February 2009

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I love to pay attention to great corporate leaders. They are decisive, make informed decisions and once you know what drives them are predictable. Always, they are always strategic.

 

Were my parents to comment on Michael Dell’s fall from corporate grace over the years, they would whisper “Is he on drugs?”  He was such a good CEO and now he’s all over the place.”  I am not at all suggesting Mr. Dell uses drugs, but he did go from the number one business executive in the country to someone who is unpredictable, a follower, unfocused and seemingly lacking in discipline.  He needs to be hypnotized and brought back to those days in his dorm room at U Texas, so that he can find his vision.

 

Carol Bartz on the other hand has moved into the CEO role at Yahoo!, a company which is more like five companies, and decided to “simplify.”  Bravo. Yahoo’s problem is that it has forgotten what it is, focusing instead on earnings, stock prices, business partners, platforms and, and, and… Ms. Bartz approach, after only a few weeks on the job, is less silos, less layers, fewer agendas, more focus, more Yahoo.  Today’s smartest marketers are simplifying.  

 

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What’s the idea with Nike? 

 

Check out this new Weiden and Kennedy commercial for Nike Golf, a wonderful piece of entertainment that will not only make you smile but it will get you thinking about The Masters, green, green grass, and morning dew. It should even drive golfers into stores. Good advertising makes you feel something, then do something. This one made me lol and write a blog post. 

 

Nike ads have always been good at getting people to “just do it,” and with Nike’s unfairly high share-of-market that’s been enough to keep them chugging.  When leaders pump the category they tend to win.  But leaders still need to make deposits in the brand bank and I’m not exactly sure, based on this spot, that I know why to buy Nike other than because Tiger does. And though that is probably reason enough for many, I’d certainly like to see some sly Tiger reference to the product here. Look down the shaft of his new wedge while walking into the locker room. Test the flex of the club… Something.

 

That said, this is still brilliant work. The music, sound design (whack, whack), editing and brief were nearly flawless. Peace!

 

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Simply radical.

 

 

The few companies reporting any positive earnings these days are companies that looked ahead and made radical changes months ago. In a nutshell, they “simplified.” Those making radical changes now are a couple of quarters too late and will benefit with rest of the late majority.

 

As a brand planner who listens to marketers talk about brand value I am often amazed by the lack of focus. Many businesses have built such complexity into their products and services that they can’t explain what they sell without an org chart and sprawling 300 word mission statement. (I once sat in a planning meeting with the nation’s largest home care company, and heard the CEO ask around the table of his senior team “What business do you think we’re in?”)

 

There are two tools I use when developing marketing plans and brand plans. One – called 24 Questions — follows the money. Once shared with a billion dollar outsourcing division of Lucent Technologies, the 24 Questions was distributed to teams around the country only to return a month later in the form of 3 big-ass binders. (Complex enough?) The other planning tool delves into the brand and it’s standing with three constituents: company management, employees and customers. After all of this data is collected from both these documents it is boiled down. (This is where the brain comes in.)  What is revealed from the boil down process is, actually, pretty amazing: A simple but strategic selling idea. It comes from the core. It’s not overdrawn. It is understandable. What makes the idea so radical is that it is an idea. Peace.

 

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What’s wrong with the newspaper business is the “paper” not the “news.”  And paper is also a metaphor for the old centralized news, ink and engine business that hasn’t really changed for hundreds of year.

 

I posted yesterday about how Rupert Murdoch and News Corp are best positioned to transform the newspaper business.  No one else has amassed the resources and other media expertise to translate the news “paper” business into the news “digital” business. Microblogger sites such as Twitter have shown us a glimpse of the future, in terms of real-time reporting, but we all know that the best news and analysis come from professionals — with editors and fact checking as part of the equation. All of which in the digital age should be easier, not harder.

 

News gathering and reporting are a special competence of news organizations; printing and distributing are not. The former must be brought up to date.  

 

Today it was reported that Rupert Murdoch’s #2 executive, Peter Chernin, is leaving. Allowing him to go is a huge mistake. Mr. Chernin is the entertainment, social media, non-newspaper guy on the team. My timeframe for News Corp’s delivery of newspapers 2.0 was 2 years.  Jeff Dachis — a transformative executive himself – is on record as saying 2 years is too soon.  Now I wonder if it can be done in 4 years. Or at all…by News Corp. 

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If anyone is in position to renew and reinvent the newspaper business it is Rupert Murdoch. First and foremost he is a talented businessman. Second he is willing to spend to learn. Check that, invest and lose to learn. Third he is daring. For a septuagenarian to jump in and buy MySpace with nary a friend request was a bold move to say the least.

 

I applauded Mr. Murdoch for buying the Wall Street Journal because I expected him to take his understanding of the financial news business and marry it with the community building expertise he purchased in MySpace. Then, I thought, he’d build an online business property the likes of which we’d never seen — think LinkedIn meets Facebook meets the Allen and Company Retreat.  (Well, I may have over-thought that one. Hee hee.)

 

But Mr. Murdoch understands news, the human condition and what people want in entertainment (Fox).   Within 2 years I expect him to make a big online move that will cross all these platforms. It will be news-based, globally branded, locally relevant, and will make reporters out of all of us. It will be huge. Peace!

 

PS. Are you listening Jeff Dachis?

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When writing branding briefs and their little cousins creative briefs I find that key insights can come from anywhere. More often than not though, they come from the target or as I like to call it the Living Breathing Target. The target on the brief for Zude.com, the social networking start-up I worked for, was “Webertarians,” an marriage of the words web and libertarian.

 

Webertarians rue the rules, restrictions and technological impediments that keep them from doing what they want on the web. Zude’s big breakthrough was the ability for regular people to build websites without knowing HTML — simply by dragging and dropping web objects.  The usability promise played out nicely to the masses who are not technically inclined. Those who are technically inclined are also webertarians in that they like open source code (free code not owned by Microsoft). Let’s just say there are a lot of webertarians out there.

 

Today’s big webertarian fight is taking place on Facebook over the issue of “Who owns my stuff?” Facebook changed the rules for a few days and its users balked, so they contritely changed back their terms of service.  Facebook already understands the “webertarian ethos” or it wouldn’t have 175 million accounts. That said, it needs to work those ethos to its advantage – and quickly – as it tries to devise a monetization scheme. Facebook can’t afford too many more missteps or they will start looking like "the man."  Peace!

 

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OMG. WTF. WAM (What A Mess. That one’s mine.) 

 

People get sick and it makes them stronger. Companies get sick and it makes them stronger. They look deeply within, understand core competencies, explore those competencies, find truths, tighten up and evolve.   

 

Howard Schultz and his senior marketing people at Starbucks are trying to shoot their way out of this recession with some ill-advised new products: instant coffee and value meals. It’s sad. Someone smart said recently that when Starbucks started to smell more like bacon and eggs than coffee beans the company was in trouble.  Starbucks is not about instant — instant breakfast or instant coffee. It’s about the world’s best coffee. I don’t mind by my Tazo tea every once in a while, so long as it’s being sold by a company that offers the world’s best coffee.

 

What’s the idea with Starbuck? Not sure any more. They need to prove the mission, not dilute it. And the mission is not be about the Benjamins, it’s about the coffee. Peace!

 

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We remember beauty.

 

We remember new.

 

We remember rich.

 

We remember melody.

 

We remember funny.

 

We remember nature.

 

We remember poetry.

 

We remember pain.

 

We remember educators.

 

We remember warmth.

 

We remember charity.

 

We remember happy.

 

We remember love.

 

We remember triumph.

 

These are the things we remember.

 

These are the things consumers remember.

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At first blush, the idea to allow consumers to rate their doctors seemed a bit odd. What do most patients really know about physician prowess? Upon further thought, though, I realize how often I tell friends about my orthopedic surgeon and what a great job he did on my knee. You either like your doc or you don’t, right?.  S/He fixes what’s under the hood or s/he doesn’t. It really doesn’t get much simpler than that.

 

And that’s the beauty of the Zagat’s new approach to physician rating being tested by Wellpoint insurance users in a few states around the country. Patients are writing reviews of  their docs and providing scores, viewable only by other Wellpoint consumers.

 

One argument physicians use against this service is they believe patients don’t always take a doctors advice, especially on lifestyle issues like healthy eating. So, say the docs, why should these patients be able reviewers?  My response to that argument would be  docs need to take the time to be more persuasive; a physician who can’t motivate a patient toward a healthier lifestyle is lacking some doctoring skill. That’s part of the package.

 

Let’s face it, patient outcomes as measured by procedural success, zero infection, no readmission to hospital, etc., are still the preferred measures of physicians (and hospitals), but there is certainly room for a patient rating system that allows receivers of healthcare to weigh in.  It’s the American way. Peace!       

 

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Part of the fun of blogging is to go on record and predict how other people’s marketing initiatives will turn out.  One of the questions I ask when doing such prognostication is “Does the move further the corporate strategy?” Or, in my simplified worldview, does it further the branding “idea.” 

 

When I first read about Google’s forays into online radio, print and TV ad sales I was surprised and befuddled…and expected them to fail. As of yesterday, only the TV ad sales business is still alive.  I’m not a big fan of a number of Google’s non-core business apps: Write, Google Docs, the spread sheet program; they are all nice novelties. But what do they do to further Sergey Brin’s initial brand idea We deliver the world’s information in one click”?  
 

While director of marketing at Zude.com, a social computing platform, my directive to employees was to ask themselves every day as they left the building “What did I do today to make Zude the “fastest, easiest way to build an manage a website?”  That’s was a focused mission. That was an idea.  Google needs a "leaving the building" question.

 

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