May 2012

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What do geneticists do for a living?  They disassemble genes and DNA strands, figure out what the working or nonworking parts do, how gene relationships are fostered, then they make some assumptions.  They test those assumptions with the hope of doing something smart with the information – like curing cancer.  Or, making chickens disease-free in shmoo infested cages. (Sorry, that was uncalled for.) Once we crack the code on clean tech or green tech, whatever it’s called today, genetics will be the next big thing. It will be cool-ish.

Brand planners follow a similar process as geneticists. But rather than study microscopic things, we study what walks around. That’s why a behavioral science or anthropology degree fits nicely into a brand planner career path.  The study of man is critical. Many planners, though,  stop at observing man and mining behavioral insights.  The good ones take it beyond insights and into the area of marketing stimulus — what gets man to buy.  The good ones know man well enough to understand what selling words are over-used. Which contexts are pregnant with possibility. What emotions are likely to stir response.   

Be you genetic engineer or brand planner, the rubber meets the road with the “do something smart with it” part of the equation. Peace.

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There is an interesting technology and pedagogy push today that dabbles  in the reinvention of teaching and learning.  With some of our most revered entrepreneurs noted for dropping out of school, a number of students are wondering if they can DIY (do it yourself) their education, starting their careers earlier and minimizing higher ed. debt.  Online courses, video to supplement courseware, and spending time in digital subject matter communities are free options and often a lot more hands on than facing a blackboard, a text book and number 10 pencil.  It’s a thing. Trust me.

Similarly, the web has spawned a number of people who consider themselves DIY marketers. The old axiom that marketing requires Awareness, Interest, Desire and Action (AIDA) – all of which use to require separate marketing tools – today, can all be accomplished on a single website.  One website properly organized can fulfill the entire continuum of a sale. Ergo, many people in small businesses and start-ups are trying to do their own thing. Those will stellar products are making do.  Those without, not so much.

Marketing and learning cannot be automated. Or hacked. That’s not to say hands-on educators and marketers are always efficient and effective; they are not. Learning and marketing are done best when full-duplex. Bi-directional. Doc Watson never would have been the picker he was as a DIYer. Peace to Doc’s family. 

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One of the fun things about having a blog is in predicting things that eventually come true. I predicted Google’s trivestiture a couple of years ago and that hasn’t happened. Yet. You can’t win them all. But my posts about Microsoft’s brand diaspora – the unfettered and uncontrolled creep of its brands, highlighted by use of the word “Live,” I’m excited to say, looks to be accurate.  Microsoft is retiring the word “Live.” Readers know I’m behind Microsoft making a flash-cut away from the word “Windows,” as in Windows 8, in favor of the word “Tiles,” but that’s not likely to happen soon. That’s because Windows is a repository for all other creeping sub-brands.  Windows is okay to keep alive for archiving purposes, but Windows 8 should be named Tiles as should the new mobile OS.  Tiles suggests the user paradigm shift much the way Windows did in the 90s.

A new CMO tasked with making things more efficient from a messaging standpoint might walk into Microsoft and on day one fire a bunch of brand names.  It would be hard medicine but the creep (verb) has really gotten out of hand. Retiring Live is a good move. Peace! 

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HP and Vision

I’m fascinated by HP. I really am.  There’s a scientific theory “ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny” that, if memory serves, suggests the evolution of man can be seen and sequenced from the evolution of two cells to fetus to baby. We started as cells, the theory goes, became fish-like, birdlike, quad- and bi-pedal and finally man. 

I think HP is a good metaphor for the evolution of technology.

The company started in a garage, slowly evolved into computer powerhouse, bought a bunch of companies and digested them.  The company has dabbled in software, built a huge services business, played and purchased its way into mobile.  It has had good years, bad years, amazing years and evolved leadership in a number of ways.  In prime time TV ways, sometimes. 

Leo Apotheker tried to make a daring left turn into business software and was tossed out (in my opinion due to poor PR advice). Meg Whitman, with web chops and B-school cred is here to move the company into the cloud – but her headlines today are about slashing 27,000 jobs.

I’m not sure I know into what form the HP organism is evolving. It seems an evolution strategy is and has driven them.  But this is business. Business needs vision. Business needs to lead that vision.  Evolution is passive. Vision is active. Jury is still out on HP if you ask me. Peace.

I like to write about trends that impact marketing. One such, is the craft economy. It’s an exciting movement that is slowly taking hold and can be seen in craft beer, home-made pasta, woodworking and the neat site Etsy.  What makes the craft economy a trend worthy of notice is the bigger phenomenon that has lived here for too long: the junk economy.  Junk food, junk games, mass produced-low quality gear. When ladies can go to Target and pick up a blouse for $6.00, something is wrong.  When it makes more sense to buy a new laptop than fix the old one, something is wrong. When a TV only lasts 5-6 years rather than 15, something is wrong.

I love old stuff.  I am old stuff. I have tee-shirts older than my 20 something kids.  My old Poppe Tyson softball tee just ripped.  Pissed I didn’t buy a better weight of cotton Hanes back in the 80s.

Junk is bad, craft is good. Market with that thought in mind and the messages and customers will follow.  Eric Ripert has built an empire on fighting the junk economy. He is an inspiring hero.  Lose the junk. (Not that junk Terrence. Oh, and Terrence, Pearl Jam is coming to Philly.) Peace.

 

 

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Not too long ago I wrote a brand brief for a young woman with an artisanal cookie company.  The company will remain nameless since every brand strategy is a business-winning pursuit. Part of the promise of these absolutely delicious cookies is their all natural ingredients.  No preservatives. No additives for color or taste…just natural stuff, sourced from wholesome places.

One of the negatives associated with all natural though, especially when it comes to cookies and other baked goods, is that they tend toward the dry. After years of those foil-wrappered rectangular health bars, many people get a dry-mouth reflex just thinking about health bars. So one of the planks for this brand of cookies is moisture.  It’s as much a visual plank as a message plank. If a hand held cookie isn’t flexing in a picture (drooping wouldn’t be good), it should not be shown.  If a paragraph of copy block doesn’t include a reference to the science of moisture, usually tied to coconut oil, the next one should.

Brand plan planks can take on many forms and “moisture” isn’t one P&G might use, but in this category it’s a context breaker. To my cookie making friend I say “keep those natural cookies pristine and tasty – and make sure your art and copy teams stay away from all things dry.” Humor excluded. And please remember cookie responsibly. Peace.

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Your art.

A favorite question of mine when interviewing candidates is “What is your art?  I don’t use it all the time because candidates more often than not either give a blank stare or say “What do you mean?”  If faced with that bounce back I might suggest “Define it as you will.”

What is your art? 

It’s a personal assessment but I guess it’s also part public assessment. Interviewees might default to song, or drawing or writing, though since I’m often interviewing in a business setting, that tends to set the context.  Try it sometime.  And don’t lead the witness.  You know that look you get from a dog when you hide the ball behind your back – the quizzical look – you may get that.  However some people thrive.  The question is disarming yet alarming. It probes things that might be hidden. And if it doesn’t work and breaks the mood, you can always blame me. When it works though, it can be magical. Peace.

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Warren Buffett just bought 63 newspapers, saying a tight community needs a good local newspaper. I can’t disagree; Warren knows a thing.  The proper presentation of news and analysis (content) is always in demand.  Journalists get this. Bloggers and media socialists have for a few years taken the spotlight off paid journalists but the successful ones are few and far between.  More importantly, bloggers have made journalists more focused, faster and hungry.

This is not to say you can’t get depth out of blogs, or news or analysis – you certainly can.  But sometime the writing gets on the way, and the fact checking. When I first started blogging somewhere in the neighborhood of 7 million blogs a day were coming online.  That’s a lot of words.  I assume that number has slackened, but with China’s growth, who knows?

As words on the web become as numerous as atoms, we only have time to read a scintilla. Finding the best words will often fall to the professionals. I think Mr. Buffett gets that. Peace!

 

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I was just watching a video from the recent PSFK Event in NY showing Graham Hill’s new project LifeEdited.com.  His interesting “life editing” concept fits nicely with the Craft Economy, me thinks.  Anyway, the opening for the video talks about how America has super-sized our culture over the last 50 years. Quite right. Mr. Hill’s suggestion is to downscale one’s physical footprint on earth, which is a savvy and necessary idea. 

You can find the video here.

In addition to our lives, though, we’ve spent years supersizing our advertising claims: most, best, largest, unparalleled, flah-flah-flah.  These words and their overuse have made advertising and marketing unreal. Who do we believe? Coors Light is the most refreshing beer in America? Are you kidding me?  What happened to standards and practices?

Marketers need to stop pizzling into the wind.  They need to find own-able territory, live it, mean it, and be it. It’s nice to aspire, but don’t aspire to the un-noble supersized claim. You wouldn’t brag at a keg or cocktail party, why spend millions on such boorish behavior in advertising?  Peace. 

 

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