March 2011

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It may be a New York thing, but get in a car with a bunch of teens or young 20-somethings and count the likes.  It’s the new um.  Liking is a thing on Facebook and now +1 is a the new like on the Google platform.  

Public Displays of Like (PDL)

There is a time and place for liking.  Public displays of like, though, are becoming annoying. And with +1 they’ll get worse.  The presumption is that Likes and +1 are food for the hungry consumer, but not everyone on the web wants to transact business.  Not everyone on the web is looking to buy something.  Fotchbook (an Italian pronunciation) did not grow to the size it has by  feeding the commercial needs of the people, it created a means to connect and network new and old friends.

Not everything on the web is a product. Just as I need to get out of the car when the teens and 20-somethings start the like talk, Ima need to jump off the web for a few hours when the Likes and +s abound. Careful Google. Careful Facebook. Peace (especially you know where) !

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I went off a little yesterday on Twitter about all the crazy titles people are putting on their business cards in the marketing services world. Here’s one: Chief Storyteller, Apprentice Zen Teacher.  Come se what?

Storytelling is big business today.  Why?  Because video is such an important communications device – and it’s billable. But before everybody and her brother could make a crappy video and tell a crappy narrative, the art of storytelling required discipline – the thoughtfulness and restraint to tell stories with fewer pictures and words.  

Now digital and ad agencies talk about story telling all the time.  First we must understand the brand story.  Then we must be able to translate the brand story and articulate into business strategy for management.  Only then can we tell the story to consumers.  And now, pray tell, thanks to social media, the story goes both ways now.  Around the brand campfire we listen to consumers tell our story… and we encourage them to tell it to others.

The real story on story.

Sorry to go all geeze on you but I saw a wonderful print ad in The New York Times paper paper today.  It wasn’t anything X 768 — it was two honking color half pages by L.L. Bean at opposite corners of a spread folio.  The headline was “gear that stands the test of time” (left) “now ships free all the time” (right).  The left page showed a close up of the heels of two Bean boots.  Since the story was about product durability and free shipping, the picture of the boots was amazingly rich. Shot by the Annie Leibovitz of boot photographers, the color, patina, texture and composition of the boots said “wear.” The shot also said tear, but not too much.  The heels weren’t too worn, the settle of the leather not too weighted.    The cant of one boot to the other, like a kiss.

The picture reminded me on a pair of my father’s L.L. Bean boots. It captured me. It helped me tell my own story. Sometimes the best storytelling in marketing communications is not explicit.  It’s provocative. In this “fast twitch media” world, I don’t have time to sit through a mini-movie on the durability of a boot, made by an NYU film student at $35 an hour. Don’t tell me the story, remind me, incite me, coddle me into my own story. Bravo L.L. Bean.  Ship me a pair of my daddy’s boots.  (Actually, I think I still have them.  Maybe I’ll just put ‘em bad boys on.) Peace!

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I had a good day yesterday.  Meetings in SoHo, Union Square Park and Park Avenue South.  All the smart people I spoke with and listened to were in the selling business. One gentleman sold brand strategy and ideas, though he had a hard time telling me what his functional title was. Another couple of guys were in the “experience” business, with those experiences spanning online, offline and inline media. They, too, agreed it was hard to explain their company Is-Does. And the last group, a panel at the Brandhackers Meetup, was all about digital advertising: media planning, research, analytics automation, and creative.

What was interesting to me, fascinating really, was that they all understood and agreed with the Foster, Bias & Sales model of marketing. Their tools and areas of marketing influence may have been different, but everyone understood that marketing is about creating a positive atmosphere for healthy growth (Foster), establishing a predisposition toward the product or service (positive Bias) and creating action (Sales).  Sure, the digital ad people at Brandhackers may have peppered their talk with KPIs (key performance indicators) and soft mealy measures, but they had all been around the block enough to know that Sales is da monies.

I always wanted to open an ad agency called Foster, Bias and Sales.  It was a great strategy.  The Problem was, and is, that ad agencies are not best at providing the Foster, Bias & Sales continuum. Integrated shops are. The tool kit is overflowing and very exciting.  Clients were the first to see it…they just don’t know how to manage it.  Now agencies need to deliver. Peace!

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I’m a big college basketball junkie; specifically a St. John’s fan. Otherwise I roll with the Big East. I’m not alone. Men’s college hoops is big business. Big squared. College recruiters start the ”watch and wait process” when kids are in eighth grade. The good news is at that age, the parents are training their future stars-to-be so the kids are fairly easily found. They play school ball but also can be found in AAU, police leagues and even church ball. You can’t teach tall, so that is one of the things recruiters look for. Also dribbling skills, fast twitch movement, hops, balance and let’s not forget shooting.

Over the weekend I was reading about how the best computer engineers at Stanford are often recruited and signed by corporations during the fall semester of their senior year. The fall semester. Of their senior year. Any college basketball recruiter will tell you anyone left unsigned at that time in high school isn’t worth too much. In the marketing business, some smart companies do a tour of college campuses with a card table, a sleeve of pamphlets and a PPT show. Our business could learn a thing from the college basketball recruiters. Home visits, texts, phone calls, nice letters to momma – a shmear every once in a blue moon.

If the marketing feeder system were run better, marketers and agencies would be a lot more effective and profitable. Peace.

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I am a NY Mets fan.  Saw their first ever World Series home game. Gary Gentry and Nolan Ryan pitched. A great catch in the outfield.  When the Mets were bad, I’d read every NY daily newspaper after a win and only one after a loss. When a 20 something in NYC without any dough, I’d listen to the games on the radio and keep a score card in lined yellow legal pads I’d borrowed from work. 

The Mets are going to win the pennant this year, and people will look back and call me prescient.  But this year they are the poor, poor Mets.  Messrs. Wilpon and Saul Katz have developed a case of stinky which has attached to their suites and pressed shirt and it’s now passed on to the franchise.  The Mets have allowed the mainstream press to load up on the clubs financial troubles and it now defines them. Wait till 60 Minutes and Morley Safer gets after it.

New Yorkers are a very resilient group.  We love what’s ours. Don’t read on us. I don’t begin to know the intricacies of their business dealings with Madoff, but the Wilpons need to play some ball. They’ve got to stop being tofu in this media maelstrom.  Their strategy has to be “play to the kids and adults will follow.”  They should cancel the last few games of pre-season, come back to New York and barnstorm. Get the players to sign balls at malls, tweet their butts off, visit little league fields. Don’t just show up at Cohen’s Children’s hospital for a photo op. Take some grounders in Massapequa Park. Be heroic.  Remind us that they are just kids playing a kids game.  People are tired of money woes, it’s so last year.  Let’s play some baseball. (The $10 tickets, by the way, was a good start.) Peace.

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Okay, check it out.  Credit and debit card purchases work like this: you buy a $100 dinner and the restaurant gets $97, the card issuer (Visa, Amex) gets $2 and the restaurant’s bank takes $1.  On a per transaction basis it doesn’t sounds so onerous; credit cards are complicated, bankers have to make a buck, restaurants love the convenience and so long as there isn’t any technological fallout (sorry) everyone is happy.  But this whole electronic payment thing reminds me of the landline telecommunications industry.  To make a long distance phone call you have to pay your local telephone company, the long distance carrier, and the local telephone company on the terminating end.  ‘spensive.

Rethinking Mobile Electronic Payment

It doesn’t take an MIT grad to see that there are some inefficiencies in the current tripartite payment system, especially since nothing but data is changing hands.  So who is going to remove the first and last mile of money transactions as we move to smartphone payment technology? Google is thinking about it.  JPMorgan Chase is debating it.  Mr. Zuckerberg wonders. Verizon, too, has dreams. (Phone companies billing systems are very bank-like in their complexity.)  Don’t forget, American Airlines once made more money on its first-to-market reservation system than it did flying planes.

This electronic wallet, direct from consumer payment system is a comin’.  Question is: Who will be the winner? Thoughts?

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Plaxo, an online address book, started out as a free service and was pretty amazing.  As with most SaaS utilities, it had a lot of other features and functions, calling itself a social network, but what made it cool and famous was address book synching. The company recognized  many people had multiple address books on multiple devices (business and consumer) and getting those addresses from one to the other was a pain.  A cut and paste pain.  With a push of a button, Plaxo could capture and store in the cloud your email addresses and contact list just like magic, synching them with Outlook and/or Mac address books. The app hits 20 million users before being bought by Comcast for an undisclosed sum. Can you say exit strategy? It was the shizz back in 2007.

In June 2009 the synching of address books with Outlook became a premium service. The moment of truth. Comcast said it needed the revenue to build out new features. Oy. And alas, as neat as Plaxo was, it stopped using me so I stopped using it.  If it got to the point where I couldn’t manage anymore, I’d have re-upped; but Microsoft had made importing and exporting addresses more usable and I (and the market) was on to newer things.

The New York Times faces a similar dilemma on March 28th when its digital content moves to a subscription model.  The good news for them is they’re not a utility, though some may debate that.  A NYT reader who moves to Charlotte, NC and reads the Observer will not debate it.  The Times content is unique and worth the money.

Plaxo, in my mind, needed to start out as a paid service. Hell, even at $3.00 a year. When you condition a market to think a product is free (Google NeXusOne are you listening) it is hard to come back.  This is the venture capital dilemma. This is the missing P in the market 4Ps. Buh-bye Plaxo. Peace.

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I am a big fan of chat as a customer care tool and put it into most every marketing communications plan I’ve ever written.  Frankly, it should be a litmus test for me to take an engagement.  It proves a company’s mettle for providing a good level of care. Chat is a big investment (in people) and when you do it, you need to do it right. 

Today, I used chat to get in touch with McAfee. My firewall had blocked Google Chrome. I’m sure I fat-fingered something or clicked yes when I meant no within an alert. Full disclosure, there was a button on the McAfee Firewall application that said “return to default settings” but I was too nervous to push it. (Had I pushed the button, it would have resolved my issue I found out.)

So I uploaded all the Citrix chat stuff, waited for progress bars, spoke to two levels of customer service people – the first one told me I would need to talk to a technical person and passed me on, duh – and found the whole experience to be a bit maddening. What irritated me the most was that I had a feeling the help people were juggling me. Finishing up with another call, while they were telling me “thank you for your patience” and “we are looking up your records.” Chat is great when it’s chat.  But it’s not great when its juggled chat or attenuated chat. 

The user experience in customer care can be viewed as an expense or an investment. It should be viewed as the latter, viewed as a brand touch. Starting every sentence with my name may be a nice trick and may improve survey metrics, but it doesn’t move customer care ball ahead.  If you are going to call it chat, chat. Maybe that’s why they don’t label it instant messaging?  Peace!

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I was reading a fascinating article today on the grid system of NYC and the original map that laid it out.  Quite the transformative event, that grid system. Did you know city blocks are 200 feet long?   Broadway was a path that meandered the length of the island and was left alone, as were the funky streets of Greenwich Village.  Back in the late 1800s the grid thing was not well received by everyone, especially those whose houses were located on parts of the gird that were to be torn down to create the streets. But it was this planning and forethought that made NYC the great place it is.  Albeit, “great” with an internal design and art tension.

Brand planning is analogous. Smart people have asked me “How do you define a brand plan?”  And I my answer, though somewhat fluid, is generally “a single brand promise, supported by three planks or proofs of that promise.”  In effect, it’s a grid.  What resides in the grid is open for discussion and debate, but everything must fit. The artistry that is brought to life within the grid is what give the brand it’s life, but whether you like the grid word or not the brand plan is an organizing principle for selling more, to more, for more, more times.  The brand plan is not just about messaging either, it guides the product itself. 

And the tension referred to in the city planning grid analog applies to brand planning.  Sometimes an amazing idea is created inspired by a brand brief that does not fit perfectly.  It may be just a little off kilter. What to do?  Debate it. Study it. Perhaps even build it — and compare it to the plan.  Humans organize. Humans also like the unexpected. So build a brand plan, see and live its beauty, and count the change (double entendre). Too many markets today start by counting the change. Peace!

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Don’t shoot me, but I completely agree with The New York Times move to charge for online readership.  To assuage the infrequent online reader, everyone will be allowed 20 free articles per quarter.  At first, this will be a shock to the system. Over time it will slide through with ease. 

The Times has always been worth paying for.  When Nicholas Kristoff has to drive across a barren desert in Tunisia to get a story on the aftermath of the defense of Benghazi, who do you think pays for the Toyota Land Cruiser rental and gas?

To Free or Not To Free.

Good content costs.  There is a price of good goods and the web and venture money haven’t always understood this.  The New York Times reminds us of this capitalistic notion.  Applause-applause. Free has been used in the digital world as a traffic builder. So has community. And social.  And certainly community and society have value.  As do not-for-profit and non-profit ventures.  But the New York Times and, shortly, a good many followers have decided that March 28th is the day to pay the paper boy. And it’s not a moment too soon. The first web domino has fallen. Do I her another?  Peace!

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