Business thinkers vs. Creatives: Bridging the gap.

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Another brilliant insight from Mike Wagner:

"Business thinkers complain their creative types are too slow by business standards, inflexible, and way too cynical about the moneymaking goals of the company. And that’s usually not too far from the truth.

"Creative types lament that their bosses see everything they do as “just a billable deliverable”. Worse yet, clients agree with the boss! No one appreciates great design or beautiful code (yes, programmers are artists too).

"Artists fantasize about clients and bosses that “get it”. Business leaders want someone who will just “get it done”.

"Brand ownership is a balance. Creative, technical and even artistic results must be balanced with the relevance of day-to-day business demands."

Go here to read the rest. And just so you know, you can book Mike to speak at an event, conduct training seminars, and provide some pretty on-the-money brand coaching.

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It's... the little things that keep them happy.

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A tale of two businesses:

Business A gives away gift cards to their employees every quarter - as long as the company is doing well. So every three months, like clockwork, the HR manager sends out an email to everyone and asks them if they want a $25 gift card to Moe's or Sticky Fingers, to Target or Publix, to the movie theater or the concert arena downtown.

Number of employees: 300.
Cost: $30,000 per year ($100/employee)
Return on investment: Zero. The employees kind of appreciate the gesture, but it is meaningless. The impact on their morale, productivity, sense of being appreciated is non-existent. It just feels like the company is running through the motions. It is essentially throwing money away.

Business B doesn't have a set pattern of gift giving. Instead, the owners/managers show their appreciation in a more human way:

- Genuinely congratulating employees when they do something right. No fanfare. No corny award presentations. No plaques or applause. Just subtle, heartfelt, personal ataboys. "Hey Jack, you handled that really well." "Hey Janice, thanks for taking care of that for me. I appreciate it." "Hey Chris, quick thinking today. That was a really great idea."
- Asking employees for advice/involvement regarding minor and major business decisions.
- Occasionally writing them thank you notes and planting pieces of their favorite candy in their desk drawers.
- Treating employees more like colleagues and friends than commodities.

Little things. Real little things.

Number of employees: 50.
Cost: Less than $20/employee per year.
Return on Investment: Very high. Employees feel genuinely appreciated and valued. Respect and allegiance to managers and company are consistently high. Employees feel empowered and responsible for the success of their company. Employees positive attitude towards the company they work for turns them into de-facto brand ambassadors for customers and potential hires.

When employees feel valued instead of taken for granted, when they feel appreciated instead of exploited, when they actually like their managers as people, what do you think the effect on the company they work for and brand they help strengthen will be?

Real brand ambassadors - like great friends - can't be bought. If your strategy for retaining great employees is to put money in their pocket, remember this: There is always going to be someone out there who will be willing to give them more money than you... or offer something more valuable than... money.

Treat people well, treat them with care and genuine attention, and they will move mountains for you. It doesn't matter if they're your customers or your employees.

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The secret to great advertising.

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Posted by David Burn on AdPulp (via the Yeti):
Author, educator and art director/brand strategist, Robin Landa, spoke with some of the industry's top creative directors and compiled their best advise in a downloadable document available from Amazon.com for $0.49.

Here's a small slice:

Robin Landa: “What’s your philosophy about advertising?”

John Butler: “It has to be likeable. It has to inform and inspire. It has to have some emotional hook to it that makes consumers interact with it. It can’t talk down to the consumer. There’s a great quote—although I can’t remember who said it—but it’s hanging on my door: “He who writes the stories defines the culture.” I think that pretty much sums it up. We are given a voice, and we have to be responsible in how we use that voice.”


Butler, a partner in Sausalito's best agency, nails it in his succinct dissertation.

And that's all I have to say about that.

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To save a company.

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Ed Roach, from Brand Corral, left this comment on my post about innovation yesterday, and I thought I'd share it with everyone because it's a great example of what we try to talk about here on a daily basis:
Olivier,

I have a customer who had the same problem. His patent ran out and the orient copied his product exactly (as a matter of fact the tooling was even a little better). And of course they were now much cheaper.

So we put all our efforts into building a relationship with the customer. We put a fresh new logo in position and embossed it into every product, so that the customer would recognize the difference. He put a lot of energy into making the product in a superior range of colours and configurations. Packaging was more engaging. He still keeps up this innovation and has build the brand on being the latest, setting the bar if you will. The brand is used by more professionals in it's market than the competition.

After about 4 years of struggle we are recognized by our target audience and they identify the product by it's brand name (not the old name). His market share is up each year over the last even thought the product costs "more" than the orient's version. Defeating the commodity has worked again by addressing the brand and finding a means to differentiate your products.

It is an on-going battle but we can win if we are true to the brand from every touch point and differentiate strategically.

Amen.

Build a relationship with your customers. Differentiate yourself from the copycats. Establish a clear brand strategy and line of dialogue with your audience. Deliver on your brand promise. Always. Set the bar as high as possible to keep your competitors at bay and become the brand of choice for your category. Work hard, don't cut corners, and build on your successes. That's essentially all there is to it.

Helping a company be successful - and teaching execs how to continue to make their companies successful long after you're gone... Yeah. It's all pretty rewarding. ;)

Have a great Tuesday, everyone.

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Taking the day off.

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So, what does a French Brand Strategist living in the deep South do on his day off?

Brush teeth. Get dressed. Walk dogs. Clean kitchen. Do dishes. Clean bathroom. Put away laundry. Finally get around to fixing the garbage disposal unit (or rather diagnose the problem through trial-and-error, then perform surgery on a defective power switch in the wall). Go buy new swimsuit to replace the one with the see-through behind I was forced to wear yesterday. Drop in at Orange Coat just to say hi... and check out the new wii. Drive to gym and change into Lycra monkeysuit. Ride bicycle up and down mountains for three hours. Get out of wet, freezing clothes. Head back out and run for 45 minutes to make sure that my legs are shredded all the way. Swim for 30 minutes to stretch out and relax a bit. Shower. Drive home. Eat vasts amounts of food. Check email. Check messages. Check blog posts. Have lunch. (Kidding. Lunch happened before the bike ride.) Work on some sweet graphics concepts for a client's website. Help kids with homework. Ponder my weekly 24 vs. Heroes scheduling dilemma. Get stuff ready for next day. Pass out.

This is how I clear my head sometimes. Today was a good day. :)

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We're not an 'innovating' company.

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Yeah... So a few years ago, I was sitting in this Senior VP's office (She was responsible for about $56M in annual sales), and we were discussing the fact that her company's sales were kind of flat. Inventories were growing. Margins were eroding. She blamed "those damned Chinese imports" and price cuts she couldn't keep up with for her company's stagnant sales. When I started talking to her about product innovation, she made a face and said something along the lines of "We're not an innovating company. It's just not what we do."

Duh.

She also wasn't too keen on the value of brands - unless of course you happened to be talking about Prada or Chanel... which always kind of puzzled me: She understood and appreciated the power of brands... but couldn't see the value of the one she was being paid to strengthen.

Two years after that meeting, when the company's competitors - including many of the damned Chinese imports - started coming out with cool, smart, appealing designs, she was overheard exclaiming "hey, why couldn't we come up with that?"

Cute. Marie Antoinette contemplating brioches as the mob approached the palace gates.

Please don't be this lady. And don't be that kind of company either. There's just no reason for it.

The good news: Innovation isn't necessarily expensive. The bad news: If you don't get with the program fast, your days are numbered.

1.
"To create innovate products, we have to secure insights not only into the products and but also into their business opportunities by having an observant and empathetic view of the world... Only T-shaped people, who have well rounded personalities and broad interests, can obtain such viewpoints. Sophisticated engineers who do not understand the market and customers will never devise items, which have a shot at becoming a grand slam...

"In Korea, just engineers are responsible for creating products. They can make good products, which sell pretty well. But that is not enough at all. We need trend-defining merchandise that makes our competitors invalid, just as iPod or RAZR did. Towards these ends, we need more T-shaped people than narrow-sighted engineers. Local firms have to change their recruitment policy." -- Tom Kelley -

2.
"Any U.S. technology company hoping to remain competitive with global rivals and exploit new market opportunities -- whether it is Internet search or China (or both!) -- must make a commitment to hiring, developing and rewarding top-level R&D talent. The lesson is clear: technology companies must first win the battle for R&D talent before they can win the battle for market share. The cliché that "the company's most valuable assets walk out the door each night" has never been truer. Time and time again, companies with the best R&D talent win the battle for market dominance." -- Dominic Basulto -


3.
Australian business magazine BRW has released its list of the Fast 100 - top Australian companies that are innovating their way to success. After pointing out that "problem-solving and constant curiosity are at the heart of innovation for fast-growing companies," BRW goes behind the scenes at 100 up-and-coming Australian companies that have made innovation a key component of their future growth plans. At the end of the article, BRW provides a handy innovation scorecard:
75% Of BRW Fast 100 companies say they have developed a unique product or service

20% Say revenue growth this year will come from new products and services

78% Personally champion innovation

75% Search the world for new ideas

93% Encourage employees to be creative and innovative

72% Are satisfied with the financial return on their investment in innovation

4.

Fact: "Most executives underestimate their company’s resistance to change. That’s a big reason why half of all new initiatives fail… managers don’t start with a plan to get enough buy-in." -- Laurence Haughton -


Okay... so now that we're all on the same wavelength...

On January 30 at 12:00pm ET, bestselling author Laurence Haughton will be leading a free online workshop called "More Buy-In for New Ideas and Innovations." During the presentation, Laurence will help business leaders arrive at a strategy to overcome resistance to change and improve follow-through rates within the organization. Registration is free (and relatively painless) by clicking here.

Thanks to Dominic Basulto over at The Business Innovation Insider for the heads-up.

Have a great Monday, everyone.

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And the award goes to...

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It isn't every day that you run into a blog post like this one. It isn't for everyone, but gosh darn it, that mad angry bearded George Parker guy from Adscam does tell it like it is.

I don't know for sure... But I may have at long last found my daily five minutes of Zen in George's blog. Peace and love, everyone. Peace and love.

And for the record, if CP+B's creepy Orville crank zombie sells any popcorn at all, my name ain't Nathan Arizona.


PS: Shame on you CP+B. Shaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaame.

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The Hybrid Thinking proposition

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A little over a year ago Ernie Mosteller wrote this, over on Tangelo Ideas' blog. (I never grow tired of Purple Cow thinking.) Here's the skinny:

"Family resemblances are a good thing. For families. But for agencies, it can get you into trouble. When the stuff you create for your boat manufacturer client starts to look or sound or feel just like the stuff you're making for that software startup, oh, and the athletic-shoe retailer, and maybe the fast-food restaurant, too; you have to ask: Are you doing what speaks best to the audience? What's best for the client? Or are you doing what you personally think is cool? Worse yet, are you doing what the competition is doing, too?"


Absolutely.

I was flipping through some old issues of Fast Company this morning, when I found this very cool little article by Christine Canabou entitled Fast Ideas For Slow Times (May 2003). In it, Christine makes the argument for the fact that offering something different/unique is now a crucial part of any company's success.

Creativity is no longer exclusive to the ad agency world. Likewise, innovation is no longer exclusive to the design world. In order for businesses to thrive, creativity has to become part of their product operational DNA. In order for agencies to keep doing exceptional work for an ever-growing list of quality clients, they have to breed curiosity, exploration and innovation into their DNA.

It isn't change. It's evolution.

Here's the thing: If you keep doing the same thing you've been doing, nothing new is going to happen to you. Your sales aren't suddenly going to double. Your market share isn't going to enjoy a sudden increase. Nobody is going to really notice you. If you've been growing at 6% per year for the past ten years, it's probably safe to say that you'll keep seeing 6% growth for a while longer.

A little while.

As Christine puts it: "Do nothing new, and you won't make a mistake. But do nothing new for too long, and you risk making the biggest mistake of all."

Yep. It's easy to let your successes pigeon-hole you into Sisyphean repetition. Before you know it, companies come to you with requests to do for them what you did for your other client(s): "That thing you did for Spalookaboo, Inc... the thing with the talking cow and the karate-chopping mongoose... can you do something like that for us?"

Look. The last thing the world needs is another subservient chicken. More to the point, the last thing Crispin Porter + Bogusky needs is another subservient chicken project.

Something is only original once. Something is only creative once. After that, everything becomes derivative and stale. Copies of copies of copies are just what Seth Godin would call brown cows. (No matter how good and cool they are, once you've seen one, you've seen them all.)

It's completely natural to see a competitor's latest product or ad and think "Doh! Why didn't we think of that?" It's also natural to want to jump on the bandwaggon by doing something similar. (The reasoning being that if it works for your competitor, it'll work for you too.)

*sigh*

Copying for the sake of not being left behind is an expensive and terribly ineffective business strategy. (And it's lame.) 1) You'll come across as an "also in". 2) You'll back yourself into a price comparison corner (kiss your revenue goodbye). 3) You'll be turning your back on your biggest competitive advantage - the practical application of your creative power: Innovation.

At best, being a brown cow guarantees stagnation.

At best.

It also guarantees that you will have to spend huge amounts of resources to promote yourself over and over and over again. That's time, money, people... all of which could be better spent actually doing something rewarding and relevant that will help your business grow.

You could be creating WOM-worthy work for smaller clients, for example. For non-profits. For NGO's. For niche markets.

You could be broadening your horizons... meeting new people, immersing yourself in cool new subcultures. You could be making every day a learning experience. An exercise in curiosity. A creative harvest. (By the way, the cross-polination of ideas and disciplines is the lifeblood of innovation. Ask IDEO and FROG Design, how it's worked for them.)

Yeah, Hybrid Thinking. That's where it starts.

By default, you would also be broadening your reach across a wider range of industries than any other agency in your sphere of influence (not just because it makes great business sense, but because it's fun.)

Fun feeds creativity at least as much as new experiences.

Think about it. What if instead of chasing big clients, you focused on helping great little companies grow into extraordinary ones? What if you only worked with clients that you want to work with? What if you turned away work that didn't interest you? What if you did what every innovator has done since the beginning of time: What if you changed the rules, one client at a time, one project at a time?

Would you rub a few people the wrong way? You bet. But they'd get over it.

There are also other options beyond simply increasing the breadth of your playing field. The very nature of the way you approach your work, your services and the way that you market them doesn't have to be set in stone. Don't sell yourself short.

Tom Peters, for example, makes a good argument for agencies to evolve into more deep-reaching Professional Services Firms (see his downloadable 'PSF Manifesto'). After all, if creatives can come up with great advertising ideas, they can surely come up with insightful ways to improve a company's customer service call center, design unforgetable retail spaces and help create groundbreaking new products, for starters.

This kind of transition won't happen on its own. Client companies certainly won't be the first to suggest it. ("Hey um... you guys make great ads, but... do you also do product design?") It's one of those build it and they will come things. Create the service. Create the market. Become a purple cow all over again.

More importantly, help your clients become purple cows in their own fields. (Ultimately, that will be the key to your success.)

Trust me on this, many of them wish they had access to this kind of insightful innovation for hire. Not everyone can afford to keep top-notch designers on staff. Or brand strategists. Or marketing communications specialists. Or graphic artists. As for consultants... well, they can be terribly expensive and often too narrow in their approach.

Similarly, not everyone can afford a PR firm and an ad agency and a product design studio and a retail design consultant. (Assuming that, even if you could, all of the pieces would fit together properly... which is pretty unlikely.)

Enter the fully-integrated PSF/Agency: Cost-effective, versatile, nimble, responsive, insightful, completely immersed in their client's culture. One-stop shopping for all of your innovative needs. Beyond its core team, imagine a network composed of the most brilliant minds and creative talent in the world, just a mouse-click away. A phone-call away.

Imagine if a PSF/Agency like the one I just described suddenly opened shop in your town. What if it were courting your clients? What if it had more talent than you could hire in a lifetime? What if they were a lot cheaper than you are?

What if, although advertising were only one of their revenue streams, their work still blew yours away?

What would you do?

What if they cut your revenue in half inside of two years? What would you do to stay alive?

Advertise more? Lower your prices? Work for free?

Purple cows don't have to shake their baby rattles to be noticed. They don't have to put up billboards all over town. They don't have to engage in price wars. All they have to do is be purple cows.

Pistachio cows.

Tangelo cows.

Here's a fresh little bit of Set Godin insight:

"Ad agencies have been backed into a corner and mostly do rattling. It's the
high-cost, high-profile, high-risk part of marketing, and the kind that
rarely works. What a shame that some of the smartest people in our field
aren't allowed (by their clients and by their industry's structure) to get
behind the scenes and change the product, the strategy and the approach
instead of just annoying more people with ever louder junk."
Yesterday's purple cows are today's brown cows.

Tomorrow's purple cows won't look or feel or sound anything like you.

The question is, what are you doing about it?

Have a great weekend, everyone. :)

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I just recently discovered Conversation Agent Valeria Maltoni's blog, but it is quickly becoming a favorite of mine. Check out this post about AT&T... ooops... at&t's decision to nix the Cingular brand and take over its wireless biz. (I am actually shaking my head right now.) I could sit here and write a ten-page essay on why that isn't a good idea at all, but Valeria beat me to it,complete with bits of commentary from Brandweek, Fast Company, Note To CMO, Steven Colbert (via Techno//Marketer), and The Viral Garden. Check it out here.


David Armano's Logic+Emotion continues to amaze by posting gold almost daily. Just this week, check out these posts about blogsourcing's effect on planning and innovation, Agile Creativity, Brand Affinity through stories and experience, and Macro Design. That blog is like candy for my brain.

Also check out Simple+Loveable's Support Ideas First - Critique Second, which elaborates on Seth Godin's observation earlier this week that "The devil doesn't need an advocate. The brave need supporters, not critics". Ah so. Good stuff if you work in a team environment.

The Jason's Recliner's Do Agencies Give A Shit? post outlining Jason's experience with brand planning as a freelance consultant.

And finally,Jaffe Juice's An ad Capable of destroying any loyalty or patronage in just one viewing, which spells out what everyone who recently endured the oddly creepy Orville Redenbacher clone meatpuppet cgi zombie-on-Red Bull creature featured in the pop corn giant's latest ad. The most amazing thing isn't that it was pitched in the first place... but that it got as far as to get aired. Also from Jaffe, this post which shares Max Kalehoff's 10 critical attributes and capabilities of what an agency of the year might look like:

  1. Foremost, agency staffers must be passionate about acting in the interest of consumers as much as they are in the interest of paying clients.
  2. The agency must drop tactical communications from its core positioning and instead embody the value of creating great experiences, with tactics following.
  3. The agency must embrace a world where paid media placements lose overall traction, and instead master the new currency of word-of-mouth, where reputation and propensity to recommend are earned.
  4. The firm must strive for everlasting client partnerships, not because of insatiable desire for ongoing revenues, but because it understands that programs which achieve deep, ongoing customer experiences and loyalty are incompatible with a start-peak-end model.
  5. An agency of the year should be one that first evaluates the client’s internal processes and culture, to ensure those dimensions optimize opportunities for greatness, not hamper potential.
  6. The agency must gain expertise in areas of innovation, product and customer service–versus solely on marketing communications.
  7. The firm will value institutional customer-listening as a core competency far more than institutional speaking.
  8. Enterprise creativity will stem not from a creative department, but collectively from a group of staffers with diverse disciplines, each with the ability to think creatively, abstractly and from different vantage points.
  9. The agency may get out of the advertising business, for the most part, and perhaps outsource the more tactical aspects.
  10. The agency increasingly will recognize and organize around you, the individual.

Cool stuff. Have a great Friday, everyone. :)

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In praise of US Airways.

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So, I flew up to Saratoga Springs (NY) and back yesterday, and I have to commend US Airways on providing me with my first flawless round-trip airline experience in the US in at least ten years. (They've come a long way since 2004.)

So here's the skinny:

1) Every human touchpoint at US Airways in Greenville, Philadelphia and Albany was friendly, professional, and attentive to everyone's needs.
2) The flights boarded on time and landed on time.
3) Check-in was painless and smooth.
4) The planes were clean, the drinks were served promptly, and the pretzels were delicious.
5) The pilots were all so good, they could have landed us on a carrier without batting an eyelash.

Like I said, flawless. Even pleasant. The way airlines ought to be. That's pretty refreshing. (If you've missed some of my past in-flight debacles click here, here, and most recently here.)

So US Airways, thanks for getting things right yesterday. I'll be flying your friendly skies again for sure, and singing your praises to everyone I know.

For those of you who couldn't care less about my in-flight adventures and would rather read something insightful about the world of brands, click on the image below to link to this oldie but goodie. (It's about brand loyalty vs. brand comfort.)



Have a great thursday, everyone. :)


PS: Thanks to Bob, Laura, Michelle, Todd, Mark, Nanette, the other Mark, and everyone else I met at Palio yesterday for being so accomodating and taking the time to spend part of an afternoon with me to talk about branding. I learned a lot, and you guys all rock.

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Up, up, and away.

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Sorry folks, no post today. I'll be spending the morning flying to New York and the evening flying back. (No worries, I'm sure I'll have lots to write about when I get back.)

If I'm lucky, I might even get to see some snow.

Have a great Wednesday, everyone. :)

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A Co-Creation Manifesto?

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This is definitely a must-read. Go here, download the PDF, read it, share it, and start incorporating its contents in your organization.

This piece is way overdue, but better late than never. ;) Thanks to James Cherkoff & Johnnie Moore for putting it together. Think of it as... co-creation 101.

Here are some of my favorite little snippets:

6. Play

“If it seems easy and fun, I’ll ask someone else to play.”

Having fun, sharing laughter, is a mark of a team of people that are sharing an experience. Fun is one of the strongest forms of social glue and if you’re not having fun, it’s going to be hard to consistently create fun experiences for others.

Adidas has shown a great sense of fun with its Adicolour range, a pair of white trainers that came complete with a paint palette, so that people could decorate them and create something special. The whole project was socialised online in the shape of a competition to find the best custom-job according to 60,000 public votes. Adidas took the winning entry and made 50 pairs—half of which were presented to the winner and half of which went on sale in NYC. The spirit of the product continued into the campaign featuring outdoor poster sites upon which people were invited to add their own graffiti.

"People like to congregate around objects, play with them and create their own meaning."


8. Work At It

“ If I’m going to be involved—you need to be involved.”

It’s important for brands to realise that participation is hard work, maybe harder work than traditional marketing. Brands that think they can just set up the forum and let their customers do all the work are going to be disappointed. Co-creation is not about someone else doing the job for you, it’s about working in a different way to get better, more fulfilling results.

"The hard core of customers will be way more enthusiastic than you are."
This "manifesto" should be mandatory reading in business and design schools the world over. Come to think of it, adding co-creation to most college-level marketing programs wouldn't hurt.

Have a great Tuesday, everyone. :)

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Pop quiz, hotshot: What's the fastest way to drive your company's name into the ground?

Well, there are several sure-fire ways. These are just the latest to surface in the news:

From AdPulp:

ExxonMobil spent approximately $16 million between 1998 and 2005 on 43 organizations that have cast doubt on the reality of human-caused global warming.

Funding ranged from $30,000 for the group Africa Fighting Malaria to $1.6 million to the American Enterprise Institute, a pro-business think tank in Washington.

Deborah Zabarenko, Environment Correspondent for Reuters, sees a parallel between the energy company's aim to discredit the science of global warming and the tobacco industry's decades long "cancer causing" cover up.
Nice. So subterfuge is one way. Greed is another:

Write your company's deadbeat CEO a $210 million severance check when you finally fire him, while your employees' annual raises barely edge out cost of living increases, your customers leave you in droves, and your stock remains stagnant. Brilliant.

From Jeff Matthews Is Not Making This Up, here's a little MacBethian scene to illustrate the Nardelli situation :

DUNCAN, Board Chairman
Did we fire his sorry you-know-what yet?

MALCOLM, Lead Director
Well, sir,
Not exactly.
The lawyers say he has us by the you-know-whats.

DUNCAN
But he’s an idiot!
He almost destroyed our franchise
With that stupid Six Sigma crap…
(Pouring a scotch although it is only 10 a.m.)
I’d like to Six Sigma his sorry you-know-what…

MALCOM
Sir, there’s no time for that.
We need a decision.

DUNCAN
What is it this time?

MALCOM
He wants the corporate jets.

DUNCAN
He wants to use the jets???
Son of a…
(Downing the scotch and exhaling slowly.)
What for—he can’t fly home to Nantucket on Delta?

MALCOM
I think he actually lives on St. John’s Island, sir.

DUNCAN
Whatever.
(Pouring another scotch.)
You want one?

MALCOM
No thank you, sir.
We need a decision, sir.

DUNCAN
(Stirs ice with fingers reflecting on something.)
He looked so good on paper.
Number two at GE!
MBA!
Football player!
What the hell went wrong?

MALCOM
Sir, our lawyers need an answer.

DUNCAN
About what?

MALCOM
About the jets.

DUNCAN
Oh, right.
(Tasting the scotch.)
Well, we have three freaking jets, right?

MALCOM
Six, sir.

DUNCAN
Six? Jesus. Well, see if one of 'em is free.
Tell the pilot to take that S.O.B.'s sorry Six Sigma you-know-what wherever it has to go.
And good riddance.

MALCOM
Sir, you don’t understand.
He wants the jets.

DUNCAN
He wants the freaking jets????

MALCOM
Yes Sir. All six of them.

DUNCAN
(Shouting.)
Tell him to go pound sand!
Tell him to go pound Six Sigma sand!
Tell him I’m sure a Six Sigma guy like him
Can pound sand better than anybody else ever pounded sand!
Tell him I said that!!!!

MALCOM
Sir, it’s in the contract.

DUNCAN
What contract?

MALCOM
The one you signed when we hired him.
If he gets fired for cause, he gets the corporate jets.

DUNCAN
(Pouring another scotch.)
I hate this job.

End of Act I
Jonathan Berr, over at WMT offers this little footnote:
Home Depot is in a pickle with regards to Nardelli's pay. It's also found away to turn off consumers as well. I haven't set foot in my local Home Depot in years because the experience of shopping in Lowe's Companies Inc. (NYSE:LOW) is so much more pleasant. The Lowe's is about 20 miles further from my house than the Home Depot.
$210 million. Bravo.

Incidentally, read the comments from Home Depot employees posted on Johnathan's WMT post. They're as telling as his article.

Greed. Arrogance. Inequity.

When more and more American families struggling to make ends meet these days, with ever shrinking benefit packages, with the loss of manufacturing jobs on a massive scale in the US, with the rising, disenfranchising costs of college, nobody likes a company that slights its employees, chases away its customers, and rewards monumental management failures with the kind of money that could jumpstart many third world countries' economies.

Be careful who you name as C.E.O. or allow on your board of directors.

Be careful how you treat your employees.

Be careful how you treat your customers.

Be careful how you come across to the world.

If you're a C.E.O. (or if you sit on a board of directors anywhere) be aware that the business you have been entrusted with is about much more than numbers, personal perks and your need for status and recognition.

There are good shepherds, and bad ones. It's as simple as that.

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What Brand Building Isn't.

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Okay, I'm going to make some enemies today.

I was browsing Technorati over the weekend, and came across an embedded ad for a marketing firm/consultancy/whatever in a not-so-far zipcode. (Enough said. I don't want to be too specific.)

Anyway, a section of their site focuses on "brand building" and offers... six steps that will help client companies build strong, successful brands.

But before we get to those magic steps, the branding experts offer this little observation:

"A clear brand will increase your profits."

Huh?

Really? Clarity in your... "brand" will increase your profits? Wow. That's... um... never mind. I forget. They follow with this:

"If the market doesn’t know what’s good about you, you’re having to work too hard for too little return. You won’t change that overnight, but if you start now, in five years you’ll be far better off."

If I had the time today to pick that statement apart, I would but there's... toast that needs buttering. For the next FIVE years!?! Ridiculous. But enough with the sarcasm. Here comes the real meat of what these brand building experts want to convey to you:

"Brand building is a six-step process that is part art and part science. (Company X) assists clients with building a successful brand foundation and works with them over time to help ensure that the branding “sticks.” As a brand partner, we can help a business transform itself into a branding success."

Can't wait. Here we go:

Six steps to building your brand.

Consider these steps the foundation of your company’s future.

1. Measure the customer experience.

2. Compare your company to your market and your competition.

3. Develop and expand your strengths.

4. Prepare your brand message.

5. Develop your budget and investment justification.

6. Roll out and implement your brand statement

... What?... Are these people serious? That's it? That's the magic formula? That's the foundation of your company's future? For your sake, let's hope the hell not.

How about this instead:

1. Understand your customers' experience.
(Give the surveys a rest. TALK to people instead of just asking them to fill out your lame quantitative "on a scale of 1-10..." surveys from the 1970's. Understanding is a hell of a lot more important than measuring. Wake up and smell the context. And by the way, they're your customers, not the customer. Way to connect with the people you serve. Geniuses.)

2. Don't compare your company to "the market" or your competition. EVER. Understand your competitors' strengths and weaknesses, sure, but don't base your identity, strategy or anything else on what your competitors are doing unless you want to play follow-the-leader - and be relegated to being an also-in company - for the rest of your sorry management tenure. Instead, focus on your customers, and BECOME the market leader. How? By blowing off your would-be competitors and rewriting the rules for your so-called "market." This isn't about safety or statistics. This is about vision and leadership. Big difference.

3. Stop obsessing about your strengths and weaknesses. Of course you should develop your strengths. Does it really need to be an item on this list? Is it really relevant to building a strong brand? Why not also add get up earlier in the morning, or work harder? Please. This is just navel-gazing. Instead, just do whatever you need to do to be the best: Create the best products, offer the best customer experience, and always lead the way. Period. This isn't about analyzing strengths and six-step programs. It's about getting it, and moving the ball forward accordingly.

4. Newsflash: Nobody cares about your message. Establish a dialogue with your customers. A conversation. Foster the growth of a community. Let the message come from them. Your brand is more than a tagline. It's a promise, a delivery on that promise, and the most relevant one possible at that. Hell, it should be the embodiment of a lifestyle. So please leave the one-sided messaging where it belongs - in the past - and focus on listening, celebrating and creating instead of yapping. If anything, start reading about archetypes, shadow, and projection. (Yes, psychology 101 stuff.) I think that you will find it all at least as helpful as the marketing courses you took in grad school - if not more.

5. Invest in people and innovation before big advertising or ambitious marketing plans. That's where the gold is. And certainly not in marketing consultants who devise lame six-step brand building programs that make absolutely no sense at all.

6. "Roll out your brand statement...blablabla... lame businesspeak... blablabla... investment justification...." Good grief. What is this... 1986? See #3. There is no #6.

Hacks.

If you work for a marketing firm/ad agency/management consultancy sounds remotely like these clowns, wake up. You aren't helping anyone. If anything, you're yapping your way into obsolescence, and taking your clients down with you.

For shame.

Hey, at least we're starting the week with a bang. Happy Monday, everyone. ;)

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What are YOU lusting after?

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If I were to ask occasional creative co-conspirator Kimberley Westbury what gear makes her drool, she would probably start telling me about a new Mac or a pair of K2 Speedskates. Roby, our Creative Director, probably a Leica M8. Rusty and Ben, a Specialized S-Works Tarmac SL or a set of Zipp 808's. Gabe, the iPhone. My father-in-law, a John Deere tank. My son, a PS3. My daughter, a piano. My wife, an Alienware Area 51 with Duo Core processor... or a Turbo-charged Beetle. Chico (the brandbuilder chihuahua), a tasty snack. Evan and Bear, maybe a lifelong supply of Corona Light, or an air freshener to conceal the fruity aroma of the new iMacs adorning their offices. Me, it's the Canon 70-200mm 2.8L lens pictured above this post, right now... or the holy grail of portrait lenses - the 85mm 1.2L -, though the latter will have to wait a few months. (The 70-200, however, is finally on its way. Woohoo!)

Maybe your gear-crush is a car, or a phone, or a pair of boots, or a sailboat, or a hand-crafted pen, or a Swiss chronograph, or a telescope, or a sound system that goes all the way up to 11. Everyone is different. Everyone has their own passion, where it be music, photography, online gaming, travel, sports, cooking, etc.

So my question to you today comes in several parts: What's your passion? ... And what piece(s) of gear have you been lusting after?

Or rather... What are your customers passionate about? What piece(s) of gear do they lust after... and what role do you play in making it available to them?

Are the people who make up your company as passionate as your customers about the products they design, manufature or otherwise provide, or... are they just sticking around because you're just a safe, decent-paying job?

Are your customers excited to walk into your offices and stores, or could they care less?

Are people excited to receive mail or packages from you, or are you just another logo on a piece of junk mail?

Do people associate you, your products, or your brand with anything they lust after - with a wish list - or are you just another name in the crowd?

All things to think about.

Mail and packages from Canon usually earn the delivery person a warm hello and a big fat glass of lemonade around here. That tells you something about the role the folks at Canon play in bringing one of my passions to life.


PS: And in case you've been wondering, yes, this lens has X-Ray vision, controls time and space, and even makes a mean Martini. (Yeah, it had me at hello.)

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A little Blogroll TLC

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In case you haven't updated your blogroll in a while, here's a short list of blogs - some of them new, some of them not so new - that you might want to check out. With any luck, you might discover - or rediscover - a real gem. Enjoy:

Logic+Emotion David Armano's incredible blog is in my top 5. Maybe even my top 3. If you like the brandbuilder blog, you will love L+E. Add it to your blogroll or RSS feed immediately if you haven't done so already.

Own Your Brand Mike Wagner's posts are always insightful and well-written, so be sure to swing by there often. He's also in my top 5 these days.

Corante The convenient superblog already aggregates many of the feeds from some of the best Marketing bloggers out there (including yours truly), so it's kind of one of those great little "one-stop-shopping" deals pertaining to the blogosphere.

Marketing Profs Similar to Corante, but with a broader feed base. Combine Corante and MProfs, and you'll always be in the loop when it comes to the best Marketing thought leadership in the world. Membership required for full access... but it's well worth the trouble.

Simple & Loveable The name speaks for itself, and the fact that these guys are based out of New Zealand makes them exotic and cool too. Sometimes, a studio-based perspective is more interesting than the broad brushtrokes of your typical A-listers... and well-read Z-listers.

Beyond Madison Avenue Edgy, crispy, but definitely not sugar-coated. If you're feeling a little passive-aggressive, this might be your fix.

SwampFox Insights
Entrepreneur and Visionary businessman John Warner's personal look at innovation and entrepreneurship in South Carolina and the South East.

Orange Yeti The format and the feeds at the bottom of the page make up just the right blend of relevance and randomness that makes reading blogs both entertaining and useful. Seriously, who needs CNN or MSN when you have the Yeti? Nobody; that's who. And now that they're a trinity, there will be no stopping them.

Blog Till You Drop Musings and opinions about the Marketing world told from the p.o.v. of a French Marketing professional living in the UK.

BrandXpress Don't let its low-key approach fool you. BrandXpress is one of the most straightforward and a-propos blogs in my blogroll. Most definitely a must-read.

BrandInfection Categorized eye candy from the Marketing/Advertising universe, along with relevant news. A great little pitstop to find out how brands are interfacing with the public on a daily basis.

And non-blogs of mention:

LoLL Willems
is a ridiculously talented French photographer based out of Lyon (Fr.). His work with Super Fudge Chunk, Sixteen Horsepower, Stereophonics, Superbus, and Fake Oddity (yes, all rock bands) is just the tip of the iceberg. He and his buddies over at Sept Minutes De Plus (Seven Minutes More) - a creative studio also based in Lyon - are starting to enjoy quite the cult following in France, the US and the UK. If F360 can't shoot it or design it, these guys definitely can. Both sites/studios will be worth watching over the next few years.

Enjoy the browsing, and have a great weekend, everyone. For more blogs I like to check out, scroll down the right side of the page. They're all good. :)


PS - Overheard today -
"Maybe a donkey is a mix between a pig and a bunny."
See? Genius is everywhere.

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What your friends really say about you.

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You can usually tell a lot about someone - even if you have never met them - by looking at who they surround themselves with (or rather, who chooses to hang out with them).

When I say "hang out", I mean have a beer, or have lunch, but I also mean meet for early morning runs or choose to work together or attend each other's celebrations like birthdays or weddings or whatnot, or make a point to stay in touch in some way, shape or form on a consistent basis.

It occured to me last night, while at NGL's new digs party (NGL/Web Sales Tool recently moved to shwanky new offices in the center of Greenville and had a little shindig to share the joy with a few of their bestestest friends), that the folks at NGL and F360 have a lot of friends in common. Many of the people I like to hang out with - both professionally and just for fun - were there yesterday as well. At first, I attributed the coincidence to the fact that Greenville is a small town - and in many respects, it is... But it isn't that small. And the fact that so many of Greenville's cool up-and-coming peeps were there isn't much of a coincidence either.

By "up-and-coming peeps", I don't mean Greenville's high society. I don't mean the "official who's who" of the social register. I don't mean the second or third generation of Greenville's established social elite. I don't mean the capital behind most startups here. I mean the people who are the real future of Greenville. All pioneers in their own way. Entrepreneurs. Visionaries. The folks who know the other folks you've been looking forward to meet. All remarkably friendly and smart and engaging and true. There are no ulterior motives here. There is no posturing anywhere in sight. These aren't show-off or wannabes. They're the real deal. They didn't go to NGL's party because they wanted to "network" or be seen there or because it might help their bottom-line. They were there because they genuinely care for NGL and its people. Because they knew the crowd was going to be refreshingly pleasant and interesting. Because they like the folks at NGL and really wanted to hang out with them and show their support for the company's growth. That's why they gave up their evening workouts or a little bit of family time, or their business dinners to go hang out with Jeff, Kristin, and the rest of the NGL crew.

They're some of the best people you'll ever meet, really. (Heck, Orange Coat was there. 'Nuff said.)

If you could find a way to hire everyone at that party, you would have one of the best damn management/creative/strategic teams in the world. You and your company would be nigh unstoppable. Web design. Advertising. Brand management. Customer service. Tech support. Event planning. Design. Accounting. You name it.

My point is this: When you can't help but be overwhelmingly impressed not just with a company's work but also their inner circle of friends, fans and clients, what does that say about that company? What does that say about its people?

Lots.

Tons.

Oodles.

The best part of this whole deal is that if your circle is almost identical to their circle, then maybe you're doing a few things right yourself.

Just maybe.

And that's pretty exciting.

If you take any responsibility in your business' success - whether you are the CEO, a mid-level manager, or even an intern, being aware of who is in your company's inner circle shouldn't be something that you can afford to overlook. Throw a party once in a while - not just for your biggest clients and investors, but for everyone else you've touched as well. Customers. Clients. Neighbors. Friends of friends. Your personal trainer. The lady who catered your Christmas party last year. The guy who sweeps your floors. The dozen customers who bothered to fill out feedback forms at one of your retail outlets. The artists whose paintings adorn your lobby's walls. Your running buddies. Your accountants. Don't make it business. Make it a celebration of your place in their respective worlds, and their importance to yours. Invite them all... and then see who shows up and who doesn't. Watch how they interact with one another. Find out how many of these people already know each other - and don't be surprised if many of them do.

You'll find out pretty quickly what kind of company you are.

Your customers are a reflection of your brand in the same way that your friends are a reflection of who you are as a person. The company you keep says a lot about who you are... and who you aren't.

Always remember that.

Have a great Thursday, everyone. :)


PS - NGL is an occasional client of F360, but we were fans long before we ever got a chance to work together... so we would be singing their praises and congratulating them here even if they didn't sometimes write us checks and stuff.
PPS - That picture up there: NOT from the NGL party. (Just thought I'd mention that.)

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Meet The Influencers

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Dave Armano, over at the super smooth Logic+Emotion blog points us to a fascinating piece written by Nilofer Merchant and published over at Marketing Profs about influencers and the mechanism by which they... well, influence others - and each other. Here's a bit from the piece (Five Ways to Develop a Dialogue with Key 'Influencers') that kind of sets the stage for the entire discussion:

When you want to buy a new BBQ, whom do you ask? If you want to know which smartphone to buy, what blog do you read? And if you're looking for a school in which to enroll your child, whose advice do you seek?

Those people you're calling, emailing, or reading—they're special... the alpha crowd: They are influencers. Not just one person or type, influencers are many people who form a unique profile. Parts of that profile are common across the entire group of influencers, and many are specific to the category we're talking about. So, the school advice might come from the BBQ expert, but probably not.

In this Web 2.0 era of ready access to information everywhere, anytime, we've got a new class of people to whom business and marketing people can and should pay attention.

Those of you old enough to remember, there was a time when you couldn't Google up information to find out what the opinion makers and advocates were thinking. Amazon didn't exist, so we couldn't see what others worldwide thought of a book and learn of its sales ranking. Instead, we had to go to places like churches or synagogues, grocery stores and book clubs, and ultimately hang around with neighbors to find out what "the news" was.

That's because influencers were active, engaged members of local communities. They've always existed—opinion makers and opinion leaders. What's different now? Today they have a much bigger bullhorn available to them—it's called the Web. Where they once talked to 100 people in a month, they can now reach thousands or tens of thousands with a single click, comment, or ranking process.

(...) These alpha influencers are the key to other customers' awareness, consideration, preference, and purchase. They advocate, rank, sort, evaluate, and ultimately create marketplace adoption. They come in the form of users, developers, channel partners, and press people. Many PR people have thought of influencers as "their audience" or writers, but influencers are way more than analysts and writers. They are ultimately the tip of the market.

(...)Influencers are key conduits of information. (...) Influencers know many people and are in contact with hundreds, sometimes thousands, of people in the course of a week. They have a powerful multiplier effect, spreading the word quickly across a broad network when they find something they want others to know about. (...) Four in ten have a connection to a professional association. This is a sign of their restless intellectual interests. Influencers continuously take input from what they see, hear, read, and keep turning it over in their mind for new insights and ideas. They are sometimes entrepreneurs.

Influencers and alpha consumers are people who place importance on values: enduring love, knowledge, authenticity, stable personal relationships, learning, and freedom. When you can get them to pay attention to your offer/product/solution, you have the opportunity to shape the market.

Read the rest of Nilofer's article here. He discusses ways in which companies can start a dialogue with influencers and reap the rewards of having an open line of communication with them, which is a good primer if you're new to this type of business thinking. David's piece on Logic+Emotion continues the discussion a little further. (Good stuff.)

And the graphic is pretty cool to boot. (I guess I'm somewhere between a 3 and a 2, which is good to know.)

Have a great Wednesday, everyone.

PS: If you're in Greenville, SC tonight, be sure to swing by NGL's little shindig between 6pm and 8pm. (They're celebrating their move to their swanky new offices @ 16 north Main Street.)

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"Also-In"

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Every once in a while, I browse through my post archive just to see what we were talking about six months ago (or a year ago, as is the case here) and bring an old post out of the vault. Last night, I zeroed-in on this one:

You don't build anything worthwhile by copying other people. Yeah, sure, it may seem like the safe thing to do, but it isn't.

Bleh.

Welcome to the fabulous world of the "also in".

Welcome to the wonderful world of the "why bother".

Okay, sure, not every product needs to be extraordinary. Not every product needs to be unique. I guess you could set out to publish a magazine that's a lot like Newsweek or Men's Health or Fast Company... only more "average". You could set out to produce a movie that's a lot like Titanic or Sling Blade or Gladiator, but... you know... more "average". You could set out to copy Subway or Jersey Mike's or Quizno's and make a subway sandwich, but... just a little bit more bland. A little bit less special. A little bit cheaper too, while you're at it. I guess that would be swell.

To make up for the blandness, you could always pay an ad agency to try and pick up the slack for you and miraculously come up with a brilliant viral campaign that may or may not have people flocking to your stores.

Yep, you could do that.

I guess you could wake up one morning and decide that your work, the fruit of your labors, could be just... um... average. No more, no less. As long as your business makes money, who cares, right?

Forget the great American novel. Forget the Chrystler Building. Forget the iPod. Forget the Canon EOS 1D. Release your movies straight to video and your books directly to the bargain house. Tell your kids to shoot for a C+. It's okay. Average is good enough.

Instead of designing your own products, find cheaper ones already being manufactured by someone else and pass them off as your own. Hope that no one will notice. As long as the profits are good, why not? Yep, I guess you could convince yourself that it's okay to go that route.

It isn't like you need to actually think about where your company is going. It isn't like you need to give any thought to the relationship you have with your customers. What role you play in their world. Instead, you can just watch what your competitors are doing, and copy their every move. You can keep cutting corners. You can keep telling yourself that's the safe thing to do. The smart thing to do.

You can keep telling yourself that if you make your products cheaper, you will sell more of them. After all, that's how your competitors are stealing your customers, isn't it?

Or is it better design?

Or is it because their stores have red walls?

I forget.

Why be relevant, after all? Why be relevant when you can just play it safe and follow the leaders?

Hmmm.

Is that what we learned to do in business school? Is that what we learned about in History class? In English comp.? Is that the lesson we've learned from watching millions of hours of sports on TV? Succeed by waiting to see what someone else will do to see if it's safe to try it too?

Really?

Is that what a a CEO or a CMO is paid to do?

You don't have to answer that.

Not if you don't want to.

Instead, think fast and tell me how many skyscrapers there are in New York City.

(For the sake of expediency, let's just say that there are LOTS.)

How many of those skyscrapers can you actually name?

Only a handfull?

Why is that?

Of the thousands of companies you'll encounter in your lifetime, how many will you actually remember as being worthy of mention? Of having been a pleasure to deal with? A few dozen at most?

Why is that?

Of the tens of thousands of people you will meet in your lifetime, how many will you end up being truly impressed by? How many will you come to count as friends?

Again, why is that?

What does that tell you about average?

What does that tell you about the value of average?

Consider a few names: Starbucks. Target. BMW. Apple. Pixar. Ben & Jerry. Kenneth Cole. Nike.

What is it about these brands that makes them so special?

Is it their ability to crunch numbers? Nope.

is it their ability to copy the guys who came before them? (Um... who would that be?)

Are their products the best in the world? Again, no.

Reality check: Most of your local coffee bars make much better coffee than Starbucks. Target's clothes are no better than old Navy's. BMW arguably isn't Porsche. Apple is nowhere near Microsoft's sales. Pixar doesn't always hit the mark. Haagen-Dazs makes the best Rum Raisin ice cream and Mayfield is pretty awesome too. DKNY, Express Men and Banana Republic give Kenneth Cole a run for his money. Most serious runners wear Mizuno, Asics or new Balance on their feet, not Nike.

So what is it?

Is it their ability to stand out? Sure, but that's only a symptom of their success.

What's key is their ability to a) create something special that their customers won't be able to find anywhere else, and b) do it over and over again.

That's the promise of these brands.

When you buy me, I promise that...

You will look hip.

You will sleep better.

You will save time.

You will smell fantastic.

Your cold symptoms will vanish.

You won't have to worry about quality.

Without a promise, a brand isn't a brand. It's just a mark.

There is no such thing as an "also in" brand.

Okay, now that you've read it, say it.

Really. Say it outloud:

"There is no such thing as an also in brand."

Very good.

When you're an "also in," what is your promise? What is your purpose?

"We're kind of like Subway."

"We're kind of like Power Bar."

"We're kind of like CNN."

Think about it.

I don't care if you're a mechanic or a graphic designer, a chain of dry-cleaners or a rental car service. If you aren't there for a reason (other than just making money), you're doomed. It may not be today or tomorrow or next week, but someone with a purpose will come along to eat you up. A real brand. A real business.

It's just a matter of time.

If you're going to be a mechanic, be the best damn mechanic in your zip code. Or the most honest. Or the friendliest.

If you're going to design logos and layouts for clients, be the edgiest in your field. Or the fastest. Or the most pleasant to work with.

If you're going to open up a dry-cleaning business, either offer the best quality pressing or the fastest turnaround. Make drop-offs and pickups velvet-smooth. Make your customers want to come back and recommend you to their friends.

I could talk to you about the role that pride plays in building a brand, but I'll save that for another day.

The point is that being an "also in" company doesn't cut it. Not if you want to grow. Not if you want your company to go anywhere.

Not if you want to survive.

Copying other companies isn't a strategy, it's a death sentence.

Word to the wise: Don't be a follower. There's no safety in being second.

Have a great Tuesday, everyone. :)

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I found this on Mike Wagner's blog Friday, and I like it a lot. First though, a little vocab recap so you'll know what Mike is talking about when he mentions "thin slicing."
Thin-slicing refers to the ability of our unconscious to find patterns in situations and behavior based on very narrow slices of experience. The goal of this meme is to get all of us to slow down this process to actually see some of the patterns we recognize long before we consciously know we see them. Caution: Remember the Warren Harding Error – some of what we think we see isn’t really there!
Here are examples of 5 thin-slicing observations from Mike - the first time he visits your business:
1. Does anyone care about this place? The moment I walk into an office, a retail store or a manufacturing plant I’m looking for evidence that people there “give a damn”. For me that means the place is clean, in good repair, and is presentable. “Presentable” probably comes from my formative years when I was often asked just before leaving the house, “Do you think you look presentable?”

2. Are there thinkers here? I value thinkers, readers and articulate people. Are there books and magazines around? Do they looked used or are they just for show? I seldom see any books in client offices so I’ve come to grips with the fact that reading is not considered work. However, I still look for some tiny evidence that people read and think.

3. Is this a place where creative ideas are welcome? There’s just “something” about a place that tells me new ideas and creative thinkers are welcome. Sometimes it’s suggested by the décor of the business. But even with plenty of “fun” in the decoration, at times, I still “feel” they are just a bunch of “stiffs”. I’m always thin-slicing for a left-brain dominated work space.

4. Are these people paying attention to me? This one doesn’t take a lot of slowing down for me to recognize - I am acutely tuned into it. Reception areas, phone calls, greetings, and eye contact all get factored in a nanosecond.

5. Are these “owners”? I always look for an ownership attitude. Do they act like owners or simply hired hands? Owners want me to take the tour of their plant, see their new offices, admire their latest project. I can smell ownership a mile a way.
Bingo. Most stores don't exhibit these five traits. Some do... and that's where I don't only like to shop, but hang out... and send my friends. I've found a couple in my zipcode, and I have spent a whole lot of time in the last year cracking their code. (It wasn't that hard.) ;)

I will be writing about it in February, so stay tuned. Great piece, Mike, as usual.

Francois, over at Emergence Marketing continues the discussion with his list of five - Thin-slicing a Marketing Plan:

1) Do you really need a marketing "plan"?
Very often people just need to get out and engage with customers, prospects, influencers and connectors. There is no need for a marketing plan to do that. Often times marketing plans are just produced by marketing luddites as a CYA document. Granted, for some very large projects that involve large teams of people a plan can be useful - but more as a check-list than as a marketing roadmap.

2) Does the marketing plan show the addressable market being in the billions of dollars?
Any VC will scoff at these numbers - yet they won't invest if it is not true. Don't talk about the total addressable market, tell me how you will get your next 10 or 100 customers. Who are they, what do they do, where do they live, how will you reach them? Give me real life scenarios of potential customers and how you will help them solve their problem. Don't give aggregate figures that have zero meaning.

3) Are you pretending or intending on being a leader in a category that nobody ever heard of?
Most companies I have worked with consider themselves the category leader in a category with one player - themselves. A category is recognized by others as a category and has other players in it. You can "create" a category, but you need help to create a new one - including help from competitors. Show me how you will create a new category, and who you will enlist to help with the creation? Show me how you will change the rules of the game in that category, how you will change the players or change their respective value as you enter the category - now that's interesting!

4) Does your competitive review result in your company or product being in the upper right hand corner of some diagram?
Do I need to elaborate? You and everybody else lives there...it must be pretty tough to compete there. Show me where you are on the BS curve compared to others - that would be much more interesting...

5) What part of the plan deals with how you will deal with change?
The biggest danger with plans is that they become "bibles" - and once they are approved nobody can deviate from the chosen path. Yet most successful marketing programs are emergent in nature, they are like a jamming sessions...and so back to point 1) do you really need a marketing plan?
And then you have this, from Stephen Denny's Note To CMO blog:

Thin slicing hot (and not very hot) brands? There are a lot of thin slices you can take on a brand – how you react to a brand presentation at a boardroom level, how you react as a consumer, etc. So here's a very thin slice – your potential customer’s first second of recognition when exposed to your new brand, hot or not:

Hot brands evoke one of two visceral reactions. First is The Eyebrow Arch, accompanied by the ‘ooh’. This is the “that’s very cool” reaction you want with anything you just launched at the show in Vegas. The second is The Buddha Nod and the “aah”. This is the “I’m so glad you came along and fixed this mess” reaction you want with the service you just launched.

The “not very hot” brands also prompt visceral reactions. Just different ones. You remember Nipper, the RCA dog who cocks his head to one side, hearing his master’s voice – or, perhaps he’s saying, “You do – what – exactly? And why do I want this?” The other is The Hanging “And”, so identified by the listener’s continuing rapt attention to a statement that has long since finished, whose unfulfilled expectation is that an “and” would come along to make it all finally makes sense. This is the proverbial “6 Minute Abs” video.

People can’t help being interested when they are and can’t fake it very well when they’re not.

* * *

You know, my comment above may sound a bit flip, but it's not meant to be. I try to bring a bit of levity to the subjects I cover because that's how I communicate serious stuff. But the underlying truth here is that the observational, behavioral side of customer insight is more powerful than a handfull of questionnaires filled out by bored shoppers. You have to get this feedback when people are willing to be engaged in the experience you're selling, which is why intrusive advertising (let alone research) is so appallingly bad. But watch people and they'll tell you what you need to know. That's my point.

This thin-slicing thing is only getting started, so if it strikes your curiosity, head on over to Mike and Francois' blogs and follow the threads. Weeks of fun ahead to be sure. :)

And for a little word of caution, check out this little bit on Roger Von Oech's Creative Think blog.

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Follow-up to this.

So Apple did it again with the iPhone: Great product, but you have to use it on its terms (back when Apple was only in the computer business, it was the OS - today, as it enters the realm of phones+, it's the carrier). So thanks for designing the phone we've all been waiting for, Apple, but no thanks on the two year agreement with Cingular. It isn't that I have a thing against Cingular, but I love my Verizon service, and I don't see myself leaving them anytime soon. No matter how cool the hardware, the network and customer service are a little bit more important to me and my business than... flash. Sorry.

Come on, Apple. Would it really have been so damn hard to let us - your customers - decide who our provider should be? Would it really have killed you to leave the choice to us? Must you always dictate the how?

Hey, you can use our computers, but you have to use our OS. Sorry.

Hey, you can use our ultra-cool mp3 player, but you can only download files from our web service.

Hey, our wheels are the fastest and sexiest, but they'll only work with Continental tires.

Hey, you can drive our energy efficient cars, but they'll only work with our proprietary Exxon fuel.

Apple. Seriously. You break my heart. You could have dominated this market, but you chose to put limits on your own success. Again. And please don't try and tell me that you only want 5-20% of the market. It might make creative types who already own all of your toys feel special and everything, but I'm not buying it.

*Sigh.*

Fortunately, those of us who aren't already signed up with Cingular will soon have an alternative. Engadget points us to the LG KE850, which may be a pretty potent alternative to the cool but sadly restrictive iPhone. The 850 has already earned a Product Design Award back in December from International Forum Design, so it's off to a good start. I look forward to getting my hands on one this spring.

Will iPhone be better than the 850? Maybe. Will it dominate the cellie market for a while the same way it seems to dominate the mp3 player market? It's possible. Will it be an object of envy for years to come? Certainly. But if the other major carriers like Verizon, Sprint, Alltel and T-Mobile offer the 850 as an alternative, iPhone may regret having backed itself into Cingular's corner for the next two years.

Especially if the 850 comes at a more attractive pricepoint and gets some styling TLC, (I'll take mine either in pearl white or carbon-fiber weave, thanks,) and probably a better name. (KE850 is um... not... as enticing as iPhone.) I'm sure the fine folks at LG will come up with something a little cooler.

The best design in the world isn't enough when you keep it chained in your backyard. In order for your product to reach its full potential, you have to release it into the marketplace and not get in the way of its success. In other words, Steve Jobs, you have to let your babies go. You have to set them free. And that's something you still don't seem to get.

The verdict on iPhone: One giant step forward for design, and one giant leap back for user freedom. At least for now. Pitty.

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