Greg Johnson
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Purposefully inauthentic

Kenny Powers, K-Swiss MFCEO72andSunny just launched the new viral for K-Swiss and it’s phenomenal. There’s a lot to love, not the least of which is its just damn funny. Props to the whole crew down there for the excellent work.

It’s got me thinking about why campaigns like this and The Man Your Man Could Smell Like work, and most other campaigns just don’t…and I might be on to something.

 

There are a handful of excellent campaigns that felt fabulously authentic. The work for American Express under the My Life, My Card concept was so real it was almost visceral. You could get appreciate it from a distance because it had excellent narrative and you could appreciate it from up close because it was inclusively authentic. Find that insight and uncork truth, and when you do so you’ve got an idea that will endure.

On the other hand, there’s work like K-Swiss’ new MFCEO (a term that will stick, I swear). Is it authentic? Hell no. Are you serious? But that’s why it works. It doesn’t even bother to take itself seriously, its just no-holds-barred fun. In fact, the farther out they go the better it is.
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Social sampling

Yes, turntable.fm is most defintely badass.I’d lie if I didn’t say I’m damn near obsessed with turntable.fm right now. It’s phenomenal, like Pandora + iTunes + everything that made the internet awesome back in the days of chat rooms and gopher (ok, maybe not gopher). Drop into a room and you’re listening to streaming music based on the genre of the room, curated by a first-come-first-serve set of 5 DJs. The DJs can choose from what feels like an endless set of tracks built into the system, or upload their own. Crowd participation comes from the Lame | Awesome dial and the chat window, and (I assume) the business model is all about finding the songs you like and buying them directly through a host of different sites. What’s not to love? It doesn’t have the randomness of Pandora,  nor the isolationism of iTunes (Ping, I hardly knew ye).

Now, you can love turntable.fm for a lot of reasons, but one is just screaming out at me: this is the new marketing. Seriously, think about it for a moment. Ten years ago to sell an album you’d have put up your window displays at Tower Records and told prospective buyers it was good. Of course, Shawn Fanning saw a flaw in that model and somewhat changed the world for good. The underlying reason this model failed was because the rules of digital forever changed the sales funnel and people didn’t flow easily from awareness to purchase. Why? People don’t trust marketers, they trust their own judgment. So then three years ago, to sell an album, you’d put a 30 second sample on the iTunes music store and then wrap a bus and maybe fake a flash mob to get the word out. But that actually didn’t do the trick either, at least not for long. Why? Because people don’t actually always trust themselves. They trust their friends, their spouse, their kids. And so while a number of sites have cropped up to play in the realm of social, they actually failed to see one other truth: the rules of social have forever changed the sales funnel even more. And turntable.fm is on fire right now because they’re the first ones to really grasp what this means. I heard turntable.fm referred to as “social listening,” which I think is absolutely missing the point. It’s “social sampling,” where curation from peers overcomes the blockage that most consumers have at the stage of consideration.
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Coherence over consistency

Excellent conversation tonight with the Method guys at the 10×10 discussion on “Brands As Patterns.” Marc and crew hosted a small roundtable to talk about the implications of the digital age on brands, identity and what it means to define something that’s really hard to wrap your head around: we’ve moved from a world where brands exist as singular expressions that are replicated over and over and over again. Brands that don’t meet you halfway aren’t trying hard enough, and can’t be relevant because they don’t (or won’t, or CAN’T) adapt.

But the implication of this is HUGE. We have entire industries built around following guidelines, reading rule books, implementing standards. Which is odd, of course, because we hire creative agencies but then ask them to restrict their creativity. So that’s not the path to success. But what’s the alternative? Freedom? ANARCHY? No, that’s clearly not going to work for any brand of substance because nothing will add up to an image, an idea or the brand’s truth. Read on, and let’s make something that matters.

“…on top of the social infrastructure”

Just saw this quote during the announcement of the Facebook video chat capability, and had to share:

“The driving narrative for the next five years isn’t going to be about wiring the world, but about what you can build on top of the social infrastructure.”

Yes, absolutely. The world’s going “meta” rapidly…like the building blocks I was writing about. It’s not about the site or the profile but instead about how these tools are creating the foundation of the next generation of experiences. Love Zuckerberg’s point on other folks trying to build on their own, and the pitfalls of that. Instead, find a way to leverage, stitch together and focus on the customer experience that sits on top of all of this. That’s the next challenge.

Innovation’s Nine Critical Success Factors [HBR]

Excellent post over at HBR on Innovation’s Nine Critical Success Factors. The key for the keen eye is to look at the list and not think of innovation as the classic “guy in garage” or the old idea of creative destruction, but actually for any change of course. If you don’t have a compelling case, or an inspired vision of what can be…how else can you pull people along. Words are ethereal and vague. Tell the business reason for change, and then unspool the emotional promise that pulls people along. You need both, but one without the other won’t last.

Being

A brand is the sum of every impression left in the minds of people, and every action works to be more lasting or less relevant. Success requires both excellence and alignment, and sets the stage for an “open source revolution” in experience design.

Rethinking what defines a brand

I titled this blog Branding By Being back in the day as I was thinking through the possibilities for active branding at Digitas, and how brands in the digital age needed to do more and say less. But on the other side of the brand transformation for HP, an additive view has popped up: the premise that brands aren’t about what they say, or about what they do today…in truth, it’s all these plus the honest truth of everything a brand is. In a somewhat Kantian way, brands are, simply, being. You might intentionally be about the sports athlete, or you might inadvertently be about run-down strip malls. But you are what you are. And certainly not always what you intend to be. No one at BP wanted to be where they are today. And LeBron’s handlerswould have loved for the fourth quarter(s) to play out differently. But these brands are what, where and who they are.

Brands are the sum of everything they say and do. A proper brand strategy should act as a filter and driver of all that a brand says and does. But this misses something. Actually, brands are the sum of everything they say and do. And are. They are the summation of the entire existence of a company. Because everything matters. By implication, of course, this also means you really can’t “reinvent” a brand unless you intend to make radical changes to every facet of the organization; you can’t change the past, and you can’t reinvent the sum of all of the activities that ever have been. But you can define a new brand intention, and change the behaviors of the entire organization to revolve around that intent. That’s both hard and non-optional. A brand strategy is necessary but insufficient. It must be coupled with an intentional organizational change. The summation of all of the activities of the organization either represent the company you intend to be or they don’t. But the being of your organization — the sum average of every interaction — is what you stand for.

You might leave a mark on this world, but is it lasting?

Not your past, but your path

I quite love Marc Shillum’s piece at Method on Brands as Patterns. The story about coherence across touchpoints is one we’ve talked about at length. Brands aren’t singular or timeless, they’re temporal and in context of a given engagement. The best brands adapt to context to drive relevance, and those that do leave a greater impression that lasts over time. Your brand is leaving an impression, but is it the one you wanted and will it last?
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Rethinking the blog

I’m in the midst of rethinking the approach to the blog. Not so much the content, but how the content comes to life. Right now, it’s very heavy on words and you end up wading through a bunch of posts to find something that’s relevant. Unless, of course, you want to wade through a bunch of obscure tags that have meaning only to the author. So time to distill this down, and figure out how to fix it. Here’s what I’m looking to solve:

Problem 1: user control or editorial intent?

WordPress — and blogs in general — is a bit of a known quantity with users. They’re accustomed to finding tools x in place x. Change the model to better fit the voice, tone or desired experience and you’ve got to bring the user along…which has its own problems.

Problem 2: blogs are boring

I don’t mean the content, I mean the layout. If this were properly conceived of as editorial, there would be better visual hierarchy and more energy to the layout. Most people — particularly most people in this audience — are likely to be visual thinkers. But by default WordPress is a long list of text pulls from a database. You could extend the table to include key visuals, but then you’ve got a maintenance hassle.

Problem 3: fresh, by default, beats hot

What comes first: what’s hot, or what’s new? That’s a bit of a problem if you’re looking to be a bit of a rambler in the midst of some other articles that are probably more interesting and better considered.

Problem 4: yet another island

The problem I had initially with WordPress comments is actually that the comments are embedded into the WordPress environment. But if you’re going to distribute the content far and wide you need to bring with the content all of the heat either from ranking, comments, etc. Harder to do, but possible. But shouldn’t this really be social from the start?

So, there’s my first take at what’s not working. I’ve got a few sketches on solutions, but every one is triggering some heavy lifting to extend the native WordPress capabilities to create the experience I want. Maybe bin WordPress? Anything’s possible…

Cannes

Was meant to be getting onto a plane today for Cannes, but am incredibly bummed to be staying behind to brief in the new CMO. Next year, I remind myself…there’s always next year. Actually, wait: it’s sunny, there’s a beach and a ton of folks I know around the agency world. No, that’s a trip I should have made…

Facebook Comments :)

Ok, we’ll see what happens. I’ve just turned off all comments for WordPress and replaced that with Facebook comments. Love it.

If you’re trying to reach me, but are one of the 0.000000000001% of the world that’s not on Facebook, you can always reach me at “gjohn son 352 (at) gmail.com”

Next steps…any guidance?

Nothing dramatic here, but capturing a few thoughts on this blog. First and foremost, I just rebuilt my site. I somewhat love it and somewhat hate it but that’s par for the course. Here’s what I’m thinking:

Keep what’s working, fix what’s not
What I really love is the cleanliness of the pageless interface, which makes the content come out as the hero. Lovely, but not really awesome for searching or deep-linking as I cheated the system and just poured different interfaces into an iframe. That won the task of styling this quickly and in a way I knew would load on every modern browser. But I’ll have to rethink. Likely planning to migrate the content into a logical set of flat files (it’s not that big after all) or throw it into Drupal. Then rethink the production of the interface so that this is all ajax with some intelligent means of manipulating the page through document.url so I can deep link and bookmark. The rub in this is WordPress. I could rewrite a front-end onto WordPress (don’t tempt me) but is it really worth the hassle?

Fix the damn theme
I did start from a clean theme from some guy in Germany, so you’ll note periodically that I’ll do a language switch in certain forms and screens that totally reflects das ubermench. Not intentional. Now if I rewrite the front-end to WordPress, that solves itself. Then there’s door number three…

What’s door number three?
Still percolating on this one, but what if WordPress becomes the CMS instead of Drupal? My inclination is to think this is really lame, but part of the higher-order objective is to stop having two parts of this world. Things need to better cross-pollinate, and I’d love to do this programatically. Why? Well, that’s door number four…

This doesn’t feel very liquid, part 1
I spend all my time at HP talking about the power of liquid experiences and how our portfolio needs to continuously evolve to build better bridges across devices, screens and moments. Then I make a blog that can’t connect even to an adjacent page. A bit antithetical. Practice what you preach, right? I think that’s even the title of a posting down below. Tragic. So the idea of talking about what I’ve done, what I’m doing and what I intend to do need to feel like siloed — they’re not in my head, so why are they when I write? So I need to weave better stories. But then there’s the other side of this…

This doesn’t feel very liquid, part 2
The world doesn’t live on my site, so proper integration into all moments of possible interaction is mandatory. I’m thinking about moving to Facebook Connect for comments and registration (btw: for those of you that haven’t noticed…the whole WordPress spam thing is a total bitch! Seriously, all y’all in Russia: STOP PLEASE). Right now I’ve got this lame CAPTCHA thing, which I can’t stand. But without that I was getting about 20 spam user registrations an hour (!). So migrating to facebook connect would be lovely and would also enable the work to play better across those areas that the fish are. I’m already thinking through a model for twitter, facebook and linkedin publishing using the current body of APIs. Which draws me back to the question about the CMS and the development approach. Good news is that I’ve got all of the content (mostly) sorted out…now I just need to rethink how it comes together.

Oh yeah…you have any advice?
Right…the whole purpose of this post was to solicit your guidance and advice. So after all of my blabbering, anyone have any thoughts or guidance to share?