Steve Rubel

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7 Year Brand Itch.

LinkedIn says it’s my 7th anniversary at What’s The Idea? – so I guess it is. As someone who counsels others on brand building, it might be a good time to look back on how What’s The Idea?, as a brand, is doing.

The brand came to life as a blog while I directed marketing for Zude.com. Zude competed with Facebook in the social media/social networking space when Facebook had 18 million users. Blogging was at its infancy and blogs about branding were not at all common. That said Ad Age had a counter on the top 50 blogs, which I never broke. Some big time talent headed the list. A guy can always aspire.

I had a 1,000 hit day once, thanks to a tweet by Steve Rubel, which made it to Lifehacker, giving What’s The Idea? global relevance (for a few days). When I left Zude WTI became the name of my consultancy. It already had some equity, the name along with the words “brand consultancy” provided a good Is-Does, and it posed the question most marketers ask when strategizing about selling: “What is my focus?”

Over the 7years I’ve had the opportunity to work with a number of name-drop brands and some small lesser known brands. I love them all. My job it to help organize the brand and bring it to life. When a brand is alive, it can be liked or disliked. If the latter it can be fixed. If it just lies their like a lox, as most do, it has nowhere to go in the mind of the consumer.

So here’s too “life,” to another 7 years, and to lots more brand building for What’s The Idea? and its clients. Many thanks.

Peace.

 

 

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Blog Better.

I’ve written over 1,800 blog posts here at What’s The Idea? I would love to tell you it has made me rich, or famous, or a better writer. Perhaps I’m a marginally better writer. The reality is, I do this for all the above reasons yet the main reason I blog is because I like to. I like brand building. I like communications. Marketing. And I believe in the thesis that an “organizing principle for product, communications and experience” is a sound way to drive improved sales and profitability. I’m not going to go all “passion play” on you. The word is overused today.

Many blogs today are chores. They are shared by numerous writers. They are simply writing and posting. Searchable tags under the guise of an idea. Some social media tools are a lazy man’s blog. Poop out simple short snippets and drive traffic. A blog is best when an ongoing narrative with connective tissue.

To companies who feel the need to blog I say find a writer who loves the company, topic or category. Someone close enough to actually have a sense of humor about it, a sense of indignation, love and feelings. As much as I talk about good marketing being educatory, don’t use teachers to blog.

Blogs become good if they are interesting. Interesting, contextually relevant, alive and immediate. I miss Steve Rubel. Robert Scoble. Joseph Jaffe. Come back to blogging sirs. Kandee Johnson never left and her work moves the world for her readers.

Peace.

 

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CBS and Google.

A little over 4 years ago I predicted Google would break up into 3 different companies.  It would happen in about 48 months, the non-prescient post suggested. I was wrong. The post had over a 1,000 hits, partly because of a point I made about Google’s culture of technological obesity, a tidbit picked up by Steve Rubel and Life Hacker. Who knew?

Today CBS, a proclaimed content company, has made public its plans to spin off and IPO its outdoor business. A $3.3B advertising and real estate venture, it is deemed non-core. CBS is rolling financially, owning an amazing share of prime time TV viewership as well as a successful film business, a cable channel and online properties. CBS is making the move during a period of earnings strength. It’s still about portfolio focus.  

My Google trivestiture prediction was also about focus. But without any government pressure, Google has decided that a diverse portfolio, kept buoyant by mad ad revenue, is the best way forward.  Google can afford to pizzle away money on Motorola, and self-driving cars and, and, and.  Google is taking the GE approach, becoming a diversified technology company. And I’m liking it.

CBS gets what it is good at — content. Its diversity comes from flavors of content: prime time, movies, cable and online. Google is good at putting the world’s information at our finger tips… yet it is looking beyond the dashboard toward what’s next.  And as long as Google can turn a profit, it’s a brilliant approach. (That’s why Facebook bought Oculus Rift.  It’s non-core, but it is about the future.)

For businesses, focus gets you smarter and better. Diversity gets you smarter and better. No wrong, until the shareholders start to wince. Peace. 

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I’m not a pinner or user of Pinterest (yet), but recently visited the site in an effort to help out a friend with a woodworking business; my intent was to get him to display his amazing work.  Pinterst recognized the fact that I was not an active user and so popped up a quickie tour of new features.  The pop up made it sound as if they were sharing new enhancements, but it could easily have just been their way of reorienting and activating me.

Nice finesse Pinterest.  This is how the web should work.  In my world, where a website should represent the brand plan (one claim, three proof planks), pop-ups or interstitial pages that vary based upon your visiting behavior are refreshing. A return visitor that always heads straight to contacts or about should be offered a quick link there. A first time or lapsed user should be treated with special gloves. A repeat purchaser should get the special treatment — perhaps a surprise every now and again, and other delights.

But this doesn’t happen very often.

We have really kind of forgotten the website these past few years as we go all head down on shiny new social media and moble. And now “content marketing” is the haps. Often unbridled content marketing. Off-piste content marketing.  (That’s why it’s smart to use thought leaders in the practice – see Kyle Monson and www.Knock2x.com for instance.)

Fred Wilson and John Battelle in a recent video chafed at the notion of giving traffic to other’s websites.  I agree. Social and content are kind of like chumming and fishing, but once the fish is on the line it needs to come into the boat.

Websites are the biggest most important development in commerce since the telephone.  Let’s get back to optimizing them. Steve Rubel, you with me on this? Peace.

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Steve Rubel is an acquaintance who has done lots to alter the landscape of social media.  He’s got pop.  (Baseball metaphor.)  He once tweeted a post of mine about “Google’s culture of technological obesity” which got hit by Lifehacker and earned me 1,000 blog visits a day for a while. That’s power.

Steve works high up at Edelman PR and though less visible to the public these days, is no doubt making the company some nice profits.  We all miss him, I’m sure.

Edelman is doing some leading edge stuff in social media and PR.  I came across a Twitter handle of theirs yesterday:  @edelmanfood.  Whoever is managing the account, and I’m sure it’s a small group of people, are thoughtful category trollers.  This is advanced stuff. Leadership stuff.  They’ve created their own little practice area topic on Twitter – something extensible into other media which in a fast twitch media world is an idea with ballast.

While category trolling is broad and much better than brand trolling, it does not hit the requirements of “Have a motivation” (Google “Social Media Guard Rails+Slideshare”). That’s next. For now let Edelman troll the category and do it better than most. A Twitter account or a Fotchbook page with a branded motivation, though, offers real pop!  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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There’s has been a lot of talk in the ether the last couple of weeks about Google+ and whether or not it will be a Facebook or Twitter killer. (Google Steve Rubel for some smart analysis.) I have an invite to Google+ and added a couple of friends — figuring out the difference between friends, acquaintances, family and even created a circle called Business Peeps.  The fact is, though, thanks to Facebook, I’m not always sure who’s an acquaintance and who’s a friend.  I love the promise of multipoint video chat and think it will be a big deal for Google+.  Also circles is cool, but streaming to circles I haven’t given much thought to. I like Twitter too much.

Here’s my initial take.  If you can’t tell which website app Google+ is going to “kill” then perhaps it won’t kill either.  Google+ is probably over-built – because it wants to take on both Facebook (the stream page looks exactly like Facebook) and Twitter – and when you try to do too much you often fall short.  That’s not to say Google+ will fail; I suspect there is enough cool stuff there for something really great to stick.  I just don’t think it’s going to bang Facebook or Twitter off their perches.

There’s no doubt that Google knows, thanks to research and the algorithm, people want all the features and functions it has devised for Plus. But putting them in one candy bar, is going to be a little hard to chew.  There is no killer here. Just a lot of cool stuff bouncing off itself. Peace.

 

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Have you ever picked up a magazine containing 200 pages and thought it too bulbous to read?  

Steve Rubel in a post today suggests “Space on the Internet is infinite. Time and attention, meanwhile, remain finite. Therefore, Digital Relativity will become a major challenge.” In his book “Cognitive Surplus” Clay Shirky suggests “as more of us become content creators rather than consumers, it’s ushering in a new age of enlightenment.”

I agree with both sentiments, but also agree with Thomas Malthus in whose essay “Principles of Population” it is stated that overpopulation will stifle healthy planetary growth.  Says Malthus “The power of population is indefinitely greater than the power in the earth to produce subsistence for man.” 

As the web grows as a source of all content with everyone and her brother becoming a content creator, will it not end up over-filled with the unimportant?  Will the songs of poor singers make it harder to find the Joss Stones? Will cartoon-like films bury the Coen Brothers?  The answer is yes and no.  Thanks to search engines, algorithms and relevance much cream will still rise to the top. But with too much content, it might be harder to find the gems. And, as is the case with the overstuffed magazine, it is likely that some may opt to not pick it up. There is an organizational opportunity here me thinks. Peace!

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Product placement is a funny thing; more often than not when you see a brand in a movie or a TV reality show it’s been placed there at a price.  Most of the time, those placements are heavy-handed and disruptive — not a good thing.  If a viewer feels the product has been curated into a story it suspends belief.  Kind of like bad acting.

When discussing commercial social media I often refer to the need for the brand poster – the person posting on behalf of the brand — to create a persona, complete with a tangible, obvious motivation.  For Zude.com, for instance, “Tip-Z” was created as a roving help person.  She assisted people with the drag and drop application, but she did so as a bit of a tippler. Hic.  So some of her help came out a bit garbled, goofy and funny.  Personality flaws aside, it made Tip-Z real.

Product placement on TV that doesn’t fit or social media personalities that lack personality underachieve. Content may be king but context is key.  One way around what Steve Rubel calls “The Attention Crash” is to create muscle memory for brands.  While others are out there shamelessly hawking product and services one on top of the other, smart brands are standing out because they create memorable context. Meaningful, memorable context. Peace!

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There’s a pretty interesting debate going on over at Steve Rubel’s Posterous stream.  It revolves around his moving his stream (sorry, guys of a certain age) to Facebook.  He’ll continue at Posterous but feels Facebook gives him more visibility, a bigger audience and a richer discussion. 

Mr. Rubel initially moved to Posterous because it was a place for him to aggregate his musings. Plus it was an easy and elegant interface.  (The aesthete in me likes the Posterous look better than the templatized Facebook frame.)  Sequestering most of his business and digital observations on Posterous and moving everything  else — business, personal, real time — to Facebook seems like a good strategy. But is it? Time will tell.

Specificity

In America and countries that look to America for tech and taste, specificity rules the day.  No one ever became president (of anything) being a generalist.  Let’s leave Mr. Rubel for a moment and use Ms. X as an example.  Say you’ve never met Ms. X but you think she’s a brilliant marketing mind. She may be a lousy partner, driver, dancer and cook but she can really mesmerize a room filled with marketers. You may be marginally interested in her meatball recipe but it is certainly not the driver of her attention.  The more meatball recipes in her stream, the less likely she is to be unique. By mixing all of her postings into one stream, Ms. X is not managing her brand very well. Her fame is diluted.

Moving Toward the Middle.

This is another example – common a couple of years ago when social computing companies were all trying to match each other’s feature sets – where everyone is moving toward the middle. It should not be. LinkedIn is about business relationships. Twitter is about real time info and immediacy.  Facebook is about friends and self and entertainment.  As Facebook moves to the middle, attempting to be all things to all people (brand fan pages included), it becomes like fruit cocktail — that can of fruit in the back of the cabinet where everything tastes like peaches. As quickly as Facebook is growing, I’m afraid it will mirror Google and turn into nothing more than an amazing advertising platform. (And then divest.) Peace!

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