charlene li

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Charlene Li, a great business mind, recently sold Altimeter Group to Prophet, a long standing brand and marketing concern. Charlene is, and has been, a great meme-alist. She comes up with big business ideas and memes them. These memes helped put the Altimeter Group on the map. Each meme, a mini brand, constitutes a “proof” of her innovative business approach.

Now at Prophet, however, she seems to be doing things a bit differently. Next week she is hosting a webinar on improving employee engagement. No doubt it will be a good one, because engagement has become big business these days. (Back in the early 80s my dad Fred Poppe used the word in a number of Ad Age thought pieces, giving him national cred.) That said, engagement has become a pop-marketing term and the title of Ms. Li’s talk feels a bit “early majority,” perhaps even a little “late majority” to use Geoffrey A. Moore’s framework.

What I love about Ms. Li is her “beyond the dashboard” approach. She needs to settle into her new office before mad redecorating. I suspect she will be back on her game shortly. Then watch out!




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The Altimeter Group just rebranded according to Charlene Li, CEO. I’ve never met Ms. Li, but did do an analysts briefing with her (while she was in China) during my Zude start-up days. Influential doesn’t even begin to describe Ms. Li’s role in the technology business. She’s the Ester Dyson of the new millennium. That said, Ms. Li has fallen into the trap many have when referring to branding, or in this case, rebranding. Brands are not style and make-up. Not logo design and color. Brands are organizing principles anchored to an idea. A customer facing idea.

The Altimeter Group has altered its logo, PPT, newsletter format and, soon, will redesign its web site — but I’m not feeling a brand idea or brand strategy.  Disruption, social leadership and change are three words to describe the sandbox Altimeter plays in. And as for the Is of the Is-Does, they are definitely analysts. But I’m not seeing a strategy.

Ms. Li and team have been leaders in sharing information on social business strategies. And it is thought provoking, smart, transformative work. However, treating branding with color and design and not a strategy component is like saying social business redesign can take place by adding some Twitter, content managers, Yammer and a video production studio.

Hey Altimeter, What’s the Idea?  


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Who handles social media at large companies? Corporate Communications? Public Relations? Investor Relations? Marketing? Website? Customer Service? Human Relations.  Yes.  And at large companies there are often regional and international offices. Yes and yes. Most large corporations have a number of agency partners, as well: ad agencies, PR shops, digital, retail, B2B, promotion shops – you get the idea.  And God forbid, some of the people on payroll are career climbers trying to do some new things, new ways and name a name for themselves? So who is orchestrating all of this stuff? Is it the CMO? That wo/man with the 19 month shelf life?

Social media, one component of marketing, is creating a dilution of corporate brands and products similar to what global warming is doing to the glaciers and icecaps. We know it’s happening, we just don’t believe it. And we are having too much fun with our carbons. I mean social tools.

So what’s the fix Mr. Steve Poppe (as my friend Rachel might say)? An organizing principle that governs the product, its experience, and all facets of marketing. A brand plan: one idea (strategy), three planks.

Customer service, guided by a brand plan is better customer service. Pricing supporting a brand plan, better pricing. These are the words of the brand planner. Peace!

PS. Thanks to Altimeter Group’s Charlene Li and Jeremiah Owyang for the thought starter. 


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I was working with a company recently where the main deliverables were a marketing plan and brand plan.  One of the company’s other needs was a revised website.  The ability to deliver the brand plan — a brand strategy and three supporting brand planks — in the form of a website was new territory for the company. It was a break from the past where their mindset was to create easy navigation to the diverse and changing offerings of the company. Since the company was expanding into new markets and changing the composition of its product set, its brand meaning and value were not well known and misunderstood. Rather than create an information architecture, this company needed a clean Is-Does and a succinct brand organizing principle. In other words…a strategy.

Part of the assignment was to affect change in the social space. The company, with a good blogging culture, some really smart people and lots of deeds and stories to share, unfortunately gravitated toward Pasting rather than Posting. (Pasting is sending forth other people’s content, with a yay or a nay; Posting is creating original content.)  My admonition was to provide more analysis, and less curating…and to do so on brief.  This takes time. It takes thought and context.  But it’s what readers and users are looking for in their social – in their media.

Charlene Li of the Altimeter Group posted yesterday about a lack of strategy in social media. Though I haven’t always agreed with Ms. Li, I love that she studies and commits to points of view. Charlene is a thought-leader. A Poster. She is worth way more than the price of admission. Find influential Posters and follow them. Question them, exchange ideas with them — don’t “like” them. Peace.

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Who are experts in ecommerce?  Those people involved in “social CRM” or “big data,” two topics covered in Charlene Li’s thoughtful post this morning? Sure.  But who else?  Who else sees how ecommerce is meted out across the country every day?  Who are tested for their memories and see patterns like few others?  Who are in touch with grass roots buyers and sellers every day – not retail goods…ecommerce goods? FedEx, UPS  and US ostal carriers, that’s who. 

Massifying insights is important for brand planners, but so are one-on-one insights.  And in for ecommerce, I’d absolutely love to study letter and package carriers for a while to see what they know about ecommerce.  Not just on deliveries from Amazon but from all online sellers. The people who deliver the fruits of ecommerce, the fruit pickers as it were, process a wealth of information about this growing marketing practice. If you are worried about privacy, don’t worry about Facebook, it’s your letter and package carriers you need to care about. Hee hee.

So marketeers, if you are involved in ecomm, get your focus group hats on. Stop, interviewing house-husbands and start feeding M&Ms to the UPS guy and the FedEx girl. Puh-eace!  

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Charlene Li has a great post today about Bing and its product alliance with Facebook — one she feels will help Microsoft cut into Google’s search share.  She is quite right. Bing, number 3 in search, announced it will integrate Facebook’s social graph information (“Likes’) into search results, as an option.  If you use Bing to search a particular topic you will have the ability to check results based upon how your Facebook friends affect those results as determined by their “Likes.”   

This is smart logic on Microsoft’s part…jumping on the bandwagon of the world’s most populous social network.  It’s smart for Facebook, backing up the truck to the Microsoft bank. And it’s good across-the-board logic, allowing search to be viewed based upon the likes of friends, followers and communities.  

When Facebook changed “Fan” to “Like” it struck me as a bit odd, though. Call me paranoid, but I now smell the backroom deal. The timing was about right.

Personally I am not a big “Liker.”  I don’t really click on “Liked” things, yet many do and it has become a popular pastime and app.  As more marketers encourage Facebook users to Like things – and shill for their brands – the behavior will become tired, forced and die down.  As permissions and privacy interests grow Likes will also die down.  Facebook will still be Facebook, finding new ways to grow and monetize, and Bing will have won some serious market share points with this new tactic. That said, Bing will still be innovating OPS (other people’s stuff). Peace!

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Thanks to the Web, more and more we are hearing the acronym UX (User Experience) in marketing discussions, referring to how one experiences and navigates a website, game or other interactive property. In the print world, UX was tied solely to art direction — things like reading from top to bottom, left to right, or where an eye fixates first on a page.  But with so much to see, read and do on a webpage the science of UX has become legion.

Metrics and Tools

So what’s the opposite of user experience?  When users experience a website and engage with a company via the web, what do we call the resulting intelligence?  What’s the short hand term? Mostly it’s called metrics: hits, clicks, time on site, referring site, bounce, etc. Over and above metrics, thanks to social media monitoring and measurement tools from Radian Six and (freebie company) Social Mention, are more behavioral quantitative views: sentiment, passion and affinity.

Indirect Benefits

In her new book Open Leadership, Charlene Li talks about some harder-to-measure things that engagement and dialogue can accomplish for a brand, referred to as “indirect benefits.” When a non-employee in a brand community answers a help question it reduces customer care cost and gives that helper a sense of brand accomplishment – both direct and indirect benefit.

All of these inbound forms of market intelligence or user intelligence are valuable. Business changing valuable.  So what shall we call the opposite of UX? What a company experiences when mining intelligence.  It needs a name. Involvement tracking? User forensics?  What is your top-of-mind thought? Peace?

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I follow lots of people but a couple of my favorites are Charlene Li, Jeremiah Owyang, Peter Kim and Noah Brier. Charlene is just smart. She has morphed from a tech analyst to a social media expert to a management consultant, all within 3 years.  She’s a media darling who reinvents herself almost annually. Jeremiah Owyang, who works with Charlene at the Altimeter Group is also another schmarty pants.  He loves grids and quadrants, he loves to write, share and listen – and he loves to use technology.  Analytical with a capital A.

Peter Kim is cut from the same cloth as Charlene and Jeremiah (all three are Forrester Research alums) but landed at the Dachis Group – a company filled with doers.  Dachis will crack the code on bringing Web 2.0 to the enterprise and make a banana boat of bucks doing so. Peter likes to mix it up a bit.  A proud man.  Then there’s Noah Brier — chief strategist at the Barbarian Group.  Like a racehorse in the paddock who you know will win the Derby someday, he’s exciting to watch.  The beauty about Noah is you just don’t know what’s next. He’s random, brilliant, a doer and he loves bounding about in that paddock.

I wish these four blogged every day.  If they would just give me a 100-150 words (no more Jeremiah), I’d be satisfied and so, so nourished. Please hit those keys.  Peace!

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In Charlene Li’s new book Open Leadership (which I have not yet read, but will), one of the premises is that leaders who really listen to customers are the most informed and prepared to deal with business issues. Because of social media’s prevalence and importance, this notion suggests that leaders who use the new listening channel (the web) are better leaders.  Good advice, for sure.  Those who know the name Andy Grove may remember that the first thing he did every morning upon hitting the office was to listen in on random customer service calls to his 800 number.   It was old school technology, but it was listening.  That’s why Intel succeeded.

General Motors (GM) brand managers and its ad agency strategists at Goodby Silverstein and Partners have decided to stop using the word Chevy in favor of the full, formal name Chevrolet.  This is a strong brand management move. I yike it, as my daughter used to say. I don’t know the Chevrolet strategy, but can imagine this nomenclature move is intended to imbue the brand with a little more up-market sensibility. As GM nameplates are jettisoned, Chevrolet will be attempting to win over consumers who once bought pricier Oldsmobiles, Hummers, Pontiacs and such. Consumers will still say Chevy, but the people managing the brand will polish it with a finer cloth. They are exercising control. They are leading.

Pop marketing pundits are telling us consumers own the brand.  Even the youthfully exuberant at P&G and others wielding great budget power are saying so. But if we cede control of marketing, strategy and leadership to the masses, we are being lazy. Listen yes…but lead. Peace!

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RFPs Tweet Tweet.


Charlene Li of the Altimeter Group posted last night about’s intent to integrate Chatter into its platform. is an enterprise application that helps organizations collaborate, schedule, organize and track workflow. The addition of Chatter, allows for social networking behind the firewall which is very smart. I’ve used free competitors of in this CRM space and they have a ways to go.

Ms. Li makes a couple of thought-provoking points in her post:

“This is more than merely integrating Twitter-like functionality into CRM and creating ‘social CRM.’  This is a rethink and elevation of how information flows around an organization, and where it lives. The elevation of deals to be on the same level as people is significant — in every other social platform, people reign supreme and the world pivots around them.”

“It’s one thing to use Twitter for customer support. It’s quite another to integrate it into the workflow of the organization.”

Charlene’s talk about deals and Twitter helped me mash-up this idea, related to the heinous business practice called “the RFP.” Imagine issuing an RFP along with a hashtag twitter follow subject (e.g., #widgetRFP1) that allows all RFP participants (and others) to chat in real time about the RFP. Yeahhhhhh. Think about it. Good info. Misinfo. Misdirection. Redirection.  Potential business partners. Quick answers from the RFP issuer. As my kids used to say “I yike it.”

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