Archive for March, 2006

In a recent article I read, the CEOs of two high-profile ad agencies—the mammoth BBDO (Andrew Robertson) and the upstart Crispin Porter Bogusky (Jeff Hicks)—address the future of advertising in an interesting Q&A session.

One's from a HUUUUGE agency, the other is a small, agile upstart and they're both proud of some brilliant campaigns and creative work for their clients.

CMO asked Andrew Robertson of BBDO and Jeff Hicks of Crispin Porter + Bogusky to each talk about one of their favorite recent campaigns. Coincidentally, they both picked Internet companies. For eBay, BBDO created the "it" campaign to get consumers thinking about the site as a place to buy just about anything; for Google, Crispin created a mock SAT test and brain-teasing billboards to recruit top computer scientists.

The answers in the Q&A are not too surprising in some senses, but this one really caught my eye:

The Agency-Client Relationship

Robertson: What do agencies and clients have to do? Invert the order in which work is evaluated. People usually ask, "Is it on strategy? Is it saying the right thing?" Then they ask, "Does it have the right personality and tone? Is it part of a sustainable campaign?" Finally, they might say, "Is anybody going to pay any attention?" We need to make that the first question. If we’re sure people are going to get engaged, then we can ask about whether it’s on strategy or communicating the right message.

Hicks: We have a diagram that’s a circle. It has four steps: find out where you are, decide where you want to be, make a plan to get there, and then execute. As a brand, you’re always somewhere in this circle. If you believe the process is over, it is over.

Our goal is to be a place that continually attracts really passionate people. And we want to be engaged with clients that have great problems and are willing break the mold a little to solve them.

Oh and in case you're looking a nice place to get some good advice on email marketing but don't know where to start, this is a great article. Not only does it answer a fair amount of questions even some seasoned marketers are still clueless about, it gives some good advice that should be heeded:

Marketers must first establish an e-mail communications plan that meets its business goals by addressing user needs, and then optimize that plan with best practices. Over-e-mailed customers don't have inbox space for even the best executed e-mail programs that don't provide them value.

Wondering what your customers value? Ask them! Surveys, offline anecdotes, and, of course, tracking response to different types of e-mails tell marketers what e-mail content, offers, and even style users like. One large consumer goods company learned through surveys and e-mail data that its customers most value humor in e-mails. It took this insight to heart and now has a 0.5 percent opt out rate to its e-mails which incorporate tips and product information with cartoons.

This is going be be my last post for about a week, because I'm shifting to Bangalore and probably won't find the time. Please bear with me and come back in a week! Or bettter still, subscribe to my RSS feed. If you're new to RSS, go here for a quick explanation.


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I recently wrote about something most gamers have been predicting for a while: the emergence of a Metaverse in the near future, where we’ll have one large virtual world similar in size to the Internet but with different realms.

Looks like my friends and I are not wrong – even a contributing editor at Wired agrees that virtual worlds will come together in the near future.

Within a decade, then, the notion of separate game worlds will probably seem like a quaint artifact of the frontier days of virtual reality. You’ll still be able to engage in radically different experiences – from slaying orcs to cybersex – but they’ll occur within a common architecture. The question is whether the underpinnings of this unified metaverse will be a proprietary product, like Windows, or an inclusive, open standard, like email and the Web. (The Open Source Metaverse Project is currently working on such a nonproprietary platform.)

The technology for such an amalgamation of worlds exists today – but a neutral platform will need to be built first. In my opinion, bringing it all together is a Herculean task not even someone with Microsoft’s deep pockets will be able to do – it has to be a neutral organization, backed by a board of corporate stakeholders like Blizzard, Microsoft, Apple, ICANN, Sony, Nintendo and the other biggies out there who’ll put this new world to its best possible use.

An open source metaverse seems to be the best way to go, with no clearly defined ownership – but the money needs to come from somewhere, as do the ‘realms’ or ‘mini-worlds’ and that can happen only if those biggies mentioned earlier provide support. A Herculean task, no doubt, but possible? Yes – with perseverance. If you’re thinking of starting on this, let me know 🙂

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While reading an article titled “The Wisdom Fallacy: Why Management Is Really Like Math” I found myself nodding my head a lot – even though my skills in mathematics have a lot to be desired 🙂 Robert May, the author of the article, says the only way to get better at management is to learn more about it, like maths. Its true; just like mathematicians, most managers don’t learn all they need to be good managers on the job – they have to read a lot about management techniques, study different examples, study other managers (their peers and bosses), build on their people skills and store those “people interaction techniques” in memory and recall them whenever needed.

An interesting quote from the article:

Why will people accept advice on a subject, from someone that has studied it in depth, if that subject is programming, but not if it has to do with raising their children? Why, in some areas of knowledge, do we equate studying with mastery, and in other areas we don’t? I’ll call this the “wisdom fallacy” – that people believe wisdom has no correlation with knowledge for some subjects, when really it does.

In my work experience, I think most people lump management into the second category. I have never heard anyone say “I am not a very good manager,” or even “I don’t think I would make a good manager.” Yet they will regularly opine on management, and explain their management theory in detail to you. But, by definition, some managers have to be the worst, right? And haven’t we all worked for managers that we think knew very little about management? What is going on? Why is management something that nearly everyone thinks they do well?

So true. How many times have you heard a colleague claim he or she is good/an expert on a subject that they haven’t spent years studying and don’t read about? Or see designers and visualizers who draw illustrations and paintings for clients but don’t read articles on the net or visit online portfolios and galleries or do some research on styles and typography?

Most of the managers I know however, are the “on the job” types – people with good instincts and good learning abilities, but they don’t apply them to learning “management techniques” and rather depend on learning through experience and mistakes. Which is not a bad thing at all, but it tends to leave them with a false impression that they’re always doing the right thing. I’m guilty of doing this myself – doing work I haven’t been trained to do or even studied about, and learning on the job and then believing I actually did some good work to be proud of.

Our brains have cognitive filters for some things. We tend to automatically ignore facts that contradict our religious or political views. It’s not intentional, our brains just have a lot of information to process so they throw out contradicting information subconsciously. Don’t let that happen in your role as a manager. Seek out contradictory information. If you think you are doing a good job, don’t look for evidence to support it, look for evidence against it.

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Apparently 7000 executives surveyed by Harvard Business School’s Anthony J. Mayo and Nitin Nohria for their book, In Their Time think that the top 50 greatest business leaders of the 20th century are American entrepreneurs who built their companies from scratch. The list doesn’t have any surprises, with the founders of some of the best known companies in the world there, including only one woman: Estee Lauder.

But what is saddening is that this is another example of people with blinders on – I know these companies have multi-billion dollar market capitalizations and probably have high brand recall among Americans, but there are no Asians on that list! So are these executives saying that Japan, Korea and India have no business leaders worthy of being on that list? Or are they just proving the alleged axiom that American people don’t know anything of what’s happening outside their own country?

I’m sure all these men are/were brilliant individuals and overcame huge struggles to achieve what they did. But I’m also sure there are others in the world who deserve to be on that list. I’d really like to know the survey methodology, because it’s just unfair to call this the “Greatest Business Leaders of the 20th Century”. It’s like calling a sports event the “World Series” with only Americans playing.

This is the list:

  1. Samuel M. Walton | Wal-Mart
  2. Walter E. Disney | Walt Disney
  3. William H. Gates III | Microsoft
  4. Henry Ford | Ford Motor
  5. John P. Morgan | J.P. Morgan Chase
  6. Alfred P. Sloan Jr. | General Motors
  7. John F. Welch Jr. | General Electric
  8. Raymond A. Kroc | McDonald’s
  9. William R. Hewlett | Hewlett-Packard
  10. David Packard | Hewlett-Packard
  11. Andrew S. Grove | Intel
  12. Milton S. Hershey | The Hershey Co.
  13. John D. Rockefeller Sr. | Standard Oil
  14. Thomas J. Watson Jr. | IBM
  15. Henry R. Luce | Time-Life Publications
  16. Will K. Kellogg | Kellogg
  17. Warren E. Buffett | Berkshire Hathaway
  18. Harland Sanders | Kentucky Fried Chicken
  19. William C. Procter | Procter & Gamble
  20. Thomas J. Watson Sr. | IBM
  21. Asa G. Candler | Coca-Cola
  22. Estee Lauder | Estee Lauder
  23. Henry J. Heinz H.J. | Heinz
  24. Daniel F. Gerber Jr. | Gerber Products
  25. James L. Kraft | Kraft Foods
  26. Steven P. Jobs | Apple Computer
  27. John T. Dorrance | Campbell Soup
  28. Leon L. Bean | LL Bean
  29. William Levitt | Levitt & Sons
  30. Howard Schultz | Starbucks
  31. Michael Dell | Dell Computer
  32. Robert W. Johnson Jr. | Johnson & Johnson
  33. James E. Casey | United Parcel Service
  34. Herbert D. Kelleher | Southwest Airlines
  35. George Eastman | Eastman Kodak
  36. Philip H. Knight | Nike
  37. James O. McKinsey | McKinsey & Co.
  38. Charles R. Schwab | Charles Schwab
  39. Frederick W. Smith | Federal Express
  40. William Wrigley Jr. Wm. | Wrigley Jr. Co.
  41. Gordon E. Moore | Intel
  42. Robert (Ted) E. Turner | Turner Broadcasting
  43. J. Willard Marriott Jr. | Marriott Int’l.
  44. James E. Burke J | ohnson & Johnson
  45. David Sarnoff | RCA
  46. William E. | Boeing Boeing
  47. Walter A. Haas Sr. | Levi Strauss
  48. Henry J. Kaiser | Kaiser Industries
  49. Walter A. Haas Jr. | Levi Strauss
  50. Clarence Birdseye | Bird’s Eye Foods

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I came across several well written and articulate pieces on branding over the past few days, thought they are “must read”s for anyone even slightly interested in marketing…

The ABC’s of Great Brands
This talks about three defining characteristics of a brand (Attributes, Behavior, Circumstances), and how a little clever manipulation of them can result in amazing results. The article illustrates this with examples, so its not just theory and seems to have actually worked for a couple of companies. An excerpt:

What constitutes a great brand? By applying the concept of an Appreciable Brand Triad TM , we were able to define what attributes, behavior, and circumstances are, and if executed correctly, how they enable the foundation for brand greatness. We postulated this theory by citing two brands that have achieved both financial and brand success (SW and Home Depot). Although the dynamics of the plotted points on the Appreciable Brand Triad TM are in constant motion, their general locale suggests three things: an intelligently designed business model, proper positioning of ABC’s, and flawless execution. Taken together, the opportunity to formulate or re-design a Great Brand resides in the hands of business leaders each day.

What Branding Challenges Keep You Up At Night?

From CMO Magazine, this is a summary of challenges faced by Branding Executives from Fortune 500 companies, which they placed into six categories:

Creating relevance
The pendulum has swung from consumers valuing premium products to products that are simply “good enough.”

Protecting the brand
Misbehaving senior managers. Poor product quality. Many marketers worry that the corporate reputation—and thus, the brand—will become tainted.

Reaching target consumers
Highly fragmented media and products such as TiVo are causing marketers to rethink old techniques.

Nurturing employees
Companies are only as good as their frontline people. Taking care of employees is paramount to creating a leading brand.

Competing and partnering at the same time
Partnering with mass merchandisers that have their own private-label brands while competing against those same merchandisers’ brands can create a challenging business environment.

Implementation of programs
Marketers have little room for errors and virtually no opportunity to make a second impression. Everything must work well out of the gate.

Three Lessons for More Effective ROI
One of the acronyms I’ve had a love/hate relationship with over the years, Returns On Investment is something that every branding and marketing executive needs to fight with and continuously measure at all times; this is an interesting article which can be summarized in plain english to:

Prepare for a journey – Its going to take longer than you think 🙂

Focus on strategic insight – Approach ROI as a measurement tool to understand how strategies and tactics can be improved

Measure smarter – Make the testing and measurement of long term activities more important than short term tactical activities (So true! too often people just don’t keep the big picture in mind when looking at ROI of branding and marketing efforts)

Get started with an improved planning process, some new analysis or testing, a pilot project or a shift in your approach to measurements. Basically, continually bring in improvements and new tweaks

An excerpt from the article:

There’s one fundamental principle that keeps ROI at the top of the agenda: Companies must make more money than they spend. Executives need to have greater confidence that marketing can deliver on this promise. It does not mean that every marketing dollar will be measured in terms of incremental profits. Nor does it mean that long-term profits must be sacrificed for short-term profits. It just means that the additional discipline in understanding how marketing initiatives ultimately drive profitable customer behaviors is key.

On an unrelated note, I also came across this article that kind of hit where it hurts:

Ten Reasons Young People Are Afraid to Start Their Own Business

  • Don’t Have the Skills
  • Don’t Have the Self-Confidence
  • Don’t Have the Ideas
  • Don’t Have the Money
  • The Deck’s Stacked Against Entrepreneurs
  • Couldn’t Handle the Failure
  • Don’t Know the Process
  • Don’t Have the Time
  • Couldn’t Handle the Stress
  • Couldn’t Handle the Loneliness

Guilty of a few of the above. The author of that article has really tried well to prove those points wrong (Do read the aricle), but a couple of them just don’t get solved by his answers. Here’s hoping I get started soon though 🙂

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Is it just me or is getting advice and help on starting your own business a whole lot easier these days? Maybe I’ve just been reading quite a few insightful articles and books 🙂 Quite a few of the points I’ve read not only apply to young entrepreneurs but could also be very useful to middle and top management in medium to large sized organizations; at the end of the day they need to achieve their goals as well, but often lose sight of strategy when dealing with the routine of mundane daily activities.

Anyway, I thought I’d share a few of these great articles with you here:

Death by Risk-Aversion at headrush.typepad.com

Ignore the strange typography style 🙂 and the content of this article makes a lot of sense. After all, who hasn’t been stuck in mediocrity during some period of their life?

So add one more skill to our career advice for young people: be willing to take risks! Perhaps more importantly, be willing to tolerate (and perhaps even encourage) risk-taking in those who are managed by you. Of course I realize that this is much easier said than done.

Do read the article, it gave me a perspective on my own management style and helped me realize that I’ve not taken too many risks in the past either, just because of thinking “If this fails it’ll get us in a lot of trouble” and not looking at a proposed solution objectively.

Entrepreneurial Proverbs at radar.oreilly.com

A bit too long, but this article cover starting out, paying attention to the idea, choosing the right people to work with, building a product or service and most importantly, money matters.

A few of the points that stand out:

Great things are made by people who share a passion, not by those who have been talked into one — a corollary of the last; you can spark a passion in someone, but you can’t do it without some fuel to catch. Better to wait, and find the person who is already inclined to believe in your cause. You may talk someone into co-founding a company with you, but will they stick with it through ups and downs if they had to be persuaded that hard?

and this one..

Build what you know — this is the most basic advice of idea generation: scratch an itch you have yourself. To make a great company, stop and ensure that your need is broadly felt, and that your solution is broadly applicable — not everyone spends their life in front of a computer, remember.

Even the comments in the one are great, don’t forget to read them too!

Top Signals of Success for Software Entrepreneurs at onstartups.com

Also a bit long, this one highlights some of the common characteristics of successful entrepreneurs the author has encountered. My favorites:

You are a realist: You tend to look at most things objectively. You see them for what they are. You have ambitions, but not unrealistic ones. When in contentious situations, you’re usually the voice of reason. You keep things in context and tend not to over-react.

and this one:

You work hard: You’re an over-achiever. You’ve never been satisfied delivering the “minimum”. Though you understand the importance of work-life balance (you read about it in a book somewhere), you’re not frequently able to pull it off. When in a group setting where work is divided you somehow always do a disproportional amount of the work.

All of the points highlighted in the article are important, but in my opinion these two are the most.

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I’m going through another large change in my life, which involves relocation and a new job; feeling a little nostalgic I was going though the soft copies of the transcripts of some of the sessions I had as a trainee at Synapse – from being a Trusted Advisor and Managing a Project and learning how to Do What Needs to be Done. But the one that really got me a little nostalgic is this one, which Gourav handed over to us way back in 2002. This is just one of the brilliant sessions we had back then, which unfortunately the new people at Synapse have no clue about. Take a little time off and read it slowly, maybe it’ll make sense to you too.

The framework of this essay is taken from an article by Madan Birla, the president of WorkLifeweb.com. However, this essay has been altered, edited and rewritten significantly from the original.

We live in a complex, interconnected world, but where we find ourselves in our lives is not by chance. The relationships, health, job satisfaction, leisure- everything that goes to make the life we enjoy, are all a result of the choices we have made. These choices are inevitable. But since we don’t have time to examine and evaluate every choice from scratch, we make choices that are influenced by a previous history of what we know, how we feel, and the feedback we get from our environment. We all have a script of internalized messages from the environment (what communication experts call a ‘Frame of Reference’) and we often live our lives based on that script. If society’s definition of success is money and all the things that money can buy, then most of us are likely to internalize that definition of success and it will become the driver of our choices.

But we can choose to reject the definitions of society. And find a way to create our own balance of life. Finding the Balanced Life can possibly be thought of as a Four-Step Process:

  1. Visualize the balanced healthy state that reflects all human needs on the Physical, Intellectual, Emotional and Spiritual plane. Make this picture richer by gaining knowledge about yourself and the world.
  2. Become aware and Identify the root causes of imbalance in your life – internal and external. What is preventing you from living your life according to the picture you have in your head?
  3. Develop a personal action plan to address the deficiencies that prevent you from getting to the life you want to lead. Get abilities that you need to take you where you want to go, overcome shortcomings that hold you back, conquer fears and anxieties that plague your mind.. .
  4. Take action in the external environment to implement the plan. This will be the real test of your will …

Most humans have the same needs. Recognition and Esteem ‘I want to be known as somebody’. Power ‘I want to have the money, social status and opportunities to be able to do what I want to do’. Love and sexuality ‘I want to belong to somebody’ and I want someone to belong to me. Mutual support, affection, shared experiences, group membership ‘I want to be with people I like and enjoy spending time with’. Identity and Self-Respect ‘I want to be somebody to myself’. Respite and relaxation ‘I want to have fun and enjoy myself’. Spirituality “I want to have a sense of meaning and coherence in life’.

These are not a collection of isolated components, but one integrated whole. And expansion in one component cannot compensate for a missing component. The ceiling to personal happiness is set by the component of lowest satisfaction.

And Happiness will not result from what happens to us but what happens within us after what happens to us.

Apologies if this seemed a little preachy – but really, go back and read it again. Everybody I know has had quite a reaction to this essay, for obvious reasons. Let me know if you did.

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