212 posts categorized "branding"

May 10, 2010

Facebook rule #1: Don't be an idiot

On Friday, I wrote about how the expectation of certain kinds of anonymity is a myth in an Always On post-Facebook world. The New York Times reported Saturday that the younger generation is learning to keep the seedier side of their lives offline. But this, too, is a myth.

Even if you manage to keep yourself from joining social networks or correctly manage all of your privacy settings against continuously changing policies (which is doubtful), it's becoming increasingly difficult to keep your friends from posting comments and pictures of you on their accounts.

You can request that they take pictures down or try to surround yourself only with people who you trust to mind your personal brand to your standards, but unless you decide to be a hermit, this is becoming difficult, too -- especially for the younger generations.

What is true for corporate brands is true for individuals: If you don't want people to find out you've been doing something stupid, don't do stupid things.

Truthfully, no one will ever live up to that standard. We all do stupid things. Everyone.

But if you're in the business of building brands (and all of us are, whether we know it or not -- we represent our own brand, our family's brand, our employer or company's brand, our church or religious affiliation brand, our political or philosophical brand, etc.), how people perceive you and the entities you represent is predicated on your entire body of work - not the occasional act of stupidity.

True, this may be tainted when we do the inevitable stupid thing, but that's just something we're going to have to learn to live with.

Don't worry about the long-term. Just focus on today. To prevent yourself from doing something stupid, decide to live as if your life had a noble purpose today.

And let tomorrow worry about itself. - Cam Beck

February 24, 2010

Why this iPad Won't Kill the Kindle Platform (and how it could)


Many have already voiced glowing praise or strong disapproval of Apple's recently announced iPad.  Some proponents, such as Leo Laporte, call it a "Kindle Killer." Skeptics and haters call it "The next Apple Cube."

These judgments are premature, however. Whatever "magic" Apple has in store for the future, there's nothing in the first generation iPad that changes the market dynamics so completely that it will disrupt Amazon's economics with the Kindle solely as an eReader.

People who buy eReaders are typically going to take reading seriously. The advantages that they bring are best realized by certain types of people:

  • Heavy readers who want to enjoy the improved economics that eBooks bring
  • Heavy readers who want to conserve physical space
  • Anyone who travels frequently and likes to read on trips

With these audiences, the iPad falls short for a number of reasons:

1. Nearly twice the cost of entry
The starting price for the iPad is $499. For the Kindle, it's $259. By way of example, assume the average eBook price is $10, with its hard-copy counterparts costing twice that. A Kindle owner must purchase 26 books before breaking even. An iPad owner would need to purchase 50. 

So for the heavy reader, the economics are hard to justify. For the casual or occasional reader, they are nearly impossible -- if they're going to use the iPad over the Kindle simply as an eReader.

2. Back-lit display
The e-Ink technology that drives most eReaders today has some limitations, but it minimizes eye strain compared to back-lit displays, such as what the iPad has. For heavy readers, this is a significant drawback. It means they can't read as much without their eyes getting tired. It may still be viable for those who are not heavy readers, but in that case, the economics make even less sense solely as an eReader, and except by virtue of wide market distribution, Apple's bookstore cannot promise much revenue to publishers, making the marketplace less attractive (especially as a closed system, as it likely will be).

At least the format is open-source anyway, so they don't have to reformat their books specifically for the iPad.

3. Shorter battery Life
10 hours is a lot of time to be reading. And the standby time the iPad promises is remarkable, but a back-lit display capable of showing full-color images, videos and applications comes at a price. With wireless off, the Kindle can go at least two weeks without a charge, so there's no reason to be tethered to a power source for travelers.

Marketing Differences

Because the iPad does a lot of things, it's hard to describe it using terms that are clear and understandable by a lot of people. The tagline for the iPad is "A magical and revolutionary product at an unbelievable price."

What's the frame of reference? It's a "product?" So is a refrigerator. And oatmeal. And manure. 

It's almost as if Apple believes an entire category can be created by adding abstract and glowing adjectives.

Plus, because the iPad does a lot of things, making promises about how many books it holds would undermine its uses as something other than just an eReader. And it is much more than just an eReader. It's a "product" that CAN be used as an eReader. Among other things.

The Kindle, by contrast, says it's a "reading device" and promises simply that it will hold 1,500 books. In other words, more than you'll read over the next five years.

That's much more concrete than "16GB," which is how much storage the entry-level iPad promises.

So, as an eReader, Amazon's Kindle enjoys the advantage of being able to be explicitly sold as an eReader.

Apple Raises the Bar for User Experience

Apple has done some things well. Even as an eReader iPad works in some important respects. The prevailing question is whether it works sufficiently for the consumer at their prices.

1. Intimacy
Though not flawless, the experience of reading a book on the iPad looks to be more intimate than with the Kindle. The page-turning metaphor is direct and closely resembles the experience of actually turning a page of a book. Along with the ability to deliver deeper content through color and multimedia (which is impossible with either the Kindle or a physical book), motivated publishers have the capability to engage consumers like never before possible.

2. Usability
The touch-screen interface allows Apple to dispense with the metaphors that drag down the Kindle. That makes interactions more direct and gives publishers and app developers more flexibility on how they choose to deliver their content. As such, students can hope that Apple's platform makes it easier to consume nonlinear books than the Kindle does. And since anyone with an iPod or iPhone is already familiar with the iTunes interface, assuming the experience of purchasing a book rises at least to that level of usability, there's very little reason to believe the experience would be any more difficult on the iPad than the Kindle.

3. Flexibility
The iPad does a lot of little things well, and it looks like it can be used to specialize or converge however its owner intends. It can be a personal assistant. It can be a gaming device. It can be used to stream music or movies (with the right app and know-how) from a media server. It can be used as a netbook computer (especially with the optional keyboard). It can be used as a home automation control pad. Or it can be used as all of these things.

The beauty and the curse is that the consumer controls what it will be used for.

The problem is that convincing the masses that something that CAN be used in such ways SHOULD be used in such ways relies on heavy, repetitive marketing, positive word-of-mouth, or consumers themselves having the imagination for its divergent possible uses. Oh, plus they must be willing to risk at least $500 on the prospects -- with no guarantee of success.

Here's where it gets exciting

I don't know how the mass marketplace will respond, or how much Apple is willing to reduce its margin to gain a wide penetration for the iPad if at first it does not take off.

But even if it doesn't, if Amazon is smart, they won't take this lying down. Nor will Sony or any other manufacturers of either popular eReaders or tablets. If it's successful, the iPad may either drive down the costs of pure eReaders and/or inspire the development of better interactions.

If that happens, people will be more willing to adopt the platform, the cost of reading will decrease, and publishers will be forced to participate in this space and -- hopefully -- embrace the efficiencies it represents for their entire industry.

Whether the iPad brings Apple financial success or not, Amazon will need to improve its interface (which is already very good for linear reading) and technology. The iPad (and -- perhaps more importantly -- the responses it will engender from rival tablet makers) will likely change users' expectation about how they should interact with books.

Even if Apple doesn't sell as many as they hope, I would still count the iPad a success if it resulted in widespread adoption and use of electronic readers in general. - Cam Beck

November 13, 2009

What is "The Fun Theory" really worth?

A couple of people took note of VW's campaign "The Fun Theory." Most recently Corley suggested it "further's VW's corporate social responsibility." Ultimately, I believe she is correct in saying that, but it's a broad statement begging to be unpacked.

To be sure, this campaign isn't about VW being socially responsible. It's about VW wanting others to associate the word "Fun" with VW.

The campaign is simple, unexpected, concrete, and each of the demonstrations have the trappings of a story, and presumably the effort is designed to get people excited about the possibilities (emotion). Together, all of these are components of a sticky message (PDF).

But is it credible?

Let's take a look at some of the videos that are currently on their website.

One is the piano. The question is "How do we get more people to take the stairs instead of the escalator." According to VW, the answer is to make the stairs FUN, of course.

I guess that's one way to do it, if you have $40K (or whatever) to spend on labor and materials. The problem, in this case, is that the owners of the stairs get no benefit from such an investment.

Additionally, their efforts may actually lead to injuries due to people trying to play a song on the stairs. There's no fun in that. I'll bet VW won't post any videos of anyone falling down the stairs.

The other, more cost-effective way to do it, without unnecessarily increasing the temptation to be careless on the stairs, is to turn off the escalator. It doesn't cost a thing (it actually saves electricity), and the number of people who use the stairs instead of the escalator increases to 100%.

It reminds me of something I read from Roger von Oech. I'll do my best to not butcher it in my retelling.

Villagers of a certain town were horrified to discover evidence that they had been burying people alive. Exhuming a coffin, they found that the lid had been clawed by the (currently) deceased. Upon this discovery, they exhumed a few more graves and found many others with these same characteristics, letting them know that it was a normative problem.

The elders were gathered together to figure out how to deal with this. They came up with two ideas.

One idea was to run a string into the grave with the person believed to be deceased. One end of the string would be tied to the hand of the one they buried. The other would be tied to a bell in the graveyard. If the grave keeper heard the bell, he'd discover its source and save the person buried alive. The focus of this effort was to ensure no one was buried alive.

The other idea was to build a large spike into the coffin top, so that when it was closed, it pierced the heart of the body in it. The focus of this effort was to ensure that everyone buried was dead.

As I mentioned to Corley, the issue I have with the effort is that some of them are impractical, and I suspect VW knows that. What they're trying to do is give people a reason to think of "fun" when they think of VW. Regardless of whether the association has validity with respect to their automobile choices, if people believe it to be true, it may as well be.

However, if this effort gets people thinking about the ways they can increase the "fun quotient" in their user experience, they can increase adoption rates. This is laudable not only from a social standpoint, but also from a business standpoint.

Notably, it doesn't have to be an investment of tens of thousands of dollars unless there is a corresponding financial benefit for making the investment.

Whatever the case, I'm interested in seeing other entries in this campaign. Keep track with me at TheFunTheory.com, or enter one yourself. - Cam Beck

August 13, 2009

A Case for Moral Selfishness

"[H]aving lived long, I have experienced many instances of being obliged, by better information or fuller consideration, to change opinions even on important subjects, which I once thought right, but found to be otherwise. It is therefore that, the older I grow, the more apt I am to doubt my own judgment of others." - Benjamin Franklin

I am a skeptic.

To an outside observer, my skepticism may look a lot like cynicism. I don't just believe people and companies are motivated by self-interest, I've seen it with my own eyes.

A person doesn't simply buy a book from Amazon because they believe it will help Amazon make money or employ more people. They buy it because they want or need the book for themselves -- either to inform, improve, or entertain. This is most often true when people realize that they're spending their own resources - they tend to spend it in a way that benefits them, not others.

If they're spending other people's money, they tend to be less careful with it.

This doesn't make everyone manifestly selfish, necessarily, because self-interest can indeed be naturally reconciled with service to others, without requiring one person to pick another's pocket to do so.

For instance, recently I bought and read A Project Guide to UX Design because I believed it would make me better at my job. Continuous personal improvement improves my marketability (self-interest), but only if my improvement leads me to help others get what they want (service to others).

I also get a lot of joy (self-interest) by making a tangible and substantial contribution to the financial success of other companies (service to others), their employees (service to others) and the satisfaction of their customers (service to others).

It's remarkable how often those things go hand-in-hand, when you work in a service industry, when regulations do not unnecessarily restrict your abillity to operate freely.

Once you realize that no one is more important to individuals than themselves, you tend to require stronger evidence that supports others' claims of all the great things you'll get if you just follow their lead.

A personality or "brand" may persuade you to be either less or more stringent with your requirements for evidence, which is just another way of saying that you trust those people and companies who have previously delivered on their promises, to the best of your knowledge.

However, healthy sketpicism, in light of moral self-interest, will allow the evidence to lead you wherever it may, even if it contradicts what you previously believed.

As a skeptic, I'll be the first to admit that the process is sometimes uncomfortable, but it also allows you to be less judgmental of other people's errors in thought and deed (which are intertwined), because you will realize that, in pursuit of your self-interest, you've managed a few whoppers yourself.

However, if there is a self-interest that should transcend all others, it should be the pursuit of the truth, which requires being capable of contradicting yourself when you find  your thoughts and deeds to be erroneous. Do not let love or hate of either personalities or brands to stand in the way of your dedication to think critically. - Cam Beck

July 09, 2009

Your Brand is Not My Friend: SXSW Extended Content

Awhile back I nominated Alan Wolk's seminal work on branding through social media for a panel at South by Southwest in Austin, TX. They selected his topic for inclusion into their extended content.

The panel is moderated by AdWeek's Brian Morrissey.

Panelists, besides Alan, are Ian Schafer, Noah Brier, and Michael Lebowitz.

Unfortunately, there doesn't seem to be any way to embed the video directly, so I'm just providing a link to it from here. It's less than 20 minutes, long, but well worth the time.

Check out the SXSW Panel Discussion (Extended Content): Your Brand Is Not My Friend. - Cam Beck

June 30, 2009

Branding is Character. What Does Your Character Show?

Stuff happens.

So does branding. This is true whether you call it "branding" or not. As it turns out, branding has less to do with cutesy creative and clever themes than it has to do with your ability to consistently keep promises of your company -- to build your company's reputation as a firm of good character.

Not all promises are created equal, and all people do not assign equal value to all promises. This is why it is so difficult -- and increasingly useless -- to build a brand that pleases all people, all of the time.

Before all else, know who you are and what you stand for. Only then can you focus on making extraordinary promises to an audience that places a high value on those promises -- and then over-deliver. - Cam Beck

May 19, 2009

3 Ways to Build a Good Reputation

1. Do something notable.


If you wait until tomorrow, someone else will have done it, and your doing it won't be as notable.

Who was the second person to walk on the moon? The third?

By any measure, just breaking the earth's atmosphere is quite an accomplishment, but we give extra credit to those who impress us first.

2. Do something good.

Each day. Every day. For a lot of people.

Add value to each person you come in contact with. Don't worry about what they can do for you. Assume nothing. What can you do for them?

3. Fail.

Someday soon, if not earlier.

It's inevitable. You're going to fail. But take heart: A little failure (or even a spectacular one) can be a good thing.

Failure is a great instructor. It builds perseverance. It teaches us different ways to look at things. It necessitates developing alternative solutions.

It also brings us humility, which keeps us from being so confident in our beliefs that we can't see other perspectives. We can empathize with those who disagree because each person may, in Benjamin Franklin's words, "doubt a little of his own infallibility."

But don't give up just because you failed once. Or twice. Or three times.

Or even 6,000 times. Like Thomas Edison's successful invention of a marketable incandescent light bulb, your next try might produce the breakthrough you seek.

- Cam Beck

May 11, 2009

Insights: Are Your Customers Lost? Because You're Lost Without Them.


Findability is one of the most overlooked tools of marketing. There's just no glitz in making things easy to find. Yet, in nearly every case your customers and potential customers  come to you, they aren't seeking out a "brand experience." They're looking for a solution to a problem or an answer to a question. If they can't find it on your website, often they will simply look elsewhere.

Making sure they can find what they're looking for is the first step in making yourself approachable -- a trusted resource.

In this week's column at the Click Here blog, I wrote about 5 Ways to Ensure Your Online Customers Never Get Lost.

It's not likely to happen by accident. First you have to plan for it. - Cam Beck

May 04, 2009

Don't Panic. Just Lead.

Bethharte_thom1 At MPDailyFix, Beth Harte related a story about how a friend of hers, who is a senior-level marketer, was offered employment with junior-level pay. She goes on to explain some of the reasons this is happening and why she believes it will become more commonplace if marketers don't show their value. She's right. But if I can add my own perspective here, the problem Beth identifies can be understood economically and solved in the same terms.

Unemployment means there are too many people for too few jobs. In other words, there is a surplus of labor.

Surpluses tend to drive down prices.

The price of labor is measured in wages. Thus, when there is a labor surplus in any industry (like marketing), it tends to depress the wages of the people in that industry.

This is especially true when the hiring manager believes it doesn't matter from which part of the labor pool he chooses. One person is just as good as another -- or in Beth's words -- a commodity.

Being good -- being great -- these things don't matter unless we distinguish ourselves from the rest of the pack. It is the perception of our expertise and effectiveness that will enable us to demand higher wages.

Actual expertise can help drive perceived expertise, but it does not guarantee it. Now, more than ever, a marketer must be both good and an excellent self-promoter.

Doing this effectively is about all the things Beth mentioned. Among them:

  • Be a leader.
  • Measure.
  • Document.
  • Foster and nurture relationships.
  • Continuously improve.

However, this effort shouldn't resemble a campaign -- which is temporary and smacks of insincerity. In order to assure others of our value, we must first strive to be valuable. We must both improve the product and promote the improvement.

Luckily, in our cases, the act of successfully promoting the improvement, in some ways, actually helps to improve the product -- especially when we're willing to make mistakes and learn from them.

Instead of curse the conditions that led to this difficulty, we must embrace it as an opportunity to revolutionize the way we practice marketing. And we can apply to our clients the wisdom we gained from the experience of practicing it on ourselves.

I'm afraid that this won't guarantee a happy ending for everyone -- even a lot of the good ones. However, being a jack of all trades (and more importantly, being the sort of person who can adapt to changing circumstances) all but promises that we'll find someplace to be of use. - Cam Beck

May 01, 2009

Who are you calling a sell-out?

Rocco-dispirito-new-show-casting-call Awhile back, I wrote about Anthony Bourdain's criticism of Rocco DiSpirito for what some of Bourdain's fans called "selling out." (Anthony Bourdain: Hypocrite ... or Genius?). I asked a Bourdain fan, who (about a year after I wrote the piece) came to criticize DiSpirito and praise Bourdain, exactly how "sell-out" is defined. His answer is revealing.

...but at one point he [DiSpirito] was a serious chef making good food ..then he made the decision of saying i want to become a "star" and ill do anything i can do get there. but i wont do it through my food, ill do it through a marketing machine...

This, he said, qualifies DiSpirito as a sell-out.

Specter I thought about this conversation again when Senator Arlen Specter from Pennsylvania switched parties because, in his own words, he did not think he could win as a Republican.

I am unwilling to have my 29-year Senate record judged by the Pennsylvania Republican primary electorate.

He also added, "I now find my political philosophy more in line with Democrats than Republicans,"  but if that's the case I wonder why it took him so long to discover what the rest of the GOP has known for decades.

Like DiSpirito, Specter has been accused of being a sell-out. But also like DiSpirito, Specter simply made a calculated decision to do something that was in his own self-interests.

That alone doesn't make either of them a sell-out.

Even Specter's 2001 suggestion that representatives not be allowed to change parties between elections doesn't make him a sell-out. If you're tempted to call him one, it just means you have to better identify the principles that motivate him, not the principles that you think he should have.

Nm_keyes Alan Keyes, the former Reagan diplomat, political candidate, and occasional contributor to WorldNetDaily, deftly points out the hypocrisy of Michael Steel, the RNC chairman, to denigrate Specter's action as entirely self-serving. [pargraph breaks added for readability]

Steele has no problem sacrificing principle in order to keep politicians like Specter in the GOP ranks. He sees them as the key to victory and he has made it clear that, as far as he's concerned, winning is the only thing that matters.

Unfortunately for him, Specter's switch is entirely consistent with that principle.

Specter has rightly concluded that Republican primary voters will reject him in 2010, as they would have in 2004 had it not been for the help he received from Rick Santorum and others who put party loyalty above their commitment to the nation's fundamental moral principles.

By running as a Democrat, Specter feels that he stands a better chance of winning the general election. As far as principle goes, the only difference between Specter and Steele is that Specter will now reach for victory while being true to his leftist views.

Meantime, the Michael Steele Republicans, as they fume over his desertion, further demonstrate their willingness to seek victory by betraying the party's supposed conservatism.

Similarly, DiSpirito's decision to sell something besides the food he personally cooks doesn't make him a sell-out. It just means that he is interested in doing something other than what some people (like Bordain) want him to do.

That's his freedom. That's his right. And certainly in DiSpirito's case, it's entirely harmless.

To be sure, no one on this earth always live up to the principles they say they hold dear, 100% of the time with 100% consistency. One can make a mistake with respect to those principles -- or a series of mistakes -- and not be a sell-out.

But be warned: If you disappoint or mislead people who mistakingly ascribe certain principles to you, you will sacrifice your own credibility with those people, and you may not recover from it.

It's risky to be transparent and authentic, but hopefully the risk will just motivate us to be a better people who can act, more often than not, consistently with principles we've promised we have. - Cam Beck

P.S. For a great piece on branding and authenticity, I suggest this letter from Mike Rowe of The Discovery Channel's Dirty Jobs.