Happy Halloween, everyone!

image by Kalydh

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Weekend Update: Roby's third week in Afghanistan


My favorite images from Roby's adventures in Afghanistan this past week:

Above: Roby's unit provides medical assistance to a young girl in a village. Local kids taunting him with mad Chuck Norris skills. A local gutter/rudimentary sewer system and an Afghan moo-cow. Either a sunset or a sunrise view from the "tower." A night patrol with a British unit.

Read about Roby's daily adventures here.

All images copyright 2007 Roby DiGiovine.

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A paradox of common sense


From AdPulp's David Burn:

Want To Put Agencies Out of Business? Make Better Products.

ClickZ had a party on Wednesday night to celebrate 10 years of innovation and excellence in online marketing and advertising.

They invited author and academic Douglas Rushkoff to speak.

Rushkoff exhorted marketers to convince their clients to come up with compelling products. "Teach them how to get back into the business they are in," he said. "Then you don't have to make up a story about them."

I'm attracted to this kind of lofty message. Yet, I can't help but chuckle. Most agency pros are unable to help their clients grasp the intricacies of marketing communications. Trying to help them reinvent their product or service offerings seems, at least on the surface, an esoteric idea that could only be cooked up in a school.

Not really. While it's true that most agency pros couldn't wrap their minds around that concept if a hundred diamond-encrusted Addys were at stake, those of us who have done it know how simple it actually is. Sure, you have to manage a lot of moving parts and you have to live in a lot of different worlds (design, engineering, finance, manufacturing, quality control, marketing, advertising, PR, sales) but it can be done, and done well - at least by certain types of people. Sadly, the business world's tendency to compartimentalize skills into finite job descriptions (yes, even in ad agency org charts) makes it nigh impossible for anyone with the proper skills to a) market themselves properly, b) capitalize on their talents, and perhaps worst of all c) help their firm and their clients capitalize on those talents.

A firm capable of grasping David's concept, and putting in place a team of people who know how to do this could make some serious waves over the next few decades - and beyond. Easier said than done? Nope. With a little bit of digging, you could be ready to roll inside of six months at the most.

I tried to explain this to an upper-level honcho at a local creative firm several years ago, and his answer to me was: "We are not - and will never be - in the business of helping our clients develop better products."

That was probably the most depressing thing I've ever heard come out of a creative professional's mouth - especially since they were in a position to do something really special. But no. The potential I see wasted every day to the lure of the media-buying profit model is astounding. It really is.

You would think that the most creative people in the world would be a bit more imaginative when it comes to monetizing their talents - and maybe a bit more ambitious when it comes to applying their creativity to problems organizations are so desperate to find smart solutions for.

In the end, the product comes first: The message, the creative, the channel and the choice of media don't mean jack diddles if your product isn't all that great to begin with.

Paint me blue.

Have a great Friday, everyone.

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Locked & Loaded


Made from golden lions and lightsabers.

[blak-ber-ee, -buh-ree]
–noun, plural -ries.
1.the fruit, black or very dark purple when ripe, of certain species of the genus Rubus.
2.the plant itself.
[Origin: bef. 1000; ME blakeberie, OE blaceberie. See black, berry]
black·ber·ry·like, adjective

Choose your weapon wisely, Grasshopper.

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The Brandbuilder debuts in Bulgaria. (Finally.)


This is the kind of stuff that makes my day. (Thanks, Todor.)

Find out more about Bulgaria here.

Note: is arguably Bulgaria's most popular management, business and professional development blog.

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Build it, and they will come.


"If customers feel like they have discovered a brand themselves, they become much more loyal."

- Ray Kelvin

Found on the Make Marketing History blog today:

Not everything is at it seems or as is claimed and omissions of lucky breaks and familial connections often hide real insights.

I was reminded of this while reading John Grant's latest book in which he refers to the brand bandwagon phenomenon by which advertising agencies take credit for building a brand that was already building by itself.

This goes to the heart of the myth that marketing is synonomous with advertising. If you need further proof, I've watched a local two-person business grow slowly by selling their clothes from their own store. After eighteen years, there was still no marketing department and not one advertisement had been run in print, radio or TV. But the turnover had risen to the vicinity of £100 million.

There had been much truth in the founder's gleeful description of seeing her first delivery van (stylishly furnished in the company colours) on the road and thinking it looked like a giant mobile shopping bag. Your retail outlet, be it physical or virtual (and everything that supports it) is a great marketing tool.

Indeed the more of the value chain that your business can isolate and/or commandeer, the greater the possibilities because it is under your control and is directly measurable. You're not shouting at amorphous crowds through mass media. You're whispering, enticing and listening and thus approaching a prolonged conversation with live prospects and actual customers.

Now not all businesses will have their own retail outlet, but they should act as if they do. Setting out your stall is what marketing is all about.


Ray Kelvin founder of clothes retailer Ted Baker (market capitalisation £250 million) declares a similar approach in a very rare interview.

..we don’t do valuations and market research; we have an attitude rather than a target market and we don’t advertise. We have a Ted Baker culture instead; people come into the shop and get Ted-ucated. If customers feel like they have discovered a brand themselves, they become much more loyal.
There's emphasis on speed and the race to raise angel capital, and the thrill of marketing campaigns just to earn the right to take a running jump into the giant pool of companies exactly like yours with clever names and cool logos and posh zipcodes...

... and then there are the little companies that create their own little worlds, sweat the small stuff and and take their time getting discovered by the right core of customers.

Real roots take time to grow. I know we live in the world of here and now, of the 24/7 instant gratification economy in which we all want success and wealth and and fame right this very second... but once you turn off your TV and join the rest of us in the real world, you might come to the realization that the old adage "Easy come, easy go" still applies to everything today.

Throwing oodles of cash at an idea might guarantee a spectacular launch, but it doesn't hold a candle to hard work, dedication, patience, passion, and a whole lot of attention to detail. (Not to mention luck.)

How do you eat an elephant? One mouthful at a time.

How do you build a castle? One stone at a time.

How do you build a great company? ...

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Nick, over at SEENcreative, gives us this (via orangeyeti):

"It's very easy to collaborate with someone who has lots of ideas. (...) This is because people who have lots of ideas are constantly trading up: You have and idea; I have and idea; your ideas is better, let's go with that. So ideas don't have this enormous currency. They are just the material that you're working from.

The worst people to work with are people that — every now and then, once a year — have an idea, because they build a temple around it. And it becomes THE idea."

- Screenwriter/Director Tony Gilroy

This is so true. If you have ever worked on a project that requires some creative input, then being surrounded by people who either have lots of ideas, or rarely an idea at all, can make or break the flow of the project. This is because ideas are NOT the finish line. They are not something to hold as a trophy. The important thing should be the final product, the execution. As Gilroy said, the ideas are just material to work from.

Of course, the other end of this spectrum is that the generation of ideas can become so fast and fevered that it's hard to take a step back and focus on one thing and execute it. At some point you need to gather your source material and actually begin to make something. Any additional ideas can be used for the next iteration.

This balancing act is the key to managing projects that require a lot of creative fuel. If you can put together (or stumble upon) a team who has the right mixture of ideas and focus, you should have a nice foundation. This is often why it's recommended that people looking to form a start-up do a few projects together first, before they officially become partners.

Well put.

Have a great Tuesday, everyone. :)

image source

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Prologue: The Heelys Guestapo Incident

Heelys-haters beware: If you would rather spend your energy sniffing out Heelys-wearing kids and reprimanding their parents for letting them wear the devil's rollershoes in your stores than being cordial and professional, maybe you're missing the point of what your job is supposed to be in the first place. (Whatever it is, it isn't playing detective Dickhead from the Heely Police.)

Face it: Heelys are popular. Kids wear them (heck, I wear them whenever I get a chance). And despite what you may have read or heard on the news, they aren't any more dangerous than 3" stilettos or 46" waists - or both. (Perhaps less so.) The point is that they are shoes. Sure, they have a wheel built-in to the heel for when you feel like taking advantage of a slight downhill, but they are shoes first and foremost. You can walk with them without rolling around, and you can easily remove the wheel from its socket in about ten seconds flat if need be.

Now, I understand that Heelys can create some liability issues for retail businesses, and so I don't have a problem with store managers and personel asking customers with Heelys not to roll down the breakfast cereal aisles like two-wheeled slaloming kamikazes.

I get that.

And I even don't have a problem with store managers asking shoppers whose kids have Heelys to remove the wheels from their shoes while they are inside the store - as long as it is done gracefully.

A better solution would even be to simply welcome their customers to their store, and politely (that's with a smile, thank you) ask them to not roll around in the store - for safety reasons: "Hey, cool shoes. You can wear those in here, but please don't roll around, okay?"

That's all they have to say.

Unfortunately, that isn't the case in most stores that choose to enforce anti-Heelys guestapo tactics. Case in point: Publix. I was in there last week with the family unit, when a store employee or assistant manager or assistant meat department manager or whatever intercepted us in the middle of our shopping to inform us that Heelys were not allowed in the store and that our children would have to either change their shoes or wait outside.

Excuse me?

This is probably the place in this post where I should make a point to say that my progeny wasn't rolling down the aisles. They were just walking. They were simply guilty of wearing a particular brand of shoes.

Here's the thing: It's bad enough that we have to take our shoes off to go through "security" checkpoints at our nation's airports, but I sure as hell am not about to take my shoes off to go shopping at Publix. It isn't like we carry an extra set of shoes for the kids just in case some asshole in a store has nothing better to do than play shoe cop instead of doing his job - which, by the way, essentially consists of being friendly to customers and making sure what I want to buy is waiting for me on the shelf.

Oh, and make sure his green apron isn't streaked with greasy Dorito crumbs. That would be nice.

So here we are, in the frozen foods aisle, with this jackass standing in front of my wife - blocking us from going any further, telling us that our kids (who were just walking, mind you) aren't welcome in the store because of the shoes they are wearing.

He isn't saying this with a smile. This moron has a frown on his face and a fist on his hip, and a finger shaking at our kids' feet.

"But they aren't rolling," we answer.

"It doesn't matter," replies jackass.

Well, okay then. We handed him the contents of out shopping cart (literally), and informed him that we would be going across the street to their competitor's store... which we did.

Discovering that the grass is greener elsewhere

I wasn't happy about this, because until then, I enjoyed shopping at Publix (clean aisles, friendly cashiers, nice layout, etc.) To make matters worse, I wasn't a big fan of the shopping experience at the competitor's store across the street. But whatever. We needed to buy some vittles, and anywhere was better than Publix - so across the street we went.

And that's when I realized the full scope of Publix's error of judgement.

Until our encounter with the Heelys Nazi, I had no reason to look for alternatives to Publix. In my little grocery shopping universe, it sat squarely at the top of the heap, save perhaps the Whole Foods and Fresh Markets and other "premium" grocery store brands in my general area. Other local chains like Bi-Lo, Super Walmart and Ingles were - at least in my mind - dirty, gloomy, unfriendly places where I hated to shop.

Yes, hated: I would rather pay 30% more for my gallon of skim milk at the posh and happy Publix than have to suffer the long checkout lines, unfriendly cashiers, and sorry-looking produce sections at the other stores.

But guess what: The Ingles across the street from Zig-Heil Publix had enjoyed a makeover since the last time I visited its tired, gloomy aisles, and what I saw shocked me: The gloom was gone. The produce section was twice as big as Publix and much nicer. (The produce was super fresh and bountiful too, which I didn't expect.) Everything I could get at Publix was there as well, and then some. Ingles' bread selection was broader. Their deli section had some stuff that Publix didn't offer, which was a nice surprise.

But best of all, the prices were unbelievably low compared to Die Shiltzenfuhrer Publix.

$1.59 for a couple of hot, juicy, delicious giant chili dogs? $2.59 for a humongous chef salad? $4.99 for a whole rotisserie chicken? Is this possible?

It wasn't until we got home that we realized that not only was Ingles' store-made stuff cheaper, it also tasted better than anything made by Publix. We've been shopping there for the last week, and so far, haven't missed Publix one bit.

I have come to the conclusion that I am an idiot for having been such a snob about Ingles over the last few years. I should have given it another chance a lot sooner. We could have saved a crapload of money in the process.

Autopilot purchasing habits vs. habit-busting triggers

The point of this post isn't to sing Ingles' praises or rub Publix' nose in it, or even defend shoppers' rights to wear Heelys inside stores and malls and other places of business.

Nope, the purpose of this post is to remind businesses that their customers choose to shop at their stores. They don't have to. They choose to. If customers have a pleasant experience, they come back. If customers have a bad experience, they go somewhere else. It is that simple.

Whenever a business does something to make a customer feel disenfranchised, that customer is going to find an alternative to that business before you can even say "refund". Bad service at Jiffy Lube? Hello Grease Monkey! Sprint dropping calls and screwing up your bill every month? Hello Verizon! Someone giving you attitude at Office Max? Hello Staples! Welcome to the wonderful world of competition and free markets: If you don't value a customer's greenbacks, someone near you will be more than happy to do so.

Maybe in the grand scheme of things, losing one customer's business isn't all that important to a company with hundreds of stores across a large portion of the US. But hey, one family is easily worth $5,000-$6,000 in revenue per year, which is nothing to sneeze at for any single store. To make matters worse, Publix can probably expect to lose a few more households to their across-the-street neighbor over the next few months, thanks to our opnion's impact on many of our peers' purchasing habits. By next spring, we'll probably have moved close to a dozen families from Publix to Ingles. Hopefully more.

Yep, that's right: Mr. Dumbassistant manager's self-righteous bullying has probably cost his store $60K in revenue per year, just by virtue of having turned off one customer.

Imagine his impact on his store if he chases away one customer every day... Or even just two per week, if you want to give him the benefit of the doubt. He could be chasing away millions of dollars of revenue per year, just by being a dick.

The point is that we're all set in our little shopping habits: We have our favorite gas stations, our favorite restaurants, our favorite dry cleaners, our favorite car washes, our favorite bookstores, our favorite electronics stores, and our favorite grocery stores. We are creatures of habit. It takes a trigger to get us to change our purchasing habits.

A recommendation from a friend or peer is a trigger (Yey to WOM). A special sale is a trigger. A grand opening is a trigger. A clever bit of signeage is a trigger. Effective marketing can be a trigger.

And, as Publix may or may not be aware of, a bad experience can also be a very powerful trigger.

Here's a tip: Don't ever let a customer leave your store angry.

Here's another tip: Don't ever treat a customer like a criminal when they haven't broken any laws or caused mayhem in your store.

What the Publix Nazi did went far beyond making me angry. In truth, I would have probly gotten over it in time, and within weeks, I would have been right back at that Publix, settling into my old habits. What he did was give me a reason to go discover what his competition had to offer.

That was his mistake.

That was the outcome of his moronic decision to put aside common sense, politeness, and the values of his store, and choose instead to be a complete asshole.

If you're a store owner or manager, let this be a warning to you: Prohibiting kids from rolling around in their Heelys inside your stores makes sense. Prohibiting kids from wearing their Heelys inside your stores is ridiculous. Worse yet, treating them and their parents like criminals when they do the latter is both bad form and bad business. They're shoes, people. Move on. Find something better to do, like taking good care of your customers instead of policing them.

Unless you just want to hand over your best customers to your competitors, free of charge.

For shame.

Judging by how many of my kids' friends also have Heelys, I hate to think of the volume of business being lost on a daily basis by stores more interested in mindlessly enforcing unnecessary "rules" than handling their customers with a modicum of tact and professionalism.

Kneejerk policies = Bonehead customer experience disasters.

Okay, rant over. Have a great Monday, everyone.

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Weekend Update: Roby's second week in Afghanistan


Starting today and lasting through the rest of his deployment in Afghanistan, I am going to reserve a little bit of bandwidth every weekend to bring you some of my favorite images from Roby's quasi-daily photo diaries.

If you didn't already know, Roby (one of the original masterminds behind F360) is currently doing a tour in Afghanistan with South Carolina's Mighty Bravo 1-118 IN. When he gets back Stateside, he'll have to show us how he manages to carry his weapon and his half dozen cameras, but until then, we'll have to settle for his candid blog posts and his increasingly stunning images of a world and military mission we don't get to see much of.

If you think that these images are good, wait until he gets warmed up. (He's just getting started.) Seriously. This is easily AP quality stuff.

Read about Roby's daily adventures here.

Have a great weekend, everyone. ;)

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Zune helps cure cancer (one more reason to own one).


Fellow fans of the Zune rejoice: You can now get yourself a 30GB limited edition pink Zune, and fight breast cancer at the same time. Per Gizmodo:

Unlike some other charitable music-player-selling schemes that only donate a measly 5% of their proceeds to charity, when you buy a 30GB Zune from Warriors in Pink, 100% of the purchase price goes to Susan G. Komen For the Cure, thanks to the generosity of Ford and Microsoft.

100%. Every red cent.

Okay, it isn't a Zune 2 (they aren't available yet), but it looks pretty badass (if you're into that whole pink West Coast tribal rock & roll sort of thing). The imminent release of Zune 2 has prompted some pretty tasty upgrades to the Zune, so you won't feel like you're getting last year's hardware either.

Not to mention that you'll be different from the rest of the sheep sporting their boring "even my grandma has one now" iPods.

The pink 30GB Zune is $250 ($50 more than retail for a 30GB Zune), but it's for a worthy cause.


Check out the Warriors In Pink site. You can even enter to win the ultimate pink Zune accessory: a special one-of-a-kind pink-flavored Ford Mustang. Wowza.

As to the real question of the day: Am I man enough to drive a pink Mustang?

Pray we never have to find out.

Have a great weekend, everyone. ;)

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The Mediocre Middle


From Seth Godin's blog:

Most industries innovate from both ends:

  • The outsiders go first because they have nothing to lose.
  • The winners go next because they can afford to and they want to stay winners.
  • It's the mediocre middle that sits and waits and watches.

The mediocre (blank) companies, mediocre (blank) guys and the mediocre (blank) are struggling to stay in place. They're nervous that it all might fall apart. So they wait. They wait for 'proof' that this new idea is going to work, or at least won't prove fatal. (It's the impulse to wait that made them mediocre in the first place, of course).

So, in every industry, the middle waits. And watches. And then, once they realize they can survive the switch (or once they're persuaded that their current model is truly fading away), they jump in.

The irony, of course, is that by jumping in last, they're condemning themselves to more mediocrity.

Read the entire post here. (The post is about the music industry. I took the liberty of adding the (blank) elements to make Seth's argument more... universal.)

Along the same lines, Brains On Fire's Spike brings us this observation from CP+B’s Hoolpla:

“It astounds me how people are afraid of so many things, but mediocrity never seems to be one of them.”



Mediocrity - noun
Ordinariness as a consequence of being average and not outstanding [syn: averageness]

There's a pretty good conversation on the topic over there. Check it out and feel free to join in.

Have a great Wednesday, everyone.

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Reinventing the Insights Incubator


David Burn gives us this (on AdPulp) -

Tim O'Reilly talks about the value of putting people from different disciplines in a room together:

"In thinking about the future of collective intelligence, we need to make sure that we not only think about systems that lead to convergence of opinion, but also ones that ensure divergence, and fresh inputs. The surest way I know to get this is not to pay attention to the breaking news in your own pond, but to find the next community over, and to create new cross connections."

Clearly this is a page the ad industry needs to be on. It seems to me the perfect agency (that will never exist) would be comprised of the most eclectic mix of people possible—a dream team of organic farmers, cultural anthropologists, taxi drivers, vagabonds, poets, athletes, chefs, etc. Naturally, all of the above would be highly capable brand builders. That's a given. It's the unquantifiable X-factor that's only found in the mix, that we need to go after.

Read the full piece.


image: Dogs Playing Poker, by Cassius Coolidge

* * *

PS: The vagabond thing took me by surprise, but why the hell not.

Noteworthy vagabonds:

Kwai Chang Caine
Forrest Gump

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Philips, on improving innovation hit rate


Yep, it's time for Dutch Design Week again, and the Philips Design Probes site is getting a head start on bridging the gap between design, business, and where the next generation of viable innovative products will come from (via Yanko Design). Fascinating stuff:

The Design Probe projects carried out by Philips Design are part of a wider strategy aimed at improving the innovation hit rate. Growth through innovation is high on corporate management agendas throughout the world yet, according to figures in Business Week, "up to 96% of all new projects fail to meet the targets for return on investment."

Many companies try to drive innovation by using a 'funnel model' in which research results, new technologies or user insights are filtered in a very linear way, with the concepts that are left - those deemed most feasible - being quickly forced into business cases. Given the pitifully low success rate of innovations in general, it is obvious that such a model has its limitations.

Philips Design proposes an alternative view; that imaginative ideas should be explored on a case-by-case basis, rather than trying to impose a business 'straitjacket' too early. The Design Probes are fully in line with this philosophy, because they can produce valuable input for the innovation process through structured exploration of weak cultural signals and non-mainstream topics.

Read the rest (including two pretty interesting probe samples) here.

*The Dutch Design week will run from October 20th to 28th in approximately 40 locations throughout Eindhoven, the Netherlands. The probes presentation is part of a Philips Design exhibition in on the 4th floor of the Witte Dame. Daily at 17.00 Philips Design will organize a workshop around a theme of a currently project Philips Design is working on.

image: greenthumbs on miniature - courtesy of Yanko Design.

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From the daily ad biz blog:

Traditional advertising is not the place to be these days. Not only is it losing relevance, it is also not the best tool to accomplish a myriad of business goals. Generate engagement with core consumers, build loyalty, drive interaction rates, these are just a few of the things that traditional advertising, especially TV, just doesn’t do well in comparison to other marketing disciplines. It’s not dead by any means, but it’s not the universal answer either.

AdPulp posted this article about Nike that gives further support to my argument, in case you don’t a take a no-name blogger at his word.

Advertising has ceased to be the go-to answer when it comes to marketing questions. With that in mind, how much longer until other agencies begin to drive the brand, be they online, promotions or PR?

And you know that PR is just itching to do it and get us back for years of condescention.

Well, yeah.

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How to keep a fresh perspective forever.


David Armano, over at Logic + Emotion shares some thoughts on the perils of specialization when it comes to certain overlapping/fuzzy diciplines:

"Stay Hungry. Stay Foolish."
-Steve Jobs

"I believe that when you know too much—it takes away from your creativity and your ability to see things from different perspectives. I've been thinking about this quite it bit. I've been having mixed feelings regarding the specialized degrees that are being marketed to us, promising to turn us into design thinkers, creative strategists etc. Steve Jobs, the original design thinker was a college drop out. What does this tell us?

"I'm happy to see the business world take creative problem solving seriously and I'm certainly not against higher education or any of the new programs. But I'm also wary of what happens when we perceive ourselves as experts who have been trained in the black art of [insert profession here].

"I started this blog because I was hungry. I was most certainly foolish. I had no idea what on earth I was doing—and that sense of wonder freed me from any restrictions or limitations I might have otherwise been put upon myself. There was no "Guru-sim" involved, and no formal education or even work experience could have taught me to open a Typepad account and make the transformation from spectator to participant.

"That was an act of foolishness on my part. I was foolish enough to believe that people would come here. I was hungry enough to spend my downtime producing content and talking to people vs. watching the tube. So, you can call me whatever you like—but for my own sanity check, I'm going to stay hungry and foolish."

Read the entire post here. It comes with a great little video that I recommend you also check out.

In other words, embrace your inner amateur.

Have a great Friday, everyone. ;)

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Let's travel back to 2005, when Word-Of-Mouth (WOM) hadn't yet been hijacked by clueless and myopic marketers looking to make a quick buck off the promise of this strange but powerful thing called authenticity:

From a two-year-old post by John Moore on his Brand Autopsy blog:

"My advice to clients is to spend dollars to make the product more remarkable, not to make the word of mouth tactic more remarkable. Otherwise, all people will be talking about is what your company did and not what your company does.

When working with clients, I stress the importance of TELLING THE STORY and not Making Up a Story.

TELLING THE STORY is about designing marketing communications to deliver on the promise all the while being clever, savvy, authentic, and true to the brand. It’s about treating consumers as being interesting and interested.

While, Making Up a Story is when marketers engage in outrageously gimmicky attention-grabbing antics that over-promise and woefully under-deliver. These marketers treat consumers as being boring, indifferent, and brainlessly gullible.

To me, the Subservient Chicken, Ugoff, Dr. Angus, and The King are diversionary marketing actions designed to get consumers to focus on the kooky creative Burger King did and not on the food Burger King does."

Next time a marketing firm or ad agency comes to you with a WOM strategy, do yourselves and your customers a huge favor by making sure they aren't just talking about messaging or creative.

Spend dollars to make the product more remarkable,
the word of mouth tactic more remarkable.

Can we officially make this one of the ten commandments of Word of Mouth Marketing?

Pretty please?

Have a great Thursday. :)

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Attempt #36,422:

Dear Sir/Madam,

I find it pleasurable to offer you my partnership in business.

I am contacting you regarding a brief for the Investment of Twenty Five
Million Dollars (US$ 25,000,000.00) in your country, as I presently
have a client who is interested in investing in your country, but have
never done business in your country before. I find it imperative to
solicit for a partnership.

Hence upon receipt of this letter, I implore you to kindly respond and
let me know how possible it is to work with you in mutual partnership
under the conditions that:

. My client's fund is held in cash.
. My client is willing to invest immediately.
. My client will pay you a commission of 10% of the investment fund for
initial logistics and protocols.
. My client will pay to you a further 7% of profit earned over capital
annually as long as you manage the investment fund.
. My client desires absolute confidentiality in the handling and
management of this brief.

I must draw your attention to the fact that I have kept the
information's herein this letter stated brief; as I do not know if you will receive this letter and or what your response will be, If you do have the interest and the capability to partner with me under the above stated
conditionality, I will appreciate your response sent back to me by fax or
call me immediately. I will appreciate that you include a brief profile
of your self and your company for me to better appreciate your

I look forward to your response and our partnership.

Have a nice day.

Sincerely Yours.

Jack O. Shmuck

Seriously. WTF.

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The effectiveness of excuses


Overheard today:

"The maximum effective range of excuses is exactly zero meters."

The military has a nice way of putting management lessons into simple terms.

* * *

On that note, it's official: Since I have recently taken an exciting new position with another firm and Roby and his unit are now in Afghanistan, F360 is officially in hibernation mode until he comes back to G-Vegas next spring. No worries, F360 will continue to serve a small nucleus of select clients in the interim.

On my end, I want to thank all of the clients I had the pleasure of working with over the last few years. You guys rock, and I will miss you all. :)

Now, one of the cool things about Roby being in Afghanistan for many months to come, is that he is finally blogging... and judging by his first few entries, his blog is going to be classic Roby. (He's only been in the Stan for 72 hours, but has already managed to lock himself into the latrines - which must be some kind of record.) Between Roby's Italian accent, his candid style and his photography, this is sure to turn into a pretty good read over the next few months, not to mention a rare glimpse into what is going on in that part of the world. Bookmark his blog, check it out from time to time, and drop him an email when you get a chance. I am sure he'll appreciate it.

Have a great Wednesday, everyone. ;)

Image: Roby's first patrol in Kabul - from his first war gallery.

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Innovation: Setting the stage for 2015 and beyond


Chris Mooney just published a brilliant essay in Seed about the future of innovation in the United States and the leadership required to ensure that we, as a nation, restore our focus on it. It's six pages long, and you absolutely need to read it. Here's a taste:

"The next president of the United States of America will control a $150 billion annual research budget, 200,000 scientists, and 38 major research institutions and all their related labs. This president will shape human endeavors in space, bioethics debates, and the energy landscape of the 21st century.

"Setting the right policies for science in the US will prime and drive the nation's economic engine for decades to come. At a time when economists agree that innovation fuels growth, the US finds itself importing more high-tech goods from the rest of the world than it is exporting. More low-tech than high-tech jobs are being created in this country; other nations, like South Korea, Singapore, and China, are producing a far higher percentage of natural science and engineering graduates. Bill Gates expresses this broad concern when he says: "When I compare our high schools with what I see when I'm traveling abroad, I am terrified for our workforce of tomorrow."

"Indeed, the economic centrality of science and technology overlaps inextricably with international affairs. In the coming decades, China and India in particular are forecast to grow into major centers for innovation. China, powered by a leadership determined to achieve scientific advancement, is now second only to the US in its annual investment in research and development. India, meanwhile, is churning out 2.5 million science and engineering graduates per year. To successfully guide the US into the 2010s, the next president must understand the trends that are transforming these nations into key US competitors and have a plan for keeping pace with them—while simultaneously avoiding shallow nationalistic rivalry. The advancement of science is not a zero sum game."

This is not a question of being Republican or Democrat, conservative or liberal, Christian or whatever. Understanding the value of providing educational resources that will enable the kids of today to someday innovate their way out of the economic, social, scientific, educational and cultural holes we are digging for them, shouldn't take a whole lot of brainpower or bandwidth. The stakes are simple: Invest in science, research, engineering, critical thinking, innovation, and education in general, or watch this country turn into some version of this.

Where Chris' piece shines is in its ability to connect the dots between effective leadership in the Oval Office, intelligent national scientific and educational policies, innovation... and economic growth. Great stuff and well worth the read.

Read it, and share it.

Have a great Tuesday everyone. ;)

image credit: orbitals b, by Jared Tarbell

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BrandingWire #4 - Rescuing a sinking ship


Hi everyone, it's that time of the month again: Our latest BrandingWire Challenge:

Consulting Firm’s Client Base Profile:
Revenues: $1 million to $25 million
Employees: 150 or fewer
Verticals: High-tech and health care
Location: North America
Challenges: Consumers and other businesses have so many choices, that high-tech businesses as well as their other target audience made up of clinics and hospitals are either showing stagnant growth or they are losing market share.
Client’s Problem: They don’t know how to differentiate themselves from their competition.

Consulting Firm’s Challenge: As a small marketing firm, they are losing contracts to lower pricing and to bigger firms. The consultancy after three years has stopped growing and most of its clients buy one project and don’t return for more assistance for several years, if at all.
For once, I am not going to be all verbose and whatnot. This company is in trouble, and there is a lot of work to be done before we can get back to a fun and insightful conversation about differentiation and reaching the next level in its evolution. Here are my top recommendations to get this company out of its hole:

1) Based on the above information, your company is failing. It's time to recognize that. Stand in front of the other principals, and have everyone say it outloud: "Our company is failing." It might seem silly, but you need to do this. Have everyone say it, one at a time, and let it sink in. If you don't do something drastic fast, everyone will be out of a job in a year. Those are the stakes. Accept them so you can face them. Period. Fail to do this, and you're just wasting your time asking me for any advice.

2)Make an inventory of all of your current clients. They are your patrons. Your angels. They are the foundation upon which you will rebuild your business. Every former client or future client goes on a separate list. Don't even worry about them right now. You have to focus on the duck in hand, not the two in the bush. Now go out there as if you were a startup, and focus on these clients. Make them LOVE you. Dazzle them. This is your chance to get back in the game, so do it. Throw "business as usual" out the window, and get back to your roots.

3) Make an assessment of whom on your staff is needed, and whom isn't. Why? Because if you're only billing $1M-$25M, you don't need 150 people on the payroll.

4) Take a look at yourself as a company, from the outside in. There is a reason you aren't getting a lot of return business. These are some possibilities:

a) You are not providing a good value to your clients.
b) You are providing a good value to your clients, but they can't see it.
c) Your work is boring.
d) Your work is ineffective.
e) You are not projecting the right image as a company.
f) You are too slow.
g) You are too expensive.
h) You are difficult to deal with.
i) You are not offering the type of services they need.
j) You are not knowledgeable enough about their business and market to be effective anymore.
k) You've gotten tech-soft. Get back to the top of the game in the tech arena. Become a resource for tech apps again. (Trust me, if your business is flat, you haven't been a resource for a while.)
l) Do a complete 360 review of your communications, from your website to your brochures to your blogs to your billing. Chances are that you need to freshen some things up a bit.

Your differentiation will be based upon your ability to nail every item on this list.

This isn't about being creative and clever. It isn't about changing a font or getting a new logo, or a new tagline. (Please spare us the re-branding waste of time.) It isn't about throwing money and creative at a problem that needs a deeper solution.

(Applying a new coat of paint to a sinking ship is dumb. Instead, find the holes and plug them.)

It is simply about saying no to being average, and making a point to be the best again. This is where you start.

As usual, check out the rest of the posts on BrandingWire. Have a great Monday, everyone.



The Kolbrener Table of Brand Evolution Terms


This is pretty nifty. (Click on the image to see the actual table. Once you're there, scroll your mouse over the table to see each element's description.)

Thanks to Brandon Fritz for the heads-up.

Have a great Friday, everyone. ;)

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Hey, at&t: Were your PR people all on vacation today?

This morning, tech websites and marketing blogs were abuzz with outrage over this portion of at&t's latest terms of service:

"AT&T may immediately terminate or suspend all or a portion of your Service, any Member ID, electronic mail address, IP address, Universal Resource Locator or domain name used by you, without notice, for conduct that AT&T believes (a) violates the Acceptable Use Policy; (b) constitutes a violation of any law, regulation or tariff (including, without limitation, copyright and intellectual property laws) or a violation of these TOS, or any applicable policies or guidelines, or (c) tends to damage the name or reputation of AT&T, or its parents, affiliates and subsidiaries."

A whole lot of folks mistakenly took this as at&t threatening to cut your service if you talked trash about them. (It got picked up by several major news networks in the same context as well.) Within hours, there was talk of boycotts. at&t looked well on its way to having to deal with a damaging PR disaster (for starters).

For the better part of the day, I also wondered what at&t was thinking, taking such a totalitarian censorship stance. (Even Apple wouldn't be bold enough to take things this far.) I spent the better part of the hour I wasted sort of watching episode 2 of The Bionic Woman thinking about clever analogies to at&t's alleged Guestapo tactics. I imagined Volkswagen barring drivers from ever buying one of their cars again if they caught them complaining about their cars on their blog or facebook or myspace. I imagined Apple doing the same thing with its products. Delta airlines putting you on a no-flight list for emailing friends about a bad experience with their airline. Starbucks banning you from from their stores for getting caught recommending Lava Java to co-workers.

"Please step away from the counter and slowly place the scone on the ground, sir."

No company would do this... except maybe this guy.

So I started doing a bit of research on the subject, because... at&t trying to control what customers say about them in this way didn't make much sense. It didn't take me long to find this on the Ars Technica blog:

An AT&T spokesperson tells Ars Technica that the company has no interest in engaging in censorship but stopped short of saying that AT&T could not in fact exercise its ability to do so.

"AT&T respects its subscribers' rights to voice their opinions and concerns over any matter they wish. However, we retain the right to disassociate ourselves from web sites and messages explicitly advocating violence, or any message that poses a threat to children (e.g. child pornography or exploitation). We do not terminate customer service solely because a customer speaks negatively about AT&T."

Well, duh. Too bad at&t's PR peeps didn't unleash holy jihad on the scuttlebutt sooner. It's way too late on the East Coast now, and the story is still- as I write this post - gaining traction across middle America.

Evidently, today's events indicated that at&t's PR machine either doesn't have internet access, or didn't have a crisis plan in place for when stuff like this happens.

The term "asleep at the wheel" comes to mind... and that isn't good.


Even though this will blow over in a few days at the most, it is good to know that a) somebody is keeping tabs on potential corporate shenanigans (even if sometimes they jump the gun a little bit), and that b) outrage over the possibility of a corporation's abuse of power still spreads across all media so quickly. (We haven't become completely complacent after all.)

Have a great Thursday, everyone. :)



A Management Lesson from Craigslist's Jim Buckmaster


Below is some pretty delicious advice from Jim Buckmaster (CEO of Craiglist), courtesy of Lucy Kellaway, via AdPulp, from an Orange Yeti link. (whew.)

  • Listen to what users want. Try to make the site faster and better.
  • Hire good people. "We work hard trying to get the right kind of folks." It pays off: they hardly ever leave.
  • No meetings, ever. "I find them stupefying and useless."
  • No management programmes and no MBAs. "I've always thought that sort of thing was baloney."
  • Forget the figures. "We are consistently in the black, so if we do better or worse in any given quarter it is absolutely irrelevant."
  • Occasionally, give people "a very gentle nudge". This can be done over lunch or on the instant messaging boards.
  • He doesn't reply to any of his 100 daily messages, most of which beg Craigslist to do a deal. "I'm not real chatty on e-mail."
  • Put speed over perfection: "Get something out there. Do it, even if it isn't perfect."
  • "Don't screw it up by doing things that make people feel worse about their work."
The speed over perfection thing is a bit iffy in my little world, but I can respect the spirit behind the momentum Jim is after with this philosophy: Sometimes, speed is a whole lot more important than perfection. (You can always upgrade your product later if needed.)

Have a great Wednesday, everyone. ;)

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Okay, yes, I get most of my tech news from G4's Attack of the Show, Gizmodo, and ZDNet's All About Microsoft blog these days. Sue me.

Anyway, Gizmodo and AAM both kind of broke the story of Zune 2's launch this week (at least to me), and I have to say that I am pretty excited about it.


Because I just scored a free Zune (1) last week and I absolutely love the little rascal (including the fact that it isn't an iPod)... It goes everywhere with me. In the car, on bike rides, into grocery stores... We're best buddies. But I am tired of having to explain to everyone and their brother what a Zune is.

"What's a Zune?"

It's a really cool portable media player. Here, look.


*sigh* It's Microsoft's version of iPod, only a gazillion times better.

"Ohhhhhh. How come I've never heard of it?"

Um... yeah. Somehow, the first Zune release apparently hit a whole lot of dead air.

Most people I run into have never even heard of Zune... and that makes me angry in the same way I get angry when I meet someone who has never seen a Star Wars or James Bond movie... Except I'm not actually annoyed with people who have never heard of Zune. Unlike the other two groups, it isn't their fault.

With the release of Zune 2, I am hoping that Microsoft will finally make the big splash on the pmp scene that its player deserves. With an embattled Apple busy dealing with iPhone's bricking issues, fat from iPod's complete oversaturation of a market ripe for something new to embrace, and the Holiday season right around the corner, Microsoft's timing couldn't be better. Let's hope they hit the ground running and get some traction this time.

Seriously, folks, Zune is a killer player, and you really owe it to yourselves to check it out when it starts hitting stores next month. You can watch movies on this thing, store unbelievable amounts of music, carry around your entire photo library...It's a pretty sweet tool/toy. It even has a tasty wireless feature that allows you to share songs with friends and fellow Zuners.

Update: From Gizmodo, of course -

The new features in all models, which were leaked early, are wireless syncing with your computer automatically when you're in Wi-Fi range—something users have been clamoring for since even before the first Zune—as well as videos in the Zune Marketplace and new music, some of which are DRM-free. The Zune Pad is actually touch sensitive, much like the iPod's Click Wheel.

Zune Marketplace now has music videos, but no movies. Three million songs total. The 80GB Zune also has a large, 3.2-inch screen, but only comes in black. It's also smaller and thinner than the original Zune. The flash-based Zunes, on the other hand, come in pink, green, black and red, and are the smallest of all. [CNET]

The sharing feature is being expanded so you can send music AND "other media" to other Zunes. The shared songs have no expiration date and can be shared again with other people, but the same 3 play limitation is still there.

Zune's also getting a Zune Social social-networking site. You don't even have to own a Zune to join. You can have Zune Cards to "reflect your musical preferences", based on the music you listen to on your Zune player. The card can have custom pictures and backgrounds. Displays your currently played song. You can also browse other people's cards and sample the standard 30-seconds of the song to see if you like it. There's also going to be community-generated charts to see what's popular right now in the Zune community.

The Zune's got a re-worked navigation button and is no longer has brown as a color. Darn, we liked the brown. [NYT]

Yep, brown was the yummy one. I'm holding on to my 30gb for sure now.

Zune's also getting a feature to automatically import recorded content from Windows Media Center as well, meaning you can take your TV shows to go just by syncing up with your computer.

The 30GB Zune actually isn't being eliminated, and will be offered at $199. Amazon already has it for $165-$185 now. It's going to get Wireless Sync, the upgraded Zune to Zune transfer, and the recorded TV content to go. It's most likely got the same codec support as the 80GB.

This makes me pretty happy, as you may well imagine.

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Nokia pounces on Apple's snowballing marketing blunder


Following the iPhone saga (yes, still), here is what happens when a company backs itself into a corner:

From Gizmodo:

"According to Apple, "no software developer kit is required for the iPhone." However, the truth is that the lack of an SDK means that there won't be a killer application for the iPhone. It also means the iPhone's potential as an amazing computing and communication platform will never be realized. And because of this I don't think the iPhone will be as revolutionary as it could be. That's a real heart breaker.

"Steve Jobs initially sold the iPhone as the Next Big Thing from Apple, just like the Macintosh was. The Macintosh really broke the mold. While not as groundbreaking, the iPhone is an intelligent and clean implementation of existing things. Really intelligent, really clean, like the Mac. Unlike the original Mac, however, developers won't have full access to its core features. Without them there won't be the equivalent of PageMaker, Photoshop, Word or Premiere in the iPhone, powerful applications taking full advantage of the unique capabilities of the hardware, the operating system and its frameworks.

"Those applications spawned two revolutions: desktop publishing (including photo editing) and desktop video. It was the Mac and its third-party apps that brought radical changes that have deeply affected us, not the Mac alone.

"On the iPhone, however, developers will be limited to developing Web applications based on AJAX, a set of Internet standards that make software like GMail, Google Maps or FaceBook possible. The iPhone is the real thing, a complete UNIX-to-go with stunning graphic classes, and developers will be limited to do stuff like this.


"So no SDK = no access to iPhone's cool frameworks = no revolutionary apps, no real new concepts coming from third-parties, no eye candy available for anyone but Apple and no possibility for some really crazy games that will fully exploit the graphic and multi-touch power of the iPhone."

And this, of course, follows Apple's rabid blitzkrieg against unlocked iPhones and 3rd party applications usage last week.

If you didn't gather from the first part of this post, this isn't a story of corporate legalities. It is simply a story of disappointment, out here in the real world. In what most business execs might call "the market." We all bought into the promise of the iPhone: Beautiful design, killer features, gorgeous screen, etc. But then Apple blocked us from making the iPhone ours, and things started getting sour fast.

At this point, Apple might as well lease the damn things instead of selling them... which actually may not be a bad idea if we aren't going to be allowed to customize or load applications on them them as needed.

Here's the thing: When most of us buy something, we don't like to be told what we can and can't do with it. Most other manufacturers, distributors and marketers know this: This is why even though speed limits never exceed 75mph in the USA, most cars sold in all 50 states can at least go to 120mph. This is why cans of soup, jars of mayonnaise, cups of yogurt and bags of nuts now come with clever little recipe ideas on the package. This is why Burger King lets you "have it your way," and why Starbucks will brew up just about any type of coffee drink you ask for: This is America and for better or for worse, people here want to have the freedom to use products they pay for as they see fit. A shovel. A pen. A grill. A laptop. This should be no different.

What Steve Jobs and his minions don't seem to get is that we are already using tons of these aps on our laptops and desktops. All we want to do is transfer their functionality to our smartphones. That's it. Is that really too much to ask? Of course not... Yet here we are.

Not to get too Biblical here, but giving mankind the coolest phone ever designed and then ordering us to only use a fraction of its features is not unlike God showing Adam around the garden of Eden, taking him to the super exciting and mysterious tree of life, talking it up as the coolest, most powerful plant ever, and then ordering him not to ever, ever, ever taste its fruit. Not under any circumstances. We all know how that turned out.

Not that Steve Jobs is God nor iPhone the tree of life... but you get the point.

It doesn't take a genius to realize that Apple should have seen the backlash coming. More importantly, Apple should have given more thought to how to make sure the brand and the product might avoid backing themselves into an impossible corner with their myopic and monopolistic outlook.

And POW! Faster than you can sa ruh-roh, Apple's decision not to open iPhone to customization and third party applications (yet) gave a major player in the mobile phone market the platform it needed to earn back some much needed limelight. Enter Nokia and its "Open To Anything" campaign, which essentially promises complete freedom to users: "Open to all applications. Open to all widgets. Open to anything. What it does is up to you."

Of course.

Apple: No Freedom. Nokia: Complete Freedom.

Marketing Commandment #9: "When you don't like where the conversation is going, change the conversation."

Up until now, iPhone was about design and cool and wow. Nokia couldn't compete against design and cool and wow. (iPhone and Nokia's phones weren't even in the same orbit.) But these days, the conversation has shifted away from design and cool and wow. All people are talking about now are locked phones, bricked phones, blocked 3rd party applications, and how iPhone and Apple don't let users do what they want with their gimped phones.

If you were Nokia, what would you do?

Exactly. You would let the world know that your phones aren't locked. That they won't get bricked. That they will not block 3rd party applications. That users will be free to customize and use their phones as they see fit.

Easy as pie.

I suspect that other mobile phone manufacturers will follow suit and position themselves against Apple's monopolistic attitude pronto. As a matter of fact, those weird little busy sounds you've been hearing in the distance all week, those are the sounds being made by mobilephone providers' marketing departments and ad agencies all over the US, scrambling to follow Nokia's example.

As well they should.

These last two weeks, Apple has become its worst enemy: After a brilliant release this spring and a healthy outlook for its iPhone, it has managed to single-handedly antagonize a significant portion of its early adopters, permanently scare away a gaggle of potential iPhone users, and give all of its fiercest competitors a tangible and fiercely effective anti-iPhone/anti-Apple strategy.

That's some accomplishment.

The lesson here is tenfold:

1) Don't ever blow off your most passionate or vocal customers/users.
2) Don't ever try to control whom uses your products, or how, or why.
3) Don't be inflexible when it comes to possibly having to make strategic adjustments along the way.
4) When it comes to your relationship with your customers/users/fans, don't ever switch from dialog to monologue.
5) Don't open yourself to easy attacks by your competitors.
6) Don't ever allow yourself to become one of the black hats.
7) Don't ever make easy assumptions about how "the market" will react to your brilliant strategy.
8) Don't punish your early adopters.
9) Don't punish your users, especially if all they did was customize your products to fit their needs.
10) Just because you are the coolest company in the world doesn't mean you can't screw up from time to time.

Watching competitors react to Apple's embattled position is going to be a beautiful case study in market dynamics.

Have a great Tuesday, everyone. :)

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