Archive for March, 2009

Reinventing marketing

Who will lead the way in reinventing marketing?

Only 16% of CMOs believe it will be their agencies!  Only 16% of  CMOs believe that their agencies are bringing the leadership necessary to look across all of marketing.

Frankly I was surprised that the number was even that high.  

And yet, there is every reason for agencies to be at the forefront in reinventing marketing.

Because they work across many different companies and industries, agencies are ideally situated to have a broad overview of marketing.  From this perspective they have the potential for reinventing marketing.  And because they are outsiders, in theory they can provide an objective and independent viewpoint that is not entwined with the internal politics and vested interests of any particular company.

CMOs don’t see it that way because their agencies don’t see it that way.

Most agencies have their own vested interests in the status quo of marketing.  The areas that they have an interest in reinventing is around new media and moving from short 30 second ads to longer forms such as online movies.  

We came across this in our many years of being on the agency side.  

When I was a SVP at BBDO, I recognized a marketing opportunity for our Gillette clients to support their efforts to get men to trade up from disposable razors to the Gillette Sensor XL.  I developed the marketing concept and brought it to the client because it was good for their business.  Back at the agency my effort was seen as a waste of time.  “Where is the advertising in this idea?” asked the head of the account group.  

And I found the same silo thinking at other types of agencies over the years.

In developing our method for reinventing marketing — Narrative Branding — Michael Thibodeau and I recognized the difficulty in getting an existing agency to adopt a whole new model.  You know the saying, you can’t teach an old dog new tricks.  The disruption for an existing agency would be too great.  That is why we started Verse Group.

Turn the innovation lens on marketing itself

In Europe, or at least in the EU, this is the year of innovation.  The official EU slogan of 2009 is “Imagine. Create. Innovate.”  And they have a neat website to go with it.

The innovation lens has been placed on nearly aspect of corporations today.  Product innovations. Supply Chain innovations. Innovative ways to deliver services. Technical innovations.  Even the word  “Innovation” is baked into the attributes and values of so many companies. It is the rallying cry of internal communications. As marketers we often see ourselves as the champions of innovations, champions of that brave new product or service which will revolutionize the world!

Curiously there is one place inside of most corporations that has not been placed under the magnifying glass of the innovationers. (There, I just innovated by coining a new word!) And that one area is marketing itself.

The current models for marketing were developed over 30 years ago and polished during decades of relatively stable economic growth.  Now is the time to innovate marketing itself, to create new models of how marketing works. It is time for taking bold new approaches to marketing.

 The risks of experimenting with new models of marketing are now much lower than the risks of the status quo. Because who wants the status quo of today’s economy?

What would happen if we applied the EU slogan to marketing?  How could we imagine, create and innovate the very process of marketing?  What would it mean for increasing accountability?  What would it mean for having more flexible marketing programs?  What would it mean for giving marketing the tools to better integrate new media and traditional media? 

It would not mean putting up a corporate facebook page or spending money on creating new tribes.  It would not mean having everyone in marketing wear cool glasses and casual clothing.  It does not mean giving a spiffy new terminology to the same old stuff.

It would mean getting down the very theory of marketing and rebuilding it to fit today’s world.  It would mean having a new way of thinking about the marketing organization.  It would mean finding new ways to increase the productivity and accountability of marketing.

Some companies are doing this either deliberately or without recognizing that they are doing so.  Google. Apple. McDonald’s. Samsung. 

So let’s make 2009 the year that we imagine, create and innovate the very methods and models of marketing itself!

Aristotle Brand Guru, Part III

In an earlier post I nominated Aristotle as the first Brand Guru because of his ground-breaking analysis of what goes into making a superior drama.  All of his observations have analogies in creating a compelling and engaging narrative for your brand.  The following are three observations on how to apply Aristotle’s framework to the business of branding (and marketing, really)

So, a quick summary of the 6 elements identified by Aristotle:

Plot: what happens during the play

Characters: who are the characters in the play, their roles and relationships

Thought or Message: what is the underlying moral or political message of the drama

Spectacle or staging: the scenery, sets, props and stagecraft 

Diction or poetic language:  the verbal style, the spoken words of the characters.  Aristotle addresses the importance of metaphor and metaphorical language in particular.

Song or music:  how the harmonies, rhythm, instruments and voice all appeal to our emotions through our ears

Observation #1:

Appeal to all senses.  Aristotle recognized the power of engaging all of our senses, not just the words or images.  In the very definition of a brand that means building in the sensory or experiential elements.  The typical Brand Positioning approach does not even touch on the sensory elements.  All too often they are left to be defined by the online group, the customer service group, the advertising agency and others.  Aristotle grasped the importance of the completeness of the experience, the spectacle.  In Narrative Branding we have sought to do the same.

Here is an example.  Try to imagine the Star Wars movies without the musical score.  George Lucas credits the music as among the most important emotionally resonant factors that contributed to the movies’ success.

Observation #2

Characters have roles and relationships.  They are not simply a list of adjectives.  Defining these roles and relationships is often overlooked in branding.  Or it is defined internally by the company and not by their customers.  We worked with one well-known brand that defined themselves as “an indispensable partner” to customers.  The only problem is that customers completely rejected the idea of partnership because it implied a deeper financial relationship than actually existed.  To compound it, the internal legal group decreed that the word “partner” could never appear in marketing materials for similar reasons that customers rejected it.  Through co-creation research we were able to bring the customer’s desired relationship to light. As a result the brand gained both credibility and relevance — along with a jump in sales and margins.

Observation #3

Aristotle understood the importance of time.  Plot is all about how events unfold over time.  It means that there is a past, a present and a future — although not always presented in a chronological order.  Just think of movies that are told through flash-backs.  In Narrative Branding we have baked in the unfolding of the narrative arc over time.  There is a dynamism in this movement through time that matches the dynamism of changes in the marketplace.  

This is the very opposite of  brand positioning, which is a static approach to marketing. In the positioning model a company holds and defends a single position.  It is meant to last for years and years and years.  “Immutable” is how Trout and Ries phrase it.  consider the practicality of that for a moment.  Is your business immutable?  Or is your business dynamic, changing and adapting to a dynamic marketplace?

Those are just 3 observations of how Aristotle has much to teach us.  Wouldn’t it be swell if everyone rushed over to their bookcase to pull down the copy of Aristotle’s Poetics?  Okay, perhaps not.  Much of this is really based on common sense and taking a really observant, non-judgmental look at human behavior.  It’s enough to think of your brand as a hit Broadway musical or the most incredible attraction at Disneyworld.

Is your agency a time suck?

I received a puzzling email from a friend of mine who lives in South Korea.  

At the bottom of his email he wrote, “By the way, I was very glad to find and read the article on Brandweek referring to ‘Time Suck’.

I had no idea of what he meant.  So I went to Brandweek and searched the term “time suck”  Up came a very funny headline by the editor Todd Wasserman.  “Study: 45% of CMOs See Agencies as a Time Suck”

The article was based on new research that we at Verse Group have done on CMO attitudes. The report on CMO attitudes towards their agencies will be released in a few weeks.  But Todd says it so much more eloquently than I ever could.  

While the headline is funny, the underlying matter is very serious.  It means that nearly 1/2 of CMOs are spending more time managing their agencies today than just 2 years ago.  At a time when marketing needs to increase productivity, that is not a positive sign for agencies.

Zeitgeist and McDonald’s

Some words are just fun to say. Zeitgeist is one of them. It is also a wonderful word to use when talking about the mood of a particular time.  You buy your first MacBook and suddenly you notice all of these other people are carrying them around too.  There is something in the air. There was something magical about that place and time when several people in different places had the same idea.  It was uncanny.  It was the Zeitgeist!

Looking back to when Michael Thibodeau and I developed Narrative Branding, I can trace a couple of other people who were independently developing their own similar ideas about branding at that very same moment in time.  It was uncanny.  It was the Zeitgeist!

So I imagine that by now you are saying to yourself, what the heck does this have to do with McDonald’s?  

At the beginning of this decade McDonald’s was in very sorry shape.  Their business was falling apart and their brand was sliding down the slippery slope to irrelevance.  A few years later a remarkable turnaround had taken place.  Suddenly McDonald’s was a vigorous and profitable company with a strong brand.

We didn’t take much notice of it while it was happening.  Looking back I realize that about eight months after we publicly launched our Narrative Branding method to marketing, McDonald’s was making headlines by publicly launching their bold new approach to marketing which they called Brand Journalism.  It was uncanny.  It was the Zeitgeist!

Larry Light, who was the CMO of McDonald’s at the time, was the first chief marketing officer of a major corporation to publicly renounce the brand positioning approach to marketing. In the words of Larry Light and Joan Kiddon:

The “positionistas,” as I like to call them, are glued to the glory of an immutable, narrow, unidimensional view of a brand.  They believe that brands are simple, single-word ideas.  And once this idea is established, they believe that you cannot change people’s minds. This is wrong.  Brands are complex, multidimensional ideas, and you can change people’s minds.  McDonald’s is a good example.

This quote is taken from the new book that Light and Kiddon have written, “Six Rules for Brand Revitalization”.  It has just been published by Wharton School Publishing. It is essentially a book length case study of the McDonald’s story from the inside. And it is also persuasive evidence that companies can abandon brand positioning and actually perform much better.

Of course, it doesn’t take much detective work to see that Light and Kiddon are tweaking Trout and Ries by labeling them positionistas.  All I can say is that I wish I had come up with that word!

So there you have it.  Zeitgeist and McDonald’s.

24 Brands Mantras, 18 Brand Astras and 9 Brand Shaastras

Ever since my cousin Dr. Joseph Parent wrote the best selling book Zen Golf, I have been fascinated by people who combine the most Western of subjects with the most Eastern of concepts. 

I am always on the lookout for Brand Gurus — the people who are visibly proselytizing on behalf of brands.  The more original, the more thought provoking, the better.

So imagine my delight when I happened to have come across a Brand Guru from India by the name of  Jagdeep Kapoor.  He heads up Samsika, a brand consulting company located in India.

Guru Kapoor is fond of alphanumerics, those combinations of mystical numbers and words that conjure up a world-view unlike any other.  The title of this post, 24 Brand Mantras, 18 Brand Astras and 9 Brand Shaastras is the name of his trilogy of books on branding.  

He has published more than 9 books to date.

Some other key numbers from his website:

Jagdeep Kapoor has conducted over 505 training programs…

…has written over 1143 articles on Brand Marketing and Sales.

…trained over 7,447 MBA students…

and 13,383 Indian managers.

… a Rotarian, Chairman of the Consumer Affairs Committee, Bombay Chamber of Commerce & Industry and student selection panel member of Jamnalal Bajaj Institute of Management Studies, Bombay, as well as Indian Institute of Management, Calcutta. 

Now that is what I call a Brand Guru!  Those of us in the West who are self-styled brand experts have much to learn from Jagdeep Kapoor.

Marketing our way out of the mess

From 1998 until 2006 I had the great good fortune and opportunity to travel to Venezuela quite regularly on business.  My client there was Cantv, the country’s largest telecommunications company.  

During my visits I had the opportunity to observe how the country was functioning during the on-going economic and political turmoil.

Conditions for many people were deplorable. There were torrential rains followed by mud slides that killed uncounted thousands of people.  The crime rates were rising.  In the streets of Caracas there were marching mobs of Chavez supporters.

And yet in the middle of all this crisis there were billboards for mobile phones, there were advertisements on TV for chocolate bars, cars, laundry detergent. Newspapers were filled with ads.  Radio stations had ads. Cantv itself was undergoing the country’s largest rebranding program to support their business strategy.   

Why did companies continue to market amid all this human suffering and economic and political chaos?  Why were they spending the money to create or strengthen their brands?  

Today, in America, in the face of our economic chaos, companies are pulling back hard on their marketing.  Marketing and training are two of the first areas to be cut.  And the cutting just keeps continuing.

So what is it that we know that the Venezuelans don’t?  Or, rather, what do they know that we don’t know?

Even in difficult times the companies knew that they needed to continue to market if they wanted to keep their business moving.  They intuitively knew that when the marketing stops the demand for their offerings stops.

I am confident that most companies in America will recognize the same truth that Venezuelan companies have seen.  We need to market our way out of this economic mess.


Day Two at the Columbia Business School’s BRITE conference was much shorter and more interactive than day one.  The following are highlights of the day — or at least my experience of it.

The brand guru Seth Godin started off the morning with the keynote address.  He was wonderfully entertaining, a terrific presenter.  At one point he showed a “typical Seth Godin chart made up of no data at all.”

For 25 or 30 minutes he stood in front of the auditorium shouting to us that the world will no longer tolerate advertisers who stand in front of their audience shouting to the people in the last row.  I’m sure he appreciates the irony of the situation. 

So when I returned to my office I picked up Godin’s book.  It’s not very heavy.  Immediately I turned to the back cover and the name Mark Rovner caught my eye.  I know a Mark Rovner who lives in the DC area and works with many non-profits.  Could this be the same Mark Rovner?  I quickly read the book (not difficult, it’s 151 small pages, including acknowledgements, which comes out to a little more than 13 cents a page if you paid full retail) and found the comments about Mark on page 114.  You can learn more about Mark and his organization, Seachange.

Back to Godin’s presentation.  His thesis is that people inherently form themselves into “tribes.”  Tribes are essentially affiliations, sometimes weak and sometimes strong, that have been made easier to form and grow because of the internet and other new technology. Tribes are fundamentally different from segmentation because tribes are self-selecting whereas segments are defined by the marketer based on the marketer’s criteria and not your own.  Which is a rather distressing thought for everyone who follows the traditional marketing strategies of segmentation.

His quotable comment of the day:  “People love lies.  People love stories.”

Following that the audience split up into 4 different groups to hear or participate in 4 different topics.  I went to hear several more presentations, these by Ross Buchanan of Molson, Alyson Meranze of American Express, Freddy Mini of Netvibes and Professor Eli Noam.  Professor Don Sexton was the moderator.  

Alyson Meranze spoke of the “co-creation of value with partners” as their way of going beyond shooting tv and print ads.  Co-creating value means developing a deeper, mutually beneficial partnership with people such as Diane Von Furstenberg.  She then gave an example of how that turned into blogs, a sponsorship of Project Runway on Bravo which DVF was judging and finally DVF creating a line of clothes that is only available to card members.

Ross Buchanan was candid about the way in which Molson “never really listened to our consumers.  We did surveys every so often but not really listen.”  That was behind the initiative he has led to provide a platform where Molson drinkers could engage with each other as well as the brands.  

He also raised the issue that was plaguing many companies — who owns the social networking initiatives?  PR?  Brand?  Marketing?  In Molson’s case they created a cross-functional team to run the initiatives.

Both Amex and Molson talked about their shift in media spending away from traditional media and into new media.  Molson gave a rough breakdown of 85% traditional and 15% new media today with the % of new media going even higher in the future, particularly with budgets shrinking.   Amex declined to provide any breakdown of the spending split between traditional and new media.  

The quote of the session goes to a saying from Amex that Alyson shared with us: “When you are through changing you are through.”

The last session I attended was led by Bernd Schmitt.  He made the point that advertising in the past was about functions, features and benefits.  “It was what we all learned for a long, long time.”  Now advertising is more emotional, lifestyle, non-comparative.  In an experiential economy the advertising is:

Sense, Feel, Think, Act and Relate.  

Relate is the phenomena of the conference, the crowdsourcing or mash-ups or Tribes or community (insert your favorite word here).  The area that has been least touched on is Sense because much of the internet is still text based.  For instance, I am typing this and you are reading it instead of watching me on video.

This last session was also much more collaborative.  We broke into groups of two or three to discuss the topics and share the ideas around the room.  For a conference about crowdsourcing, this was the first usage we had of it in two days.

Although not formal presentations, the breaks and lunch were enjoyable opportunities to share stories with so many new people and reconnect with some familiar faces.  

Here is my highly unscientific analysis of the words of the week:

Brands, Longtail, Facebook, Hulu, Engaging, Kindle, Experience, Community, twitter, Crowdsourcing, Monetization, Google, Tribes, Platform, Content, iPhone, Tribes, Linked In, Social Media/Social Networking


The first day of the BRITE conference up at Columbia University was a series of 25 minute presentations on 4 groups of themes.  The speakers were from a wide range of companies, large and small, including: SAP, Linked In, Clickable, Wired, Boxee, Bravo, Edelman and Citibank.

Some ideas that were raised at the conference that I found to be notable:

First of all, not once during the day did anyone use the phrase “brand positioning.”  That was refreshing.

Max Kalehoff of Clickable observed that in the current economic crisis, “Brands are more important than ever before.”  He went on to discuss the conundrum of how companies are now cutting back on their spending behind branding.   He also brought forth a fact I had not know before, which is that search accounts for about 1/2 of online advertising.  And the % is rising. 

Kalehoff also made a point of saying that companies are moving away from “brand advertising” and towards “goal-based advertising.”  After listening to his clarification during the Q&A session, I came to the conclusion that he raises a false dichotomy.  The best advertising is both “brand” and “goal-based” at the same time.  It is not a trade-off.  Perhaps he was simply making the observation that some advertisers — or agencies — are making a distinction between one and the other instead of doing both together.

Professor Sanjay Sood of UCLA made the very cogent observation that there are many pieces of branding tools such as Brand Mantra, Brand DNA, Brand Soul and so forth that just don’t all fit together.  

He was looking at branding from the movie business perspective — how do the studios build excitement and interest in the movies in the time leading up to the release date.  It was a perspective on branding that I had not heard before.  And the examples that he provided are a refreshing break from the usual Google, Apple, Nike case studies that we have all heard so often and seen used to support many, many different viewpoints.  He said that “the Power of Storytelling” is the one think that companies can own and manage.  From his own research this is particularly important for word of mouth.

He also discussed the importance of crafting the brand mythology, the creation story or backstory of the brand.  It doesn’t have to be found in the product itself but can be found online or in some portions of the communications.  

Lisa Hsia of Bravo spent a lot of time discussing the struggles that “old” media companies are having integrating with new media.  She provided some examples of how Bravo is doing this successfully where viewers are both online and watching a program at the same time, then continuing their discussion about the show and characters later.  

Jeff Howe of Wired gave his presentation on Crowdsourcing, a term which he coined for an article in Wired and which is now a new book.  He began his talk with a brief and very entertaining video that you can see by clicking on the link or going to YouTube.  

Mark Yolton of SAP began his presentation by discussing the ways SAP has begun to provide ways for their community of users to connect with the people inside of the company.  It was forcing a cultural change within SAP, according to Yolton.  In a follow-up conversation I had with him, he discussed some of the challenges internally of such an opening up of the company to the outside community.  Traditionally marketing and sales were the main points of contact with customers.  Now many parts of the organization have direct connections to customers, requiring a whole new set of internal behaviors and coordination.  It raised a number of questions such as who “owns” the brand in such a world?  And how do companies overcome the organizational silos?

Umair Haque gave a presentation which, frankly, I could not comprehend.  He was talking about something called “thin value” and “fat value.”  In my own semi-informed opinion — as someone who spent years studying economics — Haque’s economic understanding of the current world crisis was a bit shaky.  He calls it the “great compression.”  Clever term but not particularly illuminating. 

But he did have a very cool presentation tool that you can get from  I warn you, it is not for those of us who suffer from motion sickness!

For someone who posits himself as driving radical innovation, and critiquing 20th Century capitalism, he has a peculiar gap  the core ideas of that biggest radical of all, Karl Marx.  When asked by a member of the audience how his ideas are different from “dialectical materialism” Haque confessed to being unfamiliar with the phrase or ideas behind it.  You can judge for yourself if Haque is brilliant or simply bullshit by going to his blog. Perhaps he is both simultaneously?

These were my highlights of Day One, along with meeting some very wonderful people attending the conference and seeing some old acquaintances. Tomorrow I’ll debrief on Day Two.  

For those of you who want to attend next year but are on a budget, a friend gave me the tip that volunteering for a couple of hours at the conference will get you free admission.

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