What’s the ROI on SXSW investment?

Yahoo, Yodel, Yodel House
Yahoo, Yodel, Yodel House
The Yahoo Yodel House at SXSW 2015

The amount of money spent by companies trying to capture the attention of the tens of thousands of people visiting SXSW this year will run in to many millions of dollars.  The return they are likely to get on it is questionable.  Part of the problem is that most will have set no clear goals; part is that even those that did will not have any way to measure whether or not they have been achieved, let alone quantify the value delivered as a result of their investment.

Let’s take Yahoo! as an example.  I use it because it is one of the bigger names and it had a huge presence at the event, taking over one of Austin’s premier event and live music venues [according to its website], Brazos Hall.  Other similar examples include GE, IBM and VISA.

I visited the Yahoo ‘Yodel’ House a couple of times during my trip to SXSW and they had spared no expense.  There were the standard free drinks, lavish decoration in brand colours [which was changed on a regular basis], an AV set up that most local television stations would be envious of, venue managers, security, bar staff… you get the idea.  On both occasions it was buzzing.

My question is what was the point?  What did Yahoo! get out of it?  The lounge was busy.  People had a good time. They were able to recharge their devices.  They had a few [more] free drinks. My question to them is, SO WHAT?  What’s the tangible benefit?  The return on investment?

My peers would claim that visitors were engaging with the brand. They’ll say the Yodel House created buzz; pictures were shared on Instagram; people were Meerkat-ing [sic]; tweeting; hashtagging… This is often called ’brand awareness’ or brand marketing [it might be awareness, but it’s not marketing] and that’s great, but it is also unquantifiable! It has no tangible value.

I use this not to single out Yahoo! but to illustrate a growing trend.  Companies through huge amounts of money at making on awareness but without considering whether it makes financial sense to do so.  Often there is little thought about what the long-term return will be, let alone the short-term one.

It’s a dangerous trend. Sure, companies like Yahoo! and their ilk can afford it. They have deep pockets.  Some smaller companies have VC money they can “invest”, but the majority don’t.  And, if there is no tangible value then surely the money could be better invested in other things?  Things that are likely to deliver a return. Things that are likely to support the growth of the business – not just brand awareness for its own sake.

How many people that visited the Yahoo! lounge at SXSW will have gone home and changed their default search engine from Google to Yahoo!?  I think you know the answer to that.

Startup and SmallBiz Marketing tip: understand what action you want people to take and focus your time, energy and money on achieving it.  Successful marketing begins with strong relationships built via public relations.

3 things entrepreneurs can learn from Apple’s keynote disaster

Apple iPhone 6, Apple, Keynote, Apple Watch
Apple – Bigger than Bigger?!

Despite reaction to the product announcements at Apple’s latest keynote have been, at best, lukewarm there’s not doubt both the iPhones and Apple Watch will sell.  So, what’s to worry about?  If you’re an Apple executive or investor the answer is lots.

By far the biggest loser from the event was Apple and its reputation.  Having hyped the keynote, according to media reports, far more than usual and with ABC positioning it as featuring a ‘historic’ announcement its failure to live up to top billing, the unveiling of solid, rather than revolutionary product point updates and a smartwatch that  has seriously underwhelmed fans that have waited years for a wearable device, it has seriously damaged the company’s brand.

Here are three mistakes Apple made and what you can learn from them to avoid damaging your reputation and the reputation of your business:

Apple over promised and under-delivered. With new product launches and media announcements there’s always the temptation to hype, hype, hype.  Traditionally understated, media reports suggest Apple got carried away in the weeks and days before the latest keynote and then failed to deliver on the raised expectations.

One of the central pieces of the Apple launch machine under Steve Jobs was that everything… OK, almost everything, was a surprise.  Watch any of the keynotes from Steve’s time at the company and watch audiences go crazy when there was ‘One More Thing’.  It’s always better to deliver something unexpected than fail to deliver what is expected.

 Apple now appears to be taking its customers for granted.  Two new, larger, iPhones that look similar to the handsets they’ve been selling for the last three years.  Yes, they are thinner, they have a few new bells and whistles [nothing that the competition hasn’t already launched] but they’re is little sign of the innovation that got customers standing in line for days ahead of launch.

The Apple Watch is another example of this complacency.  Having been rumoured for years the final [first generation] product was not what most had expected; it definitely wasn’t something that fits easily within the Apple product portfolio.

Apple now believes its own hype. It’s a dangerous position to be in and is the starting point for a fall from grace for Apple.  Whether the company believes it or just wants you to think that it does it sends out the wrong messages – internally and externally. Tim Cook’s over enthusiasm for what added up to less than historic… less than exciting product features and functions like the fact the iPhone 6 is 50% faster than the original [think of Moore’s law and the advances in processing power since the first iPhone was announced and then compare it with a 50% speed bump and tell me whether you’re still impressed] or the glee with which he announced it had trimmed a millimetre or two off of the height of the handset… Apple fanboys are starting to see through the reality distortion field.

The only people that don’t see through it appear to work for Apple.


Apple. Greener.

Apple released a new video on its website today – called Better.  It sets out the company’s commitment to environmental sustainability and many believe it suggests Tim Cook’s vision for the company.  To that point it is voiced by Cook.

Watch Apple’s Better now.

Released for Earth Day the video suggests that Apple may be back in the game of value-based PR.  ‘Better’ has all the hallmarks of the THINK DIFFERENT video that many see as the start of the rise the company has been on for the last 15 years and is focuses on the values – what it stands for – as it looks to continue to dominate the mobile, post-PC and media distribution industries.

I’ve written about the importance of values to the foundation of Apple’s brand during the Steve Jobs era – and how they’ve moved away from them under Cook’s tenure.  ‘Better’ fits the THINK model of delivering the right message to the right audience, at the right time via the right channel – and appears to be a move in the right direction and could provide the company with a new point of differentiation over competitors like Google, Samsung and Motorola.

I hope it is the start of a trend where companies build relationships with their audiences based on values, not product specification.  Apple will ultimately lose a battle based on feature and function.  A battle based on values… a battle for hearts and minds, however… now that is a battle Apple could win.  Easily.  It is for that reason that ‘Better’ could be the most significant piece of communications the company has issued in the post Steve Jobs phase of the business.

Want to know why values are so important? This is why.

A&F “plus size” comments are simply brand positioning

A lot has been made in the media recently about comments reportedly made by Abercrombie & Fitch CEO Mike Jeffries about plus size women’s clothing.  Aside from the fact that Jeffries doesn’t appear to have said anything specifically about plus-size clothes [I can find no evidence for him specifically using the words claimed and most stories appear to have come from an interview Retail Analyst and author Robin Lewis gave to Business Insider, and the fact that the interview being used by many media outlets to support their story was in a 2006 edition of Salon magazine, the companies focus on ‘the thin and beautiful’ appears to be little more than brand positioning.

Sure, Jeffries position on the type of customers he wants in store might be offensive and misplaced.  They might, ultimately, be bad for the company image as they transition to a high-end luxury brand targeting a wider demographic than their current customer base, but in reality, they are simply a brand positioning exercise – and marketers could do worse than follow Abercrombie’s example.

Abercrombie & Fitch brand positioning
Abercrombie & Fitch knows its customer demographic

Why? Because Jeffries clearly knows who his customers are – the so-called ‘thin and the beautiful’ – and his comments [albeit not those he’s accused by many of making] simply reinforce the company’s brand values [thin, and ‘beautiful’] to his target audience to those that already buy his clothes, and those that aspire to shop there – people who believe they are ‘thin and beautiful’.

You can argue his mis-guided definition of beautiful – I’m not suggesting Jeffries is accurate – but A&F’s is on display in every piece of marketing the company does.  As socially unacceptable as his comments might be he isn’t worried about upsetting the wider mass market, because they’re not likely to shop at Abercrombie and Fitch.  It’s actually smart brand positioning.

Other brands do exactly the same thing as A&F – just more subtly.  Ferrari produces $250,000 vehicles that it knows its core customer base will buy.  It does not make a $30k subcompact or a station wagon [OK, so it made one for the Sultan of Brunei]. Nor do you ever hear people complaining because they don’t make a car for the mass market.  Apple’s  core business for many years was high-end, high-priced personal computers for the semi- and professional customer… the list goes on.  Their brand positioning and marketing are also highly targeted to the people that buy its products and those that aspire to own them.

Mike Jeffries comments from 2006 are also a welcome reinforcement that in the era of the real-time internet, everything you say can be easily found and be revisited at any time and used against you.  This might cause the company problems if, as reports suggest, it has a plan to transition to a broader high-end luxury fashion brand with a broader potential customer base but, if he’s as skilled a brand manager as he appears, it’s unlikely.

Should every company have a social media editorial policy after Daytona?

The controversy over the supposed censorship of fan videos taken at the Daytona International Speedway has raised some important questions that organizations using social platforms to build networks of loyal fans need to consider.  If you don’t know what happened you can read my post here that provides more details.

As somebody that has worked as a journalist, in the broadcast rights department of a major network and a PR person, there are five questions raised by the NASCAR debacle:

  • Who owns rights of videos shot at event venues when they don’t show content covered by broadcast rights agreements or a sport’s governing body?
  • Does anybody with a smartphone become a citizen journalist when something like this happens – and content becomes reporting, rather than an attempt to capture copyrighted content for commercial sharing.
  • At what point do videos cross the line from journalism to being content that breaches third-party copyrights?
  • What is a brand’s social editorial policy on fan videos shared on social platforms?  Should they have a proactive moderation process to ensure quality, but also give them control over the timing that certain content is posted? Should an organization employ a social media editor to make decisions when things like this happen?
  • Should social platforms add an additional message to explain that some videos are being held back temporarily in situations such as the one in Daytona?

The problem for brands is that consumers have become used to sharing content [photographs, audio and video] via social platforms with friends, associates and others with a shared interest.  The perceive any attempt to stop it as censorship and this often reflects negatively on the organization.  When it’s content owned by the user perhaps they have a point – but when it’s content that impacts the perception of a brand shouldn’t the organization have a say in what is, and isn’t posted?  And, when something like Daytona happens, shouldn’t organizations should have a plan to ensure that the dignity of those involved?

The realities are that brands, NASCAR included, will generally encourage fans to share content that helps promote their brand; accidents, such as the one over the weekend, are – thankfully – rare; and most brands are social savvy enough to know that blocking content is not a good idea.  Personally I think NASCAR got it right – albeit the message visitors to YouTube received gave them the wrong impression.

After the weekend I’m guessing a few more brands will be reviewing their social content policies and start to look at what their social editorial policy should be in similar circumstances.  What’s your take on how NASCAR handled the situation?  Does your business have a social editorial policy?

Does #newamerican reinforce old stereotypes of Americans?

On January 17th American Airlines launched it’s new livery and brand identity.  #newamerican replaces the classic theme the company has used for the last 42 years and also includes a revision of the classic American eagle that has adorned its ‘silver birds’ since 1967.  Massimo Vignelli, the designer of the outgoing livery has described the new logo and livery as ‘having no permanence’ and the reaction from social media commentators has been mixed.

Personally, I think it’s a mess.  The tail fin design is unrefined, the font used for the American letter is plain – the company has moved away from the Helvetica Neue Bold it’s used for the last four decades] and the fact it wraps over the window line just doesn’t look good.  I thought it was a mess from day one, but wanted to take some time to live with it rather than rushing to judgement.  Having done that I still think it’s a little gawdy and I can’t  help feeling it reinforces many of the negative stereotypes that  many people from around the world associated with America – a little too loud, a little unrefined, and flag-waving at every opportunity – often a bit inappropriately.   The new logo resembles a pair of 80s 3D TV glasses more than an evolution of the American eagle.  What do you think?

I’ve also been having an interesting conversation with a few friends [@JennaLee, @JoeyJOH, @WirelessWench, @Amoyal and @MsMobileConverg on Twitter and we’re planning a Google Hangout to talk about the challenge faced by companies looking to re-brand – especially when their existing colours are such an intricate part of the fabric of the organization.

Three Myths About Brand

I’ve been to a number of events recently where people have been talking about brand – how to create it, how to manage it and the importance of it.  Not once have I actually heard an accurate description of what brand is… of the last three presentations I’ve seen on the topic one didn’t mention this at all, one touched on it and the third just got it wrong.

Let’s deal with some of the myth’s of branding:

Myth #1: Your brand is what a company says and thinks about itself.  It’s not!

The second myth of brand: It can be created by marketing.  It can’t [at least not directly].

Brand myth #3: you can trade on your brand.  You can’t! [Well, you can, but I wouldn’t recommend it as a strategy!]

Your brand is what your various audiences [or publics] associate with your logo, your website, your adverts, your company name.  Your brand may differ between audiences [the truth is that you may want it to differ] depending on your relationship with that audience. For example, you may want your customers to think you are an edgy and progressive company, but want investors to see you as conservative and financially prudent… a safe pair of hands.

Brand is not something that can be defined by a company’s marketing department.  It can’t tell people what to think about your company [although some try].  A business uses promotion and public relations to try to convince them to see your company in the way that you want them to but, ultimately, you there is no way for it to dictate how audiences perceive its brand through marketing alone.

The truth is that everything a company does impacts on your brand.  The way it communicates, the quality of your product and service, the interactions between staff members and a company’s various publics, the way it looks [everything from your logo to the way in-store representatives are dressed].  The extent to which a company lives and breathes the values that are the foundation of the company will also determine its brand.

I’ll write more about understanding and managing a brand in future posts, but if you want to know what your company’s brand is my advice is to ask your publics.  If the response does not match with the way you’d like your company to be seen drop me a line to lyndon@thinkdifferently.ca. 

 More Marketing MythBusters posts

#1 | Most Marketing is Promotion

#2 | One-size-fits-all ‘Cookie-Cutter’ Marketing Strategies Don’t Work

#3 | Content Is NOT King

#5 | Own Your Niche [Don’t Create A New One]

#6 | Focus On The Marketing, Not The Social Media

#7 | Is A ReTweet An Endorsement?

#8 | Disclaimer: Everything You Say Is The View Of Your Employer

It’s The Message, Stupid

When did you last review your PR and marketing messages?  Did you test them with your target audience to make sure that they struck a chord with them before you started posting them to every possible channel? If the answers to these two questions are ‘I can’t remember’ and ‘no’, then perhaps it’s time you did both.

Over the last few weeks Americans have been bombarded with TV, print and radio adverts, speeches, telephone calls, emails, tweets, Facebook posts… [you get the idea] from the two main candidates in the US Presidential election.  Each communication, the candidates hoped, would strike a chord with voters and persuade them to give their vote to them, rather than to their competitor.  Last night we found out which message had most impact amongst its target audience.  More voters, it seems, related to President Obama’s ‘Forward’ message than to Mitt Romney’s promises of ‘Real Change’.

Why?  The answer is the strength of the message and ownership of it by Obama supporters, rather than by the campaign team.  Let me explain.  I was prompted by a Facebook post by Fast Company magazine this morning to read an excellent article on Brand Obama, written in 2006, by Ellen McGirt.  The article  looks at how the then Senator was revolutionizing the way politicians build support.  He was the first to embrace social media in 2008 and also the first to let supporters take ownership of the message as they shared it with friends, followers and undecided voters across the United States.

While the article is about a politician there are lessons that every marketer can learn from the piece.  It talks about the fundamental elements of building a loyal fan base and how, by communicating a message they can buy in to, you can make them feel part of a political movement or brand to the point that they become loyal to it and help you recruit new brand ambassadors/customers.

This innovative way of building brand advocates only works, however, if the message is the right one.  It doesn’t matter how many media [traditional and social] channels you use,  if the message doesn’t resonate with your target audience you’ll be doomed to failure.  Obama understands this and the article talks about how uses social media to test a message and then allows his audience to modify and evolve the message as they spread it.  Whether it’s his ‘Yes We Can’ mantra from 2008 or the more recent ‘Forward’ from the 2012 election Obama makes his message easy to understand, straightforward to buy in to and leaves the context to his supporters to define.

It’s a tactic that very few companies use. “Giving up control online, in the right way, unleashes its own power”, explains Ellen in a her article.  It also scares established brands.  Why would they give control of their message – often developed over years and at a cost of tens, if not hundreds, of thousands of dollars – to their customers?  That will change and the strategies used by Barack Obama are things that successful communicators, whether they are politicians, household name brands or startups, must embrace.

If you’ve not revisited your marketing messages recently, or you didn’t test them with your target audience to make sure that they are the right ones it’s time to do it – NOW.  Call me on +1 647.773.2677 to find out how to start the process.

Unlock the 007 in you. You have 70 seconds!


I wanted to share this marketing idea from Coca Cola here because it’s a great example of how thinking differently delivers delivers real value. Designed to tie in with the new James Bond movie Skyfall, partner Coca Cola used a blend of display, point of sale, live event, interactive and social media tools to create a compelling marketing piece.  Most companies would have used each of these channels independently – using a theme, message or call to action to tie them all together, but by combining them Coke creates an event that none of the participants or bystanders will ever forget.

While not every company has the marketing budget or the resources that Coca Cola does to pull off such an elaborate marketing stunt, using a little creativity and being prepared to think outside of the traditional linear confines of each channel it is possible to differentiate yourself from the competition and make your brand experience a memorable one.

The London Olympics – More 1984 than 2012!

It seems that, yet again, common sense has been dispensed with as a new rule designed to protect the rights of official London 2012 sponsors seems to have been extended to the general public.  According to an article on Mashable visitors to the games this summer could find themselves on the wrong side of the law for posting pictures of non-sponsor brands on social networks like Facebook, Twitter and Google Plus.

The idea of the new rules were designed to stop firms from piggy-backing the event at the expense of ‘official’ sponsors that have paid to advertise or promote their brands to visitors to the show.  I have no problem with this being implemented within Olympic venues. Many stadiums already operate on this basis on property that they own, by banning companies from promoting their products without paying for the privilege… but a blanket bans on any business using the words Olympics 2012 on any promotion seems to be madness.  Stopping visitors from posting pictures or tweeting about their experiences seems plain crazy!  It is also, in my opinion, unenforceable.

It’s also likely to backfire – and could result in a significant amount of negative feeling towards official sponsors from visitors, viewers and business owners in London.  One of the legacies of The Games is, I thought, that it provides a boost the host country’s economy… but if nobody can mention the event for fear of ending up in court, London could be the first to have a negative impact!

Organizers have billed London ‘The First Social Media Olympics’… they might have the right to claim it, but if they implement these new rules, it’s unlikely to live up to the billing!