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21 Sep, 2010 – 17 comments

words to strategize by

Think of the list as a simple set of heuristics to be mated, recombined, mutated, adapted, and evolved for specific needs. Also, feel free to debate the hell out of them. Here we go, in no particular order …

Mike used to say this like a broken strategic record. Strong brands are bold enough to define who’s in and who’s out, who makes the cut, and who is left behind. Most brands, and most marketing managers, aren’t willing to do this. Your product or your marketing message can’t be designed for everyone, and it shouldn’t be. Gareth Kay also says, “have a point of view on the world, not a position in the market,” and without a strong point of view, you can’t decide who’s in and who’s out. Simon Sinek also reminds us that people don’t buy what we do, they buy why we do it.

Gareth Kay brought this one to life. To me, this means that we can’t fall in love with the technology or the medium itself. I’ve seen this countless times, people pitching clever manipulations of a medium, fidgeting within the borders of the ad space, instead of thinking broadly about culture. This kind of thinking is responsible for the cult of clever that permeates digital advertising shops. And this thinking produces the type of advertising that advertising people love, but not messages that spread through culture and ultimately impact behavior. I’ve also found that clients that simply want advertising ideas (and protest anything beyond that) are clients that I’d rather not work for. To me, it’s a shibboleth for both clients and new hires.

Originally coined by Henry Jenkins and fellows about spreadable media, to me this says something profound about what I do. Advertising and marketing isn’t art for one important reason – we can’t afford to be Emily Dickinson, toiling away in obscurity only to be recognized for our genius decades later. Our work is successful if it’s actually distributed by networks of real people and can impact their behavior. Of course, how advertising works is mysterious and complicated, but we have to endeavor to understand it and to make it work for our clients. I try not to pay attention to award shows because they tend to do a disservice to our true goal. Chase business objectives not aesthetic trends.

Faris promoted this one. Brands are increasingly talking to generations that are read AND write, that know how to use their voice, and practice these skills when their passions call for it. This doesn’t mean run another UGC contest, it means find intersections between your needs and your customers’ needs, and mine that overlap for opportunities in co-creation. Marketing must become increasingly symbiotic.

Grant dreamed up these words during a discussion between the two of us regarding The Fiesta Movement by Ford. Instead of reaching out to “the influencers,” Ford (and partners) went out searching for content creators that had accumulated significant following all on their own, but they were people that would benefit greatly by opportunities to create more content. The Fiesta Movement helped them sustain, care for, and grow their networks. In turn, the content creators went above and beyond creating content and promoting the program.

Aaron says he deserves credit for this one, and I agree. This one’s pretty obvious: quit building micro-sites. Fish where the fish are, and other such sporting metaphors. If your big idea is to build an experience completely orphaned from the social platforms that customers actually use, and use to share things with others, then you’re doing it wrong. Basically, if your idea ends with “and then we drive traffic to it,” you’ve failed.

If you want to reach 18-24 year old dudes online, then there’s really no one better to partner with (to both create and spread content) than CollegeHumor. If you want your new soul-uplifting novel to reach housewives across America, then you can do no better than Oprah. Whatever your objective, seek out partners that have assembled the most powerful pathways across networks of your audience, and make their strengths your own.

Once upon a time, a time in which not every product was a pretty good product, brands stood for consistent goods that were responsive to consumer needs. You drank the branded milk because there was a better chance it wasn’t rancid. Today, every product is branded and every brand is a part of culture. And now brands owe responsiveness to that culture. We call brands that do not respond to culture “antiquated” or “uncool” and when these brands do finally choose to make a statement, we often dub them “inauthentic” because of the delay in their messaging. Of course, by now, W+K and Mr. Old Spice have completely proven how effective a brand can be once it embraces a more responsive attitude to culture.

So, what’d I miss?

All of the comments on this post are worth are read, but I wanted to pull out a couple of my favorite thoughts from the fine-minded vocalizers below.

From Edward Boches, “Share everything you know” – Jason Fried and 37Signals have a way of saying this too, something like “Sell Your Process,” but the idea is that you’re probably sitting on goldmine of information and know-how that you can package to sell or spread. OkCupid is an awesome example of this. DonQ Rum built their digital presence around this concept, too. Smart stuff.

From Ana Andjelic, “Make things visible” – there’s a word for this, ‘macroscope,’ a tool which allows us to view the tiny interactions that aggregate into a larger system. Ana points out that it’s a powerful way to show community participation – but before you can do this, I’d say you have to admit that you need community participation (getting people to act is one half proving they have to, and one part inspiring them to do it).


  1. Mark Palmer
    Mark Palmer September 21, 2010 at 9:26 am .

    CEO’s can’t delegate brand behaviour

    In a social and connected world, where news feeds media, media creates news and social media accelerates both, the brand behaviour, corporation behaviour and the share price are closely entwined. Toyota with its sticking accelerator recall and BP with its oil disaster are two very real examples. Chief Execs who cannot understand & connect with people’s emotions, expectations & conversations will pull a brand down more rapidly than any dud launch or campaign. Media & consumersno longer tolerate the dotted line between the product/service and the company. As more companies leverage their corporate power brand- like Aviva or Unilever. As more businesses live or die by their ability to continuously innovate – see the decline of Nokia. CEO’s that are successful will live the culture oftheir brand, be hands on with its new creation, be in touch with consumers & sensitive to their feedback. They have no choice.

  2. edward boches`
    edward boches` September 21, 2010 at 10:21 am .

    I’m working on a presentation to a bunch of startups next week. Here’s what I’m telling them.
    1. Be (own) they medium, don’t buy the medium.
    2. Make a direct line between you and customers.
    3. Include fans in the creation of your business.
    4. Share everything you know (think OK Cupid, brilliant)
    5. Make content a product offering.
    6. Turn analog events into digital experiences.
    7. Start using game dynamics.

    I have more but need to be in context of presentation where I offer examples. Will do a post and link back here, too.

  3. reeegan
    reeegan September 21, 2010 at 10:29 am .

    seems a bit obvious and antiquated, but i think it’s often times forgotten. don’t be afraid to fail. people rarely have guts these days.

  4. Alonso Guzman
    Alonso Guzman September 21, 2010 at 1:05 pm .

    I have to agree with reeegan: People rarely have guts these days.

    My suggestion to marketing people is to start doing things for themselves (if we can put it that way) and not worry too much about others in the industry, and simply go for it.

    Yes, they are always going to be people who go on your nerves and there are always going to be “not so smart people” on the client side, but that’s not our problem or a reason to stop us.

    Our problem is to do our job so it helps people somehow – to find solutions and campaigns that make people’s lives better, and not just sell a product or promote a brand.

  5. Matt Daniels
    Matt Daniels September 21, 2010 at 11:06 pm .

    I don’t disagree with what you’ve written, but rather with what you haven’t written.

    If this your grocery list of strategic marketing principles, I feel like it almost entirely focuses on communications (messaging, content, advertising, etc.), and perhaps this is even intentional.

    But for the marketers not living in advertising/communications, I’d be interested in reading the (digital?) principles for the rest of the marketing mix, like product, place, brand, pricing, value prop, customer/segment etc.

  6. Joerg Jelden
    Joerg Jelden September 22, 2010 at 8:42 am .

    Thanx a lot. All your strategies turnwards the customer. They lack how you get your clients on board. So my point is:

    Tap the drive of your customer

    Design processes that help your clients to come up with the brilliant idea themselves. You only push your own idea to the max. This of course requires you to come up with the right framework, questions etc.
    This is what we tell our clients all the time, but we rarely do it ourselves.

  7. Steve Richards
    Steve Richards September 22, 2010 at 10:18 am .

    Good sensible stuff…
    Picking up on Mark Maverick’s pov – in the socnet world, staff & consumers are equal stakeholders & ones the CEO cannot ignore by fencesitting or delegating – brand integrity starts at the top & trust can disappear as rapidly as Keyser Söze.
    This means get beyond a marcoms view – it’s so much bigger than that

  8. Mark Palmer
    Mark Palmer September 22, 2010 at 10:36 am .

    Not intending to hijack the blog comments.My previous comment came from a previous list -pont 6. But in spirit of adding to the shopping list, I include the 10 points from a previous blog called: 10 fresh perspectives to change your view of media’s future.
    The headlines were:
    1. The issue isn’t media it’s the model
    2. We will stop driving forward whilst looking in the rear view mirror.
    3. Change the language and you change the world.
    4. Brands stop targeting opinion formers and start targeting foundation forming.
    5. The next generation of Global Chief Marketing Officer will come from media.
    6. Social Media means the Chief Exec cannot delegate the brand.
    7. The rise of marketing as a behavioural discipline.
    8. Media spikes rather than media bursts.
    9. Pro-am media
    10. Stop using military analogies for media planning /buying and start using farming.

    The full blog is below.

  9. Steve Poppe
    Steve Poppe September 22, 2010 at 3:11 pm .

    The idea to have an idea is sometimes more important than the idea itself.

    Dick Kerr (The country’s first million dollar a year copywriter. Also, a bit of a tippler, truth be told.)

  10. steve smith
    steve smith September 22, 2010 at 7:42 pm .

    This is great work, Bud. I’ve been thinking about marketing strategy from a pricing point of view lately. More than a few people have been adding nuance to Chris Anderson’s FREE message lately, and I think there’s a lot to learn from them.

    Free Sets The Wrong Expectations

    * Seth Levine does a great job of summarizing the findings around pricing products online in a couple great posts on the freemium myth. The first one is here:

    * Bidsketch’s Ruben Gamez explains how he discovered that free plans don’t work in his blog post here:

    * Jason Fried has been pounding his drum for years trying to communicate that customers happily buy good stuff:

    * Google’s American ARPU is ~$40.50/user/year.

    Localization Isn’t Communication, It’s Location

    * Markets are now permanently local, even if your platform(s) for reaching them only imperfectly respect that. “Location, Location, Location” doesn’t just apply to domain names and language translations online.

    * When you leverage local knowledge, you make people feel more comfortable with doing business with you. In this way, localization determines your capacity to build relationships with your customers. Done right, it increases not just your market share but your profit margins as well. How many flags can you plant in the sand?

    I have others, but I think pricing is really important so I’m going to stop now and see what you think.

  11. Rachel Lane
    Rachel Lane September 23, 2010 at 9:19 am .

    Nice post.

    I’d also argue there’s an increasing case to minimise watching what’s happening on Twitter/the Social Web and what your competitors are doing (whilst not denying an awareness of this activity is useful) and focus on the behaviours of your own customers and the data you are collecting. If you understand what your customers are demanding, then anticipating how to delight and surprise them, whilst encouraging WoM becomes much easier.

    The trouble with Twitter is that it often produces a two part reaction:

    1)Damn that’s good!
    2) I wish we’d done that!

    Too many companies are missing a trick by looking for “cool and creative” solutions which are too remote to successfully map back to their business.

    Twitter has its uses, as does your marvellous blog, but whatever language you want to apply to strategy, you just can’t beat awesome customer understanding / service.

    Thanks for the forum.

  12. Ana Andjelic
    Ana Andjelic September 23, 2010 at 7:17 pm .

    Make things visible.

    That’s a great way to display community activity (so that trends emerge) + it’s a great way for people to feel part of the community, compare themselves to others, etc. (e.g. Hunch, Weeplaces, Netflix visualization maps, MTV’s Twitter tracker, etc.) Some of those things are silly, but making info visible is a lot what digital is about.

  13. Tom Denford IDCOMMS
    Tom Denford IDCOMMS October 6, 2010 at 12:50 pm .

    In a world of modern communications, where and how a brand acts is often more important that what it says, brands saying one thing in advertising and then not behaving consistently will fail to influence. This seems especially relevant today because brands are having to relearn marketing, prompted by the transforming challenge of technology plus a post-recession world where consumers are even more skeptical and want to understand the motivations and intentions and principles of companies more than ever before.

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