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7 posts from January 2011

01/25/2011 Put Your Marketing Team (and Your company) on a Mission

The Electrolux “Vacs from the Sea” initiative strikes me as one of the smartest things I’ve seen in years. Electrolux is not only highlighting an important environmental issue, they’re building the solution right into their product. Talk about solving a problem in a way that’s good for people and good for the company. The reason they are able to succeed in pulling this off is because the Electrolux eschewed business as usual and went on a mission to do good.

Too often we see socially responsible campaigns as something separate from the business. Collecting and donating money to needy causes is good but it almost never has anything to do with the core business. Most of the time, we’ve come to see lots of these efforts as Greenwashing and even trying to buy good will.

There’s a huge opportunity to put your marketing team on a real mission instead. The double upside is that, if done correctly, it will help your customers and help grow your business.

  1. Solve a problem. A great place to start is to solve someone’s problem. People love solutions. When your company can provide a real solution to a problem, people will have more reason to both buy, and talk about your company.  Lots of businesses started this way. Just look at the Geek Squad. Unfortunately, when businesses mature they oftentimes forget about the problem and focus almost exclusively on themselves and their products. Finding pain points or problems that even tangentially touch your products increases your relevancy. Put your team on a problem-solving mission.

  2. Deliver great service. Look at Zappos or JetBlue. They both offer commodities so instead, they focus on service. Here’s a quote from Tony Hsieh:

    “We decided that we wanted to build our brand to be about the very best customer service and the very best customer experience. We believe that customer service shouldn’t be just a department, it should be the entire company.”

    He put his entire company on a mission to deliver personal service and they’ve succeeded wildly. If you looked at your customer base, what would be the things they need most from your company? What level of personalized service or care could you give them that no one else can? Put your team on service mission to make them irreplaceable in the minds of your customers.

  3. Make a cause core to your business. That’s what Electrolux is doing. It’s one thing to say we’re going to donate money to clean up the ocean. It’s another to use what you’re cleaning up in your new products. Electrolux is modeling sustainability rather than just talking about it. By integrating the solution into their products, they’re making the product that much more interesting to talk about, especially for the owners. What types of causes or sustainability could you integrate into your products? This takes the idea of “Baked In” to a real level. And it’s one that energizes both your employees and your customers.

This isn’t just marketing babble; it’s a fundamental shift in marketing. It’s a shift from looking inward and talking about yourself to a position of really focusing on other people and what’s important to them. And that’s the insight: people might like brands, but they’re mostly interested in themselves. If more companies can realize that and focus on the external, we’ll see more marketing that makes a difference. 

Screen shot 2011-01-25 at 8.04.30 AM

01/24/2011 Digalicious in the News

Some fun things happening the media this month for Digalicious:

First, Inc.com wrote a super article about the work we did with the Trapp Family Lodge. It’s the story of how we delivered a strategy of storytelling, social media and listening to help develop some new business products for the resort. We have to give a big thanks to both Jeff Pulver and his #brandsconf, where we told the story of re-humanizing the Trapp brand, and to Lou Dubois, who heard us at the conference and wrote the follow up article.

I’ve also penned an article for Dan Schwabel’s Personal Branding Magazine. This month’s issue revolves around standing out and getting noticed online. My contribution, “It’s Only Virtual Until You Meet Someone” highlights advice on what not to do on your way to social celebrity.

 Fun stuff. Enjoy.

01/18/2011 The Elephant in the Online Ad Room

Since I’ve started watching TV shows online I’ve noticed something about advertising. Some shows run 15 to 30 second TV ads every 12 minutes, just like on regular broadcast TV. Others bring you out of full screen to an interactive ad, that usually include a small video of…a TV ad.

The interactive ads allow you to actually do something (Discover Card has a memory game, for example) as opposed to the TV ads. However I find myself much more irritated at the interactive ads than the TV spots. (My eight-year-old son, on the other hand, would rather stop and play on almost every interactive ad). Those interactive ads in online TV make me get up and click once or twice to get back to my full screen TV. And that makes me hate them, no matter how interactive they are.

When I’m watching a story on TV (which is what every program is) I want to get to the end of it. I want to find out what happens. I don’t want interruptions getting in the way. Broadcast TV wrote an implicit contract with us viewers: if we wanted to see a conclusion, we had to tolerate the interruptions.

DVRs have started to break down that contract (thank you Skip Button on Dish Network!). We still tolerate that contract in print magazines, for example, allowing ourselves to linger over the ads before flipping the page to the next article. On the Web, though, we brook no interruptions! We’re on the Web to be IN control, and we expect things to go FAST.

We talk a lot about contextual and relevant online advertising, behaviorally targeted so people will pay attention. But, for the most part, we’re not paying attention because we’re paying attention to something else. Advertising has worked in the past due, to the most part, for its interruptive ability. But on the Web, with the exception of interstitials, we’re trying NOT to interrupt anyone.  Maybe it’s time to rethink that.

Right now, we position Web ads to not get in the way of the flow of the Web page. Publishers offer positions all around the content, in places where they’re very easy to ignore.  After reading lots of UX articles, for example, we know that the prime real estate spots are not the spots we find online ads. Why not? Maybe its’ time for publishers to give advertisers the prime viewing spots on their pages. We’ll get to the content eventually, since that’s what we really want.

If publishers aren’t willing to give up the best real estate, perhaps they should consider different ways of interrupting the content. Increasing the size of the in-text advertising that breaks up copy blocks might allow people to scroll through the ad, but still put it in a place where people will actually have to look at it. Whether they interact with it is another question.

(By the way, for the sake of this argument, I’m leaving out the issue of quality of the online ads. While that helps, I don’t think that’s the big roadblock).

When Sweden introduced commercial TV in the 80s and 90s, they made the stations put all of the ads either before or after the show. Rather than interstitials, perhaps that’s the place to put the ads, as a price of entry to the content?

Face it, most of us don’t want ads, we want the content we came for. But online advertising will continue to underperform if we don’t, at least, make it easier for someone to notice and interact with it. And yes, context and relevance and targeting help make online advertising better. But they’re not enough.

Until publishers give advertisers their prime real estate online, just like they do offline, we’ll be talking about how this platform under delivers for years to come.


01/12/2011 Speech Matters

I don’t know about you but the Arizona shooting scares the hell out of me. If people think that the way they talk and act doesn’t affect anyone or anything, then they need to have their collective heads examined. Speech matters. That’s why it’s so important to our country.

Right after the Arizona shootings a comment appeared in our state’s largest and most important newspaper, the Burlington Free Press. The comment was in response to an article in the paper about an upcoming Burlington city council meeting discussing the contentious municipal broadband company Burlington Telecom.

The commenter suggested that someone bring his “friends Smith and Wesson” to the meeting. The Free Press alerted the police and removed the comment. The police showed up at the meeting just in case.

Actually, these types of remarks aren’t surprising on the Free Press’ comment section. I should know, because the comments on various Op-Eds I’ve penned that ended up online are, well, mostly scary and bizarre. I don’t know why the Free Press comment section brings out the worst in some Vermonters. I usually tell people (jokingly) that it’s one of the most dangerous places in our state, the darkest alley in Burlington.

Which raises the question: Should the Burlington Free Press remove its comments feature? Recently they supposedly upgraded their system, but it doesn’t seem to have improved the debate there.

The idea that people can comment on articles and interact with each other is a good idea. It’s just not that easy or smart in practice. Monitoring everything takes time, and with all the cutbacks at newspapers, there aren’t a lot of people left to do this.

The biggest challenges the Free Press and others face with these types of comment sections are lack of involvement and transparency. One of the reasons things spiral out of control so quickly is that the people who are responsible for the news, journalists and editors, don’t participate at all once the article goes to press and online. The comment section is like a bunch of crumbs thrown to a starving readership. And readers respond with: We want more!! We’re going to fight over the biggest crumbs too!

In blog and news sites where authors participate things usually don’t get out of control so much. They get out of control at times, for sure, but the level usually isn’t as vile as the worst examples are. Here’s one piece of advice for newspapers: Participate! You want your readers to show up; well we want you to show up too.

The other piece that’s lacking is transparency. It’s easy to be obnoxious and even threatening when you hide behind a veil of anonymity. Newspapers should do everything they can to call out people who are out of line, not by turning them off, but by outing them. If someone makes the comment about Smith and Wesson, I want to know who. The papers should publish names, e-mail addresses and real addresses.

I think this would do a lot to turn down the temperature. It would ensure that we hold people accountable for their words. People shouldn’t expect privacy in this public setting.

We want discussion and interaction. News organizations like the Burlington Free Press are invaluable to our communities. Let’s use some common sense and act like people to make this work in a sane and productive way.


01/05/2011 We need more Chief Story Tellers

Face it we love C-Titles. Like most titles, they do little to explain what people actually do, but a lot to define position in the company. So even though I’m not a big fan of C-Titles, I’d like to suggest a new one for 2011. It’s Chief Story Teller (the CST).

When you look at your company or organization, what person is your chief story teller? Which raises the question: what should a chief story teller do, and why do brands need them?

We’re human (most of us, anyway) and humans crave stories. They thrive on them. Stories are what make us human. Brands have always used stories and consumers have needed them to differentiate between brands.


Our social/digital age has put a premium on story telling. Media fragmentation has made it harder to tell stories to many people at one time, but made it a lot easier to tell better, richer and more personal stories. Just look at all of the trend predictions for 2011: almost every one contains a reference to stories.

Which raises the question: who’s the person or group responsible for telling your story? In the past ad agencies filled that role, especially when they told the story in epic (30 second) proportions. But today we crave reality over grandeur, speed over high production value, and personality over polish.

Companies and organizations teem with personal, human stories. Some stories reflect the trials of the founders, others tell how you do your work, others revolve around the lives of employees, and still others describe the experiences of the customers. The only thing getting in the way of telling all of these stories is that almost no one is taking the time to ask the right questions and to listen to the answers. Story telling is the un-tapped gold mine of marketing.

Enter the Chief Story Teller. I envision this position filled by someone who loves hearing stories and retelling them. This person has to have a grand inquisitiveness and desire to connect to other people (both inside and outside of the organization). The role of the Chief Story Teller isn’t to only tell stories about themselves (or the impersonal brand). It’s to become the brand chronicler. The CST has to spend time digging up the stories, and then ensuring that they’re told, and spread, in the right way. 

Without a doubt, the CST has to be a good writer, but you can learn how to do that. The job is part journalist, part historian, with a dash of psychotherapy thrown in for good measure. The CST by nature is a cross-disciplinary position, since stories reside in all nooks and crannies of a brand.

And the CST needs to deliver, through social, earned and even paid media. The CST needs to understand which stories resonate and deliver more of those.

Brands have tiptoed around this, allowing their best social media guru to mantle the role, which usually results in one person telling their story. We need to broaden our vision of the role story plays in an organization. It’s too important to leave to outside consultants.

01/04/2011 One Word: Plastics

That was my favorite line from the old Dustin Hoffman movie “The Graduate.” In college, my friends and I used that line to joke with each other when we discussed future plans. In the movie, a family friend gives that career advice to Hoffman’s newly college-graduated character: Plastics. That’s the field he should get into as fast as possible.


I can’t say I had the same experience but I did have one that turned out somewhat similar. During my freshman year at Dartmouth we newbies chaperoned alumni to dinner and an event for an evening. In the group I was in we had the pleasure of hanging out with Bill Seidman, who used to be Gerald Ford’s top economic advisor. Rather than talking about a future in finance, Seidman had another word for us: Communications.

“Get into communications,” he said. “That’s what all of my kids did and they’re having a hell of a lot more fun than I did.”

[On a weird side note, the alumni I chaperoned turned out to be the father of two of my Dad’s students at UVM!] 

I had no intention of following Bill Seidman’s advice. But that’s where I ended up, having spent almost 25 years in the communication business. And it has been a lot of fun (although not always or only fun).

It also made me wonder: What word would I suggest to college students or recent graduates? The absurdity of a one-word answer to the ridiculously complex question of “what will you do in your life” is what made “The Graduate” so enjoyable. Is it possible? If so, what would it be? 



SocialMarketing? (So I cheated)

Actually, I think the one word advice I’d give is “Experiment.” It’s not a career, per se, though you can make a career of experimenting in many fields. In fact the challenge with all careers and businesses these days is that success depends on the ability to experiment. We talk about hybrids or T-shaped people as those most adaptable to change and the future. But those people became that way because they enjoyed trying and learning new things. Those new experiences made them smarter, broader and more adept.

That’s my “Graduate” one word. What’s yours?

01/03/2011 One Prediction for 2011: Lots of hard work ahead

The social juggernaut kept gaining speed in 2010. Most everyone who paid attention in 2009 started implementing social plans. Even some of the biggest verticals of digital laggards embraced the promise social marketing as a low cost, high touch communications tool. What then, can we expect in 2011?

I think this year is when we all have to do more of the hard stuff. Launching social initiatives was the easy part, in retrospect. Putting together a Facebook page, a Twitter feed and a blog and an editorial calendar, the social tools of choice for a majority of organizations, were important and necessary steps. Unfortunately, they’re not enough.

In 2011, more groups will start examining more carefully the return on these initiatives. They’ll look at employee resources as much as outside costs in determining how or if they should continue.  The work, for those groups and those of us who market socially, is to shift the focus from easy metrics like Followers and Likes to clear goals connected to the business itself. And that is the hardest work marketers can do. 

It’s a slow slog to integrate social into your core business. It’s much less glamorous then ad campaigns or launching a Facebook app. It takes a lot of time, conversation, idea development and internal buy in. In short, it's the heavy lifting.

Should we even bother? As much as we all love social media, the reality is that the data shows that social works.  A recent study by ForeSee Results seemed to downplay the effectiveness of social media at driving holiday shopping, but a closer look showed that Search, the digital marketing behemoth, drove 8% of holiday Web visits compared to 5% for social media.

Compare the money spent on search marketing to the money spent on social media and a different picture emerges, one that speaks to the power and promise of social. Yet to spur the shift in dollars, we’ll need to go beyond Tweet schedules and blog posts.

We’ll need to work our butts off to truly integrate social into the core business.

And we’ll see a lot more of that (successful) hard work in 2011.


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