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When Jeff Bezos is quoted as saying future Earthlings will be living in space – as he did in an article in today’s newspapers – was he tripping? I don’t think so.  It’s probably going to happen. Just as there will be self-driving cars and a cure for cancer. But the likelihood that Blue Origin, his space travel company, will be around or even contribute to space life is low. This so-called “space shot” bet by one the world’s most brilliant and effective marketers is, however, instructive.

Space shot proclamations are not just the provenance of billionaires. They are for business owner of every stripe and color.  While with Zude, a web start-up, I once proclaimed “In the future every person will have their own website.” And I wasn’t talking about a Facebook page either.

Every good business owner needs to understand the blocking and tackling of business “today,” but also they must see the “future.”  Only then can they help shape the future.

When a pizza parlor owner says s/he will make the best tasting pizza in town, then buys ingredients from Restaurant Depot with all the other pizza shops, that’s blocking and tackling; it’s not a moon shot. The best brand builders and marketers desire the future. It keeps them up at night and sometimes makes for wonderful dreams.

Peace.   

 

 

 

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I was reading a story this morning about ResearchGate a social media community for researchers. It’s a place where they can get together online to share ideas, sources and projects – the end game of which is to accelerate project completion. If Facebook is the 800 lb. gorilla, social media plats (short for platforms) are smaller more discrete communities where people can commune and learn. Edmodo is one such for educators. Houzz is one for home remodelers.  And Etsy for people selling their home made crafts.

These category-specific social media plats bring the world’s resources to our fingertips. I remember talking and thinking about this while in a strategic role at (start-up) Zude in 2006.  Then, a few years later, while working for JWT on a “future of work” project for client Microsoft, the topic came up again under the guise of something I named the “logged and tagged workforce”  — an idea where was the project was more important than the workers.

The web opens up worlds of information and data to everyone. Google’s ability to search this information has transformed our lives. But as search matures and we pull back in search of better ways to get stuff done, I’m realizing how random and mis-organized is the Google sphere. Smaller learning and sharing communities are the future. And they won’t be free either.

More to come, once I dump the cache.

Peace.

 

 

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How do you make something out of nothing?  That’s the question for the brand planner when working on a startup. 

When I was hire #1 at Zude as marketing director, brand strategy was one of my jobs.  I didn’t start brand planning in earnest for months while the CTO and CEO were building, raising and creating the physical business.  In previous blog posts I’ve suggested the first thing one must do when developing brand strategy for a start-up is “follow the patent.”  I stand by that. 

Startups, as you know, are quite fluid. It’s product and code first, business requirements second. And what the build is one day it may not be the next. So when it comes to customer care-abouts, that’s the easy part – unless you are breaking new functional ground. It’s the brand good-ats that are hard.  There are none.

So what does the brand planner do at this stage? Keep following the patent.  Have daily observation and update sessions with development team, even for a few minutes.  Insinuate yourself into the product development process in a positive way. Offer help as needed. Do not get in the way of the creativity. Provide marketing stim to the team — subconsciously, it can help.  And continue to play back (to the dev team) any recurring patterns that smell like good-ats.

It’s a gnarly time. Work to enjoy it.

Peace.

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The Big Data Oy!

mount hood

I worked at a web start-up a few years ago that offered users a free way to build web pages without code. It was called Zude. We had two rounds of funding, about $10M, and were often covered by Tech Crunch, Scobleizer and GigaOm and ReadWrite Web. The business monetization model was tied to advertising. An afterthought really. Let’s face it, in the web world advertising is everyone’s go-to monetization.

There is an important competing force for monetization today in the start-up world and that is marketing data. Marketing data is not served, viewed, or clicked. It is sold. As behavior, demographics and proclivities. For future use.

When What’s App sold to Facebook it probably assumed advertising would be in its future. It marginally may have thought selling data would be in its future. But, now, the time has come.

Advertising is an opt-in thing. Personally data is not. Not really. Data will become more and more of a privacy issue. Millennials say “Go ahead sell my data,” now. But when they season a bit more, they’ll realize privacy is way more important than seeing advertising.

Data vs. advertising is the new battlefield.

If you put all the paper Americans receive in direct mail and catalogs in a pile, for one year, you’d create Mount Hood (I just made that up, please don’t fact check it.) Imagine what spam folders, robo calls, door knockers and TV ads will look like when data really catches on. Oy!

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Yesterday I wrote about the role and importance of mining proof as it relates to creating a brand strategy.  But what does one do if working for a start-up – a company with no past? A company with no product?  Certainly that makes things tougher.

I’ve been-there-done-that and there always is a past. There is always some kernel of a product or service. In previous posts it’s been mentioned to “follow the patent.” In most start-ups there is a patent or a patent filing paperwork. There must be proof in there. Normal brand planning discovery looks at two things: customer care-abouts and brand good-ats. So for a start-ups, you’ll find it easier to rely on care-abouts. Always a good place to start.

While the director of marketing at Zude, a start-up in the social computing space, knowing what customers cared about helped form the brand idea which, then, informed product development (noun and verb). The Zude brand strategy claim was “the fastest easiest way to build a web page.” The idea came from the brilliant underlying drag and drop technology. With that as the North Star, everything moving forward became easier. For everyone – even the lawyers.

Start-ups think of brand but not brand strategy. Pity.

Peace.

 

 

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I was driving to Rhode Island last week and happened to notice that a number of really rural road names were quite descriptive. Niatic River Road. Stone Heights Turnpike. Waterford Parkway. Sunset Drive.  It got me thinking about naming. Back in the 1600 and 1700 (and before) when there weren’t a lot of maps and people didn’t travel that far, thoroughfares were named based upon features and geographic realities. Heartbreak hill. Point O’Woods. Tip of the mitt.

Names that were easy to remember and descriptive were the strongest names. They added value. Names with no endemic meaning, less so.

The best brand names today follow this old maxim. They are descriptive. They are descriptive of product, value, and uniqueness. The strongest brands in the world are not silly constructs of Madison Avenue, they are like packaging…part of the selling fabric. Coca-Cola used cola beans to build its brand.

Naming is hard work. Just look at all the silly pharmaceutical brand names on TV today. It’s like we ran out of words to use. So the naming companies put the alphabet in the blender and BAM.     

While director of marketing at a web start-up, I wanted to name the drag and drop web creation tool Mash Pan. The Chief Technology Officer who used to say “dude” a lot, opted for Zude.

Opt for communication value. Consumers don’t need to work so hard.

Peace.                                                                                                       

 

 

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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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Good brand planners are collectors. They question, amass, sort, collect and divine. Great planners take all that and find the truffle. Like the truffle hunting pigs and dogs of Europe. I was recently on a call with some web app people, looking to fund the next big platform. I couldn’t quite tell what the platform was. Or wanted to be. Other than the next big web property. Money lined up, so they said, but the idea was hidden in 10 ideas. So what’s the Is-Does I wondered.

Well turns out the original idea was and is genius! Never done before. Done qith a capital D. In demand. In users’ hearts. And tied to one of the biggest investments a person is likely to make in a lifetime. Did I mention it hadn’t been done? The current construct, however, was nothing more than a Facebook Group.

This truffle hunter (me) listened and in minutes knew the problem.

What’s the Idea? Answer that, you of the web world, and you may proceed. Take it from someone who missed out on a brilliant web property (Google Zude+Scoble) because it was overbuilt. Suffered from feature creep. Didn’t follow the “idea.”

Peace.

 

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slack logo

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 (Zude.com) 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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When doing a brand brief I often look at two primary target types: movements and independents. Movement targets are communities of people driven by a desire for an outcome. When doing a brief for an obesity product this was a movement target; see how it extends beyond the patient to the family.

Ill Fitting – The morbidly obese understand morbid obesity is a diagnosis not an adjective. We call them Ill Fitting because they are both ill and view themselves as not fitting in with the normal population. They look different and are treated differently. (Other than home, the only place with chairs built for them is the bariatric physician’s office.) The Ill Fitting are loved, liked and often conduct their lives in typical ways, but know they suffer discrimination. Just as is the case with those who are discriminated against for race, religion, and sexual preference, the Ill Fitting have their hypersensitivities. The Ill Fitting are quietly defensive about their condition but willing to accept help so long as it is nonjudgmental. Much of their learning about the diagnosis takes place online. The ability of the Ill-Fitting to actively participate in their wellness is welcome but extremely difficult.

The non-obese population, caregivers and loved one of the Ill Fitting are also Ill Fitting when it comes to the condition. It is a topic they find hard to broach.

The other type of target, the independent, appeals to the individuality in people. The opposite of community really. Sometimes people don’t want to follow the crowd. They want to be the trail blazer. It’s a natural phenomenon but for marketers a little more daring. When writing the brief for Zude, the web’s first drag and drop web publishing tool, I used a target called Webertarians – web libertarians — a construct that identified people tired of being governed by closed, proprietary software tools.

Both approaches are viable. Pick one, don’t waver.

 

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