robert scoble

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Brand planners like to write and talk about “context.”  For Robert Scoble, a mentor of mine, context online and in technology is a driver of the next big thing. Well I’m here to tell you context sometimes can be a deterrent.  Kleiner, Perkins, Caufield, Byers is a really small VC company. They made gazillions investing early on in technology – them daringly decided to focus on things that will help save and make more sustainable our planet and went into green tech/clean tech

Along came a number of big technology plays Kleiner missed out on and all of a sudden they become more famous for the money they didn’t make and a couple of big green technology investment busts. (We are in the infancy people, relax.) Also, one problem was context.  Sustainable energy isn’t just solar panels and electric cars, it’s about ways to build planet-sustaining renewable energy. It ain’t just code. Contextually, Kleiner Perkins needed sector people looking into geothermal and algae and stuff we’ve never thought bout – stuff we can’t say.  Yet they were hoping the sector would be more like tech – hence the words clean tech and green tech.  Me thinks they should have been looking closer to the green and clean side of the house. That’s where the big payouts will be.

When a small grade school in Copenhagen, NY can heat and cool itself using geothermal technology, that’s a green clue. Could we have done the same for the Freedom Tower?  Who’s asking?  Kleiner Perkins should be. Peace


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Rackspace has a great name.  It is endemic to the cloud-based hosting category, it’s easy to repeat and understand for the lay person.  It’s descriptive and mellifluous.  Rackspace hired Robert Scoble to help put them on the map and make the brand more relevant a few years ago and it has paid great dividends. Now the company is one of the top players, along with Amazon, Microsoft and Google.  But this rentable web platform space is about a couple of things: trust, cost and functionality. Trust that the platform and systems stay up. Cost because you are buying bandwidth and processing power by the pound. And functionality because technology is always about functionality.

The current Rackspace name does not do the brand justice. It smacks of raw, bare bones, generic computing power. His is where I might suggest – and you can bet the corporate officers are thinking the same way – that the company be renamed. Renamed to deliver more of a technically forward punch. But names are money. And I think the Rackspace name can be evolved.  If the brand plan begins to define space and as outer space, with endless possibilities they will be on to something.  The final frontier, indeed. As companies grow, so can their brands.

Love the name, but in 2013 and beyond, it needs a bit of a facial.  Peace.

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David Brooks had a nice Op-Ed piece today in The New York Times on the topic of big data. In one of his metaphors he states that as the data haystack gets bigger the needle becomes more deeply buried. So context is critical to analysis of data he argues. Poor contextual views of data cause failed analysis.

Another opinion leader I follow is Robert Scoble – a tech blogger. Robert is the most “on” person I know. When he sleeps he’s evaluating.  Robert’s big thing this year is context. He reviews and evaluates all sorts of tech tools that create context out of actions, locations, email and Siri voice commands (I threw that last one in there, but I’m sure he’d agree.)

Brand planners use context every minute. As they watch and listen for powerful, motivating behaviors, they seek patterns. Hay of a certain length, as it were. Planners’ brains gravitate away from the formulaic and toward the unique. And interestingly, some of the insights they glean aren’t about selling stuff. They are about people that buy the stuff – or don’t buy the stuff. The insights may provide context around child safety or home health or happy meals (lower case) unrelated to the product at hand. And so long as the insights are not too far afield of the product being sold, they are fair context and stimuli for the creative team and the creative output. In the end, it’s all about sale though.

Did the Deutsch’s Darth Vader spot sell more Volkswagen’s? Do kids ride in cars? Do families have and/or want kids? If you have the answer let me know.  Peace!

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I first ran into Marshall Kirkpatrick in the blogger’s room at the Web 2.0 Expo in 2007.  At the time he was writing for ReadWriteWeb and one of technology’s top 10 bloggers; in the rarified air with Michael Arrington, Robert Scoble, Malik Om, Erick Schonfeld and Jeremiah Owyang.

Sitting in on start-up product pitches for a living must have been hard.  Then under deadline, having to write about it, explain it and prognosticate — even harder. One would imagine that people like this would have at some point aspired to be involved in a start-up. But not so much. Mr. Kirkpatrick is an exception.  His company is called Little Bird.  If I got the Is-Does right (I sat through a webinar yesterday) Little Bird is a Social Monitoring 2.0 tool designed to help find category Posters rather than Pasters. The tool feels really smart at first pass.  

Seeing hundreds of start-up presentations over the years has prepared Mr. Kirkpatrick for the “life.”  The funding period(s), naming, first hires, code-fests, Beta testing and pitching. And more pitching.  His tech blogging background does not insure a successful tech startup, though it certainly should give him a leg up. I applaud his derring do and look forward following Little Bird’s progress.  (Nice name by the way.) Peace.

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An important target for What’s the Idea? is the technology company. I’ve worked with AT&T on the digital applications side, helped launch Lucent (now Alcatel-Lucent), wrote a lauded brand strategy for ZDNet and have helped scads of mid-size tech companies and start-ups.  Beyond experience, why tech companies are so important is the fact that they don’t get branding. The best of the lot are engineer-driven and see brand and marketing nerds are empty jeans.

So for you tech engineers and entrepreneurs, here’s a simple metaphor: Brand planners are like back end developers. If the back end is the hardware and engine and the front end the software and user interface (UI), then we brand planners work the former. The back end creates the organizing principle that determines which 1s and 0s to turn on and off.  The brand plan creates and governs the same and the pathways.  It’s simple really.  Perhaps marketers have tried to make it sound so complicated with all our markobabble and talk about silly things like transparency, activation and, and, and.  But a brand plan is one meaningful strategy and 3 governing principles. On or off.  

The front end in the metaphor  — what users see — is advertising, newsletters, digital content, acquisition programs.  Without good governance, these things show up on a corporate homepage as 38 buttons.  What I love about people like Robert Scoble, Brian Solis, Steve Rubel, Peter Kim, Bob Gilbreath and Jeff Dachis to a degree, is they get the brand “back end” and, so, their front ends are meaningful. People understand them.

Engineers need to hear and live this lesson. If they do, they’ll see the market through infrared goggles. Peace!

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Do you know what is driving all the “free” on the Web?  Marketing. Not just advertising but marketing.  Why is Facebook so valuable?  Why does Google have more money than Allah? Where’s that money coming from?  Yep, Toyota and P&G and Verizon.

And as we glance beyond the dashboard at the future and see, as the iPad commercial puts it, newspapers with videos and magazines that sing, we see a world in which the Web and mobile devices are the primary instruments of marketers. The devices know what we like and where we are.  They know when we are sleeping. They know when we’re awake. Dare say, they know when we’ve been bad or good.

As the social web evolves and the big ad and marketing shops learn how to “map and manipulate”, it will become more apparent that people with influence are the drivers of marketing.  Kim Kardashian, for instance, earns $30,000 for a tweet.  To a tech start-up a Robert Scoble endorsement can mean the difference between being funded and being fun dead. So where am I going with this?  To Klout.

Klout is the new online oxy. It’s a drug…and more and more Posters will be talking about it. The Klout score will identify those people who advertisers want to target. And revere.  High Klout scores and predictions thereof will be the things around which ad agencies develop departments. Klout is on to something and they know it.  Get it right dudes and dudettes. And get it right soon before a competitors snaps it up. Peace!

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The two most exciting yet frustrating years of my work life were at a web start-up. I was director of marketing at a social media site called The CTO was 7/8ths genius.  A wonderful coder, an infectious and eloquent geekus, he built the world’s first drag and drop web publishing tool.  His object wrappers allowed me to tell consumers “If you can drag and drop, you can build a website.” In a world where we knew people would get tired of templated, database-driven web and social sites like Facebook and MySpace, this free-hand design tool was going to be the haps.

I remember standing on the back steps of my home telling the CTO that the decisions we made regarding usability and positioning were billion dollar decisions. Well, we burned through $10M and I’m still on those steps. I do love those steps, by the way.

What came out of this 2 year education was the realization that I’m an engineer whisperer. The CTO heard me, understood me, but he opted to go another route. He continued to build and add features and creep the product. He loved the rush of presenting to Robert Scoble and  Erick Schnofeld and hearing “coooool.”  Though I failed him, our CEO and investors, I learned that not all engineers can be whispered.  And probably shouldn’t be. VCs know what I’m talking about. Peace!

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Try not to spend too much time in the present when doing marketing planning.  It’s okay to look to the past to help understand big trends and how they have changed. After you get the how, you need to overlay the why – that’s da monies, the why.  Then spend your time thinking about the future.

Most marketers, marketing agents and the less important though well-financed consultants spend their time in the near-past. Today, geo-location services and check-ins are the near-past and though not exactly a mine denuded of its ore, they are where many marketers are spending serious time and money. Slates and tablets are the haps today and as a billion dollar business will take up a lot of time, energy and GDP but like Robert Scoble’s kid said couple of month ago, it’s just more stuff to put in a backpack.   Tech companies are now fighting over form, size and inches.

What’s Next?

So what’s out in front? For marketers, what is ahead of the dashboard?  I believe the answer is politics, planet and populace.  It used to be easy to not pay attention to what went on in the Congo when it was buried on page 27.  But how about when it’s in your stream. In living color? And will people pay for that?  Will people pay for the right to tune in via Google Earth any event in the world in real time?  Who needs Al Jazeera?  I wrote yesterday about the web strategy called the 3Cs: Content, Commerce and Community. Tom Friedman who has more power than 95% of us  will tell you the 3 P (Poppe knows from 3 Ps) is what’s next. Let them guide you. Peace, the verb.

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Here’s the problem with newspapers.  Ready?  Who is your favorite newspaper journalist?  Quick!  Okay, who is your second favorite?  Now, who is your favorite blogger?  Much easier, no? 

There was a time when journalists and news reporters were heroes…a time when they were huge personalities.  They wrote with panache, shared ideas and commentary that struck a chord with America.  Their ability to turn a phrase captivated us and the masses loved them.  Journalists were the rock stars of the day.  After a while, though, newspapers started to think these writers were getting too big for their britches – bigger than the newspaper brands they wrote for — and decided to turn down the dial.  “If Jimmy Breslin becomes bigger than the Daily News, what happens if he leaves?”

Journalism became antiseptic. Lifeless. It lost a great deal of its humanity. When was the last time you cried after reading a piece in the paper (online or paper paper.)

Blogs to the Rescue.

Enter the blog.  No bosses. No editors. No sponsors.  Just peeps talking to peeps. Readers get the straight shot. Today’s most impressive, unadulterated journalists are bloggers. Ironically, when bloggers get big, big media tries to hire them.  Like punk rockers that have a hard time mixing art and success, this can alter the work product of the blogger.  The Conundrum.  Newspapers are losing money because their writers churn out auto text.  Journalism needs more heroic personalities. That’s what I’m talkin’ about! Peace.

PS.  My favorite journalists?  Nicholas Kristof, Dexter Filkins, Cathy Horyn, Robert Scoble

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Tim Armstrong has a lot to do if he really wants to fix Aol, but he needs to start by hiring a chief talent officer. His executive suite — with all props and deference to those recently hired — has grown and become an enviable suite, but the big investment should be in Posters, original web content creators, not suits.  Creative people, writers, videographers, style queens, humorists, and the politically angry.  Aol must become more relevant to Teens, Tweens, Millenniums, Gen This & That, Boomers…and it has to start this quarter.

Don’t Wait.

Start the content strategy today. Hire Ochocinco. Hire Robert Scoble. Hire Kandee Johnson. Fab Five Freddy. Melting Mama. People with content game. Hire punk rockers before they’re famous. People burning with a point of view. People on their way up. A great talent officer will help today, but more importantly, will allow Aol to ride the ascent of future talent before it becomes expensive. As George Steinbrenner did when building the world’s most famous sports franchise, invest every penny in the players. This is not a markobabble post about teamwork, this rant is about players. Talent. Content. The right Posters will give you the inspiration to reinvent what content is.  Don’t rely on an “innovation team” sitting in a San Diego corporate resort.

With the right web talent, ad sales will come. Ding dong, money at the door.  Lined up around the block.

Get you first piece of talent this week. Celebrate it and start to build Aol momentum.  Content is not an algorithm, it’s talented people expressing themselves through words, song, poesy and art. Peace it up!

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