Wednesday, June 30

Bankrupting Credibility: Nobody Believes BP Anymore


When Facebook disabled the profile of Boycott BP, the reaction from 750,000 members was almost immediate. Within minutes, most people, including Public Citizen, believed a BP complaint prompted the action.

Facebook, which reinstated the content, later issued a statement that said its automated systems made the mistake. The page was reinstated after the error was discovered. Public Citizen says the statement was insufficient.

Regardless of the why, it raises interesting questions for communicators, suggesting a need for new rules governing how crisis communication is managed. And, it also serves as an indicator of how damaged the BP brand really is. Even when BP isn't responsible for attempting to censor communication, blame is automatically assigned to the company.

It's anticipated and expected, because the public expects no less from a company that has broken trust. BP has made several mistakes in attempting to control communication as opposed to managing information. It doesn't even matter if almost half of all censor incidents were created by the government. It's BP's fault.

The Rise Of The Anti-Brand, Fake Public Relations, and Instant Journalism.

Andrew Fowler suggested several steps worth considering. But any solutions have to be situational.

In the case of BP, company communicators might as well consider the site an asset. BP boycotters and BPGlobalPR actually help corral all communication about the company, providing insights into where the communication is crumbling and what miscommunication or inaccurate information might exist.

The goal isn't to control communication. There isn't much use in sharing an opinion about them. The goal needs to be focused on managing information, with an emphasis not on trying to preserve the brand (BP is well beyond that) but by clarifying factual information (and not necessarily directly).

BP does some of this well. Some of it, not so well. Some of it well. Some of it, not so well...

You may reproduce the images on the understanding that (i) any reproduction of these images will include the following acknowledgement adjacent to the image(s) used - '© BP p.l.c.' and (ii) these images will not be used in connection with any purpose that is prejudicial to BP, its officers or employees or any other third party. The images may not be sold.

From a classic crisis communication standpoint, some communicators are giving BP a "B" for hitting all the main points. Personally, I would give it an "F" and that seems pretty generous.

The reason for my low mark is simple enough. Classic crisis communication bullet points do not address several key challenges that arise when communication isn't handled properly.

The Anti-Brand. Whether spontaneous or organized by advocates with agendas, anti-brands already know the tenets of crisis communication and are well-prepared to discount every step. Any apology will be labeled insincere. Any accounting will be inadequate. Any acceptance of responsibility will not be believed.

Fake PR. Whether you borrow Fowler's term or call them Mock Brands, the general disposition is the same. These people aim to mock you and your company. Sometimes the efforts are a form of flattery; sometimes they are not. Obviously, the various fake accounts related to BP have very little to do with admiration.

Instant Journalism. While there are mainstream reporters and established citizen journalists, a crisis of this magnitude draws out people who have never been reporters before to suddenly feel compelled to cover it. En masse, handling every request just doesn't scale.

What's the remedy? As I wrote early on in the crisis, actions speak louder than words. And in this case, there were only three words tied to actions that could have helped preserve BP (and the Obama administration for that matter). What were those words?

We need help.

Imagine how different the communication might have been had this action been the cornerstone of the crisis from day one.

Skimmers would have dispatched. Booms would have been deployed. Media would have had front row seats. People would have known exactly what to do to help. Environmentalists would have been standing by. Localized emergency response crews would have been ready for multiple crises if and when they occurred. Nonprofit organizations would have coordinated economic impact. And so on and so forth.

Had this occurred, BP wouldn't even be the story and neither would the Obama administration. The story would have been the generosity of the Dutch and other countries sending skimmers. The story would have been local citizens preparing for the worst. The story would have been about a country uniting against a common problem. In sum, the story would have been about everything and everybody else except BP and except the government.

By not being the story, the damage to both could have minimized and, as a result, the respective brands preserved. Instead of a Boycott BP Facebook group, there might have been a "Help BP" Facebook group. Instead of "BPGlobalPR," there might have been an "DailyGulfHero" Twitter account. Instead of writing and reporting on all the problems, citizen volunteers documenting their own volunteer efforts, uncensored, would have quelled the need.

Neither BP nor the Obama administration seem to understand this simple truth. Action or inaction dictates brand value. Instead, they continue to make themselves the story and inexplicably tell people to sit back and rate their performance. The sheer magnitude of ego to "own this crisis" cannot be underscored enough.

They got what they asked for. You don't have to ask for it.

The first step toward a remedy for anti-brands, fake PR, and investigative journalists is to recognize that they are outcomes, symptoms that prove your actions are not aligned with your message. And knowing this, there are only four possible actions.

• Acknowledge them and let them live, unhindered. (Apple)
• Selectively interact, correcting facts but not opinions. (AT&T)
• Engage them by opening up a direct communication channel. (CBS)
• Change your actions until they no longer seem relevant or needed. (Dominos)

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Tuesday, June 29

Counting Crowds: Circulation Only Matters Sometimes


According to Brandweek, print is still losing its place as a viable business. National magazine spending fell 19.3 percent. Newspaper advertising fell 13.7 percent. But marketers who made those cuts didn't stop spending. Marketers migrated to digital media.

Still, the industry-wide advertisers only tell part of the story. Re/Max cut its print spending by 53 percent. Hertz Car Rental slashed 58 percent. State Farm dumped 55 percent of its print budget. Add to that Unilever's recent decision to double spending on digital marketing this year.

"I think you need to fish where the fish are," said Keith Weed, CMO for Unilever during a question-and-answer session with WPP Chief Executive Martin Sorrell. "So I've made it fairly clear that I'm driving Unilever to be at the leading edge of digital marketing."

According to an article by AdvertisingAge, Unilever is hardly alone. P&G doubled its measured U.S. Internet spending last year to $100 million.

The Case Against Migration.

Of course, not everyone is bullish on digital. Audrey Siegel, president at media agency TargetCast, who was quoted in the aforementioned Brandweek article, says dollar cuts aren't necessarily a shift from print to digital. She says print still commands the same amount of market share.

“In regard to digital spending, there’s no reliable source in tracking it, so when we talk about print dollars migrating, it’s anecdotal,” she said. “Digital will continue to grow but not necessarily just at the expense of print. It can just as easily be a case of broadcast dollars shifting into digital.”

Siegel seems to be be right and wrong. On one hand, print's hold over the same percentage of advertising spending is true. But on the other hand, it's not true for the reasons cited. Digital adverting has yet to make up ground as a viably priced medium. Specifically, digital media is still the cheaper buy while print, despite seeing publishing budgets shrink, are hanging on to higher ad rates.

The group trying to change all that isn't necessarily on the print publishing side. On the contrary, the Interactive Advertising Bureau is attempting to set some sort of standard that will place digital on equal footing. According to MediaWeek, the same problem remains. Everyone wants to plant "eyeball measurement" into the equation.

"Newspapers and magazines are particularly frustrated in their attempts to make up for steep print revenue losses with Web dollars and feel their high-quality content should command higher CPMs online," writes Lucia Moses. "Local newspapers have it tough because panel-based measurement isn’t well suited to local sites, resulting in erratic results."

One example Moses cites comes from Scripps. Scripps generates $500 annually per print reader but only $75 per online visitor. So the problem for many print publishers, to follow the marketing dollars online, is that "circulation" is up but the "value" of that circulation is down.

Solutions, solutions everywhere, and not even one to measure.

We see it every day. Many clients, even a few of our clients, are sometimes conflicted between the number of eyeballs versus engagement. It's a well-reasoned disconnect. Everything they have known until about five years ago suggests playing the numbers beats consumer concern. Every media salesperson on the planet has spoon fed them viewers, listeners, and readers as the fundamental measure of success. Public relations practitioners are guilty too, using the promise of reaching high circulation print pubs as their bread and butter has been the message they've carried forth for years.

The reality they are coming to terms with now is that "eyeball" rates do not necessarily equal conversation rates because two-way communication is a much different affair. Consider yesterday's research finding from Omni Hotels & Resorts as an example.

Seventy percent of those who do connect via Twitter and Facebook said that they share positive hotel experiences and incentives such as room upgrades. Sixty-two percent said they are more likely share positive experiences over negative ones.

So, in terms of "eyeballs," counting "followers" isn't the only answer. In some cases, ten followers might provide an expanded reach of 150,000 more people, assuming they share the content, page, incentive or offering. Add in their followers, and the potential reach could outpace some very respectable publications. However, not all of those potential eyeballs will ever equal conversions.

Case in point. One of our colleagues emailed us yesterday, excited by a traffic spike. When we asked them to attribute their spike, they said it became a controversial hot topic on a social network, meaning people disagreed whether the advice was wise or whether it was an advertisement.

"So, of all those people who flocked to the site to offer up their opinion," I queried. "How many will ever become customers?"

Hardly any. Contrary, the one follower who shared his post with ten friends within proximity to his business — those people, especially if they make plans together — are very likely to become customers. The irony, however, is that marketers have been trained to devalue the qualitative for the quantitative for their entire careers and it's just not true.

That's right. That video with one million views might be worthless. The one with ten views, depending on the value of the customer, might be worth $1 million. And the only way to approach media buys right now is to know the difference and find the middle. But since each middle might be different, there is no "formula" as much as there is an equation that leaves many publishers out of the loop.

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Monday, June 28

Targeting Business Travelers: How Social Is Mobile?


A new survey from Omni Hotels & Resorts found that business travelers ranked adjusting travel plans, making dinner reservations, and hotel check-ins among the applications they use most often during trips. Other activities, such as checking the latest sports scores and looking for the nearest coffee spot, also rated very high.

But what about social? While younger business travelers, ages 25 to 34, update Facebook to keep up with and connect with friends and family (65 percent), the greater demographic tends to be more private, tapping mobile applications for conveniences rather than connections while traveling.

Traveling With Conveniences

• 61 percent say that they surf the Web during travel.
• 49 percent of business travelers would like to pay hotel bills online.
• 48 percent said they they would like to order hotel and outside services.
• 34 percent said they use Skype or other chat services to connect with family.

Traveling With Connections

• 40 percent of business travelers check social networks using hotel WiFi.
• 45 percent of business travelers said they use Twitter during business trips.
• 34 percent of business travelers said they "boast" about trips on Facebook.
• Only 11 percent update frequently during their the entire trip.

Interestingly enough, 70 percent of those who do connect via Twitter and Facebook said that they share positive hotel experiences and incentives such as room upgrades. Sixty-two percent said they are more likely share positive experiences over negative ones.

One specific service mobile users are hoping hotels add is the ability to request hotel car service from the airport. But business travelers are trending toward wanting to make travel easier by accessing every service — ranging from room service to booking lunch — via their mobile phones. In general, mobile tends to be used more for such personal conveniences than personal connections. The survey skewed toward business travelers who stayed in hotels with rates at least $150 per night.

Omni Hotels & Resorts does employ social media incentives designed to encourage consumer promotions. Currently, the hotel chain is offering a 30 percent discount on cocktails to those who tweet about their stay at the hotel. Other incentives include a variety of early adoptive ideas, including 25 percent off a Snapfish photobook.

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Sunday, June 27

Asking Questions: Fresh Content Project


It's no surprise to me that the best solutions often come from the people who ask the right questions, whether or not they are prepared to answer them. This week's fresh picks in review ask some killer questions, and some of them provide answers.

Even if your content can be translated, will your audience understand you? Can you really manage communication or are you better off managing the information (assuming you're not going to lie about it)? Does dissent strengthen understanding of a topic or simply undermine relationships? Can someone really be expected to do it all in social media (unless all they do is social media)? And how has the Internet changed our profession for the better, especially among those who never really knew any other way?

All of them are amazing for consideration, some worth much more depth than I afford them here. See for yourself.

Best Fresh Content In Review, Week of June 14

Lost In Translation.
Tom Fishburne shares his first hand account of feeling lost in translation. It's a marvelous story that serves up a healthy reminder that many terms do not translate, even those that are somehow exempt from being classified as jargon or industry speak. As one of his examples, Fishburne retells how disruptive innovation might mean something to you or me. But to the audience he was speaking to, he might as well have told them to kill their existing businesses. Yes, sometimes presenters are charged with covering introductions into subjects they never intended to cover.

A Pool Approach to Coverage.
"Should we believe that BP's decision to limit media access or withhold vital information was made for fear of running afoul of those who govern the New York or London Stock Exchanges?" asked Peter Himler before providing five bullet points on how BP could have effectively used social media to manage the information related to the spill as opposed to attempting to manage the communication related to the spill. You can't get much clearer than his five ideas, all of which would prove better than what they are attempting to do.

Social Media Examiner Defends Their Own Inaccurate Content.
Sometimes private discourse is only a foreshadow to public discourse. The most common kind occurs when one blogger might casually mention to another blogger that they disagree. But when they disagree in private, there are no benefactors. Adam Singer knows this, and benefits us all in recapping the discussion between himself and the folks at Social Media Examiner. Interestingly enough, I know something about the subject. Singer is right, based in part on the same confusion caused by this study.

If Your Content Is Your Concerto ...
While it's always distracting to see images spill into the side bar, Peter Winick's visual misstep is par for the post. There are dozens of people who are proponents that social media is a one-man show, with the executive taking center stage and somehow managing the company. Not so fast. Maybe there is a balance to be struck because even great composers lead orchestras as opposed to playing every instrument. The solution is as simple as knowing what you are good at and sticking with it. Sure, the composer can dazzle everyone with the surprise solo set now and again, but daily it doesn't make sense.

The Internet Wasn't Around Then.
Frequent fresh pick Valeria Maltoni shares some insights about how she experiments with her own blog, but places an emphasis on the people who read it. But where the fresh pick content really kicks in is in the contrast of how things once were and how they are today. Real time communication provides immediate feedback, for better or worse, from a much larger pool of professionals with practical skill sets. The benefits are only tempered at times when it becomes impossible to know everyone who is paying attention.

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Friday, June 25

Touching Consumers: The Space Bringing Us Closer Might Keep Us Apart


Researchers at MIT Sloan School of Management seem to have found evidence related to something that used to be second nature to advertisers. Touch matters, right down to the details of a business card.

The paper choice, cut, weight: they all matter. Flimsy cards tend to be taken with a little less enthusiasm. The same holds true with most collateral. I once kept a Cirque du Soleil press kit around for several years, simply because the stock felt much more like silk than paper. My firm's first brochure (when we had brochures) considered touch too. Spot varnish across the cover gave life to near invisible words with a tilt and a texture contrast meant to be felt.

Sure, many advertising professionals still know all this, especially those who work with packaging. But there are an increasing number of creatives who don't consider touch. Why would they? For the most part, collateral is falling out of favor for computers. Maybe there is an unseen impact associated with the shift.

What MIT Discovered About Touch.

Through a series of experiments, Joshua Ackerman, an assistant professor of marketing at MIT Sloan (along with John Bargh, a professor of psychology at Yale University; and Christopher Nocera, a PhD candidate at Harvard University), tested how weight, texture and hardness can unconsciously influence judgments. They suggest that their results have implications for anyone and everyone, ranging from job seekers to marketers.

“What we touch unconsciously influences how we think,” says Ackerman. “In situations where evaluations and decisions really matter, we need to pay attention to our physical surroundings and, in particular, how we engage these surroundings through our sense of touch.”

According to their statement, the researchers suggest that interactions involving touch, from handshakes to cheek kisses, may have critical influences on social interactions. First impressions are especially liable, with control over the entire environment becoming important.

• Heavier clipboards influenced evaluators in choosing job candidates. Judged candidates whose resumes were seen on a heavy clipboard were rated as qualified and more serious about the position.
• Rough puzzle pieces tended to describe a story about social interaction as harsh, when compared to participants handling smooth puzzle pieces.
• Participants holding a hard block while hearing a story about a workplace interaction tended to judge the employee as more rigid when compared those who held a soft blanket.
• Subjects seated in hard chairs while haggling over the price of a car tended to be less willing to negotiate than those who sat in softer and more comfortable chairs.

Electronics May Play A Role In How We Process Information.

While it wasn't part of the study, the clipboard experiment seems particularly applicable to an increasingly tech reliant world. After all, there is a growing reliance on communication where marketers have no control over the environment, which could be influencing online interactions.

Does it make a difference whether the computer is set up in a cubicle, noisy living room, or open office with a window view? Does an expanded keyboard change the perspective of what's being written? Does a mouse feel better than a touch pad? And does ergonomics, which we seldom hear about anymore, change the pace of the interaction?

Who knows? Harsher critics may indeed be sitting at home on uncomfortable chairs in front of old computers. And there may be subtle differences between the communication and correspondence on a Droid vs. an iPhone. For all we know, there might even be an unseen element that will change the way people feel about the iPhone 4 vs. the original titanium-backed models.

The point to consider here might be futile or especially important as we increasingly rely on electronic communication, sacrificing our ability to communicate with touch, texture, and weight. At minimum, thinking about the impact might also be important, at the very least, to gain an understanding of the people sitting at an opposing screen.

Social media, after all, isn't necessarily one-to-many communication. It's often one-to-one communication, played over several hundred times a day. Except, as noted, we have virtually no perspective of where any of us are at any given moment or what unseen influences might be contributing to how we communicate, with the advantage going to those who know how to make the environment disappear and fade away in to the background.

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Thursday, June 24

Cleaning Lenses: How To Wipe Away Marketing Woes


“If the doors of perception were cleansed, everything would appear as it is — infinite.” — William Blake

Many marketing and advertising professionals learn the lesson too late. Most campaign strategies are less than optimal. Sometimes the problem is blamed on outside help when the problem might be internal. Sometimes it is the outside help. And sometimes, even when sales are setting records, dominant brands have to start all over.

Why does it happen? It happens because perception plays a powerful role in the decision making process. And perception, despite its emphasis, is usually muddled.

The lesson, not to rely on perception, recently came up in a new client meeting. When one of the agencies we work with asked where the majority of the client's marketing dollars went, the client said "the Yellow Pages" without blinking. Discussion followed.

"The Yellow Pages."

"What are the Yellow Pages? Do people still use phone books?"

"Well, we get all of our non-referred business from the Yellow Pages. It works."

"Where else do you advertise?"

"Nowhere else. The Yellow Pages works so well, we invest almost all our marketing dollars there."

"Did you ever consider that most of your non-referred business comes from the Yellow Pages because that is the only place anybody can find you?"

Exactly. Even measurement doesn't mean much unless you're willing to clean the lenses every now and again. Truth be told, I only know of one Yellow Pages success story. There is a local restaurant that published its entire menu inside the archaic directory. It was the least expensive way to get inside every hotel room in Las Vegas, where they deliver. Pretty smart.

"The new limitations are the human ones of perception." — Milton Babbitt

I know a few social media pros who are probably laughing at the very idea of the Yellow Pages. They're like me. I toss the bulky book in favor of drawer space. And all those advertising dollars right along with it.

However, some social media pros nodding in delight might stop chuckling about now because they do the same thing (you know who you are). They declare advertising dead based on the case studies of companies that succeeded on social media alone. But did they really? I can only imagine a mix might have increased sales or helped them reach those sales records faster.

Similarly, reading all those posts that suggest Facebook is better than Twitter (or Twitter is better than Facebook) and Reddit is better than Digg (or Digg is better than Reddit) seem pretty stale to me. It has nothing to with the platforms as much as it has to do with the interests of the online community, the type of information being shared, the type of business establishing a presence, and the proficiency of the person managing the account. Right. They all work. And none of them work.

I recently advised one of the clients we work with direct to include their social media hub address on all of their in-establishment collateral. He blinked.

"I thought we wanted to move away from traditional advertising."

"No, we want to engage your customers," I said. "There they are, right in front of you. Now all we have to do is engage them when they aren't here too."

"Advertising, public relations, and social media is all about perception. But perception has nothing to do with planning it." — Richard Becker.

Did you ever read "Lamb" by Christopher Moore? One of my favorite passages from the book occurs when a Buddhist monk sets two small cups on the table and then proceeds to pour tea until they begin to overflow.

"Hey, doofus!" the protagonist yells. "You're spilling the f**king tea!"

The monk smiled and set the bowl on the table.

"How can I give you tea if your cup is already full?"

Marketing, advertising, public relations, social media, and communication are much like that. It doesn't matter how good you are. If your cup or your client's cup is already full of opinions, then there is nothing I could ever do for you. And no one else either.

Case in point. If you never read Lamb and the tea story still sounds familiar, you might have seen it in the movie 2012. Maybe they robbed Moore outright. Or maybe that's only my perception. For all I know, Moore could have robbed the story too.

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Wednesday, June 23

Going Somewhere: Why Bhakdi's Web 3.0 Feels Like Web 2.1


Johannes Bhakdi, chef knowledge architect of sophotec.com, published an interesting little book earlier this year that has gone largely unnoticed. There many be some good reasons for that.

The book comes across as a fleshed out PowerPoint. The price point is high. And for all his experience working with companies like McDonald's, MasterCard, Microsoft, Siemens, and Unilever for BBDO and J. Walter Thompson, Bhakdi isn't necessarily established in the social media mix where this book might be appreciated (despite the price point).

Like many creative strategists, he tends to be less visible despite his contributions. And with the exception of Slideshare and perhaps a slow loading Klatcher site, his social media presence doesn't seem especially established. There may even be an irony in that Bhakdi wanted to implement his book using a model in the book, which suggests success provided the marketing is right. Unfortunately, I'm not convinced the marketing is right.

Web 3.0 User-Generated Business • and why everyone becomes a media entrepreneur

But where Bhakdi is at the moment hardly matters within the context of the book. The real question is whether or not there is any real value inside the pages of Web 3.0 - User-Generated Business. There is some.

The Historic Context. The opening chapters present a quick history of Web 1.0 and Web 2.0. They are interesting enough for any newcomers to the Web, with an underlying emphasis on why Web 2.0 was a disaster. Specifically, the average online author earns about 25 cents per hour. Yep. That's a disaster for anyone except hobbyists.

The Theoretical Sidebar. One of my favorite portions of Web 3.0 has little to do with the Internet. What Bhakdi does very clearly is define the two faces of capitalism against socialism. The latter, he says, tends to organize people in working for the common good but falls short because then people are less inclined to contribute anything useful.

As for capitalism, he discusses how one facet can be destructive and exploitive, driven by ruthless people looking to earn quick profits for as little value as possible. And he stresses that it doesn't have to be that way. Most business people have a more transformative view of capitalism and add positive value on their terms and then change the world with a win-win construct. It's eloquently explained, certainly worth a follow-up post here someday.

The Visionary Construct. Personally, I was never very fond of the assumption that everybody would become a media entrepreneur, but I've always been comfortable that "anybody" could be. This one word makes a big difference.

Otherwise, I've never understood this ever-present assumption that people want to be media entrepreneurs. From everybody I've spoken with online and off for the last ten years, most people can't be bothered. Sure, some like to create and share content, but most just want to connect with friends, play games, and read the news.

Still, even for that small percentage of people who do want to create content, Bhakdi raises one good point. The current Web 2.0 structure allows platform providers to generate income from content creators who work for free. Ergo, Twitter would be nothing without the flurry of moderately visible pros who put up content and contribute daily.

However, Bhakdi's solution to fix this doesn't necessarily add up as much as he would like. Eventually, he sees Web 3.0 as a place where content is assigned value. In other words, quality content would receive higher compensation over the shareable silliness that tends to drive Web 2.0.

As much as I agree with the idea, I'm not sure it's pragmatic. Intellectual property has variable values that are largely based on perception.

The Blueprint. Bhakdi does a solid job at outlining a social media content business model in the last chapter. For me, I wish it came much earlier. Reading 150 pages of anecdotal conversation when the real content starts on page 151 is troublesome. It's the primary reason I read so few social media books.

By the time you arrive at the last chapter, Bhakdi outlines Web 3.0 into three parts: outreach (social networks), core media assets (a site or blog), and opportunities for monetization (Zazzle, Ad Sense, Lulu.) There is nothing wrong with that except that it's what exists now. So unless I missed something, the blueprint is not so unprecedented.

Final Thoughts About Web 3.0 User-Generated Business

Web 3.0 User-Generated Business has some high points, but it's difficult to consider it a book. It's a PowerPoint conversion with added conversation. There are a few high points and novices might find it worthwhile. But anybody beyond the entry level of monetization concepts will find it anti-climactic.

Simply put, if you are among the relatively small audience who is already dabbling in becoming a media entrepreneur, you aren't likely to find a breakthrough in this book. However, if you are a blogger who is just considering monetization, then Bhakdi's book may help you get up to speed, assuming you haven't connected with people who write about this stuff daily.

Otherwise, Web 3.0 User-Generated Business comes across as what I call a "business card book," which is indicative of most books being introduced in the field. I don't get it. Most social media books are long on attempting to demonstrate thought leadership by sharing what a healthy percentage already know with the shrinking pool of people who don't know anything.

Further, in using his own social media assets as examples, the book seems to miss out on a viable purpose. If the book, using its own blueprint, aims at being the revenue generator, then more care might have been taken to ensure it didn't pitch platforms owned by the author. That said, the book seems less interesting than the impossibly slow-loading Klatcher (the first time anyway) or Bhakdi's posts and presentations. Get to know him in those places first.

Tuesday, June 22

Slipping Away: When Viral Success Is Less Than Effective


About a week ago, I posted a free spirited and wildly creative Volkswagen video that is short on sales and long on fun at Friedeggs, a fresh and campy social network that is similar to Twitter but with a more robust platform like Facebook. Everybody loved the video.

They weren't alone. More than 700,000 people have watched the video. By most measures, it's a viral success story. It's only a matter of time before it will pass the one million viewer benchmark. And somewhere around the one million mark is where most advertising industry pubs will pick up the story (if they haven't already). After that, youngling creatives will rush to copy it.



Not so fast, younglings. After mulling over the spot for more than a week, there might be a problem in bookmarking this video for a future ripoff. There seems to be something missing when compared to the Coca-Cola Happiness Machine video. Any guesses?

Why The Volkswagen Fast Lane YouTube Video Works.

Let's start with why it works. It doesn't focus exclusively on the product, which softens the sales element and increases sharing in social media circles. It celebrates the relationship between people and emotional concepts like youth, freedom, and fun.

The presentation of spontaneous and unexpected stimuli almost always works. We all like to watch how people react to such scenarios, sometimes wishing we were there to take a turn.

Why The Volkswagen Fast Lane YouTube Video Doesn't Work.

There is no question that I love the piece, but there is a problem too. It doesn't make anyone want to buy a Volkswagen. It makes them want to buy a slide. That's a problem.

So what went wrong? If you do follow the link to the Coca-Cola spot and watch that spot again, it becomes more obvious. The Coca-Cola commercial focuses on the relationship between the product and the customers. The slide spot, however, focuses on the relationship between a slide and random people.

Sure, it's a metaphor of sorts. But with the exception of slide transportation, this spot could be transposed on any product or service, ranging from a production company demonstrating creative interaction to a speedy microprocessor tucked inside a computer. The brand is so disconnected that when people share this video, many call it a "slide video" as opposed to a "Volkswagen video."

Of course, if we want to be picky, there is the additional problem that the concept is nothing but a fast lane cliche, which is a clear violation of advertising rule number 8.

Right. There is nothing more boring than tagging any car company with a fast lane cliche, despite how well executed as this video might be. The only saving grace is that they really don't attach the cliche to a car or van. It's attached to a slide, which works.

Why Advertising Is Hard Work.

The push back on advertising is never related to the fact that people hate advertising. If they truly hated advertising, Super Bowl spots wouldn't be covered by prime time news. What people hate is bad advertising (which means most of it).

Great advertising requires a careful balance between entertainment and motivation. Advertisers want people to do something, usually related to buying the product or finding out more. This spot didn't seem to make most people want to buy a Volkswagen or join Facebook. It does make some of us want a slide installed next to every escalator on the planet. And that's a problem no matter how many times we watch it.

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Monday, June 21

Talking On Target: A Lesson In Public Speaking


Wondering why President Obama continues to slide in the polls and Tony Hayward, CEO of BP, was ousted from the daily operations of the BP oil spill? Both men delivered poor performances in public speaking and it undermined any faith in their ability lead.

One came across like a lawyer at best, administrator at worst, mostly concerned about an obscured vision of the future. The other came across as being overly coached by lawyers, paralyzed by an obscured vision of the past. It seems obvious that neither men are living in the present as both seem out of touch with the public.

An Analysis Of President Obama's BP Oil Spill Speech.

If there is any doubt that President Obama's BP oil spill speech was the low water mark of presidential speeches since he took office, a new study of Presidential speeches by HCD Research confirms it. On a scale of 1-7, the speech rated 4.4 among Americans, marking a continual decline in the president's likability, believability, and sincerity. The more he speaks, the less he's liked.

What went wrong for the one with the once silver tongue?

While less than scientific, a word cloud of the transcript reveals the flawed strategy behind the speech. The transcript wasn't about the oil spill crisis. It was about clean energy.

The decision to use the spill as a platform for petroleum reform rather than what Americans wanted to hear — how will we plug the leak, mitigate the clean up, and provide help for those affected — was flawed. No matter how you slice the speech, President Obama's emphasis fell just short of calling this disaster a failing of the American people for not being more aggressive on alternative energy.

While there is a time and place for everything, the administration clearly missed that this was not the time or place. Post polling shows the public believes overwhelmingly that President Obama has failed in handling the BP oil spill. It also raised severe doubts about his ability to handle a future crisis. Worse for Obama, there is ample evidence to suggest long-term damage compounded by continued missteps.

After his speech, his second term re-election outlook dropped an additional one or two percent among ALL political groupings (Democrats, Republicans, and Independents). While it is a long way until the next election, Obama's re-election chances are increasingly grim, with 27 percent of his own party unwilling to vote for him again. More than 61 percent of Independents and 91 percent of Republicans feel the same way.

Was there anything redeeming about Obama's speech? Yes. The sticking point picked up by a friendly media was to press BP and create a $20 billion escrow fund. When BP agreed a few days later, it was a minor victory among an ocean of missteps. Obama said he would make BP pay, they agreed. Of course, they intended to all along.

An Analysis Of Tony Hayward's BP Oil Spill Testimony.

Although Hayward's testimony performance has earned the scorn of the American public and pushed aside (hat tip: Geoff Livingston) as the man in charge of the company’s response, most media covered only a portion of the story. Hayward's prepared testimony wasn't all that far away from capturing public trust. It was the question/answer/statement section that crushed his opportunity.

The prepared testimony itself, at a glance, focused on the facts with an emphasis on the current BP response. Where it still missed, however, was that Hayward doesn't have the answers Americans want. They want to know precisely what went wrong and who is liable, facts that will still take months to sort out (beyond the most obvious, of course).

Another aspect missing from the testimony was genuine remorse and an apparent inability to provide reasoned responses to the congressional grandstanding. Instead, focusing on coaching from attorneys, Hayward frequently appeared to duck and dodge the questions as if he had nothing more to say.

Was there anything redeeming about Hayward's stint? Yes. While the American media played up his lack of answers, the international media saw it differently.

All they saw were a few American congressional leaders working hard to paint BP and Hayward as public enemy number one. So, while Hayward might be performing on U.S. soil, the global community chalked up the exercise as American congressmen looked stupid and petty in the hopes of trying to pad their own re-election campaigns.

What Can Be Learned From Public Speaking In A Crisis?

Stay on topic. Stay on topic. Stay on topic.

Winston Churchill did not address policy change or progressive ideas in his speech "We Shall Fight on the Beaches." He did speak of his country's failures in allowing the roots of fascism to take hold in Germany or in acting too late as the Nazi party expanded its reach across the Europe. He stayed on topic, without concern for how many words were in each sentence. His audience got it.

"We shall go on to the end, we shall fight in France, we shall fight on the seas and oceans, we shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air, we shall defend our Island, whatever the cost may be, we shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender, and even if, which I do not for a moment believe, this Island or a large part of it were subjugated and starving, then our Empire beyond the seas, armed and guarded by the British Fleet, would carry on the struggle, until, in God’s good time, the New World, with all its power and might, steps forth to the rescue and the liberation of the old."

John F. Kennedy did not shrink from responsibility in ushering forth a new era and new frontier, crying that a minority of legislators were somehow undermining the majority. No, instead of focusing on division, he focused on unified ideas that could bring people to solve the current crisis of the day. His audience got it.

"In the long history of the world, only a few generations have been granted the role of defending freedom in its hour of maximum danger. I do not shrink from this responsibility — I welcome it. I do not believe that any of us would exchange places with any other people or any other generation. The energy, the faith, the devotion which we bring to this endeavor will light our country and all who serve it — and the glow from that fire can truly light the world.

And so, my fellow Americans: ask not what your country can do for you — ask what you can do for your country.

My fellow citizens of the world: ask not what America will do for you, but what together we can do for the freedom of man."


Where Obama And Hayward Fail Most Miserably.

They both lack passion and inspired nothing. Instead, they drifted away from their respective responsibility of communication: Obama as a choice and Hayward because he doesn't know what Americans want to know. Worse, they offer up that "nothing more can be done than what they are doing." Americans, they say, need to wait patiently and place faith in their leadership.

That hardly works in America. The citizens are used to taking action when faced with a crisis. And when government doesn't deliver, they tend to take matters into their own hands, resenting those who failed to act in a manner greater than the crisis. Ergo, if the crisis requires a hammer plan, they expect the President to fix it with a sledgehammer plan.

Don't these guys get it? Handling a crisis is not public relations. It's about taking immediate action that is grounded in the present. You can lynch anyone you want, but put the fire out first. You can use every keyword on the planet, but your brand still sucks while the leak gushes oil.

One final thought, it seems to me that both men miss one word that has been included in virtually all great speeches. The word is "WE." And yet, both Obama and Hayward seem to avoid it. The only exception is that Obama uses "we" when referring to his administration and Hayward says "we" when he is talking about his company.

Don't these guys get it? This isn't an "us and them" story with the American public listed under the "them" column. Those people down there, whether funded by BP or directed by the White House, are Americans doing the work. They don't visit the spill area now and again. They live there, every day.

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Sunday, June 20

Branding Freshness: Fresh Content Project


Considering that a brand is one of the most powerful elements in any communication measurement equation, it's surprising how often professionals misunderstand them. People believe all sorts of nonsense about brands.

Some think a new name or mission statement might change them. Others have promoted the idea that brands are best left to the management of crowds. And yet others still think introspection can somehow trump the relationships they are built upon. Right. Most of what people think about brands is utter nonsense. The five fresh picks below all touch on elements of branding that are anything but nonsense.

Best Fresh Content In Review, Week of June 7

What Does It Mean To Re-Brand?
Jay Ehret gives his readers the skinny on re-branding. It takes much more than a new identity, name, or facelift, he says. Brands are defined by actions. He's right. Brand relationships are created by the actions and interactions between products and companies, customers and the public. See for yourself with a side-by-side comparison of ideas.

Are You Ready for the Opportunity Economy?
Jay Baer shares his insights on using social media, which can sometimes be summed up as a series of opportunities that begin online and end on a site or in the store. He suggests three of the most powerful connectors are geography, inquiry, and context. Targeting location, answering questions, and gaining exposure are all proven to open up opportunities online. The only cautionary element in the assessment is that Baer says you cannot plan for it. Of course you can, just not with scripts.

Shifting Sands Are Shafting Brands.
Sometimes using popular online tools carries an element of risk. Ike Pigott reminds anyone online that the strength of an online presence that is reliant on a specific platform, network, or technology is always subject to change. And in some cases, there have been several that have changed, grown, become diminished, or disappeared outright. (Nobody's looking for an Utterz expert nowadays.) Pigott's solution is to ensure you own as much of your data as possible, never becoming overly reliant on someone else's sand.

50 Top Startups Worth Watching.
As evidence of Pigott's assessment, we really need to look no further than another post penned by Louis Gray. He lists 50 start- ups that have been making some progress for one reason or another online. One or two of them could become the next Twitter or Facebook, with a brand strong enough that every consultant and company will want to include a new link of their advertisements. Others rely on the current structures of different networks. And many probably won't last more than a year.

Sharing Versus Self-Promotion: An Experiment.
Jason Falls created the first phase of an experiment of sorts, tracking whether people are more likely to read his posts or the posts he shared. Typical social media thinking suggests self-promoted posts might take a back seat to sharing content. The opposite holds true. While some people easily spotted that the Falls brand is often more powerful than those he might promote, the experiment still provides a glimpse into how many social media constructs just don't hold over time.

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Friday, June 18

Obsessing Over Influencers: Six Influencer Styles From Psychology


Foresight Research, a Rochester, Michigan, based market research firm specializing in automotive research, has released some findings from its study influence of the Internet and social media on automotive purchase decisions. What they found won't surprise anyone involved in social media.

In 2009, 86 percent of all new vehicle buyers used the Internet in their new vehicle purchase process. Of those who used the Internet, 90 percent compared vehicles and pricing while 83 percent checked for incentives. Thirteen percent would also share some form of social networking to share information about their purchase.

"What's interesting is that the information and advice given on social networking sites typically comes from automotive 'shouters,'" said Steve Bruyn, president of Foresight Research. "[They're a] thin slice of the population that is most acutely familiar with the latest vehicle models, offerings and options – these are the people that influence other folks' automotive purchases."

According to Bruyn, the most influential car buyers offer vehicle recommendations on social networking sites (29 percent) and use the Internet regularly (93 percent). At t a glance, the common conclusion is that if a firm or dealer can pinpoint, cater to, and influence influencers (or shouters as Bruyn calls them; trust agents as Chris Brogan calls them), it will lead to more sales.

But is that all that is going on? We don't think so. Not all influencers are the same. Not all influencers are created equal.

Six Influencer Behavior Styles And What They Might Mean.

In psychology, influence has always been among the more favored tracks of research. Here are just a few things that most people already know about influence within social media.

• Reciprocity. People tend to return favors. Those who share other people's ideas, opinions and work often have their ideas, opinions and work shared in return. Reciprocity is discussed often enough.

Commitment. When people commit to something, they are more likely to honor that commitment. In other words, if they become engaged on a blog or social network page like Facebook, then they are much more likely to share positive information. Social media always underscores commitment over campaigns.

Social Proof. People tend to follow groups. If a group of people join a social network, then other people are likely to follow. Just like nature, people are predisposed to follow order and conform. The illusion of popularity tends to pop up here as a topic from time to time.

• Authority. People generally follow authority figures, which tend to be established by rank, position, or mass of followers. Even if people are asked to do something unethical, they are likely to do so if they are ordered. Right now, people have a diminishing opportunity to build authority from nothing with social media.

Liking. People are much more easily persuaded by people they like. Popularity, personality, and niceness can go a long way in establishing a following. While outbursts and contrarians tend to get short-term attention, likable people tend to be believed more readily. Popularity or the perception of being popular tend to be a social media obsession.

Scarcity. When something is only available for a limited time, can only be provided from a limited source, or even when attention is granted by an influencer in high demand, then the product, information, or personal attention tends to have the perception of increased value. Increased value means increased demand. Exclusive content, with enough lift from followers, will help you gain exposure as an early adopter.

Sure, some people might think I just plucked some of the more popular social media advice off the net to make this list. I didn't. It's really the other way around.

The "Six Weapons of Influence" were never written with social media in mind. They were established by Robert B. Cialdini, who focused on real world influence, and relied on historic case studies within the field of psychology.

Whether these ideas were inserted into social media because some experts rediscovered them or stole them outright may likely never be known. They've become embedded in the foundation of social media. Still, the real takeaway is another layer deep.

Marketers hoping to tap into influencers are best served by understanding the backgrounds of the social media influencers they hope to attract and weigh it against cultivating their own. Did these influencers gain favor because they did favors for others? Seem always present online? Attract the attention of an established group? Enter the scene with a perceived authority? Are genuinely nice, fun, and helpful? Were privy to information that no one else had? Was it a combination of several?

If you want to know, take a look at the top five individuals from the locked down list at Ad Age Power 150: Seth Godin, Chris Brogan, Lee Odden, Brian Solis, and Andy Beal.

Do you know which paths each of them followed to establish the authority and/or the popularity they seem to have now? We do. Do you know which methods are most sustainable for you (as opposed to them)? What about those who quickly climbed the list or, in other cases, vanished? What about those who never bothered to be added (there are dozens)? Have you ever considered them?

These represent only a few of the questions marketers or public relations professionals need to ask before reaching out to influencers within specific spheres. After all, if you don't know how they became an influencer, there is little chance you'll be able to relate to them on their terms. And, in some cases, you might even find they don't really know anything about the spheres they talk about, leaving your company exposed to very random assessments. In other words, don't follow mere shouters.

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Thursday, June 17

Renting White Guys: The Art Of Deception


“Bring a computer," said Ken, a young Canadian of Taiwanese extraction, told Mitch Moxley. "You can watch movies all day.”

At least, that is how Ken described the quality control expert job to Moxley. In reality, the job was to serve as a "stand in" executive to create the illusion of a bigger international American company. The only skill set required was to look good in a suit and shake a few hands.

As good as the "Rent a White Guy" story is, the comments are amusing too. Some attribute it to the predisposed notion that all Chinese businesses are shady. Others, bemused, ask where they can apply. Most never consider that the phenomenon isn't exclusive to China.

"We didn't get the account," one agency principal recently told me. "We won the pitch, but a small majority of the decision makers wanted a bigger agency."

Never mind that the agency awarded the account had inflated the numbers, counting entire vendor companies as part of its staff. And never mind that once the agency was awarded what it considered a very small account, it fully intended to assign it to a team consisting of one junior executive and possibly an intern to do the bulk of the work. All that seemed to matter to a simple majority of decision makers was that the company they chose had a staff of 80 people.

It happens all the time in this market and others too. It's not uncommon for agencies and public relations firms vying to look bigger than everyone else on a ranking list to start counting second cousins as part of the team. Others submit their firms to both ad agency and public relations firm lists, even when the they might only staff two people on the public relations side of their full-service agency. They still come up on top.

Go ahead. Count the cleaning staff. They work for the firm too. Numbers are important. Location is too.

When we subleased offices on the 14th floor of the Bank of America building in downtown Las Vegas (which was extremely prestigious at the time), I was always surprised by the number of companies that "rented" the address but not the space. Most would show up just now and again. And the front desk would put on a good show, as if these hourly tenants came in daily.

After awhile, however, nothing much surprised me. I've met with financial advisors who named their company after the building they subleased to create the illusion they owned it. I know several "board members" that do nothing more than lend their picture for the lobby wall. And several years ago, I used to have six different sets of business cards for a few clients who were uncomfortable with introducing me as a subconsultant. (I wasn't rented in name only, mind you. I did the work.)

Our rules were always simple enough. Agency clients could call me and my team members who directly worked on an account anything they wanted. They could even add us to proposals, assuming it was an account we'd work on. They could print business cards. And, in one case, a publication I worked for set up an in-house voice mail.

There were limits, however. They couldn't count us as staff. We certainly wouldn't lie. And if a client ever asked, we'd make it clear what our relationship was with the firm. We worked with them, but not for them.

There are several others who don't have limits. We know a few of them. There are even some politicians who play the game. They may as well place "in name only" on their business cards. The extent of their relationships with some companies is merely meant to lend an illusion of credibility and connections to a firm, bank, or hospital. In exchange, they receive a retainer. (Please keep in mind, we also know many who are very active in the businesses they work for.)

Of course, all of this works the other way too. I've pitched entire organizational boards despite the decision resting solely on the discretion of the executive director. I've been introduced to "business advisors" who only appear at the first meeting. And I have learned, on more than one occasion, that some "managing partners" are only partners with themselves.

None of it really matters, but some people like to pretend.

Since mid 1990s, I became too visible for agencies to introduce me as anything but a consultant or an extension of their teams. (Google will do that.) So it doesn't come up anymore. It hasn't for a long time. I only have one business card (but am sometimes asked not to hand it out).

Instead, I have found a different role for the friends we work with. When they lose an account because of another firm's fictitious numbers, I casually remind them that the account wasn't worth winning. The potential client obviously has deficient decision making skills.

I learned this years ago too. It stuck with me after spending a few hours with a sitting judge who was considering a run for a more perceptually prestigious elected position. I learned it when he walked me out to my car.

At first, I thought he walked me out because we had really hit it off. He told me that wasn't the case. He walked me out because the entire basis of which firm he would hire was based on transportation.

"If you drove a Porsche, I'd know you overcharge," he explained, looking over the red Volkswagen that I drove at the time. "And if you drove a Yugo, you must not be very good. This is a nice, well-kept practical car. I like it."

"Oh," I said. "I could have saved you the trouble of walking out. I decline consideration."

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Wednesday, June 16

Seizing Leadership: Jamie Hinton Is A Patriot


Although President Obama addressed the nation about the oil spill last night, he neglected to mention one local hero who deserves more attention as a role model for other Gulf Coast community leaders. Jamie Hinton, chief of the Magnolia Springs Volunteer Fire Department, took matters into his own hands to protect his idyllic community off Mobile Bay.

He deployed a combination of barges and oil-blocking booms to keep crude out of the Magnolia River. The Associated Press reported that his solution, which came from the collective ideas of locals hoping to safeguard the Magnolia River and the nearby Fish River, to do something despite being told not to.

"It's illegal to block this waterway. But if the oil comes, we're going to bring a barge in and use it as a gate to block it," said Gib Hixon, friend of Hinton and chief of Fish River/Marlow Fire and Rescue. "They can arrest me and Jamie if they want to."

Unlike many communities on the Gulf Coast, Hinton decided it was his responsibility to do something despite being blocked by red tape and what the Associated Press described as bumbling government and corporate executives. According to the story, Hinton was initially told by county officials that the oil spill was being blown out of proportion. Much of the delay to finally approve the community's plan once it became clear the oil spill was not blown out of proportion, is attributed to a breakdown of who could approve measures to safeguard Magnolia Springs.

"First, the cleanup," said President Obama last night. "From the very beginning of this crisis, the federal government has been in charge of the largest environmental cleanup effort in our nation’s history..."

This single quote from Obama's speech explains the reality and gravity of the situation. It explains why the government attempted to prevent people like Hinton from taking action. It explains why the Norway's offer of eight skimming systems was disapproved. It explains why the Dutch offer of three sets of COSEQ sweeping arms was denied. And Canada's offer of 3,000 meters of containment boom was passed upon too.

In sum, other governments were prepared to respond to this crisis faster than BP and the Obama administration. Why didn't they? Unlike previous administrations, which granted waivers for the Jones Act in the wake of a national crisis, this administration has held fast to the act, which requires vessels working in U.S. waters be built in the U.S. and be crewed by U.S. workers. Meanwhile, other early efforts to clean up the spill were discouraged by environmental policies.

If the oil spill is a "siege," it seems it is a siege of the administration's own making. Fortunately, there are a few communities like Magnolia Springs that have stepped up against the siege to protect themselves while the White House attempts to manage a spill of a different kind. Spin is not enough. We need more Americans like Jamie Hinton. They tend to talk less and then step up.

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Tuesday, June 15

Rebranding: Inside Out Or Outside In?


“Brand is the relationship between a product and its customer.” — Phil Dusenberry, former chairman and chief creative of BBDO Worldwide

I cannot seem to share this quote enough. Advertisers, marketers, public relations pros, and social media gurus are continually trying to change the way we define branding. In the process, sometimes they abandon one of the most basic branding principles.

Inside Out As The Key To Rebranding?

Jay Ehret, chief marketer at The Marketing Spot, seems to understand this. A few days ago, he likened most rebranding efforts to an attempt to put a new dress on the same tired body. He's right. When most people rebrand, all they change is their spots.

Instead, Ehret suggests that rebranding can only take place through actions. He cites a post by Jason Miletsky, at Mango! as inspiration. Miletsky makes it pretty clear that the change hinges on product offerings and customer relationships, which are conveyed by the new identity and message.

Their ability to deliver on those core values, translated into actions, will dictate the success or failure of the new brand. Actions, more than anything else, are the fundamental determinant in establishing the relationship between a product and its customer. Everything else is merely the symbol of that relationship.

As an analogy, you might say that a caterpillar has emerged as a butterfly and now its actions — fluttering about — will be instrumental in how people relate to it. The wings, colors, etc. only serve to remind us of what it is.

Outside In As The Key To Rebranding?

Interestingly enough, Brian Solis, principal of FutureWorks, shared his take on rebranding a few days later. He shares an edited passage from his book, Engage, which presents a brand reflection cycle.

When Solis talks about the brand, online, he suggests it can be shaped by developing persona through introspection. In other words, you pick important attributes you want and they, in turn, shape your company. The model even conveys the point by nestling the brand within core values, which Solis says are dictated by the audience, environment, and circumstances.

This is a remarkably dangerous approach. It has caused the failure of more rebranding efforts than I can count. Not all of the thinking is wrong, per se, but the application imagines that a company can be whatever it wants to be by the force of will alone.

Unfortunately, persona through introspection teaches a caterpillar to act like a butterfly, even though it is just a caterpillar. Even if you attach fake wings to fool some people, it will not fly.

Rebranding Starts With The Core.

There is no other way to explain it. Core values that exist within a company set the foundation for branding. While you can better communicate what those values are or establish what those values will be, they are what they are.

A caterpillar is a caterpillar. A butterfly is a butterfly. Neither can pretend to be the other because it's not in their nature.

You can see it in the Gulf Coast playing out daily. A few years ago, BP reinvented its identity to be green, following a process not unlike the one Soils prescribes. For the most part, people believed it until its true nature — dictated by recent actions — uncovered the ruse that the green logo represented. The company might have wanted to be the alternative energy butterfly (and maybe one day it will be), but all it really is may be just a petroleum addicted caterpillar munching its way through natural resources.

Actions, not image, dictates brand relationships. If you are not willing to change those (or are unable to do so), you are certainly better off being whatever it is you are. Your core values — which do not change because of the audience, environment, and circumstances — are who you are or what your company is. How you communicate that makes all the difference.

If you want to understand why the core message belongs dead center, review my presentation Simplifying Messages: Why SWOT Is Not Enough. The takeaway couldn't be simpler.

If you are a caterpillar, it's best to put your energy into being the best caterpillar you can be. And with the right message, people might even prefer you over a butterfly.

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Monday, June 14

Advertising Mistake: Why Visibility And Engagement Still Fail


Most advertising professionals know that targeting audiences works. And most know that highly visible ads attract attention.

However, new findings from a joint study conducted by the professors at the University of Toronto and MIT's Sloan School of Business suggest that pairing highly visible advertisements and content-linked ads can reduce purchase intentions. The study will be published in a future issue of Marketing Science.

"If targeting works and visible ads work, you'd think visible, targeted ads would work even better," said Avi Goldfarb, an associate professor of marketing at the Rotman School of Management at the University of Toronto. "But they don't."

Goldfarb, together with Catherine Tucker, drew their conclusions after analyzing data from 3,000 Web advertising campaigns.

Why Does Ad Effectiveness Diminish?

Goldfarb and Tucker attribute it to mistrust. The more aware consumers are that the advertisement is attempting to "sell" them something, the more likely they are to mistrust the content and the ad. Their conclusions may even indicate why Google Adsense tends to outperform affiliate programs and "paid posts" supplemented by advertisements.

According to the study, the highest drop off in consumer interest occurs when companies ask consumers to fill in information prior to making a purchase or subscribing to an online newsletter. Ironically, such lead generation tactics are commonplace in the industry, with most businesses unaware they could be turning customers away. There are other important findings:

• Most banner ads only increase purchase intent by less than one percent.
• Increased ad exposure only increases recall by approximately 5 percent.
• More campaigns aim at increasing recall than attempting to increase purchase intent.

Other findings are are available from the study. One that is particularly interesting for social media professionals is that two-way communication is sometimes seen as obtrusiveness.

Making Tactical Decisions Strategic.

Assuming this analysis proves valid, advertisers would be best served to rethink how they approach online advertising, especially as it relates to how consumers behave. Generally, contextually-targeted advertisements capture an immediate response (clicks) whereas highly visible ads (including the solicitation of two-way communication) capture higher recall (awareness but not necessarily equal clicks).

Since pairing the two tactical considerations diminishes effectiveness, advertisers may be better off establishing presence around contextual ads and increasingly the visibility of ads when there is no match. Contrary to most social media tactics, there might be enough evidence to suggest while customers prefer two-way communication and customers may be willing to fill out an online survey, prospects may not want two-way communication and are less willing to purchase products when the marketer also wants to capture demographic information prior to the purchase.

All of this suggests a greater need for strategic planning associated with online advertising campaigns. Marketers have to do a better job prioritizing the the intent of the communication.

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Sunday, June 13

Making Business Choices: Fresh Content


While most fresh content picks listed today could fit under the banner of social media, they also provide a common sense approach to something beyond the online trappings of the Internet. They're all related to the choices companies make and how they impact customer relationships.

Do you want a quick transaction or lifelong customer? Is social media as simple as talking to people or does it only look easy? Are you willing to sacrifice short-term expectations in order to deliver long-term value? Did you ever consider too many eyeballs at the wrong time might hurt your company? Here are four posts with answers.

Best Fresh Content In Review, Week of May 31

Build A Customer Community, Gain Loyalty.
Valeria Maltoni shares her insights on flipping the funnel and building a sense of customer community. Just a few points include: rewarding customers with exclusive benefits, providing access and knowledge before anyone else, supporting issues that will help them improve their business, opportunities to share and discuss ideas without you, multiple touch points beyond short-term transactions, etc.

7 Common Social Media Marketing Problems and Their Solutions.
Lee Odden not only nails seven social media problems, but also offers some solutions to help fix them. He's right. Many companies struggle with social media because they tend to "try" to follow in the footsteps of everyone else while missing the finer details that help make it work. He provides some worthwhile solutions, while sharing some additional sources to back up his solutions. Best of all, Odden frames up one very simple truth about social media. If it looks effortless, it's only because it isn't.

Why I'm Writing This On An iPad.
Dave Fleet does something only a few bloggers do now and again. He wrote a post why he was wrong, and did it on the product he was wrong about. It seems certain the iPad lacks a few technologies at a glance. But when weighed against the strengths, some those deficiencies evaporate. However, that isn't why it ended up as a fresh pick. While not billed as such, this post is a great case study in the process of how skeptics become fans.

Exposure and Visibility.
Do you think eyeballs are the end all answer to social media? Think again. Pitching to as many people as possible might help a company earn a small percentage of sales, but what is lost in the process isn't measurable. When ten thousand prospects push the button on a pitch only to find no real value exists, then you might have lost them forever. Valeria Maltoni helps put this thinking into perspective while inspiring a post we'll be working on this week.

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Friday, June 11

Considering Intentions: You Can't See Into Another Person's Heart


"Is it because I'm black?"

"Pardon me?"

"You're looking at me funny. Is it because I'm black?"

That was part of an exchange I had at a retail outlet the other day. It really took me by surprise. It's been some time since someone accused me of being racist, given that some of my best friends are black and how I long I'd been an NAACP member.

So, I had to tell the clerk the truth. I was looking at him funny because his breath stunk so bad it burned my eyes. He was pretty embarrassed. I told him to never mind being embarrassed, while wondering why his coworkers were waiting for some random customer to help the guy out.

It's one of the lessons I include in my classes to underscore how it's better to be up front with coworkers. But there is another lesson I wish more people would learn too. How we process information often has much more to do about our own insecurities (if we have them) then anything someone doesn't mean to communicate.

Communication isn't always about you.

It was one of the first lessons I learned about public speaking. While all speakers love the idea of students and audience members leaning forward and hanging on our every word, it's mostly a fantasy. And it has nothing to do with the speaker.

You can't guess intentions. At a conference, some attendees are going to stay out too late the night before. Some might have personal or work-related issues distracting them. Some might be covering your talk on Twitter. And maybe a couple of folks really will be bored.

Who knows? It doesn't matter. Unless, of course, the entire class checks out. It won't be narcissism in that case.

A caution about over-sensitizing issues.

I recall reading a news story a few years ago where the reporter was offended because his coworker invited him over for a barbecue and enthusiastically mentioned there would be fried chicken. The reporter was offended, asking the coworker what made him think he liked fried chicken. The remainder of the story was about subconscious racism.

I couldn't find the article, but I did find an interesting forum discussion about something similar. The discussion may have followed the KFC advertisement that was banned. Some Australians were confused by the banning of the commercial. They were unfamiliar with the stereotype.

The communication challenge that I find interesting, assuming the reporter's coworker had no ill intent, is that the coworker might have enthusiastically mentioned fried chicken to white colleagues too. Suppose he did. Still racist? Or, what if he mentioned it to everyone except the black reporter for fear of offending him. Still racist?

It gets very convoluted. So much so that it seems to me that over-sensitizing issues may inadvertently reinforce them.

It seems to be turning out that way in Arizona. Even officers who would never employ racial profiling have reported that Hispanics have changed their behavior. They say many Hispanics are more elusive around officers because they (the officers) are predisposed to racial profiling. And yet, one has to wonder. Isn't assuming a black or caucasian officer will employ racial profiling racist as well? Given racism stems from fear, maybe so.

One thing is certain. Even if I don't think most of America is racist, it certainly is obsessed by racism. The media knows all too well. Racism headlines attract eyeballs. It's sad, especially for CNN.

The "anger" thing has nothing to do with being black. In 2006, Ken Mehlman, then Republican National Committee chair, said that "I don't think the American people, if you look historically, elect angry candidates." He was referring to Hillary Clinton. Remember Howard Dean? Joe Wilson?? Hmmm ... there may be some truth to that.

To date, I've only found one easy self-test to tell if you're prone toward discrimination. If someone close to you (son, daughter, brother, sister) started dating someone with a different racial origin or religious background, would it bother you? If the answer is yes, you have some work to do.

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