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Archive for November, 2008

Happy shopping, everyone.

5-firescout-mq-8b

Out shopping.

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brown2109b

800 posts into this little journey, you are still my ‘ingredient X’.

From the bottom of my heart, thank you for giving this blog purpose.

Have a great Thanksgiving, everyone.

:)

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28-tweets-later

As my good friend Phil Yanov asked me rhetorically last week: “What were all of these self-professed social media experts doing two years ago?”

(What… all 16 million of them?)

Let me think… Oh yeah, they were word-of-mouth marketing experts, weren’t they? Or were they viral marketing experts? I forget.

Don’t get me wrong: I’m pretty psyched that social media tools and channels are finally getting a lot of mainstream attention, but the SocMed “expert” epidemic is raging completely out of control. I haven’t been bombarded with this much bullshit since male enhancement spammers reached critical mass back in 2003.

If you want to talk to real Social Media practitioners who can actually help you, look no further than these folks:

Amber Naslund

Mack Collier

Francois Gossieaux

Chris Brogan

Valeria Maltoni

(Yeah, there are many more, but this list is a good start. And if you can’t afford their services, they’ll hook you up with someone solid and reputable who can actually help you, not just cash your checks and run.)

It’s hard to tell the real thing from the posers these days, so BE CAREFUL whose services you retain. Just because a Marketing firm or ad agency claims to be in the Social Media sphere doesn’t mean they actually are. (Odds are that they aren’t.) Anyone with access to Google can pass for an expert these days, especially if there’s money in it for them. Don’t fall into that trap.

One last piece of advice: Next time anyone introduces themselves as a social media expert, do what the rest of us do: RUN!

28_tweets_later_man_running

Have a great Wednesday, everyone! ;D

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meetingsad

#32: Dead-end meetings in drab, poorly ventilated conference rooms.

#33: Inexcusably bad coffee.

#34: Petty office politics.

#35: The futility of hope.

#36: The blockade of all social media apps.

#37: Cubicles.

#38: Windows XP.

#39: The day Dilbert stopped being funny.

#40: Monday morning whippings/team meetings.

#41: Unapologetic backstabbing.

#42: TPS reports.

#43: 15+ bullets per slide.

#44: Fluorescent lights.

#45: The imposition of artificial limits.

#45: All talk, no walk.

Life on the outside is GOOD!!!

;)

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imgmainiconsallb

Great observation about design on Presentation Zen (hat tip to What’s The Beef?):

Design is about many things. Above all, it’s about clarity, and intentions and about putting yourself in the position of the end users (or the customers, students, audience, etc.). When designs are not well thought out, even though it may all look good from our point of view, users get frustrated, confused, or even angry. Anyone who has used a poorly designed user interface on a mobile phone, for example, or gotten lost while following the signs on the freeway in a new city understands these feelings. And anyone who is squinting to see a figure or read a quote on a PowerPoint slide is experiencing a bad design of sorts. I always say the lessons are all around. I love examples of poor design, even for the simplest of things, because they are occasions to learn.

When you first sit in the driver’s seat of a car, push the ON button on a computer for the first time, check into a new hotel, look for information on a website, make your way to the cash register, connect a new media player to a laptop, snap a new lens onto an SLR camera, or lace up a fresh new pair of running shoes, it doesn’t take long to figure out how much time the designers actually spent using the type of product they designed.

When I get behind the wheel of a BMW, I know immediately that the team that designed it loves to drive. And I don’t mean just drive to work and to the store. I mean drive. As in… for fun. For thrills. Thirty seconds into using a Mac for the first time, the Apple design team’s passion for great user interfaces is also pretty obvious. Clip into a Look pedal, slip on a pair of Rudy Project Rydons, Squeeze yourself into a pair of Hincapie Sportswear bib tights or pull the cap off a Mont Blanc pen, and you will immediately feel the same thing.

Great design delights. Great design triggers smiles and compliments. Great design invites repeat business. Great design generates great word-of-mouth recommendations, endorsements and reviews. Great design is ALWAYS a win for everyone.

And bad design sucks.

For the third time in a week now, I found myself in a checkout line at my local Target store, and experienced the destructive power of bad design. Target painstakingly designs its stores and advertising to be inviting, upbeat and cool. I love shopping there because I know I’ll find something cool and inexpensive to buy for my house. So from ads to store design to product selection, Target is 100% conscious of the importance of great design, right? But then you get to the checkout, and it all comes crashing down. Here’s how: For some reason, a good deal of items at my local Target seem to come without bar codes. (As impossible as it may seem in this day and age.) And without a bar code, the cashier is completely helpless a checkout. If the item can’t be scanned, the purchasing process grinds to a complete halt. To get it started again, you need a price check: The cashier has to put on her blinking light and call a supervisor. The supervisor then has to stare at the product for five minutes to confirm that there indeed is no bar code anywhere on it. The supervisor then has to call someone on her little radio. That someone has to go to the back of the store to find the item, copy the bar code numbers from the shelf tag, and radio it back in – or write it down and walk it back to the front of the store. Meanwhile, the six families standing in line behind you are ready to beat you over the head with their $19.99 welcome mats and seasonal plastic tumbler sets. If you were in a hurry, forget it. What seemed like a simple, convenient little “oh hey, I’ll just buy it while I’m here” purchase turns into a “damn, I could have just gone to Wal-Mart instead” swell of regret.

A month before Christmas, your impromptu purchase of a $19.99 Michelin windshield wiper has caused a ten minute gridlock at register number nine on a busy Saturday afternoon. Because someone forgot to apply a bar code to a product, and also because the cashier and her system aren’t set up to identify the product without the precious bar code. In that one simple omission, every bit of great design that Target has spent millions of dollars to integrate into its brand evaporates. Not only for me, but for the six families standing impatiently behind me.

The lesson: Design thinking isn’t limited to products. Systems also require great design. And everything is a system. Your entire company is a system. Your customer service department is a system. Your warranty department is a system. Your checkout area – whether physical or electronic – is a system. Great systems are based on great design, and great design is based on observation: Putting yourself in your customers’ shoes. Understanding what they like or dislike. Finding ways of delighting them, or at the very least, fulfilling their specific needs.

If you’re a CEO or other C-level executive, how often do you look at your own company’s processes from a customer’s point of view? How often do you call your own 1-800 number with a problem or question?  How often do you go into a store to buy your own products “incognito” or try to return them through normal channels when they fail?

How much time does your company actually spend walking in the shoes of your customers?

Great design doesn’t start with a cool creative type sketching ideas in a posh studio. It starts with real world insight, out there where your customers and users live.

Want to be a great executive? Want to understand great design? Start by joining your customers.

Happy Thanksgiving week, everyone!  :)

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Okay, maybe not next week since it’s Thanksgiving, but the week after, find out if you can go a week on only $24 for food. That’s the challenge the folks at Sodexo Careers have just come up with.

From the site:

The “Food Stamp Challenge” is a program that aims to educate us on what it is like to eat on the average food stamp benefit – which is little more than a $1 per meal per person.

With a little research I learned more about the nation’s food stamp benefit which about $3.45 per day (depending on income and situation). That’s about $24 per person per week (source) . After paying for housing, energy and health care expenses, many low-income households have little or no money remaining to spend on food without food stamp benefits and often those benefits don’t last the month forcing them to turn to food pantries and soup kitchens. Sadly, more than 35.5 million people in the United States are at risk of hunger. The Sodexo Foundation supports supports hunger-related initiatives on local, state, and national levels to help children and families in the United States who are battling problems such as poverty, unemployment, lack of education, and food insecurity.

While living on a food stamp budget for just a week can’t compare to the real life struggles of low-income families week after week and month after month, it can provide those who take the Challenge a new perspective. Shondra said that while she was keenly aware of the problem of hunger in the U.S. and the limitations of current Food Stamp benefits, she took the Challenge to make the issues more personal. “Nothing is more powerful in raising personal awareness and understanding than to experience for yourself (if only for one week) what others experience every day.”

Bonus #1: You aren’t on your own. Download the Toolkit.

Bonus #2: This could easily grow into a buzz-worthy movement if properly funneled through social media. Do I hear “case study?”

Bonus #3: After a week of eating out with visiting family and Thanksgiving next week, the timing couldn’t be better anyway.) $24 for a week? I’m game. (Cafe au lait doesn’t count though, right?)

Okay, who else is in?

photo by Christopher Wray-McCann

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1064986364_30cf5cb8a1b

So, I have this client. Great little company. Enthusiastic owner. The most engaged, talented, fun staff you’ll ever meet. A great market presence. Good numbers. Good prospects. A bright future ahead. Seriously. Things aren’t perfect, but they’re definitely better than average.

Anyway. This morning, I walk into the big guy’s office, and he’s having a conversation with one of his managers about a problem he’s having. One of his promotions isn’t working. It isn’t bringing in the volume of customers he expected. He’s frowning. He’s shaking his head. He leans back in his chair and sighs. “I’m at a loss with this one,” he says.

So… I throw an idea at him. Just… you know, my usual speak-before-you-think type deal. Total improv. And, luckily, for once, it turns out to be pure genius. (Whew.)

Since he usually has a tough time digesting new ideas, I really expect him to give me that look that says “how can I politely tell this guy to shut up and go bother someone else,” but instead, the look is more akin to a shocked stare, and maybe for the first time since I’ve known him, the expression on his face is starting to look a lot like he’s thinking something like “damn, that’s actually a really good idea.”

Ironically, he says to me “Damn, that’s actually a really good idea!”

Somebody pinch me.

Without getting into details, the solution involves inspiring his customers to earn good karma points by trading in something old that they aren’t using anymore for something new that they will use.

Yeah. I know. It isn’t rocket science… but as simple as it is, it’s never been done in this market, and it will work. There is absolutely no way that it won’t. By its very nature, the industry that the client is in lends itself to this so well that it’s amazing no one ever thought of doing this in Greenville until now.

They simply bring in their old product, buy a new one, and get 30% off. The old product will then be sent to non-profits and charities that help underpriviledged athletes, soldiers, and the homeless. Clean out your closet or garage, save some major cash on your next purchase, and earn good karma points by helping somebody out.

It’s painless, fast, fun, and rewarding both financially and spiritually. It’s a no-brainer. Even if only 5% of the client’s customers decide to participate, the campaign will be a success, but we expect well over 30% right from the start.

Incidentally, word-of-mouth will play a big part in spreading the good word, so we’ll be monitoring that, which should be interesting.

On the client’s side, the financial benefits are clear, but there’s also this: From a PR standpoint, this is a newsworthy program, so they can expect to get some great exposure out of it. Positive exposure. Probably for years to come. This is the kind of program that can help them bring other local and regional organizations together to help.

It will also make shopping at his stores more than just a shopping experience. We’re talking about strengthening a community which is already enjoying a deepening sense of purpose.

What we’re talking about here is a movement. A small and very targeted movement, sure, but a movement nonetheless, with extraordinary potential for growth.

Perhaps the most rewarding thing to come out of our meeting wasn’t so much that the client loved the idea and that we’re going to be doing something very cool for people who could use our help and that the business will be strengthened as a result. Those are all great, and it’s why I get paid the big bucks, but there’s more. Once we hashed out the basis for a plan, the client looked at me and said “you know, I’ve always wanted to do something like this. After all these years, I’m finally going to get to do it.”

I didn’t get all choked up, but I wasn’t far from it.

Whenever you can get a business owner to suddenly feel engaged in his business the way he used to be when he first started, you know you’ve done your job. To see the excitement in his eye and to hear the emotion in his voice when he said that was more rewarding than everything else.

If only every meeting could be that way… Wow. Wouldn’t that be great.

Every company can find its salvation in good-karma projects. Every organization can inspire its members, clients and customers to see them as more than a business if they step up and become more than just a business.

You already know the ABC of selling: “Always Be Closing.” There’s nothing wrong with that… but I think that we can probably retire that one and replace it with a simpler, less formulaic, and infinitely more effective and rewarding little motto:

Always Be Inspiring.

I’ve never, ever, ever seen it fail.

Have a great Thursday, everyone.

PS: Let’s see if I made it with no typos in the title and no math snafus today. :D

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olivier-blanchard

100 90 years ago today, the German Empire unconditionally surrendered to France and her allies in a small train car near the French town of Compiegne.

WWI, dubbed the war to end all wars, was finally over. Human cost: 40 million casualties and 20 million dead.

Twenty million. To give you a sense of scale, if you live in the South, that’s equal to the populations of South Carolina, Georgia and Alabama combined. If you’re up North, that’s equal to the total population of New York City today. If you’re out West, that’s about 2/3 the population of the entire state of California. Serious numbers.

Nowadays, people in the United States observe this special day simply as “Rememberance Day” or “Veterans’ Day,” but those of us who still remember stories from grandparents who fought in WWI – people like my grandfather, who enlisted in the Dragoons at the tender age of 16, – November 11th means a little bit more. You probably won’t see a whole lot of greeting cards dedicated to November 11th. Most people won’t observe a moment of silence during their busy day to remember and honor the fallen. But if you can, take a moment today to give some thought to the last 100 90 years. To the distance we’ve traveled since that cold November morning when the entire world truly believed that they would not see another war in their lifetimes. That perhaps their children and their children would never see war again. I wish we could have proven them right.

I wonder what the people of that time would think if they could get a glimpse of how much the world can change in just a century: Television. The internet. Smart phones. Precision-guided bombs. Crocs. Rap. SUVs. Video Games. Starbucks. Microwave ovens. Laser hair removal. Vintage T-shirts. Heelys. The NFL. Fast food. Diet food. Snack food. Energy food. Dog food. Viagra. Breast implants. Credit cards. Iraq. Wall Street. Medecins Sans Frontieres. The United Nations. Bullet trains. Ramen noodles. Heathrow Airport. WordPress. Microsoft. CNN. Twitter.

I wonder if they would would grin at the progress we’ve made, or cringe at the sight of some of the mistakes we continue to make every day. Probably a little of both.

Days like today help us make time to think about continuity. They help us make time to think about the sacrifice that men and women made for future generations. They wanted a better life for us all. They wanted to build a better world. A world, I imagine, of prosperity, peace and good will. Days like this help us make time to consider our role in that endeavor. In that legacy. 100 90 years later, what specifically am I doing to make this world better? What’s my contribution? How do I measure up against the expectations of our forefathers? How do we all measure up?

It’s humbling to look back at history and connect the dots.

So today, I want to ask you a few simple questions: If you run a company, what’s your contribution to the world today? Do you create jobs? Do you create opportunity? Do you improve people’s lives in some way? Is your legacy balance sheet in the positive? If not, shouldn’t it be?

Today might be a great day to take a few moments to think about the role you play in the world. The role your company plays in the world.

Today might be a great day to ask yourself what you could do better.

To the countless Americans, Brits, Canadians, and other volunteers from around the world who helped France defeat Germany not once but twice in my grandfather’s lifetime, I salute you. I probably wouldn’t be here today had it not been for your sacrifice.

Even if you’ve never met a WWI veteran, even if no one in your family fought in The Great War, remember these folks today and every November 11 from now on. You’ll be better for it. ;)

Have a great Veterans’ Day, everyone.

Pictured above: Captain Olivier Blanchard in 1935, still in the French Cavalry, stationed somewhere in North Africa. He would go on to fight in the second world war… and survive again. (The Germans just couldn’t kill that man, no matter how hard they tried.) He died of natural causes at the age of 89, leaving behind a wife, a son, and grandson named after him – who would later move to the United States, start a family of his own and launch a blog about silly things like marketing, business development and building remarkable brands. Go figure. I rarely remember my grandfather on his birthday, but I always remember him on Armistice Day.

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large-msg-114650520417-2

Why people and businesses choose to settle for average, I’ll never understand. Average products, average websites, average copy, average photography, average entertainment, average flavor, average executives… The list is long. The point is, if you look around, you’ll notice that average is the fat middle bulge in the bell curve. Average is the norm. Both the volume and frequency of “average” dwarf the precious few “remarkable” who work every day to raise the bar and set new standards of excellence for us all.

Think about your favorite companies to do business with. Your favorite restaurants. Your favorite movies. Your favorite products. Your favorite hairdresser or fashion designer or coffee shop. Think about how they stand out from their competitors.

Fact: Your favorite (insert product or service here) does whatever it does better than its competitors. stands out in some unique way: Better taste. Better experience. Better value. Better fit. Better… something. At some point, someone decided to do something different. Someone decided to commit to branching off and doing something unique, and that decision resulted in a notable improvement

You don’t build anything worthwhile by copying other people. Yeah, sure, it may seem like the safe thing to do, but it isn’t.

Bleh.

Welcome to the fabulous world of the “also in”.

Welcome to the wonderful world of the “why bother”.

Okay, sure, not every product needs to be extraordinary. Not every product needs to be unique. I guess you could set out to publish a magazine that’s a lot like Newsweek or Men’s Health or Fast Company… only more “average”. You could set out to produce a movie that’s a lot like Titanic or Sling Blade or Gladiator, but… you know… more “average”. You could set out to copy Subway or Jersey Mike’s or Quizno’s and make a subway sandwich, but… just a little bit more bland. A little bit less special. A little bit cheaper too, while you’re at it. I guess that would be swell.

To make up for the blandness, you could always pay an ad agency to try and pick up the slack for you and miraculously come up with a brilliant viral campaign that may or may not have people flocking to your stores.

Yep, you could do that.

I guess you could wake up one morning and decide that your work, the fruit of your labors, could be just… um… average. No more, no less. As long as your business makes money, who cares, right?

Forget the great American novel. Forget the Chrystler Building. Forget the iPod. Forget the Canon EOS 1D. Release your movies straight to video and your books directly to the bargain house. Tell your kids to shoot for a C+. It’s okay. Average is good enough.

Instead of designing your own products, find cheaper ones already being manufactured by someone else and pass them off as your own. Hope that no one will notice. As long as the profits are good, why not? Yep, I guess you could convince yourself that it’s okay to go that route.

It isn’t like you need to actually think about where your company is going. It isn’t like you need to give any thought to the relationship you have with your customers. What role you play in their world. Instead, you can just watch what your competitors are doing, and copy their every move. You can keep cutting corners. You can keep telling yourself that’s the safe thing to do. The smart thing to do.

You can keep telling yourself that if you make your products cheaper, you will sell more of them. After all, that’s how your competitors are stealing your customers, isn’t it?

Or is it better design?

Or is it because their stores have red walls?

I forget.

Why be relevant, after all? Why be relevant when you can just play it safe and follow the leaders?

Hmmm.

Is that what we learned to do in business school? Is that what we learned about in History class? In English comp.? Is that the lesson we’ve learned from watching millions of hours of sports on TV? Succeed by waiting to see what someone else will do to see if it’s safe to try it too?

Really?

Is that what a a CEO or a CMO is paid to do?

You don’t have to answer that.

Not if you don’t want to.

Instead, think fast and tell me how many skyscrapers there are in New York City.

(For the sake of expediency, let’s just say that there are LOTS.)

How many of those skyscrapers can you actually name?

Only a handfull?

Why is that?

Of the thousands of companies you’ll encounter in your lifetime, how many will you actually remember as being worthy of mention? Of having been a pleasure to deal with? A few dozen at most?

Why is that?

Of the tens of thousands of people you will meet in your lifetime, how many will you end up being truly impressed by? How many will you come to count as friends?

Again, why is that?

What does that tell you about average?

What does that tell you about the value of average?

Consider a few names: Starbucks. Target. BMW. Apple. Pixar. Ben & Jerry. Kenneth Cole. Nike.

What is it about these brands that makes them so special?

Is it their ability to crunch numbers? Nope.

is it their ability to copy the guys who came before them? (Um… who would that be?)

Are their products the best in the world? Again, no.

Reality check: Most of your local coffee bars make much better coffee than Starbucks. Target’s clothes are no better than old Navy’s. BMW arguably isn’t Porsche. Apple is nowhere near Microsoft’s sales. Pixar doesn’t always hit the mark. Haagen-Dazs makes the best Rum Raisin ice cream and Mayfield is pretty awesome too. DKNY, Express Men and Banana Republic give Kenneth Cole a run for his money. Most serious runners wear Mizuno, Asics or new Balance on their feet, not Nike.

So what is it?

Is it their ability to stand out? Sure, but that’s only a symptom of their success.

What’s key is their ability to a) create something special that their customers won’t be able to find anywhere else, and b) do it over and over again.

That’s the promise of these brands.

When you buy me, I promise that…

You will look hip.

You will sleep better.

You will save time.

You will smell fantastic.

Your cold symptoms will vanish.

You won’t have to worry about quality.

Without a promise, a brand isn’t a brand. It’s just a mark.

There is no such thing as an “also in” brand.

Okay, now that you’ve read it, say it.

Really. Say it outloud:

“There is no such thing as an also in brand.”

Very good.

When you’re an “also in,” what is your promise? What is your purpose?

“We’re kind of like Subway.”

“We’re kind of like Power Bar.”

“We’re kind of like CNN.”

Think about it.

I don’t care if you’re a mechanic or a graphic designer, a chain of dry-cleaners or a rental car service. If you aren’t there for a reason (other than just making money), you’re doomed. It may not be today or tomorrow or next week, but someone with a purpose will come along to eat you up. A real brand. A real business.

It’s just a matter of time.

If you’re going to be a mechanic, be the best damn mechanic in your zip code. Or the most honest. Or the friendliest.

If you’re going to design logos and layouts for clients, be the edgiest in your field. Or the fastest. Or the most pleasant to work with.

If you’re going to open up a dry-cleaning business, either offer the best quality pressing or the fastest turnaround. Make drop-offs and pickups velvet-smooth. Make your customers want to come back and recommend you to their friends.

I could talk to you about the role that pride plays in building a brand, but I’ll save that for another day.

The point is that being an “also in” company doesn’t cut it. Not if you want to grow. Not if you want your company to go anywhere.

Not if you want to survive, especially in this economy.

Copying other companies isn’t a strategy, it’s a death sentence.

Word to the wise: Don’t be a follower. There’s no safety in being second.

Welcome to a whole new week. ;)

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Roger Waters crowd

Pete Quily just saved me a few hours of work by publishing a fantastic Presidential Election/social media scorecard that outlines how the Obama campaign took advantage of social media and the internet to supercharge his grassroots movement all the way to victory. Remember the jokes about his having been a “community organizer?” It appears that the ability to create, organize and engage communities is a pretty useful skill after all. Combine it with social media, and you can work some serious magic – both in the political world AND the business world. If the Obama campaign’s success with social media strategies don’t convince CEOs and CMOs across the US that this “search”, Facebook and Twitter stuff is serious business, I don’t know what will.

Here are the numbers:

Barack Obama Vs. John McCain Search Engine and Social Media Showdown

Internet Presence
Barack Obama
John McCain
% Difference
Leading
Google Pagerank
8
8
0
Pages in Google’s Index
1,820,000
30,700
5828
Obama
Links to Website
in Yahoo – Pages
643,416
513,665
25
Obama
Links to Website
in Yahoo – Inlinks
255,334
165,296
54
Obama

Search Engine Results for Candidates Names in Quotes & Social Media Presence

Google
56,200,000
42,800,000
31
Obama
Google News
136,000
371,620
173
McCain
Google Blog
4,633,997
3,094,453
50
Obama
Technorati
412,219
313,497
31
Obama
WordPress.com
19,692
14,468
36
Obama
Google Image
24,200,000
8,620,000
181
Obama
Flickr
73,076
15,168
382
Obama
Flickr Photostream* 50,218 No Profile 50,218
Obama
Flickr Contacts* 7,148 No Profile 7,148
Obama
Google Video
136,000
89,800
51
Obama
Youtube
358,000
191,000
87
Obama
Youtube Videos Posted*
1,819
330
451
Obama
Youtube Subscribers*
117,873
none listed
117,873
Obama
Youtube Friends*
25,226
none listed
25,226
Obama
Facebook
567,000
18,700
2932
Obama
Facebook Supporters*
2,444,384
627,459
290
Obama
Facebook Wall Posts*
495,320
132,802
273
Obama
Facebook Notes*
1,669
125
1235
Obama
MySpace
859,000
319,000
169
Obama
MySpace Friends*
844,781
219,463
285
Obama
MySpace Comments*
147,630
none listed
147,630
Obama
Twitter
506,000
44,800
1129
Obama
Twitter Followers*
121,314
4,911
2470
Obama
Twitter Updates*
262
25
1048
Obama
Friend Feed
34,300
27,400
25
Obama

The statistic that should sum it all up: John McCain’s social network page has only 3 suggested sites, Obama’s suggests 16. One side understood how to seed social media channels to foster grass roots movements while the other had absolutely no idea what to do with social media beyond the obvious (using YouTube as a broadcast channel, and probing the value of Facebook/MySpace communities).

The Twitter Factor

Take a look at the Twitter numbers (in blue): Only 25 updates for @JohnMcCain vs. 262 updates for @BarackObama.

Less than 5,000 followers for John McCain vs. 121,300 followers for Barack Obama.

Boiled down to the basics: 10x more updates for Obama = almost 25x more followers for Obama.

Note: John McCain’s social networking site sadly makes zero reference to Twitter. Missed opportunity? Probably: One of the most notable effects of the McCain campaigns lack of focus on Twitter was obvious during the final few weeks of the campaign: A significant pro-Obama bias which left many McCain supporters alienated on the exploding live micro-blogging service. Instead of feeding John McCain’s social-media savvy army of supporters on Twitter, his campaign left them with little to do but huddle together and stand fast against a deluge of pro-Obama chatter. Imagine what YOU could do with 5,000 organized followers/customer/fans rooting for you on Twitter. Not understanding the value of these channels most certainly cost the McCain campaign dearly in the final weeks of leading to the Nov. 4 elections.

Why should anyone care about Twitter? One word: Numbers. According to stats provided by compete.com last month, Twitter’s year-over-year growth clocked at 573% in September 2008 vs. Facebook’s very respectable 84% YoY growth and MySpace’s negative 15% YoY growth. (Yep, MySpace’s unique visits are apparently shrinking.) Twitter’s growth is staggering.

At this rate, it may take less than 3 years for Twitter’s estimated 2.5 million* visitors to reach Facebook’s current 100 million* mark. When you consider that presidential elections can be won or lost by just a few thousand votes, it doesn’t take a social media expert to understand the extent to which Twitter WILL play a vital role in the 2012 presidential race.

* Worldwide numbers. Not US numbers. It is estimated that approximately 40% of Twitter users are in the United States.

Below: Twitter demographics (usage by age and gender). If you’re a student looking for a cool project involving social media, overlay this data with voter demographics and see what you find out.

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To understand the full extent of the Obama campaign’s digital and social media strategies in these historic elections click here: Blue State Digital’s case study on the Obama online campaign is pretty comprehensive. (Political science, communications and marketing students will be studying this for years to come.)

Read Pete’s full post here. Great stuff.

Have a great Friday, everyone! :)

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This is a follow-up to yesterday’s post on adopting a leadership attitude. (If you can’t see the above image on your RSS reader, click here. The picture pretty much IS the post.)

Okay, so… Check out the two boxers in the image. Which one do you want to be? Which one are you most acting like today?

Be honest now.

I know that everyone wants to be the guy on the right… but are you actually acting like the guy on the right? Are you thinking like the guy on the right? Are you running your business like the guy on the right? Have you connected the dots between the image and the words?

I received a lot of emails, tweets and comments about this yesterday, many from business owners who were a little stressed out by the outcome of the presidential elections, so I think it is important for everyone to take a deep breath and take inventory of what is and what isn’t: Fear of what may come – any kind of fear for that matter – is not something business leaders can afford to fall prey to, especially now. Fear is distracting. Fear distorts reality. Fear immobilizes. Fear is the enemy of progress, innovation and growth. Fear is the enemy of success. Your success. Don’t let fear, especially fear of the unknown creep into your brain. Just don’t.

Repeat after me: “Fear, go away! Go on now, shoo!” :D

When in doubt or cornered, focus on what you can control. Focus on what you know. Focus on what you can see and affect NOW: Bringing more value to your customers. Increasing traffic to your website or stores. Improving customer service. Improving employee morale. Building strong user communities. Finding better ways to engage with your customers, boost customer loyalty, and build the foundations of a stronger brand. There are ways you can cut costs without cutting corners. There are ways to cut costs and keep all of your staff employed. There are ways to cut costs and actually grow your business. Find them. Every problem facing your business today is either an opportunity for you to leap ahead tomorrow, or an excuse to fail. Do not let your fears and worries distract you. (And if you have to stop listening to talk radio for a few days, by all means, do.)

Keep your focus. Feed your confidence. Dare to be bold. Take all of the things that have made you successful until now and use them: All of your strengths. All of your skills. All of your knowledge. Making your business successful in the coming year is going to require the kind of commitment, focus and courage that turns ordinary people into champions, soldiers into heroes, and managers into leaders. This is your challenge, and as long as you truly embrace it, you will not fall short. I promise you.

None of us can afford to be distracted by negative thoughts about what may or may not happen a year from now. Be in this moment. Work in this moment. Kick ass in this moment. Then let this moment stretch into the hours, days, weeks and months ahead until either a) the economy is healthy again, or b) you’ve realized that the economy doesn’t matter because you are not at its mercy.

Look up at the boxers one last time. The choice you are facing is simple: Be the guy on the right side of the image, and you’ll do great. Be the distracted guy on the left, and you won’t. The choice is 100% yours: Stay focused.

Have a GREAT day, everyone!

Incidentally, for those of you who inquired over the years as to when the brandbuilder would finally become more than a blog, guess what: With so many small businesses reaching out these last few months, the time has finally come for me to roll up my sleeves and help companies build better futures for themselves full time. More details on the what, how and when very soon, but yeah, I am VERY excited.

My name is Olivier Blanchard, and I approve this message.

Original photo: Doug Benc/Getty Images

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hitler-3

Another great Hitler video. If his Twitter follow issues weren’t enough, now his creatives are splitting too. What’s an agency dictator to do? Has the world gone mad? Check it out.

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Republican business owners and managers, read this post. (Democrats too.)

Whatever side of the aisle you may be on, the die is cast. The democratic process has worked. Americans have elected the next President of the United States of America. #44, by last count.

Many of you are probably pretty excited that your guy won today. Many of you are probably also angry that your guy didn’t. All of you are probably worried about what will come next: The simple “okay, now what?” question. Will I still have a job in six months? Will my company continue to prosper in the next year? Will I be able to hire new employees this spring, or will I have to let people go? And on and on and on.

My advice to you: Chill.

If you are among the Obama/Biden supporters, I am going to guess that your outlook today is pretty positive. You’re looking at a bright 4-8 years ahead. In your mind, this will probably be the best time to start a new business venture, to travel abroad, to partner with great people and companies.

If you are among the McCain/Palin/Joe The Plumber supporters, your outlook is probably pretty gloomy. You’re looking at what may be disastrous 4-8 years ahead. In your mind, this will probably be the worst time to start a new business venture, travel overseas or partner with great people and companies.

Funny how your perceptions – and ONLY your perceptions – affect the way you envision your business’ outlook in the next few years.

So my advice to you again: Chill. Take a deep breath. Seriously. What happens next in Washington won’t affect you all that much at all. Relax.

Unless you’re big like Exxon, Walmart and at&t, whomever happens to be sitting in the Oval Office really has zero bearing on your business’ success. None. You may think it does, you may have come up with a list of reasons why McCain would have helped you be more successful and why Obama will kill your profits, but you’re wrong. The success of your company depends entirely on you: The CEO. The CMO. The salesperson. The customer service rep. The franchisee. The cashier. The designer. The IT guy. The PR manager. The product manager. The greeter. Success or failure are entirely yours to own.

Likewise, if you voted Democrat, having Barack Obama in the White House won’t make your business successful either. His presidency won’t miraculously cure the ills of our society and restore the market to its pre-crash bubble days. The truth is, regardless of who sits in the White House and who owns the Senate and House of Reps, we have some rough terrain ahead. We’re all going to have to be smart, innovative and resourceful if we’re going to be successful. Neither Obama nor Biden will do anything to help you make payroll, attract and retain customers, or launch the next game-changing product. They have bigger issues to deal with than you – even if you’re the coolest, smartest, hardest working person on the planet.

Reality vs. imaginary dragons: Focus on what you know, not on what you don’t.

What the next 4 years have in store, nobody knows. Higher taxes? Maybe. Then again, maybe not. Best case scenario: Our taxes won’t change much. Worst case scenario, they will increase incrementally. As in: Not enough to make much of an impact on anyone, rich, poor, or somewhere in the middle. Even if I were in the $250K+ bracket (which I am clearly not), watching my taxes increase a little more to help ease our embarrassing trillion dollar deficit would be a small price to pay. What’s done is done. Let’s fix our mess, learn from our mistakes, and move on.

I only mention this to point out that whatever happens with taxes next year… or the year after that – or whenever – should be the least of your worries right now. Possible tax increases are not threatening your business right now, and won’t anytime soon. Get your mind back on the present. On what obstacles you are faced with today. There will be plenty of time to worry about next year’s challenges twelve months from now.

In other words, before we start speculating about the next four years, we might all want to start thinking about the next six months. What problems are you really facing between now and next spring? What are the immediate problems you need to find solutions to? These are the real questions you should be focusing on.

You may not be completely aware of it, but your emotional outlook impacts your success. Yeah, I know, it sounds like I’m spewing self-help bullshizzle right now, but it’s a fact: Believe in success, visualize it, map it out, and you will have a much greater chance of making it happen than if you instead convince yourself that your business will fail. Positive attitudes win races, win deals and win business. Positive attitudes win.

Negative attitudes don’t.

Have you ever been around someone who is just soooo negative? The sky is falling, nothing is going right, the world is coming to an end? After a few minutes, you start to feel the same way. Their negativity starts to affect you. It’s a natural thing. We all feed off each other’s moods and dramas. In the same way, as a CEO or business manager, if you’re negative, that mood affects everyone you come in contact with, starting with your employees and ending with your customers.

Consider this: Your positive attitude can infect your customer touchpoints in such a way that one short encounter with them tomorrow morning could set the stage for an afternoon of wonderfully positive interactions with hundreds of customers. Like the happy cashier at the checkout who makes you feel great about your shopping experience, because their day started with a wonderful experience at work. Likewise, your negative attitude might affect your customer touchpoints in such a way that a brief, negative encounter with them tomorrow morning might make them worry about their jobs, about whether or not they are seen as valuable employees and whether or not they even enjoy working there. What kind of interactions do you think they will have with the hundreds of customers they touch that day?

Your attitude affects the direction and success of your business every single day.

What’s interesting is that most of the time, positive an negative attitudes are entirely self-created. The world around you is the same from day to day. You make the choice to see it either in a positive light or a negative one. Whomever happens to be sitting in the Oval Office, the world essentially is the same today as it was yesterday. Only your outlook has changed. If you have concerns about your business, if you have real problems to solve, then focus on finding solutions for those specific concerns and problems. Don’t waste time and energy worrying about “what if” questions that may never turn into real issues for you. Even if you are a hard-core Republican, understand that President-elect Obama’s policies, beliefs and actions will not have a direct impact on your business anymore than if you had voted for him. Unless you are a Fortune 100 company, the who the President of the United States happens to be has pretty much zero impact on your business. Your fears in regards to what Obama will do in office are still in the realm of imagination. Until something actually happens to affect your business, you are worrying about nothing.

It’s kind of like this: You’re a knight and around you is a small band of foot soldiers looking to you for leadership. Ahead of you is a dark forest you have to cross. You’ve heard that the forest is teaming with enemy soldiers and ambushes, but your mission is to get to the other side. What do you do? Do you figure out the best way to deal with the problem at hand, or do you sit there and worry about other things that may or may not come to be someday that have zero bearing on your immediate situation? You’re letting dragons and ogres (imaginary creatures) distract you from your real issues. Pretty silly when you look at it that way right?

Focus on what you can control. Focus on what you know. Focus on what you can see and affect now: Bringing more value to your customers. Increasing traffic to your website or stores. Improving customer service. Improving employee morale. Building strong user communities. Finding better ways to engage with your customers, boost customer loyalty, and build the foundations of a stronger brand. There are ways you can cut costs without cutting corners. There are ways to cut costs and keep all of your staff employed. There are ways to cut costs and actually grow your business. Find them. Every problem facing your business today is either an opportunity for you to leap ahead tomorrow, or an excuse to fail.

There will always be obstacles in your path. The odds will always be against you. The world will always conspire to make you fail. Cheaper imports, bigger competitors, better tools somewhere else, better tax breaks across the river, lower rent down the street… There will always be dark woods ahead filled with unseen enemies. Get used to it. It’s just how the world works. New elections, the economy, competition, new technologies transforming your industry, all of these things are part of the game. Your attitude will determine whether or not these obstacles and challenges help you build the next chapter in your company’s fascinating success story, or its sad conclusion.

Leadership Lesson: Taking the initiative always gives you a tactical advantage. The alternative (letting someone else decide your fate for you) is no alternative at all.

Great leaders aren’t usually characterized by uneventful tenures and comfortable lives without challenge. Great leaders are people like Winston Churchill, Nelson Mandela, Abraham Lincoln, Ghandi and Susan B. anthony, who in spite of overwhelming odds, in spite of the entire world conspiring against them, in spite of being faced with very dark moments of self doubt and despair, managed to embrace the impossible challenges of their times and come out of the woods transformed, cleansed of their fears, and most importantly: victorious.

As a business leader, you will be tested in the coming months. No question. The coming year will probably be the most trying of your entire career. You may work harder than you ever have before, risk more than you ever have before, and want to quit more often than ever before. But you know what, as long as you keep your wits about you, keep your focus on addressing your immediate challenges and keep your eye on making it through, you will. Not only that but you will come out ahead of your less focused and enthusiastic competitors. When you’re old and gray, you’ll be able to look back on this time and understand how it helped define you as a human being and as a leader. And chances are that every ounce of success you enjoy once the economy recovers will lead straight back to the decisions you made during this challenging time in your career. This moment in time WILL define you. How is up to you.

Now that the election drama is over, it’s time to get your head back in the game and give some serious thought to how you can turn immediate challenges into serious opportunities. If you didn’t vote for Barack Obama, don’t let yourself be distracted by negative thoughts and irrational fears. Your future and your company’s future are 100% in your hands. Not Washington’s. Let’s all put politics aside now and get back to the business of getting the economy back on track, starting with you.

So tell me: What is the biggest problem facing your business today?

How can those of us who know how to help businesses grow and prosper (my blogroll is only the tip of the iceberg) help you get through thee challenging times? Come on. Talk to me.

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05*

Warmest congratulations, President-Elect Obama. Not just on your victory, but on the unprecedented voter turnout your historic campaign generated. You may have done more to restore America’s faith in the electoral process than any other presidential candidate in history. You got people to care. You got people to vote. You got people to stop taking their right to elect their representatives for granted. Whether loved or hated, revered or reviled, trusted or feared, you made people care. You engaged Americans of every stripe to participate in the greatest political experiment in history. For that alone, you deserve our respect, and at the very least a standing ovation. Our hat also goes out to Senator McCain for putting up such a great fight for all these months and making such an honorable speech last night. You are both great Americans, wonderful statesmen, and examples to us all. Thank you both for elevating the game at such a crucial time in our country’s history, when we so desperately needed to be inspired and moved to act. America couldn’t have asked for better candidates in ’08.

President-Elect Obama, it’s your turn to lead us now – Republicans, Democrats and independents alike. All 305,579,683 of us. All you have to do now is stay true to yourself, stay the course, and make us proud.

Cheers, baby. You did it!

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Today is November 4th 2008. If you are a registered voter in the USA and haven’t voted already, go talk to your boss and find out when would be a good time for you to run to your precinct to exercise your right to participate in the democratic process.

If you manage people and some haven’t had a chance to vote yet, ask them what you can do to help them find time today to go perform their civic duty.

If you have already voted and have some free time, find out of you can help drive an elderly or physically impaired neighbor or co-worker to the polls.

I know businesses still have to run and make money today, but with a little bit of good will, giving everyone the flexibility and opportunity to vote today shouldn’t be too hard to fit into our busy schedules.

For those of you who have some free time on your hands once you’ve made your mark on the elections, swing by Starbucks or Liquid Highway to share free coffee with many of your closest friends and neighbors. (Bring your “I voted” sticker for that free cup.) Update: As it turns out, federal election laws prohibit this kind of promo, so everyone can claim their free cup regardless of whether or not they have voted.

Nb: While I dig the Starbucks, I’ll be getting my latte fix at Liquid Highway (Downtown Greenville). See you there.

Have a great election day, everyone! :)

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How smart businesses are learning to combine “traditional” media and new “social” Media Channels to grow their brands:

Interesting slideshow from Austrian-based Knallgrau in which the company outlines some of the social media strategies and tactics they used in helping BMW seed interest in new X1 concept and promote its launch. Not entirely crystal clear (not bad for non-native English speakers though) but still pretty helpful in outlining how to incorporate new media channels into a complete 360 communications plan – especially if you are still new to social media/new media. Essentially, here’s how to break it all down:

Traditional media channels: The first three bars on the graph (left to right). Television, Print and Radio. Some basic attributes:

  • High costs
  • Closed (Monologue)
  • Emphasis on quantity instead of quality in intended audience (reach-to-transaction conversion is <10%)

Social media channels: The long tail of the reach & depth curve, including Search, Blogs, Podcasts, YouTube, wikis, Twitter, Facebook, virtual worlds (like Second Life and even World of Warcraft), active communities and networks, etc. Note that new media channels are getting thicker (much broader reach) and also more more specific (deeper and well defined) – both good things if you care about who your target audience is. Basic attributes:

  • Fractional costs
  • Open (two-way conversation/dialogue)
  • Emphasis on quality AND quantity (reach-to-transaction conversion >10%)

It is important to note that new media/social media channels are not intended to replace traditional media channels. If anyone tells you that traditional media is dead, they’re hacks. Don’t listen to them. The reality of media channels is simple: All channels have value, all channels address specific needs, and all channels need to be used intelligently in order to get the best possible results. Turning your back on any channel for any reason is basically turning your back on an opportunity to grow your business. It’s just silly. Truth: If a channel hasn’t worked for you in the past, it probably isn’t the channel’s fault. It just means that you haven’t yet found a way to make it work for you and your business. There’s an easy fix to that: Try again… and ask for expert help if you have to.

Whether you are developing your own media strategy internally or looking to hire a social media consultant to help you tackle this new marketing toolkit, remember to always look for a healthy balance in all things: Don’t put all of your eggs in one basket (traditional media or social media). If there is one concept that you need to take away from Knallgrau’s presentation, it is the concept of “seeding”, which is purely a breadth strategy: In order to maximize your reach (or even understand what channels work best for your company), you need to seed your brand across as many channels as possible. If you can take a step back for a second and look at every channel as an investment (which it is), what you have to do is use simple logic: Don’t put all of your eggs in just two or three baskets, especially when you know that the price of entry is high, and the dividends aren’t all that stellar. The smart strategy is simply to diversify your marketing channels portfolio.

Once you’ve identified which channels seem to be catching on (getting some sort of positive and quantifiable result), THEN start working on depth within those channels.

This takes a little bit of THINKING when it comes to mapping out how these channels will work for you. Hire someone who can help you make sense of this if you need to, but be cautious: With “social media” being the hottest marketing keyword right now, self-professed “social media experts” are popping up like a bad case of teenage acne. Unfortunately, most of them are anything but.

Nb: My bit of good karma for the day: If you are looking for a solid social media consultant/practitioner either in your area or your industry, shoot me an email and I will help you connect with the right person or company. The list of real practitioners is still pretty short, so it shouldn’t be too difficult to get you properly hooked up. My email: olivier@f360photo.com

Making it all work: Traditional Media and Social Media require different languages and mindsets.

While we’re on the subject of keeping the hacks away, it is very important for me to point out that the type of communication between companies and customers (or rather brands and people… and more people… and even more people), that takes place across new media channels is fundamentally different from the type of communication that occurs within traditional media channels. In the latter, messaging is king, and messaging is essentially a monologue. Conversely, the type of communication that takes place across social media is instead a dialogue. A conversation. The two require distinctively different approaches, and therefore two completely different mindsets. The danger in relying on self-proclaimed “social media experts” is that most come in two very distinct and equally ineffective forms:

  1. The ad/PR agency who has finally hopped on the bandwagon about a year or so ago because everyone else was adding “social media” to their list of services. This breed will typically charge you hefty fees to set up a blog, create a community site or two, maybe even use Twitter as a means to send out press releases, but then nothing will come of it. They will get you into the right channels, but then use them the only way they know how, which is to treat them like traditional media channels. The result: Zero impact. Not only will you will have wasted valuable time and money on a poorly executed plan, you will also walk away convinced that social media is a worthless fad. This happens A LOT. It’s pretty much reached epidemic proportions right now. Way too many companies fall into this trap and I want to see it stop.
  2. The Social Media cultist who keeps proclaiming that traditional media is dead. (Not in the real world, it isn’t.) I fell for that line a few years back when I realized the cost-benefit of social media, but I’ve gained enough experience and insight since then to realize that we were a little premature in declaring advertising and PR dead. (Thank goodness too.) These guys might convince you not to spend one more penny on advertising or PR. They will quote a handful of great examples of very well known companies that have grown their brands without resorting to traditional media channels… but those are few and far between and probably don’t apply to you. Truth: The vast majority of businesses can’t survive on social media alone. Even Apple – arguably the most successful superlovebrand whose fans will line up for days to spend their mortgage payment on its latest i-gottahaveit bit of design genius – spends a small country’s GDP on advertising. Starbucks, which for years never bothered with any advertising whatsoever is spending money on billboards and TV ads now. In spite of what these folks will tell you, social media is not the second coming.

In either case, it isn’t that the professionals you are dealing with are dishonest or out to “get your money.” Not at all. Most of these folks are trying to make an honest buck and they do want to help you. It’s just that they don’t really know how because they only have a portion of the equation figured out. Unfortunately, without the whole thing, you’re kind of screwed. You could equate it to toeing the start line of a marathon with only one running shoe, or having only trained to run 13 miles instead of the full 26.2. Sure, you might survive, you might reach the finish line, but at what cost and in what shape? The objective here isn’t for you to survive and gut it out just to say you spent some time in the race. The objective is to get ahead. To win, even. You don’t stand a chance if you don’t really understand what you are getting yourself into right from the start.

Here’s a tip: True social media practitioners a) understand the value of both traditional and new media channels, b) know how to get the most out of both traditional and new media channels individually, and c) can help you blend traditional and new media channels in order to maximize results and achieve your business goals. In other words, look for someone who knows how to strike the right balance for you, and NOT someone who will steer you towards one extreme or the other.

Straight talk and common sense: What this discussion all boils down to.

Back to the point: If you own or manage a business, learning how to incorporate new media channels into your existing marketing strategy is absolutely vital to your business’ future.

Especially in this economy.

Having an intelligent, balanced and well executed growth strategy that leverages both traditional AND new media will save you money, improve your brand equity, grow your market share, boost customer loyalty and engagement, and provide you with countless opportunities to increase your overall sales numbers. Period.

All of this is actually pretty simple to incorporate into your business… as long as you have a trustworthy and knowledgeable friend on your side who can guide you through it.

If you commit to learning how to make your company or marketing department smarter and more efficient through a combination of old and new tools, surround yourself with the right people with the right mindset and experience, and truly commit to kicking some ass (in the right way), very good things will happen.

Trust me, just like every other company out there (big and small) that has figured this out already, your modest investment in expert assistance (either by partnering with an expert or adding one to your team) could pay off BIG in no time. The alternative is to do nothing, continue to invest in an incomplete marketing portfolio, and hope that business will magically get better. (Good luck with that!)

Shoot me an email, and I will hook you up.

Have a great Monday, everyone!

;)

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Pure friggin’ genius. :D

Click on the image to play the video.

Hat tip to Dan Hollings.

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