Monday, July 20, 2015

Brand Building: It's Not Just for Mad Men Anymore

"Sure we're a unique demographic...for 1981.
But we'll be busting out big time in 2015!"
Back when we would willingly sit through seven-and-a-half minutes of commercials to watch 22-and-a-half minutes of Bosom Buddies, corporations spent literally billions of dollars on advertising to convince us to trust their brands.

Brand-building was strictly the purview of corporate America because it was prohibitively expensive. In order to reach lil ol’ you, advertisers had to blast their messages repeatedly to one of the demographic groups you belonged to. Target demographics, as defined by Madison Avenue, were massive chunks of the US population awkwardly grouped in the tens of millions by a handful of characteristics like gender, age, income, race, and geography.

It took a lot of money to make an impression on such enormous clusters of society. But there was no alternative. You needed clear and compelling communication in order to effectively build your brand. Today the opposite is true. Literally. You need a clear and compelling brand in order to communicate effectively.

You see, social media has splintered the 20th century demographic model into untold millions of self-selected communities. These online communities have come together organically based on common values, experiences, and interests. And communication within these communities is generally restricted to people they trust … others in their communities. Outsiders simply haven’t earned their trust.

So if you—an outsider—want to communicate with them, you need to first present a clear brand that shows you share their values, experiences or interests.

The good news is that it’s a lot easier and cheaper build a trusted brand than ever before. Social media has turned us all into Mad Men, giving us powerful production and distribution tools we need to create and manage our brands.

The bad news is that many people—particularly those who have built successful pre-Internet careers without giving a second though to building a brand—are intimidated by the prospect of having to take responsibility for their own brand.

But unless you’re planning to retire in the next year or two, brand building is in your future. If you’re ready and willing to learn more, we’re ready and willing to answer your questions … for free! Just click here and we’ll get things started.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Mission Critical: Is your mission statement killing your organization?

"We waited three years ... for THIS??"
Like HAL 9000 from Kubrick’s masterpiece 2001: A Space Odyssey, Kodak—the once undisputed leader in its field—is now singing “Daisy Bell” to an increasingly hostile audience.

Case in point: When Kodak unveiled its first smartphone last January at CES 2015, analysts expected the long-awaited phone to go on sale in late March, likely in the United Kingdom. Instead, Kodak missed the deadline by two months, opted for the Netherlands over the UK, and gave their phone the same name as the Perez-Hilton manufactured boy band that was unleashed on the public shortly after Kodak filed for bankruptcy protection back in 2012.

Not that anyone noticed. Kodak’s big announcement would have been the proverbial one-hand-clapping were it not for intrepid reporting by and the Ecumenical News.

And not that anyone cared. The reviews from Kodak’s big reveal back in January were the tech-community equivalent of, “Aww, Kodak! Let’s just scotch tape that to the refrigerator door so everyone can see it.” labeled it nothing special. And the Verge warned: “This is the first Kodak phone, and it’s probably not for you.”

We know this mighty has fallen. The question is how? The smart money’s on their mission statement.

Before Kodak started Chapter 11 of their tragic history, their mission statement was a 110-word board-room war cry that spoke of “a world-class, results-oriented, diverse culture based on our six key values” that offered their “customers and consumers differentiated, cost-effective solutions” in pursuit of their “fundamental objective … Increased Global Market Share and Superior Financial Performance.” [Caps theirs.]  

By contrast, Instagram—which became the new first-name in photography when Facebook acquired the company for $1 billion in cash and stock just two months after Kodak signed their articles of surrender—doesn’t have a mission statement. It has a quest: “To give all users a view of the world as it happens.” And it seems to be working for them. RBC Capital recently reported that Instagram could generate more than $2 billion in ad revenue next year.

The jarring contrast between Kodak’s mission and Instagram’s quest is a cautionary tale for those organizations still clutching to the “What’s good for GM” mentality of the 20th century.

To be successful in the Interactive Age, you need to have a connection with your audience or your customers (or your “customers and consumers” if you’re not into that whole brevity thing) well before you try to sell them your product or service. Simon Sineck demonstrates this quite beautifully in his TED Talk.

And the most meaningful connections begin with a shared quest. Unlike a mission—which is a directive from an external source that’s nailed to the break room wall right above the coffee maker—a quest is driven by a passion that comes from within to achieve a purpose that you hold dear. By publicly declaring your quest, you will find and attract entire online communities who share your goals, and your passion. And who will rally with you in pursuit of your shared quest.

And that’s when your successful journey really begins.

Saturday, May 23, 2015

The Power of Experience over Tchotchkes in the Interactive Age

"The struggle is important,
but I got what I came for."
Marius Overhand’s first run-in with the law—and Billy Clifford’s last—occurred in the R&S Auto store located right across the street from the Middletown, NJ police department back in the summer of ’71.
As a prank, Marius stuck a tennis ball in the front pocket of his jeans. He was pretending to shoplift to scare Billy who was such an altar boy that he’d hang his head after stealing second base in Little League. The joke backfired when Marius couldn’t get the ball out of his pocket before store clerk caught him.
Within seconds—literally—Middletown’s finest were screeching into the R&S parking lot with their lights blazing and their sirens screaming, which is a bit much since they were stationed right … across … the street.
(Now, there is some debate as to why an auto parts store was selling tennis balls. The most logical response I got from my twilight bark was that they were probably sold as potential trailer-hitch covers, which is good enough for me.)
Anyway, the reason I brought up the now-legendary "one too many balls in the jeans" caper is to demonstrate that, prior to the Internet, “stuff” was a lot more important to kids. Today, young people value experiences far more than the material possessions needed to have those experiences.
Case in point: on our walk yesterday, my dog Lucy and I found a baseball … and a complete set of catcher’s gear that had been left behind the night before. Think about that. In 1970s suburban America, some of us would risk arrest to pilfer a tennis ball.  Yet today, a kid will “forget” to bring home his catcher’s gear.
There are a couple of reasons for that. First, cool stuff was a lot harder to come by when we were kids. Back then, an $8 Timex watch was your “special Christmas gift,” an electric typewriter (with eight-character memory erase!) was your high school graduation present, and a new color-TV console in the neighborhood led to an impromptu block party.
Today, every kid in America is walking around with an HD TV in their back pocket. Not to mention a computer, a “hi-fi” stereo system, a video production studio, and a better two-way wrist TV than Dick Tracy ever had.
Second, young people don’t actually need to own as much stuff because they can rent practically anything in today’s sharing economy. I loved my ’69 Chevy Impala, my lime green Schwinn 10-speed, and my beat-up record collection. But my daughters wouldn’t dream of owning any of that when they can simply Uber, Bikeshare, or Spotify.
The new way of thinking about “stuff” is neither better nor worse. But it is something you’re going to have to take into account if you want to communicate more effectively with your audiences.
One simple step: lighten up on the tchotchkes. There ain’t no room in a micro-apartment for a shelf full of baubles, especially stuff that promotes the organization more than its cause.
Which leads to a more nuanced but no less important point—when promoting your organization and its cause, keep in mind that your audiences see your organization as the vehicle and your cause as the experience. And there are plenty of other vehicles out there.
So lead with the experience; lead with your quest. Connect with your shared vision. And take the time to develop a relationship based on your mutual goals—perhaps over a nice cup of coffee—before you offer them the mug.

Friday, May 15, 2015

In the Interactive Age, it is better to give THEN receive.

"Tell me more about how much you
 like my ring tone."
I had already dropped three quarters into the meter before I saw the flashing message: “No parking. Construction only. You will be towed. January 2, 2007.”

It had taken me 40 minutes to find that spot. There was no construction nearby. And I was pretty damned sure that it was 2015. That is until I heard the theme song from “The Little Rascals” coming from the suit pocket of the guy sitting at the cafĂ© I was parked in front of. At that point, boiling over with rage at this effed-up city and temporally unhinged from the anachronistic no-parking notice, you might have convinced me that it was 1969 and I was sitting in the big red chair in my mom’s living room, playing hooky and watching The Little Rascals.

The guy let the song play out its natural break before he answered (wouldn’t you?), staring at me with that “dig me” look that this town is known for. Rather than irritate me, the guy’s ring-tone home-run trot actually reminded me of a very important lesson about successful communication that I’d been meaning to talk to you about.

On October 24, 1936, Hal Roach released “Pay as You Exit,” The Little Rascals 148th and arguably most important short comedy film. You see, the 74-year-old “Pay as You Exit” short actually holds the secret to successful communication in the 21st century—it is better to give THEN receive.

The plot of the show is simple: in order to attract an audience to their production of Romeo and Juliette, Alfalfa invites everyone to see the show for free and tells them to pay as they exit only if they enjoyed the performance.

And it is precisely that simple formula that is separating the communication winners from the losers on the Internet. Organizations that freely give away their best material are attracting people who are interested in their key issues—some of whom would be willing to pay for a deeper dive in the info pool.

Those who are still hoarding their cache of information in hopes of attracting pay-to-play customers are becoming increasingly irrelevant in a world where knowledge is free. Sure, your organization may be the uncontested champion of the arcane details of your “highly specialized” field, but if you are hiding that info behind membership dues, outrageous download fees, or other monetary considerations, you won’t be the champ for long. People will find a free way around you.

You will fare much better giving away as much information as you can, attracting those interested in your topic to your helpful, free platform, and developing a reputation as the go-to resource on your given issue. If you’re content is as good as you think it is, you’ll have plenty of people paying as they exit … and even more when they tell their friends about your amazing website.

A little known fact: The actual title to the Little Rascals’ theme song is “Good Old Days,” which presumably referred to a simpler pre-20th century era—a time before people viewed information solely as a commodity.  Back in the 20th century, nobody gave away information. (You think Hal Roach let his audience “pay as they exit”?) So when we start giving away our content, we are not marching forward into some brave new world. We’re actually returning to a much more natural way of communicating with people.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

The Helicopter Parents have landed and they’re coming for your children.

"And don't forget to look both ways before
you cross the ... oh, to hell with it."

The Montgomery County, MD parents who were accused of child neglect for letting their 10-year-old son and six-year-old daughter walk home from a park unchaperoned were found responsible for “unsubstantiated child neglect” by the county’s Child Protective Services.

Can you imagine what the charges would be if those parents let their kids chase the mosquito man truck down middle of the street in a blinding fog of DDT ... like our parents did?

Friday, January 30, 2015

Good Kipp, Bad Kipp: Comcast's dis-service culture starts at the top

"The spoon thing? Bag of shells. But for the
life of me I can't cancel my Comcast service."
One of the least vulgar Urban Dictionary definitions of "comcastic" is "something that is not merely horribly bad, but actively offensive in some universal way," as in “Comcast’s customer service is comcastic times xfinity.”
The latest chapter in their saga features a “rogue” employee who renamed one of their customers “a**hole” over a billing dispute. But this employee isn’t alone. Comcast seems to be a veritable rogues’ gallery of vindictive “customer service” reps.
And it apparently starts at the top.
Steve Kipp, Comcast’s regional VP of communications who’s doubling as road manager on this most recent apology tour, was himself Comcast’s “Rogue of the Month” back in May 2011.
The cable exec's swan dive onto the hard slab of public opinion was prompted by a tweet that expressed appropriate—and pretty much universal—disgust that the FCC Commissioner who voted to approve the $30 billion Comcast/NBC merger "is now lving FCC for A JOB AT COMCAST?!?" (sic) Much to Kipp's chagrin, the tweeter was Reel Grrls, a nonprofit that teaches media production to young women, and which is funded in part by Comcast.
So Kipp fired off this email:
"Given the fact that Comcast has been a major supporter of Reel Grrls for several years now, I am frankly shocked that your organization is slamming us on Twitter. ... I cannot in good conscience continue to provide you with funding ... I respect your position on freedom of the press. However ... I cannot continue to ask [my bosses] to approve funding for Reel Grrls, knowing that the digital footprint your organization has created about Comcast is a negative one."
For this digital dressing down, Kipp received the widespread condemnation that Comcast seems to court on a regular basis But he also gave us the opportunity to review a few basic PR commandments:
  1. Don't cite your respect for the First Amendment just before punishing someone for exercising their First Amendment rights.
  2. If you're a multi-billion-dollar corporation with a reputation so compromised that your marketing slogan is commonly used as an insult, don't threaten charitable nonprofits.
  3. Before you hit “send,” take a breath and consider what Mickey Rourke said to William Hurt in Body Heat. “Any time you try a decent crime, you got 50 ways you're gonna [screw] up. If you think of 25 of them, then you're a genius … and you ain't no genius."

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Bleak House Revisited

Bert G. channeling Charlie D.
I was looking at the FlackOps analytics and saw that just today someone came to our fine establishment after searching "john doyle consultant hornback" and "bert g. hornback falsely accused." Our googler no doubt had great expectations of finding this article and it appears this person found it, because he or she seems to have revisited the post several times--either that our they shared the link with friends.

Either way, I would be a less than hospitable host if I failed to offer my assistance to this inquisitive soul. So I am reposting the article in question in hopes that our mutual friend will see that, indeed, I did not falsely accuse acclaimed Charles Dickens scholar, Bert G. Hornback, of anything. I simply posted his email to me in which he admitted being ... let's just say, inappropriate. My contribution to this post was to simply offer context--the hard times I went through, if you will--and additional insight where it was lacking.

I also note that it is exactly one week shy of a year since I originally posted that piece. In honor of the occasion, I think I'll have a drink. The only question left--olive or twist?