Archives for posts with tag: brand


The hype surrounding Social Media is dying down while the new shiny object everybody talks about is Social Business.

Just google the term and you get a million different definitions, descriptions and explanations. Add a layer of technology and you create massive confusion.

This is an attempt to make it very basic for anybody to understand, without acronyms or convoluted explanations.

1. Since brands were created, there were always two conversations: internal conversations (“I”) and external conversations (“E”). The internal conversation represents any form of communication that occurs within the company and the majority of the stakeholders (suppliers, dealers, vendors, etc.). The external conversation represents any conversation between customers, prospects and people that are tangentially interested in your brand.

2. What separates the external and internal conversation used to be a massive wall (“W”). Emerging and social technologies have poked holes in this wall. Some of the corporate walls have come down almost completely, others are still sturdy, constantly in repair. The state of the wall depends on cultural, technical and organizational factors.

3. In a perfect world, you want “I” and “E” to be as much in sync as possible. Nike is an example: The employees think their brand is cool, delivers awesome products, and so do their customers.

4. When “I” and “E” are not in sync, that’s when a brand is in deep trouble. When “I” says Product A is the best thing in the world, while “E” complains about the same product, you have a problem at hand. It’s hard to sell a bad product with good advertising. The same is true when the internal conversation (traditional US airlines are a good example) is full of negativity, the advertising is filled with unicorns and the plane occupied by extremely unhappy customers.

5. How can you sync up all these conversations? That’s where Social Business comes in.

6. Social Business pokes massive holes in the wall (“W”), with the ultimate goal to eliminate the wall altogether or provide as many openings as possible. When two unsynched conversations happen at the same, they are likely to get more out of sync over time. To adjust and sync both conversations, you have to make it easy for “I” to engage with “E”, and vice versa.

7. Ultimately, Social Business is about subverting and re-aligning hierarchies. We heard so many times that the customers are in control. To have a fruitful conversation, customers and companies have to be in control. Companies want to avoid a Twitterstorm or other social/main media/PR disasters and customers want to be able to have some control over the relationship. These control mechanisms are different for every company and service model.

8. Getting started in Social Business is not about technologies or social platforms. It’s about aligning conversations to help customers to get what they want and businesses to prosper in a social ecosystem.

Was that helpful?


“Because the soul has such deep roots in personal and social life and its values run so contrary to modern concerns, caring for the soul may well turn out to be a radical act, a challenge to accepted norms.” – Thomas Moore

Thomas Moore’s word aren’t just true for people, they’re also true for building lasting brands. For a brand to stand the tests of time, it has to have deep roots that help it stay true and valuable over time. Real relationships are built on a foundation of trust. People can change their hair color, their taste, their outfit, yes, even their facial hair – as long as you stay true to who you are and what you stand for, people will continue to trust you. Brands can change their logo, their marketing tactics, their advertising to adjust to the the changing times – as long as they stay true to who they are and what they stand for, people will continue to trust them.

The changing exterior is merely an adjustment to changing tastes, the interior core stays the same.

There are many brands out there that lost their way. They try to adjust to changing customer behavior, changing retail environment, ultimately, a changing world. Just like a cat chasing its own tail, they’ll never get anywhere. Instead, they should go back into the history of their company and discover what they stood for when they first started. I guarantee you, there will be diamonds in the rough they can polish and bring to life in an appropriate way for today’s culture.

As the economy muddles along and technology astonishes us each and every day to find new ways to communicate with people, it will become more and more tempting to chase things that take us away from our roots. We have to do everything we can to not let that happen. It’s important to always look at the core principles – the roots – of your brand to help guide the way.


How many times did we hear outcry about tenure of CMOs? It’s somewhere between 12 and 24 months. In short: pathetically short. There are groups on various social networks where CMOs talk with each other and share information. I joined a few of them and was saddened by the content: a lot of echo chamber jargon, opinions and little substance. Anyone existing outside the marketing community wouldn’t understand a word.

There’s a lot of junk and cheap talk, nothing relating brand status to financial consequences. Anybody involved in the marketing and advertising world is responsible to nail down some factual benchmarks that smart business people understand. Many of the reports marketers produce are just fluff and hot air (Unaided brand awareness, anyone? Facebook likes. Do I have to continue? Thanks.) At my first agency job, we commissioned a client satisfaction survey each quarter. It gave us information agency staff couldn’t get internally. We used it as a way of giving the agency goals and every six months executives presented the results. It removed all opinion by giving us measures we needed to address. We tried to manage the agency brand through the eyes of our clients. The outcomes were fabulous when it came to retention, organic growth and new business.

The curse of marketing is jargon combined with unquantified opinion

That’s the real cause so many people in marketing and advertising believe to be visionaries and almost nobody is. When they lead the way, they might lead us to nowhere. Or Second Life. Let’s face it: most of us are challenged in the vision department. However, we all talk like Steve Jobs and Seth Godin. They communicated substance, most of us hot air.

Now, there are some real visionaries in this business. People that know the past, understand the present and learned from both to look at the future. The problem for agencies and clients is to work out who is the person with the jargon and glossary, and who is the one that is thinking and talking intelligently.

Any new client needs to agree on a form of measurement to track performance. Most brands still  don’t want to invest in the most elementary tracking. They rather focus on listening and defensive tactics, rather than understanding the real perception of their business and brand. Some brands spend millions of dollars on media but they don’t bother to spend 0.5% of their marketing budget on tracking important KPIs. “Let’s do that next year.”

CEOs should be brand managers

CEOs should ask for this data on a monthly basis. In terms of brand management at the top of any organization, the CEO cannot rely upon the input internally as it has a vested interest in all things  being pink unicorns. CEOs need some form of external intelligence communicating honestly how his brand is doing in the real world. Good intelligence gives the CEO the time to adjust the business. When he has to fire the CMO to correct strategy, it’s too late. The horse has already left the barn.


My daughter is in an interesting phase: She can read but she can’t comprehend fully what she’s reading. A picture book with a few sentences per page is perfect for her developmental stage. No, she wants to read a chapter book without any pictures. She proclaims proudly: “I’m on page 55.” When I ask her about the content, the answer is very sparse.

When she gets her homework, she wants to get it done in a few seconds: “Easy peesy, lemon squeezy.” Once I note a mistake, she freaks out and never wants to touch any homework again.

Typical behavior for brands in the emerging marketing space

Many brands have not yet fully deployed all basic digital marketing tools. Instead of focusing on getting the fundamentals right, they rather develop a comprehensive Social Marketing strategy.

Others have deserted Facebook/Twitter/YouTube presences. Why bother improving these important platforms for their brand? Let’s just start a Google+ page.

The fancy commercial not matching the dirty store layout.

The radio spot not matching the horrendous attitude of your employees.

The list is endless.

We should strive for innovation and amazing ideas.

First, we need to clean-up the store.

Change the attitude of employees.

Get the fundamentals of marketing right.

Get the fundamentals of the business right.

Then, and only then, should you consider the newest platform aka toy.

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My daughter is in an interesting phase: She can read but she can’t comprehend fully what she’s reading. A picture book with a few sentences per page is perfect for her developmental stage. No, she wants to read a chapter book without any pictures. She proclaims proudly: “I’m on page 55.” When I ask her about the content, the answer is very sparse. When she gets her homework, she wants to get it done in a few seconds: “Easy peesy, lemon squeezy.” Once I note a mistake, she freaks out and never wants to touch any homework again.

Typical behavior for brands in the emerging marketing space

Many brands have not yet fully deployed all basic digital marketing tools. Instead of focusing on getting the fundamentals right, they rather develop a comprehensive Social Marketing strategy.

Others have deserted Facebook/Twitter/YouTube presences. Why bother improving these important platforms for their brand? Let’s just start a Pinterest page.

The fancy commercial not matching the dirty store layout.

The radio spot not matching the horrendous attitude of your employees.

The list is endless.

We should strive for innovation and amazing ideas

First, we need to clean-up the store.

Change the attitude of employees.

Get the fundamentals of marketing right.

Get the fundamentals of the business right.

Then, and only then, should you consider the newest platform aka toy.


When the Web was young and digital marketing in its toddler shoes, a common practice was to require customers to fill out a form before they could access a site. Cheered on by “Get all the exciting news from Brand A” or “Don’t miss out on the latest events”, many customers signed on. Once spammers started to get rich and marketers over-communicated with their audience, these forms quickly disappeared. You didn’t have to fill out a form before you watched a commercial, grabbed a brochure or visited a store, why should that be different when it comes to digital?

Some tactics never die

Marketers are rehashing that old formula, forcing people to ‘like’ the brand before they can see any content. Brands and agencies continue to be obsessed with aggregating as many ‘Likes’ as possible. In the beginning it was done through other marketing channels, social games and apps installations. Increasingly, this has been replaced by using the ‘Like’ click as the price of entry to interact with content or get special offers.

Wasn’t social about conversations, engagement and long-term benefits?

Social Media was this big party where we can interact in transparent and authentic ways, right? We didn’t like the screamer that just yelled at us. Or the “Look-at-me-guy”, right? Last time I checked, those are as annoying as the people I need to endorse on LinkedIn or praise them publicly before we can start to talk. Don’t I deserve a chance to explore what they’re all about before I endorse them to all my friends?

Don’t mistake a “like” for an endorsement

Studies show that 58% of US Facebook users expect to gain access to exclusive content, events or sales after “liking” a company, while 58% also expect to receive discounts or promotions. More insightful is what Facebook customers don’t want: Bombardment with messages (54%), access to profile information (45%), pushing things into friends’ newsfeeds (31%) and companies contacting them through Facebook (29%).

We all have busy lives. We can’t “like” every brand, we don’t have enough time and bandwidth. Does it make sense to “like” everything that’s in my closet, office, living room, garage and shopping mall?


The forced “like” tactic might be a good choice for brand advocates. But, they are already on your side.

Wouldn’t you rather start a conversation with people that have no defined feelings toward your brand, winning them over? Your forced “like” tactic might just result in the opposite.


Under the title “More gain, less strain: Optimizing marketing partner performance and value in a digital world”, the CMO Council published an analysis of how marketers are optimizing marketing partner performance and value in a digital world.

It’s not a pretty picture

  • Just 9% of marketers believe traditional ad agencies are doing a good job of evolving and extending their service capabilities.
  • 58% of marketers are unsatisfied with the current process of measuring their agencies’ advertising effectiveness.
  • 55% of senior marketers do not systematically evaluate creative impact, and 58% are unsatisfied with the evaluation process associated with benchmarking their agencies’ creative advertising effectiveness.
  • Only 36% of marketers are committed to their agency relationships, with 49% saying that they may consolidate or change their global agency rosters.
  • 32% are looking at selective replacement in their agency rosters, 9% see increased turnover of resource, and another 9% are decreasing the use of agencies.

A small bright spot in a dark environment

Marketers are continuing their search for new insights: 48% consider the most important value and gain from outside agencies fresh ideas, analytics and perspectives. 39% are looking for new methodologies and creative approaches.

When reviewing and evaluating agency relationships, the majority of multi-national marketers look at strategic contributions (57%) and business value created (56%).

The frustration is palatable

The survey respondents also ranked the top five causes of pain and friction in their agency relationships: (in order)

  • Lack of an agreed-upon set of analytics and metrics that defines success and failure
  • Limited knowledge and comprehension of the client’s business
  • Lack of value-added strategic thinking
  • Pricing and budgeting issues
  • Integration of marketing plans and services

Do marketers get what they pay for?

As we all know, marketing expenditures are under incredible pressure from CMO’s and procurement.  While marketers complain about lack of knowledge and comprehension of their business, they don’t seem willing to pay agencies to acquire this knowledge.

A lack of knowledge and comprehension will lead to lack of value-added strategic thinking. The agency might be able to give out some creative candy, but no filling, strategic meals.

Being so unprepared to market a client’s business, the chance of success is diminishing and there’s no benefit in succinctly defining failure and success.

Ultimately, resulting in pricing and budgeting issues.

It takes two to tango

Marketers have to understand that agencies are not lazy or disinterested in learning about the client’s business. Structurally, the client-agency relationship is not set-up for such a learning experience.

On the other hand, agencies need to set parameters for success and failure at the pitch. The pitch meeting should be the occasion where both parties set expectations, discuss challenges and solutions. It should be less about fireworks, grandiose creative and big promises. More about business decisions, culture check and partnership processes.

The current pitch meeting with all its confetti is best suited for a fling. As any married couple with a few decades under their belt will tell us, confetti gets annoying after a while. Long-term relationships are built on trust, transparency and authenticity.  No confetti needed.


While hosting a brand session in Kyoto, I was able to visit the Ryoanji Temple. Just like millions others, I didn’t come for the temple, I came for The Rock Garden. Built in the 15th century, the garden consists of raked gravel and fifteen moss-covered boulders, which are placed so that, when looking at the garden from any angle (other than from above) only fourteen of the boulders are visible at one time.  It is traditionally said that only through attaining enlightenment would one be able to view the fifteenth boulder.

No trees are to be seen; only fifteen rocks and white gravel are used in the garden. It is up to each visitor to find out for himself what this unique garden signifies. The longer you gaze at it, the more varied your imagination becomes. Some consider the garden as the quintessence of Zen art.

What do you see in the garden?

Some people see hills with their peaks poking above the clouds.

Some people see tigers crossing a river.

Some people see islands rising from the sea.

Some see a lake. Some see heaven itself.

Some people only see rocks.

What do you see in the garden?

What do you see in a brand?

Some people see a product.

Some people see a dream.

Some people see a bigger thought.

Some people see a passion.

What do you see in a brand?

Focus and simplicity.

Modern life is full of distractions. Our minds weren’t built to all the information coming at us constantly. Even when these temples and gardens were built, the outside city life was busy and full of entertaining distractions. Visiting a garden with a few rocks in it gives our mind just enough information to feel comfortable. It calms the mind, like calming water, allows the dirt to settle, and the water to clear.

Modern marketing and branding is full of distractions. We tend to to stray from the brand core, brand vision and mission – focus on diversions, things that have nothing to do with brand. The ever-changing marketing and technology landscape forces us to keep up, open new channels, engage and connect. Nothing wrong with that. But, once in a while, we have to go to back to the brand garden and calm the brand, like calming water, allow the diversions to settle, and the water to clear.

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Perception is not reality.

Why is our thought deluded? Why can’t we perceive reality correctly? One reason is that we are usually limited to a single, subjective view. Our deluded perception constantly deceives us into making bad decisions. As mentioned above, at The Rock Garden 15 stones are arranged so that from any point, only 14 are visible. So how many stones are there? Like the stones, we can’t see everything all the time.

Why is our perception of brands deluded? Why can’t we perceive reality correctly? This is especially true when you are working every day on a brand. Because we’re so close, we’re becoming deluded. We’re projecting our own goals and objectives to our point of view. You might think you know your brand. Most likely, you’re just overlooking the blind spots.

There’s no “average”.

All things have an ultimate nature. A real existence that ordinary people’s minds are unprepared to see. When people see something, they immediately classify and label it. They are unable to make sense of reality without this process. This conceptualization process is based on our subjective experiences and always causes gross distortions.

Let’s say a new creature just arrived on earth. The creature doesn’t understand male and female, so you explain to the creature that women are on average shorter than men. The creature doesn’t understand subtleties like “on average” and will assume from now on that any shorter person is a woman. We’re all as stupid as the creature, constantly making incorrect assumptions about the world because of our limited system of thought.

All your focus groups, brand research and data analytics give you a “general” idea or an “on average” perception of your brand. You make assumptions about a brand based on subjective experiences working on it, and it will always cause gross distortions. When working on a brand, always assume you are as stupid as everyone, constantly making incorrect assumptions about the world because of your limited system of thought.

When facing a single tree, if you look at a single one of its red leaves, you will not see all the others. When the eye is not set on one leaf, and you face the tree with nothing at all in mind, any number of leaves are visible to the eye without limit. But if a single leaf holds the eye, it will be as if the remaining leaves were not there. – Takuan Soto

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My talk from ad:tech Tokyo:

I’ve met with a few CMO’s and agency heads in the last few weeks and was astonished how painful relationships between agencies and brands have become. This is not just a feeling, it’s a major data point in a survey released by RSW/US: A client’s look ahead at agencies.

I do recommend downloading the free report but in case you’re pressed for time, here are two facts that caught my eye:

– Only 55% of marketers state they would consider using their primary agency again if they were to put up their account for their review.

– A marketer’s tendency to look for a new firm is driven by general lack of satisfaction with an agency’s creative, their strategic thinking, or their general lack of proactivity. (…) “…”lack of proactivity” was one of the primary reasons given for finding a better agency partner. They were with a much larger firm and felt, because of their “small fish in a big pond” status, they weren’t getting the attention they needed – resulting in their desire to look for a mid-size agency to better serve them.

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The challenge for agencies

When the first agents appeared, the mission was very clear: Purchase advertising space on billboards/print on behalf of businesses.

Over time, brands wanted more: produce remarkable advertising that increases sales. To answer that demand, agents started to hire illustrators and copywriters. They transformed into agencies. And customers became clients. This hasn’t changed much over the decades.

The objectives of clients changed dramatically. It used to be enough to produce advertising that produces sales. We give you a coupon, you buy the product. You get an invite to test-drive a car, you head to the showroom.

The market changed over time. Everything became more complex and complicated – more brands, more media, more channels. Suddenly, you had to spend more to get some kind of lift. The placement game turned into an arms race.

No matter what: Clients still want to see increased sales. As they should.

Unfortunately, it’s complicated. In the old days, the guy with $20 to spend on advertising sold more than the guy with $1 for advertising. The ability to track results against communications activities has become diffuse. A campaign lives in too many channels, the desire to differentiate now means that there might be no direct, trackable call to action and the complex economic structure (pricing, distribution, competition, economic climate, etc.) cause signal interference for brands that advertise widely, sell multiple product lines, distribute through multiple sales channels, and face many competitors.

The complexity can be overwhelming

Clients have to muddle through this complexity and they don’t feel very empathetic when advertising agencies are not ready to join them through this struggle. On the contrary, the report suggests that clients feel a great deal of disappointment and bitterness about the failure of agencies to help them guide through complexity, while still delivering obvious, measurable results.

What agencies have to fix:

– Strategic Expertise:

Clients complain that agencies don’t think strategically, don’t have solutions that help clients gain market share, increase volume or otherwise steal sales from their competitors. They feel agencies don’t know their customers, their market, their competitors, their sales and distribution channels – in short: the complexity of the business. .

Agencies feel that clients don’t ‘get’ marketing, just focus on ROI and sales. They don’t get brand building and set unrealistic goals. Agencies don’t believe they are considered partners, just a commodity, ready to be thrown on the big pile.

– Transparency & Accountability

Clients believe agencies are bad at strategy and analytics. They can’t effectively measure the results they produce, or even worse, hide the real results. Clients desire more accountability from agencies: either sales, volume or ROI. At the least, they want to know how an agency defines success.

Agencies believe that there’s more to advertising than analytics and sales. While clients want deep analytics and strategy, they are not willing to pay for it. Clients just look at production and media costs, expect the strategy/analytics part to be a value-add.

– Creativity

Most clients believe their agencies are not creative enough. They don’t get enough brilliant and innovative ideas.

Agencies believe clients don’t get sophisticated creative, don’t get new technologies and are scared of new ideas.

– Trust & Service

Clients believe agencies don’t really listen to them, they don’t receive the desired attention and have to deal with junior staff after the initial pitch. Not enough unsolicited ideas, not enough interesting ideas, not enough fully developed ideas. They feel that agencies express a superiority towards the internal marketing team.

Agencies feel there’s no loyalty on the client side, trust being the main factor. Too often, they are being tested and not being seen as a collaborative partner. Clients can be abusive: passive-aggressive (delaying approvals) or direct (screaming/nasty emails).

– Costs & Capabilities:

Clients feel agencies nickel & dime them constantly on items that should be part of the project. They don’t know how to price a project and manage the costs throughout the process. Clients don’t want to deal with multiple agencies but they feel handcuffed assigning everything to one agency. They desire a more flexible and fluid model.

Agencies believe more clients want work for free or that clients just don’t pay enough. They often have to deal with procurement directly, a business division solely focusing on cutting costs. Clients often start out with one budget but get cuts later and expect the same results.

So, is the agency model about to expire?

The summary of the report is pretty devastating: Clients have business needs and objectives. They hope an agency can help them to achieve those through marketing and advertising. However, they don’t believe agencies are well equipped to surmount any of these challenges. That’s how the distrust cycle begins. And ends with a review.

There are two major challenges:

  1. Nobody pays agencies a dime to become experts on the client’s business. That’s why agencies become experts on advertising. They don’t have the people, reward structure and procedures to explore the economic and market structures of the client and, if needed, challenge the client in his assumptions. Agencies are often limited interacting with the client’s marketing department, lacking insights from other divisions to develop the best recommendations. And the client doesn’t pay an agency to get that information on their own.

  2. The fear factor: Let’s face it: Good advertising is not direct marketing. It’s based on good insights, hidden desires, based on lifestyle, develops cultural icons and builds a movement. When you found that nugget, that little hidden thing, you will do anything to defend it. Agencies will limit their research to prove their case. They will bring limited ideas to the table to make sure that the one idea will be bough by client. That idea is really the only thing they have, the only thing that keeps them in business. When the campaign is over, they will gather research that defends their idea, they often don’t gather the best data and don’t learn from campaign to campaign.

That’s why relationships falter: hurt feelings, unmet needs, disappointment, and an erosion of trust. That’s what happens when you misalign expectations with capabilities.

Nobody is at fault here

Clients ask agencies to solve problems they can’t solve.

Agencies are too married to the services they provide, not the outcomes of those services they created at one point.

It comes back to the old paradox: Agencies thought they were in the business of selling access to the development and placement of advertising, while their clients were trying to buy increased sales.

Clients don’t need agencies anymore.

They still need creative production and media placements/negotiation, etc. But not a full-service agency.

What they need now are business-model-seeking agencies that create roadmaps to carry out consumer, product, channel and marketing strategies. These agencies will facilitate the creation of assets that are placed into those channels or campaigns on behalf of their clients. They will be trusted experts who guide clients through the ever-evolving landscape of their market.

Capitalism is the art of creative destruction. Some agencies will prosper, some flounder, others disappear. Nothing is forever.

Update: Found this fabulous infographic by The Big Orange Slide.


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I’m amazed at how many brands and agencies think their competitors are only the ones who operate within their category. I’m even more amazed that brands and agencies tend to focus on one competitor as the one to watch.

Toyota vs Honda.

American Airlines vs Delta.

Colgate vs Crest.

Clearly, brands love to create this one enemy that will focus energy of the team and makes it easier for the public to create a faux war of brands: (Who is better? Michael Jackson or Prince?) While I see the benefits, I tend to believe that it’s not good enough to know who you consider as a competitor. You need to understand who considers you as a competitor.

Barnes & Noble vs Borders

While both brands were engaged in an intense turf war, Amazon stole their lunch. Forcing one into bankruptcy and the other brand to wonder: How did that happen?

Toyota was regarding GM as their biggest competitor. Honda saw Toyota the same way. Who’s outselling Honda now? Hyundai.

All the big networks were engaging in a battle for viewers while cable networks started to develop their own drama shows. Oh, and this little company called Netflix changed the game even more dramatically.

Your competition is anything that causes your customers not to buy your product/service. It’s anything that erodes or explodes your competitive advantage. It may not even exist today, but it could mean you won’t exist tomorrow.

In the end, you need to focus on improving your product/service every day and ensure that your source of competitive advantage remains robust and relevant. If you focus on the ‘competition’, you may forget to focus on your customers, and it is they who ultimately manage your brand. Brands often make choices that are more influenced by what their competitors are doing rather than what their customers want. Too many people regard differentiation as being different from their competitors, but it’s not much use if in your quest to forge your own identity, you do things people don’t want, don’t desire, don’t buy.

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