Wednesday, July 8

Rebranding Disaster: Sci Fi Becomes SyFy

After 16 years of branding, the SCI FI Channel has officially become SyFy as of yesterday. David Howe, president of SyFy, announced the change last March, but SCI FI Channel fans seemed reluctant to believe it until the change actually took place yesterday. Some suggested it was an early April Fool's joke.

So why did they change it?

"By changing the name to Syfy, which remains phonetically identical, the new brand broadens perceptions and embraces a wider range of current and future imagination-based entertainment beyond just the traditional sci-fi genre, including fantasy, supernatural, paranormal, reality, mystery, action and adventure." — Sci Fi Wire


"Syfy allows us to build on our 16-year heritage of success with a new brand built on the power that fuels our genre: the imagination. Syfy ushers in a new era of unlimited imagination, exceptional experiences and greater entertainment that paves the way for us to truly become a global lifestyle brand." — David Howe


"It also positions the brand for future growth by creating an ownable trademark that can travel easily with consumers across new media and nonlinear digital platforms, new international channels and extend into new business ventures." — Sci Fi Wire


“The name Sci Fi has been associated with geeks and dysfunctional, antisocial boys in their basements with video games and stuff like that, as opposed to the general public and the female audience in particular.” — Tim Brooks


"When we tested this new name, the thing that we got back from our 18-to-34 techno-savvy crowd, which is quite a lot of our audience, is actually this is how you’d text it. It made us feel much cooler, much more cutting-edge, much more hip, which was kind of bang-on what we wanted to achieve communication-wise.” — David Howe

No one is certain what 18-to-34 techno savvy crowd they tested, but former Sci Fi Channel fans have dubbed the name change the dumbest idea in television history. Comments left across the Web have ranged from disbelief to unrestrained anger.

What Are They Saying?

"Well, it's one step closer to "Spiffy.",

"This is a really stupid move and just goes to show you that the network has lost its way."

Syfy has emphasized its point that it's become a hollow mockery of everything its fans have known and loved.

Anyone else notice how “SyFy” looks like an abbreviation for syphilis?

Artistic misspellings are still hip, right? Isn’t that what the kids are doing on their internets?

Never mind two months of negative comments since the name was first floated. Howe is convinced, and says everyone else from NBC and SyFy is convinced too. In fact, despite saying the test market approved of the change, Howe claimed in another interview that they were totally prepared for the push back.

"We expected fans not to like it. The reaction from fans always same default reaction -- it's that we're going to abandon the genre." he said. "That isn't what its about."

So what is it really about?

Nobody seems to know. Most of the time, employees like Craig Engler, who manages the SyFy Twitter account, are too busy explaining what it isn't about to ever offer up a clear account of what it is about.

"No, we are not changing our programming mix … you pronounce it like 'sci-fi' … [it's not spelled wrong] Syfy is a made-up name, not a word, so it’s spelled correctly as is. Like Wii. Or Twitter …" — Craig Engler

Except, as the author behind the Warming Glow quickly pointed out, Twitter is an actual word. He even looked it up.

Of course, not knowing Twitter is a word seems minor in comparison to the notion that a rebranding campaign might boost interest in the opening of the Syfy Imagination Park in Rockefeller Center on July 12. On the contrary, the rebranding has buried it.

So in what can only be called an avalanche of negative public sentiment and press, the Sci Fi Channel has certainly been rebranded. Unfortunately, it has not been rebranded as Howe, Brooks, and Engler had hoped. But that stands to reason. Brands are not really names. Brands are better described as the relationship between consumers and a product, person, or even programming.

In this case, it seems to me that SyFy is establishing a new brand. And unfortunately, this new brand landing somewhere between silly and stupid or maybe just sad. There is so much wrong here, it will take a living case study to sort it all out.

That's right. This branding disaster is no moon. It's a space station. More tomorrow.

Tuesday, July 7

Marching On Taxes: Spirited Minorities

By comparison, Tea Party rallies across the country didn't seem to pack as much punch on July 4 as they did on April 15, which is the date Americans file their tax returns with the IRS. Any why would they, as they competed with one of most revered national holidays?

According to, 1,504 cities participated, which is down from more than 2,000 reported to have held rallies in April. However, despite asking marchers to give up a few hours of their holiday, the sentiment was still felt in those cities from Boston to Santa Barbara.

The Santa Barbara Tea Party

Led by Buffalo Bill (Rolland Jacks) and Calamity Jane (Patty Engel) on horseback, the Santa Barbara Tea Party & Culpepper Society Contingent provided a surreal and spirited conclusion to Saturday's Spirit of ’76 Foundation Parade, with signs ranging from "Party Like It's 1776" and "Mad as Hell!" Despite being on the roster, the Tea Party marchers in Santa Barbara even seemed to catch the emcee with a loss for words.

"Oh, and let's hear it for the First Amendment," the local on-air personality offered up.

The marchers — concerned with out-of-control government spending, the escalating deficit, and rapid government bailouts — were thin compared to the rally of hundreds at another event held the day before. And although nonpartisan, some the signage sported on Independence Day was decidedly conservative as it included signs that laid the blame on liberals.

Where the Santa Barbara Tea Party & Culpepper Society Contingent wins, however, is in its organization, friendliness, and diversity. Frequently, newscasts tend to lean toward providing older men on-air time. But in Santa Barbara, the marchers were well represented by diverse ages and ethnicities. The crowd was evenly split, with about half offering a show of support (and some joining in) while the other half was more concerned with heading to their cars before the parade broke.

Mixing Independence Day Messages

On one hand, holding Tea Party rallies on Independence Day seems fitting enough. On the other, it adds a sad concluding commentary on a day meant to celebrate a past that some people feel is quietly slipping away. And why wouldn't it?

Even excluding the postal service, the federal government is the largest employer in the United States with between 1.8 and 2.7 million civilian employees. Add in state and local government, and those government employees swell to 22 million, excluding education. Currently, education and health services account for 19 million jobs.

In counties like Leon in Florida, Champaign in Illinois, and Johnson in Iowa, government employment soar to 18 to 25 percent of total employment. When you consider total households, that may mean that more than 50 percent of all households in some areas have at least one government employee. And, when you add in federally funded nonprofit organizations and government contractors, it becomes relatively easy to see why voting against bigger government is not always in the best interest of the majority of Americans.

Of course, there are two sides of the coin. Some people claim that a high percentage of government workers provides a shield against unemployment. Others might argue that state and local government employees earning $10 to $20 more per hour than private employees are the cause, especially because more than 40 percent of those government workers are represented by unions (only 9 percent of private citizens are represented).

If health care is ever nationalized, it would mean more than 41 million people would be directly employed by government or almost 1/3 of the working population. It's an interesting statistic in that 1/3 of the working population would touch the majority of working households. And then what?

Monday, July 6

Marketing Mainstream: Online Video

Several years ago, we floated the idea that advertisers would be able to produce online videos that would attract as much attention as any broadcast advertisement. Some people thought the idea was very funny (given the frequency in which people insist they hate advertising).

Yet, in the last 18 months, that is exactly what happened as 200,000 tuned in this week to watch the Eyebrow Dance from Canbury, 325,000 viewed the T-Mobile Dance from T-Mobile, and thousands more continue to watch Extreme LED Sheep from Samsung, a video that has already garnered more than 8.5 million views. There is enough interest in online video advertising, in fact, that Video Measures compiles a real time Top 10 Viral Videos Ads of the Week Chart.

"It's not a niche activity anymore, it's a fairly mainstream activity," Matt Cutler, vice president of Video Measures recently told Abbey Klaassen of Advertising Age. Despite more than 20 hours of new video added to YouTube during every minute of every day, there is plenty of room for advertisers to produce an online video that becomes viral.

Viral Videos Are Usually Part Of Integrated Campaigns

During the interview, Cutler also noted that advertisers began to seriously look at online video shortly after the last Super Bowl when their joint study revealed Super Bowl campaigns captured 99 million viewers compared to the 98.7 million viewers that watched during the broadcast. For the first time, marketers realized that a single online video might reach as many people as broadcast television.

However, Cutler also concludes that online video success doesn't happen in a vacuum. The best online videos are usually tied to an integrated campaign that helps connect the video with viewers. Additional advertising support, public relations, and social media all play a role. After that, assuming the video attracts critical mass, its own momentum can carry it forward as popular videos tend to attract larger audiences.

Once A Video Goes Viral, Then What?

While the prospect of capturing several million viewers is appealing, advertisers still need to overcome the notion that "viral videos" can be made. The reality is that while advertisers can make a video, its propensity to become viral is determined exclusively by the online audience.

Of course, there is something else to consider. Even viral video success stories might be empty if there is no purpose beyond popularity. Specifically, making a video is easy; ensuring it goes viral is virtually impossible (most do not); and weaving in a message that has an impact or achieves an outcome remains as elusive as ever.

Friday, July 3

Celebrating Words: Independence Day

When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands, which have connected them with another, and to assume, among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed, by their Creator, with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.

That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles, and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.

Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object, evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.

Few compositions have changed the course of world events more than the above preamble. If you are so inclined, you can read the rest of the document here. And once you do, let me know if you still believe that mere words might not have the power to shape a nation. Happy Fourth of July.

Be happy. Be safe. Be grateful. And above all, be free.

Thursday, July 2

Messaging: What Is It Anyway?

Any time Geoff Livingston writes anything about "messaging," I had a tendency to put my cup of coffee down. I'm likely to burn my lip or stain my shirt.

So back on June 16, coffee in hand, I started to put it down shakily as I read the headline of a Livingston post. "Conversation Starters: A Modern View of Messaging." Oh boy, I thought, it's still early here on the West Coast.

But as I read on, I stopped short of the coaster. His post wasn't to point out the evils of message control (as some people use interchangeably with message management), but rather the prompts for companies to reevaluate their messages. It wasn't too early after all.

A Modern View Of Message Management

I'm not really sure where message management became entwined with guarding company secrets or spinning away questions to avoid pertinent answers, but what Livingston describes as the modern view of message management is what I always believed it to be. Externally, it's fluid and responsive to the public. Internally, it's just a way for everyone to be on the same page.

After all, it takes 80 impressions (some say as many as 240 impressions) before a message begins to stick. So, simply put, if Bob says the best feature is price, and Sally says the best feature is quality, and Fred says the best feature is delivery, then the consumer — much like reading 20 bullet points in a newspaper ad — won't remember any of it. And frankly, chances are that two of the three are wrong anyway. Who knows? Maybe they are all wrong.

So what Livingston proposes in his post is quite simple. What do the customers say it is? Unless they are factually wrong, that is probably what the message ought to be.

Of course, that's not to say that companies can't start somewhere. Propose any authentic message you want. The lesson here is just don't marry it. Hmmm ... I'll drink to that. Next cup is on me, Mr. Livingston.

Wednesday, July 1

Bullying Employees: Organizational Risk

According to Gary Namie, director of the Workplace Bullying Institute (WBI) and author of the new book "The Bully At Work," published in 2000, workers are feeling the heat, as the bulk of workplace harassment cases involve superiors taunting employees. Although the survey sampling is small, some of the findings are interesting.

WBI Survey: Economic Crisis and Bullying

• 75.4% of perpetrators have higher a position than the target
• 65.9% of perpetrators are female; 81% of targets are female
• 27.5% said the bullying has become worse since the recession

"People are more stressed because there's no escape," Namie told The Miami Herald, saying that recessions trap employees to suffer from verbal abuse, humiliation, career sabotage, or intimidation.

For organizations, higher management might sometimes miss the warning signs and symptoms of bad leadership. As a result, the bullying continues with employees too afraid to report the infractions. But according to the International Institute of Management, there are several warning signs that top management and boards ought to consider.

Ten Signs That A Bully Is Leading The Team

• Management that does not allow disagreements and expects agreement in any public setting.
• There is limited or no leadership performance review for employees to provide feedback.
• Recruitment, selections and promotions are based on internal political agenda and personal loyalty.
• Some departments are underutilized while other departments are overloaded to make up the difference.
• Plans are heavy on talk but light on action; management tends to end programs and talk about programs that never develop.
• There is frequent and heated division, with language more focused on point scoring and buck-passing than sharing responsibility.
• Management wastes more time and energy on internal attack and defense strategies instead of executing the work.
• Leaders spend most of their time on fire fighting instead of proactive planning for next-generation products and services.
• Morale deteriorates and employees suffer muted commitment and enthusiasm compared to other teams.
• There is a high rate of absenteeism and a high employee turnover rate, with past employees spoken about poorly.

Sooner or later, key decision makers have to make the argument that the bully's too expensive to keep. In today's communication environment, it is only a matter of time before employees begin to publicly undermine the organization out of frustration because bad leadership tends to stick to the organization as a whole rather than the individual perpetrator.

A Bright Contrast To Bad Leadership

Years ago, when I first began studying leadership, Johnson Controls Inc. (JCI), a global leader in automotive, building efficiency, and power solutions, became a source of fascination for me after I was introduced to it by the book "In Search of Excellence: Lessons from America's Best Run Companies." I was interested enough that I purchased some stock at the right time.

However, over the years, it seemed to me that some of the qualities cited in the 1988 book (especially employee relations) were beginning to erode. So I sold most of the stock, but continued to keep tabs on the company. Last Tuesday, the company reported a second quarter loss of $193 million, or 33 cents a share. It doesn't expect positive earnings until the fourth quarter of this year.

Where's the bright light? Forbes reports that 140,000 employees of Johnson Controls took part in week-long series of discussions at more than 1,000 company locations around the globe one month ago. They were learning and exchanging ideas about how to sharpen the value they bring to their customers.

"Only 10 to 15 percent of our employees are customer-facing," said CEO Stephen Roell. "But our customer focus means examining all the interactions and hand-offs that take place inside and across the company. It's important that each employee see the connection between what they do and the customer experience, that they see that each of them has a vital role in that relationship and the satisfaction of our customers."

Aha. See the difference? Leadership.

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