Monday, February 5

Bashing Ghosts: The Branding Foundry

The Branding Foundry, which is the brainchild of Rowland Hanson, the former Microsoft marketing "guru" who is credited with coming up with the name Windows, is already facing its first brand challenge.

After a great write-up by venture capital reporter John Cook in Seattle, Kevin Young, president of the unproven and fledgling company, forgets his position and spends more time bashing ghosts (anonymous posters) than he does delivering a message, leaving some to wonder what The Branding Foundry is really about.

"However, in the spirit of our business community, it's sad to see that people take time out of their day to share their venomous comments to feel better about themselves," said Young. "As they say, 'the farther up the flag pole one ascends in life, the more your backend shows.'"

I'm not sure which anonymous post got under his skin more: 1. "This thread is polluted with self-serving tripe. John, you need to weed out the thinly-veiled ads." 2. "Don't see how this adds any value. Looks like a predatory scheme with no risk." 3. [Rowland Hanson] "Looks like a lounge lizard."

Of course, Young's ghost bashing was only met with more ghosts bashing back: 1. "What an incredibly arrogant post." 2. "I don't know what's crappier- the story or the posts that followed." 3. "Maybe the 'guru' and his trolls should ..."

And the debate, whether there "should be" or "shouldn't be" anonymous posters, begins all over again. Ho hum. Boring.

Actually, there is a decent discussion that took place at active rain, which references, among others, Jason Goldberg at Jobster, who asked about anonymous posts a few weeks ago (a great question at the wrong time).

Active rain blogger Barry Hurd made a decent argument, despite taking it a bit too far by questioning the ethics of anonymous posting. On this point, we disagree. Anonymous posting is not about free speech or ethics, in my opinion.

You see, over the last few years, I've seen anonymous posters (and anonymous bloggers) leave as many brilliant comments as they have unrelated, unfunny swipes that are easily dismissed. Their reasons for posting anonymously range from anything and everything from fear (not wanting to lose their jobs) and faux fear (Spocko being 'afraid' of big bad ABC, ha!) to protecting their own brand (I want to say something, but don't want it to rub off on me) and simply being too lazy, or perhaps too busy, to register with the site.

The bottom line is these people have a zillion reasons to post anonymously on sites that allow it. Not all sites do. Cook does. David Maister does not. Seth Godin doesn't allow comments at all, but he does allow trackbacks. Every one of them has different reasons for their decisions.

For example, I do not allow them, but not for reasons that most people think. In my case, I simply grew tired of deleting spam ads, lots and lots of spam ads.

If it wasn't for that, I would allow them (and used to). However, even if I did allow them, I would not personally post an anonymous comment (though sometimes I'm too busy to register and just type in my name). But, for me, it's par for the course. I don't have any reason to post anonymously because I've been threatened several times for working on certain political and commercial campaigns. And in the end, I decided that I would rather be fearless in life than live in fear. (Besides, threats only apply if your candidate loses or your commercial client folds).

However, since most people haven't learned they can live fearlessly, I don't begrudge them for posting anonymously where allowed. In fact, I say leave the anonymous posters alone for some very good reasons.

Cook's anonymous posters always make for an interesting, though sometimes silly, commentary on the events he writes about.

It used to be that way over at Inside Nevada Politics until they disallowed anonymous posters midstream during the 2006 political campaign, after someone called a candidate "dumb as a post" among other things.

Nowadays, most comments on that blog have thinned to nothing, because most people don't want to bash politicians (and the reporters in some cases) publicly. Most don't want such bashes to rub off on their companies. Go figure.

Anyway, what Inside Nevada Politics lost when they made that decision was honest discussion. And, with that, the "subjects" of many posts missed out on what the opposition thought of them.

It's true. When I was working on the Bob Beers campaign, I used to read all those anonymous comments faithfully, weighing their credibility. While I might not have responded to them, I certainly used the negative comments to develop strategies that addressed every complaint, just in case even one of those "ideas" caught fire.

Heck, in one case, an "anonymous poster" outlined a good portion of our opponent's strategy, making the point that for those reasons we would lose. So while other campaign members were up in arms about it, I calmly smiled and saw it for what it was: GOLD!

But then, Inside Nevada Politics disallowed anonymous posts and we were back to flying partially blind. Our window into the minds of our opponent was somewhat diminished. Oh well.

Chalk all this up as lesson number one for Young and The Branding Foundry. It's better to see what the opposition is thinking than to think you are untouchable on your very high horse, er, ladder, as you call it.

The second lesson is for everyone questioning the validity of anonymous posts. Simply put: "Whether anonymous posts (or anonymous blogs for that matter) should be allowed or not" is the wrong question.

The fact is that anonymous posts exist. And the question you could be asking is "What are we going to do about it?"

Well, we could run around the Web chasing ghosts, responding to them (which only gives them more credibility, by the way), and attempting to crush their credibility while looking like we take them ever so seriously ... or, we can file them away as insight into the opposition, maybe using them as another opportunity to get our message out, whatever that might be.

The Branding Foundry, unfortunately picked option A, and for all it gained by a well-written and flattering post by Cook, Young erased almost all of it by trying to be a "ghost buster" rather than a "brand master." I'm sorry Mr. Young, but you cannot hit something that is not there.

Besides, ghosts tend to multiply when you swing at one. I think it has to do with the "whoosh" sound people make, swinging at nothing.

Anyway, in closing, I would like to add that there is no venom here. I wish The Branding Foundry all the best of luck in sticking to a message rather than trying to bust ghosts. Hopefully, they will even share a few lessons with future clients...

No positive news is exempt from criticism, no matter where you think you are on the "ladder" of life. And bashing ghosts is an exercise in futility at its best. Almost always, you'll end up looking silly.


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3 comments:

Rich on 2/8/07, 8:42 AM said...

Famous Last Words:

"If we are even anywhere close to what we think we can grow this to, The Branding Foundry is going to become a very large organization very quickly. What is incumbent upon us is to set up a screening system that is effective, so we pick the winners." — Rowland Hanson to the Seattle P-I, regarding their new company that will seek out inventions, buy up to 75 percent of the rights, and heavily market with infomercials.

Geoff_Livingston on 6/30/07, 2:35 PM said...

You're right. I'm usually good about the negative comments, but this one's getting me. I just need to let it go and move forward. More growth.

Thanks for pointing me to this.

GL

Rich on 6/30/07, 6:32 PM said...

My pleasure Geoff. Of course, I might confess I re-read this post over and over. I think you know why!

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