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Mike Troiano, CMO of Actifio, pointed to an article today about a company called Slack that just got another round of funding, this time for $160M.  Slack is an office instant messenger, Drop Box sharing, productivity app. I’m sure there is more to it, but it does sound familiar. Anyway, Slack will take this money, bank it, then go out and buy a number of Aeron chairs, a distressed oak conference table, and 6 interactive flat screen video panels. Also lots of servers and next year’s head ware. (Last year was the fedora, this year the knit cap.) What they won’t put on their shopping list is a brand strategy.

They already have nice videos and graphics. A good logo and copy, but the most fundamental strategic document they can own, won’t even be on their radar: a brand strategy. Business plan – check. Mission statement –check. Founder’s vision – check. Cultural manifesto – check. But unless one of the founders has a brand planner as a friend, there will be no check next to brand strategy. Their VCs should know better but they don’t.

This is not meant to pick on Slack. I worked at a start-up ( that Robert Scoble and TechCrunch loved. We failed and had a brand plan. This is not me as a furniture salesman saying every company needs new furniture. This is me as a house builder saying every house needs a design and a plan.

Good luck Slack. Get yourself a brand strategy, approve it, and stick to it. (BTW, it’s not a marketing plan.) Peace.

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I once wrote a brand plan for an office products company. And, an impressive global company it was. A good deal of the background discovery reading contained references to technology. If spring-loaded hanging folders were considered technology once upon a time, they certainly aren’t today. The word technology is owned by the digital people.

My first job was to disabuse the company of being in the technology business and get them to celebrate the fact that they were in the “organizing business.” So an element of the brief had to do with the notion that the company really studied the science of organization. Then they codified and mapped it. Applauding company engineers and R&D people as “organizational artisans” made everyone feel good about themselves – rather than envious of Silicon Valley or Bell Labs.

For the brand support planks (used to prove the brand claim) many brand planners would have gone the “quality” root — a much over-used strategy. Rather, I opted for durability. As a marketing word “quality,” like “technology,” has been watered down. It’s a toxic brand planning word.

I can’t publically share the brand Idea for this global brand or the other support planks but am happy to discuss (offline) the thinking and ultimate position. For a deeper dive write steve at whatstheidea. Suffice it to say, the big honkin’ observation was to get this company back into the office and out of TechCrunch. Peace.


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There is strategy and there is execution.  A great strategy poorly executed pays naught. I like AOL’s “content is king” strategy; buying the Huffington Post and TechCrunch were nice blockbuster moves.  There are two ways for these purchases to go: either the properties will be enhanced by AOL and grow or they’ll be hindered and slide.  At the high end, these two purchases are defining moments and should be very interesting to follow.

But let’s look at the lower or middle tier. AOL now needs to find some traffic-building Posters (original content creators) on their way up.  Not those owning killer numbers, but those with killer points of view and motivations with big upside.  Sports teams make a living off of young over-performers who are killing it before their first big contract. Up and comers are what AOL needs. Some of whom may not even be Posters yet.   

Finding potential big time Posters is R&D in the web content world.  AOL needs to research what people like online, then find and/or develop the property.  Content is not writing. It’s not reporting.  It’s not curating or aggregating. These are content tactics.  The best Posters (who attract the all-important Pasters) are people with an idea, a passion, a motivation or a love. They are also sharers.  AOL is buying media properties and traffic and that’s a good start, albeit a bit old school.  It now needs to do some R&D and find ideas that fill voids. In markets and brains.  Peace!

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CBS. FOX and Yahoo!

CBS is a content company. Most think of it as a TV channel…with a bit of an integration problem across the country.  Different call letters, different channel numbers, not where it’s supposed to be on the dial when you move from city to city.  (See? Platform integration has always been around, it’s not just an issue for the TechCrunch crowd.)  CBS has always been dinged for catering to the older market. Well, in today’s media world the older market watches TV. Lots of it. And CBS’s quarterly numbers are quite strong, especially for local sales.   CBS owns C|Net and ZDNet, which along with other web properties, is helping the company diversify and learn about new targets, markets and categories.  CBS has radio, outdoor, book publishing, and other web properties in addition to cable and broadcast, which positions it nicely as all media moves towards the middle.  At its very core, CBS is a content play.

And in a new media world where everyone’s a publisher therefore no one’s a publish, CBS continues to crank out content people want to watch, hear, and read.  This content strategy is also the strategy of AOL and Yahoo!.  Oddly, they are all competitors.  I know AOL and Time Warner didn’t make it, but that was then.  WABC (Disney) and WNBC (Comcast) have too much baggage.  Fox has the stomach for it (read MySpace), so I predict Yahoo!, or less likely AOL, will be purchased by Mr. Murdoch and FOX.  This would be the year to do it, too.   Peace!

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In the reporting today following the AOL purchase of Huffington Post there were two points of note worth highlighting.  One suggests that since AOL purchased TechCrunch traffic to the TechCrunch site has increased 30%.  I’m not sure if that as a good or bad thing.  Was the reader gene pool slighting diminished by that add?  I suspect so.  But if TC holds to its editorial mission, that growth may find its proper level.

Secondly, Tim Armstrong was quoted as saying “We are essentially two years away from a growth business on the Internet.”  Hello? It’s the Inter-neck.  It’s a content strategy.  In the content business you are only as good as your next refresh.  I understand about building a mission and infrastructure and team and all that, but if Egypt can change a country in three weeks, I think AOL with some imaginative thinking and mad content posting can add some readers in less than 2 years.  BTW, did anyone read the AOL memo from Mr. Armstrong circulated on the web about his plan to turn the business around?   Maybe that’s why he said 2 years.  Dash that plan and start dialing up the original, thoughtful and creative content. (Oh, and Patch isn’t it.) Peace it up!

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Smiles at AOL.

AOL’s purchase of the Huffington Post 8 hours ago was very smart.  I Googled my blog  (whattheidea+AOL) to see if I could find the prediction of said purchase and could not. Maybe I should use Bing.  (Full disclosure, hee hee.)  Anyway, if AOL’s strategy is to provide the best content on the web, this is a great move.  And I loved Arianna Huffington’s quote in the paper paper — her first as head of the new media property group — that she won’t let her politics get in the way of her job.  Yeah right. That’s what makes the Huff Post great.  She can put on her transformer hat when overseeing other media properties, but don’t change a thing on the Huff Post.   Ima (pronounced eye-mah) have to start reading, I guess. 

And, oh, by the way, this story was not on the front page of the NY Times business section, it was on the front page.  Just under the mast head.  The geezer talk for important.

Tim Armstrong articulated the strategy to be a content leader and he is delivering.  Yahoo articulated the same strategy and is not. Nice move AOL. Nice move.  Even Michael Arrington (TechCrunch) is probably smiling.  Peace!

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There are hints in the press that Yahoo might be broken up. There’s also talk that if big things don’t happen soon, Carol Bartz will be out in a year. Can anyone imagine the internet era without Yahoo? 

When was the last time you went to Yahoo to look at something? When was the last time someone sent you a link to Yahoo to see a video, or read a story or view a picture?  I go all the time to check my Fantasy Football stuff, but that’s about it. Yahoo Fantasy Sports is probably Yahoo’s biggest asset; they do some nice video programming (Charissa Thompson is a star in waiting.).

But Yahoo still seems rudderless.  I know it wants to be in the content business but it’s not buying any properties that I can tell. In this area it is losing to AOL, who seems to be spending wisely on content… TechCruch, for instance.

Carol Bartz is keeping her head down. Elisa Steele, CMO and Penny Baldwin, SVP Integrated Branding are also sub rosa when it comes to the plan forward. The latter two should be helping form the product, and I’m not seeing it.  I’m seeing some tilling of the field but not a lot of growth.  Yahoo needs an idea! Peace.

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TV and The Internek


Sorry, I just like saying interneK (hard k). While the head of marketing at now defunct I woke up one morning to see a crazy influx of new users from India. Remember the UPS commercial where the employees of a new online company huddled around the monitor when the service is launched to watch as orders come flooding in. Slowly at first, then as a scary deluge. Anyway, during the Zude deluge our CTO was exchanging snot mail on blog comments with a competitor (whose funder was in India) and I wondered if our servers were under attack; if the competitor had created a bot to signup fake users. (Paranoia is a bitch.) Turns out they were all real users.

I hadn’t done any promotion outside the states so was at a loss. Well, after some digging I found out that an MTV India had done a review in a tech segment pulled from coverage by U.S. tech bloggers Robert Scoble, ReadWriteWeb, TechCrunch, etc.  Zude was on TV.

TV still wields an amazing amount of power. There’s a validation of your story when it’s on TV that sometimes doesn’t happen on the Web. TV is part of the virus that results from good communications planning even if you are not buying GRPs.  No channel is unimportant.

I’m not sure about Twitter’s (cha-ching) numbers in India, but if they want to grow users there, which is an excellent idea, they may want to get in touch with MTV India. Peace!

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It’s fun being me sometimes. As a marketingand brand planner, I come up with branding ideas, selling ideas and selling schema. Much of my world revolves around consumers, products and services but having spent a good deal of time in the technology sector, there’s a part of my brain that relishes what’s next, what’s new and what’s possible. Properly harnessed, these things can really help in my marketing life. So I am a student of technology.


There are a few tech blogs I read pretty regularly: Scobleizer and TechCrunch are faves — GigaOm and ReadWriteWeb are a couple of other good ones. BBH Labs tweeted a post today by Marshall Fitzpatrick, who writes for ReadWrite, on the subject of Augmented Reality. (Marshall’s an important blogger…you heard it here first.) Check out his post and watch some of the short videos. Augmented Reality is going to augment marketing. In a very big way. Peace!


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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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