April 2009

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Twitter is big today and will be bigger tomorrow. We just haven’t really figured out how to use it yet. This week and last there have been a number of stories about Twitter topping out. Even Ofrah (sic) is tired of Twitter. I don’t think anything could be farther from the truth.

 

The Epicurious application on iPhone is a very cool app that lets you graze at the grocery store and when you see a wonderful product access great recipes for that product in real time. Twitter offers the same type of solution opportunity, but from live people. A number of computer start-ups were built not too long ago whereby people could pay for answers online.  The main problem with those services was many questions come up while away from the computer.  Pay-for solution providers for mobile consumers will be a cool new application and one for which Twitter seems a perfect medium. Cha-ching.

 

 

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The “shanzhai” phenomenon in China — flooding the market with low-cost counterfeit mobile phones — is big business. In the U.S. we also have a shanzhai phenomenon but it’s tied to small and mid-size advertising and marketing agencies who pretend to be digital marketing experts.

 

It usually starts with building a client website, then it extents to creating and placing display ads and email marketing. These shanhzai pretenders are going to school on unsuspecting marketers and it’s creating problems for everyone.

 

Websites are built in Flash and are, therefore, not searchable. Emails are created that look like brochures with hundreds of words of copy. Online ads aren’t linked to landing pages and website navigation doesn’t come close to reflecting any standard of reasonable usability. The pretenders aren’t getting rich on this stuff either. It’s a disease.

 

One way to make sure you don’t fall into this shanzhai digital trap is to check the shop’s website. Is it impressive? Logical? Does it load quickly? Does it excite? “Google” them and see if they show up. Do they have a blog? Check out their digital work and contact their digital clients. Ask if the people are on staff or freelance. Don’t buy counterfeit goods. Peace!

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Apple’s App Store is the most successful store ever built. It’s exciting because it was built without hammer and nail, it’s only 9 months old, has 1 billion downloads, and is really just a drooling, cooing infant.  I remember posting 10 months ago that Facebook had better watch out for the App Store because all developers writing apps for Facebook (for free) were going to drop it like a bad habit in favor of the App Store, where they would be able to make some Benjamins.

 

The App Store doesn’t have many employees — thank you software — and is the source of the most exciting innovation in all the world. If Apple isn’t the coolest brand on the planet, I don’t know what is. No sugar water here.  Peace!   

 

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Art Director Day

 

I’m shallow. I realized it yesterday after seeing a pretty, smiling, curvy lass in a clothing ad.  It stopped me dead.  I wondered to myself whether I would have stopped and read the ad had the model been plain. The answer was no, ergo shallow.  But later after being directed to a retail site selling hand bags, I was once again smitten. Smitten by a picture of bags: colorful, beautifully designed, magnetic. Apple profits just rose by 15% thanks to the iPhone. See any commonalities? I do. Beauty, art and design.

 

What art directors know and many marketing people don’t, is that art and design sell. Make something pretty, design it brilliantly, don’t clutter it up, and people will pay attention. One of the problems with advertising and marketing today is the loss of art. I love strategy – the science of marketing – but without art marketing is lost.

 

Today, the day after Earth Day, I’d like to suggest we all pay thanks to great art directors: the creators of style, design and visual beauty.  As we move farther into the digital age let’s not forget the art director, without whom marketing becomes just a bunch of digits (1s and 0s and fingers).  Still shallow? Yeah, probably. Peace!

 

 

 

 

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Brand Spanking

Some years ago I was doing focus groups in the tech sector trying to find a way to displace Cisco Systems the market share lion in corporate switches and routers. On the creative brief I referred these Cisco buyer panelists and their brethren as “market share hounds,” people who bought from the leader just because they were the leader. Something interesting happened in one group that got me thinking that people, by nature, need something to kvetch about. Even among the most committed market share hounds, there was dissatisfaction.

 

Microsoft, also a market share leader at the time, had its fair share of detractors, and in other groups I would often hear the excitement in their voices as they piled on ther negatives. So I decided that for challenger brands, using research to spank the market leader was a good way to its soft underbelly. Brand spanking as a research methodology was born.

 

Once you get people kvetching, the stories come out…and the insights fly. For challenger brands, funneling the discussion in a way that uncovers these anger provoking insights is a great way to identify leverage-able brand values. Spank away. Peace.

 

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Back in the day in the technology business, before we got smart and evolved, there was a group known as systems integrators. System integrators were an outside resource whose sole job was to help companies make all technology systems work together: software, hardware, and communications.  This interoperability void caused corporations to lose millions and spawned a whole new class of technology and services. There is an interesting corollary in the advertising and marketing business today as big marketers — defined as those with hundred million dollar budgets — are losing money thanks to silo’ed, out-of-harmony communications.  

 

The advertising and marketing holding companies see the need for integration, but they can’t make it happen through all the the politics and revenue protection. The marketers see the need, but the job is too immense and not their competency.

 

The marketing services business is at an inflection point…and it will change. First mid-size agencies will fill the void, thanks to their nimbleness and ability to orchestrate under one roof.  Then the holding companies will create their own systems integrator function (Saatchi is already playing here) but it will not work as the function will be viewed as are the “internal affairs” people in the police dept. So outside communications integrators will win the day. And that’s going to be too bad.  

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In social media today there is offense and defense. 

 

Defense is what Domino’s did last week when two employees had a little fun at the brand’s expense. Defense is what a branded hand cream containing palm oil from denuded Indonesian forests does when called on the carpet. Though the brand will get some stink on in, this defense is played by corporate business leaders and PR professionals. It’s not brand work…it’s business work.  It needs to be handled quickly, succinctly and aggressively.  

 

Offense, in social media, is about creating memorable sight, sound, and mind experiences which create predisposition to a sale.  These experiences and participations must surround strategic demonstrations of product superiority and value.  If online consumers don’t agree with your demonstrations, take the bullet and move on — at least you are forming the dialogue. Not everyone is going to like you and your product but with good brand management they will know who you are and for what you stand.

 

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YouTube 2.0?

Google is making beau coup bucks because the search algorithm is done and it doesn’t take a lot of overhead to serve up a page with search results on it. These pages are richly monetized with advertising.   YouTube, a Google property, is not profitable (according to Credit Suisse it will lose $470M this year) because servers, bandwidth and other software required to serve the world’s videos are stiflingly expensive. 

 

The New York Times reports today “YouTube would continue to embrace content created users, even if it was not easy to earn revenue from it, because that content was essential to the popularity of the site.” Said Eric Schmidt, Google CEO, “Usage drives revenue opportunities. Usage always comes first at Google.”

 

Google is trying to monetize YouTube but floundering.  I don’t have a good feeling about YouTube adding TV programs and movies to compete with Hulu and earn some jing. If they do go that route, which will be even more expensive than serving user-generated 2 minute videos, they should go the brand extension route or, better yet, come up with a new and unique pay-for brand. Peace!  

 

 

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The Domino’s Pizza prank that hit YouTube this week, showing two 30 year olds snotting up some pizzas, points to the need for stronger, not weaker, brand management in today’s digital world.  I’ve been ranting a little lately about ceding control of brands to consumers, the result of heightened attention (by consumers and marketers) to social media, and this example explains why.  When the video hit the ether and Domino’s became aware, someone said “Let’s wait and see if it dies down.” Mistake.

 

Good brand management dictates something needs to be done immediately. Take control of the facts. Take control of the dialogue. Take control of the brand. It seems the right things were done by Dominos, but they were just done too late — in days not hours. No longer do the PR people need “go bags” filled with tooth brushes and clean business wear, they need a tripod, digital video camera and a videographer.  And they need some online warriors who can begin to turn the negatives into positives – 24 X 7. 

 

As Zack de la Rocha says, you’ve “Got to take the power back.” Brands and brand-negative events need to be managed. In the digital world they need to be managed quickly. Peace!

 

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