Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Guiding Principles in Reciprocity

Reciprocity with a twist (source)

One of the most important lessons in life is this: "Do unto others what you want others to do unto you." This universal principle is especially important in the relationship oriented world of social media marketing.

Let me explain this attitude of altruism.

First, many bloggers, youtubers, flickrers, twitterers, and facebookers are well connected. If you're known as one who not only request for favours but returns them as well, you're more likely to enjoy positive word of mouth.

Being seen as a helpful guy/gal also gives you credibility in the eyes of others. If you can practice what you preach (something that is often easier said than done), you will be able to gain new friends/fans/followers amongst both digital and physical communities.

In a digital world that is so full of negativity, conflicts, and one upmanships, extending a benevolent hand does wonders for one's reputation. Paying it forward does go some way towards ensuring the longevity of your social media career.

Does that then mean that you should accept every invitation which comes your way? Well, there are some points to bear in mind.

Reciprocating the kindness of others doesn't mean that you no longer live for yourself. There will be times when you simply can't accede to all the requests for help. I myself have occasionally failed my friends and I do apologise for my absence when that happens.

Every now and then, a good-intentioned invitation may also not be entirely appropriate for one's content. Or it may come during a peak period when your plate is full. In times like these, you should explain yourself if you can, and find ways to reciprocate that act of kindness when conditions are right.

Inevitably, there will be some slips along the way. It is difficult to be totally fair in every social or professional transaction when the balance of power isn't equal. Certain folks will have more bargaining chips in their favour relative to others.

I suppose what's important ultimately is to examine one's intention. What goes around, comes around. This is especially significant in the relationship oriented world of social networks.

The law of reciprocity is an important one in relationship and social media marketing. It helps to engender positive feelings and vibes all around, and these helps to further one's cause.

However, one should also recognise that it isn't always possible to expect a fair and equitable exchange. There will be circumstances when reciprocity may not totally work in one's favour. Should that happen, it may be good to give the other party the benefit of the doubt.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

The First Rule in Strategic Planning


What is the most important point in conceiving any strategic plan?

Is it being clear on your long-term strategic objectives (ie vision, mission and values)? Well, that's certainly important as you must know where your destination is.

Is it having a good understanding of your external and internal environments? Well, being updated on your unique operating context is definitely key.

Is it about involving key stakeholders in the process? Well, getting buy-in is definitely vital in ensuring the success of any strategy.

While the above factors do figure largely, what is probably more critical is ensuring that the pieces all fit in nicely. In other words, whatever you start in a strategic framework must have a finish that ties in with your earlier intentions.

A good strategic plan is one that also considers the capabilities, resources, timeframes, and operational realities of an organisation. Aspiring to dethrone Youtube or Amazon sounds exciting but have you truly mapped out the road to get there - without those rose-tinted glasses?

This is exemplified by two Chinese sayings:

1) "有头有尾" which means that there must be both a beginning and an end, and

2) “纸上谈兵” which illustrates the act of discussing strategies only on paper (and not implementing them on the ground).

Steven Covey's Seven Habits has also articulated this nicely with his philosophy of beginning with the end in mind.

What does this mean in practice?

For a start, you need to be sure that whatever framework you have chosen to adopt can be met realistically on the ground. Consider the 5 Cs of your organisation: namely its cash, culture, characters, capabilities and circumstances.

Having 100 KPIs measuring every single breath that your organisation takes may sound good on paper, but is likely to be a nightmarish exercise for everybody! Similarly, a start-up business staffed by straight-suited bean counters is unlikely to cream the Golden Lion awards.

Next, you need to check for coherence in how the individual strategies and tactics fit into the grand overarching framework. Is there a feedback mechanism to allow you to check how far you have arrived against the original plan? What are the intermediate steps taken to ensure that each brick laid goes into building that masterpiece?

Measuring outcomes vis-a-vis targets and objectives are also important. Whatever you have stated as a bold goal needs to be authenticated by its results. Don't set yourself up for failure by proclaiming an audacious ambition that can never be reached. At the same time, don't under project your targets - we need to be stretched to truly achieve our best!

Finally, it is important to read, refine, and redo your plan a couple of times before presenting it to your stakeholders (management, board, or funders). Strategic planning is a thorough and painstaking process, and it is easy to get lost in the woods. If you're tired at the end of a long working day, take a break first before tackling the task. Once you're refreshed, dive back into the details of that onerous ocean.

Like a jigsaw puzzle, every piece in a strategy should fit into the bigger picture. Only then, can a true masterpiece emerge.


(Of course, implementation is critical too, but that's another story altogether)

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Capitalising on Curiosity

Ethan Peeking at Pygmy Hippo

Human beings are naturally curious creatures.

Babies have an insatiable interest in whatever's happening around them. They will see, hear, feel, smell, taste and even swallow their world.

Kids have a boundless inquisitiveness. They are known to ask questions - while wearing their parents down - about everything under the Sun.

Teens are naturally intrigued by the lure of exploration and discovery. Many of the most popular online games are centred on the themes of solving mysteries while accumulating credits.

Even adults have a natural "kaypohness" about them. Ever noticed how many drivers will slow a car down when passing an accident scene, or cock their heads to peek at a police car with lights flashing?

The strange thing however is that many marketers - and I'm guilty as charged here - prefer to take the safe and easy road in purveying our wares. Hard pressed for time and results, we'd rather do a straightforward, in-your-face, hardselling advertisement that leaves nothing to the imagination.

Peppered with the usual mandatories - sales, lucky draws, freebies, coupons - many of our advertisements are beacons of buzzwords. "FREE", "NOW", "ONE-FOR-ONE", "WHILE STOCKS LAST!" and the ubiquitous "SALE" are some of the more pernicious phrases commonly found on our marketing collaterals.

Intensely focused on our bottomlines and KPIs, much of our marketing is like a 100 metre dash. We want to get from point A to point B as fast as possible, without any obstacles in the way.

The irony, however, is that we have taken the fun out of the whole process for our customers. By giving the whole game away, we have snuffed out the romance, mystique, intrigue, and allure of consumption. Must everything be so straightforward and easy? Where is the thrill of the chase?

Look at Apple. By shrouding their product development process in secrecy, they have managed to whet the appetite of a global fanbase. Steve Jobs is a master of mystery, weaving his wand like a magician on stage while enchanting and entrancing his audiences.

Another example hails from the wizarding world of Harry Potter (now a major theme park). By slowly releasing book after book, movie after movie, and finally a fully glorious 3D thematic experience, J K Rowling and her associates know the power of tapping on one's curiosity.

Naturally, curiosity marketing requires a fair amount of planning, preparation and scripting. It entails the necessity of exploring what's different, special, weird, out-of-whack, or unconventional. It demands one to be bold and daring in determining where the elements of surprise can be injected into one's campaign, layer by layer, piece by piece.

The next time you consider launching a full-scale advertising assault on your hapless customer, do ponder about the possibilities of getting them involved in a game perhaps. Pique their interest, entice them, and game them if you may. Provide clues that they can solve and get them so entrenched in exploring your world that parting with their cash is no longer painful.

Easier said than done, I suppose. However, I'm gonna try this approach soon. Will you join me?

Monday, September 20, 2010

The Power of Personality

"Personality not included" by Ogilvy Public Relations' Rohit Bhargava is a seminal piece of work on marketing strategy. Unlike many other "guru texts" which I've read, Rohit nicely balances theory and technique, giving readers plenty of useful case studies and a framework that they can work on.

The central premise behind the book is that personality is the single most important element in one's products, brands and company. In order to do so, companies should embrace their accidental spokespersons, ie customers, partners, employees or other stakeholders who are known to be vocal about the brand and the organisation. They should also loosen up overly rigid regulations that incite fear in their people, while still maintaining some semblance of control.

Succeeding in the new consumer or corporate space also requires one to adopt the tenets of Uniqueness, Authenticity and Talkability (UAT) - the theoretical core of the book - which are defined as follows:

Unique - Different from anything or anyone else
Authentic - Real, believable, and not fake
Talkable - Interesting, simple and viral

To make UAT come alive, Rohit proposes that companies and their employees should refrain from "marketingspeak". Instead, they should talk like a real person (in all written, visual and verbal forms), admit that they are marketing rather than disguising it, and have a sense of humour.

Storytelling figures largely in the development of one's personality, and Rohit suggests that the backstory of an organisation may instil more interest than its marketing collaterals. Here, there are five such models proposed:

Passionate Enthusiast - A driven individual takes a personal passion and builds into a successful business (eg, Moleskine)

Inspired Inventor - A tireless inventor who creates something new and different by not giving up on his/her vision (eg Molecular Gastronomy, Apple)

Smart Listener - A new company is created as a result of listening to customers, partners, or others (eg Google, Dell)

Likeable Hero - A dedicated individual overcomes all odds to make his/her idea work (eg, Innocent Drinks)

Little Guy versus Big Guy - An underdog company takes on a seemingly unbeatable, established adversary (eg Under Armour, Oil Can Henry's)

Overcoming the barriers to adoption is a critical factor in any personality marketing endeavour. Here, Rohit offered useful advice on how a position of authority within one's organisation allows one to resolve challenges such as prior success, uncertainty, tradition or precedence. Often this involved listening, increasing one's knowledge of the unknown, and arriving at a win-win position.

Perhaps the most fascinating part of the book for a marketing theoreticist cum pragmatist (like me) were the 10 techniques featuring the new styles of marketing as follows:

1) Curiosity Marketing - Engaging customers by inspiring their curiosity
2) Karmic Marketing - Doing something good without any expectation of reward
3) Participation Marketing - Participating in a dialogue without needing to lead it
4) Un-Whatever Marketing - Positioning your brand or product as the opposite of everything else
5) Sensory Marketing - Using the underutilised senses to promote your business
6) Antimarketing Marketing - Making fun of marketing or business to position your brand/product above it
7) Fallibility Marketing - Turning mistakes into moments to demonstrate your personality
8) Insider Marketing - Giving consumers special access to inside information or experiences
9) Incidental Marketing - Taking a small incidental element of your business and marketing it
10) Useful Marketing - Creating content that has value and using it for marketing (like Cooler Insights :)?)

Like any good business book, Rohit gave lots of examples and case studies. While some like Apple, Google and Virgin Airlines were quite done to death, others like Stacy's Sidewalk Pita Cart, Sister Hazel, Innocent Drinks and Timbuk2 were rather refreshing.

Presented in a clear and active tone of voice (sans buzzwords), the book was easily read and understood. What I especially like about Rohit is how he suggests that not everything can be solved by a blog, facebook account, tweet, or Youtube video.

Many of the approaches and examples detailed in the book have nothing to do with social media, which is presented more as a means rather than an end. Often, they involve more fundamental strategic shifts in thinking about how a company relates to all its stakeholders and presents itself.

For more information, do check out the very useful official blog for the book, as well as Rohit's own Influential Marketing blog.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Indulging (& Investing) with Intelligence

Sakuraya and MOF @ West Coast Plaza
How to have your sushi and eat it without guilt.

When it comes to spending and saving, there are two extreme groups of people.

The first, also known as the "miserable misers", will scrimp and save every single cent. Embracing the mantra of "saving for a rainy day", they nickel and dime their expenses. Naturally, the few material possessions in their home normally hail from the bargain bin!

The second, also known as the "super splashers", prostrates themselves at the feet of hedonism. Personifying the adage of "eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow may never come", it is common for them to go beyond their credit lines, visit the bank for an overdraft, and live from loan to loan.

Personally, I would advocate becoming an "intelligent indulger". Life is short, work is stressful and one shouldn't be too hard on oneself. At the same time, squandering one's retirement savings prematurely is an act of utter folly.

Here is where credit cards come into play. By using them in the right manner, one could possibly have one's cake/sushi and eat it.

But wait a minute, I hear you say. Aren't credit cards the doyen of debt? Wouldn't they promote wanton and reckless spending?

On the contrary, no. In fact, an over-extended cardholder who runs into serious debts is a bad credit card client.

As some of you may know, I have recently applied for a Citibank Platinum SMRT credit card. This is my second credit card in 13 years. Together with my wife, we have two Citibank credit cards in the family.

By leveraging on its wide range of rebates, special deals and regular promotions, my family and I are able to enjoy a good quality of life, saving quite a bundle each month without living like paupers. Admittedly, most of the spending gets charged to my wife's Citibank credit card rather than my own as she is our CFO!

The idea of intelligent indulgence requires you to balance your life priorities while monitoring your monthly expenses closely. It looks at keeping track of your personal cash flow patterns and ensure that all bills, via credit cards or otherwise, are paid on time.

It also mandates you to time big ticket items - like holidays, cars, apartments, home entertainment systems and so on - with specific milestones in finances. This is possible when one has sight of one's financial portfolio through developing personal financial statements.

For us, we have a specific "extravagance" cap each month and an annual budget set aside for holidays, gifts and other luxuries. While we do occasionally "bust our budget" so to speak, we always make it a point to pay all our bills on time.

Being an intelligent indulger also means selecting a credit card that best matches your lifestyle. Mix and match your history of spending with the card that can offer you the best value.

On the issue of managing credit, there are in fact five golden rules (courtesy of Citibank's Making the Most of Credit which you can download for FREE) that one should be mindful of:

1) Only incur the debt if it is absolutely necessary.

2) Repayment is a must - and it carries a price.

3) Borrow only the amount needed.

4) Plan your finances to ensure that you can repay the debt.

5) Build a standby emergency fund.

You can learn more about being more financially savvy by checking out Citibank's wonderful Managing Your Wealth series. There are six titles in all, and you can access all of them FREE online or purchase them at many bookshops.

Managing Your Wealth - An Investor Education Series from Citi Asia Pacific

With the right safeguards and fiscal wisdom in place, one need not fear the personal credit crunch any longer!

If you wish to enjoy a $20 TANGS shopping voucher ($40 if you apply for both Citibank Credit Card and Ready Credit), you can apply for a Citibank Credit Card online via this special link (only for Cooler Insight readers).

Double your chances in the
"Win with Citi" promotion, which gives you cool prizes like a Round the World Trip for 2 (plus $10,000 spending money) and more.

(Comparatively, offline signups will not get any vouchers while other online signups will only enjoy a $20 Marina Bay Sands voucher.)

Oh yes, just in case you're wondering, first year membership fees are waived. In fact, if you are applying for the SMRT credit card, fees are waived for two years!

This post is brought to you by Citibank Credit Cards.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Smashing Stereotypes

Courtesy of Psychology Today

One of the greatest sins committed by many marketers like myself is this - we like to pigeonhole people into boxes.

From demographics (age, sex, income, education, residential type), psychographics (alternative lifestylers, tech-savvy, adventurous, metro-sexuals), geographic (American, Middle Easterner) to ethnic (Chinese, Indian, Malay, Others), there are always convenient labels for us to understand our target audiences.

There are also generational generalisations of course.

If you're a Baby Boomer, you're likely to be hardworking, loyal and unquestioning of your organisation. Gen X-ers are supposed to be embrace greater heterogeneity, with a work ethic that balances sheer hard work with quality of life, while the Millenials (Gen Y) are purported to have a delayed transition into adulthood. Of course, many marketers would also tell you that you need to have a blog, Facebook fan page, Twitter account, Youtube channel and an iPhone app in order to reach teens!

As a parent, I am also acutely aware of the socio-cultural values which are imposed on my kid. For instance, being a boy, he is not supposed to like the colour pink, play with beads, or have a penchant for plushies. However, I refuse to subscribe to such gender stereotypes.

Perhaps the most tired clichés around are those that are racially, politically or religiously motivated (ie the most dangerous). For example, Asians are tech-loving geeks, Christians hate homosexuals, Blacks are great at sports, while Whites love to drink.

Admittedly, it is difficult to rid oneself of the natural tendency to place people into boxes. Many of us are so socially and culturally conditioned over the years that it takes a Herculean effort to veer away from conventional prejudices.

Despite these challenges, it is critical for today's marketer to learn how to think more independently when looking at our customers. Instead of going with the flow, let us learn how to look for new vistas where individual choices and "outliers" exist.

Examples of such "blue ocean" opportunities include the following:

- Clubs and pubs that cater to folks who have an eclectic taste in music from jazz and hip hop to trance and xinyao

- iPhone apps that are specially tailored for non-English speaking seniors

- Open house days for places of worship, complete with guided tours, to encourage anybody to freely visit

- Dating clubs for empty nesters whose significant others may have passed on

Adopting an unconventional perspective is tough to do. Our instincts honed by years of training and habituation tend to swing us towards the most obvious inclinations. However, breaking away from status quo could be more rewarding and enriching, not only from a business perspective, but a social and personal one.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Nothing Beats Sheer Hard Work

Thomas Edison worked endlessly to become the world's greatest inventor, with a record 1,097 patents to his name (picture source)

Our world is full of shamans, witch-doctors, snake-oil salesmen and 'gurus' encouraging people to take short cuts to success. We are relentlessly bombarded with pitches to instant riches, fame and glory such as the following:

- Be a day trader and make thousands in a week!

- Let your website/blog earn lots of money for you without lifting a finger!

- Want to retire at 35 and be a millionaire? Simply follow the examples in this book (usual price $500 but I'm now selling it to you for only $49.95).

Against such a backdrop of deceit, it is heartening to occasionally hear some words of wisdom from those whose heads are firmly screwed on to their bodies.

One such person is Kevin Roberts (CEO of Saatchi Worldwide) who shared insights on how genius is almost entirely the result of conscious effort and environmental stimuli as opposed to one's genes. Quoting from David Shenk's book The Genius in All of Us: Why Everything You've Been Told About Genetics, Talent, and IQ Is Wrong, Roberts stated that

'talent has less to do with the “gifts” that nature has endowed us with as it does with environmental and behavioral factors. That is, most of us aren’t destined to be talented or untalented. It’s something that happens over time, due to conscious effort and environmental stimuli.'

Malcolm Gladwell in Outliers cited in a similar fashion that it takes 10,000 hours of practice to become a maestro at anything - from basketball to violin, brain surgery to aeronautical engineering.

In other words, there is no instant formula for success (unless you are extremely lucky at the sweepstakes). Even people who are born to savants must work hard and fight their way, tooth and nail, to achieve greatness.

Many of us know that Singapore's success was predicated entirely on the blood, sweat and tears of our forefathers. The economic success of this city isn't built on rock and roll, but on endless hours of sheer hard work, often well into the night.

In an age of instant and mobile access, 24-by-7 connected convenience, and rampant outsourcing, one can easily be lulled into thinking that a few clicks of the mouse can replace what once took years of toil to accomplish.

Who needs to cite academic papers when I have wikipedia? Why bother to make anything when I can buy them off the shelf? Must I learn how to do anything at all when I can easily pay somebody else to do everything for me?

The truth, however, is that original work and relentless perseverance now becomes far more important than ever before. With the barriers of entry lowered by technology, one needs to grind away even harder to differentiate oneself and to stand out from the crowd.

The tenets of self-sacrifice, delayed gratification, focus, resilience, and determination are critical in any enduring personal or professional enterprise. While being first off the starting blocks gives one a headstart, it is far more imperative for one to stay the course, no matter how convoluted or difficult it may be. This is also why lifelong learning and upgrading is necessary for us in the road towards self actualisation.

Let me end by citing this saying I heard from a musician in an orchestra:

"If I fail to practice for a day, my section mates can tell the difference.
If I fail to practice for two days, the conductor can tell the difference.
If I fail to practice for three days, the audience can tell the difference."

Thursday, September 09, 2010

Balancing Between Buzz and Believability


There is an inherent paradox in the marketing world right now, especially with the onset of numerous social media and citizen centric channels. It is what I would call the authenticity anomaly of the digital age, which kind of goes like this:

To be the talk-of-the-town, pulling out all the cards one can muster to generate BUZZ.


To be authentic, real, and BELIEVABLE, regardless of one's company story.

Let's put it another way.

If you have fascinating corporate stories - spiced with personal asides and heartwarming moments - to tell a general audience, it is probably easier for you to ride the personality train. Here, penning a blogpost, putting up photo heavy updates on Facebook, piping out bite-sized gems on Twitter, or filming an amateur company video featuring the company clown are all par for the course.

We have all read, viewed or heard stories of companies which have done it. Embracing citizen and employee marketers from every department, their mantra is to let a thousand flowers bloom.

With so many colourful and charismatic colleagues and customers on board, surely one of them would have an interesting story to tell? Wouldn't they be able to share at least one or two terrific tit-bit to their friends, family members and associates, becoming agents of "spreadable" content?

After all, nothing beats generating buzz like having legions of fans helping to disseminate intriguing corporate episodes of a finely crafted organisational script, preferably transmedia style.

Yet many of us real life marketing practitioners know that relying purely on an organisation's own innate ability to grown an audience may not be enough. There are oceans, both blue and red, of competitors who are turning every marketing trick in the book. While we may have a more charming fable to weave, our enemies are investing so heavily in every media possible that I can no longer whisper into your ear, WOM style.

With product life cycles becoming shorter and shorter, technology developing faster and faster, and consumers becoming fussier and fussier, there is little rest for us marketers. Every new advertisement, brochure, poster, banner, blog, facebook fan page, twitter account, and youtube channel launched will face higher and higher barriers to entry.

While digital resources are often too cheap to meter, attention is finite.

Can we afford the slower burn needed for our brands to gain critical following while our competitors gain market share with more traditional mass-advertising techniques? Do our shareholders have the patience to wait quarter after quarter for a breakthrough while we strain our creative juices looking for an original made-from-within idea that can generate that mystical "viral" effect? Isn't it easier to cave-in and just engage the Black-Eye Peas/Zoe Tay/etc and splash them all over the dailies?

Perhaps a balance between mass appeal approaches and longer-term handcrafted endearment is needed. While one should start to build up storybanks of your organisation/brands and to script them engagingly into all customer touchpoints, one should also not shy away from using that extra help which mass broadcast and print media can offer.

What's important however, is for both strategies to dovetail and integrate with each other. If you're leveraging on popular approaches, ensure that they gel with your own backstory. Page by page, implement campaigns that use the power of popular culture, while adding chapters to your own corporate book.

Creating our own honest-to-goodness, pure and unadulterated content is crucial to generating credibility with our stakeholders. However, we need to also be realistic about what we can and cannot achieve, and to augment that approach with the occasional injection of buzz-worthy, mass-media enrapturing acts.

Monday, September 06, 2010

Celebrity Endorsement - To Do or Not To Do?

Zoe Tay and Imedeen - Positive Partnership or Fabulous Failure? (source)

Lights (tweet), Cameras (Facebook update), Action (blog post)!

One of the fastest growing phenomenon on social media channels is the rise in the number of celebrities leveraging on their reach. Almost all entertainment personalities have either a Facebook fan page, a blog, a Twitter account, a Youtube channel or all of the above these days.

While some are created by fans - a trend which began with fansites and forums in the past - many are developed by the glitterati class themselves, their artiste management companies, production houses, media owners and other corporate stakeholders.

By now, everybody ought to know that "A-list" celebrities often exert as much digital influence as they do in real and "reel" life. Just look at the list of top Twitter users based on the number of followers. While the most "liked" Facebook fan pages appear to have a broader representation (with Pizza and Coca-Cola making the list), stars like Michael Jackson, Megan Fox, and Lady Gaga are on that list.


With such a great following in the digital domain, should companies then work with the hottest personalities online (and offline) to become brand advocates?

First, the good news.

Working with a superstar allows a company or brand to raise its level of mindshare and top-of-mind-recall in previously untapped markets. A specific actor or actress may be popular amongst say heartland "aunties" and a washing powder brand could ride on that appeal to move stock. The hottest singer in a country's charts may also help a a new foreign product to penetrate its youth segment.

Leveraging on luminaries is also a quick way to associate a brand with the right values. Such a co-branding approach would work with athletes (eg Reebok with Yao Ming) whereby the brands could tap on the fan-base seeking to emulate whatever their their hero/heroine wears, uses or does.


As media magnets, celebrities also help to create buzz - both online and offline. The multi-million dollar deals that they sign with brands are often highly watched and monitored by the press. This could allow a relatively obscure brand to rise to prominence.

Check out the number of cameras on Britney! (source)

Next, the bad news.

While banking on an upcoming star could prove extremely profitable for brands, betting one's budget on a declining one could prove disastrous. Sure, Nike is still continuing its sponsorship deal with Tiger Woods despite his well publicised sexual shenanigans, but its latest commercial (see below) is attracting attention for the wrong reasons.

Celebrities are also highly fungible, ie the price for an endorsement deal is often decided by what the market is willing to pay more than anything else. While an up and coming starlet may be more amenable to contractual negotiations, white hot A-listers are unlikely to give you face-time unless the price is right. In case you do not remember, Yao Ming used to be with Nike before he defected to Reebok (ie highest bidder wins). Notice the little swoosh in the corner of his jersey?


Finally, the sheer number of endorsements, appearances, videos, posts and tweets by a celebrity may dilute one's brand prominence or just confuse the public. Conversely, a brand which switches its celebrity of choice too frequently may end up sending mixed signals about its brand identity and personality. If you think about a highly bankable star like Julia Roberts, for instance, which brand would automatically come to mind?

Julia Roberts may be Lancome's girl, but her face also launched a thousand other brands (source of photo)

So, with all that said, should your company grab a headlining superstar into the act? Yes and no.

One needs to consider the occasion and the need for celebrity endorsement. If its to get a relatively new and untested product out into the public consciousness, working with celebrities (the right ones that fit your brand profile) may help you to jumpstart that process.

Companies competing in extremely crowded consumer markets like FMCG products may also need that added famous flash-and-dash to stand out. In a highly cluttered and crowded market, it is hard to merely depend on Tom, Dick and Sally to make an impact.

Longer term however, a company should look at building its own brand and developing its own personality independent of its superstar advocates. While huge global brands like VISA, Nike, and Lancome could benefit from having similarly big names to prop their popularity, smaller outfits may be seen as "trying too hard" and lack consumer credibility.

Finally, celebrity endorsement should be seen as part of a marketer's tool box - the means rather than the ends. Not every marketing campaign warrants an actor, sportsman, or singer. However, if occasions call for it, one shouldn't shy away from tapping on their megawatt smiles and household names.

PS - Check out this great article on celebrity branding by Martin Roll too.

Saturday, September 04, 2010

Please Let Me Be Alone!

Albert Einstein was often lonely (image source)

In the increasingly interactive, urbanised and 24-by-7 connected world, there is value in unplugging oneself from the grid to spend time alone. With social technologies and smartphones constantly connecting us to others in our social sphere, such an imposed isolation may bring us much good. Having that "pause which refreshes" is important as it allows one's mind, body and soul to rejuvenate themselves.

Often, the greatest inspiration comes from instances of isolation, unfettered by the crowding and conforming concerns of the community. Many of the great geniuses created their pièce de résistance alone, in a place where they can focus all their intellectual and emotional energies on the task at hand. Momentarily freed from the mutterings of mundanity, their are able to weave their magic and make that masterpiece of science, art, literature or religion.

I'm not advocating becoming a withdrawn social hermit of course. One does need to mingle with the rest of humanity in order to fully appreciate the contexts and nuances of one's work, life and play. There is a time and place for tapping onto the wisdom of crowds, as well as the collective ideas, insights and emotions of one's social and professional circles.

However, the art and science of inspiration is often wrought in quiet solitude. As a colleague has put it, that "me-time" allows one to reflect, re-strategise and re-prioritise the ordeals and demands of modern day existence.

Naturally, some view going on vacations as a time of social and physical retreat. While holidays do have a recuperative effect, they are often structured for relaxation rather than creation. One often tends to soak in the sights, sounds, scents and sensations of a foreign land - it is more receiving than giving.

What I'm proposing instead is the taking of short solitary breaks - at the office, at home, or anywhere else one happens to be - in order to build and develop something. This can be as long as a day, or as short as an hour (anything shorter may be less effective).

During this magic hour (or two or three), you can focus intensively on a specific issue, project or problem. Study, dissect, scribble, analyse and draw if you wish. Look up all the references that you can find and write down those which are relevant. Do not let any external "noise" affect your train of thought, and be mindful of switching of all communication and online devices - yes, that includes your mobile, laptop, iPAD, line phone and anything else.

If you can't find a quiet place where you are, look for one somewhere and see if you can get permission to use it (let's face it, most of us work for bosses). If you're working on a personal project, speak to your loved ones and tell them that you do need that time and space to formulate and shape. I believe that most would understand that need.

In an age of megacities, global villages, Blackberries, wireless internet and an endless choice of physical and digital social gathering points, it is easy to go with the human flow. Don't be swept away by the endless waves of humanity. Rather, find that inner sanctum to focus, formulate and finish your next magnum opus.

Thursday, September 02, 2010

Can You Make Money from FREE?

Well, apparently Chris Anderson, author of New York Times bestseller The Long Tail and editor-in-chief of WIRED magazine, seems to think so. Moreover, you can still make a decent living out of it.

In his book, FREE: The Future of a Radical Price (which you download completely for FREE though I have the paid paper version), Anderson shared that charging people $0.00 for goods and services can only be possible primarily through cross-subsidies. These could take the following routes:

1) Direct Cross-Subsidies where everybody pays eventually one way or another (eg one-for-one free deals for DVDs). This is prevalent in retail outlets and consumer goods markets involving physical products;

2) The Three-Party Market where a third party (normally advertiser) pays to enter a deal for content, services, software and more between the producer and the consumer. Principally, the entire media industry was built on this model;

3) Freemium, whereby the basic product is free, but the premium product needs to be paid. Here's where the software and online application/gaming market stands;

4) Nonmonetary markets like the Gift Economy (goodwill and development of reputational currency), Labour Exchange (where information like search patterns, survey forms are used in exchange for free services/goods), and Piracy.

Backing these business models throughout the book are an entire truckload of case studies from both the digital and physical worlds. A total of 14 sidebars citing examples of Free Music CDs, Silverware, DVRs, Secondhand Goods, and even Air Travel and Car, the book provided lots of food for thought on ways in which companies monetise using FREE as a bait. There are even 50 business models at the end of the book with examples of how FREE works in various industries .

Citing history, economics, psychology, and sociology, Anderson does a fair amount of anecdotal research on the inevitable march towards freedom. A large part of the book also spoke about how technological progress (as cited by Moore's Law) doubles computing factors like processing speed, bandwidth, and storage while halving their costs over specific time variable (eg 18 months).

The plummeting of costs has led to the democratisation of information and access to almost anybody and everybody. With abundance economics becoming the name of the game, and digital content becoming "too cheap to meter", companies then have to forego traditional means of making money (charge everybody) and innovate with new models (charge a few, give everybody else free).

This is most prevalent in the media and gaming industries, where content is tiered depending on the levels of customisation, amount of detail, and format in which they are consumed. Unfortunately, FREE has also shrunk the media and content markets, and this appears to be an irreversible trend.

In his book, Anderson claims that even piracy - considered the greatest scourge of capitalism in the Western world - is actually beneficial in helping companies to generate far greater market awareness than they would otherwise have in markets like China. Gucci, Chanel and Prada - the real versions - are now highly sought after by young urban Asians who have made enough to wean themselves off counterfeit fashion goods.

Personally, I am quite sceptical about such a rose-tinted view of low-price/no-price business models. Unless you have a huge enough cachet like Youtube, Facebook, Twitter and of course Google, it will be difficult for smaller players to find ways to monetise FREE. Even Twitter is still struggling to find a business model which truly works for itself.

If we look at creative content, the picture becomes even more sordid. While some musicians can organise a concert or sell branded merchandise (like T-shirts and caps) to cream off profits that they lose through illegal music downloads, the majority of struggling creative producers will find it harder than ever before to generate a livelihood. Not everybody will want to atend a live performance nor purchase physical memorabilia.

Overall, however, the book provided a good understanding of how commerce would develop in an increasingly connected, digitally enabled and virtually abundant world. It would be a good read for folks who hope to chase that ever elusive customer dollar.