Archive | November 2011

Five Lessons from BrandsConf 2011

Five Lessons from BrandsConf 2011 New York

An eclectic community of marketers, media personalities and other “characters” gathered in New York City last week to explore how brands are becoming more human in the digital age. Brandstoria’s Sharlene Sones shares five lessons from this year’s BrandsConf.

Dan Lewis and Jeff Pulver at BrandsConf 2010

A rabbi, a psychic, a poet, “Harvey Milk” and a seventh-grader from Tanzania all took the stage in New York City last week to discuss… branding.

Where else would you find such a diverse and eclectic group of speakers but at BrandsConf, Jeff Pulver’s conference devoted to “exploring the humanization of brands”?

The premise: the world of branding is changing.  And people are the heart and soul of it all.

Despite the amazing range of speakers, which also included representatives from 30-plus brands including Coca-Cola, IBM, Estée Lauder and JetBlue, there were some common threads woven throughout the day’s rapid-fire sessions that are worth considering for our own brands, businesses and lives.

Own your story

The need for brands of all shapes and sizes to convey “authenticity” was a common theme of the day. Author and founder of Mallika Chopra (daughter of Deepak) prompted audience members to close their eyes and reflect on the questions “Who am I?” and “How can I serve?” Chopra then explained that intent is an important self-discipline that could be applied to brands serving their customers.

Musician and writer Mike Errico noted that not all brands benefit from full disclosure. In his talk on rock star mythology, Errico explained that the real-time Internet (i.e. social media) can compromise a musician’s carefully-cultivated brand if he or she isn’t careful.

“There’s only one Slash,” he said, referring to the former Guns N’ Roses guitarist, “and I’m not sure I need to know if he went to the dentist and needs a cleaning.”

Perfect is boring

What is authenticity, anyway? According to Andrea Syrtash, contributor and author, it’s the real you – “warts and all” – that people will really connect to and find believable. She added that a flawless façade is not only something people won’t relate to, but that “perfect is boring.”

For NBC News, this has meant encouraging its journalists to bring more of their own personalities into their reporting, said Ryan Osborn, Director of Social for the network.

Similarly, Savvy Auntie founder Melanie Notkin implored brands to “be normal and don’t put on a show.” The result can be deep connections and relationships with people in ways that matter in their lives.

Information flows through people

Whether you’re an entrepreneur with a mission like Tony Heffernan, whose “Bees for Battens” brand is raising funds for a disease that has transformed his family, or a large corporation like IBM, every brand is ultimately a human brand.

Gilad Lotan of Social Flow can back this up with data.  He illustrated how conversation connects people and brands by analyzing complex social media data, which he presented in a series of infographics.

Lotan’s data tells the story of how “information flows through people,” as he put it.  Maintaining a dialogue with these people is the key to a healthy, thriving and “living” brand.

You gotta give ‘em hope

Business-savvy psychic Monte Farber explained that his process relies on an understanding that the stories people receive and tell are the ones that make “their lives mean something.” The lesson here is that brands should tell people a story that’s empowering, hopeful and fulfilling.

In one of the event’s more touching moments, Leah Albert, a seventh grader from Shepherds Junior School in Tanzania, took the stage and proclaimed “I am more important than money.”

Leah is one of two students representing a school that was “built through love” by founder Mama Lucy Kampton with the support of Epic Change.

The lesson is particularly relevant for non-profits and cause marketers who need to consider the impact their story can have on the recipients of their work. Does the story communicate a message of limitation or great personal possibility?

Brands should aspire to create content that inspires people, or in the words of Chris Bartlett who personifies the legacy of @HarveyMilk on Twitter, “You gotta give ‘em hope.”

Brands still have a long way to go

The day’s very first presenter, Ogilvy’s Rohit Bhargava, characterized BrandsConf as a small “fraternity” of people who really care about brands being human.

And while Katie Richman of ESPN noted that brands have “come a long way” in accepting social media as part of the landscape, I got the sense that there’s still a long way to go for most brands to serve people in an authentic way.

In an age where people don’t trust easily, Bhargava noted, “unexpected honesty might be the solution.” So Jeff Pulver’s tribe may be exploring “the state of now,” but I think it’s really an indicator of what business will look like tomorrow.


Why Human Filters are the Future of the Web

Return of the Editor: Why Human Filters are the Future of the Web

Before news aggregators, content curators, and Google’s omnipotent algorithm, the world’s information was sorted by real human beings. In the web’s next phase, argues The IdeaLists’ Karyn Campbell, the old-fashioned editor is poised for a comeback.

If web 1.0 was about websites and 2.0 the power of network connectivity, whatever 3.0 looks like, better filters will play a big part.

The web has become too big and noisy. The design community has helped guide us through some of the slush, and search technology has made leaps filtering and personalizing information for us.

But while algorithms once threatened to replace gatekeepers, online media will see a move back to the future: professional, human filters (the artists formerly known as editors) will play an integral role in the next web after all.

Content beats search and social

Studies show that content sites drive much more traffic than search engines and social media links. Only 14 percent of readers or viewers arrive to content destinations via social networks, and search engines’ bite of the pie has diminished in the past year.

Google seems to have taken note: the search giant launched its aggregate Google News feed in 2002, boasting no human intervention. Last month, as RSS moved further toward the antique attic, Google invited professional news editors to highlight content on its U.S. news page.

As Google increasingly tracks our tastes via likes and clicks, serving us information and ads accordingly, it’s interesting to note the Drudge Report drives more than double the daily referral traffic to content sites than Facebook and Twitter combined.

Drudge still knows his audience’s tastes better than any algorithm. And this from a site that hasn’t been upgraded since before Google even existed!

Search and social become content

We’re witnessing the convergence of search engines, social networks and content publishers. Facebook is hiring news editors, YouTube is signing multimillion-dollar deals with professional filmmakers, and AOL is betting its future on the editorial direction of Arianna Huffington.

Once-automated networks will increasingly need to foster a voice to build loyalty. Consider Vimeo: one quarter of their staff is dedicated to community building and setting editorial mood.

The strategy? Find what’s good – even if it only has two views ­– connect with filmmakers or community members, and tip them off to new cultures and trends; there’s no app for that, at least not yet.

Curating the walled garden

As open platforms like YouTube and Google start to look more like media companies, walled gardens like Apple’s iTunes illustrate another approach to (excuse the term) “tastemaking.”

Not everyone can publish on iTunes. Call it snobbery, but it’s been a smart way to implement best-use standards. Plus, it’s not like iTunes is extremely picky. They simply require an extra step, which may weed out some sloppiness.

Apple’s insistence on tightly controlling what gets into the canon risks excluding potentially great products (or in iTunes’ case, artists). But perhaps offering less of the best makes buyers trust more in the product’s quality, relieving them of the doubt that comes with an abundance of choice.

Then again, Android has seen great adoption numbers using open software, allowing anyone to distribute an app. Time will tell if these two approaches meet somewhere in the middle.

It comes down to trust

The web has offered us incredible options for how we buy products, talk to our friends, or experience media. Remember that adage “quality over quantity”?  We can take that phrase literally online – quantity won’t go away; quality will just sit atop.

Sometimes we want someone to tell us, consistently, what’s true and what’s good. No wonder YouTube just relaunched its music page, enlisting writers for Vice, Spin and other major vloggers to curate its featured content. As Steve Jobs more radically put it, “It’s not the consumers’ job to know what they want.”

It comes down to trust. Because we are all so well trained in the art of branding, arguably at the expense of crafting things worthy of distribution, it becomes hard to trust the advice of a Wild West web.

Still, we’ll continue to take the word of our favourite industry insider, celebrity or uncle. Likewise, the smartest companies in this space will calibrate expertise with automation, math with emotion.

Whether she’s a kid writing code or a poet in-the-making, look for the next generation Steve Jobs to carry on building, hiring, and perfecting these filters

How Customers are Shaping Products and Experiences

One Man Brand: How Customers are Shaping Products and Experiences

Brands can’t be everything to everyone – unless they put product design in the hands of the customers themselves. Customization queen Anita Windisman reports on the latest trends in mass customization and co-creation.

© Popov

What do people want? It’s an age-old question, but the answer is simple: Just ask them.

Ask them about their preferences, and how they want to be communicated with. Then ask them to help create and design their own products. Then ultimately, provide them with the necessary tools and platforms, and they will tell you exactly what they want.

The idea that company knows best is being challenged by the realization that consumer knows best. As a result, business models are starting to change. Closed, proprietary systems are shifting to an open-source approach with more transparency. One-way communication is being replaced with two-way communication that is both social and collaborative.

Mass customization

A number of start-ups, along with some more established brands, have recognized the demand for bespoke products and services at mass-production prices. Known as mass customization, this trend has been enabled by technologies like the Internet, product modularization and lean production.

Mass customization represents the apex of market segmentation as every customer can have exactly what they want. In other words, the customer creates his or her own segment – a market of one.

At Chocri, a German-based start-up with a web presence in the U.S., you can create your own chocolate by picking your favourite base (white, milk or dark) and toppings (fruits, spices, nuts or grains). You can even give your bar a personalized name, which is printed on the packaging.

You can also unleash your inner designer at Shoes of Prey, an Australian start-up whose motto is “Your Design. Our Craftsmanship”. You choose the heel, toe, fabric, colour and embellishments; your shoes are then hand-made by their craftsmen.

Hallmark, the 100-year-old U.S.-based greeting card company, has introduced a number of products that users can personalize. At the Hallmark site, you can upload a photo to create and personalize your own printed party invitations, cards and disposable paper plates.

Hallmark proves that even large and established companies can get into the innovation game.

While mass-customized products can cost more than mass-produced ones, the extra premium is worth it for the savvy, design-conscious consumer who values originality above price.


Customers aren’t just looking for the ability to shape products. They also want to have a say in how products are being marketed to them – and how brands are communicating with them.

This goes well beyond opting in to receive a mass-marketing message. It’s about consumers having a say in how they experience and interact with a brand.

My Maybelline New York offers users the chance to opt in to receive a personalized beauty guide. As part of the subscription process, the user is asked to answer a few questions about her eye colour, skin type, and makeup style.

In return she receives a 20-page digest-sized catalogue that provides her with tips on how to create looks that suit her style and features. They even personalize the guide by using the customer’s name throughout the printed piece and provide personalized coupons with the customer’s name on them, which is how they track response rates.

U.K.-based mobile phone company giffgaff takes co-creation a step further with its collaborative business model. Decisions about what products and services the company offers are left up to the customers themselves, who even provide service support to each other. With this type of collaborative approach, the biggest benefit is that its standard rates are less than half of those of the large carriers.

What are the benefits to companies and brands offering a custom experience? For one thing, it generates increased customer engagement and interaction. Secondly, companies gain consumer insights because they get to know what their customers want. As for consumers, they get exactly what they want and how they want it. They are made to feel unique and part of the process, rather than lost among the masses.

The Anatomy of an Agency – finally clarity on how they operate

The Anatomy of an Agency

The Anatomy of an Agency from Grip Limited is a tongue-in-cheek cool infographic about the roles within an advertising agency.

Agencies are famously diverse.  We have examined a few of their species and have drawn some arbitrary conclusions.

Designed by Grip’s own Julia Morra and Trevor Gourley.

Coke’s CMO: “Companies should feel free to experiment. No problem if you fail”

Coca-Cola uses a “70:20:10” budgeting model, so that 70% of its outlay is directed towards proven marketing tactics, 20% to innovation linked to these activities, and 10% to pure “experimentation”.

Coca-Cola aims to track social sales

Source: Warc

ATLANTA: Coca-Cola, the soft drinks giant, believes leveraging social media can generate more online mentions and conversations regarding its brands, and ultimately deliver measurable sales.

Speaking to the Business Standard, Joe Tripodi, Coca-Cola’s chief marketing and commercial officer, argued there was a clear pattern as to the primary motivations for using social media.

“It is about how you get consumers to express an opinion to generate a conversation and then transact. So, it is about impressions to expressions to conversations and transactions,” he said.

Given the rapid proliferation and evolution of digital channels in the recent past, the most effective techniques are far from established. As such, Tripodi suggested that a willingness to take risks is vital.

“People are still wading through it. Companies should feel free to experiment. No problem if you fail. That’s our philosophy,” he said.

Coca-Cola uses a “70:20:10” budgeting model, so that 70% of its outlay is directed towards proven marketing tactics, 20% to innovation linked to these activities, and 10% to pure “experimentation”.

“That includes social media marketing, where we allow people to experiment and fail. Failure is essential for you to grow and come up with the right solution,” said Tripodi.

Measurement remains an issue, but the My Coke Rewards online loyalty scheme in the US – via which shoppers can collect points with each purchase then reclaim products and perks – has shown how to yield highly useful data and insights.

“People who buy a Coke enter a code. So, we know that people are definitively shopping. So, we are able to close that loop and link and say definitively that My Coke Rewards generated an extra amount of value and volume,” said Tripodi.

“When you overlay social media marketing with loyalty programmes, it will close the loop. It will give you the value of the customer and help you target them better.”

Such a process could be particularly beneficial as Coca-Cola seeks to enhance its understanding not just of individual purchase occasions, but the longer term connection secured with buyers.

“The big play that is coming in consumer packaged goods, which wasn’t there before, is the concept of lifetime customer value. This is common in financial services,” said Tripodi. 

Data sourced from Business Standard; additional content by Warc staff, 4 November 2011 

The Global Innovation 1000 Annual Study: “Why Culture is Key”, from Booz & Company

The Global Innovation 1000: Why Culture Is Key

Booz & Company’s annual study shows that spending more on R&D won’t drive results. The most crucial factors are strategic alignment and a culture that supports innovation.

The elements that make up a truly innovative company are many: a focused innovation strategy, a winning overall business strategy, deep customer insight, great talent, and the right set of capabilities to achieve successful execution. More important than any of the individual elements, however, is the role played by corporate culture — the organization’s self-sustaining patterns of behaving, feeling, thinking, and believing — in tying them all together. Yet according to the results of this year’s Global Innovation 1000 study, only about half of all companies say their corporate culture robustly supports their innovation strategy. Moreover, about the same proportion say their innovation strategy is inadequately aligned with their overall corporate strategy.

This disconnect, as the saying goes, is both a problem and an opportunity. Our data shows that companies with unsupportive cultures and poor strategic alignment significantly underperform their competitors. Moreover, most executives understand what’s at stake and what matters, even if their companies don’t always seem to get it right. Across the board, for example, respondents identified “superior product performance” and “superior product quality” as their top strategic goals. And they asserted that their two most important cultural attributes were “strong identification with the consumer/customer experience” and a “passion/pride in products.”

These assertions were confirmed by innovation executives we interviewed for the study. Fred Palensky, executive vice president of research and development and chief technology officer (CTO) at innovation leader 3M Company, for example, puts it this way: “Our goal is to include the voice of the customer at the basic research level and throughout the product development cycle, to enable our technical people to actually see how their technologies work in various market conditions.”

If more companies could gain traction in closing both the strategic alignment and culture gaps to better realize these goals and attributes, not only would their financial performance improve, but the data suggests that the potential gains might be large enough to improve the overall growth rate of the global economy.

To that end, we continue to emphasize the key finding that our Global Innovation 1000 study of the world’s biggest spenders on research and development has reaffirmed in each of the past seven years: There is no statistically significant relationship between financial performance and innovation spending, in terms of either total R&D dollars or R&D as a percentage of revenues. Many companies — notably, Apple — consistently underspend their peers on R&D investments while outperforming them on a broad range of measures of corporate success, such as revenue growth, profit growth, margins, and total shareholder return. Meanwhile, entire industries, such as pharmaceuticals, continue to devote relatively large shares of their resources to innovation, yet end up with much less to show for it than they — and their shareholders — might hope for.