Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Too Many Empty Rooms.

Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “Build a better mousetrap and the world will beat a path to your door.” OK, I get it… but lately, I’m having trouble with what’s on the other side of most doors. The better mousetrap used to be “the thing,” now the mania is all about the path. Silly I say…

I’m in the business of branding. When I say branding, I’m referring to the naming, identifying, positioning, and promises presented by business entities. You know; what they do for their customers, partners, and constituents. Done well, branding affects culture, economics, psyche, and the competitive landscape itself. The American Marketing Association (AMA) says “…branding is not about getting your target market to choose you over the competition, it’s about getting your prospects to see you as the only one that provides a solution to their problem.” This is my job.

I’m not a geezer, but there was a day when my job consisted of ideas and a sketchpad. Now I use tools. Lots of tools -- and most of them electronic. There are still some age-old tools like newspaper, mail (of the paper kind,) and television (ain’t it funny how TV seems age-old these days,) but most of what I use lives inside my laptop -- which connects to millions of other computers all over the world. The Internet has become king in the race for brand dominance, and my go-to weapons to fight in the battle mostly consists of things like social media and Search Engine Optimization (SEO) where algorithms and patterns, at times, are considered more valuable than ideas. Mind you, this is not the voice of a cranky old-school ad guy. I really love the new challenges and frontiers in successfully positioning a company, but I believe that many businesses will fail in their mission if they swap foundational marketing principles for the secret sauce of social media and the like. Think of these new modern tools more like a condiment, and less like a meal. The main dish, after all these years, is still the brand. Prove it? The world’s largest corporations continue to recognize their respective brands as their greatest asset (Coca Cola’s brand is ranked third after Google and Microsoft at nearly $70 billion dollars*).

So here’s my gripe: some companies fail to realize that getting the highest rankings in Google does not equate to selling the most products or gaining the most customers. Amassing the most Fans on a Facebook page may, in the end, only serve to grow the corporate ego. And followers on Twitter? You could probably get more business benefits from a real-life stalker if your efforts aren’t targeted to align with your brand strategy. Oh, and an added danger: many organizations get so wrapped up around the statistical victories (or losses) of their web 2.0 efforts that they take their eye off the ball and forget what’s really important… serving their customer, not the search engine.

Although I know that industry types will disagree, the web tools of today are (mostly) tactical – not strategic. I confess, you can lead more people to your door today than ever before, but if your visitor finds an empty room when the door swings open, they will not enter in.

No business can ignore the power of digital media, but invest in your organization’s brand first. There’s no better welcome mat, and no better way to make sure that visitors do more than just ring your doorbell and run.

The Third Annual BrandZ Top 100 - Millward Brown Optimor

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Snow Blind

If you’ve ever seen a documentary on Mt. Everest, you’ve no doubt heard about Snow Blindness (medically known as ultraviolet keratitis.) The ailment is a painful eye condition, caused by exposure of unprotected eyes to ultraviolet rays. The closer you get to the mountaintop… the greater the danger.

As I watch commercials (on television, online, on the train, and in hotel elevators...) grab direct mail from my mailbox, click-through on email blasts, ignore web banners, receive “friend requests,” scan my RSS feeds, and more, more, more… I’ve searched for a metaphor that might help to identify the recent phenomenon that I – and millions of others – are experiencing. After some pondering, I've concluded that "Snow Blindness" seems to say it all.

As we continue to climb the mountain of mass communication and perhaps with the addition of social media, we’re reaching the top – my eyes seem to feel the painful condition described as sunburn of the cornea when speaking of snow blindness. Often – especially online – I don’t really know what I’m looking at, or if I even asked to see it. The Wiki says that most people don’t realize they’re going snow blind until it’s already happened to them. Hmmm… I think we’re there. My source goes on to say that the only real cure is total blackness for a period of time. Don’t see us going dark as far as our Internet and media intake is concerned, so maybe a preventative measure or two…

Use eye protection (figuratively speaking) that filters out the marketing fodder. That is to say, keep your blinders on for things that only serve to distract. Remember that there is an “opt out” button on emails from advertisers that you’d rather not hear from again. Don’t buy the notion that forwarding junk to 10 friends will win you $50k -- it will only server to tick off your friends. Realize that not every blog is true or worth reading (although I would submit that this one is!) And – the age-old truth that states "not all that glitters is gold" still prevails.

As far as the “total blackness” approach to recuperation from our social and marketing media over exposure… I, for one, cannot do it. My business runs on the Internet. But I’m learning to walk away now and again. Re-learning to use my noggin instead of my CPU. A little time to think… just a few minutes away from Instant Messages dinging, email alerts chiming, web ads popping. If I can turn away from the flash for long enough, I just might see the light once again.