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Everybody in the world of marketing wants to go viral. Ea-sy money.  “More video upload contests.  More Fothcbook  programs. More Twitter followers.”  Well, as web marketing gets more social, people are finding out big hits are not so easy. My first big viral memory was of the guys in white coats putting aspirin into hundreds of Diet Coke bottles and watching them spew in syncopation.  That type of magnetic content, though, is few and far between.  That’s viral marketing. Virus marketing is different and it can be found today in many SEO programs.

It started with black hat cheating and has migrated to white hat bleating. Either way the SEO practitioners doing the dirty deed promise they can get you in the top 5 search results on Google for as little as $5-10,000 a month.

And they can do it.

How?  By ghost writing content and using off site partners to link to that content.  Scores and scores of them. Some call it link baiting.  I call it a virus. Welcome to the machine. It doesn’t sound that onerous to some…everybody’s doing it.  But to a brand nerd, it’s disastrous.  Rampant content writing and serving — on behalf of your brand — handled by onshore, off-shore, unsure? People who don’t know the brand culture, the brand idiom, the brand plan? If this isn’t a brand virus, what is?  It will take years to clean up this mess. Plus, as Google gets wiser to the practice and makes algo changes (as they did recently), baiters will lose key word rankings and ecomm revenue can tank in an instant.  This practice will spawn a new industry of SEO companies called “no hat search.” Peace.

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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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Have you ever picked up a magazine containing 200 pages and thought it too bulbous to read?  

Steve Rubel in a post today suggests “Space on the Internet is infinite. Time and attention, meanwhile, remain finite. Therefore, Digital Relativity will become a major challenge.” In his book “Cognitive Surplus” Clay Shirky suggests “as more of us become content creators rather than consumers, it’s ushering in a new age of enlightenment.”

I agree with both sentiments, but also agree with Thomas Malthus in whose essay “Principles of Population” it is stated that overpopulation will stifle healthy planetary growth.  Says Malthus “The power of population is indefinitely greater than the power in the earth to produce subsistence for man.” 

As the web grows as a source of all content with everyone and her brother becoming a content creator, will it not end up over-filled with the unimportant?  Will the songs of poor singers make it harder to find the Joss Stones? Will cartoon-like films bury the Coen Brothers?  The answer is yes and no.  Thanks to search engines, algorithms and relevance much cream will still rise to the top. But with too much content, it might be harder to find the gems. And, as is the case with the overstuffed magazine, it is likely that some may opt to not pick it up. There is an organizational opportunity here me thinks. Peace!

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Lionel Messi

Will there be fewer heroes in the world because of social media?  I wonder.  Lionel Messi is a futbol hero — in Argentina and to futbolers around the world.  Back in the day (before YouTube and social) Messi would have been known to the world via a few video clips seen on TV, a couple of really positive well-told stories in Sports Illustrated, some bedroom posters and live game broadcasts and interviews. Heroes were made and packaged more easily then.

But today, no one of note makes it under the radar.  One bad decision at a nightclub, one oafish treatment of a fan, an out of context insensitive remark and the luster is off.  It is human nature to have heroes — be they in sports, politics, music or religion. We need heroes.  They give us hope and aspiration. But jealousy and officiousness are also human behaviors and social media is filled with people so inclined.  Besmirchers. And all it takes is a few besmirchers to start a hero’s downfall.

The good news is we are open to more global heroes than ever before because of the Web (I can’t wait to watch Messi play) and that’s good. The web needs to be a bit kinder and gentler, though, when it comes to comments and posts. The mission of the Web is to disseminate the truth, but for the good of the planet. Let’s dis the negative petty stuff. We need an emoticon to protest the negative stuff.  Somehow 🙁 doesn’t quite make it. Peace!

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A new study published by McKinsey suggests that the quality of brand management is eroding around the world. One data point suggest over half (55%) of corporations polled are seeking to improve brand management. The culprits are globalization, staffing inefficiency, the increased use of digital media, matrix organization structures (many, rather than one boss) and the perceived need to put more specialists on brand teams.

In a separate study, the CMO Council published this: 41% of client companies said they were working in a “moribund organizational culture“.  So brand management needs to be fixed.  

How about the agency side?

The CMO study suggested 35% of brand companies are unhappy with the integration and alignment of the agency networks with which they worked — so, agencies aren’t faring much better organizationally. At the 4A’s Jay Chiat Account Planner Awards this past year, there was some grousing that clients are fed up with having as many as four strategic planners in a meeting when all the agencies are brought together: one from the AOR, one from direct, one from digital, one from promotion. Add to that all the specialty services agencies must now provide and you can see the garden is growing out of control.

It’s for this reason that mid-size shops have a leg up in delivering inline communication programs. (Not offline or online.) Mid-size shops have the ability to share and play together better — and they have better oversight.

It may be counterintuitive but organizational innovation (and efficiency) is most likely to come from mid-size shops (read KBS Partners, Crispin, Straw Frog) than from the big boys and girls. And when that happens, the marketing companies will hopefully follow suit and better integrate. Peace!

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People sometimes jokingly ask me “What is the idea? referring to the name of my consultancy. My answer, borrowed from Sergio Zyman of the Zyman Group, is “sell more, to more, more often, at higher margins.”  That’s the ultimate goal of marketing, no? The quadruple crown.  Interestingly, unit sales, market penetration, per capita consumption, and higher margins are different measures. Linked, yes, but different.

When writing a marketing plan I typically start out with an exercise called The 24 Questions.  It’s traditional marketing, follow-the-money kind of stuff. Who’s buying? When? Who is involved in the decision? Most profitable customers? Margins? Channels?, etc. Once I get the money part of the equation I delve into brand questions — from the points of view of management, employees and customers. Some of the questions are designed to get to the truth and bypass the drama and ass-covering.

Prioritization.

The hard work is in ranking the business objectives. Most of my decks (PPT presentations of findings) array a healthy number of business objectives. Prioritizing objectives leads to prioritized strategies which require someone at the company to put one objective at the top: “On a sinking boat which child would you save?” kind of question. These decisions are the provenance of the brain not the algorithm.  

ROS

ROS (return on strategy) is a metric that measures business and marketing strategy. ROI, on the other hand, ties marketing tactics to dollar return.  Not to minimize tactics, but you can buy a tactic from any marcom agency on the street. And thanks to the web – the greatest marketing tool since paper money – we’re in the midst of something I call Tactics-palooza.  ROS allows you to measure business objectives through a strategic lens. ROS is the way to go. Think of it as a crop-producing farm next to a field of healthy weeds. Peace!

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I’ve been writing for a few years, with great admiration, about Google and its amazing, transformative search tools.  Sergey Brin’s original vision “We deliver the world’s information in one click” is what allowed Google to become the NASA of the web. Case in point: Yesterday I was looking for one of my blog posts on my own machine using the Windows search tool.  After three strikes I Googled “whatstheidea+things we remember” (the title of the post) and in less than a second I found my entry. No on my machine, but on the Web.

More recently, though, I’ve found myself commenting about how Google has wandered from its original mission – getting into the productivity software, social networking, chat and now the phone business.  The brand planner in me asks “How does one now articulate the Google Is-Does?” The Googleplex is filled with amazing minds but many seem to be trying to out-engineer one another; me thinks they have lost a sense of mission.  Steve Rubel’s post today on Google Buzz so reflects.

Culture of Technological Obesity.

Google’s amazing growth and economic success has spawned a culture of technological obesity.  It’s time for a change.  Here’s what will happen.

The company will go through a corporate divestiture or as was the case with AT&T, a Trivestiture.  It won’t happen now…probably within 48 months.  My bet for the three parts? Search (text and video), Mobile (OS, apps, and tools), and Advertising Analytics.  How would you break it up?  Peace!

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barcode

Google built a business, quite well I might add, on perfecting search and search usability. They funded the business with advertising.  The brand play was not to be the world’s greatest advertising platform (something Yahoo and AOL didn’t understand), it was all about search. 

Back in the day (last week, hee hee) Google search was all about the Web.  Finding things digital.  This week, it’s about seeing and searching for digital things in the physical world.  So mobile apps and navigation are the rage. Google hasn’t led the way here, Apple has, but Google wasn’t first in search either.

What’s next?

What’s next is search for physical things in the physical world. Call it worldwide inventory. What is worldwide inventory and how will it work?  Not sure, but this cantaloupe sized brain of mine says it may have to do with barcodes.  Now you can’t put a bar code on an $11,000 hip replacement in Mexico (You can’t?) but you can put one on a $12.00 case of Honest Tea with torn labels. The ability for mankind to find real things, in proximity, with their smart phones is what Google will be doing over the next decade. And that hip replacement or $6,000 valve bypass in China will be something worth searching  for. Stay with search Google — it will soon be atop Maslow’s Hierarchy of needs.

Worldwide Inventory may sound like a Pearl Jam song but it’s an Eric Schmidt song.  Peace!

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boil-downThe real art of brand planning is in knowing what not to say. When brand planning, I use something called the 24 Questions to help find the money. Once the money is found, job two is how to position. For this a number of hunting and gathering techniques are used; tools that are now vastly improved thanks to the Web. Information is amassed about the product, the competition, corporate leadership, the market, and current buying culture. Then future buying culture is projected, based upon trends. Only then, does the “boil down” process begin. 

 The boil down is the point at which things are prioritized and edited. Evaporation occurs over time until only a powerful branding idea is left.  By itself, the idea may come off as mundane. But when presented to executive management along with the boil down logic, that’s when the magic occurs.  Marketing executives love logic and strive for simplicity, but are often too close to make it happen. A powerful brand strategy can set marketers free, but it is the logic of the boil down that sells it. Peace!

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