July 2007

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William L. McComb, the new chief executive officer at Liz Claiborne, arrived on the scene from J&J eight months ago. He is both a marketer and shrewd business person. Liz Claiborne had become so bloated, after a slew of acquisitions that it lost its drive and focus. Enter Mr. McComb.

 
According to the New York Times, Mr. McCombs, shortly after arriving, sent out a missive to 200 senior Claiborne managers asking them to identify their biggest business impediments. The problems identified were two: bureaucracy and lack of design.
 
His solution? He has jettisoned a number of lesser performing brands, reduced bureaucracy, dialed up design and marketing spending and has taken control of distribution by planning to open hundreds of stores dedicated to key keeper brands: Juicy Couture, Kate Spade, Lucky Brands and Mexx.
 
The kicker in all of this is that during Mr. McCombs initial planning, Macy’s decided to cut Liz Claiborne orders significantly because Claiborne decided to private label a clothing line for J.C. Penney. This fortuitous indiscretion on Claiborne’s part may have put them over the top in deciding to take control back of all 4 Ps.  
 
Liz Claiborne and the fittest surviving brands are going places.
 

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Newspapers

I’m a newspaper guy; not by trade, by practice. I just love reading newspapers. I love the interface. You can read standing on line, in a subway, on a plane, in the car. Obviously, they are not for real-time news – not like the Internet and radio — but they are my news medium of choice. 
 
News flash: the newspaper business is hurting.  Today’s New York Times had only 3 full-page ads in its first section. The Wall Street Journal had 4. That’s scary. Two of these ads were by Verizon for cell service and one spread was by FedEx/Kinkos. The business plan is teetering, it seems to me.
 
Newspapers have always been about the writing. Bylined writers sell papers, but many papers have stopped promoting their writers because they don’t want them to be bigger than the “paper.” They don’t want sub-brands outshining the master brand. Mistake.
 
Newspapers better get on the stick and start promoting the personalities who bring us the news and their craft, or these smart writers will continue to migrate to the blogosphere with AdSense accounts and kill the business completely. Newspaper writers and news photographers are a unique lot. Let make them important again.
 

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It took me a number of years in the business to figure out advertising. After reading all the books, years of practice, and lots of scar tissue from practitioners good and bad, I realized one simple rule: there’s showing and there’s telling. Showing works best.
 
If you look at advertising that is demonstrating a value proposition rather than explaining a value proposition you are more likely to buy.
 
Along came the Web and Web 2.0 which have added another component to selling: doing.  You can’t always “do” on the Internet, certainly not in terms of ingesting consumables or trying on clothes, but smart web marketers are finding ways to get customers and prospects to do something with their products. I can’t get you to try on a new style of sunglasses, but I can get you to play with them, put them on an avatar, change the colors. Do, in other words.
 
In my business, social computing, it’s even easier to get people to do. Of course, I can tell them, Zude is the “fastest, easiest away to build and manage a website,” and I can show them the same in a flash demo, but until I let them put their hands on the controls and do (in consumer marketing this is called sampling) they aren’t really sold.
 
Prior to the Web, “doing” was always the domain of promotion not advertising. Not anymore. 
 

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Apple

Remember when it used to be cool to say you worked at Google? That was so yesterday. Apple is the place to work. Apple doesn’t sell out, trying to be all things to all people. Apple takes chances. They maintain their vision and don’t change because a competitor is making more money or has more market share. Apple takes care of its customers. It sees the future and creates cult brands as David Atkins might say.
 
With the daring introduction of the iPhone, on the heels of iTunes, Apple has really come into its own. Before the fact, old school brand planners might have said about these moves that moving away from its computer franchise was not smart for Apple. But Apple saw the future, it evolved – watching closely what people were putting on their iBooks. Then they moved into telephony. Positioning the iPhone as a phone was a huge strategic decision. (Everybody already knew what Apple did and stood for.)  Wouldn’t you have liked to be in the marketing planning meeting, though, when management was deciding what to call the iPhone. “Jesus, it’s not a phone! It’s something completely knew. It’s a media integrator. It’s, it’s, it’s an iLife.  No, an iVerything!”
 
Thanks to Steve Job’s incendiary vision, the Apple brand has transcended the products. Consumers trust Apple’s ingenuity and design. Mac sales this quarter are higher than ever before. That’s brand pull.
 
This is the type of brand pull Sony had not too long ago (before they got into the movie business.)

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U.S.News and World Report has ranked Cleveland Clinic #1 in America for heart care, 13 years in a row.
 
One of my pet advertising peeves is award ads. They are done often and they are done awfully.  Every once in a while a smart ad person (not like those on A&E’s “Mad Men’) gets the assignment and does a great job. They make it simple: put the word out and don’t over embellish it or dial up the self-importance. They just give the facts in an elegant creative envelope.
 
Cleveland Clinic’s full-page print ad had the first sentence of this post as its headline. Beneath it was a picture of U.S.News and World Report standing up, folded all the way open at the center spread until the pages touched at the bottom, forming the shape of a heart. You can read the title of the magazine, see a picture of a physician, and read the words from the cover “America’s Best…”
 
The “#1” isn’t laid out in huge type, no bombast, everything is classy and factual. Just like you’d want your heart surgery. The Cleveland Clinic is doing more to revitalize Cleveland (the brand) than the Tribe and Rock and Roll Hall of Fame combined.    
 

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Martina Butler is Emo girl. Her podcast (http://emogirltalkwp.podshow.com ) is recorded weekly, interspersed with an occasional vidcast. Keep an ear on her, she’s cool. Martina spoke this past week at Mashup 2007, a youth marketing conference, so I tuned in and gave her a listen.  She talks about everything and nothing. Emo girl plays music, voicemail, and around. She’s fun, on color, eco-friendly, coquettish and totally today. Martina is a raging, singing, giggling success.


One of the neat things about Emo Girl is she doesn’t know how many listeners she has. While most kid entrepreneurs are into that sort of thing, she doesn’t seem to care. She was quite proud, however, that big cosmetics corporations have come a calling. She’s in it for herself, her friends and her soon to be friend listeners. The business side doesn’t drive her.  The program is "her" and that’s what makes it fun. Martina talks about butts, ecology, movies, what’s hot, who’s hot and Harry Potter (more butts.) She and her podcast friend Peter Jacobsen, occasionally take to the road with a video camera, and do entertaining stuff.

 

This is user-generated-content at its best. For young adults looking for stimulation outside of television, podcasts are a growing form of entertainment.  

 

At Mashup 2007, Emo girl was just one of 4 teenagers who spoke on an entrepreneur panel; she was the least accomplished speaker. (Imagine being 17-years old and being asked to speak in front of a room full of adults.) But put her behind her podcast mic, and she’s radiant. Authentic. 

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Mashup Week

OMG (Ogilvy Media Group?), I just returned from 4-days in San Jose and San Francisco at more Mashup events than a man deserves.  I couldn’t even watch Mash on TVLand flying home on JetBlue.
 
Mashup Camp and Mashup University are run by David Berlind, one of ZDNet’s alpha bloggers.  Dave’s got tech chops like nobody’s business. MashUp 2007, held in San Franciso, was run by Anastasia Goodstein, whose well-read blog Ypulse covers the youth sector with grace and insight.
 
I loved all of the Mashup events. The minute John Herren, in his keynote speech at Mashup University, asked “Is there a nerd around,” in reference to a technical presentation problem, I knew we were in for a week of code…but a fun week. The first person I met at Mashup University was Bebo White, with the Stanford Linear Accelerator and physics dept. I was kind of scared, but it turned out he was brilliant, warm and very down to earth. Most everyone at Mashup University/Camp was this way. Geeked out, yes. But approachable, smart, friendly and all about the code. Oh yeah, 95% male.
 
At Mashup 2007, a youth marketing event, women were the majority. The show was opened by Danah Boyd (Annenberg) and Henry Jenkins (MIT), two beacons of light in social computing. They knew their stuff and complimented one another beautifully.  Interestingly, they were talking about the exact same topic yet Mr. Jenkins called it “participatory culture” and Ms. Boyd “fan culture.” I’d be interested to know why they couldn’t agree on taxonomy (geek word.)  Lot’s more to come about Mashup week. Stay tuned.
 

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I don’t want to sound like a broken CD, but this whole consumer generated content (CGC) thing in marketing is really getting to me. Consumers recommending products to other consumers is an important, integral part of marketing. It’s what happens to good products during the normal course of the selling and buying process. Traditionally, that happens after marketers and ad agencies have done their jobs and a transaction has occurred. But CGC takes the agencies and marketer out of the process. It’s lazy. 
 
Are marketers and ad agencies so burned out that they can’t figure out new, compelling ways sell? Isn’t that what they are saying every time they sponsor a CGC contest? Where have all the industry’s creative people gone?
 
I believe it has something to do with the way we ingest media. For entertainment and relaxation most Americans ingest media. They take in TV, radio, and video games. Often this is mindless, inbound entertainment. Reading books is a form of ingested media, but it does require interpretation, concentration and visualization.
 
Creative individuals do less ingesting of media and more thinking. They look for patterns and lack of patterns, mashing up things to form new ideas. Artists has always gravitated toward advertising, because they are more right brained. They ingest less drivel.
 
As the industry cedes more and more of its creativity to consumers, it will dig itself deeper into a hole, out of which it will be hard to crawl.
 

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truTV

Court TV is now truTV. The change was made to signal a move from court-related content to a broader spectrum of programming, built around series that depict true and real-life stories. As American programming concentrates more and more on reality TV (Aren’t we almost done with this fad?), truTV is establishing itself as “the” cable network devoted to real and “istic” stories. 
 
Some in the “naming” business like the name truTV; others think it bland and uninspired. Naming is always a bi-otch. Sometimes it comes easily, most of the time it doesn’t. My wife named our second born (I got to name the first), and I wasn’t a big fan. But I loved the boy and it grew on me.  Names, for the most part, are vessels into which you pour meaning. In naming, marketers always look for descriptive and evocative words, but mostly they are just letters tied together waiting a brand plan.
 
Since cable channels, unlike the big national networks, can segment their content, it should be easy to create and purchase programming for truTV. If they find the right stuff, if it is true to the name, and the programs entertaining, truTV should be a success. (At least, now people will know where to start looking for that British “seal” dude who is always dropped on top of mountains with his knife. If they don’t find him there, they can go to the wilderness channel.)   
 

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