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I was recently talking with a marketing friend from a company with $3+ billion in sales, who shared an interesting dilemma. The company is growing like a dookie yet not necessarily outperforming the category. A huge online competitor is about to unleash the wrath of its sales engine and though it is acknowledged it’s not overly concerning. (Como se dice MySpace?) When asked about brand strategy my friend defaulted to logo land and said it was not a priority. But s/he did share something that was quite interesting, saying the company salesforce was a bunch of freelancers (my words), designing their pitches to the companies upon which they were calling. “We have no value proposition. Our guys just go out and sell.”

That is something my friend acknowledged needing help with.

So where to sales people learn how to position the brand for selling? In sales training of course. Sales training without brand strategy, though, is like college without a major. You are tactically trained by not strategically trained. One can read all the Malcolm Gladwell books in the world but without an understanding of the “organizing principle” that ties what the brand does well to what consumers want most, you’re in the generic aisle.

The two most important places to share a brand strategy – providing your company has one – are: new employee orientation and sales training. Sadly, most brand strategy stays within the walls of the market dept. and is rarely shared.  A sad but dirty little secret.

Peace.

 

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I’m not a big template fan. They stifle natural creativity. A while back as director of marketing at Zude.com, a drag-and-drop web page building tool, I lobbied hard for no templates. The CTO and CEO understood where I was coming from but felt the masses when confronted with a blank white page would seize up. Better to give them some starter designs to build personal web pages. (So they could look like everybody else.) We were competing with Facebook when it had 18M users.

Facebook and MySpace were both template based products – database fed. Zude was more freehand. But expressive. The people who took the time to build their own pages (no HTML code was needed) created pages that looked beautiful – way more so than Face and My. There were also a lot of homely pages, mine included. But on my pages you could feel me. On my Facebook page – not so much.

In our jobs and lives we need to rely less on templates so we can experience new – experience more. Taking the annual marketing budget and shuffling the numbers is using a template. Revising the website using last year’s wire frame is templating. Sending out an email blast to a well-worn list? Templating. We all template but we need to do less of it. You smiling up there Mr. Jobs?

Peace.

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Back in 2006 while I was writing the brand strategy for Zude.com, there was an 18 million user upstart cutting its teeth called Facebook. You had to be a college kid to have an account back then. Ish. They brilliantly referred to the property as a “social network.”

Zude on the other hand was not a social network. It was a webpage building tool. Our CTO might have called it an “authoring tool” to make is sound more technical. The genius of Zude was in its ability to let uses drag and drop images, text, video and other web objects onto a blank white page and create a web page. No HTML coding required. If you could type and drag and drop, I used to say, you could create your own website.

The biggest problem with Zude was our company’s Facebook envy.  The CTO wanted to be a social network; it was the haps.  It was about friending, and community and growth. So we lost our positioning way and started to build in clunky Facebook-like functionality.  The brand strategy “Zude takes web development to the people,” which was built from the product’s greatest strength, was cast aside due to MySpace and Facebook envy. And we were afloat amidst the tides, currents and winds of a different business model.  

I’m a big boy.  I can change strategy when directed.  But just because you call a goat a horse, doesn’t make it ride-able.  Lessons from the crypt. Peace.

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Tea-ness.

teavana

I love this logo. I am not a hot tea guy but the marketer in me sees the tea drinking trend and mad growth potential in the US.  Apparently, so does Starbucks who purchased Teavana last year.  For those unfamiliar, Teavana is a retail chain selling various teas and tea-making accessories.

The block letters of the logo and the word itself, do not make the logo perfectly readable.  The name isn’t particularly poetic or easily mispronounced, but the mark before the name is splendid. It’s Eastern, relaxed, friendly and conveys warmth and goodness.

I’m not sure tea is the Facebook to coffee’s MySpace just yet, but keep your eyes peeled.

I’ve spoken with the CEO of a big ready to drink iced tea brand, which is growing quite nicely YOY, about the “tea-ness” in his brand plan and I am waiting for him to step up.  He’s 65% committed, but not all the way there yet.  When he rolls, he’ll whoosh his volume.  Tea’s, hot then cold, are going to be the haps.  Peace!

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The evolution of web traffic started with technology. Search begat the first big rush — but of course there had to be something to search so HTML really started it all.  After search came social networks (MySpace and Facebook) which allowed people to create websites or webpages thanks to templates and databases.  Allowing everyone (not just coders) to create a web presence opened this door. Then came music sharing sites and other media upload sites like Flickr and YouTube. All technology enabled.

During the build out of these tech-enabled web sites, communities began to emerge.  And so came enthusiast sites: Tech enthusiasts, movie enthusiasts. porn devotees, daters, news junkies. Those interested in healthcare. Communities sprung up, big and small, but mostly big.

Currently, we’re on an entertainment jag, with games and virtual goods, random video chat and anime mash-ups drawing the attention of the masses and venture money. The iPazzle (technology) is creating some new applications for sure, moving everything toward a single device, but it won’t explode web traffic exponentially.

So what’s next? What human need is not being met?  When we get tired of entertainment what will we seek?  What will generate massive traffic and engagement on the web?  It will be micro-communities. Noah Brief and Piers Fawkes might call them LikeMinds. For me, I’d love to chat with kids who went to Amityville JHS, in school the day Martin Luther King was shot. Or people who saw the Allman Brothers early show at the Fillmore East in 1970 the night they shot the inside album cover. Maybe we are not like minds, but we’re like experiencers… at a certain time and place. There’s an idea for Google or Bing, the search experts. Micro communities. Peace!

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Twitter owned real time updates. Facebook mirrored it. AOL owned chat. Facebook copied it. Google owned search.  Facebook morphed it.  Foursquare developed check-ins.  Facebook parroted it. And Groupon owned coupon search. Facebook Places has mimicked it. 

I worked at a social media start-up (Zude) for a tech savant who wanted to out-YouTube YouTube, out-DoubleClick DoubleClick and out-MySpace MySpace. What he had – what we had – was the “fastest, easiest way to build and manage a website,” supported by a unique drag-and-drop technology.  Sadly, the CTO didn’t want to perfect usability, rather, he wanted to be the best at everything. Hence, we were the best at nothing. 

I’ve written about Google and its “culture of technological obesity” and it seems Facebook now is sharing that affliction.  You can’t be everything to everybody.  Do something well, stick to it, prefect it, then evolve it. But don’t keep stealing other people’s cheese.

The more Facebook moves toward the middle of “all” web functionality the more overweight it becomes. My advice: Focus…and let other companies play too. Peace!

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Have you ever been to a high school football game and watched kids walk the bottom row of the stands? It can be more fun than the game itself. Some kids parade as if it’s a Narciso runway show while others skulk, head down, hiding from the world. The paraders are filled with “hi’ and “heys,” the skulkers, not so much. It’s a matter of confidence. But now the skulkers have a tool — texting. They have a reason to avert their eyes while looking tre cool and busy.

Subways and buses in urban centers are other places people like to hide from stares, ergo you’ll see a preponderance of iPods and texting.

Today, technology is often a diversion, especially for kids, giving them an excuse not to socialize. Early MySpace cadets and current Facebookers called what they were doing “being social” and to an extent it is. Certainly, there are nice apps on Facebook allowing people to expand their circle and do new stuff. But let’s face it, sitting on your ass and typing to friends and neofriends smells of the letter-writing, attic-recluse types of yore.

I’m betting the next group of cool apps will be closer to FourSquare than Facebook — helping people actually get out of their chairs and meet others with whom they are comfortable. “Likeminds” as Noah Brier and Piers Fawkes might say. There’s social and there’s social. I for one, prefer the version conducted in person. (He said typing from his chair.) Peace!

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MySpace just cut 420 jobs at the behest of new CEO Owen Van Natta. See the Ad Age story here. Without knowing to what extent Mr. Van Natta researched these RIFed people (corporate speak for Reduction In Force), I’m going to offer a thought.

 

A more social approach to the layoff: Idea 1. Prior to the RIF, hold a town meeting asking all employees how to improve MySpace. The loudest, most ardent opinions will surface.  Idea 2. Ask everyone at the town meeting to weight in on the same question, anonymously, and as with a tag cloud organize the key words into a prioritized solution set. Idea 3. After the all-hands meeting hold face-to-face meetings with each employee on the RIF list asking the question “What needs to be fixed to make MySpace a better property.”  Not exit interview stuff, truly constructive stuff. Use this time to find the gems on the list.  MySpace, after all, is a social networking site. There are some things the algorithm can’t do. Finding and retaining the best people requires an ear. Peace!

 

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Yesterday I posted (If I called it writing, I’d have to proof) about the social graph — the relationship between consumers tied together online. Today I am going to see The Nightwatchman. The Nightwatchman is Tom Morello, lead guitar player of Rage Against the Machine, who may be rock’s best guitar player. Mr. Morello, in his spare time, wanted to teach himself to sing, so he decided to take his guitar to small venues and book himself anonymously as The Nightwatchman.

With rock, Tom, and word-of-mouth being what they are, people started to catch on. Those linked by computer (MySpace and Facebook,) those linked by cell phone, and those linked by barstool and coffee couch began to discuss this phenom with the guitar and gritty voice and now he has an album and big tour.

This is a perfect example of the social graph working. Tom is cool, he’s the “haps,” and someone easy to recommend, but what about other product categories that might not be as “social?” Cold sore ointment? Drunk driving lawyers? Wrinkle cream? How likely are marketers of these products to use the social graph to generated sales? Surprisingly, more than you’d think. Someone I know had a medical problem that was not particularly good social conversation. So she went on anonymous message boards and learned lots. That was social. It was just anonymous social. Over time this type of social media will be a good place to meet recommenders and friends. Online friends. What should call online-only friends? Any ideas?  “Fronds?”  

 

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Good marketers always have one eye toward the future. Cartier is doing just that with its advertising presence on MySpace.  Do you think they are going “all ROI” with this effort – calculating the advertising to sales ratio?  Nuh uh. They’re planting brands seeds for the future. The best thing about teenagers is they turn into young adults and if the advertising and promotion is handled properly, the kids and young adults on MySpace will become fans and predisposed toward Cartier. When they have some jing, they will buy.     

 
While at McCann-Erickson a few years ago I researched old documents and found something written in the 50s by a staff researcher. The language of the day referred to this forward thinking communication as creating “Relative Sales Conviction.”   
 
Cartier is thinking ahead. But they must use their heads and stay away from creating some goofy viral “send the love” game so they will be taken seriously. They should think about the behaviors kids exhibit at a young age that suggest future success and place ads on those kinds of pages. Behaviors that index high for future earnings are where Cartier wants to be in social media. Peace!
 
 

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