Friday, October 29, 2010

Teaching is a lot like Branding

This morning, Seth Godin had an interesting posting on this blog about 'pushing back on mediocre professors', and that got me thinking.

You hear the cliche a lot: first impressions are important.  I'd like to take that a step further, that all impressions are important and that your first is merely where you start from.  I have always been a firm believer in paying attention to the way you act and present yourself to others, because all impressions are important. The better your first impression, the better your starting position on the grid.  You need to make a good first impression, but maintain it and build upon it.  Now this all sounds very familiar, but in a different context. 

I subscribe to the school of thought that people are brands.  The way we look, the way we act and even the way we talk communicates who we are and what we stand for.  Our first impression becomes our first brand experience and if that experience is poor, then it takes a lot of effort and time to improve your brand image.  Like any brand, we need to work at maintaining the image and experience we want to communicate, all the time focusing on being genuine and creating connections.  Marketers should be among the first to know this and this is why many are self-critical and self-aware about what their personal brand is communicating.

As marketers, one of our goals is to turn a strong brand into strong sales.  By managing a brand, we are trying to encourage consumers to buy into our ideas and our products.  So as individuals, we need to try and encourage other people to buy into our ideas.

Professors are no different.  You need to manage yourself and your brand to encourage students to buy into your thoughts and ideas.  You need to engage them in thought and pull them into a valuable conversation, and this is what Godin is getting at: "perhaps you could assign this as homework and we could have an actual conversation in class...".

We've all had professors who have pulled information directly from texts, read from slides and generally left us somewhere between bored and unconscious.  Why?  Because we weren't buying in.  I've had the privileged of having a number of excellent professors who did engage me, who compelled me to buy into their brand because they had interesting things to say, a tolerance for new and innovative thinking and a desire to promote conversation and debate about concepts.  These are the individuals who understand what it takes to get buy-in and understand the value of maintaining an engaging brand.  As Godin says, these are the people who push us "to solve interesting problems, overcome our fear or learn something that I could learn in no other way", and for that we should all be indebted to them.

Avoiding uninteresting professors is not the take away from this.  Think of Godin's ideas in a wide variety of contexts: purchasing consumer goods, being an employee, making new relationships.  In every case, you need to manage your brand to create buy-in, create engagement and give the other party what they are looking for: value.

--Authors Note: I think personal branding is important, but so does Shaminda Attygalle.  Check out his thoughts on defining your personal brand here. He is right: we are our own brand managers. --

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Tuesday Three - #1

Being a Twitter Snob is okay.

Or at least according to Mitch Joel it is.  And I agree too.

In his Sunday posting on his weblog, Joel argues that the only people you should follow on Twitter are those who "are immediately interesting to you or people who might becoming interesting to you".  What do you do with the rest? "Ignore".  He points out that this strategy (not necessarily following someone back if they follow you) somehow goes across the gain of what social media is about.  However, I disagree with him on this point because this whole notion is very "social media".  To me, social media is about creating value, relationships and learning.  As Joel Comm points out at the beginning of his book "Twitter Power 2.0 - How to Dominate Your Market one Tweet at a Time", social media is about two-way communications: create a conversation that brings meaning and value to you and from there, those conversations create communities.  If you're not creating a meaningful communication with your Twitter followers, maybe you shouldn't be in there.  Comm points out that Twitter relationships, like friendships, need to be maintained and nurtured if you wish them to be successful.  If you don't see the value in the relationship, if you don't put the effort in and you don't see yourself doing so, don't follow them.

Mitch Joel outlines some other reasons for being a 'snob':
  • Numbers don't mean valuable - By having a huge number of people you follow, it can communicate to others that you don't pick and choose your followers and that you're don't discriminate between people of interest and value from those that do not create any.  People may judge you on this basis, like judging a book by it's cover, and be turned off.
  •  Who you follow adds credibility - Being selective allows other people to better understand who you are, what your interests are and better determine if you're someone they want to make a connection with.  People who do will follow you and find the people you find interesting because there is a genuine connection being made.
  •  Having standards means value standards - By picking and choosing who we follow, and adding credibility, we are in fact creating better value for everyone who follows us.

    So, unless you're a brand looking for feedback ("none of this applies: why not follow back everyone who is following you? "), discriminate on value.  Go on, be a snob.

    Read the posting here.

    Starbucks' Digital Network

    This past Wednesday October 20th 2010, Mashable reported that Starbucks was to unveil their new 'Starbucks Digital Network' in their stores.  Operating through the store's free Wi-Fi internet, "SDN" has two key objectives: "enhancing the customer’s experience and better engaging customers while they’re in the store".  The experience includes access to newspapers like the Wall Street Journal, but is also split into six areas of engagement: "News, Entertainment, Wellness, Business and Careers, My Neighborhood and the customer-personalized Starbucks channel".  This means newsapers, e-books, magazines, local news items, community information... you name it, it's probably there.  In addition to these facets, there is also a connection with LinkedIn, where patrons can find exclusive content and job searching capabilities.

    Yahoo! are the brains behind the network, running the system and having designed the site as Starbucks technology partner.

    Starbucks is all about experience and getting engaged in the environment.  I don't know about how other social media sites fit into the SDN, such as Twitter or Facebook, but when I get the opportunity to try it out myself I will elaborate on how I think it works inside the Starbucks strategy.

    Read the full article here.

    Apple Back to Mac

    As you might have heard, Apple had a little do on October 20th called the "Back-to-Mac" event.  In true Apple fashion, it was a dramatic and awe-inspiring experience where many things were announced and many jaws-dropped.  Here are some of the big things to take from the event, as covered by

    • OS X Lion previewed - I use Apple computers and have almost always used them at home.  As a OS Leopard user, I am not quite at the cutting edge of the OS X curve but from all appearances, OS Lion is going to be a step forward.  It appears to have borrowed some interface ideas from the iPad/iPhone/iPod family.
    • Introduction of the Mac App Store - It was only a matter of time before the user-friendly style of the App Store was transposed to the Mac for other programs.  With the same revenue-splitting system, this move will boost the availability of independent products for Mac.
    • iLife 11 - It's coming.  Surprised?
    • Macbook Air - Now available in two sizes, 11.6" and 13", it is now available with flash memory instead of a traditional hard drive.  This is much like the newest iPods, iPhones and the most recent iPad.

      To gain some more insight into the "Back-to-Mac" event, see Shaminda Attygalle's blog post "What can marketers learn from an Apple press event?".

      I feel that the Macbook Air is finally the product that Apple should have made in the first place.  Now, I am not going to presume that this humble marketer is smarter than the entire Apple marketing department, that'd be ridiculous.  But to me, the iPad never really made sense.

      I have a one year-old iPod Touch and I think it's brilliant.  It can play the music I want, the videos I want, gives me both useful and entertaining applications as well as, when within range of a wireless network, allow me to check my mail and social media sites.  When I see the Apple iPad, what I am really seeing is a glorified, larger iPod Touch.  Yes, the iPad has data capabilities but if you really wanted that, you'd buy the iPhone instead of the pod.  Other than that, and the larger screen, I don't really see a blockbuster product.  I see an iPod that's less practical: it doesn't fit in your pocket, it's the size of a network, it's difficult to type on and less practical as a music device.  After discussing this with many people, including my sister who is also a marketer by degree, we agreed that the only application of the iPad as a practical item is for those who don't use or know how to use a computer.  As a user friendly product, it could be the means for those who are not savvy to check their mail, and surf the web with its easy, push-button operating system.

      But maybe this is the point exactly, I am approaching this from the practical, beige-trousered approach.  Seth Godin might be able to explain why the iPad, despite its apparent shortcomings, still sold like hot-cakes.  Godin was interviewed at TED 2009 in this video, where he explains what might be going on here.  In the video entitled Why You Need a Tribe, he says it's not about "here are all the features, you should switch", that the one with the most features for the money isn't the one that's necessarily successful.  For example, the "iPod doesn't have the most features for the money" but "that's not why people buy it".  According to Godin, people buy it because "of the story, because of the way it makes them feel".  A lot of this desire comes from word of mouth, leading into Godin's idea of the "Purple Cow":  something that is remarkable.  People will talk about things that are remarkable, and it's the marketer's challenge to make something that is remarkable and get people talking.

      The "Back-to-Mac" event is a perfect example of this marketing, something that Apple seems to have perfected.  People talked about it, people wanted it and people got it.  A prime example of branding turning into purchasing.  Does it matter the iPad might not be practical?  No, because people want it anyway.

      PS: Reading Joel Comm's book Twitter Power 2.0, I will be posting a review of the ideas in the book later on when it's finished.  So far?  An excellent read.

      Sunday, October 24, 2010

      One confusing brand.

      Is it just me, or is Swiss Army one of the most confusing brands around?

      It's certainly unexpected if you think of it.  Here, lets do an exercise.  Just take a moment to think of what comes to mind when you hear "Swiss Army".

      Done?  Chances are you hit upon these: accurate, intricate, reliable, red, red logo with a white cross.  Those are among many of the things I thought of, but maybe it's not so simple.

      I have a watch with a red logo with a white cross, labeled as Swiss Army.  Recently, I needed to have it repaired and I was trying to find an authorized dealer to have the work done.  I tried to do some research to find my watch for the watch model number.  That, was the beginning of my issues.  I found watches sold under the 'Swiss Army' brand, then found some watches under the 'Wenger Swiss Army' brand. And if that wasn't confusing enough, there were more watches made under the 'Victorianox Swiss Army' brand. Logos?  All red with a white cross.

      I know that in some cases, these brands are related but as a customer, I couldn't find this more confusing.  As a brand, there is little differentiation in my mind between any of them but as entities, they are much different.  I think some clarification would be handy, especially since (selfishly) it needs to be fixed.

      Saturday, October 23, 2010

      Speaking of value...

      I found this great piece by Janet Fouts on the importance of recognizing and reinforcing your 'social capital'.  It really leads on from my last discussion about making sure that you're creating a valuable experience and relationship with anyone you are connecting with on social media.

      If you're on social media (such as Twitter for example) and you've got followers, then you have got 'social capital'.  But how much of your following is actually social capital varies.  As discussed in my last posting, a significant proportion of your social networks are not going to be engaging in what you do online.  I like to think of these as background noise.  Then, as according to Fouts, there is the 'social capital' within your following: the follower that "listens to you, trusts you and takes action based on what they’ve read".  These are the followers who are hard to come by, hard to cultivate but by far and away the most valuable to your network!

      In this way, the evidence against the numbers came continues to mount.  Social capital does not equate to social credibility.  Fouts is quick to point out that "just because somebody has tons of connections does not indicate the level of their value to your network, or even their own".

      How do you maintain a valuable network?  "Make it a point to respond or otherwise support a broad spectrum of people in your network. When they do good things point it out. Answer questions, ask questions that you know they have the answer to just to support them" says Fout.  Don't spread yourself too thin or over do it (they will tune you out), but stay involved and make the effort to make the connections.

      All in all, a good read about the value of networking when you get what you give.  Check out Fout's website and give this article a read, well worth your time.

      Have a comment?  Find me on Twitter and let me know about it!  I'd love to hear your thoughts.

      Friday, October 22, 2010

      "A good decision is based on knowledge and not on numbers"

      Plato clearly would have been an effective social media user.

      In fact, I'm willing to say he probably would have earned himself many fans, followers and connections in the electronic networking world.  We would have been privileged to follow his thoughts and ideas, subscribing to @AcademyInAthens and gobbling up his philosophical musings.  "RT: @Socrates New Ideas on Western Philosophy"...

      But I am sure that Plato would have been one of the first to recognize that leagues of followers and a million 'likes' cannot replace generating a genuine connection with an audience.

      Franciso Rosales clearly understands this idea too.  The breadth of the connections you make is all very good, but you cannot simply measure success with a site-counter: depth is an important factor to consider too.  In his recent posting, Rosales explains the dilemma of whether numbers are important to a social media marketer: do you beat the drum as loud as you can to get the greatest number of followers, or do you value quality of connections above quantity.  I am a keen supporter of the quality argument: making a genuine and valuable connection with one person is far more valuable than a weak connection with ten.  However, as Rosales explains, which route to take is dependent on your overall strategy.

      Measuring the success of your existence on the Internet is difficult.  Social media is a new and emerging tool for marketers, but should be used as part of a clear, overall strategy.  Rosales is quick to point out (and I agree) that before you just jump in and try to measure your success in social media, you need to "understand what your business objectives are and how they translate into online goals".  In most cases, do bigger numbers necessarily mean bigger profits?  No, "having higher Retweets than your direct competitor means nothing on the front-end".  In the exception of a few companies, who are trying to promote their own "information products for sale", number of followers or retweets means very little.  Know what your strategy is, why you are in the ring and how you being in it fits with your objectives.  Then and only then you can have a way of measuring your success.  As in any strategy, have SMART goals: Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic and Time Oriented.

      Realistic is a key aspect of having a sustainable strategy and objective.  Rosales is quick to point out that social media is no exception.  Understanding what kind of connection you have made with a consumer defines what relationship you've made, what experience you have impacted and how valuable the relationship is for both parties.  If you're looking to make 'deep' relationships by finely controlling the brand experience, you need to be realistic in your measurements of success.  According to Rosales, "only a tiny fraction" of those 'liking' or following a feed "are actually engaging or [have real] relationships" with your brand.  Mark Collier agrees, going as far as to say that most social media numbers are in fact useless as a measure of success.  I feel there is a lot of merit here, especially if you are trying to enhance a brand image with the objective of creating purchases.  Measuring increases in sales seems to be the obvious choice, but even this has it's pit falls.  If you're on Twitter to purely boost sales, then I don't think you're there for the right reasons.  Through studying his own Twitter traffic, Collier concludes there are two important things to keep in mind: you're going to have low engagement from all your followers,  but those of who are more involved in your brand, you are going to have a high level of engagement from that group.  He states that the level of engagement is " likely be inversely proportional to the size of the group", citing an engagement rate of between "1-3%".  But, of those who are involved in a more meaningful relationship, you are going to have a larger portion of engagement, more like "33%" in his example. 

      Clearly, there is an emphasis on understanding and controlling your relationships, it can make a huge difference when it comes to measuring your success.  It is a two-way street: you need to interact, respond and be involved in promoting the creation of a meaningful relationship.  If 'deep' is important, get involved.

      I come back to the idea of a genuine relationship.  Rosales points out that 'social proof' is a big part of creating  credibility, in the same way that "a book cover reads 'Author of the Best-Seller'..." might sell better than one without.  In this way, he explains that numbers can be a symbol of your success and leadership and therefore build your credibility.  To an extent, I have to agree.  If it is important to you that people see you as successful and a leader and you feel the best way of attaining that is through numbers, then that is your strategy (and lets face it, in many cases this is what happens).  However, those people who know, who understand and who seek real value will agree that a popularity contest proves little.  Creating value is what matters: if you do not provide value to your followers, you will not create the interaction and commitment that will generate a positive and real brand experience.

      Making decisions about how you use social media is about knowing what you want and how you are going to go about it.  Provide value, create meaning and interact.  It's what Plato would have done.

      Have a comment?  Find me on Twitter and let me know about it!  I'd love to hear your thoughts. 

      Thursday, October 21, 2010

      "The secret of getting ahead is getting started" - Mark Twain

      Sometimes all you need a push in the right direction.

      A good friend of mine, and in my opinion an excellent marketer, introduced me to the idea of taking my ideas farther.  We are both recently graduated from Wilfrid Laurier University, where we studied Business with a specialization in marketing.  However, we are both still very much students of marketing.  We have both been using social networking and media to follow important news stories, network with professionals and to learn from those who in the industry.  Social media is an emerging tool for marketers that, as part of an overall strategy, is giving us a way of reaching consumers in ways we have never seen before.  The presence of organizations on social media, such as Twitter for example, gives marketers a new way to deliver and control their brand experience, and engage the consumer in a genuine, two-way relationship.  To me, this last part is key: a genuine, two-way relationship.  It is not about volume of posts (where you run the risk of becoming noise) or giving out special offers exclusively.  It's all about providing followers with an interactive face of the company, someone who will listen and address the issues raised.  It's about creating and controlling the consumers initial brand experience (we all know how important first impressions are).  Critically however, it's about seeking and returning value.  People will listen and follow you if you have interesting and valuable things to say.  As a life-long student of marketing, I look to creating relationships using social media to enrich my knowledge.

      But social media is a two-way street, which brings be back to my friend.  He inspired me to take my involvement to the next level: to help create value for others in my search to enrich my own knowledge.

      As long as I have known Shaminda, he has always been ahead of the curve.  A man of great insight and thought, I highly recommend you read his ideas about marketing literature and topical news items.   You might find he inspires you the same way he inspired me.

      This is the beginning of my opportunity to grow, develop and learn as a marketer.  In this blog, I will be constantly on the look out for interesting news items, thought-provoking ideas and be developing discussion about all things social marketing.  If you're a liked-minded individual looking to delve deeper into social media, please continue to check back here for my "Tuesday Three" and for other news, concepts and publications.  Also, feel free to connect with me on Twitter: I am always interested in new viewpoints, opinions and ideas.

      Share the journey with me, I hope you enjoy as much as I do.

      "A journey of a thousand miles must begin with a single step"
      - Chinese proverb

      Have a comment?  Find me on Twitter and let me know about it!  I'd love to hear your thoughts.