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In Charlene Li’s new book Open Leadership (which I have not yet read, but will), one of the premises is that leaders who really listen to customers are the most informed and prepared to deal with business issues. Because of social media’s prevalence and importance, this notion suggests that leaders who use the new listening channel (the web) are better leaders.  Good advice, for sure.  Those who know the name Andy Grove may remember that the first thing he did every morning upon hitting the office was to listen in on random customer service calls to his 800 number.   It was old school technology, but it was listening.  That’s why Intel succeeded.

General Motors (GM) brand managers and its ad agency strategists at Goodby Silverstein and Partners have decided to stop using the word Chevy in favor of the full, formal name Chevrolet.  This is a strong brand management move. I yike it, as my daughter used to say. I don’t know the Chevrolet strategy, but can imagine this nomenclature move is intended to imbue the brand with a little more up-market sensibility. As GM nameplates are jettisoned, Chevrolet will be attempting to win over consumers who once bought pricier Oldsmobiles, Hummers, Pontiacs and such. Consumers will still say Chevy, but the people managing the brand will polish it with a finer cloth. They are exercising control. They are leading.

Pop marketing pundits are telling us consumers own the brand.  Even the youthfully exuberant at P&G and others wielding great budget power are saying so. But if we cede control of marketing, strategy and leadership to the masses, we are being lazy. Listen yes…but lead. Peace!

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Have you heard the expression “To a hammer everything looks like a nail?” Well, I’m of the mind that to conversational media companies, say Federated Media, all marketing looks like a conversation. Thanks to Dave Knox and his blog HardKnoxLife, I watched a video of John Battelle’s introductory remarks his recent CM Summit. CM stands for Conversational Media. Mr. Battelle is CEO of Federated Media.


Mr. Battelle is a brilliant marketer, but if his platform for conversational marketing — Federated Media — was a conversation and not a well-managed brand, it wouldn’t be the successful property it is today. You see, Mr. Battelle has created and managed a brand with the help of great writers, terrific targeting, innovative positioning and a strong revenue model. He did it. The conversation may have been his inspiration, but mark my words, he created and nurtured it.


Content creators are still the life source of his business. Communing participants may be the blood, but they are not the brand. In my ebook, what Mr. Battelle is doing – and doing well – is brand management. He may not admit it, but he knows full-duplex marketing is a mistake. Good marketers need to manage the hen house.  Peace!


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Microsoft Bing, a new search engine going live next Wednesday, has set its sights on Google.  Word on the Avenue is that Bing will be supported by over $100 million in advertising and with preloaded Bing search bars on new HP and Dell computers the communications spend will go way beyond.  I like the product name and from what I’ve read I suspect Bing will have some good traction, but two things I anticipate will get in its way: over-engineering and a feisty ad campaign. 


Google started out simple and people loved it. Bing will start out rich in features, with more feature creep on the way, and the masses may balk.  Can you say Mahalo?  

The advertising, which I’m assuming will come from Crispin Porter, should be good. But it will be a bit competitive towards Google and will be the wrong approach. I would go just the opposite and use my Microsoft Bing dollars to tell everyone how great Google is. Be nice doggies. Unexpected with praise. At the end of the spots, don’t zing Google, tell people the message was brought to you by Bing and ask people to give it a try. That, in and of itself, will signal it’s different. The end. Peace!


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I’m riding the train to the city (sorry, New York) and a gent next to me is reading the new Amazon Kindle 2. I interrupted him to ask about its performance and he was not even miffed. He loves it. When I ask how many books he’d read he told me with the Journal (sorry, Wall Street) on screen that he is reading more than ever before. “I always have something with me.” The wireless works fine, he added.  


The idea that people will read more than ever because they always have material close by is intriguing and, if correct, suggest better grades for kids, better erudition for adults and, dare I say, a more informed populace. Ahh, the future.  


This dude was so Zen-ed out, in fact, that after I returned it to him and apologized for the newsprint smudge on its pretty thin frame he smiled and gave me a knowing nod. Enough said. This thing is going to take off like dried kindling on an arroyo. Peace.




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I’ve said it once and I’ll say it again, advertising, positioning and marketing are all about finding a strategy, getting management to support it, then turning it into a powerful branding idea. With a branding idea in place you’ll find it pretty easy to create a campaign (not an overrated approach today) and tactics which will allow consumers to hum your brand tune. Metaphorically speaking. 


A branding idea is nothing more than an organizing principle that focuses selling messages to the masses. Often companies do a better job organizing their outbound messages – branding – than their inbound messages. This is most evident in early stage start-ups, where when you ask ten employees what the product is you get 7 answers.   Branding must acculturate consumers and employees.


In its simplest form a branding idea is a claim (a consumer promise) backed by a product quality.  For Coke, “refreshment” is both a claim and a quality.  I sometimes refer to this as the “Is-Does.” Once you have a claim, it only takes hold if accompanied by believable supports or reasons to believe.  Supports should be organized too.  Brand plans, I preach, should contain 3 support planks.  Sounds easy no?


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Riffing on yesterday’s post, here’s what I fear. GM is cutting, cutting, cutting to show it deserves a bailout. To wit “In July G.M. announced plans to cut $10B in costs and raise $5B thought the sale of Hummer brand, and new borrowing. On Friday, the company said it would cut another $5B, including slowing production at 10 factories and cutting capital spending next year by $2.5B – a move that will delay the introduction of several new vehicles.” (Source NYT 11/08/08.)   


This type of stuff won’t win the What’s the Idea? “Detroit Bailout Challenge.” It’s numbers crunching accounting stuff.  No vision.  Speed up the delivery date of the Chevy Volt. Buy the Smart Car company from Mercedes. Cut production of all SUVs by 75%. Now you’d be talking.  Be bold and win the challenge. Peace. (Oh yeah, and go St. John’s Red Storm!)


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Months ago, I would have told you there is no way books will become paperless. The GUI of a book lets you read it at the beach in bright sun, on the subway squished between passengers, even in a tent by candlelight. And the Kindle? No way I could see myself reading The Old Curiosity Shop by the fireplace on a digital reader.  But today, I’m pretty sure I was wrong. Newspapers, magazines and, yes, even paper books will be greatly reduced in our lifetimes. Asmore and more people get used to reading on mobile phones, and other portable digital devices it’s only a matter of time before me evolve from nonrenewable paper-based media.


So what does that hold for libraries? Libraries are for research and free books. Today, by the time you drive or ride to the library, you have in one Wikipedia page access to hundreds of linked sources.  Across the country taxpayers are voting down library budgets every day, especially so in today’s economy. Libraries need to get ahead of this trend and reinvent themselves. Any thoughts?


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The New York Times is missing a huge opportunity with its daily newspaper. The problem is the Metropolitan section. Today the section is 6 pages long and one of those pages is obituaries. An eighth of a page is advertising, and that’s a house ad.  I counted about 15 writers with the only recognizable name being Clyde Haberman, who owns the “NYC” column.
In one of the greatest cities in the world, is there not more than 5 pages of news? 
The New York Times has lost its way in local news and it is killing circulation. If you need local news you have to read the Daily News or the New Your Post. 
I’m a big fan of Monday’s Metropolitan Diary, which always makes me smile and happy to be a New Yorker, but the rest of the week the section is a sham. Where’s the leadership? Where is the controversy? The human interest? The advertising? For goodness sake, this is New York. The Bumpus Mills Tennessee Guardian has more local news. Let’s wake up Mr. Sulzberger, Jr.

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This blogger has just learned that the UPS marketing mantra the last 10 years or so “What can brown do for you?” has been a big joke.  The brainchild of two young agency creatives while on a weekend bender, the line is absolutely meaningless. An anonymous source said that UPS needed something that translated across the globe and after numerous Google searches and 12 language translations the words “What can brown do for you” came through without problem.
An ex-UPS senior marketing executive who asked to remain off the record offered “No other company owned the word ‘brown’ so it was a defensible branding asset. And asking customers what they want is an age-old marketing ploy. The reality was, when we asked our customers what we could do for them their first answer was ‘deliver my package.’ Since that’s what we do anyway, it seemed like a can’t lose proposition. Wrap that up with a lot of brown and you have a classic branding campaign.”  
The unnamed creatives said the line was always a joke and that they were still a little high from a long night out when they presented it. 

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WPP is putting up some big pounds in pursuit of global marketing research firm Taylor Nelson Sofres (TNS). Martin Sorrell’s group is in a bidding war with GfK. Though Taylor Nelson seems to be going strong today with a high stock price, I am of the mind that technology and the Internet will start to crimp the style of these global market research companies. I know, I know, it’s not just about data collection and distribution. You have to do something smart with it. Value-add, as T.N.S. likes to say. Though, with all that I hear, read and see today, marketers are becoming more facile with data collection tools and I’m thinking that a good deal of market research will be handled in-house 3-5 years from now. 
Some smart marketing nerds are going to provide an open source tool that will let users tap into a variety of sales measurement, analytic and prediction schema. Mr. Sorrell, buy the company, if you must, but mine it for the best data and software people and get out in front of this. Peace!

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