Archive for December, 2009

Industry spokesman leadership is earned, not given

Monday, December 14th, 2009

My last post was about Intel’s “Our Rock Stars Aren’t Like Your Rock Stars” advertisement where they feature an actor instead of the real inventor of the USB. My point being that I think it would have been just that much more cool if they’d used the actual guy.

Intel definitely understands branding campaigns and the importance of defining a personality for a company. In my opinion, however, it just works better if you use the real employees.

Tektronix is starting to understand the importance of branding spokespeople to help communicate the company’s personality and to enhance the company’s overall brand. Tektronix is known as the trusted leader of the Test and Measurement industry and the world standard for the best oscilloscopes. Tektronix invented the oscilloscope and they are truly the expert in this industry. Even with this long history, however, the role of industry leader or expert isn’t automatically given to a company. A company still needs to define and position spokespeople as industry experts and define their company’s personality. Our clients at Tektronix recently launched a campaign which I think is super smart. They are leveraging their industry leadership position to launch an expert for the industry and here’s the best part, they’re using one of their own employees. Why wouldn’t they? Some of the world’s most intelligent and visionary engineers work for Tektronix!

As part of this campaign they’ve also set-up a website called Scope Central which will act as a comprehensive resource for their customers and for the industry. I think this will prove to be an amazing resource for the industry and will allow people to have access to Tektronix in a way they’ve never been able to before. People can now chat live with technology experts and the scope gurus at Tektronix. It’s just a great example of how a company can leverage their internal resources and position themselves as an expert and valuable resource for their industry.

The Tiger Woods Fiasco in a Social Media World

Thursday, December 10th, 2009

Wow, what a bad time to be Tiger Woods.

It’s only been 13 days since Tiger’s now infamous SUV crash into his neighbor’s tree and fire hydrant at 2:25 a.m. on that Friday morning after Thanksgiving but it probably feels like 13 years to him given the 24 x 7 non-stop media and paparazzi frenzy that has been covering his every move since then. And, each time a new news tidbit appears like his mother-in-law’s recent hospitalization for stomach pains due to her worry about the situation, the entire story is re-hashed with a vengeance.

While I think Tiger’s alleged affairs and sordid dalliances show extremely bad taste, bad judgment and a total lack of integrity or commitment to his marriage vows, the purpose of this post is not to bash Tiger Woods. Instead, I’d like to examine how people’s trust in your brand – whether personal or corporate – can vanish even faster than ever before due to the intense, fast-paced and unfettered communication enabled by social media tools. Within minutes of the news breaking about Tiger Woods, there were blog posts, tweets, Facebook posts, and other instantaneous communications with the latest updates on the gossip/news appearing via social media faster than traditional media of print and broadcast could run with the story (ABC News Video).  Unfortunately for Tiger, it appears that he was not only a bad driver that night but he and his communications team were asleep at the wheel when it comes to how to manage a crisis communication situation in a changed world. The old rules don’t apply any more.

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Hiding being the shield of “it’s my private life, stay out,” is not going to work for a celebrity like Tiger. And as his sponsors start dropping him I’m sure he’ll realize what a failed strategy that represents. It’s obvious that Tiger needs a new playbook for the new reality of social media. For example, posting a vanilla statement on his website five long days after the car accident (Tiger Woods’ Website) isn’t going to cut it either. Tiger also needs some advice on how to work to repair his personal brand in the wake of this fiasco.

Here are some tips that may help him or others who have suffered damage to their personal or corporate brands:

10 Tips for Reviving a Battered Personal Brand

1. Look in the Mirror: Take a good, honest look at yourself or your company and think about the mistakes that you’ve made. Determine how you can move forward to fix these mistakes and live your life and conduct business with integrity.

2. Do the Right Thing: Commit to doing the right thing and change your behavior or your company’s behavior. This may be tough but must be done or you will have no hope in reviving your brand and earning back the trust that you’ve lost.

3. Be Honest: Come clean about the situation and provide honest, consistent responses to the news or questions that you are asked. A timely response means within 1 hour, even if it’s just to buy some time for a more thoughtful response.

4. Have a Plan: Immediately activate your crisis communication plan and mobilize your crisis team. If you don’t have a plan, get one. Make sure you’ve thought through not only the initial reaction but also the follow up steps you can take.

5. Respond Rapidly: Respond to allegations and news items quickly and thoroughly. Try to nip gossip in the bud with your truthful response before misinformation spreads. Use all of the social media tools available to communicate your honest response as quickly as possible to quell the tide of more negative coverage.

6. Monitor Everything: Monitor all online and offline communication about you/your company and respond appropriately. People really do want to hear your side of stories and little falsehoods can quickly escalate if left unchecked.

7. Get Good Counsel: If you don’t have a crisis team, get one. A smart, seasoned PR team would be a good first start.

8. Ask Forgiveness: Sometimes all people want to hear is that you are truly sorry and that it won’t happen again.

9. Pay Your Dues: If you or your company hurt someone or something, pay for it. Fix it from a financial perspective.

10. Make a Fresh Start: Think about how you want yourself or your company to be remembered. What is your mission in life? (No jokes please about what Tiger’s apparent mission was when he was chasing those women.) Seriously, what positive impact do you want to make on the world? Think about this and crystallize your resolve to do it. Focus on your family, honor your commitments, contribute to a charitable cause, live a life with passion and purpose. Make a fresh start and people will slowly regain their confidence in your approach. Over time, they will regain trust in your brand. But keep in mind this could take a few years.

The above tips are time-proven and will do the trick in most cases. They do assume that the wrong-doer really does want to make a change and regain public trust. But what if that’s just not in the cards? In those cases, maybe you’ll want to take some pages from Karl Rove’s playbook and start obscuring the facts, or maybe do things to evoke public sympathy — OK, you know I’m being sarcastic here. In Tiger’s case, maybe he could start uncovering dirty dalliances by Phil Mikelson and other tour pros to draw attention away from himself. Dr. Drew also opened a big sympathy card by asserting that Tiger is addicted to sex. That’s it, he has an illness. What a cop out strategy that is! Tiger just needs to “man up” and admit that he was unfaithful, apologize to everyone, and sincerely commit to changing his ways and making a fresh start.

So, what are your thoughts about the Tiger Woods fiasco? Do you have other tips for him about how to repair his personal brand? Do you think that Tiger is really serious about rebuilding his image?

BTW: For me, the one good outcome related to all of this hoopla is that as I was skimming the post-a-minute blog rolls, I did see several heartfelt posts from men saying how much they loved their wives and that they would never cheat on their spouses because of the marriage commitment they shared. These nice guys were trying to make the point that there still are a few great, honorable men with integrity out there in the world. That was reassuring to read and I know it is true. These men may not get widespread public recognition for the dedicated and honorable lives they are leading but they are the very best of men in my eyes.

When Does Brand Reputation Get Tarnished?

Wednesday, December 9th, 2009

I’m not embarrassed to say that my wife and I seek out our children to help with installing new electronic devices. On the flip side, they both find it quite odd to hear me say “I didn’t have a PC/cell phone/digital camera when I was your age”. Our society has become so technology focused it’s a wonder we can even walk to the corner market and buy something without using technology – oh wait, they’ll scan my preferred club card and I will pay with my debit card – guess that example doesn’t work.

There are many great technologies available today that help our world. Whether it’s a new medical device to help regulate diabetes, e-mail so that I can stay in touch with my son’s teacher, or a photo-sharing Web site that allows me to post old photos with high school friends, technology seemingly has invaded all aspects of our life. But now it’s even crept into the holidays.

I’m a big fan of social media. I’ve reconnected with many old friends and colleagues via Facebook and Twitter. But now I think we may have gone too far by shattering the innocence of little kids around Christmas time. For years people have been able to track Santa’s sleigh on Christmas Eve thanks to our friends at NORAD. Well, now you can also link in and stalk Santa via Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Google Earth and Flickr. But this one takes the cake.

A partnership with navigation company OnStar and NORAD allows subscribers to get live Santa updates on their in-car GPS system. So I can grab my kids, put them in the car, and drive around as we track Santa’s whereabouts. I wonder if Mrs. Claus tracks him throughout the rest of the year, not that Santa Claus has ever been accused of being unfaithful but it makes you wonder that he can slip into so many houses unnoticed.

So what’s the point of this little missive? When does a company’s brand get tarnished by going overboard? More social/political, when do you reconsider your feelings for a company when something goes wrong? Do you think any less of OnStar for this blatant abuse of holiday traditions? Will you stay away from Nike or Gillette due to Tiger Woods’ recent bumper car fiasco? On a much grander scale, would you shy away from purchasing a product or doing business with a company in a foreign country that you do not support? Building brand reputation takes a lot of time and effort but can all of that goodwill be thrown out the door with one simple misstep?

The Sorry State of Technology Reporting

Friday, December 4th, 2009

As anyone who has been in the technology industry for a while knows, the heyday of the IT publications has long since past. I remember when PC Magazine was the size of one of the bridal magazines – a veritable tome chock full of reviews, commentary and, of course, tons of ads. Now the few publications that still do hardcopy are the size of pamphlets.

More alarming, however, is what the move to an online model is doing to the quality of the journalism and reporting, or lack therefore. The most recent example is the bogus report of a “black screen of death” in Windows 7.  Security research firm – at least that what they say they are – Prevx published a blog post that a new patch was impacting “millions of users.”

As PC World reported several days after its earlier erroneous reports:

The initial blog post from Prevx on Black Friday claims that “millions” of Windows 7, Vista, and XP systems are impacted by the black screen of death issue, and that the problem is caused by updates Microsoft pushed out during the November Patch Tuesday. Neither of those claims has turned out to be true.

Reporters with even a modicum of training and discipline would have questioned the Prevx blog posting and gotten a second verification before running with the story.  As I learned in J-school 101, the fallacy of the expert is a trap avoid. Ed Bott of ZD-Net does a great job of walking through the “sordid, depressing episode” as he calls it.

Indeed, it is sordid and depressing. But it’s hardly the first time and definitely won’t be the last. While publishing houses like IDC are no longer enjoying the bountiful revenue streams of the past, their influence still extends far and wide.  With the decreased revenue streams, editorial budgets and staff have been sliced. This means more junior reporters with less editorial oversight. At the same, reporters feel the heat to deliver breaking news in real time.  As Prevx demonstrated, this system is easily gamed to the detriment of all.

The tech media, unfortunately, appears to be trapped in negative feedback loop. As ad spending declines, editorial staff is cut back, this lowers editorial quality creating inaccuracies and errors, this turns off readers, the publication loses circulation, and ultimately ad revenue declines further, restarting the cycle. Continued shakeout is inevitable.

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Given the flimsy state of the tech media, technology companies (and I’d venture companies in other industries as well) can ill-afford to have mainstream media be the primary method of communication to the market.  It’s critical to use social media tools and build an effective channel that lets you talk directly to your customers and partners. Chances are your customers are much more likely to believe what your CEO writes on his blog over what some “research” firm with an agenda feeds to the media.

Why Not Use the Real Rock Star?

Tuesday, December 1st, 2009

Intel has always had such impressive branding campaigns; they’re a great example of how to give a cool personality to a company that makes really, really geeky products. The “Intel inside” campaign was pure genius, they were able to create awareness to the average Joe, who likely didn’t understand what Intel’s technology was inside the computer, but just knew that it must be a good thing that it’s in there.

Intel’s new advertising campaign continues this same kind of genius. Personalizing the company while conveying how seriously they take their work and product. My favorite ad is “Our Rock Stars aren’t like Your Rock Stars”

Awesome. Love it. But…heard that they didn’t use the real Ajay Bhatt, co-inventor of the USB, instead using an actor. I know this is common practice but it would have just been so cool if they actually used the real guy. Still a great ad and a great campaign but I can’t help but be a little bit disappointed.


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