Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Messaging: What's the most effective path to your point -- and you do have one, right?

Hot Button Studio
In a world where people get bombarded with messages, what's the most effective way to convey your message?

Sometimes, you want to roll it in slowly or subtly. But often, respect the fact that people are busy. Respect the audience. Have a point and get to it quickly. Though my personal origins began as a writer, over time I learned that info graphics are incredibly powerful, perhaps surprisingly even in video.

Here's a nice piece by Beth Kanter on graphics. I love the image of Legos (shown at top) sorted to make a point, a graphic credit to Hot Button Studio.

Here's a link to one of my favorite videos using graphics to tell the story of the astonishing growth of social media, done by Socialnomics.

...And of course, something so dramatic and discussed couldn't get by without a parody. And this parody is pretty funny.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Apple introduces the Twiggy, the impossibly thin new iPhone 5

iPhone 5. Thin, very thin.
I stand among the irrational customers of Apple who got hooked on the Cult of the Mac and the late Steve Job's  famed "reality distortion field." I bought the original Mac and stayed with the company during its worst years when some of its products were overpriced, not greatly superior in overall value and, gasp, not even that attractive.

I also stand among those who follow the best in marketing and Apple is unsurpassed at engaging its base and igniting passion. The announcement today of Apple's new iPhone 5 is a case in point.

Apple's Jony Ive: "Your iPhone...unique relationship."
It's easy to make fun of designer Jony Ive's videos selling products, but they work  (e.g., iPhone sales and Apple's share price). Ive takes an object and gives it a personality and presence that's almost too private to discuss in public. It's a "unique relationship."  (He speaks respectfully). You'd hardly realize it's a handheld computer that so far has been a pretty lousy telephone. Where Jobs emphasized words like "magical," "revolutionary" and "amazing," making himself both CEO and responder to the Apple experience, Ive has shifted the ground to more objective but still effective language, chiefly "thin." It's almost as if Apple is selling thin. And nobody is complaining that a $2,000 or so device (counting cost of that 2-year contract) is now obsolete.

Apple exists in the real world so each iteration of a product, however "revolutionary" at birth is only that, an iteration, as customers complained about the iPhone 4S (which nonetheless sold in huge volumes). In introducing the iPhone 5, the first emphasis goes to thin, hence my playful nomination of Twiggy as a name for the phone. This suggestion will fail faster than a Newt Gingrich run for the presidency because only the wrong demographic has heard of Twiggy, an ultra thin British supermodel from the 1960s.

The iPhone 5 has some other improvements. It's also faster. But that can be said or even expected for any new computing device. The camera is improved, ditto for that. The screen is bigger, still no big excitement. What does Apple do? Interestingly, Apple takes you into the manufacturing process, where its innovations may be matched by others but certainly not presented in so seductively (how did they do that?). Apple makes its sausage making almost as desirable as its sausage. Few competitors even try to compete in this area of marketing. Apple engages the customer with the creation (idea) and execution (manufacturing). The product itself is a story, to borrow from another context, hope and change. It's a brilliantly executed effort at deepening customer passion by extending customer awareness into further reaches of the company and the brand.
Twiggy: very thin and she sold clothes

When you view the new Apple video promoting the iPhone 5, check out the relatively small amount of time is given to scenes of customers actually using the device. For this essay, I watched the video once. If it has  muchvideo of customers actually interacting with others as they use the device, that did not stick in my head. I'm thinking of the solitary person shooting a panorama image, but mostly I'm thinking of Ive's bold positioning of the device as a thing of intimacy and desire. The bulk of the video makes a luscious presentation of a hunk of wires and silicon transformed into an object of art.

Are you not entertained? Have you been moved so effectively at a deep level that you must have one, no matter what the price? That's how I got my first Macintosh. Apple does this so well. To buy is to belong. To buy is to gain cool. Brilliant.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Microsoft's new logo -- a winner or a cracked Window?

Janet Tu of the Seattle Times has a good piece on Microsoft's announcement of its new logo, the first change since 1987.

Once a skeptic that logos were often overrated and over-considered, I've since learned that a logo can have a dramatic effect, good or bad.

Microsoft's new logo
In Tu's story, she quotes a Wharton professor about how a logo is an instant communication of the brand, what's  seen over and over by consumers and employees. Is anything communicated? Or is it just a graphic with no effect. Or, ideally, does it convey the authentic identity of the brand and help activate passion for the brand.

Tu quote a Microsoft executive discussing the details of the logo -- and it's sort of talk that fuels skeptics who think a slight change here or a subtle change in a font is a bit like that hair cut given to the Cowardly Lion in Oz. Snip, snip here. Snip, snip there.

I've learned, especially in working with a former colleague, Mary Olson, that a logo well considered, designed and executed can be powerful, and more so over time. Mary led an effort to change the Seattle University Athletics Redhawks logo. She did scores of refinements. In the end, the new logo looked similar yet far more powerful. Among other changes, she closed the bird's mouth (which I always thought looked like it was whining to referees) and added a bump to the beak so the creature looked tougher, more confidant, a winner.  People like winners. The logo and other changes led to a dramatic increase in sales of apparel wear.

Cool in 1975
Check out Tu's story to see how the Microsoft logo has evolved since 1975. It's hard to imagine that the 1975 logo was cool in anyone's mind. But so was really big hair in those days. Don't forget MSFT then was by geeks for geeks, not for corporations and later a world-wide base of customers.

Microsoft's logo change coincides with a re-positioning of the company as a whole, shaking off the perception by some that the company had gone stale, though still hugely successful by anyone's measure. Microsoft has a bag of new products coming soon, most especially a new OS. The company astutely realizes this is a time to leverage those different product launches as an integrated campaign. Though some still may snicker at the brown Zune and other Microsoft efforts in the past, one of the company's great strengths was marketing. Great marketing involves risk and courage.

Update: Seattle Times describes mixed review.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Instant celebrity by a hair: meet Bobak Ferdowsi

Looks count.  Shakespeare said clothes proclaim the man.

Sometimes, the "face" of your organization is not what you expected.

In an instant we went from Gabby's smile to Olympic sprinter Sanya Richards-Ross billowing hair to...wait! In that photo of the NASA engineers, famed for their Right Stuff crew cuts and pocket protectors....does that guy have a Mohawk???

His name is Bobak Ferdowski. His hair and looks quite possibly upstaged, at least for a moment, one of NASA's greatest achievements in a decade, landing that explorer vehicle on Mars. Twitter quivers with talk of this rising star (pun intended).

Houston, we have a Mohawk
Suddenly everyone wants to know more about this man, already dubbed Mohawk Guy. His Alma Mater, the University of Washington, is celebrating its association. England's Daily Mail is examining the Deep Meaning.

My advice to NASA: Boldly go. Have fun with this. It's been so long since NASA made effective use of its incredible talent (and now hair) to strengthen the case for space exploration.

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Did social media find David Pogue's lost iPhone? Ah, no.

David Pogue with his beloved iPhone
Social media is a fantastic tool to activate and empower audiences. It's an exciting part of a marketing tool kit. Only part.

I'm a huge and long-time fan of David Pogue. In a recent blog posting, he seems to be giving credit to the social media community for finding his iPhone. CNN goes even farther with,  with "How the Internet found David Pogue's iPhone." (Now it's the entire Internet,.)

However, David's own story seems to suggest a less extraordinary tale.

I contacted the Prince George’s County police department.....By the end of the day, the local police were actually at the house, with me on the phone. 

The Find My iPhone function disclosed the device location and David called the cops.  Pogue has more than one million Twitter followers. Many offered to help and did spread the world. But this case seems solved by what Crimestoppers would call dropping a dime.

Twitter did not find his phone.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Warning to all those watching the hipster ads by

People! The best clue that it's NOT free is when they say it's free!

It's a hook for those who don't read fine print.

The web site itself contains this disclaimer:

When you order your free credit score here, you will begin your 7-day trial membership in If you don't cancel your membership within the 7-day trial period*, you will be billed $14.95 for each month that you continue your membership. You may cancel your trial membership anytime within the trial period without charge.

Cancel within 7 days or they start charging. 

Not free.

Not hip.

Smart money has one report on this.

Caveat emptor. Beware of scruffy hipsters with guitars.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Colleges, cash in on the Downton Abbey craze

For-profit universities are attracting controversy almost as fast as they are attracting students. Wall Street likes the business: low barriers to entry, high profit margins, and product lines that can scale up. Looming threat: increasing government scrutiny.

But there's no denying the rise of these institutions and the change they are forcing on traditional colleges and universities, which already were recognizing the need to adapt to online learning and the needs of older learners.

So just for fun, what name would your pick for a for-profit university? The Franciscan U of the Prairies became Ashford U.  Beaver College became Arcadia University. Trident University became Trident University International.

For profits aren't alone in changing names, as US News reported back in 2009. (And wait a minute....didn't US News itself have a longer name? Oh, yeah.

It's clear that for profit institutions want a name that conveys a strong brand, rootedness, quality, good experience. Harvard is taken, though Harvard itself had no name till a donor by that name left money.  Duke went through several names before accepting a tobacco fortune.

So I'm thinking of a name that conveys lively people, a gorgeous campus, well-dressed leaders,  upwardly-mobile boarders, cool clothes, a nearby pub, a great library, a regal dining hall and, one must have, fox hunting. For differentiation, you need the unique quality of full pursuit of the uneatable. I'm calling it Downtown Abbey University.

The name says urban and rural, plus people find the campus life irresistible to watch.

Very good, m'Lord.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Integrated marketing in higher education: Nice work at Portland State University

I had a chance recently to hear people at Portland State University talk about what they are doing in social media as part of their overall brand marketing. I was impressed.

At the gathering of District 8 of the Council for the Advancement and Support of Education, PSU and others are recognizing that universities face great challenges: greater competition for students, faculty, research dollars and donor support. If you factor in the rise of for-profit universities, online learning and a new thinking in how state and federal governments relate to higher ed -- it's a new world. All the more reason to work harder to differentiate your institution and better tell you story. Success means a strong institutional commitment, a well considered plan and measures, execution by people with authority, message discipline and a relentless focus on evaluation and re-assessment. Oh, and some resources. If you don't invest in this effort, you can be certain of falling behind competitors who are making smart investments.

Here's a link to PSU's marketing page. And check out their photo contest.

The people of PSU said one of their foundations for their marketing was a video that sought to capture the essence of their university. Doing such a video is ambitious and risky. So many institutions are doing these -- so how do you re-invent the messages of academic excellence, the student experience and transformation that awaits those for whom your school is a great fit? What visual "vocabulary" and style do you use?  Here's what PSU did. One noticeable element: they embraced the character and beauty of Portland. What do you think?