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Without endorsing either of the three Presidential candidates in the US, and without suggesting any underhanded shenanigans, let me propose a thought about USA ’08.

It occurred to me last week while having drinks with a dozen or so industry peers – almost all democrats, mind you. The subject of the conversation somehow shifted to politics and the candidates… and I fully expected the group to be happy about Sen. Obama’s advantage over Sen. Clinton. That, however, wasn’t the case: No one at the table endorsed Obama.

Let me put it in another way, which is perhaps more telling: Not one single democrat at the table trusted Obama. Not enough experience, rhetoric not matching his record, the whole crazy church thing. The underlying sentiment basically came down to this: “What do we really know about this guy? Nothing. He came out of nowhere way too fast. We aren’t sure what to expect.”

Call it buyer’s remorse. Call it gut feeling. Call it whatever you will, but everyone’s favorite campaign trail rock star, the guy the press is so quick to attach to Kennedy and MLK… well… maybe he isn’t the superstar we’ve been so eagerly sold as the game-changer/unifier/political superhero America has been craving since Kennedy (or Ronald Reagan, depending what side of the fence you’re on).

But we haven’t gotten to the meat of it yet. The truly eye-opening opinion I hadn’t expected to hear. I’m getting to it. Here it is: Everyone there agreed that if Sen. Obama won the nomination instead of Sen. Clinton, they would not vote for him.

I was kind of shocked since I thought Obama – based on what I gather from mass media – would be a clear favorite.

More surprising yet, most admitted that they would actually switch camps and vote for McCain. These are democrats, mind you. People who are fed up with the Bush administration and ready for a change. People who have ALWAYS voted democrat. (Even Dukakis? Really?) And yet here they are, ready to vote for McCain if Obama beats Clinton in the ’08 donkey race.

I just wonder how many democrats around the US feel the same way. Probably a lot. Or rather, just enough.

I am sure every campaign manager knows exactly how many swing voters they can expect to win or lose, all broken down by demos, geos and verticals. The precise impact of these numbers must also be crystal clear to them.

Boiled down to the basics, the equation is simple:

Obama + McCain = McCain wins.
Clinton + McCain = x

What’s the Republicans’ play? Simple: Make sure Obama gets the nomination. Hillary is the real X-Factor, not Obama. McCain can’t shred her. But Obama can with the whole “new dream”/Kennedy/”let’s join hands” thing. Let him do it before we even get to the big game.

Genius.

Elections are a lot easier to win when you control the entire board, not just your half of it. The Dems are still stuck in primary mode. The Republicans, on the other hand, are already five steps ahead in presidential election mode.

Which makes the whole “Hillary should just quit” movement more than just vaguely suspicious. The pressure isn’t just coming from the Obama camp, and now I think I know why.

For better or for worse, I’m calling November ’08 now: McCain will defeat Obama. No Chad manipulation needed. No voting machine hacks necessary. He will win because his people didn’t leave anything to chance. Because they knew how to control the board from the very start.

The dems (yes, the voters) are getting played something fierce.

“Divide and conquer” and all.

As eloquently explained by Bruce Willis in Lucky Number Slevin, a Kansas City Shuffle is where everyone looks left, when they should really be looking right.

Yep.

They’ll be talking about this one for decades to come.


Photo: Bob Elsdale

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Sally Hogstead’s “Radical Careering” advice isn’t about looking for greener pastures somewhere else, it’s about shooting a wholelot of life back into your professional universe.

Click the image and download the presentation. It’s short and fantastic.

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Davia Temin – of Temin & Company sent me an terrific email a few days ago that outlined seven considerations that could help you strengthen company or brand in 2008:

Challenge Assumptions – Daily
An older corporate Board Director once said to me, “Do you know when we Directors know it is time to step down? When the things we believe to be undeniably, incontrovertibly true – aren’t any more.”

Things are moving so fast, fueled by technology, by globalization, by a troubled economy, by what is possible today that was not before, that it is crucial to challenge every assumption you have, all the time.

Especially in communications and reputation. One day Barry Bonds is riding high; the next he is a candidate for indictment. The same is true with CEO after CEO. But rehabilitation is possible. Take even the bizarre example of Joan Rivers. She was once a Johnny Carson wanna-be, almost a joke; today she is a QVC mogul, a fashion icon selling tens of millions of dollars worth of products over TV.

Reputations are no longer only slowly and deliberately built – they soar, they plummet, they crash, they resurrect. They are kinetic things and one must keep on top of them – monitoring them, readjusting them, and reinventing them –
constantly.

“News” is Being Redefined

As traditional print and broadcast media such as newspapers, magazines and TV news shrink and hemorrhage profitability, and information delivery continues its transit to the web, the influence of “editors” lessens. Press releases, oft maligned as organizational hype (and mostly are), have taken on new potency in the web world.

If you issue a release over the pay wires, it is immediately picked up, whole, by tens or hundreds of websites, which are in turn linked to hundreds of other sites, referenced in blogs, and sometimes received as unadulterated truth. Not always, of course, but more often than before.

And reported, researched, edited, thoughtful articles can sometimes be placed next to these marketing-messaged releases, and to blog postings, as just another form of news distribution, instead of being valued more highly.

Why else would organizations like ProPublica, the independent, non-profit newsroom that will produce investigative journalism in the public interest, crop up? Because a group of the most thoughtful, experienced news experts, such as former Wall Street Journal editor-in-chief Paul Steiger, Dick Tofel and Steve Engelberg, see that impartial, investigative journalism is no longer going to be economically viable. But it is still crucial to our world, and thus needs to be supported as a non-profit public endeavor.

Expect this trend to continue to grow. We need to understand the system in order to embrace it, while still honoring the difference between marketing messages and news. Believe it or not, that will hold marketers in the best stead.

We Won’t Be Fooled Again – Or Will We?
Osama/Saddam/Obama – The cynicism of those who seek to manipulate public perception cannot be overrated.

Communicators – especially in the political arena – have counted on the gullibility and lack of perceptivity of the public. They deliver muddied messages and expect the populace to not see clearly enough to uncover crucial distinctions, or the
truth.

How else could the current US administration have counted upon its constituents to confuse Saddam with Osama, half-believe that Saddam was responsible for the 9/11 attacks, and sanction the Iraqi war? (See the Wall Street Journal’s July 10, 2003 article, “The Fog of Deceit.”)

Well, we’ve seen where that leads us. And we’re smarter now – or are we? Will it work again? Watch, if Barack Obama reaches the ticket as Vice President or President, whether we begin seeing messages confusing “Osama” and “Obama.” Watch who puts those messages out, and who consumes them whole.

And let’s make sure that our own messages are clear and distinct, and that we help the public see crucial distinctions, as opposed to gloss over them.

Lies, Lies and More Damn Lies – Do They Matter?
To embellish on the previous point: perhaps it has ever been thus, but I think it is more true today – we are officially jaded by lies, and may no longer even care that we are being lied to.

“These CDO’s are safe, highly-rated investments.” “The value of your home will only go up.” “ Iraq has weapons of mass destruction.” “The US does not engage in torture.” “These products for your children are safe – and so is this cough
medicine….”

Public institutions are lying in profusion. Product safety breaches continue to rock various industries. But, is the traditional way of dealing with contamination still needed? Traditionally, a mea culpa, plan for remediation, and then follow-through were needed to repair product “tainting” problems.

Disturbingly, a headline in the December 21, 2007 WSJ proclaimed: “In the US , Playthings Stay on Customer Shopping Lists; Parents ‘Couldn’t Care Less,’” right before Christmas.

Privately, executives have criticized Mattel for overly-ambitious recalls, instead of “toughing out” its lead contamination issues.

What is the balance that beleaguered companies need to strike between defending themselves and apologizing, taking a hit, correcting and moving on? Millions of factors affect that balance – like the facts – but the trend seems to be shifting to a hardball stance. As the populace becomes more and more jaded, and expects less truth from its institutions, they seem to accept tougher corporate responses, and a lack of responsiveness. Is that a trend to take advantage of, or fight? What is best for share price, stakeholders and reputation?

Conflicting Trends: Transparency vs. Complexity
A dialectic is emerging between an increasingly interconnected, complex world – everywhere from the global supply chain to new derivative financial instruments – and calls for increasing public “transparency” and simplicity.

It is no wonder, because complexity and interconnectedness are as weak as their weakest links, and we often don’t know what they are until they fail. So complexity is scary.

But transparency and simplicity are hard to come by, and at best can only serve as an “executive summary” of the complexity that underlies them. Because complexity, fueled by technology and creativity, is not going away any time soon….

How will organizations, products and individuals need to publicly negotiate between these two trends? Proclaim transparency, but operate opaquely? How they come to a synthesis in their public profiles will determine their success in ‘08.

The Consequences of Our Loss of Privacy
It goes without saying that the concept of privacy is fast disappearing. People are being fired for indiscretions memorialized on the web—from ill-advised social networking postings to indecorous photos, often posted by others. There is nothing we do that might not be outed on the web…and even if it has not been yet, that does not mean it may not be in the future.

I can’t tell you how many times we have been hired not just for web site “optimization,” or to increase the exposure of organizations on the searchable web, but also for what I would call “deoptimization,” or trying to remove or bury certain items on the web. Of course, you can seek to correct incorrect data or lies in many ways, up to and including litigation, but as for dealing with breaches of your privacy, that is a different story.

The concept of an “open” society is taking on a new meaning. And in the future it will mean that either we all will have a much higher tolerance for human idiosyncrasy, or we had better be pretty careful of our behavior…even in Tahiti , on a private beach!

The Web as a Living Thing
Some scientists I have been working with talk about future inventions that will “read the web” like a living thing. Now I don’t just mean data mining Google to see who is looking at what at any given moment. Or researching how the web is valuing an organization’s “reputation” by crawling through and evaluating everything being written about it in real time.

These are already being done.

I am talking about several steps beyond: being able to model, visualize and understand the web as a sentient, growing, meta-organism that has a psychology, personality, moods, quirks, and powers that mirrors its users, en masse, and perhaps surpasses them. Call it Web 4.0, or maybe Web 5.0 squared.

This, over time, may be the reputation engine that supercedes all reputation engines.

Have a great weekend, everyone. 🙂

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Today is Day #2 of our review of French marketing trend notes for 2008.

(This whole translation business is actually not bad at all. I think I’m getting the hang of it.)

Read the original interview here.

Nicolas Riou (Brain Value):

As consumers grow less and less passive, brands must modify their approach in order to continue seducing them. (…)

Reading consumers is becoming very complex and presents a number of contradictions. We can no longer rely on traditional benchmarks. We forget the term “consumer” to replace it with “individual”. (…)

Consumers, like brands, now express themselves on the internet. In fact, consumers now tend to trust other consumers’ opinions posted on forums than actual brand communications. Power is changing hands. Brands are losing control over their own image but also take advantage of the content creation and associated buzz generated by consumers. Interestingly, some brands are attempting to regain control of this content creation by organizing contests. In 2007, Liebig organized a content creation contest that focused on recipes, and l’Oréal organized an advertising campaign design contest which promised its winners exposure for their work.

Consensus living is starting to gain momentum. Consumers are much more attentive to the way they make purchases and live their lives. Purchases of organic products reflect an trend towards all things natural, pro-health, and the reinforcement of ecologically driven imperatives. People are now much more attentive to traceability, recyclability, and the carbon footprint of products (as it relates to energy consumed during their production, distribution, etc.). This trend towards making products traceable from a to z is currently revolutionizing the food industry. Consumers can now look at a food product’s packaging and immediately see the difference between a kiwi fruit which traveled 20,000 kilometers and a kiwi grown in a neighboring country. This product labeling model is gaining incredible momentum in Japan, notably with mobile devices, and should start showing up in France in two or three years.

Buzz marketing aside, the 360° phenomenon is growing quickly. Consumer touchpoints are multiplying and making use of increasingly non-traditional methods of advertising. Still, these new strategies are not necessarily replacing more traditional marketing methods to inspire emotional attachment to brands. Both as consumers and fans of entertainment we still crave the familiarity of TV advertising and big media.

Interesting how in some ways, the French are a bit behind the US in terms of user content, realizing that the balance of power has shifted, and the use of the internet (hey, the French government held on to the minitel for so long that French adoption of PC’s and access to the internet was delayed for almost a decade)… yet their sophistication when it comes to a) product labeling and the role it plays in helping consumers make purchasing decisions, and b) ecological responsibility, is decades ahead of the US.

The carbon footprint of a ribeye steak? Really? In the US? I’d buy that for a dollar!

Have a great weekend, everyone. 🙂


Photo by NASA.

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Taking a well deserved break from drafting some brilliant business proposals for the coming year, I found this perfectly timed bit of advice in what may be Seth Godin‘s final post of 2007 (no worries, he’ll be back in 2008). Read it slowly so it has time to set in:

“It’s always possible to find a reason to stay put, to skip an opportunity, or to decline an offer. And yet, in retrospect, it’s hard to remember why we said no and easy to wish that we had said yes.

“The thing is, we still live in a world that’s filled with opportunity. In fact, we have more than an opportunity — we have an obligation. An obligation to spend our time doing great things. To find ideas that matter and to share them. To push ourselves and the people around us to demonstrate gratitude, insight, and inspiration. To take risks and to make the world better by being amazing.

“Are these crazy times? You bet they are. But so were the days when we were doing duck-and-cover air-raid drills in school, or going through the scares of Three Mile Island and Love Canal. There will always be crazy times.

“So stop thinking about how crazy the times are, and start thinking about what the crazy times demand. There has never been a worse time for business as usual. Business as usual is sure to fail, sure to disappoint, sure to numb our dreams. That’s why there has never been a better time for the new. Your competitors are too afraid to spend money on new productivity tools. Your bankers have no idea where they can safely invest. Your potential employees are desperately looking for something exciting, something they feel passionate about, something they can genuinely engage in and engage with.

“You get to make a choice. You can remake that choice every day, in fact. It’s never too late to choose optimism, to choose action, to choose excellence. The best thing is that it only takes a moment — just one second — to decide.

“Before you finish this paragraph, you have the power to change everything that’s to come. And you can do that by asking yourself (and your colleagues) the one question that every organization and every individual needs to ask today: Why not be great?”

I couldn’t have said it better myself. (Well… maybe, but why mess with a good thing?)

It’s difficult to break away from the rhythm of your workplace – putting out fires, attending meetings, sending emails, joining conference calls, managing projects, reporting to your boss, analyzing numbers, forecasting, putting together powerpoint presentations, etc. but that necessary routine will absolutely KILL your ability to grow your business and take it down exciting and profitable new roads if you let it.

As you take the next few days to put together an action plan for 2008, add this to your list: Every single day, find a way to unplug for at least 30 minutes. This isn’t lunch or smoke breaks. This is time for you to distance yourself from phone calls, emails, meetings, and all of the other distractions that work to keep you stuck in reactive mode.

Find a way to do it. Schedule it if you have to, reserve a conference room, go hijack an empty office or head down to the coffee shop across the street, or just go hang out on the roof of your building or whatever, but do it. Grab a notebook, a pad of paper (or better yet, your shiny new handy-dandy tablet PC) and go jot down your next masterplan.

Do this EVERY SINGLE DAY in 2008.

This is how you get unstuck.

This is how you don’t end up wondering why half of the ideas you had a year earlier never came to be. Put time on your side: Make imagineering time part of your daily routine.

Have a great last weekend of 2007, everyone. 😉


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photo by the impossibly talented and creative Matt Armendariz

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From Seth Godin’s blog:

Most industries innovate from both ends:

  • The outsiders go first because they have nothing to lose.
  • The winners go next because they can afford to and they want to stay winners.
  • It’s the mediocre middle that sits and waits and watches.

The mediocre (blank) companies, mediocre (blank) guys and the mediocre (blank) are struggling to stay in place. They’re nervous that it all might fall apart. So they wait. They wait for ‘proof’ that this new idea is going to work, or at least won’t prove fatal. (It’s the impulse to wait that made them mediocre in the first place, of course).

So, in every industry, the middle waits. And watches. And then, once they realize they can survive the switch (or once they’re persuaded that their current model is truly fading away), they jump in.

The irony, of course, is that by jumping in last, they’re condemning themselves to more mediocrity.

Read the entire post here. (The post is about the music industry. I took the liberty of adding the (blank) elements to make Seth’s argument more… universal.)

Along the same lines, Brains On Fire‘s Spike brings us this observation from CP+B’s Hoolpla:

“It astounds me how people are afraid of so many things, but mediocrity never seems to be one of them.”

Indeed.

From dictionary.com:

Mediocrity noun
Ordinariness as a consequence of being average and not outstanding [syn: averageness]

There’s a pretty good conversation on the topic over there. Check it out and feel free to join in.

Have a great Wednesday, everyone.

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