Hello, New York

In the second of our Alec Baldwin series, a tweet of mine about Mr. Baldwin’s noisy exit from public life was picked up yesterday by the New York Times.

It’s nice to be picked up by the elite’s hometown paper, and it was nice to have old friends reach out to me to tell me about it.  But it doesn’t necessarily convey professional benefits.  Do I need to add “plugged into pop culture” to my brand?  Not really– I have that one pretty well covered.  It would have been a lot better for me if the Times had passed along something I said that was insightful about the changing strategy of brands in the social media era.  (Note to self:  Tweet more about things that are professionally valuable.)

The Baldwin tweet is a data point that will be seen by many people, but it doesn’t do a lot for my brand.  On the other hand, if I can start getting quoted in the press regularly, it will convey real authority as those data points accrete.  (NPR, IBA, New York Times…. hey, I might actually know what I’m talking about.)

Wide exposure to a slightly off-target data point isn’t bad.  I reemphasize brand values which are secondary but relevant (funny, plugged in) and I potentially pick up new followers.  (Yesterday I did pick up quite a few Twitter followers, but it’s hard to tell what made them follow me.)  It may help for SEO, but it’s too early to tell.

(Incidentally, yesterday I was teaching an Entrepreneurship class at Creighton University when I got the news about the Times.  The slides are here.)

Having the right creative matters, but having the right distribution matters too.  That tweet might have been trivial, but it was well-distributed, and something may come of that.  But where the rubber meets the road, someone subscribing to this blog is a lot more valuable to me than someone seeing one witty tweet on paper.  Attention is nice, but it doesn’t always create value.

Your brand is a sponge and mine is too.  And now I get a little of Alec Baldwin’s and The New York Times‘ brand mojo rubbing off on me for a short time.  That tweet is a nice thing for my brand, but this game is about building up lots of data points, not just one, and specifically data points that show that I’m valuable, not just that I’m amusing.

Learn from David Mamet: Make your content dramatic

David Mamet is my favorite playwright, and one of the only ones working today who try to see the world as most Americans live it.  Although theater has become something for the coastal elites in the big cities, his work always speaks to the ordinary person.  This scene from Glengarry Glen Ross is tremendous drama, but it speaks in plain English that anyone can understand: (NSFW: Language warning)

Mamet also gave the most effective definition of drama I know:


This is taken from a memo from him to the writers of a TV series he was producing.

Three big things:

  • It is about a hero.  That may be a man, woman, fish, or purchasing agent, but it has to be about a specific individual.  Any sentence that starts with “Most people” is inherently anti-dramatic.
  • It is about overcoming obstacles.  In Finding Nemo, the story is dramatic because actually finding Nemo ( a little fish in a huge ocean) is really really hard.  If Nemo were hiding under a piece of seaweed 10 feet away, it wouldn’t be dramatic.
  • It is about achieving a specific, acute goal.  You can’t have drama unless someone is trying to get something.  If you are publishing content that doesn’t talk about how you help people reach explicit goals, there is no drama.

All of this is common sense, but it takes hard work to write like this.  The default setting for most of us is talking about how much we like our customers, how special our people are, and how awesome the new feature set is.  Nice, but not dramatic.

It’s a world full of nice content.  And nice content gets ignored.

Next time you write a piece of content for your brand, be completely unambiguous about these three things—who the hero is, does the goal really matter, and what obstacles have to be overcome.

In a world where the emotional ante keeps increasing and the supply of content keeps doubling, dramatic writing will make a huge difference in connecting with the buyers you need to keep your business strong.

(See what I did there?)

Photo Credit: YouTube

Adrian Blake has worked with Saturday Night Live, McKinsey & Co., and The Progressive Farmer and is a founder of a Social Media agency.

Adrian Blake.  Strategy.  Social Media.



Based on the thinking from Part I, the next level is to start defining generic strategies for common situations.  Every situation is unique, but it’s useful to segment along two principal dimensions—The Buyer axis (B2B v B2C) and the Competitive Positioning axis (Incumbent v Attacker).  Each one of these characteristics has reasonably consistent challenges and no-risk moves that can and should be taken.


A reminder of the context.

Segments and Issues

  1. B2B Brands:  Increase RelevanceMost B2B brands are built on rational benefits—features, specifications, and ROI.  That is a necessary but not sufficient component of building brands on social media.  With increased competition in the Newsfeed or Twitter stream from other brands, many of whom are not even B2B, the principal issue is to increase the brand’s relevance.
      • Deepen Emotional Benefits.  This means getting crisper about functional benefits but leveraging a deeper understanding of the other value you can offer the buyer.  Not just functional benefits and business outcomes, but Professional benefits, Social benefits, Emotional Benefits and Self-Image benefits.  Particularly if you are asking a buyer to forward (or endorse) your materials.  How can you make the buyer look good by passing on your messages?
      • Emphasize Risk Reduction.  Particularly effective is leveraging the heightened risk that B2B buyers feel.  A B2C purchase gone wrong is inconvenient.  A B2B purchase gone wrong can be a career-limiting move.  You don’t want to be alarmist, but you can reemphasize the safety and security of buying your brand.
      • Avoid mediocre ”Thought Leadership.” Thought Leadership is an expression that has lost its meaning.  The content that most companies are calling thought leadership contains little thought and little leadership.  If you are a smart-people company like McKinsey or Goldman Sachs, it may be a viable strategy, but for most B2B companies, it’s more effective to (a) show a deep understanding of how your business works today, (b) be aware of how it may change in the future, and (c) how that will affect the buyers.  You don’t need to offer philosophy, futurism, or TED talks (and the TED brand is showing signs of weakness anyway.)

(Read this study from CEB—it’s got very useful stuff on emotion in B2B.

2.  B2C:  Deepen the emotional connection

The nature of B2C brands is that they are more about simple human emotion than complex rationality.  (There’s a reason Pampers puts a picture of a baby on the box.)  No one is going to read a white paper about your frozen dinners.  In an increasingly competitive marketplace for brands and emotions, B2C brands need to own one word.

      • Emphasize Emotion.  As the number of messages increases, and the market gets increasingly noisy, marketers will rely more on emotional messaging.  That means that unless your brand uses emotion effectively now, it’s going to get drowned out.
      • Make your sharers look good. Further, effective B2C social media content conveys social capital on those who share it.  Give people a reason to share it.  Look at masters like George Takei, who convinces hundreds of thousands of people to share his (outsourced) content every day.  Buzzfeed and Upworthy have also developed new forms of ultra-shareable content.  Not every brand needs to become a content factory, but these are the brands you compete with for airtime. The first work is now being done on the science of sharing content, and it’s almost entirely driven by emotions—specifically Curiosity, Amazement, Interest, Astonishment, and Uncertainty.  Is that surprising?  Of course not.  But your brand needs to develop skills at developing messages that evoke those emotions.  Welcome to Show Business.  Excellent storytelling skills will be table stakes in this new era.
      • Experiment with New Forms. B2C brands also need to explore new forms—Lowe’s has done great work with Vine (its Fix in Six has a great point of view), Pinterest in driving more ecommerce than any other site, and new platforms are constantly emerging.  No brands have really cracked Snapchat yet, but several are already there.

3.  Incumbent Brands:  Maintain audience, Deepen emotion

For incumbent brands, the principal challenge is to maintain audience.  The new forms allow attacker brands to disrupt existing brand relationships.  Pre-existing marketing skills around Television, PPC, or SEO are not irrelevant, but the new forms demand a new set of skills.

    • Maintain and Grow audience.  This means being a fast follower on social media.  It’s not absolutely necessary for the incumbent to be the pioneer in social media, but it can’t fall too far behind.  (Home Depot can’t catch up on Vine—Lowe’s Fix in Six has too much of a head start—but it can differentiate on another platform, probably with content focused on contractors.  Maybe in Spanish.)  This also means linking up your social media profiles so that if you capture a buyer anywhere, it is easy to find your other content on other platforms.
    • Reinforce emotion.  Whatever emotion the incumbent owns needs to be deepened and sharpened.  In B2C it may be oriented around surprise or self-actualization.  In B2B it may be around trust.  But as the emotional landscape grows more competitive, incumbents need to dig in and protect their position with buyers.

    • Maintain segment integrityP&G’s Moms campaign around the Olympics was emotionally powerful, but will not translate into strong bonds with buyers.  I have no relationship with P&G.  I have a strong, long-standing relationship with Tide.  A master brand strategy may work in social media if that strategy is already in place (e.g., Intel).  For a portfolio company like P&G, it’s hard to generate that connection to the parent holding company.  (Look at Kering and other how luxury goods holding companies feature the portfolio brands.

4.  Attacker Brands:  Experiment aggressively, own an emotion

Attacker brands have a great opportunity to become newly relevant with new forms of media.  Look how Dollar Shave Club positioned itself via social media vs what Gillette has done.  (3 Million views in a week.)  Particularly if the incumbent is slow to embrace social media, attackers can win a lot by moving quickly.  In attacker brand always has to overcome the burden of not being trusted yet.  Social media offers the attacker brand a way to have the buyer’s friends validate the choice.

    • Focus on Shareability.  We know that people trust what their friends recommend more than advertising.  There’s no stronger source of trust than the recommendation of friends.  When Dollar Shave Club gets people to share their video, the person sharing is implicitly endorsing the product.  That is much more powerful than a banner ad.
    • Own an emotion. The focus on shareability implies owning an emotion—that’s what makes content get shared.

    • Grow the audience.  Particularly for new entrants, it may make sense to pay for promotion on Facebook and Twitter.  Social media is very much about thresholds, and until the brand achieves critical mass, it won’t have much impact on the market.

    • Try new forms.  The cost of experimentation is low, and attackers need to be perceived as more forward-thinking than the incumbent.  That doesn’t mean insurance companies need to use Snapchat, but it does mean that the attacker can’t be perceived as less relevant than the incumbent.

These 4 categories obviously combine into 4 sets of recommended actions for brands that fit in each box—Incumbents in B2C need to follow recommendations for both incumbents and B2C.

It goes without saying that every brand is unique, but this new competitive era does offer a few low-risk moves that will help brands at all levels help deepen their relationship with buyers.

Your comments are very welcome.

Photo Credit: Flickr

 Adrian Blake has worked with Saturday Night Live, McKinsey & Co., and The Progressive Farmer and is a founder of a Social Media agency.

Adrian Blake.  Strategy.  Social Media.


A Framework for Branding with Social Media (Part 1)

Your brand is a set of emotions triggered by brain chemicals.  Those chemicals are set off by the data points your customer knows about your brand.  Social Media changes branding because it makes it much cheaper to produce and deliver those data points.  However,  it’s also easier for your competition.  Cheaper message production and distribution mean it’s a much noisier space for all brands.

That means brands have to concentrate on:

  1. Defining where they want to compete
  2. Honestly assessing how the brand is perceived in that competitive space
  3. Developing a strategy to get the brand from where it is to where it should be
  4. Executing with best practices in a noisy space

Let’s walk through the process:

  1. Where to compete?  This is a canonical strategy question, but particularly in the crowded social media space, there is a need to define the competitive space tightly in order to establish a sustainable base.  Now that every brand is a media company, you have to think like a media company.  Narrow and deep beats broad and shallow.The key points to define here are which segment the brand is seeking to reach, what success looks like, and the competitive scenario.  Is this segment of the market crowded? How do buyers make decisions?  What do people know about you?  What do they know about your competitors?  A simple 2×2 matrix can be a useful planning tool here for mapping the competition.
  2. Honestly assessing positioning.  Once you have defined the competitive arena, where are you versus other choices, both competing propositions and substitutes?  Most importantly, how do you stack up on Emotional Benefits and on Functional Benefits?  The new tools allow you to create and curate many more messages than you could before, and you can craft them to emphasize the benefits of your choice.  Based on where you need to be, where are you now?  Do your buyers care about emotional benefits?  Almost certainly, even if they’re B2B buyers.  What emotions are you trying to evoke?  The Plutchik wheel can be very valuable in articulating the emotions you are trying to evoke.  Social listening and sentiment analysis tools can be very useful in gathering data for this analysis, as well as customer interviews and other traditional data-gathering tactics.What you’re looking for is an assessment of (a) what the market thinks about you and (b) how strongly they feel it.  In most cases, they don’t feel strong at all.  The emotional or functional benefits for brands are lost in the noise, and you will have an uphill climb.  The ugly truth is that most buyers don’t think of you much at all.  But to get onto a buyer’s shortlist, you will need to register on their radar screen.  Regular buyers may have a strong sense of your functional benefits, but don’t expect the market to really understand the benefits of your feature set.  The emotional benefits may be all over the map.  IBM evoked very strong and clear emotions in the 1980’s.  Those emotions are less clear now.  Blackberry is another example—they stood for one thing ten years ago, and something very different today.  Emotion is dynamic and context-based.  It needs to be regularly monitored and managed as much as it can be.In most cases, brands will need to improve performance on both axes.  Your functional benefits are not all that well understood and your emotional benefits may not be registering at all.  An example for an agriculture and chemical company might be for a particular segment (not product buyers but the public at large) “Increase understanding of functional benefits A, B, and C” and “Move emotional profile weighting away from Fear and Disgust and toward Trust and Surprise.”  A packaged goods company might aim for “Deepen understanding of our unique functional benefits, and focus emotional benefits toward Trust.”
  3. Charting a course.  Now that you have determined where you need to be and where you are now, the course needs to be charted.  There are different tools available, but there are significant differences in the degree to which they are trusted.  As the chart shows, Recommendations from friends are the most trusted medium, but those recommendations can’t be easily bought.  Should you base your entire strategy on them?  You can buy all the banner ads you want, but will anybody believe you?


(Click the chart to expand)

There are three main dimensions to be managed:

      • What sort of messages?  Are the messages principally functional or emotional?  What does the target market like?  What is the competition doing?  Is there a role model from another industry?
      • What medium to use?  What media will be the right levers to pull?  In current practice, Functional benefits are best delivered via Blogs, White Papers, LinkedIn, and Twitter.  Emotional benefits are well suited to Facebook, Instagram, Vine, YouTube, and Pinterest.  Most importantly, where does your audience look for information?  There’s no point crafting the right message strategy for a medium they don’t use.  (Pinterest usage is almost 80% female.)  Blogs can be the most useful because everyone uses Google, and Google loves fresh, relevant information.
      • How to reach these audiences?  How many people are you trying to each?  Do you need to invest in paid audience building?  Which tactics should you use?  Do you expect people to share your messages voluntarily?  Why?

4.  Rigorous execution.  The principal challenge most organizations have with social media is not developing the strategy or choosing the right channels.  It’s executing remorselessly every day.  Because most people now use social media for their own personal brands, it is easy to think of social media as intuitive.  While it is easy to be a dilettante, best practices change quickly, and demand rigorous execution. This breaks down into two categories, and most companies are weak at both of them.

      • Content.  What are the best practices for a tweet?  Where does the hashtag go?  Is video better than infographic?  Best practices in content creation are always evolving.  Well established forms like Blogs and Twitter have achieved a certain level of canonical knowledge, but nowhere near print ads or even PPC advertising.  The rules change rapidly, and you need to have a team in place who can create or curate relevant content with the best practices of the moment.  It’s a very crowded marketplace (approaching perfect competition in many categories), and execution matters.
      • Distribution.  How many people a day should I follow on Twitter?  Can I name someone in a tweet?  Should I pay for Facebook ads?  Which kind?  How many times a day can I update LinkedIn before I start irritating people?  Do I really have to update the blog every day?  Can I just tweet links?  If you do not effectively build distribution, your brand will become irrelevant.  That distribution can come from owned media (your blog), earned media (other people talking about you, guest posts on other people’s blogs), or paid media (Promoted Twitter account).  Different situations demand different media selection, but getting wide distribution in your target segment is a basic requirement of building your brand.

Based on this framework, brands can find themselves in one of four basic situations

  1. Brand Creation.  Need to put new data points in market and need to build audience.
  2. Brand Turnaround.  Audience exists but brand needs to be repositioned with that audience.  Need to align messages with desired brand characteristics.
  3. Brand Growth. The right messages are in place, but Need to connect with more people.
  4. Brand Maintenance.  Messages positioned correctly, audience is correct, but need to develop and expand both either generally or to support a new initiative

Social media lowers the bar so that everyone can compete in brand building, but advantages accrue to those who have a crisply defined sense of what they are trying to establish, and those who put adequate resources behind creating the right content and distributing it effectively.  Too many brands put up a Facebook page and spin their wheels.  But by rigorously defining and executing a strategy, you can use these tools to shape your brand for the modern age

Photo Credit:  Flickr

Adrian Blake has worked with Saturday Night LiveMcKinsey & Co., and The Progressive Farmer and is a founder of a Social Media agency.

Adrian Blake.  Strategy.  Social Media.



Why Frank Sinatra was wrong

“If I can make it there/ I’ll make it anywhere.”

I love New York.  And London.  And LA.  But they’re really provincial.  The Bay Area’s even worse.

Lots of technical diversity (people come from different ethnic backgrounds), very little diversity in thought.  And that leads to the easiest of all intellectual mistakes to make:  confirmation bias.  Confirmation Bias happens when you are so confident in what you believe that you’re unwilling to test the validity of your ideas.  Warren Buffett (who does not live in any of those places) puts it this way:  “What the human being is best at doing is interpreting all new information so that their prior conclusions remain intact.”  And nothing will kill your social media faster than confirmation bias.

People who live in big cities tend to think that big cities are where all the smart people live.  People who went to prestigious universities tend to think that’s where all the smart people go.  Both may be true, measured by test scores.  If you’re looking for the right place to convene a MENSA meeting, a large city with a great university is a great idea.  However, if you’re trying to understand what a customer will like, what your personal peer group thinks is irrelevant.

I spent 10 years in show business, and one of the iron rules that you can’t avoid is “Know your audience.”  Most of the time that I worked in the comedy business, I was not in the audience.  Adam Sandler is an extremely successful movie actor.  I haven’t seen any of his pictures, and don’t plan to.  Take a look some time at the Top Ten TV Shows or the Top Ten Movies.  How many have you seen?  How many of them are made for people like you?  How many of them would you have put money behind?

When I worked in the Agricultural Media, you can bet I wasn’t in the audience.  My complete ignorance of agriculture made for a great competitive advantage—I had to shut up and listen to the damn customer.  I couldn’t fake my way through a conversation about soybeans.  And if your publishing is going to be any good, you have to have the same kind of discipline.

Right now, I am in the audience for a certain kind of content—NPR, The Wall Street Journal, Harvard Business Review, The Economist.  I went to Harvard and Wharton.  I worked at McKinsey and have served clients all over the world.  Those content brands are for people like me.  If you were to ask me to pick mainstream sitcoms, I would fail.  Not because I’m better than other people, but because I don’t know what the mainstream wants.  I am not the mainstream.  And neither are you.  I have no particular insight into what most TV watchers would like, because I don’t watch sitcoms.  Yet every year, thousands of businesses fail because they don’t understand what their target segment wants or needs.  Companies starting in New York or Silicon Valley may have a talent advantage.  There’s no doubt, the average standardized test scores are higher there.  But they have an endemic confirmation bias that has to be explicitly managed.

Take driverless cars.  I think we all understand the appeal of efficiency and convenience that comes from on-demand transportation.  And it makes perfect sense if you live in a big city, where parking is inconvenient and expensive, the local stores are walkable, and car ownership is seen as a little self-indulgent.  I live in Omaha.  Parking is free and (usually) easy to get.  Local stores are assuredly not walkable.  And cars are the only way to get my kids to school, baseball, and dance.  And there are tens of millions of people like me across America—in Omaha, Phoenix, San Antonio, Jacksonville, et al. But when you have a community of people in Palo Alto talking to their peers on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, it’s hard to see an opposing view.  We all want to believe that what we personally think is a mainstream view.  It rarely is.  Suburbanites and Rural Americans have very emotional attachments to their cars.  And that emotional tie is very different from the utilitarian way urbanites tend to view cars.

Another favorite example is building high-speed rail.  Rail makes perfect sense in Western Europe, which is densely populated, has severely limited parking in cities, and very high fuel prices.  And if you live in Boston, New York, or Washington DC, it may make a lot of sense.  But the travel experience of most Americans is not like the travel experience of urban residents in the Northeast. La Guardia is awful.  So is O’Hare.  And Logan isn’t much better.  If I were flying between those three airports regularly (and all my friends were too), I would be convinced that our air travel system is fatally flawed.  But lots of people don’t fly through those airports, and have a very different emotional reaction to air travel.

In the excellent book How Children Succeed, Paul Tough cites an ingenious experiment by Peter Wason that underscores our desire to be proven right.  You should read the whole thing, but the crux is this:

“It feels much better to find evidence that confirms what you believe to be true than to find evidence that falsifies what you believe to be true. Why go out in search of disappointment?”

So what does this have to do with your Publishing?  Everything.

The content you publish needs to be clearly connected to the products you make, the value deliver, and your understanding of the landscape.  If your thinking about your segment and your market is flawed, your publishing will never succeed, no matter how gifted your blogger or social media manager.  You need to inhabit the space your target market lives in.

As strategists and business owners, you have to go through the painful experience of watching your favorite ideas die.  If you don’t push your thinking hard, you will create mediocre content.  Test your hypotheses.  That means going more than 50 miles out of town.  That means immersing yourself in the world of your target market.  Knowing what they eat for lunch, how they define success, and what their own confirmation bias is.  (Nothing will endear you more to your target segment than understanding their emotional world—what they love and why they love them.  Are your customers the Navy or a bunch of Pirates?  Are they the snobs or the slobs?  Are they Spago, Pizza Hut, or Domino’s?)

CNN this week announced the end of Piers Morgan’s prime time show.  There’s a great summary here in the New York Times, but the crux is this—he didn’t know his audience.  He thought his audience was just like him and the other people who work at CNN—Internationalist, urban, anti-gun.  Guns are a subject worth debating, but Piers and his production team showed a remarkable tin ear.  They were guilty of obvious Confirmation Bias.  Maybe the entire Upper West Side of Manhattan agreed with them.  But the kind of people who watch CNN Primetime don’t live on the Upper West Side.

If you can make it in New York, that’s great.  But plenty of things that are popular in New York have no impact on the rest of the world.

I loved my years in New York and wouldn’t trade them for anything.  I hope my kids live in New York for a while when they grow up.  But it’s crazy to think that living in a big city like New York or Los Angeles or San Francisco is representative of how most Americans live.

Omaha has its limitations, but at least we know we’re provincial.

Photo Credit: Flickr

Adrian Blake has worked with Saturday Night Live, McKinsey & Co., and The Progressive Farmer and is a founder of a Social Media agency.

Adrian Blake.  Strategy.  Social Media.


Why should anyone publicly like your brand?

Why do people like your brand?  As we noted earlier, a brand is a feeling.  Put more reductively, it’s a blend of dopamine, serotonin, and other brain chemicals that get released when people recognize your brand.  So on a certain level, the answer is simple:  People like your brand because they like the way it makes them feel.  If the data points they know about your brand are mainly favorable, they will feel good about it.  If the data points they have add up to negative, they will not.

(If you’re very lucky, you’ll get to the point where Diet Coke is: “I really think of Diet Coke as my boyfriend.”)

So that may be why people have affection for the brand.  But why do they publicly declare their affiliation for a brand by “liking” on Facebook or following on Twitter or sharing your content?  That’s more complicated.

Danah Boyd is a researcher (working at Microsoft these days) who did some of the first work on social media by studying teens on MySpace almost ten years ago.  She found that the content that teens posted about themselves on their profile pages was “identity production.”  Just like brands put out content to shape the market’s perception of them, we all put out content about ourselves to shape our publics’ perception of us.  And those pictures can be different for different publics.  For example, on Facebook, I share content that makes me look like a good Dad as well as being a funny guy, someone who likes certain styles of music, and someone who keeps up with the news.  On LinkedIn, my brand is more focused around expertise in Media and Marketing.  On Twitter, it’s a different take, more about current events and social media.  In some forums, I have a pseudonym.  None of these personas are inaccurate, but none are complete.  We all want to look our best and to be well thought of by the various communities we belong to.  One of the ways that people do that is by affiliating themselves with certain brands.  At the top of the food chain, there are the most powerful brands. Some call them tattoo brands— Apple, Harley-Davidson, John Deere.  People join these brands rather than buy them.  As Godin says, they become “a mirror on our identity as consumers, tribe members and citizens.”  But most brands of any power will evoke a certain set of emotions.

Your personal brand is a sponge, and it soaks up data about you—where you check in on Foursquare (church or trendy bar), whether or not you commented on a mutual friend’s update, what car you drive.  People will publicly affiliate with your brand only if it makes them look good.  They may use it in private, and even be a loyal customer, but never like you publicly.

For example, I love Fritos corn chips, and have since I was a child.  I try not to eat them much, but they are my favorite indulgence.  But for me to publicly affiliate their brand with my personal brand doesn’t make me look good.  Sure, maybe it contributes an element of childlike wonder to my personal brand, but it contributes more a sense of carbs, cheap snack foods, and lack of willpower.  (Of course liking expensive wines sends a completely different set of signals—also indulgent, but with airs of connoisseurship and worldliness.)  I may enjoy Fritos.  But I’m not going to affiliate my personal brand with theirs.


(Click the chart to enlarge)

The data tell us that people like brands for three main reasons— as the chart shows us, the top three reasons are:

  • To support the brand I like (49%)
  • To get a coupon or discount (42%)
  • To receive regular updates from brands I like (41%)

“Get coupons” is a price shopper.  They’re not much good to you in the long run.  They might sample, but as we know, they’re not loyal.  “Receive regular updates” is the reasonable answer for someone who finds utility in  information alone. That information could be delivered via an email.  Or blog posts.  But that’s not publicly identifying with the brand.  The largest number of people want to publicly affiliate (or “support”) their own personal brand with the brands they like.  Identity production for grownups.


(Click chart to enlarge)

As the chart above shows, Ferrari doesn’t sell a lot of cars in the US, but it’s doing great on Facebook.  A lot of people out there want some Ferrari mojo as part of their personal brand.  Even though they drive a Chevy.  (BTW, great work there by Nissan, who clearly box above their weight on Facebook.)

A significant part of your success in social media will come from developing a brand that makes people want to affiliate with you—what sort of brain chemicals are released when your brand comes up?  Are any released at all?  If not, you know where to start building.  You have to mean something before people will affiliate with you, and use you as part of their identity production.

Photo Credit: Flickr

Adrian Blake has worked with Saturday Night LiveMcKinsey & Co., and The Progressive Farmer and is a founder of a Social Media agency.

Adrian Blake.  Strategy.  Social Media.



Hello Tel Aviv

Here’s the clip of my first appearance on Israeli television. (I’m just after Reed Hastings at 23:55.)

I’ve been on TV a few times, and the first booking is the hardest. Toughest part about this was getting Skype to work, and squeezing the interview in between school runs. As you can tell, I always look my best at 7:30 AM.

It’s a nice metaphor– commenting on Israeli television from Omaha via Skype about someone who’s disrupting the television market via online delivery. This is what disrupted markets look like. A little blurry, and in need of a little hair and makeup help, but fast and good enough to get the job done.

Thanks to everyone at IBA for making it so easy.

Welcome to Show Business

When I graduated from college, I went into the Entertainment business, and it was prescient.  I was attracted to it not for any noble reasons, but because, hey—it’s show business.  What could be more fun? I went to movie premieres, had champagne in Cannes with supermodels, saw rockstars in tiny studios, and saw the world.  A fine way to spend my twenties.

Little did I know that time working with entertainment brands, broadcasters, and movie studios would be such perfect preparation for the perfectly competitive world we live in online.  Clearly, the Entertainment industry remains in most ways an oligopoly.  But the lessons learned competing there are very relevant to what we all are trying to do online.

We all are in show business now.  As David Meerman Scott says “Any property that successfully aggregates an audience through content is a media company. “  That’s what we’re doing, so it makes sense to look at how Media & Entertainment companies have done it over the years.

A few lessons from show business that we all need to learn:

  • Be distinctive.  Narrow and deep beats big and general.  It’s very hard to please everybody.
  • Be where your audience is.  Don’t ask them to use formats or platforms they don’t like.
  • Reformat.  When you take your content to a new segment, recut it to suit local needs.
  • Sequels and Franchises work, but only for a while.  You will lose the trust of the audience if you milk your ideas too hard.
  • It’s all about talent.  Some people have more star power than others.
  • Word of mouth matters.  You want people telling their friends about how good your stuff is.
  • Scheduling matters.  Don’t release your big movie the same day your rival releases their big movie.
  • Storytelling wins.  Study everything Pixar does.
  • Guest stars can get people to check you out.  Borrow audiences where you can.
  • The money’s in the publishing/syndication.  It’s a hit-driven business, so you need a big portfolio.  The big hits make up for the misfires.
  • Service the superfans.  Star Trek made fountains of money for Paramount, and that money wasn’t coming from the cool kids.
  • Promote your stars.  Don’t be afraid to talk about how good you are.
  • Good artists borrow; Great artists steal.  There are no original ideas.  Just good execution.

What we do online is nothing new—on a certain level, we’re all carnival barkers trying to get bodies inside the tent, where we make money from them.  Entertainment and Utility are the two great levers we have to get someone into that tent.  If we can combine the two, we’re really getting somewhere.

Show business is about creating something appealing, getting it distributed to the right audience, and getting paid.  That’s what all of us are trying to do.  So while the world has changed in the last few years, there’s much to be learned from those who have gone before us.

You’re not the first person trying to figure out how to get the public interested in your content.


Photo Credit: Flickr 

Adrian Blake has worked with Saturday Night Live, McKinsey & Co., and The Progressive Farmer and is a founder of a Social Media agency.

Adrian Blake.  Strategy.  Social Media.


Why Scott Bedbury is Right

Your brand is a sponge. 

Your brand is also a psychological construct.  All a brand is is a set of chemicals that go off in someone’s brain when they hear your name or see your logo.  Seth Godin put it best when he said:

A brand is the set of expectations, memories, stories and relationships that, taken together, account for a consumer’s decision to choose one product or service over another.

It’s not the color or the price or the features—it’s how you make a customer feel.

So how do you manage that?  Is it just about hugs and recycling and ads about fathers and sons?

The feelings your brand evokes are released by the sum total of what the customer knows about your brand.  In short, data points.  The ads you broadcast.  The smell of your stores.  What the customer’s best friend says about you.  The customer service.  How the user feels when she carries around your bag.  What your competition says about you.  Your last 10 posts on Twitter.

Some of this is within your control, and some of it is not.  These data points vary in potency based on trustworthiness of the source (do I trust what the neighborhood coffee shop says about Starbucks?), recency of the data point (do I care that a barista was rude to me in the Chicago airport 4 years ago?), and relevance of the point (I don’t care if Starbucks matches 401K contributions, but I do care if they are chopping down the rainforest to grow coffee.).

This concept was articulated by Scott Bedbury in his book A New Brand World, the smartest book about branding out there, and one that is made even more relevant in the social media era.  In his words:

A brand is the sum of the good, the bad, the ugly, and the off-strategy. It is defined by your best product as well as your worst product. It is defined by award-winning advertising as well as by the god-awful ads that somehow slipped through the cracks, got approved, and, not surprisingly, sank into oblivion. It is defined by the accomplishments of your best employee– the shining star in the company who can do no wrong– as well as by the mishaps of the worst hire that you ever made. It is also defined by your receptionist and the music your customers are subjected to when they are placed on hold. For every grand and finely worded public statement by the CEO, the brand is also defined by derisory consumer comments overheard in the hallway or in a chat room on the Internet. Brands are sponges for content, for images, for fleeting feelings. They become psychological concepts held in the minds of the public, where they may stay forever. As such, you can’t entirely control a brand. At best you can only guide and influence it.

The rest of the book is great, but this concept is what has stayed with me for a long time.  The more data a customer knows about a brand, the less volatile their feelings are.  And you can’t control what data points they get.  I know just about everything about my local supermarket.  My emotions about it are pretty mild, but I am sure of my feelings—I have firsthand experience of that store, and new information is probably not going to change my mind unless it’s radically out of keeping with my existing feelings.  (When a robbery was reported there, it was jarring, because I think of it as safe and dull.)

Your brand is “a sponge for content.”  That’s why what you publish matters.  One stupid tweet that goes viral can undo years of work.  Equally, one customer success story that goes viral can supercharge your brand.  Realistically, almost nothing goes viral, so that’s not what you have to worry about.  But you do have to worry about two big things—

  • Are the data points you can control consistent and high quality?  A misspelled tweet is like a dirty store lobby.  Doesn’t kill the sale, but gets someone thinking the wrong way.
  • Are the data points you can’t control on your radar screen?  Do you know what people are saying about you?  Are you correcting misconceptions?  Do you know why you’re getting bad reviews on Yelp?

Your brand is constantly throbbing and changing as new data comes in.  Some of it is good or bad, but much of it is neutral.  Can you minimize the bad data points?  Can you turn the neutral data points into good ones?  And can you get the good data points shared?

Good social media alone won’t save a bad brand.  (I don’t know what I would do if I were running Sears, but their biggest problem isn’t social media.)  And bad social media won’t destroy a good brand.  But social media is a fertile source of data points—and that’s all your brand is.

This thinking simultaneously makes our jobs easier and harder.  All we have to do is manage the data points.  Unfortunately, we have to manage floods of them.

Photo Credit: Flickr

Adrian Blake has worked with Saturday Night Live, McKinsey & Co., and The Progressive Farmer and is a founder of a Social Media agency.

Adrian Blake.  Strategy.  Social Media.


Why Clayton Christensen is right

I was interviewed about Netflix this morning for IBA, an Israeli Television network.  (God bless Skype.)  Short case study—they found me via Twitter, checked out my blog, saw I had been interviewed on NPR, and booked me.  Publishing works.

They wanted to know why the release of Season 2 of House of Cards is such a big deal.  To me it shows an application of Clayton Christensen’s thinking (The Innovator’s Dilemma, etc.) to the world of content.

House of Cards Season 2 matters because of a series of changes that started 20 years ago.

First of all, there is the cultural context.  Prime Time (8-11 Eastern Time in the US, but different in other markets) became a fact of life in the 1950’s, during the birth of network television.  In those days of typewriters and landlines, America started work at 9AM and ended at 5PM.  We all were home together, and there were relatively few home entertainment choices.  Culture has changed in many ways since the 50’s, but the most relevant driver is continuous access to work.  Hours are different because they can be different.  People do independent work on connected computers.  When people are connected 24/7 and offices have flextime, Prime Time doesn’t mean as much.  Prime Time depends on large numbers of people at home at the same time.  It also means limited choice, so that people are watching the same shows in large numbers.  Work doesn’t work that way anymore and neither does television—we all have hundreds of channels to choose from.

Then changes in Entertainment Technology over the last 10 years kicked in—the DVR, on-demand movies, online streaming.  People are used to watching things when they want to.  Once you break the habit of watching a program at the time the network tells you to, it’s hard to go back.  Outside of Sports and Events (the Oscars, etc.), there’s very little that we all watch simultaneously anymore.   The phrase “spoiler alert” only exists in a world where you can time shift.  (There were no spoiler alerts about “Who Shot J.R.?” in 1980.)

Then increase in supply—  decrease in satellite costs, increase in cable capacity, and the rise of online streaming gave birth to hundreds of new viewing options.  And more competition in video meant more experimentation, while the broadcast networks were continuing to do the same old thing.  The new entrants like AMC, Netflix, and Amazon started out with library content (old movies and TV shows), but as technology allowed them to act like a television network, they inexorably were led to producing original content.  Not surprising that the new entrants had the better content.  AMC wasn’t trying to protect its old business—it didn’t have much of one.  NBC needed to keep its advertisers – Toyota, Anheuser-Busch, Procter & Gamble—happy, and that meant no surprises, and no disruption.

This is where Christensen’s thinking comes in.  In short, he asserts that disruptive competition is always dismissed because it looks like a toy.  Minicomputer makers thought the PC was a toy.  Xerox thought cheap Canon copiers were toys.  Western Union thought the telephone was a toy.  These new entrants excel on a different basis of competition than the big guys—they’re not luxurious but they’re fast.  They’re not high-fidelity, but they’re cheap.  And they don’t set out to serve the mainstream consumer.  Yet.  By being good enough to do one job, they establish a foothold in the market, and then start to climb into the mainstream.  Netflix used to be a place that mailed you DVD’s of old movies.  Through the post office.  Now it’s where Oscar-winners have creative control for their projects that end up on magazine covers.  That’s not a toy.

This all has severly affected branding—the broadcast networks are now seen as old and boring—the place where your grandparents watch NCIS or the Today Show.  The cool places are basic cable, pay TV and new entrants like Amazon and Netflix.

Why can’t you do the same?  No one is asking you to replace the trade magazines in your vertical.  But at the same time, you can carve out one small distinctive niche and build an audience around it.  Once you have that adience, you have the right to grow.  You might look like a toy to the legacy players.  That’s good.  Embrace it.  You know what happens in the long run.

Photo Credit: EJP Photo via Compfight cc

Adrian Blake has worked with Saturday Night Live, McKinsey & Co., and The Progressive Farmer and is a founder of a Social Media agency.

Adrian Blake.  Strategy.  Social Media.