the new york times

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TriNet TriNet Again.

As a person in the brand building business, outsourcing has never been a favorite business practice. Companies that have a powerful brand strategy can only make it more so by letting that strategy infuse throughout every department, touching every function.  That said, I do see how agile companies, especially startups and fast growers, can benefit by keeping their eyes on the prize

It is for this reason that I have been a fan of TriNet, a proud and accomplished provider of administrative and HR function as an outsourced offering.  These guys do chicken right.

Except for advertising. 

This weekend they broke a big ad in The New York Times. “Incredible starts here” is the new company tagline. The headline spans 2-pages in the form of a neon sign spelling the word “incredible.”  The copy offers time tested generic claims such as “tailor the right solution that fits your industry needs” and lots of other junior copywriter text.

This is an example of a smart company making ads sans brand strategy. Ads without brand strategy are dangerous. Incredible this effort isn’t.

Quick, close your eyes and think of incredible companies. Who comes to mind? Apple? Google? Claim and proof build brands. Where’s the proof?

Peace.

 

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The New York Times reported today that the top social media platforms are either flat or declining in users.  For the first time in its young life Snap is down daily active users — 3 million this quarter compared to same qtr. last year.

This news causes bosses to call marketing brainstorm sessions about adding users.  Often these meeting feel tactical and not strategic. Were I in one of these brainstorming meetings, I’d suggest the platform encourage current users to add additional accounts.  

I’ve long supported the notion that each social platform has a different reason for being, with discrete lines between them. Facebook is for friends and friendship. LinkedIn for work. Instagram for the pictorial, artistic self. And Twitter for the individual, real-time persona. Your personality writ large. If social platforms get users to dig a little deeper into themselves, and expressions of themselves, they might find individuals will open additional accounts, e.g. Steve Poppe archeologist, Steve Poppe punk rock musings. The bosses might say, “Those aren’t new user.” And the bosses would be right.  But these multiple accounts would be adding incremental interest to the platform and fuel greater overall interest and, more importantly, time on site. And isn’t that a strategy requirement?

Peace.

 

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For the last three days Red Hat software has run fill page ads in The New York Times paper paper. Today I broke down and read one.  I’m not sure if they were three different ads or the same one. Lost opportunity.  Advertising is a funny business; even bad ads work. Sometimes just being there is enough. But I’m not of that school. I dislike “We’re Here” advertising. Ads that do little more than arrive, list services and give contact info.  

What’s the idea Red Hat? It appears, from the headline, that the idea is “Tame Today. Frame Tomorrow.”  If the idea wasn’t so hackneyed I’d mention it’s actually two ideas. Both well-done. (Like a 2 hour Bubba Burger.)

I’ve liked Red Hat, as a brand, from its beginnings many, many moons ago. Famous for open source, famous for dashing tech branding. But come on people! Could you make an ad with some vital organs? With some proof of claim? With a semblance of a brand strategy? You can’t just toss a logo on a page, add a second color, play copywriting scrabble and call it advertising.  

Red Hat needs a brand strategy. Look to your advertising ancestors. Read a book on advertising. Find an idea based on care-abouts and good-ats.

Peace.

 

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There’s a cover story in The New York Times today about political referendums. It suggests referendum results favor the sponsoring political party when that party is in favor.  The opposite is also true. The headline of the article suggests referendums are “messy tools” and the recent Brexit vote was used as an example.

I actually think brand referendums are a nice idea – a good way to gauge customer sat and affinity by allowing a vote on product and service changes. Blue Point Brewery just changed the label of its flagship beer, Toasted Lager.  With Blue Point’s purchase by Anheuser Busch InBev, it seems big brother’s marketing engine is getting more involved. I wonder how that will play out?  A simple button on the home page requesting feedback, wouldn’t have hurt.  Along with a comment box.

The marketing road is lettered with changes to products that have passed muster with modest or no research. Brand referendums (on the home page) offer customers a way to engage, feel listened to, and perhaps assist with innovations. And more importantly, gauge how customers feel about the direction of brand management.

Tink about it, as my Norwegian aunt would have said. 

Peace.

 

 

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Ask any Chief Marketing Office or Marketing Director what their annual sales are and you’ll get an answer. Ask about the annual marketing budget. Quick answer. Cost of goods, manufactures suggested retail price, market share? These are questions for which marketing leads all have answers.

Two questions likely to baffle CMOs and marketing directors, however, are: What is your brand strategy (claim)? And what are your brand planks (proofs of claim)? Most marketers know their business KPIs, but don’t have them translated into brand-benefit language. The language that give them life and memorability. CMOs use business school phrases like “low cost provider,” “more for more,” “innovation leader”, “customer at center of flah flah flah…”, but that’s not how consumers speak.  

claim and proof

The key to brand planning is knowing what consumers want and what the brand is good at. (“Good ats” and “care-abouts”.) Combining these things into a poetic claim and three discrete support planks is the organizing principle that focuses marketing and makes it more accountable. Across every expense line on the Excel chart.

Stuart Elliott, advertising columnist of The New York Times should make this a requisite question in all his interviews. “What is your brand strategy?” If he gets any semblance of a claim and proof array, I’ll be surprised. Peace!

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In Spike Jonze new film “Her” in which a man falls in love with his operating system, there is a wonderful example of the power and influence of branding.

Having seen the trailer, I immediately put the movie into the “goofy, not going to see it” category, yet there was something familiar and alluring about the voice of the operating system.  It wasn’t until the reviews started rolling in that I found out it was Scarlett Johansson’s voice. Hmmm.

Manohla Dargis wrote in The New York Times today “It’s crucial that each time you hear Ms. Johansson in Her, you can’t help but flash on her lush physicality, which helps fill in Samantha (OS) and give this ghostlike presence a vibrant, palpable form.” It is this muscle memory associated with Scarlett Johansson’s voice – this Pablovian response — that smart brands attempt to build.  The frosty Coke bottle image on a hot day. The sweet pillowy taste and texture of a Krispie Kreme donut. The olfactory-palooza of a Peter Luger porterhouse.  

When you have a brand plan, complete with promise and support planks, the casting becomes easy. Rich. And powerful. Peace.  

 

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Not to be outdone by Amazon’s drone delivery announcement on 60 Minutes Sunday Night, Google hit the front page of The New York Times today with a story trotting out Android czar Andy Rubin as head of its new robot division.  Not to be confused with Google’s self-driving cars business (Just what we need, more cars.)

And it’s not only a future thing, robots are arriving in schools daily, as my friends at Teq will tell you.  The NOA robot is setting kids a-giggle across a number of Long Island schools.  And robots are even cleaning windows now. Take that! window washers union of NY.  Drones and robots deliver on Larry Page’s vision, “Technology should be deployed wherever possible to free humans from drudgery and repetitive tasks.” Como se breathing?

Have you seen a movie trailer lately?  Or prime time TV show? They are 50% fantasy. Dude, I love technology. I also love the future…and that we’re becoming smart enough to know when we’re effing up the planet and gene pool. I love all the “springs” that are blooming…but let’s remember to take time to watch the bears (see headline); those pesky animals rolling around in our urban sprawl dumpsters.  Nature is still the best part of humanity. The craft economy or roots economy is part of that and is picking up speed. It will not outpace the robots and drones, but it’s growing.

Good marketers and brand planners see ahead of what’s trending. Peace.

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The New York Times Company reported a profit for the second quarter and that’s wonderful. It’s been a slog for the NYT but the company is getting its act together. It is divesting itself of non-core properties (Boston Globe, Boston.com), ramping up its digital business and leveraging its worldwide brand by investing in changes to The International Herald Tribune, including a new name.

Print advertising is down but more surprisingly so is digital advertising – off 2.7%. In today’s word that’s just a little bit crazy. Perhaps these numbers are the result, not of NYT.com, but of the other properties. Either way, didge should be growing like a dookie and with the NYT imprimatur, faster than the market.

Here’s a couple of thoughts for The Times to accelerate its recovery:

1. Feed the digital natives with more timely news stories, across more platforms. Online, that will require more video, podcast/audio, and slideshows. Immediacy and “first to report” is a key here.  Your audio video editing suite will need to grow significantly.

2. Keep the analysis for the daily print property, but feed and stream the big stuff from around the world on NYT.com.  Live is better than canned. (Obviously make the paper/paper analysis available online.)

3. Do not rename The International Herald Tribune. As much as I love the NYT, it’s an ethnocentric and brand-selfish.  

4. News cannot be commoditized, so continue to reinvent it. Innovate. Don’t curate. In 20 years, we may still have paper and we still may have broadcast; they are the plumbing. But we will certainly have news — and the organizations that capture it best, with the most accuracy and realism will win the day.

Peace.   

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Omnicom and Publicis agreed over the weekend to merge.  Como se unexpected? The story even made front page of The New York Times. The spin was all about big data. More people, more devices, more messages. And the best way to reach all these things is through smart use of earned, owned and rented data.

Data companies are finding new and exciting ways to track people. And it’s only just beginning. Home thermostat apps can indicate when a person is at home, road side cameras can log when a license place passes a dinner, voice activation apps can capture when a body needs a sushi fix.

When I pitch Twitch Point Planning to marketers and their agents I explain the offer in three words: understand, map and manipulate.  Big data feeds the understand and map components. Capture and organize data.  But as David Droga rightly says in the article on the merger (last para.), someone has to do something smart with the data. (When everyone has the understand and map tools, data will just become a commodity.) And that’s the subtext not covered in the Times article. Ad agencies are best at creating the manipulative message. Not bad manipulation, but good. Important. Heartfelt and personal. Dare I say poetic.

I agree that marketers will do understand and map in-house. But the manipulation part, they can’t do well. For this, even for a one-on-one mobile phone ad, they need professionals. If you want to follow the money, this merger is about good old fashion creative, not chunking data. It bodes well for agencies of all size and stripe. Peace! 

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You’ve heard it said before “Boston is s young city.” Demographically that is.  Lots of college kids, lots of city stuff – it’s a big draw for Millennials and younger adults.   The New York Times is selling off the Boston Globe.  The New York Times, after taking a major shot in the chops, has pulled its financials together under the guise of the old marketing saw “focus,” and been selling a  number of non-core properties – About.com was let loose a while ago.

Here’s the thing, The New York Times is a brilliant newspaper and news property. One of a kind. The Boston Globe is also quite good.  But the captains of industry in Boston are reading the Times. The problem with the newspaper business is kids aren’t reading paper papers. Walk around Boston and count how many upward mobes are carrying newspapers. They have smarties and iPads but no paper.

The NY Times has to see this and plan a generation ahead – and it know this.  The NYT is in the news business, not the paper business – and it knows this. The company can take all the Mexican bailout money it wants to right the ship but the future is the future and it’s coming. Knowing and doing are two different things. Don’t follow the new financial statements, look out the window.

Selling the Boston Globe may fund innovation but this news property needs to demonstrate it is looking and planning beyond the dashboard. Peace.

 

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