Brand, buzz and the business of being in business

I was having a conversation recently with a really creative branding agency to understand what they saw the role of social networking to be within the branding world.  They showed me beautiful work, worthy of an award winning branding shop. But as I reveled in the beauty of their designs, something seemed to be missing but I wasn’t sure what.

As our conversation drifted toward the subject of branding in the new social networked world, I was curious to see how a branding agency was dealing with this branding paradigm shift. As we continued our conversation, it started to become clearer to me what I sensed was missing earlier. It became clearer that the agency and I were having a conversation but at two entirely different levels. To this branding agency, their focus was on how they would communicate a corporate strategy most effectively within the normal branding elements – the website, the stationary, product marking, trucks and the like. The focus was on the visual representation of the brand’s strategy.

Important work, but I realized that this was more limited scope than I was thinking. I was talking about how the very definition of branding needed to change to encompass the new reality of our highly evolving and interconnected Internet world.

It was then I understood what the new way to brand should encompass.

This new way to brand leverages the relationship between branding, buzz and the business of business. It is about integrating how the brand looks, how the brand conducts conversations, how the brand utilizes communities to propagate a strategic branding positioning. The new branding paradigm is about how brands involve Judy Consumer in the creation of their brand story.

Now that’s turning the model around and the possibilities begin to flow from that reversal. The branding fun has just begun.

Judy Shapiro

www.twitter.com/judyshapiro

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Brilliant marketing made simple – Trust the creative heart.

“The intuitive mind is a sacred gift and the rational mind is a faithful servant. We have created a society that honors the servant and has forgotten the gift.” Einstein

I got a recommendation from someone to read the book by Martin Lindstrom, called “Buy·ology; Truth and lies about why we buy what we buy”. It describes the new neuromarketing sciences exploring how the brain’s physical reaction to our thoughts, sensory stimulation or even rituals can evoke  brand loyalty or apathy .  According to Lindstrom, this new understanding of the biology behind our unconscious mind’s ability to make “decisions” faster than our conscious mind, represents a, “…historic meeting between science and marketing. A union of apparent opposites.”

Now, I deeply respect Mr. Lindstrom’s work, but TBH, these types of branding books are a marketing person’s nemesis. They are often recommended to us by CEOs with the implicit expectation of; “Read this so you know which buttons to push. And tell me what you think in 4 days. Thanks.”

If a CEO were to ask me summarize the book, it would pretty much boil down to:

1) Our subconscious mind is much much faster than our conscious mind to take in stimuli and make “snap” decisions.

2) The line between alternate outcomes (dare I say alternate realities) in a situation is as thin as a single thought. If you believe that a ritual or a treatment is going to work – it more probably will. A potent principle in marketing when applied to shampoo or shoes or new technology.

3) If understood correctly, there are fundamental mechanisms in the brain that can be used by marketing to evoke immediate and lasting impact in current and future purchase decisions. Highly useful, no doubt.

4) Finally, the book nobly tries to empower us to make better decisions because we are “armed” with information. I must say, this Mr. Lindstrom’s weakest moment. Being armed with “conscious” rational information does not particularly seem efficacious if we are to believe the bulk of the book which explains in rich detail how driven we are by mechanisms that transcend rational thinking.

But as informative as the book was, I think it misses a big part of the branding story. Mr. Lindstrom, like many others who are drawn to the razzle dazzle of new mind mapping technology, often overlook the real nuts and bolts of what makes marketing really great.

Being great in brand building, IMHO, does not start with technology, but starts with the power of a creative heart. Unlike Mr. Lindstrom who believes that till now marketing and science were “apparent opposites”, I can tell you that much of what Mr. Lindstrom described in the book as powerful branding techniques were not new to me. Why? Because great creative minds in the agencies were using these techniques all along, we just didn’t have the technology or the fancy names to label what we knew anyway.

Some examples:

  • The book refers to “Sensory branding” (page 142) whereby attaching multiple senses to a branding program works a lot better than only  one sense. It also demonstrated that if two senses were inconsistent with each other, (e.g. an image of a lemon has the smell of vanilla), this combination was the least effective in creating a positive brand association. Twenty five years ago we simply called this principle “cognitive dissonance” and any good creative mind knew enough to avoid it without any SST brain scan.
  • Then there’s the very cool idea of mirror neurons, where if you just see an experience, it can feel as vivid as though you are doing it. This mechanism explains the deep satisfaction we get watching spectator sports or theater. Again, back in the 1980s, we knew about this phenomenon even though we did not know the name. We knew about the principle when we created Folger spots to linger lovingly on the brew process so that you could “almost smell” the fresh brewed coffee. We knew this was a powerful marketing technique even if we didn’t have the benefit of science to inform our work.
  • And also we nailed the importance of “Rituals” years ago. Duncan Hines focused on the ritual of making cookies with your kids and Folger became “the best part of waking up”. Again, these principles were masterfully utilized by creative people doing what do they naturally.

We must remind ourselves that neuromarketing or even taken further, the latest new digital marketing technology are tools for the artists and creators. And the best of these minds were using these “latest” ideas decades ago. There was no tension of “opposites” Mr. Lindstrom alludes to, but rather we used our talent to intuit the “science”. The best creative minds already knew what science is now telling us.

I believe Mr. Lindstrom would endorse for a balanced approach. In today’s techno-rich, techno-dense marketing world, it is so very easy to let technology blind you into thinking that there are silver bullet answers in creating powerful brands, (could this account for the stupendously low average tenure of a CMO of about 23 months?)

Instead, let’s turn the model around. Rather than promote the new science as the way to brand vitality, let’s demote technology to its proper place – as a means to an end. Let’s celebrate the creative mind as the primary force that animates it all. It’s about recognizing that for great marketing to live and breathe; even the most amazing new technique won’t work if there is no creative expression of it or if that message is inconsistently applied.

In the end, neuromarketing techniques may tell us that yellower yolks makes eggs more appealing, but ya still gotta get them to buy the eggs in the first place!

BING versus Google: Will “Judy Consumer” get the difference?

We consumers seem to becoming just pawns in the power struggle between the two Internet born behemoths of Google and Microsoft. To Google, we are “products” to be sold to highest bidding advertiser and to Microsoft we have been reduced largely to a software license.  When I see the battle of these two corporate super powers play itself out on the grand stage, I am left feeling awed and also feeling rather puny too. 

 So when I read the plethora of opinions being spun by experts about whether BING is better than Google, I wonder what “Judy Consumer” thinks. I do suspect that no matter what the experts think, both views introduce largely technology benefits whose subtleties are probably largely lost on the vast majority of “Judy Consumers” in the real world who use this stuff.

 What the “Judy Consumers” of the world do know is the new BING advertising campaign which promises that BING is not a just search engine but a decision engine. I can imagine the agency/ client meetings assessing this positioning versus that. I can hear the focus group comments that came from the testing that no doubt went into the creation of this campaign. And I can certainly feel the excitement (maybe even a little tension) as the agency reported on the research results in support of the recommended campaign. Been there, done that.

 Clearly the BING campaign is meant to communicate that people will get to the relevant information they want faster than Google. But this almost a technical benefit (aka better filtering of search results) is lost in the grandiose nature of the BIG BING promise as a decision engine. Maybe I am just too independent minded (and not the primary target), but I can’t help resisting the notion that Microsoft technology will decide anything for me.  What I really want is technology to give me the information I need to make the decision I want. So the premise of a decision engine falls flat to my ears. But hey everyone’s a critic.

 So then I went to look at how does BING delivers in its decision making promise. I did the first search that came to mind – I searched my name. Ya’ know what? Google did much better and was more accurate than BING by far. In fact, I could compare results very efficiently via a site called bing-vs-google.com that David Pogue of the New York Times was kind enough to introduce me to in his recent article.  http://www.nytimes.com/2009/07/09/technology/personaltech/09pogue.html?ref=technology   

 I tried again thinking that I am not nearly important enough to have a depth of results to get an adequate idea of how BING works. So I decided to search the term “online trust”. The results were no more satisfying this time. True – BING does have a few nifty features like the related searches and the excerpt from the site without having to click around, but beyond that, TBH, I could see no perceptible difference.

 Maybe I am not looking hard enough and I certainly did not put it through its paces as David Pogue did for his NY Times article. Or just maybe the differences are too subtle for “Judy Consumer” to notice or for anyone to even care enough about to look for these extras.  And this is where BING is at a distinct disadvantage because inertia is one of the most powerful marketing forces on the planet. While that’s good news for Google, it’s bad news for BING because I suspect people will try BING for kicks, but drift back to their inertia induced Google search patterns.

 So what will “Judy Consumer” really think? I don’t proclaim to know but I hope “Judy Consumer” makes up her own mind and not rely on either Microsoft or Google. Or the pundits either for that matter. They know too much.

Judy Shapiro (http://twitter.com/judyshapiro )

Why Twitter and Twine matter

Much digital ink has been spent trying to explain the likes of Twitter and Twine. Often, they are characterized as the poster children of the Web 2.0 techno trend. Pundits wonder if they represent a new, democratized broadcast platform. Others imagine that they serve as the next gen CRM tool. And skeptics believe these are just tech toys to be quickly dispensed with once the novelty is over.

As I read the plethora of opinions, I was left more and more unsatisfied largely because the answers ignored the “irrational exuberance” often surrounding media’s descriptions of these technologies. Either the media is very easily seduced when it comes to new technology (and that is not a hard argument to make) or they sensed these technologies represented an important trend taking shape beyond the current Web 2.0 craze.

I come down on the side of the latter opinion and believe these technologies do represent “something different”. Yet I could no more articulate the “something different” than anyone else until a recent conversation I had with some colleagues about Twine. I was explaining why I like Twine and how even the name appeals to me because it suggests interconnectivity where like-minded people form a “mini, trusted search circle” among themselves. When you participate in a Twine, you can get more trusted information about the subject of the Twine because it is strengthened, enhanced and expanded by real people. The “twine”, in effect, creates a “trusted search community” becoming more relevant and thus more trusted over time. The name says it all.

And Twitter matters for the same reason. You can follow people whose opinion you trust within a loosely bound and loosely trusted community. Or, you can share with your “followers” (a.k.a. your trusted community) what you think is useful, important, even trusted. Taken even further, I attribute Twitter’s popularity to the media friendly way reporters can get bite-sized updates from their “trusted sources” which is probably one reason why the Twitter scent carried so far and wide. But don’t let the hype around Twitter obscure the value of this technology – it is a means to receive or broadcast personal, relevant and yes, trusted information.

Now I think I can better put my finger on the “something different” I detect in these newer technologies and it revolves around how we use trust in this new web world. In today’s Web 2.0 world, we don’t expect much trust nor does it drive much how people use these social networking technologies. And if “trust” comes up at all, it is thought of as a risk mitigation requirement as in; “I need to be sure I can trust this person trying to friend me because I don’t want to get scammed.” But for this new web to materialize, trust will have to be transformed from the risk mitigation attribute to the key driver for how we optimize our personal, web experience. In essence, the next gen web hinges on the next gen kind of trust that is a proactive, positive part of the web experience.

When thought of in this light, then it becomes clear that the likes of Twitter, Twine and the many other forms of communities (from forums to bloggers to chat rooms) lies at the heart of how the next gen web will accomplish its charter. People today are creating all forms of communities as a way to proactively create different kinds of trust through relevancy made more potent via communal sharing. In the cases of Twitter and Twine, they provide a key, community-based “trusted information filter” to help sort through the deluge of relevant data, (after all, there are only so many “OMG, check this URL/ video out” emails we can sort through). Forums provide a different kind of trust by letting users share experiences and the sharp rise of bloggers’ influence in the social media celeb heap is proof of their power to create trusted communities.

As more and more people become more dependent on the Internet, the community creation groundswell is one indication of how people are imaginatively and proactively filling the “trust gaps” (a phrase I gratefully attribute to Melih Abdulhayoglu, CEO of Comodo) using their trusted communities. I broadly think of Twitter and Twine as variant versions of communities and this is why I assert it makes sense to think of all these emerging communities as smack in the middle of the next gen web rather than the Web 2.0 landscape. They represent people’s desire to create a personal, relevant web and that will, increasingly, be a function of how people are able to create trust in their ever widening web world.

That’s why Twitter, Twine and all forms of communities matter. They are the building blocks of the next gen web – the Trusted Web.

Welcome home.
Judy Shapiro

Technology makes our lives easier – HA!

This week, DigitalNext (the digital section for Ad Age) ran this post I wrote about the still rumored new iPhone that can, in one mighty device, make video recording, editing and uploading easy.  My article was a ding to the cool reporters who become so blinded by the cool stuff, that they very nearly recklessly claim that all technology (especially too cool Apple technology) makes our lives easier.

HA!

Yep, you can call me a tech curmudgeon, but I reached the tipping point with every new technology touted as “making our lives easier” . The Apple non-annoucement announcement seemed to come on the heels of the media deluge around the very cool, very prominent iPhone TV campaign called “there’s an app for that” that touts the cool things one can do with an iPhone. The spot shows someone effortlessly whizzing through three or four screens of what seems like an endless array of apps to “make your life easier.”

It’s too cool – or ‘sick’ as my teenage son would say and I too dreamily appreciate how all this technology lets us rise above the mundane and do things easier. This new iPhone is just one link in the ever growing chain of technology that makes our lives easier.

But my seductive daydream was rudely interupted because I’m watching the Apple commercial and I see all these apps going by, and I start to think; “how the heck do you sort through all the apps to find the ones I want?” Then I thought, “I wonder how long or how many times I would actually use any of these apps”. Then I started to wonder. “Where will I store all those easily snapped videos since I won’t want to upload all of them to YouTube.”

It’s easy to see why this myth that technology makes our easier is a very seductive myth even if it is, well, plainly wrong.  The seduction of new technology belies the reality that technology is often neither a time saver nor even more efficient. It does make specific tasks  easier, but to do those tasks often requires more work in other areas.  

So while the iPhone can let me get a mailing label done easier – I may just pull out my pen. After all, my pen does not run out of juice too often.

To read the whole article, go to http://adage.com/digitalnext/post?article_id=136533 or click here for PDF of article.

Judy Shapiro

One man’s technology “bleeding edge” is another man’s mainstream

I was having lunch with a long time friend who has worked at large ad agencies virtually all his professional career. I was complaining to him about the challenges of deploying digital marketing programs from a client’s perspective because digital agencies often black box their services. They often make it hard to understand deliverables, performance metrics or even getting alignment around basic SLA’s (service level agreements).

As I expressed my frustration for nearly 30 minutes, my ever patient friend smiled gently and said, “But Judy, no wonder you are struggling – you are working with bleeding edge marketing technologies.”

That’s stopped me cold because I never thought of myself as bleeding edge in technology and certainly not in this space. There were so many people who knew so much more than me in the technologies that drive social marketing.

I started to protest. “I am not bleeding edge,” I countered somewhat more intensively than I intended. “I am mainstream!” I exclaimed louder than was polite given the small restaurant. Again, his gentle smile came across his face and he said, “I don’t understand why you resist being called bleeding edge – it’s what you are”.

His simple words, again, stopped me in my track.  Aside from the fact that I pride myself on being the advocate for the average non-tech consumer in the tech world, it still didn’t feel right – I didn’t feel like I was bleeding edge. And after another vigorous 10 minutes we both hit on an insight.

In many mature categories, such as packaged goods, mass media is the most efficient media vehicle to get the word out. These brands spend billions in traditional media to gain awareness and conversion and it is a proven model. But in emerging categories, like eCommerce or communications, digital media is the marketing backbone of an organization. For these categories, digital marketing isn’t bleeding edge – it’s mainstream.

Once we came to that realization, I felt better. After all, being “bleeding edge” can get messy (the blood metaphor is not without relevance). I like to live in the main – it’s a lot cleaner that way.

Judy Shapiro

Go online? Then you’re an Early Adopter.

                             

I remember clearly the first time I heard the term “early adopter”. It was around 1990 and I was an account person working on AT&T at NWAyer, an advertising agency. The agency “research guy” named John Bowman explained that it referred to a group of consumers with the personality type willing to be first to try a new product. And, if these early adopters liked your product, you could count on them to help spread the word.

 

So once we were introduced to this concept, we agency folks wanted our clients to create cool advertising campaigns to attract these early adopters. But there was a hitch. Early adopters tended to be a very small group. While they probably will become your champions, their ability to evangelize on your behalf was sorely limited. These early adopters could not sustain a business because they could not carry the message broad enough or far enough. For a business to become profitable, the product had to “cross the chasm”, appeal to the masses. Maybe early adopters helped the process, but more often than not, sheer marketing muscle in the form of advertising, did the trick. And to “cross the chasm” could take many months, if not years, and money – lots of it.  

 

That was then. This is now.

 

Today, I believe EVERYONE is an early adopter. If any of you go online or visit a social network or shop online – you are now squarely in the camp of the early adopter.

 

Why?

 

Because the pace of technology change is so rapid, that it has compressed into months what previously took years between the early adoption stage and the category maturation cycle.  For instance, if you go online today, I bet you will try some new “online thing” within the next 30 days. This makes you an early adopter – whether you be 16 or 86. Early adopters share a frame of mind – not a demographic, so that makes them a huge market. See what I mean? 

 

And social networks accelerate the rate of technology adoption even faster and further with newer tools like user ratings, online video chats, expert reviews etc. But social networks are also powerful accelerants of what new technology we adopt. We all get tons of emails or tweets from friends entitled, “check this out” – the promise of early adopter evangelicalism delivered.

 

I hope now you accept that everyone (ok – almost everyone) is an early adopter, and so you can start playing with how your marketing programs need to live within that new paradigm. You can identify various early adopter segments and develop a social marketing program appropriate to them. Create proper ways for your adopter segments to interact with each and with you. Solicit their input on product development and ask their help when you need it.

 

Creating businesses around early adopters is fun because once hooked they tend to be passionate about you. And they tend to trust you. Early adopters – gotta love ‘em.

 

Judy Shapiro  

Postscript — It is worth noting that the “research guy”, John Bowman, is currently an Exec VP at Saatchi and remains a trusted colleague.

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