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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. :)

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