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The Alchemy of Data and Intuition

BJ Bueno

In walking the massive floors of the National Retail Federation’s Big Show in Jacob Javits Center last week, we noticed the same themes and language echoed throughout the great halls of exhibitors serving the retail industry: analytics, big data, and other research tools—services and technologies for improving your customer intelligence in an effort to better compete and serve your customers.

With retail’s major shift toward statistical analysis and improvement of data-gathering technologies is important, its easy to arrive at the belief that all business decisions need not be made, but rather analyzed. READ MORE

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The Power of the Image

BJ Bueno

The bottom of the airplane illustrated in the Southwest Airlines logo is a red heart. Do you think it’s an accident that millions of Southwest passengers perceive the airline to be the “heart in the sky?”

Few business leaders appreciate exactly how important imagery is in connecting to the hearts of their customers. Most marketers want to create imagery that will attract everyone. That’s impossible: when you try to be all things to all people, you become nothing meaningful to anyone. Our imagery will attract certain people and repel others. Cult Brands like Southwest, Apple, and Harley-Davidson not only realize this, they capitalize on it. READ MORE

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Branding Defined, Cult Branding Revisited

BJ Bueno

Brands are funny things. You can’t just go to the store and pick up a pound of brand. There’s no brand app to download. You can’t go to the Brand Store and buy brands to make your organization more appealing to your customers.

Brands have to be created, and you might be surprised to find out that you’re not the one doing the creating, at least, not the only one.

A brand is a relationship, formed and shaped by all the emotions and ideas that the customer associates with a product or service that create a distinct customer experience. The stronger and more unique the customer experience is, the more robust the brand becomes.

A brand is a co-authored experience—a mutual relationship that lives between the customer and the brand. The company sets the intention of the brand, and customers interpret their own meanings based on their experiences. The ultimate definition of your brand is determined and owned by your customers when they evaluate their experiences with you. READ MORE

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Why Do Customers Get Brand Tattoos

BJ Bueno

Harley-Davidson, Nike, Playboy, Coca-Cola, VW, and Apple logos have been permanently etched into the skins of customers worldwide. Why do they do it? Why do these raving fans, or what we call Brand Lovers, scorch their bodies with a company’s mark? And what can marketers and brand managers learn from them?

Most acts of unabashed brand loyalty are a genuine mystery to marketers: Why do customers anxiously camp outside IKEA grand openings? Why do bikers brand Harley’s flaming eagle onto their arms?
READ MORE

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Eight Steps to Building Brand Loyalty

BJ Bueno

Build your business around your best customers—what we call Brand Lovers—instead of trying to aimlessly drive sales. Over time, your return on marketing and innovation efforts will rise. Apple is masterful at creating products especially for customers who love style, creativity, and simplicity. READ MORE

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Positioning Strategies with Proven Results

BJ Bueno

A positioning strategy is a way of positioning your retail products and services in the mind of your customers.

As marketers, we aspire to build stronger positions—to create a place in the mind of our prospects and customers where our products are positively recalled.  We hope to trump our competitors by finding the right words and the perfect tagline to compliment our strength, while highlighting our competitor’s weakness. A classic example, “Avis: We are number 2, so we try harder”. READ MORE

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Brand Lover Go To Market

BJ Bueno

Marketing used to be fairly straightforward: Throw money at advertising in order to influence people to buy your products and services. If your advertising campaign was decent, the resulting sales outweighed the cost of advertising. If your campaign was excellent, your business grew like a wildflower.

Fast forward to today: The customer is now in control. Media fragmentation from hundreds of cable networks, millions of websites, social media, and mobile applications make it more difficult to reach the general market. And even if you do reach your potential customers, they don’t have to listen, and probably won’t. What’s an intelligent marketer to do? READ MORE

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A Way To Make Your Customers Love You More…

BJ Bueno

If you’re familiar with the tenets of Cult Branding, you’ve heard us talk about the importance of your Brand Lovers. Your Brand Lovers are the most valuable customers you’ve got—they shop with you more often than any of your other customers, they buy more per transaction than any of your other customers, and they tell their family and friends how awesome your business is more than any of your other customers.

Understanding who your Brand Lovers are, what unconscious psychological factors motivate their purchasing decisions, and providing them with the best possible service based upon that understanding is the best, most effective way to achieve Cult Brand status—that enviable place in the marketplace where you enjoy maximum profitability and competition is irrelevant.

The more Brand Lovers you have, the healthier and more robust your organization will be.  Understandably, smart companies go to extraordinary lengths to retain their Brand Lovers. This is the origin behind some of the most effective customer loyalty programs, such as airline miles rewards for frequent fliers. READ MORE

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Know The Emotional Landscape

BJ Bueno

In early May, Target announced a limited roll-out of a new service offering. Shoppers in the Los Angeles and Orange County area will now be able to consult with a brand-agnostic beauty concierge who’s there to offer advice and insights about the cosmetics and personal care products available at Target.

At a time when retailers are scrutinizing every expense in order to cut costs, and pundits are predicting the end of full-time retail employment, Target’s actually adding an entire new category of employee — a group that by definition will need to have greater product knowledge and customer service skills than the typical front-line worker, which may make them more expensive to recruit and retain. What’s up with that? READ MORE

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Be Willing To Look Within

BJ Bueno

An integral part of building a successful retail brand is having a dedicated core of customers who love your store so much that they can’t keep themselves from recommending it to their family and friends. What inspires this behavior?

Many brand managers are stymied by this question. They fall into an all-too-common mistake, acting as if their customers were an alien species of life, prone to completely incomprehensible behaviors that can’t possibly be understood, much less predicted.

Nothing could be further from the truth.  READ MORE

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Know The Narrative and When to Disrupt It

BJ Bueno

As a brand manager, you’re well aware of how difficult it is to capture your customer’s attention in the current super-saturated messaging environment.  The ubiquity of smartphones and tablet computers means our buyers are always ‘plugged in’, consuming the content they’ve chosen for themselves; CNN reportsthat adult Americans are spending at least 8 hours of every day staring at a screen.

What can you do to stand out in that environment? READ MORE

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What About Europe?

BJ Bueno

There’s been another Greek election, but it doesn’t seem to offer much hope for any meaningful change in the country’s precarious financial position. At the same time, Spain is busy borrowing All of The Money It Possibly Can —not a good sign if what you were hoping for is Eurozone stability. There’s no question that the markets are in a time of great upheaval and uncertainty.

How are the world’s leading organizations reacting in the face of this instability? A good number of them have decided to pursue other opportunities. Europe’s slowdown makes pursuing growing markets elsewhere —notably China, Brazil, Russia and India—an appealing option. READ MORE

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Understand The Power of Humor

BJ Bueno

I just shipped my pants!” It’s a line that can be easily misheard, and that’s exactly what Kmart was hoping for. Capitalizing on some fast word play and semi-scatalogical humor, the floundering retail chain’s most recent video campaigns have captured the public’s attention, creating headlines all around the world. More than 15 million people have viewed the “Ship My Pants” and “Big Gas Savings” commercials online.

The shopping experience at Kmart has been notably sub-standard for years, in part because the chain invests the lowest percentage of revenues into their stores of any major retailer. Yet the Kmart leadership spent big bucks on the services of Draftfcb, the award winning agency responsible for the campaign.  Why? READ MORE

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Know The Emotional Landscape

BJ Bueno

In early May, Target announced a limited roll-out of a new service offering. Shoppers in the Los Angeles and Orange County area will now be able to consult with a brand-agnostic beauty concierge who’s there to offer advice and insights about the cosmetics and personal care products available at Target.

At a time when retailers are scrutinizing every expense in order to cut costs, and pundits are predicting the end of full-time retail employment, Target is actually adding an entire new category of employee — a group that by definition will need to have greater product knowledge and customer service skills than the typical front-line worker, which may make them more expensive to recruit and retain. What’s up with that? READ MORE

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Know What Time It Is

BJ Bueno

The Gilt Groupe is a flash sale company. On their website, they host extremely short-term sales events (most last less than two hours!) featuring limited quantities of merchandise from top brands. The combination of short duration and limited quantities makes an appealing mix for competitive shoppers, who are legion. In six years, the brand has accumulated 7 million customers.

Why, then, did the Gilt Group recently take a 90-day break from sourcing new merchandise, adding any new services, or even trying to attract new business? READ MORE

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“We Don’t Want You In Our Stores?”

BJ Bueno

Being a great brand manager isn’t about understanding what will make everyone love your store. Being a great brand manager is about understanding what will make your best customers love your store.

These two things are very different, and we’re seeing this illustrated by the recent flurry of headlines surrounding Abercrombie CEO Mike Jeffries’ 2006 comments about why the apparel chain doesn’t carry women’s apparel in large and extra-large sizes.

Here’s what Jeffries said, “In every school there are the cool and popular kids, and then there are the not-so-cool kids. Candidly, we go after the cool kids. We go after the attractive all-American kid with a great attitude and a lot of friends. A lot of people don’t belong [in our clothes], and they can’t belong. Are we exclusionary? Absolutely. Those companies that are in trouble are trying to target everybody: young, old, fat, skinny.” READ MORE

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Mysteries of Retail: Toys R Us

BJ Bueno

Do you remember the Magic 8 Ball?

The Toys R Us leadership team could certainly use one, as the once dominant toy retailer appears to be on shaky ground with no clear path to relevancy. A planned IPO was recently withdrawn; the chain’s long time CEO Gerald Storch has stepped down, with no new successor named. Sales slid 3.5% over 2012, and investors are looking at the company’s not-insubstantial debt.

Factors contributing toward Toys R Us slide certainly include competition from Wal-Mart and Amazon. Wal-Mart wins on price, while Amazon’s got both depth of selection and (for their Prime customers) the ability to put any child’s desired toy in their hands within a day. Given this, how can the once great chain expect to compete? READ MORE

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Retail’s Mysteries Revealed: JC Penny

BJ Bueno

The brand-breaking challenges JC Penney has had are in no way inevitable, Forbes magazine says, in this discussion of predictive analytics. By harnessing the power of mathematics, we’re told, retailers can significantly reduce the risk of going catastrophically off-brand, alienating your best customers, and losing market share. Does Forbes have it right?

Yes and no.

Yes, because statistical analysis of previous customer behavior provides retailers with tremendously valuable information. Objectively examining what has happened in your stores over the course of time can be a very revealing exercise. Retailers who engage in this type of analysis often discover things about their operations that they never otherwise suspected. READ MORE.

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Retail’s Biggest Mysteries… JCPenny

BJ Bueno

We spend a lot of time considering the mysteries of retail here, but this one’s got us stumped:

Why did it take JCPenney so long to figure out that they should listen to their customers? Sixteen months after rolling out the new “Fair and Square” pricing strategy, the beleagured retailer is now returning to its old pricing strategy. The disappointed masses haven’t exactly been closed-lipped about what the brand was doing wrong. A commenter on the Forbes article, Who Can Save J.C. Penney? spelled things out pretty well:

A big mistake was made when Penney’s eliminated all of the coupons for the allegedly affordable everyday pricing. The merchandise that is now being sold is inferior garbage. Uglier, cheaper made clothes that looks like its for middle aged women. I’m middle aged and I wouldn’t even wear it because the stuf looks like Blue Light Polyester Specials. Even the sales aren’t true sales because that merchandise should be much cheaper on clearance. I know, I was just there last Thursday. READ MORE

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How Do You Get A Customer For Life?

BJ Bueno

Here at The Cult Branding Company, we’re always saying that 90% of customer behavior is unconscious. We’ll tell you that customers don’t know why they act the way they do. We’ll tell you that the vast majority of people aren’t aware of the psychological and cultural forces that shape their decision making.

We say all of these things, and for every one of you who nods your head and says, “Yes, that’s true!” there are three or four people out there who say, “Yeah, right. That’s baloney. People know who they are, what they want, and why they want it.” READ MORE

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Amazon and the Art of Picking Your Battles

BJ Bueno

Amazon understands one of the fundamental truths of retailing, and they’ve demonstrated that with their amazingly successful Amazon Prime program. For years, now, the industry bean counters have been looking side-eyed at the program that offers shoppers free two-day shipping and streaming of digital content in exchange for a one-time annual flat fee payment. It looks like a system designed to fail.

An Amazon Prime membership costs $79 annually. Researchers have found that the average Prime customer was using $90 worth of shipping and streaming services per year. The math seems pretty simple; 90 – 79 is 11. Amazon loses, the customer wins.

Does anyone reading these words really believe that Amazon, the company that tracks customer behavior so closely that they can make personal recommendations to each and every one of their 615 million customers, didn’t know this was going to happen? READ MORE

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What Makes Customers Choose You?

BJ Bueno

Some zaftig mannequins are getting serious love from shoppers all around the world. More than 16,000 people have shared the image you see here, enthusiastically embracing the new profile on display at a Swedish retailer. ““Finally, mannequins showing how clothes fit on real women. I’m changing where I shop!”

What’s behind this enthusiasm?

It’s easy to forget that something as ordinary as a mannequin is a messaging vehicle. Fixtures are, almost by definition, made to be taken for granted. But as retailers, we can afford to leave no aspect of our operations unexamined.  The typical mannequin used in America is a size 4 or 6. Some brands don’t even bother with that—they use strategically arranged poles and hangers to display their wares. READ MORE

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Solving the Mysteries of Retail

BJ Bueno

Showrooming has dominated the headlines lately. You know what showrooming is—the chances are better than good you’ve had it happen in your very own store. Customers come in, they shop around, they find something they like, and out comes the smartphone. The price is checked, usually against Amazon, and increasingly, it’s the online retailer who makes the sale. You’re left standing there with nothing. To stop the bleeding, many retail chains have adopted price-matching guarantees. Is this a good idea?

It may be, but it may also be a knee-jerk reaction that is being implemented much too soon.

Let’s look at showrooming. It’s not a new phenomenon. All showrooming actually is is the latest technology being used to facilitate human behavioral patterns that have been around since the dawn of time. The media coverage is bringing new panic to an old problem. READ MORE

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Should You Lower Prices in a Tough Economy?

BJ Bueno

It’s a tough time to be in the grocery business. Walmart, which derives nearly half of its revenues from grocery sales, recently reported that February 2013 was the worst sales month they’ve had in 7 years — an absolute disaster, according to leaked internal memos. The SymphonyIRI Group, in a report entitled 2012 CPG Year In Review: Finding the New Normal, points out that consumers are shopping fewer grocery stores — 3 rather than 5— and they’re buying less when they’re there. What sales growth there has been is largely attributable to inflation. Customers are very aware that they no longer have the purchasing power they used to.

Given these facts, doesn’t dropping prices seem like a smart strategy? When things cost less, people buy more: it’s not a complex equation here.The answer seems obvious. READ MORE

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What Makes Duane Reade’s Rebranding Work?

BJ Bueno

Duane Reade was facing an invisibility issue. The drug store chain was struggling in a crowded marketplace, surrounded by legions of Walgreens, CVS, Rite Aids, and Health Marts. With competition on every side, Duane Reade wasn’t giving their customers a reason to choose them—and they weren’t.

At the NRF show last month, there was a lot of buzz around Duane Reade’s rebranding. In an effort to give customers a reason to choose their drug store, Duane Reade began positioning itself as an iconic New York brand. The new tag line is “New York Living Made Easy.”

What is it going to take to make this approach work? READ MORE

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The Mysteries of Retail

BJ Bueno

It’s one of the most common, frustrating, and expensive mysteries of retail. You start carrying a new line of merchandise—products that you’re genuinely excited about, high quality stuff that you can offer at a competitive price—and your customers just don’t care. They walk right by your carefully designed displays, not even slowing down long enough to give them a second glance. They ignore the line completely, yet your competitor is having a hard time keeping the exact same merchandise in stock. READ MORE

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Walmart’s Promise to Hire Vets

BJ Bueno

When Walmart  promised, earlier this month, to hire any recently discharged veterans who want a job, it made headlines around the world.  Veterans have had a disproportionately difficult time finding employment after finishing their military service: the Huffington Post reports that unemployment rates among veterans who served in Iraq and Afghanistan was 10.8 in December, compared to a 7.8% general unemployment rate.  Homelessness has become rampant. According to the National Alliance to End Homelessness, nearly 63,000 were homeless on an average night in 2012. READ MORE

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Is Profit the Most Important Thing?

BJ Bueno

What would you say if you learned that everything you learned in business school is wrong? Not just wrong, in fact, but fundamentally and fatally flawed, rotten to the proverbial core? How would that knowledge change how you function as a business leader?

These fascinating questions were featured during The Aspen Institute Presents, a new PBS series featuring leading entrepreneurs, politician, and thought leaders discussing philosophical questions and practical challenges. The segment that really captured our attention centered on the premise that increasing shareholder value is the most important thing to any corporation, and the accuracy of that premise. READ MORE

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If it ain’t broke…

DeChazier Stokes–Johnson

As a designer, I tend to focus more on the aesthetics of applications, programs, and operating systems than functionality. So take what I have to say with a grain of salt, but my experience with iTunes 11 over the last week has certainly been a frustrating one so far. Where did the intuitive interface go? And what is this over-thought time wasting impostor that’s replaced it? What happened to the iPod search feature? Has album art really taken a back seat to cover flow? Because it’s disappeared from the bottom-left corner of the screen. And that handy feature that enabled easy duplicate track cleanup? Gone! That’s just the tip of the iceberg – Have a look at a few more of the critical features Apple saw fit to dump.

My takeaway is that if it ain’t broke, don’t break it just so you have a reason to fix it. Apple seems to have changed iTunes for the sake of making a change – A complete redesign certainly wasn’t needed. You can get iTunes 10.7 back here, luckily. But hurry: there’s no telling when Apple will decide to take this down.

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Engagement vs. Experience

Nick Woods

A fascinating article in this morning’s Harvard Business Review asks why it is that those with Android phones use them less than iOS devices. Michael Schrage points out a few telling statistics: “The Android operating system has been outselling Apple’s iOS by nearly a 5:1 ratio. Android dominates ‘device share,’” but “Where Android jumped from 1.43% of Black Friday shopping traffic in 2010 to 4.92% this year, Apple’s iOS pole-vaulted from 3.85% to 18.46%. Barely 3% of Adobe digital magazine downloads went to Androids, fully 97% were iOS.”

Schrage’s key quote comes about halfway through the article, where he says “To make a vulgar comparison, just because someone buys a lot of books doesn’t mean those books are read.” As he puts it, a great product doesn’t necessarily equal a great experience. It’s the latter, not the former, that leads to success. Customers don’t want a phone – They want what the phone enables. It has nothing to do with the product, just the feeling.

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After the 2012 Election

BJ Bueno

If there’s one story that bears examination in the wake of the 2012 Presidential election, it’s why so many people were so profoundly shocked by the outcome. This is a tale about the power of narrative, and how the stories we believe shape the way we interact with the world.

Jonathan Martin provides us with a vivid illustration of the concept in his Politico article, The GOP’s Media Cocoon. There are several points in there that are vitally important for those of us who are brand managers to understand. READ MORE

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Content Marketing in the 1930s

Nick Woods

Just a quick note to remind everyone that content marketing isn’t the new phenomenon that some seem to think it is in 2012. Tom Megginson found a copy of an old Labatt Brewery Drinking Songs Booklet in Ontario, and uploaded scans of what I think is the whole thing. He says it was used to help boost morale among employees, who could bring the branded ‘hymnal’ with them to bars and parties. So while it was technically an HR-focused project, you can see how word of mouth could spread, and how the brand could become an integral part of an emotionally satisfying experience.

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$1 billion? Meh.

Nick Woods

The Black Friday and Cyber Monday retail stats are coming hard and fast at this point, and the one I’ve heard mentioned most is that over $1 billion was traded in e-commerce last Friday. That’s the first time online sales have been that high in a single day. But before you start calling demolition companies to level all your stores, it might be best to read Marcus Wohlsen’s article on Wired this morning, pointing out $1 billion isn’t all that crazy – In fact, percentage wise, it isn’t all that different from the rest of the year.

“The National Retail Federation says its survey results show spending over the Black Friday weekend topped $59 billion,” he says, ”Divided across four days, that’s nearly $15 billion per day. Even if a full $1 billion of those sales each day took place online, that’s still less than 7 percent of total spending.”  The lesson? Stores, the personal connection with associates, and the ability to touch what you buy before you buy it still matters. Relationships make a difference, especially during the holidays. So don’t neglect them.

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Debbie Downer Monday Morning web tips for the Pragmatist

Nick Woods

Just a quick reminder/downer to bring your pie-in-the-sky social media and marketing tech ideas crashing to the ground this morning:

  • 82% of all web sharing is still done via copy/paste [link]
  • Most people still use search engines to find stuff they want to buy (not Facebook) [link]
  • The most effective digital ads are those that users share, not brands [link]

It’s always awesome when new stuff works. But if you want reliable results from a digital campaign, when the stakes are high it’s usually best to remember the fundamentals.

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Advertising as advance notice

Nick Woods

With so much talk about native ads, social commerce, and DVR’d television, it’s easy to start thinking that most customers don’t like advertising anymore. It’s true in a lot of cases – When a commercial interrupts an intentional activity (browsing Facebook, watching TV), the first thought that enters your mind is “How do I get rid of it?” But the truth is that people still value advertising, so much so that many are willing to pay for it. Just look at services like Birchbox that charge a monthly subscription fee to ship customers free samples, or Pheed, a “social network” that gives mobile and desktop users paid access to content from a variety of celebrities and brands. Those kinds of companies are in the advertising business as much as I am. And they’re successful because they provide a valuable service: Letting customers know about something interesting before everyone else finds out too. That’s part of what makes an advertisement successful, and it’s what will make most people pay attention in 2013.

 

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Should You Care…

BJ Bueno

They’re called the “Nones,” and they’re one of the fastest growing demographic groups in America, according to a recent well-publicized study from the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life. Adults who have no religious affiliation number approximately 46 million individuals, roughly 20 percent of the total population. One third of adults under the age of 30 consider themselves unaffiliated.

Delving into the Pew report reveals some critical insights about this cultural change. Respondents still overwhelmingly report having faith in God. Many consider themselves extremely spiritual. They haven’t abandoned the absolute fundamentals of their faith identity. What they’re leaving is the church, and by extension institutionalized religion. READ MORE

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Truth is in the telling

Nick Woods

A short article on Lifehacker yesterday explains that 90% of the time, people can tell whether you’re lying or not simply by the way you structure a story. “True stories drawn from real memories aren’t typically narrated in chronological order; that’s not the way the brain organizes them,” says Avinoam Sapir, a former Israeli police officer, and current lie-detection expert, “Emotions guide our memories. The more powerfully we experience an event, the more likely we are to make it the first thing we talk about, filling in the less emotionally fraught details later.”

That leads the article’s author, Pamela Meyer, to posit that most truthful stories – those that inspire trust – have three important parts: (1) A detailed prologue, (2) a longer main section, and (3) an emotional epilogue. The most important point, she says, is that “Deceptive stories are often logical and streamlined, yet lacking in vivid sensory descriptions.” So if her argument is to be believed, inspiring trust isn’t always dependent on the subject matter of a narrative, but the way in which it’s told. Sound familiar?

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Hurricane Sandy & Apple

BJ Bueno

Hurricane Sandy has secured its place in the  history books. The mammoth hurricane came late in the season, taking an unusual track through New Jersey toward the center of the country, lasted for days, and created billions of dollars worth of damages. Much of lower New York, including Wall Street, shut down for Sandy’s arrival.

Against that backdrop, a business news story has to be a pretty big deal indeed to capture any attention. Apple delivered, choosing Monday to announce major changes to their leadership team. Long-time Jobs protege Scott Forestall, head of the iOS division, is on his way out the door, as is retail store head John Browett. READ MORE

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Convenience as an emotional need

Nick Woods

Back in the ’60s, Howard Leventhal wanted to figure out the best way to get Yale students to vaccinate themselves against tetanus. His studies had shown that while most students intended to visit the campus health center to do so, only about 3% of them actually did. But a small change – simply providing subjects with a map, and asking them to check their schedules – made a ninefold difference. 25% of subjects intending to get the shot actually did when the messenger showed them how it was possible. As Melanie Tannenbaum writes in her PsySociety blog, “all it took to translate good intentions into healthy actions was the simple channel factor of making the action seem convenient and manageable.”

Remember though that it’s not a matter of informing a customer, but satisfying an emotional need. The students knew where the center was. But they didn’t know what that meant: convenience. The lesson here is that it’s often best to remind people not of information, but what that information stands for. The meaning is more important than the message.

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Is the iPhone losing its luster?

Nick Woods

If a pair of new reports this morning are any indication, Apple might have to actually put up a fight to keep the iPhone dominant in 2013. 88% of survey respondents polled in a Strategy Analytics survey say they’re likely to buy another Apple smartphone – That’s a slip from the 93% reported by the same company last year. And the number’s fallen even further in Western Europe, where 75% of users say they’ll buy from the company again, down from 88% a year previous. You might be able to argue a 5% margin is a minor difference, but when you throw in a separate set of figures from IDC released yesterday that show 3 of every 4 smartphones shipped in Q3 were Android-based, the idea gets a lot more interesting.

Of course, there’s no one big reason why people might be making the switch now. But when you consider the glitchy maps app the company pushed out with its new operating system, and customer dissatisfaction with marginal innovation in the iPhone 5, you can’t help but wonder if Apple might have poisoned the pipeline. It’s just a quick reminder of how quickly a loss of trust can affect sales.

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Skip the Hurricane Discount

Nick Woods

A bit of timely advice comes this morning from the Adland blog in Hurricane Sandy’s wake: “During tragedies, if brands want to send some heartfelt thoughts and condolences, by all means do so. But your straight sincerity is all that’s really needed. And it will go a lot farther than a coupon.”

It’s a quote responding to three pieces of advertising from the Gap, American Apparel and Brooklyn Industries. The former two used the storm’s onset as an opportunity to suggest its customers use the time inside to do some extra online shopping. The latter, to communicate and offer information and condolences… and a coupon. We harp a lot about how your customers know you know they know, so while I’d like to believe Brooklyn Industries’s message is sincere, the “30% off!” footnote at the bottom still smacks of a cash grab. And while American Apparel and the Gap’s ads are, to put it charitably, tactless, at least we know they’re being honest about their intentions. My advice? It’s probably best to skip the “Hurricane Discount” altogether.

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A Tour de Farce

BJ Bueno

One cannot watch Lance Armstrong’s very public fall from grace—he has been stripped of all seven Tour de France victories, and has been barred from competitive cycling for life—without having brought to mind some words from Joyce: “They discovered to their vast discomfiture that their idol had feet of clay, after placing him upon a pedestal.”

There’s no doubt that Armstrong was on a pedestal. Prowess as a cyclist made him an idol to thousands. That number exploded as Armstrong battled and beat testicular cancer. These were the legions that supported the Livestrong Foundation, which provides support to people with cancer. Now that Armstrong has been found to be guilty of doping, many fans and supporters feel cheated. Livestrong donors have asked for their money back. Legendary cycling commentator Phil Liggett says he feels like a fool for having defended Armstrong so vigorously, for so long. READ MORE

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A case for Small Data

Nick Woods

Last week, Robert Plant wrote a few words on Harvard Business Review’s blog discussing his lukewarm attitude toward the Big Data trends that seem to be shaping the average marketer’s perception of their trade on the way out of 2012. “Companies would do better at satisfying and retaining customers if they spent less time worrying about big data and more time making good use of ‘small data’ — already-available information from simple technology solutions,” he says, reflecting consumer sentiment that says projects of the former sort are creepy, inefficient, and bothersome. The root issue he’s discussing is humanity, and how knowing everything there is to know about your customers on a high level often robs a brand of its ability to connect. Striking a balance is tough. That’s why when it comes to advertising, good creative and thoughtful social media programs are more important than ever, and why being pragmatic often trumps being on the cutting edge.

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Back up your platitudes

Nick Woods

The authors of Neuromarketing like to talk about how emotional reactions create chemical events in our brains that embed memories – Without those “peak experiences,” recall of events or information becomes short term. So if you want to induce a reaction, you have to remind somebody about an experience. Ivan Pavlov figured it out a long time ago, and marketers just apply it differently – We make customers drool by ringing a bell that reminds them of something they remember. Most try to link their brand to existing memories. A select few create their own.

While we can point out the fact that Felix Baumgartner’s RedBull-sponsored leap from space this past weekend generated 16 times as many concurrent livestreams on YouTube as the Olympics did, the true value of the brand’s stunt (pun intended) has nothing to do with numbers. For the rest of my life, I’ll remember the awe I felt on Sunday afternoon when I saw the picture on the left for the first time. It’s the rare instance when a brand makes you believe in their promise – “RedBull gives you wings” means something now. It means the peak experience they created, one that a lot of people will recall forever.

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Sell your customers, don’t sell them out

Nick Woods

“Being a ‘gamer’ isn’t cool,” says Ryan Rigney on Wired.com this morning, “It never has been, and the surging popularity of mobile games will never change that. Most people, even those who play lots of videogames, are just unwilling to self-identify as a ‘gamer.’” It’s a truth that apparently makes no difference to Nintendo, whose newest commercial for New Super Mario Bros. 2 features Olympic gymnast Gabby Douglas declaring “I’m not a gamer – I’m a coin-collecting champion.” It’s a strategy that makes sense on the surface, but Rigney worries later in the piece that the message comes off as only marginally effective for new audiences, and downright insulting to the “troglodytic basement-dwellers” from which most of us try to separate ourselves. When you’re looking to what’s uncool now for what will be cool in the future, where does the line between alienating your current audience and attracting a new one exist?

Before answering, ask your best current customers what you mean to them, then ask if that meaning makes them feel powerful or weak. Getting satisfactory answers to both those questions informs messaging that sells, as opposed to messaging that sells out.

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Good science informs good design

Nick Woods

MIT researchers have a new idea for eliminating car accidents on the highway: The way they figure it, collisions can be made scarcer by reducing the amount of time it takes for a driver to check how fast they’re going, or how much fuel they have left. That “glance time,” they say, can be affected in the simplest of ways – Like by changing the typeface on a car’s dashboard. Their study profiled by Wired last week showed that subjects looking at a “humanist” font on a simulated dashboard had glance times 12% lower than those dealing with a “grotesque” font. That’s a significant result, since reducing average glance time by just 11% means the driver sees about 50 more feet of freeway space per instance, a difference that can turn a collision into a horn honk.

One of Steve Jobs’s more famous quotes reads: “Design is not just what it looks and feels like. Design is how it works.” This study is a reminder of that important statement, and begs us to review an important question: What goal does our product help accomplish?

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Understanding The Power of Imagery

BJ Bueno

What makes art art, and why is art so important to humanity?

These are big questions, and not ones that come up often in the context of connecting more effectively with your customers. That’s a shame. Understanding what art is, and why recorded imagery has such a powerful impact on human behavior is, in our opinion, a fundamental aspect of successful brand building. READ MORE

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Native advertising: The new infomercial

Nick Woods

An article posted earlier this week on Digiday asks an interesting question: Is native advertising the new advertorial? Or is it a movement that will provide actual value for customers? The answer, of course, is ‘yes.’ We talked a few weeks back about how clickthrough rates are being measured in thousandths of a percent now, and further back how the only kinds of Facebook ads that actually work are those that users distribute themselves. So brands benefit less from banner ads than they do from content that’s shared.

The question, of course, is ‘what stuff do people share?’ And the answer, of course, is ‘stuff that makes them look good.’ People share what earns them social capital – Interesting tidbits that those they want to impress don’t already know. But while brands have that interesting stuff to share, it’s tough to convince potential customers to believe you when you talk. Native advertising helps to bridge that gap. Drug ads in Sports Illustrated stick out like a sore thumb. Video seamlessly integrated into Facebook showing users why certain colors pair better with others helps them look impressive.

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Social media doesn’t sell – But it still works

Nick Woods

A new Forrester report making the rounds on the web this morning is perhaps the first by a major research firm to flatly state what most of us already know about retail: “Social tactics are not meaningful sales drivers.” Sucharita Mulpuru’s paper says “fewer than 1% of transactions for both new and repeat shoppers could be traced back to trackable social links,” a statement that should pretty much put the kibosh on sales and marketing budgets that put money into Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest.

We’ve said it before: Brands must resist the temptation to use word of mouth on Facebook or Twitter to sell products. Social media is best used to create a community of shared experiences, and to prove to that community that you’re adept at meeting their needs. That proof comes in the form of valuable content that provides an audience with tangible value. Developing those materials makes your social media program a resource, rather than a channel, which can go a long way to ensure your customers believe you when you talk. That makes your advertising more effective, and your customers more loyal. Which, despite Forrester’s report, eventually creates profit, growth and success.

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Our love/hate relationship with the NFL

Nick Woods

I woke up this morning to find a whole list of tweets in my feed calling for an NFL boycott. After all, I live in Wisconsin, and my state’s favorite team probably would’ve won last night had it not been for a series of very (VERY) obvious missteps made by stand-in referees while the real guys are on strike. But who reading this honestly believes anyone is going to skip watching the Packers for the rest of the season, for any reason? Ask yourself honestly – “Why do most people watch football?” I’d argue it has less to do with what’s on the TV than what’s around it. Most people like getting together with a few friends on a Sunday afternoon to yell at the screen. And this year, we’ve had plenty more opportunities to do it. So while some might argue that this year’s product is inferior, the meaning surrounding it hasn’t been diminished yet. Until that meaning – that brand – starts to lose value, we won’t see any attempt to fix it. We’re still watching the ads. And we’re still tweeting about the garbage calls the next morning. Isn’t that what it’s all about anyway?

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Here’s why Samsung loses:

Nick Woods

You might’ve seen the new attack ad against the iPhone last week, floating around the internet – “It doesn’t take a genius.” It’s from Samsung, obviously still a bit sour over the $1 billion they’re forced to pay to their biggest competitor, and you can take a look at it here. A conversation-starter? Maybe. Ultimately effective? No.

Looking at this ad reminds me of the old battle that Microsoft waged against the iPod with Zune. The latter was a superior product in almost every way: It was cheaper, faster, lighter, more flexible, and came with better headphones. But the Zune was sold with information instead of feeling: Its ads featured lists of reasons to buy theirs over the competition’s, while Apple’s featured a dancing silhouette. And in the end, it was the feeling illustrated by the latter that was more important than the knowledge. Samsung would do well to remember that lesson – A brand is about what a product means, not what it does. And while a long list of features might speak to the logical, people are ultimately more interested in what feels great.

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Sweet Bacon

Billy Cannestra

Is bacon worth its weight in gold? Oscar Mayer sure thinks so. They’re sending Josh on a cross-country trip with a trailer full of bacon that plans to use as currency all the way to L.A. I think this is a great social media campaign. You can follow Kevin and his adventures at http://www.baconbarter.com/

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What makes the iPhone 5 magical?

Nick Woods

Bigger screen, faster processor, improved camera, different connector – Those are the four big headlines this morning as the world salivates over the newly-unveiled iPhone 5. At least, those are the ones Apple is pointing out. Truth is, there are quite a few posts calling the company’s newest round of updates to their most popular product “functional” at best, and “boring” at worst. “Where has the magic gone?” That’s the question they all seem to ask.

There’s a great article on TechCrunch this morning addressing that question indirectly. Apple’s magic, they say, has always been about The Turn – The act of making something ordinary look extraordinary. Take a look again at Steve Jobs unveiling the original iPhone if you need a good example. Let’s be honest – When was the last time you had an in-depth discussion about the merits of an 8-pin connector? Why do people care all of a sudden? That’s a magic trick in and of itself, even if the product isn’t exactly revolutionary.

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Bic’s Lost Opportunities on Social Media

BJ Bueno

I love BIC Cristal for Her! The delicate shape and pretty pastel colors make it perfect for writing recipe cards, checks to my psychologist (I’m seeing him for a case of the hysterics), and tracking my monthly cycle. Obviously, I don’t use it for vulgar endeavors like math or filling out a voter application, but BIC Cristal for Her is a lovely little writing utensil all the same. Ask your husband for some extra pocket money so you can buy one today!

As of this morning, there are 56 pages of Amazon reviews for Bic for Her pens. Many of these are hysterically funny, while speaking to the peril of introducing needlessly gendered products. The reviews, many of which were added over the holiday weekend,  are being discussed everywhere, from the more feminist corners of the blogosphere to mainstream business publications.  It’s the type of publicity opportunity brand managers dream about at night. But when you look to social media to see what Bic has to say about the whole brou-ha-ha, you’re going to find a whole lot of nothing. READ MORE

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Is memory a means or an end?

Nick Woods

An article posted on AllThingsDigital yesterday asks us to consider the unusual case of Solomon Shereshevsky – A Russian man who could precisely remember anything anything he experienced. Minutes after hearing or reading them, he could recite poems written in foreign languages, recall long mathematical formulas, and repeat entire conversations word-for-word. But it turns out Solomon had no grasp on what any of it meant. His memory could perform incredible tricks, but that helped him score no better than average on standard intelligence tests. What gives?

Shereshevsky was diagnosed with what neuroscientists call synaesthesia, whereby one sense produces a reaction in every other sense: He could “hear” color, or “taste” a hot day. So much like you and I, he remembered things because they were tied to richer stimuli, but the quantity of ‘data’ he catalogued made his mind a special case. Trouble was, with no ability to handle that onslaught of data, it was impossible for Shereshevsky to make any added sense of it all. The lesson? Eidetic memory or not, people are all pretty much the same – Recall is useful to anyone, but worthless without meaning.

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Lessons from Condescending Corporate Brand Page

Nick Woods

Sometimes it’s easiest not to say what social media can do for a brand if done right, but how it can tarnish one when done wrong. So thanks to Condescending Corporate Brand Page for us a reference. The message here is one we say a lot – They know you know they know. But if you’re looking for a few specific, non-snarky takeaways, here are a few quick guidelines to keep your brand’s Facebook page from becoming an embarrassment:

  • Don’t post for the sake of posting – Demand attention only when you have something valuable to share.
  • Ask your audience to Like and share sparingly, and only if there’s actually something in it for them.
  • A status update is a bad place for blatant advertising, so don’t even try.
  • People don’t talk to brands, they talk to people. So look at your posts, be honest, and ask yourself: “Is this something a person would actually say?”
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$.75 Warhols

Nick Woods

Just in case you’ve missed it: Campbell’s has introduced a 50th-anniversary line of soup cans reflecting what’s likely the most well-known version of their brand – Andy Warhol’s paintings from 1962. It’s a stark reminder that try as we might, the audience ultimately decides what a brand is, and what it stands for. Trying to influence what people think is a tougher, lower-profit game than understanding how they think. So it’s probably a smart move on Campbell’s part to roll with punches, and admit they’re an icon not because of their own efforts and philosophy, but because of someone else’s.

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How does meaning change?

Nick Woods

A new article by Derek Thompson and Jordan Weissman in this month’s Atlantic discusses why my generation is so cheap, particularly when it comes to cars and houses. There are a lot of factors, obviously – Low pay, student debt, bad access to loans… The list goes on. But let’s consider an idea that David Aaker’s blog discussed a while back: Relevance. “There was a time where [sic] cars… provided a community and a self-expressive benefit for young drivers,” Aaker said, and Thompson and Weissman put a finer point on that statement. Today, a smartphone is what enables community and self-expression – Not where you live, or the how you get there. Why drive when an inches-wide screen can take you anywhere you want to go without requiring you to even stand up? Why meet a friend at the movies when you can Facetime over a 4G network? What it all boils down to is that the meanings we ascribe to products aren’t static – They evolve, give up some things, and gain others. A car, house and white picket fence don’t mean what it did in 1972 anymore. And tomorrow, they won’t mean what they did today.

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Can good design make your company perform better?

Nick Woods

A post on the Freakonomics blog this morning outlines an observation termed “The Sharapova Effect,” which describes how a personal characteristic, unrelated to an occupation, can have an observable effect on how well one performs that occupation. Their example discusses the LPGA actually – not Maria Sharapova – where average-to-better-looking golfers tend to get lower scores than their less-attractive counterparts. Average-looking golfers don’t necessarily perform better than below-average looking golfers (on average), but “that makes sense,” the article says, because “you probably won’t get more endorsement opportunities if you’re average-looking instead of bad-looking.” Kind of a mouthful, huh? (And headache-inducing.)

It’s also kind of obvious when you think hard enough about it. People often argue that good branding and design have little to do with how well a company performs. But the truth is that an attractive-looking organization gets more looks, and thus more endorsement. And when that cash is reinvested into performance, design becomes less about good looks, and more about good products.

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When is a pricing war like divorce court?

Nick Woods

A new Bloomberg Industries study covered by the Consumerist last week shows that Target has lower prices than Walmart for the first time since October 2011. That’s an important position to be in when the economic climate is still recessionary – Consumers aren’t exactly insensitive to budgets at the moment. So it’s interesting to compare that branding contest to the one that (seemingly) concluded between Apple and Samsung over the weekend. In that case, it’s clear Apple customers have had a lower-priced comparable option to their iPhones for the past few years. So comparable, in fact, that Samsung’s been penalized over a billion dollars for being a copycat.

So why is it that customers sometimes choose to pay more for one product, but remain price-sensitive for others? Remember: A brand is a relationship. And it’s been obvious for years that Apple has a special one with its customers. A Mac will buy Apple, even when 1,000 PCs tell him or her they can get the same thing for cheaper elsewhere. But when your brand revolves around low prices, like in the case of Walmart and Target, that relationship is more about money than satisfaction – one that typically ends in divorce.

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The Internet A Decade Later

Nick Woods

BestEdSites put together an infographic making the rounds this morning that shows how the internet has grown between 2002 and 2012. You can check it out here if you’d like - Lots of “wow” statistics, showing how digital information has penetrated our lives in more ways than one. But to me, the most interesting and least-quantifiable portion of the illustration is its look back at the old home pages for CNN, Friendster, Yahoo and Apple. Compare what each company offers now, and notice that while the brands haven’t changed, the focus on design has definitely come to the forefront. There’s a far higher quantity of information presented by each presence, right off the bat. These two changes are put into stark relief when we look back on the last 10 years of digital media – In 2012, they’re fundamental to gaining attention on the Web.

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Montreal, 1976

Nick Woods

They’ve only been finished for a couple weeks, but I’m already bummed out that the Summer Olympics are over. There’s something about those few days that make the entire world seem more interesting – Not only because I like cheering on American athletes, but because it paints an awesome portrait of where we are, culturally and internationally, at a given point in time. The Olympics do a wonderful job, intentionally or not, of highlighting a moment.

One of the ways the Games do so is through strong branding and design. It’s always been an engaging part of the events, and usually a popular topic of discussion, aside from predictions about who’ll end up on top in any given contest. Talks about the mascot(s), the logo, and the coverage always abound both before and after – Conversation that indicates how the Olympic brand and what it represents can be as interesting as the competition itself. That’s why I loved browsing through iso50′s gallery of images from the Montreal Olympiad’s Graphics Manual, authored in 1976, which shows that even though times change, the elements of strong identity definitely don’t. You can see the entire post here.

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Can You Crowdsource Creativity?

BJ Bueno

We’ve got to hand it to Mountain Dew.  They’re trying so hard to do social media right—especially when it comes to listening to their customer base and soliciting creative insights from the people who actually love their products. If there was a direct relationship between efforts and results, someone in the Mountain Dew PR team would be getting top honors right about now.

But something’s not working quite right.  Mountain Dew was searching for a name for their new green-apple flavored soda. They turned to the masses, and the masses responded—not always a guaranteed thing in this world! Unfortunately, the masses didn’t respond with really brilliant, insightful, sales-generating names for the soon-t0-be-debuted beverage. READ MORE

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Covariation Theory & Belief

Nick Woods

Melanie Tannebaum’s PsySociety blog covered a psychological paradigm yesterday called covariation theory, which says we tend to believe the validity of opinions or outcomes based on consensus, consistency, and distinctiveness. She asks us to suppose that a friend, Dave, is recommending a class to us for an upcoming semester of college. How do we determine whether the class is actually good? Covariation theory says that if most other students enjoy the class Dave is recommending (consensus), and if Dave dislikes most other classes (distinctiveness) but has always liked this one (consistency), chances are we’ll believe that the class itself is worth taking. However, if Dave is the only one who seems to like it, and he has a tendency to like a lot of others, we’ll tend to believe he’s just full of it.

Covariation theory can explain a lot about whether someone believes you when you say “my product is awesome.” Has that always been your opinion? Are there a lot of others who think the same? And can people make a distinction between what you do and what others do? They’re all important questions to ask when crafting a convincing message.

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Playing Chicken With Your Brand

BJ Bueno

If we ever needed an illustration of how social media has changed the dynamic of corporate communications, we need look no further than Chick-fil-A.

It’s no secret that the leadership of the quick-service chicken chain is openly hostile towards same-sex marriage; they donate millions of dollars to anti-gay organizations. Dan Cathy, son of the founder, uses what he calls Biblical principles to run the business. The restaurant is not open on Sunday; they operate debt-free.

How does this play out on social media? READ MORE

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Trust Issues 001

DeChazier Stokes–Johnson

As a creative, most of my life and well-being depends on trust. I trust instinct, intuition, my eyes, and my ability to seek out inspiration. The worst thing a writer, musician, or artist can do for their career is living in a bubble, because keeping ourselves from going stale is important.

It’s in that spirit that Nonbox presents Trust Issues – A series of music mixes, curated by our agency to help you stay inspired, and in-tune with what we’re listening to. You can download mine today, and all it’ll cost you is a Like on our Facebook page.

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Lessons Learned From Microsoft

BJ Bueno

Kurt Eichenwald, a contributing editor at Vanity Fair, has investigated what he calls Microsoft’s Lost Decade—a period of lackluster performance and diminished profitability. He lays blame squarely at the feet of a cannibalistic corporate culture.  The story is getting lots of attention, particularly as it relates to the controversial management practice of “stack ranking.”

Microsoft’s CEO, Steve Ballmer, went to Forbes to reply.  His response (Lost decade? What lost decade?) is full of enthusiasm for Windows 8, Bing (currently #2 in the search engine marketplace, trailing Google by only 51.2%!) and the Surface, Microsoft’s computer/tablet hybrid designed to showcase the power of Windows 8. READ MORE

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Children’s media, the PBS way

Nick Woods

TV programming for kids gets a bad rap sometimes, especially from adults who lived through the mindlessness of cartoons like Ren & Stimpy and anything by Hanna-Barbera. That’s not to say mindlessness isn’t great sometimes (especially on Saturday mornings), but it’s good to know broadcast networks like PBS aspire to something more sometimes. That’s why shows like Sesame Street, Barney & Friends, and Arthur have captivated children for decades, without making their parents tune out.

An interview with PBS’s Interactive VP on Wired.com last week discusses how the network is bringing that same sensibility to mobile devices. “It’s important that the mobile experience is consistent with the characters and worlds kids know,” she says, “so we have made a strategic investment to offer our content wherever kids and parents are — on TV, online, mobile devices, in the classroom — to be truly multi-platform. Our characters go beyond the television screen, and most importantly, our audience can expect to have a consistent experience with them whether they are interacting with them in a mobile app, watching them on-screen, or playing games with them online.” Sounds like Branding 101 doesn’t it? Funny how adults and kids aren’t always so different in what makes them comfortable.

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Beyond Batman

BJ Bueno

We join with the world in sorrow and grief over the Aurora, Colorado massacre.

As a culture, we’ll be a long time figuring out what went wrong, and why. As business leaders, we have to understand the impact of events like this have on our customers.

For the owners of movie theaters, this is a huge and immediate concern. But what does it mean for the rest of us? You may not think there’s an immediate connection. If you’re selling women’s clothes or automobiles or the finest financial planning instruments, at this point, you’re thinking, “Exactly what does this horrible shooting have to do with my customer base? READ MORE

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Jack Daniels protects itself the right way

Nick Woods

The internet has been chattering over the past couple of days about Patrick Wensink, an author who chose to “borrow” the Jack Daniels design for the cover of his newest book. A familiar brand demands protection, and so unsurprisingly, Wensink got a cease-and-desist letter from the manufacturer’s attorneys toward the beginning of July. Surprising, however, was how polite and supportive that letter was: All the company asked was that the author use a different cover on the next printing, even offering to help defray the cost of doing so. Score one for both parties involved - The artist stays happy, and the brand remains undamaged. Just another case study illustrating that people want to talk with people, not suits, and not bottles. That’s something we’ve discussed here before, but brands still tend to forget it.

 

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Grid Compass 1101

Nick Woods

A couple days ago, TIME posted an awesome article on its Techland blog reviewing the portable computer’s design history. The entire post is a great read, but the most interesting part – in my very humble opinion – is a brief discussion of a device Alan Kay dreamed up in 1968: The tablet. Of course the technology at the time was incapable of realizing his idea, but 44 years later Apple is making a killing on iPads, and everyone else is trying to figure out how to cash in too. Too bad he isn’t around to be a part of the hype, huh?

It’s funny how the best design – even when it seems impossible – has a way of predicting the future, and enabling the present. Even though Kay’s product didn’t come to fruition until years later, TIME notes how it inspired the clamshell laptop design that hit the market in 1982, and remains standard today. It shows how the best design sets a goal, and inspires a plan to achieve it. Which means it might be worth the investment sometimes, even if it produces unfeasible results.

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Microsoft, reimagined

Nick Woods

During what Fast Company describes as a “three-day design charette,” 21-year-old student Andrew Kim decided to try his hand at rebranding Microsoft, and the internet is going a little nuts over his work today. Kim’s obviously no slouch – he already has Google, Kimberly-Clark and Cisco on his resumé – but what is it about this particular effort that’s getting people so riled up?

Folks sometimes forget that a brand isn’t simply a tool used to tell customers what they’re buying before they buy it (for better or worse). A brand is a reflection of corporate identity. It describes not only where a business has been, but where it’s going. And for a tech company like Microsoft looking to separate itself from “I’m a PC,” and wade into new, more hardware-focused waters, it’s especially important. Tech customers want to know they’re buying from a visionary company. And usually visionaries are more concerned with the future than they are about the past.

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‘I designed the recycling symbol’

Nick Woods

Back in May, the Financial Times ran a short piece dictated to a reporter by a guy named Gary Anderson. Gary is an engineer by trade – He started in electronics in the late ’60s but eventually moved on to architecture and urban planning. He has a PhD now, and runs the Baltimore branch of a firm doing work for the Department of Defense, but his most famous achievement has nothing to do with academia: It’s the design for the now-ubiquitous recycling logo.

Gary designed the logo for a contest that paid him around $2,000 after he won, but he hasn’t received any renumeration otherwise. He didn’t even use it when applying for urban planning jobs in Los Angeles. As he puts it, “I really played down the fact that I’d won this competition. I was afraid it would make me look like a graphics guy, rather than an urban designer. I didn’t even mention it on my résumé.” Just goes to show that creativity often pops up in the oddest of places, from the most unlikely people. So it’s best to keep the eyes open.

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What makes a slogan inane?

Nick Woods

An article in this morning’s Consumerist calls attention to a recent Ruby Tuesday ad asking “What if there was a place where eating felt more like dining?” You can see the strategy there – I’m just spitballing, but the aim here is probably to make potential customers just looking for a place to stop on the way home feel as if they’re at a more luxurious establishment. But the blog nails it with a follow-up question: “You mean like a dining room?”

People are smarter than a lot of advertisers give them credit for – They know you know they know. So by overreaching, sometimes a good strategy becomes condescending.

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When does “useful” become “magical”?

Nick Woods

Whenever I sat down in a communications class that used Google as a case study between 2003 and 2006, my professors reminded me that the company was looking to “organize the world’s information.” That’s an exciting idea for academics, but let’s be honest, those words won’t exactly inspire most. They certainly aren’t inspiring people to use Google+. So it comes as no surprise that lately, Google is trying to show a more emotional approach to its branding and advertising. Initiatives like Project Glass, and the company’s push to be more “delightful” and “magical” – outlined this morning in TechCrunch – show that Google might finally realize that business acumen and book smarts only get a company so far: At a certain point, people want to know you have a heart and soul too.

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Atari

Nick Woods

If you want people to pay attention to your advertising in this day and age, you have to use it to add value. Free samples, mobile apps and events give customers a taste of a brand without having to pay for it. The best ones show customers how they’ll feel when the full experience is realized. That’s why gamification and mobile apps are all the rage these days. And that’s why it is that companies like Atari have it easy when it comes to reminding people why their brands are valuable.

40 years ago, Atari basically defined the computer gaming industry. It’s struggled since then with a lot of ups and downs, but when you think of Pong, Centipede, Millipede, Asteroids, and Missile Command, you do so because Atari made them popular. To mark its anniversary today, Atari has launched a free mobile app featuring 100 of its most classic games. Playing them this morning reminded me of everything the company’s done, and how easy it is to slip into games that you might not play every day, but can’t seem to forget.

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“The Lipstick Effect”

Nick Woods

As Scientific American reports this morning, beauty products typically show growth during recessionary periods, incongruous with most other luxury goods markets. In other words, lipstick sells, no matter what. And according to results published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, it’s all about mating: During times of economic prosperity, women tend to focus on personal growth. But instinct dictates that scarcity means a historically lower chance of survival – Which means attracting a mate with more access to resources becomes the paramount personal goal when times get tough.

I’d posit that there are broader implications here though. The research flies in the face of long-held conventional wisdom that spending money, in and of itself, is therapeutic. The truth is that people don’t buy things because they’re cheap – They buy what makes them look better, no matter the economic climate. For women, it might be makeup. For men, it’s likely much different. So what do you do that makes everyone shine? That’s the million-dollar question.

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What is a pen?

Nick Woods

A classic exercise in branding and advertising starts with a simple question: “What is a pen?” A pen, most say, is something used to write. Continuing the exercise, we ask, “Why do we write?” and the answer gets a bit more complicated – “To express myself,” someone might answer, or “to communicate.” So you can imagine how ridiculous things get when you ask the same question again: “Why do you express yourself?” or “Why do you communicate?” Discussing that question, at length, and ad nauseam, is how effective advertising is crafted, and how the best brands market themselves.

But where is the right answer? There are a million different responses to the deeper questions above. But George Orwell’s 1946 essay, Why I Write, lays it out in succinct fashion. The author says, “[T]here are four great motives for writing [that] exist in different degrees in every writer.” Those great motives? (1) Sheer egoism, (2) aesthetic enthusiasm, (3) historical impulse, and (4) political purpose. Taking that comment beyond writing – Aren’t these the reasons why anyone talks to begin with? And aren’t they the fires we need to stoke when we want to hear from customers?

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Winning the Battle of the Bands

BJ Bueno

What do you call a brand that has enjoyed long-term success, remaining profitable and vibrant for over 30 years, while the vast majority of their early competition struggles for relevancy?

In the music world, you’d call that brand Duran Duran. Get ready for your 80′s flashback! We’re going to talk about what it takes to create enduring customer loyalty. READ MORE

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Insteon

Nick Woods

Everyone with a smartphone feels like it should be able to do anything, with the touch of a single button. People get frustrated when there’s effort required to pull up a map, or when a movie won’t load correctly on Netflix. So with the limitless possibilities that computers big and small afford us, often the real challenge is making them simple enough for regular people to use and understand. That’s why products like the Insteon light bulb make a lot of sense – A pre-configured, dimmable, LED light bulb, controllable with a remote, motion sensors, or a smartphone. There’s minimal setup, and at only $30, it’s a lot more affordable than most home automation systems. Also, it’s like a hi-tech version of the Clapper. We all know how awesome that was.

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The audience is an illusion – But it works

Nick Woods

Reddit.com is like the Garden of Eden for viral content – It’s easy to lose hours of your life on the site, browsing through every variety of the newest digital media available, voted up or down by the site’s tight-knit audience. It’s perhaps the model for digital community. So it’s certainly a surprise reading that the site built itself on an audience of fake accounts, detailed by Reddit’s founder this morning in Mashable. We say it all the time: It’s not the size of your audience, but what you do with it that counts. But how can we justify saying that when the model did the exact opposite?

The lesson here is that community is built on belonging – It doesn’t exist if members don’t feel they’re a part of something bigger than themselves, and talking to no one helps nobody. So it’s important when crafting a content marketing or social media strategy to distinguish whether you’re building a community, or enabling one. If your goal is to add 500 followers to an audience of 70,000, you’re probably doing it wrong. If your goal is to build 500 followers from nothing… Well, what are your thoughts on more traditional advertising?

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Kikkoman

Nick Woods

At the age of 16, Japanese naval academy graduate Kenji Ekuan witnessed the devastation of the atomic bomb firsthand in Hiroshima. Faced with that destruction, he decided that he wanted to devote the rest of his life to the opposite force – Making things, rather than tearing them down. His firm, G.K. Design, has since created some of the most enduring objects in the past century, including the Akita bullet train, Yamaha motorcycles and more.

The New York Times posted a fascinating piece last Friday on what is perhaps Ekuan’s most popular achievement: The Kikkoman soy sauce bottle. It took three years for the firm to choose a shape for the bottle, and more than 100 prototypes to decide on its drip-less spout. But nearly 55 years later, the product remains unchanged. Quoted in the piece, Ekuan says, “For me [the bottle] represents not the new Japan, but the real Japan.”

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Kinect tricking out TV?

Nick Woods

Digital advertising has a leg up on traditional methods when it comes to engagement. That’s always been the sales pitch for the former at least – Potential customers are being talked to when they see an ad on their TV, instead of talked with. But that’s not the way it has to be, according to Microsoft, who seems to be finding an infinite number of ways its Kinect product can be used not only by gamers, but by brands.

The LA Times is reporting that Toyota, Unilever, and Samsung Mobile have all signed up for new interactive campaigns that will allow Kinect users to interact with regular TV commercials. Want to host a spot poll, or play a quick game with a potential customer? Or maybe give them a taste of a more tech-centric product? You have that option, once the new platform rolls out later this year.

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Does Robin Hood Go To Starbucks?

BJ Bueno

In Customers First, we talk about Starbucks and some of the ways that the brand appeared to be heading off track.  It’s only right and fair that we should raise our coffee mugs and salute Starbucks when they get it right.

Check out this NY Times article about Starbucks’ decision to source their coffee mugs domestically.  It’s the tale of how Starbucks, a company with 200,000 employees, started doing business with American Mug. Here’s the Cliff Notes version:

American Mug was a company that was headed toward closure. READ MORE

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Buy Facebook – Sell GM

Nick Woods

Last week I posted a short piece talking about why even if advertising on Facebook doesn’t work, fueling conversation is a more than adequate substitute, worth the time and resources invested in it. And this morning, lo and behold, Fast Company’s Kirk Cheyfitz posted a far more eloquent and lengthy article discussing the same thing. As he says, “Facebook’s current and potential value has far more to do with connections, e-commerce, and data than with the ad industry’s anachronistic appetite for paying to stick traditional digital ads and banners on the site… [it's] about replacing traditional ads with shared content.”

We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again: They know you know they know. A 2012 Nielsen report shows recommendations from acquaintances as the leading purchase influencer, followed by recommendations from strangers online. So invest first in a great idea, and invest in trust second.

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The Value of Brand Modeling…

BJ Bueno

It’s all fun and games until someone loses an eye!

It was almost a year ago when we wrote this post, highlighting an innovative, effective emergency preparedness educational campaign from the Center for Disease Control.

In an effort to get people to stock up on bottled water, first aid supplies, and other hurricane-season necessities, the CDC urged people to prepare for the most outlandish of possibilities: a zombie apocalypse. READ MORE

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Burberry

Nick Woods

One of the world’s most iconic fashion brands gave their Web site an awesome makeover this morning – If you visit Burberry.com, you’ll notice fewer pictures of skirts, scarves and and blouses, and more video of the company’s collection in action. If you want to see it on the runway, there’s an option for that. But if you’d rather see it glossed up via Hollywood, and imagine yourself in the role, there’s that too.

What makes Burberry’s new campaign stand out is that it’s an example of shoppable content. Visitors can watch a video, click what they like, and instantly have their favorites in a shopping cart. The common adage in marketing these days is “content is king,” but it’s tough bringing someone who’s interested in that content to a purchase decision. When the content and the purchase sit this close together though, the bridge becomes that much shorter.

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A Conversation w/Geoff McFetridge

DeChazier Stokes–Johnson

Geoff McFetridge is high on the list of my favorite artists/entrepreneurs. What I admire most is his ability to work across so many different mediums/fields. From title sequences to his on Nike, his style always shines supreme. Read the complete interview HERE. Enjoy!

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A Conversation w/Jeff Staple

DeChazier Stokes–Johnson

Getting a chance to pick the mind of Jeff Staple was special experience. It’s not everyday you get the chance to learn about the inner-workings company that has managed to expand their brand across many different yet related disciplines. You can read the full interview HERE. Enjoy!

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What It Means To Understand Your Customers

BJ Bueno

In Customers First we look at some of the world’s biggest brands—companies like Apple, Ikea, and Volkswagen—to discover how they connect so effectively with their customers. To build powerful, profitable connections, it helps to understand that customer behavior is driven largely by a combination of psychological and social forces that are at play every single moment of every single day of our lives. These forces shape our customer’s worldview.  Once you understand what those forces are, it becomes much, much easier to craft messaging that resonates effectively with the customer.
READ MORE

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A Conversation w/Aaron Draplin

DeChazier Stokes–Johnson

Aaron Draplin started The Draplin Design Company in 2004 after working as a senior art director at the Cinco Design Office of Portland, Oregon and as an art director with SNOWBOARDER magazine. Since open the doors of the DDC Aaron Draplin and associates have worked for Coal Headwear, the Union Binding Company, Snowboard Magazine, Field Notes memo books and the list goes on and on. I really enjoy and appreciate the clean no frills design aesthetic and how much hard work this man put’s in each and everyday. You can read the entire conversation HERE.

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Four: Learning From Experience

DeChazier Stokes–Johnson

I graduated from the Milwaukee Institute of Art & Design in 2004 but knew my learning was honestly just about to begin. Beside learning from those people I worked with on a daily basis, I wanted to also learn directly from those I’d been reading about and following through conversations. I wanted to pick the brains of those that already had years of experience doing what I was a rookie at. I didn’t want to hoard these conversations for myself so I started a website called “the Marma Spot” to house and archive these conversations for anyone interested in taking time to read them. This week I will share FOUR of the many conversations I have had with some of the best creative and entrepreneurial minds in the world. Enjoy!

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Pebble… Making ripples or Waves?

Kristina Kleinschmidt

The Pebble, a new watch that syncs with the iPhone or Droid, brings a simple concept to life. Using Bluetooth to act as a remote, it’s easy to download apps directly to the watch from your phone. It has a high-resolution e-paper screen, and apps to track mileage, average speed and more during exercise. Its battery lasts for over seven days. But some of its features just seem pointless:  “Around the house, pebble makes it easy to see who’s calling, whether your hands are full [or not]”? If your hands are full, you’re not going to answer your phone – You’ll look at your Pebble and miss the call, or you’ll look at your phone and miss the call. Either way, you’ve missed it.

In a world of screen-overkill, I find Pebble a bit redundant. But considering it holds the record for most pledged dollars on Kickstarter, there have to be some believers out there. Check out the developers’ and designers’ video from Kickstarter, where it all began to learn more.

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Tumblr Eclipse

Samuel LeMar Hutchins

It comes as no surprise to me that the term “Tumblr” may soon eclipse “blog” in Google search volume. Blogging is obviously one of the easiest ways for people from all walks of life to share their interests online. But as an avid Tumblr user, I can see how the site’s easy-to-use interface has opened up the gates to a community that was once reserved for only the most internet-savvy. That’s because Tumblr has done away with the learning curve often associated with great-looking original content – On the network, a budding user needs only to search a keyword to find ready-made material relevant to their interests. And later on, as they get more media-savvy, original content can be easily uploaded from a hard drive. The lack of any visible advertisements allows users to feel a part of an artistically credible community.  And while the verdict is still out on the site’s profitability, stats like these prove there’s a strong case behind it.

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Is Dropping Facebook Ads a Smart Move?

BJ Bueno

The news that GM has decided to stop using paid Facebook advertising has created a big buzz. If the nation’s third largest advertiser isn’t getting enough bang for their buck from Facebook ads, the conversation goes, what does that mean for the rest of us?

GM reportedly spends approximately $40 million on Facebook. 75% of that investment is devoted to monitoring and maintaining GM’s Facebook presence, through the organization’s Facebook page. The remaining 25%, $10 million dollars, was going toward paid advertising. READ MORE

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A Generational GAP?

Herschel Kissinger

With high executive turnover and double-digit months of declining sales, the Gap has recently found itself in the process of closing more than 20% of its US stores. It follows the rough introduction of a new logo in October of 2010 that kept the classic “blue-box” logo, updated with a trendy Helvetica font. Fans of the new look were few and far between, the new image lasted only a week, and the executive overseeing its implementation resigned a year later.

That’s not to say the idea of a new logo is a bad choice. And there’s nothing wrong with the Gap’s clothes — I’d argue it’s the brand itself that’s keeping customers away. Twenty-somethings see a Gap bag on the street and see the same bag their mom brought home from the mall when they were kids. Apparel brands gain more from being associated with trends than traditions, unless the trend is closing stores on a continuous basis. So maybe it’s time for Gap to try a new logo entirely, one that aligns with the very current, clean-cut image its current collection presents.

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Greetings from Glasgow!

Nick Woods

If anyone reading has a chance to visit the UK, make sure a good chunk of your trip is spent in Scotland – Nothing here but sheep, rolling green hills, and awesome people. I still have a couple weeks left before I’m back, so we hope you enjoy a series of guest posts from the UW-Madison Ad Club. Cheers!”

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#SocialMediaDarwinism

Michael Leon

With a rapidly expanding global user base, @twitter offers companies virtually unlimited #possibilities when it comes to engagement in the digital space. #duh But rather than being #innovative, a lot of companies are failing to adapt. “Tweets” usually seen through more traditional channels like print ads and radio spots fail to #engage the digital audience. Why the difficulty?

Some companies seem to have “twivertising” down pat. Global leadership company @DaleCarnegie #engages its audience with interesting articles and daily trivia, and frequently responds to and retweets its followers’ feedback. Family-owned Milwaukee restaurant @LaPerlaMKE has a “Question of the Day” giveaway, tweets #MKE @Brewers game updates, and brings attention to local charities. Tactics like these make a Twitter feed more engaging, and help companies reach their potential.

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Safety in Social Media: An Impossible Dream?

BJ Bueno

Social media is a powerful tool you can leverage to build your brand, but it can also leave you vulnerable to the the cruel contempt of the masses who think nothing of trashing your brand equity one “Like” at a time. That’s the thrust of this article in AdWeek, which details any number of social media “fails.” One misstep by a marketer—a poorly posed model, or too much enthusiasm for milkshakes—and suddenly, there’s a tornado in the Twitterverse.

No one, we’re to understand, is safe.  Henry Copeland of Blogads was quoted as saying, “The hundreds of thousands, or millions, of people out there are going to take your idea, and they’re going to try to shred it or tear it apart and find what’s weak or stupid in it.” READ MORE