Your brand: The bridge to community

This post is cross-posted over on The Engaged Consumer, Powered’s company blog.

Bridge to CommunityMy colleagues Aaron Strout and Bill Fanning have gotten a great conversation started around the difficulty of connecting community with a brand that seems not quite as “community ready,” starting with a recent post titled “Would you join a Toothpaste Community?

This is a question we get all the time in initial sales calls with savvy brand marketers. They get social marketing, but can’t quite see how people could ever get excited about their product – that is, excited enough to engage at a deeper level within a branded community. Aaron suggested a nice approach where you categorize your offering and look to commonly effective strategies. I’ll add to that by suggesting an additional approach that is a little more zen.

Alright, clear your mind. Let’s imagine that you are in a room with your ad agency and you are trying to brainstorm a new ad campaign. They will likely put you through a series of exercises designed to explore what you want your brand to mean to consumers. What are you really selling? Where is the point at which your product or service connects with something your potential buyer really cares about? Answering these questions allows your agency to produce a 30-second spot or a print campaign that more powerfully engages your target audience.

You might offer auto insurance, but you’re really selling safety and comfort. You might serve coffee, but you’re really selling opportunity and energy. You might be a toothpaste manufacturer, but you’re really selling health and good looks.

Before someone ever considers buying your insurance, coffee, or toothpaste, they have to be in the mode of being safer, being opportunity-driven, feeling healthy. That’s why TV commercials never start with the product that’s being sold, they start with images that evoke those feelings and then end with product. What I would suggest is that while these lifestyle elements are the secret to effective ad campaigns, they are also your bridge to an effective, high-return social marketing strategy.

What about a social marketing program centered on how to make your family safer: in your home, on the road, on the Internet? What about a program about how be more productive, more organized, more energetic? What about a program centered around total health, personal appearance, effective presentation? These are passion points for people, and it’s where you already get them to care about you. So why not deepen and broaden that brand-relevant interaction with online community? Bring in experts, engage celebrities, turn your compelling 30-second spot into a compelling conversation.

As in many things, the secrets to success here aren’t necessarily in some new playbook. They are hidden in what you already know. Why do people care about what you’re selling?

Photo Credit: Originally Uploaded by Carolyn from Lucky Planet Photography

With Resolve

New Year's Times SquareOne thing that is surprising about the whole New Year’s Resolution process is that it is a little more polarizing than expected. As 2009 starts, I’ve noticed some folks that are great setting up resolutions and then measuring themselves against them every year, while others abhor the process of setting resolutions in general.

I don’t feel particularly passionate one way or another, but the approach I am going to take this year is this: I make them, but I don’t share them. It’s between me and the universe.

I’ve found that it’s important to take stock at set times, kind of like setting a performance review schedule at work. But I’ve also found that these personal resolutions are either, well, too personal to share – or, and more importantly, by sharing them I feel my resolve diminished.

Let me explain. It may be only in the less-disciplined of us, but I feel like talk sometimes discourages action, in that people (myself included) derive some strange satisfaction out of talking about something that makes them less inclined to actually do it. It’s the reason why people have so many meetings and leave them without concrete to-dos. It’s the reason why people engage in small talk over meaningful connection. It’s the reason why, the minute I share that it’s my goal to work out every day, I am oddly less likely to accomplish it. And unless, at age 34,  I hire someone to be my full-time mother there is no way someone else is going to truly make sure I accomplish those New Year’s goals!

This past year, I got engaged and married to a wonderful woman. That process had incredible moments in it that I will never forget – life-flashing-before-your-eyes moments – but it took a lot of guts to see it through the right way (and I applaud all my fellows who have done the same). Because I worked at it and kept my eye on the prize, because of my resolve to do it and do it right, I wake up on the first day of 2009 happily married.

So what’s my 2009 resolution that I will share with you? To live with resolve, the same way I did in 2008. To accomplish the things I know I want to do, no matter how the universe conspires against them.

I wish the same for you.

From flat to round: The new brand

The Most Interesting Man in the WorldThis post is cross-posted on Powered’s blog, The Engaged Consumer.

I draw a lot of parallels between marketing and storytelling, and I’m certainly not the only one. But recently, I’ve been giving some thought (mostly as a result of it being a hot conversation on the web) to the branding dimension of marketing, how it’s changing, and how it relates to the art of telling a good story.

Branding is to me most like characterization in the storytelling paradigm, the ability to develop convincing and compelling personalities with whom the reader (a.k.a. consumer) can identify and form a firm relationship. When you read a book, see a play, or watch a movie where characterization is done well, your emotions (love or hate) for the characters are amplified. The actors are full, their flaws and their strengths are detailed, and you can get to the point where when the story ends you want to see more of them. Good brands are like that – you feel like you know them, you feel like your association with them says something about you, and you want to see more of them.

A little bit of research into characterization rendered this from the Department of English at The University of Victoria that digs a little deeper:

A flat character (also known as a type, or a two-dimensional character) is defined by a single quality without much individualizing detail. A round character is a complex individual incapable of being easily defined. The degree to which characters are given roundness and individual complexity depends upon their function in the plot–some only need to be seen at a distance, like strangers or acquaintances, rather than known intimately.

I would argue that most brands today, and in the old world of marketing, are “flat characters.” A brand’s time with us has been hindered by our inability to choose with which brands we spend that time, as offline marketing channels feature a more-or-less complete lack of consumer control. As a result brand-marketers have had to keep branding simple. Every commercial break has been like a round of speed-dating where you have 30 seconds to get to know each of the brands involved.

That’s changing. With the web now a major force in marketing (and driven by consumer choice, spread primarily by word of mouth) consumers now have the means, and the ability, to choose to spend more time with brands they like. Brand marketers have to be ready for that. They must build “round characters” – the kind with depth, complexity, even flaws. This is why many people define the new branding as more conversational, more social. What they really are describing is the process of brands shedding their archetypical trappings and becoming more like real people.

Two good examples that go part of the way, but perhaps not far enough, are a couple of great efforts by Dos Equis and Palm. Dos Equis’ “The Most Interesting Man in the World” is a crusty old guy who looks like a cross between Chuck Norris and Antonio Banderas. He is surrounded by women, and described by phrases like “his blood smells like cologne” and “his personality is so magnetic that he is unable to carry credit cards.” He’s a great character for beer drinkers, myself included. You can become a fan of him on Facebook, and you can visit a website where he is featured, but you quickly get the sense that, well, he’s not really that interesting. While I give kudos to Dos Equis for some great ad spots and a slick website, opportunities are missed here for a deeper and longer-term engagement. A similar treatment was given to Claus, Palm’s metro-hip version of Santa Claus. Great character, but a bit flat for the web.

So what is a “round brand” on the web? Isn’t it a huge effort to develop all the backstory on your character for the few that are interested? Actually, it might be less work. By merely pulling back the marketing curtain and exposing the personalities and voices of the interesting people on your marketing team (through social networks and through your own socially-enabled website), you can contribute those personalities to your brand – rounding it out. Just look at what Dunkin Donuts is doing on their Twitter account. And it might be more than just a few that become interested, as word-of-mouth spreads at the speed of the web.

What brands do you think have character?

How to restore a lost iTunes library

Itunes logo

Too often a hard drive crash or some unforeseen circumstance causes us to lose our library of tunes. This recently happened to my wife Megan, so I had a little project this morning to do what I could to restore it. I thought I’d take a second and share what I found and did. Of course, this assumes that you have no back-up (either a back-up drive or physical media such as CDs). Actually, after a little research it turns out it’s pretty easy.

1. Transfer what you can from your iPod to your new instance of iTunes.

A. Enable your iPod for “manual management of music.” You can do this by installing iTunes and then connecting your iPod. When it asks you, DO NOT tell it to erase and sync your iPod.  Hit cancel, then simply click the manual management box when your iPod comes up in iTunes.

B. Download Ephpod. This is a free little utility that allows you to copy music from your iPod to iTunes (iTunes doesn’t allow this itself). Ephpod will ask you to select your iPod hard drive when you fire it up. If you can’t see your iPod hard drive in the list then you need to go back to step A. Now select all of your music displayed in Ephpod and go to File > Copy to Directory. Copy everything into your My Documents > My Music > iTunes directory.

C. Go into iTunes and select File > Import Folder. Then import all of the music you just moved over. You should be good to go. In the case where you have AAC files bought from the iTunes store, you will need to make sure you authorized the new computer to play them.

2. Still not everything? Well, you can send Apple an email and it’s been reported that they will allow you to download all your purchases made through them – but only once.

I did all of this this morning, and I’m still waiting to hear back from Apple. I’ll let you know if that last step works as advertised.

Update: My wife did hear back from Apple the same day that I sent the request, and when she didn’t respond immediately the nice woman from Apple reached out to her again. We were able to download our purchases again, as reported elsewhere. Another great customer experience with Apple. Libary restored. Thank you Apple!

Update 2 (11/16/2009): This continues to be a very popular post, it really seems to be a problem that lots of people have. It looks like since my original post Apple has changed their website and removed the support form I used to reference in Step 2 above when I say “sending an email.” However, now you can arrange a call with an expert by going here, which admittedly is better than submitting a form and waiting for a response. In general, if you find any of my instructions above can be improved or are outdated please make a comment on how to fix the issue faster – around 50 people read these instructions every day so you would really be helping a lot of people.

Meme-Tags and Vintage Photos

Mr. Aaron Strout, who recently joined Powered as our CMO, just meme-tagged me! When the message came over via Twitter that I had been tagged, I have to admit that had no idea what it meant. Meme-tagged, me?

But after reading Aaron’s blog post, it became clear that a game of meme-tag is really a more fun version of those “20 questions about you” email chain letters that used to go out. In fact, I have seen these little games perpetuating not only through Twitter but through Facebook. Last month my Facebook friends and I had fun with the “open the nearest book and type in the 7th sentence on the 53rd page” game.  Some of the quotes were pretty funny taken out of context, but the more interesting thing was to see what people had on their bookshelves. These are a great way to feel connected to the folks in your extended network.

The other, somewhat-related trend I’ve seen in Facebook over the past few months is that several unrelated people in my network are starting to upload really old photos – soccer team pictures, second grade pictures, prom pictures.  Another small way to feel connected, or to reconnect, with old friends through the sharing of a small piece of media. And Facebook continues to cement its position as the truly de facto social network.

Amit and BeckyBut back to Aaron – his challenge is to upload and display the sixth photo on the six page of your Flickr photostream in your blog. Here’s the embarrassing thing: I am barely a Flickr user. I checked and I only have 23 pictures in my account. So as a stand-in I am going to upload the 66th photo in my iPhone camera roll . . . it’s a picture I took at the Seattle wedding of friends Becky and Amit this past summer (friends from business school).

And who will I tag to do the same? Let’s tag Josh Wills (@dukethug), Rebecca Frasier (@bexmix), Amy Mendel (@atmendel), Shwen (@shwen), Brianna Barnes (@briannab), and Ryan Joy (@atxryan). You’re it.