Friday, January 7

Exposing Yourself: Three Applications For Mirror Neurons

can creativity catchYou might have learned it in high school. If you want to be smarter, sit in the front of the class. If you want to have more fun, sit in the back.

Proximity might have only been part of the equation. The other part of the equation might have more to do with who sat around you. Or, more specifically, how you perceived the people you sat next to and interacted with, much like you do today.

The reason has to do with mirror neurons in our brains, which fire both when animals act and when animals observe similar actions performed by another. Humans too. Many neuroscientists believe it's how we learn language, empathy, and inference. It may even be tied to creativity and collaboration, as suggested in Brain Leaders and Learners by Dr. Ellen Weber, who inspired some thinking on this subject. She also sources this PBS short for anyone interested in mirror neurons.

Applying Mirror Principles In Three Everyday Life Scenarios.

1. Creativity. When you look back at history, there are dozens of moments when cultural and artistic expression seemed to leap in unexpected directions, including the Downtown 500 and Harlem Renaissance. Or if you prefer, consider the collective impact of artists like Gauguin, Van Gogh, Picasso, and Matisse or maybe the postwar Beat Generation.

Marketing, advertising, and even public relations might take some lessons from these movements, which might have been inspired in part by mirror neurons — groups of individuals propelling each other forward much like creatives did during the Golden Age of advertising. It pays to expose yourself to creative pursuits, creative people, and creative explorations.

2. Consumer Advocates. Of course, advertising need not be conflated or confused with art. The best of it, which is only a sliver of it, tends to be tempered by the people it hopes to reach.

After all, many advertisements fail when the work becomes an extension or expression of how smugly clever the copywriter, art director, or creative director is in executing the work. Ergo, advertising that merely celebrates itself doesn't reflect something that consumers can identify with on any level. Mirror neurons can be put to work here too.

In fact, in considering mirror neurons, it might even explain why (with the exception of those creating their own bubbles) social media has an impact. Instead of immersing themselves in the ivory towers of ego that are sometimes erected by communication professionals, social media offers up an opportunity for people to become immersed within the daily lives of everyday people, who do things like buy the products that marketers peddle.

neurons3. Leadership. Appreciating neuroscience isn't necessarily confined to the creative process. It works well within the greater scope of leadership too. If you want to produce a team of visionary people, you have to expose those teams to creative and innovative environments. And, if you want to improve your own leadership skill sets, it might be worthwhile to connect with visionary and empathic leaders as opposed to those who focus only on transactions.

Consider last year's most admired companies, according to Forbes. Apple, Google, Berkshire Hathaway, Johnson & Johnson, Procter & Gamble, and Coca-Cola all share some common denominators in their leadership and, even more importantly, their approach to nurturing leadership within their companies. The culture they create is as important to their success as the products they produce or the marketing that introduces it.

There Are Some Limitations To Mirror Neuron Concepts.

Naturally, placing yourself within environments where you can subconsciously mimic or be influenced by others is not the answer to everything. Mirror neurons have limitations, especially in how we interpret the information we process.

Case in point: two children growing up in the same household may develop extremely diverse and distinct personalities that defy any argument that they merely mirror parental behaviors. For example, one child might learn to become assertive and another reclusive despite being raised by assertive (or conversely, reclusive) parents.

Likewise, merely hanging out with creative people or successful leaders isn't a surefire way to become one yourself as much as it can enhance any innate talents or leadership qualities that already exist. (My point being that simply hanging out with a modern day Gauguin doesn't necessarily make you as prolific or artistic as Gauguin.) Still, it doesn't hurt either.

At minimum, it could help you from stumbling about this year or help your career by avoiding things you've convinced yourself you can't do. You know, much like high school, when some kids shuffled themselves toward the back of the room, predisposed in their thinking that they couldn't learn anything anyway.

Wednesday, January 5

Rethinking Mobile: The Future Of Advertising Is Portable

There isn't any doubt that mobile will play a big role in the future. And if there was any doubt years ago, there is none now.

Last October, 234 million Americans ages 13 and older used mobile devices; 60.7 million people in the U.S. owned smart phones. After the holidays, you can expect most of these numbers soared even higher, and that doesn't consider the tablet market like the Amazon Kindle or Apple iPad. Communication is everywhere — on the desktop, on the laptop, in the living room, and within the palm of your hand.

Mobile Doesn't Mean Mobile As Much As It Means Portable.

Three years ago, I quoted Rishad Tobaccowala, CEO of Denuo Group, a Publicis Groupe, to underscore the point. He said "the reality of it is that the future does not fit into the containers of the past.”

But when you look at the way the Web has developed since then, it's becoming much more clear that mobile isn't the answer to the future as much as portability. You see, while there might be an emphasis on mobile phones and tablets, plenty of people still sit in front a desktop or plug content into their television sets to consume everything from entertainment to education and from current events to vintage history.

Sometimes they even use two or three devices simultaneously — Tweeting a comment about the show they are watching on television in real time or throwing out ideas related to an article or post they are working on without ever pulling up a new browser. No, not all of it is obvious. Most of it works in layers.

So what is the reality of communication? The reality isn't that the future does not fit into the containers of the past, it's that the future needs to fit in every container of the future. So if you don't consider portability, your marketing is missing out.

Applying Portability To A :30 Television Commercial.

For simplicity of the conceptual model, consider a :30 television commercial.

vintage avTen years ago, most commercials were relatively niche. Thirty seconds aired in between bits of news and entertainment being viewed by people with relatively specific demographics. On a good day, people might even talk about it around the water cooler at work or perhaps a child might recite some jingle to justify the toy making their Christmas list.

Today, as mediums converge, that same 30 seconds can have a much longer shelf life and reach dozens of different audiences and communities. The most obvious placement might be YouTube. But with some adjustments and a willingness to adapt the content to fit any number of segments, the possibilities are as endless as the strategy allows.

People might see the commercial and comment about it on Facebook (using their phones). Or they might see it embedded in a blog post. Or they might see it on a website, while browsing with a tablet. And then they might see it reinforced in front of the television.

If the creative is sustainable enough, they might even share it with their friends, people who may not fit the demographics of the most likely buyer (but might pass it on to people who do). This only scratches the surface when you include email marketing or hundreds of other social networks or (thinking from the public relations perspective) the thousands of people who write about and review products or production.

“Creative without strategy is called 'art.' Creative with strategy is called 'advertising.” — Jef I. Richards

The connector (with) is where advertisers and other communicators need to set their sights. Creative directors and marketing strategists will do more for their clients by considering multiple platforms and devices, not just one. After all, a television commercial isn't only a television commercial anymore much like a 'blog' doesn't always have to be a blog.

Ahead of the pack, it seems to me that Amazon is getting it partly right. Apple is too. It's only some content publishers (especially newspapers) that are still struggling with the concept.

brainWhat makes them different? Apple and Amazon aren't thinking in terms of delivery devices anymore. They are thinking in terms of sensory reception or deeper. And if they are not, they ought to be. Sensory reception is about the person, not the medium.

The two sensory receptors that can be touched online are primarily audio and visual, even if audio is confined to the alliteration of the written word. Everything else — especially the point of delivery — is simply a matter of strategically aligning the content to fit the space, which is why the future is a little less mobile and a lot more portable. Any device, anywhere, anytime.

Sunday, January 2

Running Companies: Best Fresh Content

Fresh Content ProjectThere are five kinds of companies you can run: innovative, protective, flash-in-the-pan, subservient, or a failure. The choice is yours. The world is riddled with them.

While the innovators take risks, the protectionists attempt to preserve those moments when they had one great idea that gave them a foundation that could be sustained longer than a one hit wonder. Almost all of the rest fail, with the exception of subservient companies — businesses that make their money filling some need that innovators and protectionists have.

These five fresh picks (actually four since one was scrapped) help paint a picture of the protectionists, companies that are trying to hold on to something they have while the world closes in on them. Almost all of them act like dying empires that will eventually become failures unless they are lucky enough to find a leader willing to lead them out of the muck.

Best Fresh Content In Review, Week of December 20

Failure To Innovate: Yahoo Loss Someone’s Gain.
Yahoo has had a long tradition of struggling with acquisitions that retain the original brand. MyBlogLog, Delicious, and a host of other social media related sites will be sold or scraped in the weeks ahead. The topics have been covered to death, but Heather Rast pulled something else out of the discussion. The problem wasn't simply treating these services as step-children, but rather a deeper problem tied to innovation. I might go a step further. There seems to be a culture of protectionism.

How Social Media Boutiques Are Winning Deals Over Traditional Digital Agencies.
Some people will have mixed feelings about Jeremiah Owyang's assessment, but how one feels is separate from the battle between large agencies and social media boutiques. I don't agree with the assessment that immature brands rely on traditional agencies, but I do agree that large agencies need to understand where social media fits or they will allow yet another beach head to establish on the shores of their clients. The last time, agencies eventually won, buying up many of the best web designers or, at least, made them servants.

Net Semi-Neutrality: New Rules from the FCC
Sometimes compromise is a good thing. Sometime it's not. Gini Dietrich shares her take on the FCC's decision to adopt “net semi-neutrality,” which is a hybrid of the worst kind in that it pretends to preserve some freedoms by giving up a few of them. Yes. It can be likened to offering up 25 percent (or more) of your neighborhood in order to preserve the majority. On the other hand, it does temporarily sooth the savage beast that really built the Internet, companies that laid the wires and the cell lines only to it cut deeply into their primary revenue streams.

Yuletide Crisis Containment.
Peter Himler covers a just under the radar crisis communication story that was passed over by many, even after it was covered by The Wall Street Journal. The crisis includes a civil suit against Ernst & Young, which has adopted a position of silence. While it is generally acceptable to not comment during a lawsuit (and sometimes prudent), Ernst & Young didn't stop at simply offering one of the few acceptable times to avoid comment. It claims the case has no factual or legal basis, but then refuses to back up the statement. It's hard to say where this might go in the year ahead, but there is no denying they've taken a risky route.

An Open Letter to PR Professionals.
Doug Davidoff begins by saying "There are three gaps that PR and social media professionals must bridge if they want a seat at the table and to be treated with the seriousness they deserve." Those three gaps include: better processes, better prioritization, and better alignment with the goals of the business. It makes sense. All too often the profession finds itself developing industry best practices when the only best practices that ought to matter are those that directly benefit the business and the publics that the business hope to reach. The same can said about social media. All the buzz is nice, but how does it support the mission?

Monday, December 27

Looking Back: Top Ten Communication Stories In 2010

Good Bye 2010This past year has been an interesting one for Copywrite, Ink., especially as it relates to this collection of communication observations. In addition to adopting a different design in early 2010, adding the Disquis comment system, we also changed to a dedicated address.

The dedicated address change, specifically, led to some interesting behind-the-scenes changes. While both addresses lead to the same destination (and there was no interruption for subscribers), traffic is counted separately on some external measurement systems and many well-read posts appear as if they were never read at all (because of the tweet share button).

I only mention it because it fits with some of the content themes written about in 2010. Looks can be deceiving. What isn't deceiving, however, is which stories seemed to resonate with readers. And to close out 2010, I thought I'd share this with you.

Top Ten Communication Stories 2010.

1. TSA Policies Are Not A Privacy Issue.

Some things are not a simple matter of semantics, liberty among them. So while the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) and Department Of Homeland Security continually make the case that current and future security measures are a choice between security and privacy, liberty remains the real issue we ought to be talking about. This was the most read story of 2010 and probably the most important, given the far reaching consequences of those who will choose the illusion of security over liberty.

2. Unteaching Social Media: Communication First, With A Deck.

While some people were surprised to learn that I spend more time teaching communication as opposed to social media in social media classes, the deck attached to this post generated more than its fair share of interest among communicators, hailing from public relations, marketing, and advertising. I tend to keep social media simple. It's a singular environment where broadcasters and receivers cannot be distinguished and communicators must learn to simultaneously communicate on a scale of one to one, one to niche, and one to many. This post included a link to the deck I used in class.

3. Fresh Content Providers, Quarterly Updates.

What began as a relatively simple question became a year-long experiment of sorts. The Fresh Content Project tasked Copywrite, Ink. with picking a single post per day from a growing field of 250 communication-related bloggers. The intent was to discover whether or not popularity could be an indication of quality content. The experiment will conclude on December 31, with some reveals and loose ends to tie up in 2011. At its close, we'll begin working on the next experiment — the anti-influence project (for lack of a better name).

Interestingly enough, it wasn't the weekly content recaps that attracted the most attention. It was the quarterly rankings, which featured every author chosen during any given quarter. You can also find every post chosen on Facebook.

4. Managing Crisis: Bad PR Is Only A Symptom.

Without question, one of the most captivating live crisis communication case studies that took place in 2010 was the BP oil spill. Of all the posts related to the case study across multiple companies, the initial story that recognized that the BP oil spill was not a single crisis communication event, but rather several across the weeks and months, resonated the most with communicators. I'm glad it did because if there is one thing public relations professionals need to learn about crisis management it's that almost all crises have independent events within them that must be handled on a situational case-by-case basis.

5. Saving Wildlife: Dawn Responds To Oil Spill Crisis.

While there were many stories written around the Gulf Coast oil spill, there was a related/unrelated story that also captured some interest. What made this story important, in terms of reader interest, is that it proves people aren't always keen on simply gravitating to bad news. There was good news to be found in the field of bad news stories. One of them came from Procter & Gamble (P&G) and its product, Dawn, which gently removes oil and helps save wildlife affected by oil spills. Although Dawn has been used for more than 30 years in the field, P&G doesn't push public relations related to saving wildlife. Rather, like most good public relations stories, it allows people to discover it on their own.

6. Pushing Pies: Pizza Hut, Domino's, Papa John's.

While pizza doesn't seem like a captivating communication topic, there is a lot to learn about big companies marketing virtually the same product. The comparison between the marketing efforts of the big three — Pizza Hut, Domino's, and Papa John's — pinpointed how important it can be to find a product contrast that resonates and then stick with it. For Pizza Hut that meant unbeatable value and quick order convenience. Contrast that with Domino's and Papa John's. The former took to attempting to punish the Pizza Hut and Papa John's brands while failing to deliver on its own promise. The latter celebrated everyone's love for pizza, but failed to communicate the distinction that made it one of the big three to begin with.

7. Integrating Communication: PR-Driven Social Media.

Throughout 2010, we offered up several communication models for consideration, the most popular of which was the PR-Driven Social Media model. I'm not surprised. While we believe that social media is a cross-discipline activity that requires an integrated approach that involves marketing, advertising, public relations, and other fields of expertise, public relations professionals remain the most interested in taking the online communication helm. As long as they continue to embrace social media at a faster pace than other fields, it seems likely social media will increasingly be viewed as a public relations discipline, for better or worse.

8. Understanding Bloggers: Why PR Doesn't Get Them.

Having worked with bloggers for multiple social networks and outreach campaigns over the course of five years, it seemed relatively easy for me to break out a list of considerations related to the predominant types of bloggers. While it's an oversimplification to assign "motivations" behind various bloggers, the lesson to be learned was not to categorize bloggers as much as it was to open up the eyes of public relations professionals, helping them to realize that not all bloggers are motivated by cash incentives or the "privilege" of getting the inside scoop of a company. Contrary, bloggers are as diverse as people, which makes sense as most of them are people. Treat them as such.

9. Changing PR: Customers Are Media; Complaints Are News.

Not all crisis communication scenarios happen to big companies. Once of the most interesting mini-crisis communication challenges that occurred this year happened to a relatively small theater operator in St. Croix Falls, Wis. What started out as a private complaint made by a customer, quickly turned public after the theater's manager sent the complainer an email response without a bit of empathy or remorse for the theater's failings, basically telling the customer to "f*ck off." This runaway email became the subject of scorn as a Facebook boycott page took off and mainstream media started covering the story. Sadly, all the manager had to do was apologize and offer a free popcorn on the next visit.

10. Branding: Personal Branding And Reputation Are Illusions.

Despite the growing number of communicators who are joining the fray to question the validity of personal branding, it remains a controversial topic in that people are generally divided between the two schools of thought (with the third group that attempts to find some middle ground). I contributed several posts to the topic in 2010, but the one that resonated with readers was one that included some cognitive psychology into the mix. People who enjoy discussing this topic might be happy to know that I anticipate the personal branding topic will reoccur several times in 2011. It is also the subject of the book I've been writing, which I limp along with from time to time.

And that brings about some of the changes ahead in 2011. Copywrite, Ink. will be turning 20 years old next year and this educational extension will be turning seven with more than 1,200 posts under its belt. It's time to scale it to three times a week as opposed to five, allowing me more time to focus on additional projects.

Those include working with our growing stable of clientele, finishing the aforementioned book that lands on the back burner too often, accepting the occasional guest post on other blogs (usually declined as I hadn't the time), and nurturing our side project Liquid [Hip], which continues to see some exceptional traction.

Thanks so much for finding time to make the Copywrite, Ink. blog part of your busy week. I'll work even harder to keep the content fresh in 2011. But this post closes out 2010. With the exception of one of the last fresh content recaps landing next Sunday, look for the first post of 2011 on January 3. Happy New Year! Good night, good luck, and good fortunes.

Sunday, December 26

Bending Perception: Best Fresh Content

Fresh Content Project
If there is a trend to content creation online, the leading theme is probably perception. As more marketing and public relations professionals enter the space, they seem to gravitate toward it, given the mistaken (but partly true belief) that perception somehow equals reality. It doesn't. Not really.

Knowing this, is it any surprise that professionals who cannot come up with innovative ideas rely on their company's "authority" to propel them forward? Or that people are clamoring for an "online influence" measurement system even though the very notion is silly? Or that, every year, agencies allow themselves to produce campaigns that fail because they don't recognize the difference between a client and a customer? Or that, despite influence and authority, you can find plenty of people at the top who demonstrated that, for all their popularity and promise and entitlements, they still suck at communication?

In the battle between perception and reality, please remember to keep it real. Consider these five posts as evidence.

Best Fresh Content In Review, Week of December 13

Where Do Business And Social Meet?
Valeria Maltoni raises some interesting questions about the role of communicators and how some people with corporate roles attempt to leverage their title and company brand in order to gain visibility in social media and reap personal benefits. Her thinking touches very well with what I wrote about personal brands earlier this year. Applied here, we might conclude that those who lack ideas or popularity frequently attempt to leverage their "authority." It's neither wrong or right, but certainly reminds us not to follow people blindly.

The Top Ten Best (And Worst) Communicators of 2010.
Most fresh content picks tend to stay away from lists, but this one by Ben and Kelly Decker is worth the read. It's well thought out and all the more alluring because it starts with the best and not the worst. Even better than simply dropping in a few names and calling it a day, the Deckers work hard to share exactly why they felt some people deserved to be on one list or another, making the lesson much more fitting. When you read about these 20 people and their stories, you might ask yourself in 2011 whose company you would rather keep.

How Social Semantic Search Defines People.
Geoff Livingston does an excellent job reminding everyone that search isn't about technologies. It's about people. And just as often, it's about the semantics we type in in order to discover the content we want to cover. One person might type in any number of combination of words to find something. Another could type in something else, even if they want the same content. But even more striking is the next layer of personalization. Worse might be the fact that some of that personalization relies increasingly on popularity.

Clients Aren't Customers: Why Most Agencies Suck At Project Management.
From our perspective, Ian Lurie has had a banner year in writing content that connects. This week was no exception as he pinpointed the difference between clients and customers. Clients, he points out, typically control the fate of an entire project, whether it's a marketing campaign, a new web site or an application. Customers do not. They only purchase based on the final product. What he points out so clearly, is that most agencies get it wrong. They do whatever the client tells them, thinking of them as customers. Except, eventually, when anyone at an agency does that, they set themselves up to fail because they will still be accountable for the results, even if the client made all the decisions.

Five Primary Problems With Klout.
Geoff Livingston has since softened his stance on Klout, but the initial post was still right on the money. Somehow, the service has been embraced as some sort of influence indicator to organizational managers who don't know any better. Livingston points out five reasons you might think twice. And those, from my opinion, are only the tip of the iceberg. At the same time, please do keep in mind that I have nothing personal against Klout (although some people say I sound like I do.) Nah, not at all. I have a problem with the entire concept of online influence measures. There is even a post waiting in the wings to kick off the new year.

Friday, December 24

Wishing Everyone: Happy Holidays

Holiday Card

Dear Santa,

A pint of hope,
a pound of love,
an ounce of faith,
a pinch of wisdom,
a dash of perseverance,
and a lifetime of gratitude.

Please deliver generously to our friends and family; clients and colleagues. It's all anyone needs this year.

All my best,

What else can be said? Thank you for allowing me to be part of your day and you a part of mine. Happy holidays and merry Christmas. Until next week ... good night, good luck, and good fortunes.

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