Archive for the ‘Business’ Category

Everybody is a brand manager

Posted: May 29, 2010 in Business

Maybe it is my training as an engineer that makes me roll my eyes at all those people who find it so easy to claim expertise in soft skills, like “brand management” for example. I mean, everybody has an opinion, and it’s easy to make claims about what will and won’t make a brand and lead to sales, particularly since brand building takes so long and has so many variables that it is next to impossible to measure the results of any single thing you do, and very easy to attribute success to something that may have little at all to do with it.

It stands in such stark contrast to so much technical work where you actually have to make something work, and when it doesn’t work it is immediately obvious. Take website building, for example, something I dabble with these days. The design and functional aspects of a website are in-your-face; they work or they don’t and it is immediately obvious as soon as you publish a web page. What about the branding for your web presence? I’ve worked alongside a few self-proclaimed brand managers and some of their direction and advice has been not so great.

Consider the case of evolving a brand to be somewhat more expansive but still encompassing the original brand image. What should you do with your existing list building efforts? According to one brand manager you should suspend your newsletters and wait until the new brand book is complete, not worry about losing your subscribers because the brand is changing, and then start over with list building. I think this is rather poor advice. That list is so valuable you should be constantly building it and keeping it engaged. Subscribers who are already engaged will follow you to the new brand since it still encompasses the old one. I think that kind of advice comes from someone who has never done list marketing and has no concept of how valuable it is.

Another thing that sticks out as a big issue is putting resources in the wrong places. A brand manager insists you must make your company look big and impressive with a very flashy website design that has big name security certification badges featured prominently in the online store. Big ticket items those are, and they undoubtedly make a big difference in sales conversions…provided anybody sees them. But when you have very little traffic to your website to begin with then what difference does that multi-thousand-dollar theme make? A good clean design that is fully functional, conveys the brand, and has a basic SSL certificate for secure purchases is all you need to make a good go of it. Once you have steady traffic and sales you then start split testing changes in the design and evolve to a bigger look and feel. In the early stage, however, you need traffic so put your resources there. Get the mechanics busy driving targeted visitors to the site. Make sure the traffic builders internalize the brand document first so they are targeting the right audience, but then send the brand manager on vacation until there are actually enough customers that you can measure the results of changes. Otherwise it is all speculation.

Those are just two examples of brand management in action. I’m talking about e-commerce, of course, where it is often quite efficient to measure results. That’s key, being able to measure. Is it this bad in meatspace? Maybe worse because it is often harder to measure.

VC spam

Posted: August 1, 2006 in Business

I read some commentary on Friendster being awarded a patent on social networking and saw a term called “venture capital spam”. I don’t know if that author coined the term or not but I haven’t seen it before. And it certainly fits much of what start-ups are doing now. They get some VC money and then spam the patent office with patent applications for ideas that are often not new, certainly obvious, and usually been done before. Then when their start-up with no real business model doesn’t become an overnight success they threaten to sue real businesses that are making money.

That commentary asserts the usual argument in favor of patents and copyrights, that without them there is no motivation to invest in innovation, and then laments that the system is abused. That, of course, is one of fundamental flaws in western thinking. Greed is taken as a given, and even a good thing, so all systems are constructed to accommodate it. Which of course serves to further cultivate greed. Legislators and leader of industry wish to channel the greed for the “benefit” of society.

Beneficial greed, another oxymoron of the same ilk as responsible drinking. From the perspective of a mind mired in the realm of competition, business, and profit motive, it seems like it is the good guys (developers protecting their profits with patents) against the bad guys (patent breakers copying protected ideas). But step outside of that quagmire and one sees they are all just birds of a feather, all craving big profits. The greedy all receive their consequences in kind. Dogs eating dogs.