Archive for October, 2006

Happy Halloween!

It’s amazing what you can do with a couple of cardboard boxe, a sharpie, a box cutter, and just a couple of feet of packing tape.

Happy Halloween, everyone!

Photo: Ian Curcio, courtesy of Link Magazine.
Knight: Sir Ben Schowe
Costume Design: Helm and helm styling: F360 Photo+Design. Sword and shield: Ben Schowe

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If you have been reading the BrandBuilder blog for any amount of time, you know that I am a big fan of word-of-mouth (WOM) initiatives when it comes to helping a product or brand flourish. (Who are you more likely to believe when it comes to making a purchasing decision: An advertisement, or a recommendation from someone you know and trust? Duh.) By default, I also find myself drawn to word-of-mouth marketing (WOMM) initiatives. (I don’t like to call them “campaigns” because the kind of thinking associated with the terminology can get you into hot water, but that’ll have to be a topic for another post.)

Anyway. That’s precisely the rub: Just like The Force, WOMM has a dark side… and for a lot of people whose first encounter with WOMM “campaigns” turns out to be an encouter with shill marketing disguised as WOMM, the very essence of word-of-mouth marketing can be soiled forever.

Not good.

Earlier this year, I was lucky enough to be invited to blog at WOMMA‘s second basic-training conference (WOMBAT 2) in San Francisco. The skinny: Great event, great people, and lots of “I can’t wait to go to the next one.” For details, go check out WOMMA‘s website and dig around a bit.

Unfortunately, I also ran into a few companies who were there to… well, pose as players in the WOMM world without really espousing its precepts of transparency and authenticity. To be fair, they were a very small minority, and their unethical practices will eventually do them in, but there were a few rotten apples in the cart right from the start, and it is worth noting.

The lesson here, or rather, the word of caution is this: WOMM works. WOMM rocks. WOMM works because WOM works, and both are far more effective in a product, brand or company’s success than advertising, promotions, giveaways and cool POP displays… But precisely because it works so well, unscrupulous marketers will try to fake it… and abuse it… and in doing so, will give WOMM a bad name.

It’s easy to get lured by the Dark Side of WOMM. Once you’re there, once you’ve lost your credibility (and your client’s), good luck getting it back. It’s one thing to bend the truth when it comes to advertising (hey, metaphors can be stretched pretty far), but when it comes to something as genuine as WOM, the slightest lie or misrepresentation is simply unacceptable.

And unforgivable.

WOMMA has been aware of this since its inception, and has been working to help companies and marketing professionals stay on the path of WOMM righteousness. Their latest tool is a 20-question ethics gut check that every marketer and business exec should read.

I won’t cut-and-paste the list, but you can browse it here. And don’t forget to also read this, which explains the purpose of the document, and why it concerns you directly.

Now that you’ve read it, copy it and print it.

Once that is done, share it with your staff and your agency of record. Then incorporate it into your marketing and communications procedures.

Before any marketing or sales campaign, review these questions with everyone involved. Not just your project teams, but your agents out in the field (salesmen, buzz agents, and all other human touchpoints).

Trust me on this: WOMM can’t be soiled by even a sliver of underhandedness. In order to be effective and ethical, it must be 100% transparent and genuine. Period. End of story. So do yourself a huge favor and use the list as a tool. I mean really use it. It’s there. It’s free. There is absolutely no reason in the world not to.

From this point on, if you engage in unethical practices when it comes to WOMM initiatives, you won’t be able to defend your decison, or hide behind excuses like “we didn’t know.”

And some of us will make a point of exposing you.

Choose to be one of the good guys. There’s just no upside to being a shill marketer anymore (as if there ever was…). Whether you join WOMMA or not is your choice, but you owe it to yourself to understand the stakes and make a choice for yourself, your client, and your company: Do you wnat to be one of the good guys? Do you want to become a market leader and write your own success stories in the world of WOMM? Or would you rather be singled out as one of the black hats who give our industry a bad name… and end up hurting their clients instead of helping them?

The choice is yours.

Disclosure: Though I blogged the WOMBAT2 conference for WOMMA, I am not associated with or remunerated by WOMMA in any way. I am just a fan, student, and practitioner of genuine, ethical WOMM.

And to Andy Sernovitz (WOMMA’s President and fearless leader), thanks for sending me an advance copy of his book “Word Of Mouth Marketing” earlier this month. The bag of popcorn that came with it was delicious.

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Commit. Give it everything. Your project. Your job. Your relationship. Your race. If it’s worth doing, it’s worth doing well… and if it’s worth doing well, it’s worth doing exceptionally well.

Yeah, it might hurt and it might require a certain measure of sacrifice. Time. Pride. Fun. Sweat. Sleep. But that’s a choice you make.

The choice is to either commit, or… not.

And if you aren’t willing and ready to commit, you might as well save yourself and your cient the trouble and… stay home. Be honest with yourself and those around you. If your heart isn’t really in it, if you aren’t willing to hit the ball or turn the cranks like the pro you are, then maybe you ought to sit this one out.

Committing to something isn’t just about hard work, but also smarts, guts, and willpower. It’s about throwing yourself into the game body, mind, sould and all. Even if it’s for two hours a day, or five minutes every hour, that’s what it takes to do something exceptionally well. If you aren’t motivated to give it your all, then do yourself a favor and work on something else. Seriously. Turn it down. Delegate. Wait until your head gets clear and you can put your heart into it.

If you can’t turn it down, if your boss or client forces you to work on something you would rather not spend any time on, then take a breather. Go clear your head. Find that one thing in the project or task that you know you can throw yourself at wholeheartedly, and focus on that.

Don’t ever, ever, ever do anything half-assed. Ever.

Unless you like looking back on a completed project or campaign or achievement and wishing you had given it a little bit more effort. A little bit more heart. A little bit more juice.

Commitment is fun and painful and hard all at the same time… But that’s the way it should be.

Nothing worthwhile is ever easy to come by.

So make every word count. Every stroke of the mouse. Every release of the shutter. Every turn of the cranks. Every interaction with a customer. Every design feature. Every promotional coupon. Every TV spot. Every meeting. Every element of your web page design. Every media purchase. Every minute. Every second. Every breath.

It all adds up in the end.

It all pays off.

As long as you give it your all.

Have a great Friday, everyone.

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Crayon Launches Today

Joseph Jaffe. Neville Hobson. Shel Holtz. CC Chapman. Need I say more?

If you haven’t heard about this yet, go here and find out what’s up.

This could be the start of something very cool.

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I found this on Seth Godin’s blog today and couldn’t resist putting it in front of a few hundred more pairs of eyes:

Five Common Cliches (done wrong):

The early adapters will use it.
Actually, they’re adopters, not adapters. The mistake in wording represents a fundamental misunderstanding of how most markets work. People don’t adapt to what you make, they adopt it. They can’t be forced to adapt, so they won’t.

Half my advertising works, I just don’t know which half.
Actually, it’s closer to 1% of your advertising that works, at the most. Your billboard reaches 100,000 people and if you’re lucky, it gets you a hundred customers…

Let’s do a focus group, they’ll decide.
A focus group is supposed to focus you, not them. It’s supposed to lay out ideas and issues that mean little to the group and plenty to you. If you’re not prepared to focus, better to not go.

That’s a wacky idea.
Actually, doing what you’re doing now is wacky. Because what you’re doing now is certain to become obsolete, possibly sooner rather than later. Just ask my old boss!

We need a bigger marketing department.
Probably, you need everyone in the organization to do the marketing… from scratch. More brochures aren’t the answer.


photo: Ian Curcio, courtesy of Link Magazine.
model: Rusty Hutchison (Yes, from Team MudPuppies) wearing a sporty and health-conscious Hostess DingDongs costume.

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Being involved in endurance sports teaches you a lot about human behavior. For one, you tend to learn a lot about yourself, especially at mile 22 of a Marathon, or ten hours into an Ironman triathlon, or when the wind chill hits the single digits, it’s three in the morning, you haven’t slept in thirty-two hours, and your navigator has absolutely no idea where you are.

These types of situations also teach you a lot about other people.

It’s one thing to be pleasant, polite and considerate when things are going well. However, when you’re exhausted, hungry, parched, and/or in pain, playing well with others becomes a little bit of a challenge.

And for some people, it becomes completely impossible.

I was just reminded of this last Saturday morning, when I found myself in the middle of Greenville’s Marine Corps Mud Run surrounded by the other members of Team MudPuppies (Randy Hutchison, Amy Carter, and Rusty Hutchison – Team #25). Yes, that’s us up there. The fierce looking bunch with the black shirts.

Let me just say that team MudPuppies was outstanding. From start to finish, everyone had grins on their faces. We had a blast. Crawling through mud, wading through creeks, climbing walls, jumping off obstacles, swinging from ropes, running up slippery hills, we worked as a team. We clicked. We raced for one another… And we finished together.

Before The Mud. (Ignorance is bliss.)

Many of the other teams, some composed of fitter, perhaps more focused athletes, didn’t fare so well. Although this was only a four-mile course (hardly long enough to work up a good sweat), tempers flared. Teammates were left behind. Teammates were yelled at. The athletes who surged ahead of their slower teammates lost their tempers when they had to wait for them to catch up. They resented having to help them.


Interestingly enough, the teams that didn’t get along, the ones that didn’t click, the ones whose “leaders” acted like imaptient jerks… didn’t do so well. As soon as negativity poisoned team dynamics, the teams fell apart. Motivation evaporated and died. The performance of individual athletes suffered.

Instead of picking up the slack where they could (and should), they surged ahead and blamed their slower teammates when things didn’t go well. Instead of encouraging them, they yelled at them. Those teams all crashed and burned. It didn’t matter that they were composed of the fittest athletes in the race. It didn’t matter that they had the most experience with this type of race. They crashed and burned because over the course of just four miles, they simply weren’t capable of working together.

We passed quite a few teams on the course, and the ones that were not working together took twice as long to negotiate obstacles as the ones whose members clicked.

Mud pits have a tendency to make you commit.

We all have to work in teams these days. Whether you’re a product specialist in a retail environment, a product manager in a corporate environment or a Marketing professional working with creatives, buyers, clients and copywriters, we all have to get along. We all have to find a way not only to play nice, but to help each other accomplish the task at hand. Witnessing first-hand the difference between teams that work together and teams that don’t or can’t or won’t – in an environment as devoid of artifice as a muddy trail on a cold fall morning – was a pretty good eye-opener.

Based on what I saw during the mud run, here are my new rules of effective teamwork:

1. Agree on a goal.
No, really. Agree on the goal. Don’t just nod in agreement with the boss. Come to an agreement as a team. (It shouldn’t be difficult, but it can be.)*

* If coming to an agreement when it comes to setting a team goal is too difficult, you may need to re-examine your team’s roster. Someone there just doesn’t know how to play well with others.

2. Your role isn’t just to do your part. It is mostly to help others do theirs.
If someone is having trouble with their portion of a project, help them. Pick up the slack as a team.

3. Out on an endurance course, a team is only as fast as its slowest member. In the corporate world, the same is true. Deal with it.
Pick your teammates well, and once they’re on your team, don’t outpace them. Don’t surge ahead. Don’t drop them and leave them to fend for themselves. Slow down the pace. There’s no sense in speeding up ahead when one of your teammates is lagging behind. Stay with them. Support them. Remember: You’re working with a team. It isn’t the “you” show. If the team doesn’t stick together, if it doesn’t work together, it isn’t a team. It’s a clusterf–k.

4. Don’t complain if something isn’t going well.
Don’t blame anyone. Just regroup, find out where the trouble is, and work out the problem together. All problems and obstacles are learning opportunities, so look at problems as opportunities rather than something negative. Embrace problems. (And plan for them in advance,or your project schedules will be torn to shreds pretty quickly.)

5. Have fun.
Smile. Laugh. Enjoy yourself. Make sure the rest of the team is having fun too. Sometimes, you have to get down to business and work hard, but every hard effort should be followed by some degree of enjoyment. This could be celebrating a milestone or having successfully negotiated an obstacle. It could be the completion of a portion of the project, or the start of a new phase. It could be a brainstorming session or a presentation. The point is: Make it fun, and keep it fun. If you aren’t having fun working on a project or working together, the quality of the work you put out will suffer.

5. There are no bad teams. Only bad leaders.
And in a team context, everyone has to be a leader from time to time. The balance of power shifts from one phase or one portion of a project to the next. When it’s your turn to lead or help or pick up the slack, do it. Don’t wait for others to step in. Volunteer. (And remember #5. This shouldn’t be a drag.)

6. If you want to look good, forget about yourself and make your teammates look good.

7. Make sure everyone on your team lives and breathes Rule #6.

8. Don’t be afraid to get your hands dirty.
It doesn’t matter that you’re the accountant on the team. If your group is developing a new product, go hang out in the lab with the designers and quality engineers, and help them test the prototypes. Go out and do research. Broaden your horizons. Get involved with every facet of the project, not just your own.

9. Don’t be afraid to fall flat on your face.
That’s the beauty of being part of a great team. If you fall, your teammates will help you back up and get you going again. It’s okay to stumble when other people are there to pick you up… and maybe carry you a little while you recover. Enjoy it. Return the favor from time to time. Earn good karma points while you’re at it.

10. Be nice to other teams.
Spread your team’s positive attitude and success. Share what you’ve learned. Infect other project teams and departments with enthusiasm. Lead the way. Be an example. Spread the love. Encourage others. Energize your workplace. Invite others to participate in your team’s success and celebrate its milestones with you.

There’s no shame in being carried by a teammate from time to time.

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I’ve been a film fanatic ever since my parents took me to see the first Star Wars movie (now known simply as Episode IV). Since I’ve also been a big advertising fan since… well, since I was old enough to watch TV, it stands to reason that movie trailers (the advertising of movies) kind of rank pretty high on my list of attention-grabbers.

Let me say this again: I love movie trailers. Always have. Always will.

But here’s the rub: Most trailers these days aren’t any good. They used to be. There used to be a certain degree of savoir-faire when it came to cutting movie trailers. They were exciting. They made you want to see more. They made your mouth water.

Not so anymore.

Most trailers now seem to be disjointed and pointless. The rule of the day seems to be “okay, let’s throw as much crap as we can into that twenty-second spot as we possibly can. Priority 1: Explosions. Priority 2: The funniest line in the movie. Oh… and let’s add 20 extra seconds of useless footage at the end just to explain the entire plot of the movie to the portion of the audience who isn’t savvy enough to want to see the movie without having it explained A-Z upfront.”


To be fair, note that I said “most” not “all.” Some trailers are great. The Chronicles of Narnia had one of the most tantalizing theatrical trailers I’ve ever seen, and it’s barely a year old. But it stands out as being one of the very few great movie ads of the past decade.

So before I go on, let me throw a little note to the powers that be in Hollywood: Please, please, please, stop putting out lousy trailers. Please!!! Aside from the fact that bad trailers don’t entice people to go see the movies they advertise (no, really, think about it), those of us who look forward to them are getting tired of having our expectations shattered by remedial, poorly cut junk.

How hard is it to put together an exciting 30-60 second spot with 90+ minutes of footage? If my neighbor’s kid can do it for free on his PC and post it to YouTube, surely, a highly paid studio editor can do a half-decent job. Right?

But enough about that. Read the fascinating (and quick) post on Tom Asacker’s blog about advertising’s effect on expectations rather than simply sales. (It deals with movie trailers.) Here’s a sliver:

“Instead of examining the effect of advertising on sales, we examine how advertising affects the updating of market-wide sales expectations. The focus on expectations creates a valuable advantage. Our measure of expectations, which is derived from a stock market simulation, is an accurate predictor of sales.”

Confused? No worries. Click here to read the whole post.

Have a great Monday. 🙂

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