bell labs

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The Masters golf tournament began about 84 years ago. Before Tiger. Before titanium drivers. Before World War II. It has become the most famous golf tournament extant. The brand management of The Masters has been impeccable, with the exception of the diversity issues surrounding membership in the Augusta National Golf Club.  I’m told candy bars have to be packaged in green wrapper in case one accidently blows into the view of TV cameras. All wires are buried underground. Jim Nance. As much as the technology changes, as much as people change, The Masters remains the same: a venerable sports institution.

Consumer products Pilsner Urguell, Coca-Cola, and Tide Detergent have stood the test of time as brands – all through great brand management. It is yet to be seen, however, if tech companies will learn how to last. Bell Labs, perhaps the first (American) tech company, is still around but seems, to me at least, on its last legs. Bell Labs began as AT&T, then went to Lucent, which was bought by Alcatel and is now owned by Nokia. Not great brand management.

If Facebook wants to me more than Netscape and MySpace, it needs to put in play a long-term brand strategy.  People can’t live without Facebook. Now.  Brand strategy is important for service companies and tech companies. Facebook needs to step up.







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A number of years ago I subscribed to an advertising magazine called Lurzer’s International Archive.  It showcased the best ads in the world every month. I often found creative people thumbing through Archive looking at pictures and ideas inspiration.

M advertising work in those days was in technology. Often with Bell Labs engineers.  When they didn’t have an answer they would call-a-friend. Sometimes at Bell Labs, other times at PARC, a Xerox research lab in Palo Alto.  Back then engineers were a collegial bunch and helped one another. I loved this science-first worldview. Ad guys and girls would never have reached out to competitive peers to help solve problems.

Now I’m a brand strategist. We are more like Bell Labs engineers than creatives. The science of strategy, for many, comes first. Thanks to social media platforms such as Stack and Facebook, strategists can post questions and have 10 answers by noon. It’s wonderful. Looking for a framework for behavior change? You’ll have editorials, white papers, snark and frivolity from around the world.

Social business design today offers an exciting openness.

It’s a human trait. So is jealousy and greed. Openness is winning me thinks. Enjoy.



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I once wrote a brand plan for an office products company. And, an impressive global company it was. A good deal of the background discovery reading contained references to technology. If spring-loaded hanging folders were considered technology once upon a time, they certainly aren’t today. The word technology is owned by the digital people.

My first job was to disabuse the company of being in the technology business and get them to celebrate the fact that they were in the “organizing business.” So an element of the brief had to do with the notion that the company really studied the science of organization. Then they codified and mapped it. Applauding company engineers and R&D people as “organizational artisans” made everyone feel good about themselves – rather than envious of Silicon Valley or Bell Labs.

For the brand support planks (used to prove the brand claim) many brand planners would have gone the “quality” root — a much over-used strategy. Rather, I opted for durability. As a marketing word “quality,” like “technology,” has been watered down. It’s a toxic brand planning word.

I can’t publically share the brand Idea for this global brand or the other support planks but am happy to discuss (offline) the thinking and ultimate position. For a deeper dive write steve at whatstheidea. Suffice it to say, the big honkin’ observation was to get this company back into the office and out of TechCrunch. Peace.


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Boil This!

The secret sauce of the brand planner is their ability to take all the information at hand and boil it down into a compelling argument that leads to a sale…or predisition to a sale. (We are not always buying, you see.)

I was with a bunch of IT guys yesterday and the technical fur was flying. Back in the day it would have been enough to make me feel light-header and inadequate. Yesterday it reminded me of times at Bell Labs and AT&T’s Microelectronics listening to English-as-a-second-language engineers talk technical gibberish (to me) about their digital signaling processors. My job at the time was to be polite and make a good ad. Actually, be polite and come home with a strategy to give to creative people to make a good ad. These trips, it turns out, are where I cut my planning teeth.

Information gathering is an art, but taking that “stock pot” of information and boiling it down to insights, then a single selling argument is da monies. Packaging that argument with a little evocative poetry is the Richard Sherman monies.  Thank you AT&T Microelectronics. Peace.

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AT&T, a brand that taught me many things about advertising and marketing, is rudderless from a branding standpoint.  Yeah, they are making ads. Yeah, they have a branding idea “Rethink Possible.”  And now they have a campaign idea “It’s what you do with what we do” intended to make the brand idea work harder.  But frankly it’s a qualifying idea that waters down the already watered down. Ester Lee and David Lubars know better.  This is a billion dollars of nothingness in one man’s opinion.

Back in the 90s both of these ideas would have been corporate advertising efforts for AT&T — a company that didn’t like to do corporate advertising.  AT&T liked products and services.  Bell Labs, now AT&T Labs, was a hotbed of innovation. It was innovation. I’m sure there are hundreds of engineers who will argue this from a patent point of view, but the labs have lost their way.

AT&T has become a mobile phone company with a bad rep for network, thanks to the iPhone’s history of dropped calls. For 20 somethings that has defined the company.  So Rethink Possible is simply a tag-along mobile strategy drafting a category whose imagination is being captured by Apple.  BBDO can do better. AT&T can do better. The labs can go better. Peace! 

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