Archive for May, 2009

Memorial Day

yours truly, in a previous career – circa 1993.

From Wikipedia:

Memorial Day is a United States Federal holiday observed on the last Monday of May (in 2008 on May 26). Formerly known as Decoration Day, it commemorates U.S. men and women who perished while in military service to their country. First enacted to honor Union soldiers of the American Civil War, it was expanded after World War I to include casualties of any war or military action.

For me at least, Memorial Day is about much more than just cookouts: Without the courage of young American men who came to Europe to fight the Nazis, I would have been born in a German-speaking France. Or perhaps not at all.

Though I was born in 1971, I grew up in the shadow of WWII: My grandfather was a Cavalry Officer in both WWI and WWII. A hefty chunk of my family on my Mother’s side was killed by the Nazis. I grew up in France, surrounded by memorials, military cemeteries and the pockmarked landscapes of Normandie, Ypres and the Ardennes. Think old bunkers, craters and fields of white crosses like the photo below. My mother, who was 11 when Allied troops finally landed and remembers the war all too well, still – to this day – keeps an emergency supply of sugar and butter… just in case, I don’t know, the Germans decide to give it another go.

I grew up with the paratroopers’ prayer framed over my bed, and the annual ritual of having my father let me hold my grandfather’s medals. (The Legion d’Honeur and the Croix de Guerre.) I grew up with countless stories of sacrifice and courage and bravery. I grew up with a profound love for all things American, simply because long ago, decades before I was born, thousands of them crossed the Atlantic to come save us… and died on our beaches and in our fields.

What does this have to do with branding? Very little… but it’s Memorial Day and I never let it go by without thinking about the daily sacrifices made by men and women in uniform. To those who can’t be with their loved ones today, and to the families of the fallen, I say thank you.

And Thank You to all who serve and have served in the United States Armed Forces – not just on this day, but every day.

Je me souviens.

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So you want to start or grow a customer engagement, community-building or social media practice at work (or for a client) and you’re having a tough time getting the key decision-maker onboard?

Guess what: You’re probably doing more selling than listening. Shut up and ask them what they need. Chances are, they’ll tell you they need more sales. And unless you understand how to talk about social web, customer engagement and sales impact in the same sentence, guess what: You can’t solve their problem.

Let me throw a little moment of divine clarity your way: If you can’t solve their problem, your value to them and the value of your idea are both precisely zero. So watch this video and see if something clicks:

Instead of talking about social mention and brand loyalty to a guy who thinks that Marketing falls into the L section of his P&L, maybe you should focus on what matters to them, right?

If you like this video (and if you found it helpful) let me know and I will post more on the same topic. I’ve just skimmed the surface with this. There’s a whole lot more to talk about.

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olivier alain blanchard

Fact: Even after you’ve talked to them at length about it, most of the decision-makers you are talking to still have no idea how Social Media can help their business.

Heck, they may not even completely understand how developing relationships with customers, building a great brand or taking the time to help communities grow around their products or company philosophy can positively (and pretty significantly) impact their P&L.

Now… don’t get me wrong: I am not a huge fan of spending a whole lot of time attaching every single thing a company does to the almighty P&L. That’s a lot like putting a $$$ value on every hand you shake at a party or every business card you hand out. Pretty self-serving and sort-sighted, right?)

BUT I also understand that when sitting across the room from a decision-maker who gets pitched every day, you have two choices: 1. Sell something they don’t care about, or 2. Solve a problem for them that no one else can.

It doesn’t matter that what you’re selling will absolutely catapult them to the #1 spot in their market or boost their sales by 5,000% in just 12 months. (As if the actual value of an idea had anything to do with management decisions. 😀 I mean really: Look around you.) If they don’t get it, if you aren’t handing them a solution to a problem they are struggling with, you are wasting your time.

Worse yet, the opportunity cost to you and the honcho you just wasted your time speaking with is this:

1. Someone else with a lesser idea but better presentation skills will get that business.

2. The company who went for the lesser solution will suffer from not having signed with you. Market share and profits will continue to erode. Layoffs will ensue. The world as they know it will end. (Do you really want that on your conscience?)

So what’s the answer? Simple: Be prepared to address their specific need. Understand what their hot-button issue is. And more importantly, get good at clearly and smoothly connecting the dots between what you have to offer and the result your interlocutor is looking for. Is it more sales? Is it loyalty? Okay, how does your solution impact either or both?

But wait… define sales. Are we talking about creating new customers? Increasing how much existing customers spend? Shifting customer spending from one product to another?

If trying to impact loyalty, how does loyalty look to that manager? Does it look like increased frequency in purchases? Does it look like an increase in new customers through referral programs? Do they even know? Do you know?

Look, if you don’t know this stuff, if you can’t tie it all together, if you can’t at the very least speak that language, it’s back to the drawing board for you.

Sure, you may get lucky with 5% of the company execs you sit down with, but even then, it’s a matter of time before their boss looks at your program and asks for a slightly better answer to the ROI question than “increased social mention,” “really positive online conversations” and “almost 3,000 followers on Twitter”. Whether you like it or not, whether you care about it or not, this is a piece of the puzzle that you have to address. Period.

If you’re scratching your heads right now, no worries: Over the course of the next few weeks, I will be helping you with that little problem. Stay tuned. I have something special brewing for you guys. 😉

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Design For Users‘ Kristi Colvin (@kriscolvin on Twitter) had some pretty powerful brand management advice recently that is well worth sharing here. Check this out:

The heart of a brand, like that of an individual, is vulnerable. It must be both soft enough to prove genuine caring, and strong enough to withstand scrutiny and adversity. But it is your core offering – not your products and services – and if you aren’t in touch with and know what’s in the heart, establishing lasting relationships with customers will be difficult or hit and miss. Do you want a shallow relationship with the people that interact with your brand, or a sympathetic bond that can withstand conflicts?

The connection between brand loyalty and a healthy bottom-line being what it is, I can’t really think of a better question to ask a CEO or brand manager every time they come to a strategic crossroads.

In other words… This type of introspection isn’t just something company execs should go through once a year or at the start of every new business cycle, but rather every single time a decision needs to be made within the company.

(I am already hearing the question germinating in your brains: What if hundreds of decisions have to be made every day? My answer to you is simple: Once a day or a thousand times per day, there is no difference.)

If you’re looking to save time, feel free to distill the question down to its core: “What would our customers want us to do?”

You just can’t go wrong with that kind of mindset.

Look at it this way: There is absolutely no decision anyone can make within a company that this question cannot be applied to. None. Why? Because every decision you make impacts your relationship with your customers. The software you use. The way you answer the phone. The speed with which you respond to complaints. The way you design your website. The way your product is packaged. The way you treat your vendors and partners. The people you hire. The people you promote. How clean your bathrooms are.


Every time you are considering a new hire, ask yourself: “What would our customers want us to do?”

Every time you are considering cutting cost out of your model, ask yourself: “What would our customers want us to do?”

Every time you are about to respond to a crisis, ask yourself: “What would our customers want us to do?”

(Ideally, you want to be able to ask them directly, but that will have to be the topic of another post.)

Once you get into the habit of addressing every question, every problem, every crisis in this way, life gets a whole lot easier. Suddenly, you find yourself not needing to set up so many meetings. You find your reaction time greatly enhanced. You find that taking your ideas to market takes a whole lot less time.

You also find that you don’t have to work quite so hard to earn more business (new and repeat business).

Again, from Kristi:

“Engaging people from the heart of your brand, being vulnerable and forging true and lasting customer relationships are what will keep companies alive and thriving through good times and bad times.”

This isn’t touchy-feely rhetoric. This is as real as it gets. It’s how Starbucks used to do it. It’s how Zappos does it. It’s how the next generation of firebrands will do it.

And if you still aren’t convinced that what you read here today makes good business sense, here’s another question you might want to ponder: If you don’t do what’s best for your customers today, what will your customers do?

Everything you do either gives your customers a reason to do business with you or do business with someone else. There are no neutral-impact decisions.

Don’t give the other guy a chance to eat your lunch.

Don’t give the other guy a chance to earn a better reputation than you.

Don’t give the other a guy a chance to write your eulogy when you finally find yourself circling the drain in what used to be your market.

Even if you don’t buy the whole “higher calling” thing we’ve been talking about lately, understand that your customers are constantly judging you and THEY care. Being better, friendlier, easier to do business with is just good business. Treating your customers like cattle when so many other choices exist for them now will get you nowhere fast.

Have a great weekend, everyone! 😉

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iPig icon

This post is a follow-up to Part 1

Is anyone talking about the killer plague anymore? What was it called again? Ah yes: Swine Flu. H1N1… or N1H1 or whatever. Hamthrax for short.

Funny, it seemed just a little over a week ago that this was a serious threat to humanity. Remember all the terrifying pandemic terror headlines? All the photos of people wearing surgical masks and hazmat suits? Deserted subways and empty streets? Entire school systems shutting down every time a kid came in with a cough? Cruise ships bypassing Mexico and worthless travel advisories? My in-laws canceling their fall cruise to Hawaii in case the aporkalypse managed to reach the main island in spite of the inevitable global quarantine? Egypt slaughtering hundreds of thousands of hogs, China detaining visitors with Mexican passports and banning Mexican pork imports?

Remember the 24-hour real-time coverage of suspected cases and confirmed cases and confirmed suspected cases and confirmed suspected confirmed cases?

Remember the panic?

What happened to all that?

I think I hear swarms of Africanized killer bees flying down my street to hunt down West Nile mosquitoes feeding on Avian Flu-afflicted songbirds belonging to folks still carrying the SARS virus.

(Crickets chirping.)

Thanks, CNN, MSNBC, Fox News and all the rest of you ninnies for crying wolf AGAIN and boosting your ratings by unapologetically scaring the crap out of people. Well played. You should be very proud of the service you provide.


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My coverage of The FIRE Sessions 2009 is happening over at the Brains On Fire blog today, so why don’t you guys all head on over there and check it out? I gotz pictures and wisdom from the sessions and everything! It’s pretty rad.

Here are the links to the three posts:

Part 1:  The Haka and the Culture Virus

Part 2: Passion, Clarity, and… Grizzly Bears

Part 3: Parting Words of Wisdom

And here are some more photos from The FIRE Sessions 2009:

Immaculate Baking Co., Jute Networks and Brains On Fire

Immaculate Baking Co., Jute Networks and Brains On Fire

Fast Company's Ellen McGirt

Fast Company's Ellen McGirt

Attendees arriving at the Peace Center

Attendees arriving at the Peace Center

Jake McKee and Geno Church setting up

Jake McKee and Geno Church setting up

The Haka

The Haka

Les etiquettes et le feutre

Les etiquettes et le feutre

Geno doing his thing

Geno doing his thing

From here...

From here...


... to there. (The subtle evolution)

Wise Words

Wise Words

The Fataki: an intergenerational sex culture discussion with Dan Heath

The Fataki: an intergenerational sex culture discussion with Dan Heath

The view from the nosebleeds

The view from the nosebleeds

Spike showing off the guns

Spike showing off the guns

Geno, badass mofo

Geno, badass mofo

Jake McKee talking about LEGO and changing cultures

Jake McKee talking about LEGO and changing cultures

The Fiskateers panel

The Fiskateers panel

The FIRE Sessions panel

The FIRE Sessions panel

Le carnet secret des corsaires de Greenville

Le carnet secret des corsaires de Greenville

The FIRE Sessions 2009

The FIRE Sessions 2009

Robbin, Monsieur Cordell, Spike, Geno, Matt, Justine, Kathie, Jack, Eric, Liza, Heather, Brandy and the rest of the Brains On Fire crew: Thank you, thank you, thank you for inviting me to be a part of this fantastic and very special event.  You guys rock!


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FIRE Sessions 09

Okay, so the plan was to blog live from today’s FIRE Sessions but as luck would have it, the wi-fi at the Peace Center for the performing arts (where the event was held) didn’t exactly want to cooperate. So… all I managed to do was tweet about it via my BlackBerry Storm. (Check out the stream on Twitter using hashtag #fire09)

Does that mean that I gave up on covering FIRE Sessions 2009 on this and the Brains On Fire blog? Heck no! I spent the day taking notes and shooting pictures, so I will be putting together a couple of posts later this evening. Part 1 will publish sometime tonight, and Part 2 will publish tomorrow morning.

So… Sorry about the technical snafu today, which was kind of beyond our control. I will make it up to you in a little bit, I promise. 😉

Before I run out of here, what I can tell you about today though is this: Brains On Fire’s 2009 FIRE Sessions rocked. And I am not just saying that to make nice. Aside from the fact that I really loved the experience – which was unique, fresh, energizing, inspiring  and many other things I will have to get into later – there was something truly special about the conversations and interactions I was a part of today. I can’t tell you what exactly. I can’t quite put my finger on it. Yet. But I will.

Okay, gotta run, but hang tight: I will be back later with Part 1 of the FIRE Sessions 2009 recap/coverage. 😉

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It isn’t every day that I get invited to guest blog for Brains on Fire (yes, the legendary identity company based right here in the 864), so today is a really big treat for me. (I’ve been a fan for a loooooooong time.)

Not only that, but I get to hang out with them all day during this year’s FIRE Sessions, (held today in the beautiful Peace Center for the Performing Arts). How cool is that!

I have absolutely no idea what to expect, but I know this: Made to Stick’s Dan Heath, LEGO’s Jake McKee, and the Lead Fiskateers will be chatting with us and answering questions about what it’s like to lead vibrant, customer-led communities – for starters. Fast Company’s Ellen McGirt will also be there, along with a pretty solid group of folks from all over the country – and of course the crazy-talented Brains on Fire crew. Needless to say, I am stoked. (No FIRE pun intended…) Meh.

My posts today will live and breathe on Brains on Fire’s blog (click here), so feel free to check them out throughout the day. The plan right now is to craft at least a half-dozen snack-sized blog posts during the course of the day (maybe more) to make it easy for you guys to share as much of the experience as possible.

I will also be sharing some soundbites and regular updates via twitter throughout the day. To make things easy to follow, you can track all the activity there via hashtag #fire09.

And yes, I will be shooting some photos as well, so you can see what’s going on. (Don’t say I never did anything for ya.)

Check in around 10am or so for the first couple of updates and we’ll go from there. It’s going to be fun. 😉

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From Tim Coote‘s always brilliant and enjoyable blog:

“When people ask me how do you make it in show business or whatever, what I always tell them — And nobody ever takes note of it ‘cuz it’s not the answer they wanted to hear. What they want to hear is here’s how you get an agent, here’s how you write a script, here’s how you do this — But I always say, “Be so good they can’t ignore you.” If somebody’s thinking, “How can I be really good?”, people are going to come to you. It’s much easier doing it that way than going to cocktail parties.”

Steve Martin.

All of the strategies and marketing angles will be trumped by this one piece of advice everytime – “Be so good they can’t ignore you”. If you’re catching balls in the end zone week after week or motivating people to do their best and it works week after week you will be noticed. People want to notice you because it’s why the world spins. It’s why people are able to get out of bed and go to work. Aspiring to greatness is the honey in the lion.

Damn, Tim. Well put.

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“The aim of marketing is to know and understand the customer so well the product or service fits him and sells itself.”

– Peter Drucker

Amen. If you have to sit there and work to sell it, there’s a marketing department somewhere that’s at fault.

Read Tom Asacker’s letter to Tom Peters
to find out where the whole Sales vs. Marketing thing went oh-so-wrong. (Good stuff.)

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This is the email I received from a web design company today:

We have not received any reply yet. You are receiving this email because we wish you to use our web design service.

We are web design studio from China. We are specialized in web page design, website development, graphics & multi-media design, flash website design and other relevant services. We pride ourselves with our technical strength, professional vision, unique style, and most of all, our highly devoted professional designers. We are in position to offer website solution, graphics design, e-commerce solution, online promotion and other medium and small business oriented services.

Core offerings

Business website design
Business website redesign
Flash website design
Flash website redesign
Ecommerce website design
Ecommerce website redesign
Company website design
Company catalog design
Company logo design

Graphic design
Google search engine optimization
ERP Solutions

Pls check our website to see portfolio.

Yeaaaaah. Let me get right on that.

My favorite part: “We have not rceived a reply yet. You are receiving this email because we wish you to use our (…) service.”

See… if these guys had actually gone just a little further with that a threatened me, maybe that would help me get off the fence. 😀 (“If you do not use our service, we will have to take immediate action. Do not make us come over there!”)

Yeah, they’re going to go far.

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