zdnet

You are currently browsing articles tagged zdnet.

Before I became a brand planner I was a writer of creative briefs at an ad agency. One of the bigger refinements of my learning came at the hand of Peter Kim, McCann-Erickson NY’s the strategy officer.  He designed (or repackaged) the McCann creative brief to include what he called the Key Thought. The Key Thought was the “spark that propels the brand toward its objective.”  The word spark is what I preserved for my branding practice. I morphed Key Thought into “Claim” a more focused branding label but both are cultivated from and beholden to the word spark.

At an ad agency, a spark is the direction that gets the creative team excited about an ad.  In brand planning, the spark is the claim under which all marketing work is organized.  

When I wrote crappy briefs, before spark, they were lifeless sentences devoid of personality, culture and intrigue. Post Spark, they were strategic but poetic. More pregnant with possibility.  As a brand claim, a spark is strategic but also more interpretative.

One of my first claims with a spark was for ZDNet. Written in the 90s, the brand strategy was “For doers not browsers.” Still holds today.

Spark it up! Peace.

 

 

Tags: , , , , , , ,

Brand strategists are often defined by the quality of their insights. Over the years I’ve found that insights can be either supply side (what a brand does well) or demand side (what customers want most). Planners tend to work mostly in the latter space. I preach working in the middle. At the nexus. Where supply and demand come together.

For ZDNet  “For Doers, Not Browsers” was the brand strategy. It sat up there on the supply and demand fence.

For Teq, an educational development company, “Illuminating Learning” spoke to buyers and seller. At their cores.

For Sweet Loren’s Cookies “Craft Cookies Au Naturel” defined the product and consumer benefit in 4 words.

These brand strategies may sound like taglines but they aren’t; they are organizing principles. Each supported by 3 proof planks that give depth and direction to the ongoing narrative.

Brand briefs differ from creative briefs in their output. The output must hit both supply side and demand side insights. Turning communications and experiences into selling freaking machines.

Peace it up.

 

Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

I once ran a promotion for ZDNet where we asked readers to write short essays as to why they were techies. The prize was a swim with porpoises in the Florida keys. We received over 35,000 responses. “Oh boy, now what are we gonna do?”  That’s a lot of reading. How would we scale? ZDNet had to hire temps to be judges. Unexpected expense there. I was talking to someone recently about a similar project and their approach was to build a reading/grading algorithm. At least to winnow the thousands to hundreds.

I guess you teach the algo some rules (like what?) and let it do its thing. It’s sad actually. When we use social media monitoring to gauge sentiment, that’s also algo-driven. And frankly, that’s not social.

I likes me some big data, no doubt. But when I drill into the big data I’m looking for humanity. The open ended question section of quantitative is a favorite. It’s where subjects, after checking boxes, get so fed up they want to blow out the important insights. It’s where they expect you to listen.

Marketing at scale has to have its eye on the sea of humanity, not the statistics alone. Right Mr. Spock? Peace.

 

Tags: , , , , , ,

My first experience with the term Data Driven Decision Making was in the K12 education space. Sharnell Jackson, who helped the Chicago Public Schools improve online student learning, is a leading supporter.  As much as I tried, I couldn’t quite get the concept until she talked about taking student learning data and scrubbing it with outside demographic data, e.g, address, parental situation, income and the like.  For some reason I thought data driven decision making was more deeply based in education, such as learning styles, teaching styles, means and methods. Not demographics.

Data Driven Decision Making is also the rage in marketing.   Here’s some boilerplate from a leader:

Neustar is the first real-time, cloud-based information services and analytics provider enabling clients to effectively promote and protect their businesses. By using our unique, authoritative data combined with our clients’ information, we make data-driven decisions through actionable analytics. We uncover insights for our clients, thus making complex problem-solving easy for Marketers, IT and Operations professionals through our suite of complete, cloud-based workflow solutions.

Whether we are talking about education or marketing this dashboard approach is after-the-fact. It’s execute, automate and monitor, in that order. This is a billion dollar business and counting. It’s tactical, not strategic. It’s Ballmer, not Jobs.

Let’s take some of that billion and invest it in strategy. Start looking “Beyond the Dashboard.” I wrote the brand strategy for ZDNet in the late 90s “For doers not browsers.” It implied browsers were stepchildren of doers. I can see a time not too far off when the “dashboard” is stepchild of strategy. Peace.  

Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

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!

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Fresh.

“The hardest thing to realize in fashion is that the future lies in the past.  The second hardest thing is to forget the past.”    Cathy Horyn, NYT 7/5/12

These words are true for branding and advertising as well. Creative ideas that break through must be new and unique. Retreads are boring.  Yet, it’s important for ideas to offer some attendant context. It’s easier to remember numbers in patterns; the same is true for ideas.  That’s why alliterations are common idea conventions. ZDNet’s original strategy “content, commerce and community,” for instance.

How does one explain the Higgs boson (creating matter out of nothing) without some context?  Not very easily. Same thing with string theory.  These are some of the world’s most heady concepts. They need context.  Conversely, how do you give life to a new lemonade that is less sweet, or a cookie dough that is more natural?  As Cathy Horyn suggests “forget the past.”  Find context for selling premise (create bias toward purchase) then be fresh. Really fresh. Uncomfortably fresh.

Either Walter Weir or John Caples (godfathers of copywriting) once said “good copy sounds like copy.”  That was then.  Seventeen billion words of copy ago. Today fresh wins the day.  Peace.  

Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

I worked for two years at an amazing Web start-up.  The technology had a hink or two but was truly transformational. Imagine being able to go to a website and move the pictures, text and video around, simply by dragging them.  Not your website, someone else’s. Imagine right clicking on just about any object on the web copying and pasting it to your site.  Then, having the ability to move, resize and add text to it.

It’s what the Gods imagined before an earthling invented HTML; a drag and drop, copy and paste web publishing world.  That world was called Zude.com.

I was reading about the new HP webOS (via Rachel King at ZDNet) today and one tester of the cool interface on the Touchpad tablet found closing apps by dragging them to the top of the screen not intuitive.  (Close the window perhaps?) The person said he would not have figured it out on his own.

This brings up something very important in market these days, especially in the area of innovative web technology.  First User Experience.  For Zude, there were 3 unintuitive user behaviors that needed to be taught for first-timers to get the awesomeness:  Drag and Drop From Anywhere, Everything Moves, and When in Doubt Right Click.  Simple tutorials would have launched this product into the stratosphere.  The product was complicated and revolutionary. The promise was “the fastest easiest way to build a website.” The promise laid their like a lox without the proof.

When webOS launches, if it is as revolutionary as HP says, they need to not publish a 60-page manual. And they don’t need to offer 6 tabs of intuitive help.  HP should find the 3 most exciting, transfixing features and celebrate them. If they are big enough, we will find the rest. 3 and out. Peace.

PS.  By the way, Micorosoft Windows 7 or Mango, or whatever it is going to be called, should be named Tiles.

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

The first web portal or big web project I ever worked on was ZDNet.  It was mid- to late 90s and they were in a dogfight with C|Net for audience. The key care-abouts were what they called the the 3Cs: Content, Commerce and Community.

Content was what ZDNet owned, having come out of the print publishing area. Commerce was all about hooking up buyers and sellers rather than selling on the site and Community was more about aggregating a class of reader than about creating interaction among those readers.

This was all before social networking and social media took off. These ZDNet guys and girls were inventing community and social on the fly. Community is still a big wielder of weight on the web. It’s mobile and location based, and, and, and, but it is still ripe fruit.

Many builders of community look at the offline world for inspiration: book clubs, quilters, home brewers, support groups. People who used to meet in houses or libraries – willing to commune over a topic. But what’s exciting and entrepreneurial today, though, is bringing together communities of like-minds interested in topics not found in the offline world. Quora would be a good place to mine for these. Moreover, it might be a good place to start these communities. Ning attempted to cash in here, but it was cumbersome and had to be orchestrated. Quora already has the settlers. Mick Jagger might say “It’s just a click away.” Peace!

Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

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!

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Curators Wanted.

Two disruptive trends one can observe on many a marketing street corner these days are “user generated content” and “crowdsourcing.” Like them or not, they’re here. Everyone knows what user generated content is – the creation and sharing of online media content (text, pics, song and video) – but crowdsourcing is a little more inside. Crowdsourcing is the practice of offering up a creative assignment to many, who work for free (or a pittance) in the hope of having their work selected for a one-time fee.

People who participate in either of these areas are your more creative types. Crowdsourcers are often freelancers, tyros, or out-of-work, and on the UGC side the net gets wider – some of the people more creatively challenged. Both these marketing practices create the need for another function: Curation.

I once created a contest for ZDNet in which 23,000 50-word essays needed to be read and judged. “Who gonna do that?” Exactly. We hired temps for the initial culling of the herd. For a crowdsourced logo design competition with 600 entries who will evaluate the work? For an online newspaper with, 175 local stories send in my citizen reporters, who is going to decide what publishes? A curator.

Don’t be surprised to see the word curator appear more and more on Craigslist and business cards. Peace!

Tags: , , , , , , , ,