October 2009

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The Ford Story

ford

Ford Motor Company does not really have a campaign today. An old mentor of mine, Peter Kim (now deceased), once told a very important client that “campaigns are overated.” The Ford story is not a “Drive One” campaign story – it’s a lot of little ones.

It’s social media stories curated by Ford’s Scott Monty. It’s leadership demonstrations by CEO Alan Mulally. It’s smart marketing directed toward millennials, the next generation of car buyers. It’s a promotion where a 100 cars not yet available in the U.S. are given to average Joe and Jane bloggers to drive for a year. And for the tech-savvy it’s a cool product like v.2 Sync the in-car software that in the future will have the ability to shut down texting while the car’s in motion. For motor heads, how about a newly engineered engine that offers V8 power with V6 fuel efficiency. Or the Edge that goes beep-beep when you are about to back into a fire hydrant?

This is a car company that smelled the Starbucks and decided to do something. A lot of somethings. This is a car company that is showing, not telling. Ford is rebuilding an American car company with good product, forward product development and no campaign. The story is a wee bit disorganized, but the gestalt is that this company is beginning to win – on many fronts. And Bill Ford deserves credit for getting out of the passing lane for a few miles. Go Ford Go. Peace!

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Curators Wanted.

Two disruptive trends one can observe on many a marketing street corner these days are “user generated content” and “crowdsourcing.” Like them or not, they’re here. Everyone knows what user generated content is – the creation and sharing of online media content (text, pics, song and video) – but crowdsourcing is a little more inside. Crowdsourcing is the practice of offering up a creative assignment to many, who work for free (or a pittance) in the hope of having their work selected for a one-time fee.

People who participate in either of these areas are your more creative types. Crowdsourcers are often freelancers, tyros, or out-of-work, and on the UGC side the net gets wider – some of the people more creatively challenged. Both these marketing practices create the need for another function: Curation.

I once created a contest for ZDNet in which 23,000 50-word essays needed to be read and judged. “Who gonna do that?” Exactly. We hired temps for the initial culling of the herd. For a crowdsourced logo design competition with 600 entries who will evaluate the work? For an online newspaper with, 175 local stories send in my citizen reporters, who is going to decide what publishes? A curator.

Don’t be surprised to see the word curator appear more and more on Craigslist and business cards. Peace!

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I learned to make risotto last night. My first time. I’d made paella before which uses the same rice and I’d read a bunch of recipes, but it wasn’t until I actually watched someone make it on a video that I tried.

How-to videos are big business. And getting bigger.

Reading a recipe and seeing it done in living color with a voiceover are two completely different experiences. That’s why cooking shows are so popular. Someone I was chatting with last week used YouTube to learn how to set up his son’s Xbox. Want to make up some cement to patch your driveway? There’s a video for that. Videos are so cheap to make these days that they’re starting to flood the web. The key for marketers is finding the right instructors and making sure the videos reside on their sites. Marketers can’t cede education to the generic channels of the world.

It will not be long now before all marketing websites have “How-To” tabs chock full of videos. And if properly cast, these How-To personalities will play an important role as brand ambassadors. The Future. Peace!

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When I say I like Good and Plenty, it really means I like licorice. When I say I like Budweiser, it means I like beer. Granted there are lots of flavors of licorice and beer but the point is one doesn’t have an innate, built-in need for brands. (I said innate.) If I like Maytag, it means I like clean clothes. The iPhone? Staying in touch…with everything.

Some of us in marketing forget this, spending too much time on a distended version of the brand story. (“We must break though the clutter!”)  But it is a product we are selling, not the story.

The way out this trap is by focusing on a product’s Is-Does: what a brand Is and what a brand Does. I came upon this notion when reading some branding literature while at McCann-Erickson. Eric Einhorn created a document exploring what a brand is and what it means. I rolled the “means” over on its side to make it more concrete. 

For me the pursuit of the Is-Does became particularly necessary when planning in the tech sector where chief technologists have a hard time explaining their products in less than 50 words. Was Apple’s iPhone really a phone? For most marketers and planners, the heavy lifting is in the Does, but even here one can go off track. Does Coke really provide happiness (today’s strategy) or Does it provide refreshment ( real strategy).  Find the right Is-Does and you tell better stories, create more loyalty, and sell more shtuff. Peace!

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Miguel Helft, a writer for The New York Times, is quickly becoming “a person of interest” in the technology opinion leader space, cranking out good analysis for a couple of years now. His column “Ping” in the Sunday Business section is definitely worth the read. This week he wrote “…search advertising is probably the most effective form of marketing ever invented.” Remove the word “probably” and you have a serious declaration.

Search has changed the world. If the Internet is the game-changing technology, search is certainly the killer application. That’s why Google is making da monies. Yeah, Google says they’re all about organizing the world’s information, but organizing it is the how— search is the what.

As search becomes more complicated, and it will, too much information will make it harder for consumers to pull the trigger on brands. This is the crux of Microsoft’s Bing campaign which discusses information overload positions Bing as the decision engine. As algorithms help us shop and compare and as we become more loyal to the search tools than the brands, the art of selling becomes less artful. We’re seeing the beginnings of that today. Peace!

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starbucks via

VIA ™ is a new instant coffee product sold by Starbucks and though they probably won’t ever use the word “instant” in its description that’s what it is. You make it by simply adding water – hot or cold. VIA comes in a little beef jerky size packet and it is a horrendously bad idea! If Starbucks doesn’t take VIA off the market soon I’m afraid it will have a long term, devastating effect on the brand. And please don’t write me saying how strong last week’s sales were. Creating an instant Starbucks experience is counter to what the brand stands for. This move is akin to the failed over-exposure of Krispy Kreme… selling old donuts in gas stations.

Most everyone has been to a Starbucks and knows its sounds and smells. Some of the sounds, unfortunately, have been removed thanks to the addition of time-saving espresso machines. Another mistake. (Remember the jarring thump thump the barista made as s/he settled your ground coffee into the metal espresso vessel?)

The store, the cup, the cardboard cup insulator, beans and music — the starched baristas all contribute to the rich coffee experience. Instant Starbucks removes it all. Thousands of consumers will pour the VIA granules into their chipped Dodgers cups tainted by a hints of soap and say “Hmm, tastes like Folgers.” Lose the VIA, Howard Schultz…and fast. Bad experiment. Peace!

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I love reading about campaigns and commenting before I see them. It’s a practice that can result in serious egg-on-face but it’s fun nonetheless. So here’s my take on the new Microsoft Window’s 7 ads  — a campaign that conveys Microsoft listened to user complaints about Vista and fixed them.  Sorry, not a fan. 

Microsoft made its bed releasing a sluggish, over-engineered, buggy product (Vista) and now is doing a campaign built on a mea culpa.  Okay, they’re manning up… but using the new work to put the responsibility of product development on the consumer?  I don’t think so.  If anything goes wrong, will it be our fault?  (Can you say scar tissue?)

The process of listening to consumers and giving them what they want should not the subject of advertising – even if the company has a bad rep. It’s rearview mirror stuff.  The “I’m a PC” work by Crispin Porter Bogusky is really great work. Warm, forward looking, communal. It is user-focused advertising yet doesn’t make the user product manager.

I’m a PC is a campaign that may go down as a Harvard Business Review case. “I’m a PC and Windows 7 was my idea” on the other hand is a left turn that goes off road. Hope they find the highway again. Egg or no egg?  Peace!

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nook 2

“Hi! I’m Kate. And this is my Nook.” says the pretty pitch women on a video introducing Barnes and Noble’s brand new eReader today. www.nook.com. A video I arrived at thanks to a beautiful spread page ad in The New York Times, the headline for which promised me “The World’s Most Advanced eBook Reader.” With little ad copy I had to move to the website to see why Kate’s Nook was most advanced. Print ads now make big claims and drive you to the web for the proof, which is smart (ish) — the web clearly offering a richer landscape for storytelling.

Since usability is such an important sales science on the web, I looked at how the landing page is organized to see if it is, indeed, going to tell the “most advanced” story. To wit: We land on a nice product shot page with the most choose-able option being a 360 degree tour button. (For nerds and returnees, there are other visible options: Overview, Features, Accessories, Blog, Support.) The 360 Tour simply turns the Nook around and stands it on end. The next nav options are also quite clear…and over the fold. They’re numbered, sequenced and read left-to-right: 1. Meet nook. 2. Read clearly. 3. Get ebooks in seconds. 4. Endless shelf space. 5. Read for days. 6. Make it yours. 7. Watch video. It’s interesting that the video is last. Also smart.

Overall, the website deserves good usability grades. It’s clean, well thought out and organized — albeit a little low key. Where it falls down is in creating muscle memory for the “most advanced” idea. And that my friends is my Nook. Peace!

PS. Don’t be surprised if Kate’s words “and this is my Nook” find their way into the popular culture. As Kid Rock would say “or all the wrong reasons.”

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Plan It Up!

I’m reading about Apple’s amazing 47% rise in profit and realize I’m part of the story. My son went off to college this August and he talked me into buy him a MacBook.  Somewhat against it, being a price shopper and netbook fan, I gave in after lots of “beat down.”

The whole thing got me thinking about the back-to-school timeframe, a short period during which lots of laptops are purchased, especially by entering freshmen. Knowing when someone is going to purchase lets you create a thoughtful game plan. At what points does a marketer want to connect with a 17-18 year olds when it’s known they’ll be buying a laptop in August? Using what media? And with what methods of persuasion? That’s planning. That’s what’s up.

For expensive products like a MacBook, you can’t just send out a free-standing-insert (FSI) with a low price point in late July, though most everyone does. You need to begin the persuasion six months in advance — building to D-Day (the purchase period). Knowing the target intimately, knowing the media they use, the tools they employ, their rites of passage and their rituals – knowing all these things will help build an effective, targeted, and lower cost plan. Plan it up! Peace!

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Have you ever been to a high school football game and watched kids walk the bottom row of the stands? It can be more fun than the game itself. Some kids parade as if it’s a Narciso runway show while others skulk, head down, hiding from the world. The paraders are filled with “hi’ and “heys,” the skulkers, not so much. It’s a matter of confidence. But now the skulkers have a tool — texting. They have a reason to avert their eyes while looking tre cool and busy.

Subways and buses in urban centers are other places people like to hide from stares, ergo you’ll see a preponderance of iPods and texting.

Today, technology is often a diversion, especially for kids, giving them an excuse not to socialize. Early MySpace cadets and current Facebookers called what they were doing “being social” and to an extent it is. Certainly, there are nice apps on Facebook allowing people to expand their circle and do new stuff. But let’s face it, sitting on your ass and typing to friends and neofriends smells of the letter-writing, attic-recluse types of yore.

I’m betting the next group of cool apps will be closer to FourSquare than Facebook — helping people actually get out of their chairs and meet others with whom they are comfortable. “Likeminds” as Noah Brier and Piers Fawkes might say. There’s social and there’s social. I for one, prefer the version conducted in person. (He said typing from his chair.) Peace!

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