Guy, Truemors, and Being…Stupid?

Guy Kawasaki today launched his new web 2.0 application, Truemors, which focuses on something important to all – well, to some – I guess to a few: rumors.

Taking a glance at the site, I can immediately conclude that it won’t be part of my daily diet (Guy’s blog, on the other hand, is a regular read).

However, I admire Guy, and I absolutely loved the WSJ column today (Marketing section, subscription required) in which Lee Gomes profiles Guy, tells of the low-cost start-up costs for this venture, and shows why Guy is a popular fellow. He is refreshingly candid, authentic, and really doesn’t seem to have a whole lot to prove anymore. The (nicely-crafted!) title of the article: In New Net Economy, Everyone Gets to be Stupid for 15 Minutes.

From the article:

    It’s obviously in the debt of several popular Web 2.0 sites, notably Twitter, where users post short updates about their current activities, or Digg, where readers vote for the stories they like best. As for rumors and gossip, the stock-in-trade at Truemors, they don’t now seem to be in short supply, World Wide Web-wise.

    But — and this may be the part of the episode with the biggest trend potential — Mr. Kawasaki responds to all such criticisms with a shrug, along with an explanation of the new economics of the Internet.

    Apparently, Web businesses now aren’t much harder to make than YouTube videos. Mr. Kawasaki says he has been working on Truemors for just three months. Because it uses free software, with programming done by a for-hire outfit in called Electric Pulp located in the high tech mecca of South Dakota, the costs are minimal. Mr. Kawasaki says to date, he has spent $12,000 on Truemors.

    Or, as he puts it, “During the dot-com bubble, you needed $5 million to do stupid ideas. Now you can do stupid ideas for 12 grand.”

    With so little at stake, Mr. Kawasaki can afford to adopt a tone of almost cheerful agnosticism when fielding questions. Will Truemors have any redeeming social purpose? “The real answer is, ‘I don’t know,'” he replies. Will the things people read on Truemors be true? “As much as anything else they read on the Internet,” he says.

    Mention that he seems to not know a lot about how his business will shake out and Mr. Kawasaki lets you in on a little secret. “If you raise $2 million from VCs, you have to pretend like you ‘know’ all this stuff. The truth is whether it’s $12,000 or $2 million, you really don’t know. The only difference is what you think you can admit.”

Pharma Web Branding, Part 1 – Pfizer

I’ve spent a good portion of my career working with pharmaceutical companies on training and marketing initiatives, often including elements of web design.

Since a public website is a major opportunity to express one’s brand, I thought I’d examine the websites of a number of the larger pharma companies and critique how effectively they brand themselves – through logo, tagline, web interface structural design, and look/feel.

Today – Pfizer.

Pfizer has managed, over the last 10 years, to emerge as the largest pharmaceutical company through aggressive and disciplined marketing and sales (as well as strategic acquisitions). Their logo is well-known and is reasonably effective – the design is simple, easy on the eyes, and, if not inspired, certainly inoffensive. The current tagline, however – “Working for a healthier world” – is a snoozer. It could easily be swapped out with most of the other pharma taglines, all of which sound pretty much the same. They all tend to transmit the same safe themes – but I guess none of them would gain fans if they came out with “Medical Advances that Maximize Profits,” so we’re going to be stuck with the altruistic buzzwords.

The public website suffers from boring busy-ness. There is simply too much information up front. The interface uses the “Boxes and Bullet Points” structure, with so many choices that it does not draw in the visitor. This website is an attempt to give people the maximum number of destinations, but by putting Who We Are / What We Do / How We Help boxes (each with 4 choices underneath), ranged next to an imposing list of all their prescription products, visual overload is inevitable. The approach with this site design is: Here’s Pfizer! All of us! Take your pick! It’s a company-centric, not user-centric interface.

While the site does have some human faces, they don’t draw in, because the graphic is not being used to tell a story. It’s actually more of a boast (See? We help people who don’t have coverage!), which is a turn-off instead of a come-hither.

The use of color – particular, various shades of blue – is pretty boring, and the site does not cohere well on look/feel. It feels chopped-up instead of integrated. There’s no clear message, and no elements that really make me want to explore.

If I were to recommend a re-design for this site, I’d say bury the names of the medicines, and focus instead on the conditions treated. Put a patient story right up front. Figure out one or two main, engaging messages, and give them prominence. Find a way to have news and features, but not in the poorly formatted and tiresome list fashion shown at the bottom of the page. And change the navigation structure, so that choices can be made in a more natural sequence. The site needs an interface weight-loss program – simplicity is better than showing everything at once.

Snap, Crackle, Pop

I’ve just started reading the recent book Brand Sense, by Martin Lindstrom (related website here), which discusses how brands are built using all five senses. Even though I’m only a chapter or so into it, seems like a great read, and I am in full agreement with the premise. I think that smell and sound (in particular) are quite underappreciated in the brand experience.

This morning, I poured a bowl of Rice Krispies (sorry – a store generic version!) and heard that familiar “snap, crackle, pop!” sound as the milk went in. Immediately, memories rushed back in of eating RKs years ago, and of their immensely effective branding campaign focusing on the sound of their cereal.

A few months ago, I was in a higher-end hotel that was pumping a very attractive scent into the lobby. For destinations such as a store or hotel, creating a signature scent seems to me to be a very smart move. The olfactory sense is quite powerful and can deepen a brand experience (and therefore, attachment). In fact, I think one of the best things a town or small city could do is encourage the presence of a coffee company that roasts its own beans, and fills the area with that lovely aroma (hello, Roanoke VA and Mill Mountain Coffee).

The Duct Tape Marketing blog also has a recent post on the sensory aspects of marketing.

What other brands have you experienced that used a multi-sensory experience to reach you?

Image credit

Coffee and Donut Shops: spicing up a boring drive

It was a long and rainy drive to Boston last week. The scenery, of course, was ever-changing – the back of an 18-wheeler, the rooster-tail from an SUV, orange detour cones – but despite all that, staying alert and engaged was a challenge. What to do to help make the trip less of a snooze?

How about coffee? Specifically, comparing the coffees of the various donut shops as I snaked my way northward.

First stop: Krispy Kreme. One of their few stores in the area northeast is off I-95 in Milford, CT. Pulling up, I was happy to see the “Hot Now” sign lit up (hot donuts were being made!) – but then, was quickly dismayed to discover that they no longer – as of a few days before – hand out free samples of those delectable rings of sweetness to customers! Hey, that was the main reason my family and I have stopped there all these times on trips to Connecticut! One great branding idea destroyed, probably by some cost-cutter in HQ. Nonetheless, I do like their coffee pretty well – esp. the bold roast. I’d give KK a ranking of 2nd place among my stops this day.

Then, of course, there is Dunkin’ Donuts. For those in the northeast, and especially New England, I should say the ubiquitous DD. Their coffee has always been consistently decent, and today was no exception. Some years ago, they did a limited trial of a DD Dark Roast, and I used to Go Out Of My Way (one of my ultimate measures of brand attachment!) to get that brew. Alas, for reasons that have never been clear to me, they shelved it. The DD cup, on this day, ranked third.

And in first place? Well, we had dinner with some friends who moved down from Canada recently, and they recommended Tim Horton’s. Now Tim Horton’s donut shops are big in Canada, but only recently have they begun invading the U.S., starting (I assume) in New England. Having stored that tidbit in memory, when I saw a Horton’s sign off the highway, I pulled in for my first TH coffee experience. And, I’d have to say that it nudged out the Krispy Kreme brew by a few grounds.

Of course, on my way home I saw the welcome sight of a Starbucks sign, and that cup easily topped the others. What can I say? – I like strong, dark coffee. But I still haven’t found the equal of my all-time favorite, Mill Mountain Blend. Why can’t these folks expand from central VA to north Jersey??

Are your ideas Made to Stick?

This will be the best business book I’ll read all year. I know that already.  And if you need to communicate with other people (who doesn’t?), it may be one of your top picks also.

Made to Stick has the telling subtitle, Why some ideas survive and others die. The main thesis is this: there are ways to package your ideas that allow them to stick in the minds of your audience. Building on a key concept (“stickiness”) from Malcolm Gladwell’s seminal book, The Tipping Point, authors Chip and Dan Heath uncover the anatomy of ideas that embed themselves into the minds and hearts of people.

 The book is clearly written, very approachable, and filled with memorable examples that, of course, exemplify the main intent of the book. The principles outlined are nothing earth-shatteringly new, but they are presented in such a way as to provide a practical call to arms for more skillful and creative expression.

According to the authors, communication that sticks needs to maximize simplicity, unexpectedness, concreteness, credibility, emotional connection, and the use of stories. When you think of some of the world’s best communicators, you see the fingerprints of these practices all over their preserved productions.

This is a passion of mine – distilling down to the core idea and expressing it well, whether in writing, public speaking, teaching, or any other format. I see this skill as the key success factor in creating good branding – but I think the principle applies equally to training, copywriting, and even parenting. I recommend this book highly to anyone who seeks to communicate more effectively.

Impactivities: Sarah Brightman

(Impactivities are non-work-related things that I enjoy…maybe you will too!)

I first discovered Sarah Brightman while wandering in a music store in Denver one evening. I heard this astounding voice flowing out of the overhead speakers, asked a twenty-something clerk who in the world THAT was! Had never heard of Sarah Brightman, and was not familiar with a fusion of rock and operatic singing. Nonetheless, I was captivated. Of her works, I like Eden, Harem, and Time to Say Goodbye best of all. If you like to hear amazing female vocals, give Sarah a listen (on one song, she holds a single note for – I counted – 33 seconds!)

Note: this endorsement of Sarah’s music is not an endorsement of her manner of dress, which is somewhat…how shall we say…less than modest.

Marketing Wisdom Report

From the folks over at Marketing Sherpa, the brand-spanking new 2007 version of their Wisdom Report – 110 stories and nuggets from Sherpa readers. Free download here.

Wall Street Journal re-design

Yesterday, the WSJ implemented their latest major re-design. They changed a lot of things – a new custom-made typeface (nice), new sections and layout, new graphics, etc.

However, one of the biggest changes is that they “narrowed” the size of the paper, as others have recently done. It is now 5 columns across, so actual page size is smaller, and therefore the content per page is less.

And this leads me to my main first impression of the new format – it just doesn’t “feel” right. Call me petty, but one thing that really bothered me was that I was turning the pages too fast for a Wall Street Journal – I’d glance at any given 2-page spread, often see little of interest, and quickly (as if it was a copy of USA Today) be moving on to the next page. The proportion of ad space vs. news/analysis per page spread seemed out of whack. My experience with the WSJ over the years is that you go through slowly and deliberately, because there is a lot of substance per page.

OK, maybe I’ll get used to it, and it’s just a passing reaction to something new. I’m a fairly conservative person (one reason I read the WSJ, after all!) and don’t always immediately react positively to change. And I do appreciate the efforts the paper makes to modernize and improve. But it is remarkable to me that the most powerful impression about this new format, for me, was “feel” of the pages – size, and speed of turning. It’s interesting, how many contextual attachments we can develop around a product/brand, and what impact a change can have…

Personal Branding

Time magazine recently ran an article on the topic of “Personal Branding”. I’m a major believer in this idea. Actually, we all have a “brand” image that we project, and that others hold in their minds about us. The only question is, are deliberate about it, or not? Identifying the core traits, perspectives, and capabilities that make us who we are is critical if we are to be rightly “positioned” in the minds of our audience. One of the things I enjoy most is sitting down with people, rapidly distilling down what their strengths and desires are, and then brainstorming what directions to take based on their core identity.

I’ve subscribed to William Arruda‘s newsletter on Personal Branding for quite a while (he is featured in the Time article). Despite the less-than-optimal design of his website, he’s apparently doing quite well. Good for him – as long as personal branding exercises are based on authenticity and transparency, this approach can only do good.


Looks like I’m going to have to buy this book, based on the Table of Contents, and this post about brand names. Marty Neumeier is definitely on the same wavelength!

Hat Tip: Brand Autopsy

Go it Alone (book review)

I should begin by saying that I am quite in sympathy with this book’s thesis, which can be boiled down (to oversimplify a bit) to one phrase: Do what you do best, and outsource the rest. In starting my own business, that is exactly what I am doing.

Bruce Judson, the author, brings out some great reasons for pursuing “light footprint” entrepreneurship (my term, not his). So many functions and so much technology can now be outsourced, via web-enabled communications and applications, that a world of opportunity is now open which could not be dreamed of a decade ago.

One of the effective marketing approaches employed by Judson was to make the entire text of the book available on the web. If his bet was that this would entice a serious reader to buy the book after sampling some good content, then it worked in my case. I’d far rather read a printed book that scan a monitor.

If you’re thinking about starting a one-person or very small business, I think the content here will be quite helpful and a needed boost of encouragement. However, the book (and website) are not without flaws.

First of all, the book is over 200 pages. It could easily have been 80-90, with better editing. There is a lot of repetition, redundancy, repeating himself, and using the same examples over and over and over again. The overall structure is not tight – too sprawling. And, in various places in the book, various resources are offered on the website – but when you go to the site, no such resources are to be found (the site design is also very amateurish, including even a misspelling on one of the main categories).

That said, I’d buy the book over again, because it has been an encouragement and affirmation for my chosen course of entrepreneurship. Despite the less-than-optimal execution, Judson is “onto something”, and that’s the main thing. If you’re going to “Go it Alone”, you’ll derive some serious value from this book.

Impactiviti scale: for content, for presentation


Impactiviti provides strategic consulting services to increase brand impact.


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