Tag Archives: social media

Explore the Humanizing of Brands – Why Now?

Gather and Talk
Recently (Dec. 2nd) I had the opportunity to participate in a terrific event all about the humanizing of brands called BrandsConf. Jeff Pulver brought a couple of hundred people together to gather and talk about this topic that has been brewing for a long time, but has just recently come to a boil. That got me thinking: Why now? What has accelerated these ideas that have been developing around brands for several years?

I think a big part of the “why now?” is this very human idea of gathering and talking and how technology keeps making it easier for us to do just that – easier, faster, and at a larger scale. We used to gather and talk around the campfire, the dinner table, the watercooler, and now we’ve added al kinds of new places to gather and talk: chat rooms, comment threads, profile pages, Facebook walls and Twitter streams. We’ll virtually convene and debate over fanboy flamewars, activist causes, and even which thermos is really worth 24.99.

Not Gathered, but Talking
There used to be a little more clarity about when you were having a tête-à-tête, versus making a speech, or gathering a consensus. Now a conversation might be all of those things at once: one to one, one to many, and many to one all at once – and throw in many to many just for good measure. You also used to know when a conversation started and ended, but when the gathering is virtual it can also be asynchronous, or semi-synchronous, dialog and document all at once.

This isn’t just semantics (although I really like semantics), a lot of the reflexes we have formed based on the way we gather and talk in the physical world are being stress-tested by these new modes. Capacity, memory, history, context used to be things we could reliably judge in a more visceral way. There is a kinship in the gut between our skills as pattern recognizers and our effectiveness as B.S. detectors.

Gathered, but Not Talking
But I don’t think our reflexes are quite a sharp as they used to be, not as a whole. You see we spent a lot of years gathering, but not talking, first due to the radio, and later the TV. Add cable and cheaper electronics and we even began to lose the gathering – we were separating and not talking. IMHO our dialog skills got a little bit atrophied, especially when it comes to brands. We got comfortable with brands being spoon fed to us like cereal and Saturday morning cartoons. Our brand conversations were at best about brands, not with brands.

Search Me
Sorry about hopping around, but that’s just how my mind works sometimes. I’m not as random as Clifford Stoll yet, but give me time… So what was I saying? Search me…

Well that’s how we used to use that phrase: “Search me” was a handy expression to say I don’t know, or I don’t have the answer. Now “search me” is a directive, a request, a precipitate of this idea that we have a personal brand. Search me means that I have an answer and I want you to check me out so you know what you’re getting. This is where I think we as individuals can learn much from what the big brands have refined over the years, ideas like focus, consistency, aspiration and segmentation. And why is this important? Many of us come to a world with muscle-memory that was built when conversations were things that happened with a tiny scope, that faded away quickly, if not instantaneously, and we’re bringing those reflexes to a world where nothing is erased, everything is searchable, and the only way to hide a blemish is to crowd it out – make it harder to find by drowning it in a sea of positives.

I think this is why authenticity is so important to building a personal brand – every day we are offered the opportunity and consequence of operating like one-person media empires. Yet without the resources of a major brand or a billionaire media-magnate behind us it is essential that we steer our ships carefully, thoughtfully and with purpose. Our authenticity is our compass. It’s how we find our way, how we get back on track when we get buffeted around by life’s hard knocks and gleaming opportunities. It’s also the one resource that we know we won’t tap out while we’re hustling to keep up with the big shots and the big brands with their deep benches and deep pockets.

The good news is, it’s a lot easier to get big virtually than physically. The micro-brand can go global. The personal brand that embraces clarity and focus, that can bring an authentic remarkableness to market, can indeed go global. Your flavor of weird, if it’s real, might just be your win.

Talk to Me
So certainly there are heaps of brand wisdom that the little upstart can learn from big dogs like Nike, Apple, McDonald’s, Coke, Harley Davidson, etc. But can the scrappy, squishy, touchy-feely, human being at the center of a personal brand offer anything for the big brands to learn. Can you teach a big dog new tricks?

Well I think just as we as individuals have some communication reflexes that aren’t quite caught up with the new modes of semi-synchronous, always searchable, un-erasable, gathering and talking, so too are the big brands faced with outdated approaches and behavioral biases built on assumptions from other modes of communication. The command and control, TV, print, radio, megaplex paradigm depends on cascading layers of one-way filters that allowed information to flow down and out, but prevented the vast majority of the upstream communication from getting back to the top. All of that today can be subverted with a single tweet. It’s not a wolf at the door, but a human, just a few keystrokes away, and she wants to talk – not be lectured, or given the latest spin.

The social innovations of today’s Internet have brought back the talk to the gather and talk and large companies will be wise to recognize that we are not just demographics, not just a count of households in a statistical strata, but humans at every turn and in every nook and cranny – we’re squishy and we want to talk.

Hear Me
With all this talking and gathering another very human need is revealed – the need to be heard. The personal brand bold enough to build a narrative on a foundation of authenticity wants desperately to be accepted and acknowledge for that very thing. The person who tweets a complaint about a bad bit of customer service, or a disappointing product experience also wants to be acknowledged, engaged and will react to the brand that does so in much the same way as they would react to a human acknowledgement.

So, Now…
The social technology has positioned us as individuals to realize the potential and responsibility of being a great brand, while also reminding big brands that they are surrounded by and suffused with humans. Their potential and responsibility will be revealed in how they choose to engage in a world of trackable, semi-synchronous, and squishy human-to-human communication.

That’s why now.

If you want to get a little more of the flavor of BrandsConf search for the hashtag #brandsconf on Twitter and check out my doodle-notes made during the event.

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Social Media Marketing and Lemonade Stands

Ice cold lemonadeI get called “Big D” sometimes and I like to flatter myself that it is because I like to think big, however, I can’t pretend that my 270 pound, “more of me to love” frame might not have a little to do with that nickname.  So big guy, what’s your point? Well as an XXL type I’ve learned to distrust the one-size-fits-all approach in clothing and frankly, just about everything else.

I think there is one-size-fits-all epidemic in social media marketing.  There are too many experts and enthusiasts pitching solutions without regard to your business needs. I’ve got nothing against e-books, teleseminars, and online courses, but I get nervous when someone is advising that you do what they do and then point to things like numbers of Twitter followers or extensive lists of “friends” as proof of their effectiveness.  Truth is they might very well be effective at what THEY do, but unless you do what they do it may be a moot point.  Worse it can sometimes be harmful to approach your market with tactics that are out of alignment with you brand, products and services.

The point is different businesses work different ways, and the marketing that makes a success of one might make a flop of another.  Here in Atlanta it can get hot – it’s in the 60s in December today, and in July… forget about it! When it’s hot a big guy like me likes to have a little lemonade to cool off. Atlanta is a great town for a lemonade stand. Pick a busy corner, put up your stand, set your price and keep your inventory in step with demand.  The marketing approach is simple, easy to break down into component steps and therefore a very reproducible model.  You could extend it to fruit punch or sweet iced tea, however it is a lousy platform for selling enterprise software.  It’s hard to pitch 3 months of integration while sweating in the open air.  It flops for selling shoes – not enough shelves, too hard to relocate with changes in traffic patterns.  You get the idea.

If you’re enticed to jump in on the program of a social media marketer ask yourself if the one-size-fits-all formula they are promoting applies well to the services you provide. Are you in a similar price range? Are you prepared to apply all of their tactics? Are your purchase decisions made on an equivalent timetable? Are the ongoing relationships with your customers and prospects the same type of relationships that they are cultivating? Are their multi-level approvals/buy-in required to get the win?  Or can you just mix up a cold batch of product and sell it by the glass?

If the answers to these questions don’t line up well with the formula being offered, then you may be buying into magic beans – strained trust, wasted time and brand damage, not a recipe for effective marketing.

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Georgia Business Directory Network Interview


I want to thank Diane Bogino over at the Georgia Business Directory Network. She really made the interview a fun experience and I’m very impressed by what she’s been building with her video blog.  Thanks for everything!

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When worlds collide – tagging in meat space

David Cohen's real world tags - photo by Jeff Pulver

Only Jeff Pulver would fly around the world hosting “Social Media Breakfasts” and thank goodness!   This was a great event, lots of fun.   I don’t know if the concept is Jeff’s originally, but he has been going  from city to city on a mission to bring social computing techniques to real-world networking.   Using the web 2.0 metaphor of tagging and Facebook “Walls” you have a great icebreaker for starting conversations  and learning more about the person you just shook hands with.  The photo above is my personal tag cloud from about halfway through the event.

You need to be on Facebook to rsvp, but if Jeff brings one of these events to your town, definitely check it out.   If not, host your own and send me an invite!

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A seven-point tune-up for your personal brand

My friend Mike just sent me a link to a nice article on personal branding: Maintaining your Personal Brand Online by Jonathan Snook.  First of all, I happen to think it is one of the more attractively and readably designed blogs that I’ve seen lately, but I’m recommending the article for different reasons. Seven reasons to be exact.  Actually seven very practical tips for stepping up your engagement in your personal brand, that Mr. Snook has thoughtfully provided.   I won’t spoil his thunder, but I will say that I think these are good, easy to do steps that will help raise your recognizability online. And as you know that is the first of the three Rs of branding.

Visit: Maintaining your Personal Brand Online

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You Can't Swim on Dry Land

Scuba Bunny

Have you ever tried to walk across the bottom of the deep end of a swimming pool? It may have been fun bouncing along under the surface, but you certainly didn’t get anywhere very fast. What works very efficiently on dry land is almost completely ineffectual under the water.

Now imagine trying to swim down a sidewalk. Sounds painful doesn’t it? Without the buoyancy you would just grind in place. Change your medium and what was once an asset can become a liability, a successful tactic might just be limiting your progress or bringing it to a grinding halt.

I’m a big believer in paying attention to context, what works in print may not work in radio. What works on the radio, might not work for TV. The big new swimming pool is social media. Not every marketing tactic is going to work the same in the social web. Some old standbys may not work at all. Trying too hard to control the message and interrupting people will leave you bouncing in one place running out of air. Sharing, educating, listening and participating seem to be the better strokes in these new waters.

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