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Group Solve.

Marketing is problem solving. Through productizing and service-izing. And since marketing is inextricably linked to branding, problem solving is inherently a good brand strategy trait.

The digital economy has brought us many things to be excited about as marketers: the web, big data, small batch/craft economy offerings, and the Uberization of services aka the sharing economy. But when it comes to problem solving, few of these things are as exciting to me as the “group-solve” phenomenon.  Think open source R&D.

Recently, the Opioid Epidemic Challenge Summit hack-a-thon sponsored by Mass General Hospital and the GE Foundation came up with a Narcan lock box idea that may stem death by opioids. A number of years ago, I worked on an idea called Future Boston (there’s that city again), whereby virtual teams were to come together to solve Boston city problems like traffic, education and population health. This teaming event was sponsored by MIT, IEEE, and the Boston Globe. (Disclosure: it never made it out of plan.)

By bringing great and willing minds together in these hack-a-thon problem solving initiatives, we are doing what humans, with our large brain cases, do best.

When marketers crowd source problems, sans economic motive, amazing things can happen. This is not just a non-profit space, it’s for all members of the commercial community.



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Fred Wilson is a blogger ( and businessman I admire greatly. He blogs daily and share his knowledge without second thought.  He’s probably the most prominent VC on the east coast if not the county.  In a recent speech given at MIT, he mentioned that on his first ever test there he had gotten a zero.  About MIT he said, and I paraphrase, “When you go to MIT to go from being the smartest kid at your school to being the dumbest.” Anyway when asked about his nil test score his professor the response was “You didn’t understand the question.”

Here’s the thing about brand planning. The ones who get it right aren’t the ones with the best methodology or framework. They are the ones who understand the question. The problem is that question always changes. Yesterday I posted brand strategy is not Chaos Theory.  But if the question changes for every brand strategy, isn’t that a bit chaotic?

A generic question for all brands might be “What value or behavior does the brand provide that best meets the needs of the customer?”  Doesn’t seem like a bad question. But, per Fred Wilson’s professor, it’s the wrong one. Only when you are waist deep in a brand, customer care-abouts and brand good-ats can one ask the real question. It will be a business question, tempered by consumer insight, and help you pass that first and last test.

Happy hunting!


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Next to a home the largest purchase a person makes in their lifetime is their college education. College tuitions with room and board cost between $10,000 and $40,000.  Multiply that by 4 and add in loans, which may double or triple the amount over the life of the loan and you see where I’m coming from.  Colleges have never been questioned as a pursuit after high school. But there is a generation of students graduating with loans that may not have been obvious to them freshman year, who are looking askance at the higher dot edu price tag. Enter MOOCs. And other online alternatives – which in some cases are free.  In some cases they are taught by Princeton and MIT professors. 

This is what once might call a market discontinuity.  A market changer.

Is anyone in higher ed smelling this coffee?  Put your pipes and iPads down people. This online alternative to college is going to create a shizz storm.  University endowments will begin to diminish. Professor pay will stagnate. Dorms will be sold. Teacher’s aids will grow more powerful and though college and universities won’t go away, there will be a lot less of them. It is the future.  Half the kids in college are reading their smart phones in class anyway. And Googling the assignment in class.

Higher education leaders need to get ready for this one.  They are already behind. See the future. Be the future. Peace!

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Meg Whitman has one of the toughest jobs in America. She runs HP and has spent the past year attempting to fix what is broken or stale.  The HP brand, known by all, owned by all, is experiencing stasis during one of the most exciting times in all of tech-dom.

The HP “Is-Does” is clouded; covered with a glauchoma-ed gauze. Amazingly, a couple of years ago, in the years following Carly Fiorina’s ouster, the company was humming along.  

The last great brand idea HP had was “Invent.”  Don’t get me wrong, they’ve had lots of great ads over the years and many excellent agencies, but not much with brand ballast.  Invent was actually developed under Ms. Fiorina’s watch, however ended up being little more than an idea.  The company did not truly invest in or operationalize it, not the way Apple did. Or Google. Or the media socialists.

Stanford, MIT, Harvard and their dropouts don’t wake up aroused in the middle of the night thinking about working at HP.

27,000 layoffs in today’s flat world is not news to an up-and coming engineer – not the way the next gigatron device is.  HP has to marry the future with the current. We do need printers and tablets and PCs, but what will take back the hearts and minds of consumers and the next gen of consumers is packaged imagination. HP has work to do. Peace!   

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MOOCs are the haps these days.  The acronym stands for Massive Open Online Courses.  Coursera, started by two Stanford University scientists, is one such MOOC and it’s a for profit enterprise.  MITx began this whole movement by offering a couple of free online courses then deciding to brand itself MITx —  a good idea. But this past it partnered with Harvard and rebranded the venture edX.  Today Cal Berkley joined edX which is a not for profit.

This is an nascent and exciting category but one has to wonder if these aggregated Xs will soon become exes. The university brands by themselves are so powerful that an online holding company with a master brand atop seems a short term solution. Let’s wait and see. Peace.

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The pace of technological innovation has slowed of late.  Goldman Sachs is getting tricky and slick trying to find ways to sell Facebook stock. Businesses are spending IT dough and manhours investigating the cloud. Coders are buildng games to cash in some chips and because they are bored.  Groupon is a technology extension of social networking and promotion, a lovely breakthrough, but an extension none the less.  Facebook and Twitter are lazy teenagers now (in internet years) so the question is “From where will the new innovation come?” 

What’s the biggest need we mobile citizens collectively have today?  An open and interoperable language for mobile phones.  Interoperability is simultaneously the boon and bane of commerce.  Today the mobile operating systems of Apple, Google, Nokia, Microsoft and Research in Motion don’t play well together. Different apps for different haps.  It’s a big stick in the mud.

Some smart coder is going to jump on this and create an  open mobile OS or an elegant translator (site) so there can be mobile  harmony.  It may come out of the open source community or it may come from a company who wants to be a good global citizen.  Mobile computing is far too exciting to leave dysfunctional.  Keep an eye out. Alcatel-Lucent, MIT kids, China, MSFT…you listening ????  Peace from Babylon.

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 I’m pulling for Yahoo and I’m pulling for Carol Bartz, its new CEO. Anyone worth his or her salt (whatever that means) has had some tough years. Yahoo is no different. Internetly speaking, Yahoo’s a geezer. So is AOL. At beer parties the technorati are embarrassed to say they work at AOL. And at MIT graduations, kids don’t toss their caps in the air screaming “Yahoo.”

Now that the venture dudes are feeling the pain, they’re spending hundreds more hours focusing on corporate leadership and strategy.  And — check it out — even TechCrunch has grown a whisker. The best businesses have always been built upon the fundamentals: leadership, strategy and revenue generation. Even creatively-driven businesses like advertising have always been built upon solid business fundamentals.   

Yahoo is going to focus. It is going to make big money. It is going to re-gather itself and command tech respect. It was a leader…and will be again. Just consider these growing pains. Peace!

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There is an MIT physics professor by the name of Walter H.G. Lewin who broadcasts his classes to the masses over the internet. The videos are available on iTunes U and
Professor Lewin is a “one percenter.” That is, he is in the top one percent of his craft. Because Mr. Lewins courses are so powerful, well-crafted and thoroughly demonstrative, his kids learn physics with ease. Check out the article in today’s NYT at
This presents a dilemma for MIT. Right now the online lectures are free. But once they become in such great demand (they are currently being viewed in India and China) and student prefer professor Lewin to their own college professor, MIT may find itself educating everybody. Unrestricted, kids could use the internet to find the best college professors in the world and choose to learn from them. What would that do to all the professors who are mediocre, tired and/or simply awaiting pensions?
Sadly, MIT and other courseware providers of this ilk are soon going to have to restrict this type of free education. So get this stuff while you can. 

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