat for getting that discussion started, my friend.

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I’m a PC, and I really dig these new ads by Microsoft. The context is global, the diversity is refreshing, and we’re just skimming the surface of the breadth of Microsoft users from around the globe – small business owners, superstars, entrepreneurs, educators, students, inventors, researchers, designers, architects, grandmothers, fishermen, writers, etc. They really capture the spirit of the global Microsoft community: Positive, engaged, international, cool, independent.

Bonus: I expect people will start making their own “I’m a PC” ads soon, which could be pretty cool.

Great “stereotype” wink at the start of each one. The best part isn’t that the ads are good and that they work for all the reasons mentioned above (and they do). No, the best part is the way they effectively kill Apple’s Mac vs. PC ads: The diversity of PC users is so overwhelming compared to the kid from the Mac ads that once you’ve watched them and go back to Apple’s campaign, the only stereotype left is the Mac guy. There’s a much bigger world out there, Apple, and it belongs to us PCs.

All is fair in love, war… and advertising. It’s about time we finally had our story told.

Hat tip to Steve Clayton.

(I sense a comment from Spike any moment now. 3… 2… 1…)

;D

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My very cool and super talented friend (and fellow Buzznet OG) Matt Armendariz was on Martha Stewart this morning. I’m feeling pretty proud of him right now. Pretty cool. Way to go, Matt!!!

:)

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From left to right, Jeff Papenfus, moi, Madeleine Muska, and David Friedline at Wednesday’s GSATC Ta5 (Tech After Five) event downtown Greenville – sponsored by Immedion this month. Also present were scores of Greenville area bloggers, marketing honchos, entrepreneurs, tech industry superheroes and Twitter power users. I think that’s Dave Smith back there in the white shirt.

My peoples.

Check out Phil Yanov’s photos from yesterday’s Ta5 meetup here.

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