Brand and Branding

Who owns your brand?

I don’t mean this in a “does you consumer now control the brand?” kind of way. I mean it in a, “where do people go to connect with your brand?” kind of way. I was flipping through an in-flight magazine yesterday and noticed a two-page spread for a diaper company. There was a massive call to action in the bottom right-hand corner of the print ad that said something like: “to lean more, please follow us on Facebook.” I found myself asking a very simple question: “what is this brand of diapers doing on Facebook that is so unique to the brand experience that it can’t be done on their own website?” The answer (after a quick review) is nothing. This brand’s Facebook page isn’t doing much to leverage the power of the social graph or use Facebook’s functionality to extend the brand narrative in a unique way. They’re just using Facebook as a place to have a less-interactive and less-branded website.

Why is it less-branded?

What’s better: one clear message or five messages on the same page? When you have you own website, you control the amount of messaging and the engagement. When you have your brand page on Facebook (and I’m using Facebook as a euphemism for any online social network, be it Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram, LinkedIn or whatever), your brand is housed within the Facebook branded experience and there could be ancillary brands (or advertisements, whatever) in the mix as well.

The tough question.

Brands have to start asking themselves one very tough question: are we on Facebook because it makes our brand experience better and leverages the power of these millions of connected people, or are we on Facebook, because there are a lot of people there and we have been unable to garner that level of attention with our own digital experiences and spaces? Facebook isn’t bad. Facebook is great. But, Facebook is only great to the brands that people care about, and it’s only great when those brands are already connected to their consumers and leverage the Facebook experience to do a whole lot more.

Brands are getting lazy.

It’s not just brands, it’s also the agencies that serve them. With each and every passing day, I’m seeing more and more brands forgo their own web and mobile experiences to use social media environments as their primary place to connect. Years ago, I cautioned against this. It became a more prescient concept when MySpace collapsed as Facebook began to gain its momentum. At the time, I had many of my musician friends suddenly lose their entire audience. Back then, it was much easier to build and update a MySpace page than it was to build and nurture a unique website. The problem is that when everyone started bailing on MySpace, the bands were left with little community. On top of that, they had no way to take the sweat equity (content, connections and more) to another platform. They didn’t own it. MySpace did. When MySpace changed their rules, the bands were affected but couldn’t do much about it. Same with Facebook: it’s their playground and they can take their ball and go home whenever they want.

Today.

Today, more and more brands are doing the exact same thing. It doesn’t matter if it’s Pinterest, Facebook, YouTube, Google + or whatever. They’re allowing their brands to not only play second fiddle within the compounds of these online social networks, but they’re selling their brands short with the shiny, bright objects du jour instead of looking out on to the horizon. Why is this such a big deal? We’re seeing our world become more and more mobile. Facebook, Google and everyone else have yet to demonstrate how they’re going to take their current connections of users and migrate them over to a mobile platform that is just as engaging and compelling as what we’re seeing in the current browser-based format. What makes any brand (and agency) think that they’re going to get this right? Immediately, any brand can create a new website in HTML5 and leverage responsive technology to develop a platform that is – at the very least – manageable across all devices and screens. At the same time, these same brands can spend as much time and money as they wish creating a better brand narrative – without the restrictions and limitations set out by any other digital media company.

Fear is the mindkiller.

It’s just easier to play in someone else’s sandbox, isn’t it? Fear is holding everyone back. Unlimited creativity and opportunity is holding these brands back. It’s a shame. A brand that can provide a true experience and extend that brand narrative by providing utility and being there – wherever – the consumer is, will be the winning brands of the near-future. If consumers want to shop the brand wherever and whenever they want, but these brands are locking themselves in to other channels and platforms, they’re missing the biggest opportunity that social technology has brought: the ability to create a powerful and direct relationship with a consumer.

Will A Brands Next Big Move Be A Journalism Department?

Who should own Social Media in the organization?

The challenge in answering that question comes from a lack of clear definition. It depends on how you (and your organization) defines Social Media. Some see it as a communications channel, while others use it to extend their advertising. Other companies use it for customer service and some use it as a platform to experiment with content marketing. None of those are inherently right or wrong, they’re just different uses (and there are countless more). The long-held debate (and yes, we’re looking at over a decade of Social Media usage, at this point) was about whether or not Social Media should be a part of the Marketing department or the Communications department.

In the end, Social Media is everywhere.

The companies that tend to benefit the most from Social Media are the ones who are finding multiple blends, tactics and campaigns to find their sweet spot. Some have used short, mid and long-term tactics against an overall business strategy, while others have chosen to blend one-way with two-way communications and more conversational types of strategies.

It’s the content, stupid.

While advertising has its place in Social Media, it’s all about the content. The platform allows everyone to publishing anything in text, images, audio and video instantly (and for free) for the entire world to see. It’s humbling to know that the success of your content is almost entirely driven by how relevant it is (or, how it moves your audience). It’s easy to make a case for content marketing, but it’s going to wind up being the wrong case you should be making.

Death to content marketing.

The problem with content marketing is the marketing part of the equation. Marketing content rarely connects with an audience. Why? Because it’s really just marketing material that is thinly veiled as content, and it’s quickly becoming the kind of one-sided content that turns people off. What makes great content spread is how unique and inspiring the message is, not in how it slants into a direction that ultimately positions your company as the only one to buy from.

Flipping from content marketing to journalism.

I was thinking about this Blog. I was thinking about citizen journalism. I was watching Geoff Livingston present at Webcom Montreal last week, and things started to click. Maybe the reason this Blog has some level of success is because it’s more like journalism than it is about what Twist Image offers and sells (I prefer to write relevant articles about this industry). Maybe citizen journalists are the best marketers that a brand could ever ask for, and maybe, Livingston is right that the problem with content marketing is the "marketing" part. Instead of plopping Social Media into your communications or marketing department, why not start a journalism department (or start off in a more humble way by hiring a journalist part-time to write content that your organization will publish)?

What could a journalist do for your brand?

  • They could write articles about the industry you serve without slanting the piece to favor your brand (this would give you credibility and build trust).
  • They could become valuable by commenting and adding more content in the many other primary spaces for Social Media that people in your industry follow.
  • They could interview the industry leaders for you.
  • They could add a layer of credibility to the content you’re publishing, because you’re very clear in your disclosures that this journalist’s role is not to write favorable content about the company, but to write great content about the industry you serve.

We’re not talking about a journalist who is working for you as a writer.

That would be missing the point. The idea here is to start creating content that is both valuable and needed. The idea here is to see if a tactic like this could lead to an entire department of journalists that are publishing the most relevant and interesting stories about the industry you serve. It’s about becoming the de facto recognized authority for your industry. It’s about adding so much value that your clients (and potential clients) need you in their lives because the insights and information that you’re providing are so valuable. The challenge (of course) will be in doing this in an honest and credible way. Marketers don’t have a strong history of being able to pull this sort of stuff off, because we just can’t help ourselves but to push our own wares in the moment of truth (which is sad). The only way this will work is if the brand truly does let the journalist be an actual journalist (instead of a corporate shill).

I think this is a huge (and interesting) opportunity. What do you think? Is the world ready for real Brand Journalism?

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How To Build Your Digital Footprint In 8 Easy Steps

"Where do I start?" More often than not, that is the first question many business professionals have when it comes to dipping their toes into the digital channels. They simply have no idea how to begin… and then what to do after that.

Here are 8 easy steps to build your Digital Footprint:

1. Create a strategy. Far too often, people will hop on to Facebook with no set plan other than, "trying it out." There’s nothing wrong with trying out any of the many digital channels, but it doesn’t take long to jot down what you want to accomplish (and, more importantly, why you want to accomplish it) first – before filling out any online social networking profiles. If you uncover the strategy after you have already started, you may wind up having a couple of online profiles and spaces that really don’t match your strategy. If someone comes by and sees those initial forays (that you have since abandoned), it might not be the ideal first digital impression of you.

2. Choose the type of content channels and online social networks that match your strategy. All too often we see people on Twitter who would be that much more interesting if they were Blogging. There are people doing things with text that might be better suited for creating images. It’s best to focus on creating and publishing the type of content you are most comfortable with, and that you would enjoy creating the most. The amazing thing about these channels is that anyone can publish. The sad thing is, that some people forget that it’s not just text. You can create audio, video and images as well (and many combinations).

3. Digital Footprint Audit. There are tons of free tools that enable you to listen and see what is being said about you, your company, your products and services. Google News Alerts, Technorati, Twitter Search, and even doing some quick, generic searches on Google, Yahoo and Microsoft can give you the overall temperature of who is saying what. In order to best manage these many tools, you should consider grabbing all of these feeds and unifying them in one singular space. Something like Google Reader or Netvibes is a great place to start.

4. Follow First. Without question, there is somebody (probably many people) already out there using all of these channels. From videos on YouTube to Blogs and Podcasts. Find out who your industry considers to be the top "voices" in the many online channels. Subscribe to their content in your reader and make it a point to read, listen and watch the content at some point everyday. By following those that are already respected, you will be better positioned to see where you can add your voice – both in their environments and on your own.

5. Add your voice. In a world where everyone can (and should) publish their thoughts, you might find it more interesting to either become a frequent commentator on the more popular spaces, or offer to become a contributor to some of the many multi-authored places online (this includes things like industry association Blogs or trade-specific publications). By adding your voice in places that are highly trafficked you can build your presence (and Google Juice) without the stress of maintaining your own. Places like The Huffington Post are prime example of non-industry specific online outlets that are highly trafficked, highly indexed by the search engines and will give you incredible visibility to new people.

6. Start your own, but have a plan. Your overall strategy (step number one) will become your lighthouse. As you fall deeper down the rabbit hole, you’ll always be able to fall back on your strategy to ensure that you are on course, but once you choose to publish your own thoughts on your own platform, you might have an easier time if you create some kind of plan to get started. Think about what goals you want your channel to accomplish, how often you will need to publish, how you will tweak the content as your community grows and what will happen if you were to stop publishing? A plan (even one that includes specific dates for when you should publish content) will help you focus, and it will also get you in the habit of contributing and publishing.

7. Stay active and aware. It’s not just about your space, and it’s not just about following and commenting in the other spaces. It’s about being aware. From Twitter to FriendFeed, there are many new types of publishing platforms being created all of the time. It’s easy to sign-up for all of them and then to forget about them. Some of the channels may not even make any sense to you at the beginning (how many people do you know that still don’t understand what Twitter is, or why anyone would care about that type of content?). It’s also easy to forget about some of the channels that are not mentioned as frequently as the ones that are currently the topic du jour. Be aware of the new and older voices and platforms that are around and the new ones that are coming out.

8. Have fun. One of the primary reasons why people abandon either their own spaces or the ones they used to actively contribute to is because they were no longer having fun with it. It became a job. The trick is to always turn your job into work that you are passionate about. If you start out with the notion that you have to create, comment and participate because it’s your job and that is what is expected of you, it’s going to get ugly fast. There are so many channels out there. Find the ones you really enjoy and create the type of content that gives you the most pleasure. Find your muse.

What are some of the other ways people can dive in and start to explore how to build their own digital footprint?

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Why do a PhD?

Extract from: The PhD Application Handbook. (Open University Press) by Peter Bentley

You have to be a little strange to want to do a doctorate. You’ll be giving up the chance to earn some real money in a steady job, for several years of little or no money. You’ll be losing the simplicity of regular hours and a boss who tells you want to do, for the complications of setting your own agenda and planning your own work. Why do you want to do a doctorate? No, really. Why? You need to be very clear in your mind what the reasons are. Thankfully, there are some very good reasons why a normal, sane person would choose to do a doctorate. If any of these make sense to you, then you are on the right track:

Good reasons to do a PhD

…To achieve something significant

Those who have ambitions to make money should become entrepreneurs. But if you are ambitious in that you wish to challenge yourself, push yourself to new heights or achieve a difficult goal, then a doctorate may be for you.

…To discover or learn something new

Those who never lose their childlike curiosity of the world make great researchers. If you feel a driving force pushing you to explore and learn new things, then you may love research, and find a doctorate is perfect for you.

…To improve yourself and your life

Doing a PhD for the sake of a pay rise is not a good reason. But if you want to improve your abilities to understand and solve problems, increase your confidence, make yourself a better communicator and gain skills that may lead to a better job, then a doctorate may be right for you.

…It fits you

Some people are made for a doctorate. You might have grown up doing countless little ‘research projects’ as hobbies. You might have a natural thirst for knowledge or an insatiable appetite for reading books about a particular topic. You might have had a life-long fascination – even obsession – about something significant. If this sounds like you, and you can tailor a doctorate to suit your particular needs, then you’ll love it.

Bad reasons to do a PhD

Most of us have several reasons for wanting to do a doctorate, and of course they’re not all good. Here are some common bad reasons why some people consider a PhD (and I know there was a certain amount of ‘bad reason 5’ that led to my own choice.):

…Keeping your visa

If you are thinking of a doctorate because you want to keep your student visa and stay in the UK or at your current university a little longer – don’t. You must not use a PhD as a method to stay close to your friends or family, any more than you should commit a crime and have yourself locked up in jail. It is not worth it. And jail is the cheapest and easiest option by far.

…Peer pressure

If you’re thinking of a doctorate because all your friends are going to try, well done on having some clever friends. But you will have to do the doctorate, not them. How will you feel if they all achieve their PhDs while you struggle on, year after year, getting further and further into debt?

…Horrible job

If you are doing a job that you hate and just want to quit – then find another job. A PhD is not an escape hatch through which you fall into a better world, it is a long steep staircase that takes extreme perseverance to climb.

…Fulfilling the ambitions of others

If your partner or parents think that you should do a doctorate because they wished that they had – tell them to do one themselves. It must be your own ambition that drives you, not the ambition of anyone else. Otherwise you will resent them during the tough times of your work and blame them if it goes wrong.

…Rebelling

If everyone is telling you to go and get a job and you don’t like being told what to do, then make sure you are rebelling towards something you want, and not simply away from irritating parents or a boring town.

…Misplaced genius complex

If you think you are brilliant and will solve all of the world’s problems, but every one of your undergrad lecturers is telling you that your ideas are unworkable and that you are not cut out for a doctorate – it is quite likely that they are right and you are wrong.

…Insecurity

You might feel that your talents are never appreciated and you crave more respect from people around you. Perhaps you like the idea of impressing by showing a credit card with ‘Dr’ on it. This is not as daft as it sounds, for doctors do genuinely receive preferential treatment, and in some countries are treated with enormous respect. You are more likely to get a better job as well. However, if insecurity is your main driving force then you may struggle, for you will be surrounded by professors and post-docs who are more experienced than you throughout the course of your PhD. You will receive respect from them when you earn it, not because of the `Dr’ which they have themselves.

…You’ve done this kind of thing before

If you have worked in a similar area, you may have already done research or activities very similar to those that you will do during a doctorate. Or perhaps you have done a research-based project for your MSc. This is excellent experience and will help you, but a word of warning: most people think they know what they are letting themselves in for, and they are wrong. An undergraduate or MSc project does not give a proper taste of a PhD any more than a beansprout makes a Chinese meal. Working in industry is very different from academia. Even for someone with experience, the doctorate is not as easy as you might think.

Hopefully, you will find that more of the good reasons apply to you than the bad ones. Be honest with yourself. You are thinking of embarking on something that can change your life, either for better or worse, depending on you.