Interview with Smart Planet: Using social media to bring the outside in

Recently I had the honor of being interviewed by Vince Thompson for the CBS Interactive initiative, Smart Planet. If you are interested, you can read the entire interview where I give my perspective on innovation and using social media to bring the outside in.

But if you need a teaser, here is one question that I find myself answering more frequently than others.

Tell us about your blog and how it fits in with your career?

Hard Knox Life is about the intersection of Marketing, Media and Technology.  In other words, it is about how about how Brand Managers need to start thinking like a Marketing Technopologist.   But really the blog is about helping me becoming a better marketer by having a place to test ideas and stretch my thinking.  When working for a big corporation, you have an amazing amount of resources at your fingertips.  And you are surrounded by incredibly smart people.  But most of these people have a similar background to you and are trained to approach problems in the same way.  My blog has helped me by giving me access to people with different backgrounds and views on the business world.  It is a way to connect with these people outside of my day to day work and really get a set of different viewpoints on what is going on with marketing.

For those of you blogging, do you find yourself often having to explain why you are doing it?

Even a Brand Manager needs their 10,000 hours of practice to be great

Bob Lefsetz gets it.  And I’m not just talking about the music industry but business overall.  He gets what it takes to be great in your industry of choice.

In his most recent letter, Bob rallied against a music industry that seems focused on young “prodigies”… overnight success stories who might have the talent, but haven’t put in the time or practice to really become great.  His argument is based on Malcolm Gladwell‘s “Outliers” as he writes:

Innate talent, pure desire, they’re not enough.  Sure, Mozart started writing music when he was six, but he didn’t compose a masterwork until he was twenty one, after he’d put in 10,000 hours of practice.  How can you have accumulated 10,000 hours worth of practice if you’re not even close to twenty one?  Turns out that’s the rule.  You’ve got to have 10,000 hours

He goes on to write that it is NOT about age.  It is about determination:

I’m not saying you’ve got to be old to make it, maybe you just have to be doggedly focused.  Not only on making it, but rehearsing, getting it right.  The music industry has lobbied against this. It has not encouraged its stars to practice.

And it is in that last sentence that Lefsetz makes a comment that Brand Managers should pay attention to.  Those that are great in their industries, be it sports, music or science are not great based on talent alone.

They are great because of the time they have put in time to being great.

Why does that matter to marketers and Brand Maangers?  Why does it matter to our own careers?  Well think about your competition, the Brand Manager running your biggest rival.  Chances are the two of you have a pretty similar education background.  And more likely than not, you both have similar resources at work.  So how can you get an edge…how can you be the better Brand Manager?

If you believe Gladwell and Lefsetz have it right, you will get that edge through practice and focus.  You will get that edge by throwing yourself at the task of being a better marketer.  Lefsetz hints at how you can do this when he talks about Millenials and their use of technology:

Maybe the conventional wisdom is right, today’s kids do have a short attention span.  Then again, they play videogames for hours, they surf online for days on end.  That’s why your teenager is a computer expert, why he can run your machine at what appears to be light speed.  Because it’s second-nature to him.

To make the comparison back, this means you need to make marketing second-nature by practicing, by putting in your 10,000 hours.  You won’t get there in your day-to-day job activities.  You need to go above and beyond.  So with that in mind, here are a few ways Brand Managers can find their 10,000 hours of practice:

  1. Start blogging: Seth Godin wrote that “Blogging makes you a better marketer because it teaches you humility in your writing.”  I’d add that blogging is the best practice in marketing you can find.
  2. Dive into Social Media such as Twitter: Twitter gets a bad rap from people that don’t fully understand it.  For me, Twitter is practice.  When I connect and talk with other marketers through Twitter, it is like being at marketing batting practice.
  3. Volunteer your marketing brain power: I’d argue that spending 2 hours helping a non-profit with their marketing will teach you more than staying at work an extra two hours.  And you get the added benefit of doing some good in the process.
  4. Read everything and anything: Knowledge is power and the best form of practice.  Make RSS your best friend and read what the best minds in business think on their blogs.  Get involved in the conversations through comments.  Read the top business books each year.
  5. Meet new people: Take advantage of breakfast, lunch and coffee breaks to meet new people in your industry.  Go to industry conferences and actually make use of them to network.  Shake hands, have drinks and keep on practicing.

These are just a few of the ways I’m trying to get my 10,000 hours of practice at being the best at marketing that I can be.  What would you add to the list?  How are you practicing to be a better marketer and Brand Manager?

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Business Inspiration for the New Year

As I was catching up on my RSS reading, two posts by Seth Godin and Fred Wilson really caught my attention as inspiration for the New Year.

In the first, Seth Godin posed the question, “Do ads work?” In particular, Seth is asking about digital ads where he feels the mindset of marketers should be “We have an unlimited budget for ads that work.“  In his own words:

Digital ads are different (or they should be). You should know cost per click and revenue per click and be able to make a smart guess about lifetime value of a click. And if that’s positive, buy, buy, buy.  And if you don’t know those things, why are you buying digital ads?

Seth goes on to give the example of Amazon during the Dot Com boom of the late ’90′s.  He says that during this time, the mantra at Amazon was $33. “They would buy unlimited ads, of any kind, as long as they generated new customers for $33 or less each.” Was $33 too high of a number to be sustainable?  Possibly.  But their internal ROI showed that $33 was the magic number and there was unlimited money to buy ads under that figure.

In other words, don’t use the excuse that you don’t have the budget.

Any idea that you have proven will build your sales and share should be invested in…and it should be invested in at the expense of ads that aren’t proven.

In the second thought-provoking post, Fred Wilson talked about creating a great business team in “Putting the Band Back Together.” Fred has noticed that as times get tough, many successful serial entrepreneurs are rejoining people they have worked with in the past.  Or as he puts it, “they are getting the band back together for awhile.”  Fred sees this as an encouraging sign because:

Teams that have worked together successfully before know the strengths and weaknesses of each other and they know how to get along, make hard decisions, and move the ball forward each and every day.

I think this is a brilliant insight and one that most businesses don’t think about often enough.  Think about your own brand team at work.  How long has the most junior person been on the team?  Or how long have the most senior members worked together?  What about your agency?  Have the same people been on the account as long as the Brand Manager or Marketing Director?  I’d be willing to bet that there has been considerable change over on both sides.

I think more brands need to follow the advice of Fred and “get the band back together.” 

If you have a successful brand and agency team, then practice continuity and keep them working together.

Business is a game of teamwork and it takes time to develop good working relationships.  In sports, All Star games are boring because the best players don’t practice together every day.  So when you throw them together, they don’t know how to work together.  Just look at what happened to the USA “Dream Team” in 2002 – 2004 when we lost to teams that had played together for years.

The same thing might be happening to your brand when you change the players every year.

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Maker’s Mark uses community engagement to turn the ordinary into extraordinary

Photo by DRP on Flickr

I’m a proud member of the Maker’s Mark Ambassador Program.  And as a new resident of Kentucky, its a good thing I am because they take their bourbon seriously around these parts.  In fact, I actually think love of bourbon is a requirement for living in the Commonwealth of Kentucky.

But seriously, I’m happy to be a member of the Maker’s Mark Ambassador program because it is one of the sharpest relationship marketing programs out there.  First off, it’s the envy of the liquor industry.  Second, one of the perks of the program is that I get a bottle out of my very own barrel (which is pretty cool).  And third, the company has an amazing ability to treat their Ambassadors like they are part of the company with small, little perks.

I was reminded of that simple fact this week when the company posted on their Ambassador blog about an upcoming website redesign (side note: this great blog was spearheaded by Jason Falls of Social Media Explorer).   Now let’s face it.  A website redesign isn’t exactly sexy news.  In fact, most people probably wouldn’t even notice it.  But Maker’s was able to reach out to their Ambassador program and make the community feel special by giving them a peak inside.  Here is what they posted about the launch:

Just wanted to drop you a note on a cool sneak preview (sort of). Sometime between now and Monday, will look a little different. We’re launching a redesign but aren’t telling anyone but you for now. Certainly, anyone who goes there can see it, but we really want to get your feedback and let you have dibs on checking it out.

So, go to sometime over the weekend or early next week and check out the new digs. Keep in mind that moving a big ole website involves a lot of complicated technical stuff I couldn’t begin to pronounce, much less explain, so if you see the site is down or something, we’re in the middle of the move. Just be patient and come back later.

Though a simple gesture, it really says something special about Maker’s Mark.  It shows that they understand their community and more importantly they know how to talk to them.  By talking to the community in a real, authentic voice, they are able to turn the simple redesign of an ordinary website into what I perceive to be an extraordinary brand interaction.  Well done guys.

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Nintendo Wii creates one of the most brilliant pieces of digital marketing I have ever seen

Thanks to Adam Cohen, I came across one of the most brilliant pieces of digital marketing that I have seen in awhile.  The ad is for the Nintendo Wii and their latest game, Wario Land.

Creative like this is why digital is transforming our jobs as marketers and Brand Managers.  If you haven’t seen what I am talking about, go check it out now at:

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