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January 2009

microsoft songsmith - this isn't a joke?

Logo_songsmithWhen I first caught the video below, I thought it was a joke.

To my horror, it isn't.

A quick Google Search (irony?) reveals that this is in fact, legit.  Microsoft has created a program that allows you to sing a tune into your computer, and Songsmith will automatically generate an early 90s midi style accompaniment.  While I applaud the technology, which must involve some fairly robust pattern recognition, pitch approximation and auto-accompaniment capabilities, I wonder who the intended audience is.

  • Is this is meant for the Wii/Guitar Hero crowd, who is looking for simple, intuitive access to rich experiences? 
  • Is this a free sample of what will become a far more robust home-musician offering from Microsoft? 
  • Or is this a free giveaway of a simple tool, intended only for branding purposes (with minimal thought to utility)?

the battle of misconception

7240060_1332e880ff_o You can never control the conversation. 

But you there are times when a little information can go a long way.  Unfortunately, bad news travels faster than a good reason.

The challenge presented is that of effective communication.

Consider Israel's Perspective:

  • Hamas, supposedly a humanitarian organization, captured and has been holding onto Gilad Shalit, an Israeli soldier, for years.
  • Hamas, supposedly a humanitarian organization, airs the equivalent of Sesame Street for Terrorists, a television program honoring "the martyrs" - suicide bombers and masked gunmen.
  • Hamas, supposedly a humanitarian organization, held up humanitarian aid for their people, selling 100 aid trucks on the black market.
  • Hamas, supposedly a humanitarian organization, has used UN ambulances as troop carriers.
  • Hamas, supposedly a humanitarian organization, has stocked and fired rockets in and from homes, schools and houses of worship.
  • Hamas, supposedly a humanitarian organization, has been firing rockets indiscrimnatley at civilian targets without stop for years.
  • Hamas, supposedly a humanitarian organization, broke their own cease fire agreement, continuing to fire rockets on the civilian population of southern Israel.

The striking power of an image on a news site or video on YouTube doesn't provide context.  It doesn't inform, it distracts.

Last night I encountered a humanitarian on the train.  She was concerned for the children of Gaza.  As am I.  As is my family.  But is the humanitarian solution is to allow the further indoctrination of children, to allow a terrorist organization to hide among a civilian population, to allow continued rocket fire on Israel's southern population, or to allow weapon caches under a school building?  Is the humanitarian solution to allow this to continue, pending UN actions?  And while this humanitarian agreed with all of the above statements, she still believed that Hamas is a humanitarian organization and Israel is oppressing them.  Because "pictures don't lie".  (The UN has yet to issue a single negative statement in regard to Hamas's humanitarian crimes of late, let alone take any action to encourage Hamas compliance with humanitarian international laws.)

Israel is struggling in the information war not based on the facts on the ground, but the emotionally charged soundbytes of a clip.

Misconception is dangerous.  Is education is the only cure?  And if so, what can we do as a (web) community to help inform?

photo credit here

guest blogging - joining the PB team

Team It is my pleasure to announce that beginning this Thursday, I will be guest blogging over at Dan Schawbel's Personal Branding Blog.

Please join me in welcoming my fellow contributors to table.  Our publishing setup will be as follows:

  • Dan (Monday): If you don't know Dan, it's time to start subscribing to his blog.  This is one smart guy.
  • Beverly Macy (Tuesday): Teaches social media marketing at UCLA and is the Co-Founder and Managing Partner of Y&M Partners.
  • Paul Dunay (Wednesday): The Global Director of Integrated Marketing at BearingPoint, Inc.
  • Jonathan Burg (Thursday): That's me!
  • Jacob Share (Friday): The founder and SVP of Share Select Media.
  • Adam Salamon (Saturday): The Partnerships Director at Bazaarvoice, Inc.
  • Katie Konrath (Sunday): She is a creativity specialist who helps companies come up with fresh new product and service ideas.
  • Maria Elena Duron (Editor): She is the president of Buzz To Bucks.

It's going be an exciting year!  If you have any thoughts on personal branding, please feel free to leave a note below.

facts don't inspire

Facts inform.

Optimism Inspiration comes from an emotional place.  Sure, it needs some grounding in reality in order to feel authentic, but inspiration often needs little more than basic substantiation.

This is where the 24 hour news networks run into trouble.  Facts do no inspire, do not drive ongoing viewership.  Emotional perspectives are far more effective.  And so they often become instruments of perspective rather than reports of the news.

This is where Israel runs into trouble.  There looks to be little room to argue the facts or present historical context when a soundbite or image pulls at your heartstrings.

This where brands need to rethink their value proposition in the months ahead.  Pragmatists may see short-term wins as "value brand" in a down economy, but where will they be once we can afford to spend emotionally?  Once we aspire for more?  For greater? Once we resume spending emotionally?

To that point, how will Obama keep his sunny outlook and inspirational cheer for change and hope while dealing with the pragmatic reality of the presidency?

When real messages find themselves face to face with emotional nonsensical drivers like the Pepsi rebranding video below, what chance does stark reality have without an emotional driver supporting the message?

Kudos to Joanna Pena-Bickley for sharing the Pepsi message and inspiring me to pull this post out of the hopper.

the 24/7 retail mistake - CVS needs to read this

Clock Your sign claims that you're open 24/7.

  • But do you have a manager on call 24/7?
  • Is your 3AM staff as capable as your 3PM staff?
  • Is your store as presentable at 3AM as it is at 3PM?

Is your 3PM store/product different from your 3AM store/product?

In retail, the shopping experience largely defines your consumer equity statement. 

Consider CVS.  While we appreciate the fact that we can pick up cold medicine and baby diapers at 3AM, I would call it a stretch to claim that the store is truly open.  Cashiers are nowhere to be found, products are thrown across the aisles and for some reason, half the magazines are lopsided or open.  This is not a convenient shopping experience.

Convenience is not only defined by the hours your doors are open, but by the shopping experience once a customer walks through your doors. 

Last night I walked in to CVS to place an order.  Today I came in to pick it up, only to be told that "I cannot be responsible for what a night staffer told you". 

I walked out. 

Truth be told, I may go back next time we have another midnight emergency, but I don't know that I would return under any other circumstances. 

Their brand has been redefined.  They are my 3AM store.  Any other normal hour of the day, I'll be heading to my local mom and pop store, where service is consistent and nobody raises their voices

PS - they smile there too!

photo credit here

Future Visions: Hulu

Hulu's been out for a while.  And while I was at first skeptical, I now regularly enjoy their offering.

But what's next for Hulu? 

  • Will their growth be in a broader library or in added functionality?
  • Will new platforms like Tivo or downloadable content drive increased value?

They've got us watching.  They occasionally have us interacting.  But is this really all they could, or should be doing to grow their business?

  • Isn't there a massive ad opportunity in a Hulu desktop utility with a program guide?
  • Wouldn't a distribution partnership with Microsoft delivering free ad supported downloads drive real equity for a next gen Zune?
  • Wouldn't a section containing all of their advertiser spots, fully embeddable, drive added value to advertisers?  Allowing them to utilize Hulu to launch "viral" video campaigns?

Sure, you need to the content to drive the eyeballs.  But please Hulu, don't forget about breaking the technology mold.  You did it once.  The market will demand that you do it again.  Or someone else will.

10 common startup mar comm mistakes

Ooops All too often, there are a few basic mistakes marketing  communications overlooked by startups.  These little oversights just drive me batty.  Below please find my list of pet peeves/easy mistakes often made by startups.

  1. Put an "About Page" on your website. Tell me about yourself. Who are you? Where are you in life/funding? Is your offering live?  Is there a link to as assets page, so I can grab pictures, screengrabs etc and share with clients or teams? Help me to help you!
  2. Link the logos on your "Clients" page to either your products live in market with these clients or case studies outlining your contribution.  Tell me your story!
  3. Never claim to be "the only", "the best", "best in class" or "industry leading".  These words mean nothing to anyone with any experience, and are often far from true.
  4. Make your contact information clearly accessible.  Put a phone number, AIM ID and a contact name and email address on your site. DO NOT make me go to Google Maps to back-trace your listed address or domain registration address to a phone number.
  5. Return requests from information from prospects quickly.  Returning a message 6 months later will get you nowhere (and this happens ALL THE TIME!). 
  6. If you've got a lead, even if you aren't quite ready for their business, keep the conversation alive. Invite them into focus groups.  Get them enthused.  Keep them excited.  Never turn away a lead.  Embrace the people who will be writing your paychecks once you're past VC funding.
  7. Sell your business benefits, not just your tech features (courtesy of Chris Kieff and Mike Spataro)
  8. Know your place in the market. This requires having a clue what your competitors are up to.  Make sure the faces of your company, your sales staff, is equally well educated.
  9. If you're getting a lot of questions, put up a FAQ page.  
  10. Bring in a full time marketing communications specialist, hire an agency, or at the very least use a consultant (hat tip to AY Fuld) Mar Comm is an art, not a technology play.  Technology enables conversations, people make them happen.  You may have the coolest tech in the world, but without the ability to tell your story in the right way, to the right people, you're only hope is to befriend Arrington or Pete Cashmore.  And THAT is not a sustainable mar comm strategy.
photo credit here

the innovation "tradition"

InnovationsThe tradition upon which America was founded was one of change, of overthrowing tradition, of reinventing the norm.


Nothing is written in stone.

The tradition of innovation, of change, is one of constant evolution.

There are no rules. There are best practices at current.  But there are no rules written in stone.

The first movers, the early adopters and the revolutionaries face the challenge of putting their necks out on the line.  Some will be crowned as visionaries.  Others will be dismissed as crazies.

Never say no just because of convention.  The tradition of the web is one of breaking with convention.

Don't close your doors to opportunity just because it hasn't been done. 

Think rationally, think strategically, and act accordingly.

Embrace the tradition of breaking with tradition.

Inspired by Mack Collier's post over at Marketing Profs.

photo credit here