Monday, November 29, 2010

Client in the News: Steppenwolf Entertains Millennials

Steppenwolf Theatre Company wants to make sure that its distinctive experience remains relevant to younger audiences. As part of a strategic move to woo Millennials, the renowned ensemble asked us to research world-class brands that are winning hearts and minds of people between the ages of 23—30. We talked with lots of CMOs who shared their secrets. Some of them were surprising. We were thrilled when the New York Times featured the story this weekend.

Next week, we’ll release the findings as a FREE ebook, thanks to the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation and the Nonprofit Finance Fund (NFF), our collaborators on the project. Want a copy? Add your e-mail to our pre-order list.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Beginning and Endings

Driving across the prairie on my way to visit my Mother, my daughter and I talk about what makes us happy. And what we hope to achieve next year. Having taken a gap year, she feels ready to go away to college next year. We agreed. We’re both ready for change.

"It's not that some people have willpower and some don't," said physician James Gordon. "It's that some people are ready to change and others are not."

I’m contemplating this as I look ahead to the Thanksgiving holiday. And Christmas and New Year’s which follow swiftly afterward. It’s a good time to take stock. Be grateful for what works in our lives. Shed what doesn’t. Change is good.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Monday, November 22, 2010

Anything Can Be Fixed

Photo by JKönig
Last week, my personal life threw a tantrum demanding my attention. My teen-aged daughter smashed my car into the garage. No alcohol was involved, thank God, but a cell phone was. From that point, the week was a random flurry of bad news.

My passport went astray. I pulled a hamstring muscle. One of my best friends called with horrific news that her cancer is inoperable. The crescendo was a call with my mother when, even across the miles, I could hear the fatalism in her frail voice. At 86, she’s had enough of life, she tells me.

The bright spot was getting my oil changed. No kidding. I use a local auto repair shop instead of a chain to have my oil changed because the twin brothers who run it seem invincible. It inspires me. Nothing seems to throw them. As they circled my car sizing up the dented door they told me it wasn’t a big repair. “You can fix it?” They nodded, “We’ll try.” I giggled with relief.

“Anything can be fixed,” said the younger brother. He asked me to leave the car and they’d try to bump it out. If I wasn’t satisfied, I didn’t have to pay. My heroes. I wanted to hug the guy right there and then, his greasy coveralls not withstanding.

I walked away with a new understanding of the power of being willing.

Nothing is perfect. People try and fail all the time. I do. But it shouldn’t cloud the value of the willingness to step up to hard tasks.

It’s my observation that the economy has made people timid to try new things. It’s part of what’s keeping us stuck. Are we fearing failure so much that we have lost sight of what it takes to cultivate success? I think so.

Give something a try. Be willing to fix something that’s vexing your customer, even if you’re not sure it’ll work. I’d like to argue that it is the willingness itself that will matter the most to them. Like my mechanics, you will radiate the reassuring energy that’s so scarce in these times.

Want to win business? Believe that “anything can be fixed.”

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Random Acts of Culture: Flash Opera Rocks Macy’s World in Philly

What happens when the Flash Mob concept does a costume change? It becomes “Flash Opera,” that’s what. Recently, the Opera Company of Philadelphia popped up at Macy’s in downtown Philadelphia with 650 singers from 28 different choirs around the region to join organists Peter Conte and Fred Haas to sing the "Hallelujah" Chorus from Handel's great oratorio Messiah, in a Random Act of Culture.

Unsuspecting shoppers were browsing amidst a holiday mashup combination of Christmas trees and Thanksgiving cornucopia when the organ struck up the opening bars of "Hallelujah". The singers rocked retail in grand style. No matter that Handel’s masterpiece is Easter music. Holidays are like sports seasons in America…it’s all one long re-mix. Random Acts of Culture is a project of The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation. Let me sing their praises!

Monday, November 15, 2010

Bill Shakespeare Tops Bill O’Reilly in Popularity

Photo by tonynetone
Using statistical tools at its sibling blog, AllFacebook, Galleycat compiled a list of the most popular authors on Facebook.

Authors are arranged according the number of Facebook fans they counted as of this Nov. 11, 2010. Shakespeare’s still hot, rocking the #4 slot. Saucy lad! Shakespeare blew past Bill O'Reilly. Now who's the freshest one of all? Turns out the dead guy is.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Kevin Spacey On Success

Julie Daley, a Stanford-educated guru on creativity in business, turned me on to this talk by Kevin Spacey. It’s very moving. Forget the usual “motivational” speeches you sit through at business events. Never mind the 5 Secrets, or the Top Tips. Spacey boils it down to one thing. And he delivers it with courage and conviction. See if it lifts the hairs off the back of your neck as it did mine.

Need a good deed for the day? Here’s one tip: share this with a young person today:

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Coming soon: Kama Sutra as Lifestyle Guide

Photo by sehroiber
Galley Cat reports that a new version of the 1,600-year-old Hindu text has been polished to focus more on love and relationships. Penguin UK will publish it as a text-only pocket-sized handbook next February. What, no pictures? Where’s the fun in that?

Apparently, what the new version lacks in visual stimuli it will make up for in modern relevance. Chapters address such topics as ‘Making a Pass,’ ‘Why Women Get Turned Off,’ ‘Girls to Avoid,’ ‘Is He Worthwhile?,’ ‘Getting Rid of Him,’ ‘Easy Women,’ ‘Moves Towards sex,’ and ‘Some Dos and Don’ts.’

Making a note for Valentine’s Day.

Monday, November 8, 2010

New study: Cause Marketing Not A Chick Thing

The first survey of men in the six-year history of The PRWeek/Barkley Cause Survey has uncovered surprising data:

- 75% of brands now engage in cause marketing (up from 58% in 2009)
- 97% of marketing executives believe it to be a valid business strategy

So what’s the problem? The research also shows that Boomer CMOs still consider cause marketing a chick thing.

68% of corporate marketing executives say they have no plans to target men for cause-related campaigns. Yet the research shows male consumers, especially younger males, respond to cause campaigns:

- 88% of men say it’s important for a brand to support a cause
- 61% have purchased a brand because it supported a cause
- 67% would try a brand because it supported a cause
- 55% would pay more for a brand that supported a cause

“The Boomer generation has carved out the path toward looking at cause marketing as an important way to connect with consumers,” said Mike Swenson, President, Barkley Public Relations. “But even more so is Gen X and Gen Y Millennials, who view it as something that must be done. That’s why we’re seeing the numbers we do with men. It’s no longer a gender issue.”

Boomer CMOs can complain all they want to about the lack of job security, but a failure to stay relevant is like drinking poison and hoping the other person dies. A new generation is coming up. Boomers can either wake up and get on board, or hold onto outmoded attitudes with one hand and their pink slip with the other.

The reality is that gender boundaries are blurring among younger cohorts. Millennials still maintain gender roles, no question. Just not in the same ways. Now, more than ever, it pays to invest in insights to keep a brand thriving at the leading edge of cultural changes. But having the insights and acting on them means taking a risk to encourage the old guard to embrace a set of values not their own. It beats clinging to the past.

For the full survey, visit

Friday, November 5, 2010

Rapportive: How Useful Are You to Other People

Do you know how useful you are to other people? It’s not something we tend to think about. Now, there’s a Gmail app called Rapportive to remind us. Every time someone sends you an email, you’re automatically provided with a few basic facts about that person. It includes links to their profiles on various social media sites.

Depending on your perspective, it’s either an amazing or terrifying prospect. Free plug-ins like Rapportive take our “always on” collective consciousness to a new level. It also reminds us that a personal brand is something worth cultivating carefully. Especially if others will have our mini-vitae served up every time they get an email from us. It begs the question: "Is this person really useful to know?"

Hint: Their answer will be based on how generously you promote others, how interesting you are, and how you make other people feel.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Building Brand Loyalty Using Email

Email still matters in digital culture. It just has more specific uses. For example, heavy users of the Internet use it for "official" communications. Social exchanges belong over at social media sites.

On any email list, there will be three populations: the people who love you, the people who like you, and the group who are voyeurs, just hanging in there for the view. A recent piece over at MarketingProfs discusses how to know that difference. And what to do about it to build brand loyalty.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Campaign Fatigue and Citizen Empowerment Culture

Photo by League of Michigan Bicyclists
Mid-term elections in my neck of the woods were a mud-slinging contest. It made me realize how ineffective politicians appear when it comes to leading real change. Perhaps that’s why citizens are grabbing on to technology like SeeClickFix.

A hybrid, SeeClickFix blends the self-organizing features of social media and the utility of Geospatial Information Systems (GIS) to help people make change. Got a big pothole that needs fixing? Snap a picture using your cell phone and report it to your town’s road works authority! Done and done.

SeeClickFix is one of the cultural signals bubbling to the surface. It's signifying that social media norms are crossing over. It's empowering. It's  simple. And it's getting hot. As it gains adoption, it will also empower people to demand other changes and report other problems.

It makes you wonder. As technology like SeeClick Fix grows in usage, how will it change the nature of local leadership? Are machine politicians still relevant?

Read more at the Huffington Post.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

How to Write Your Novel in 30 Days

Photo by this is your brain on lithium
November is National Novel Writing month. Otherwise known as NaNoWriMo, it’s a shout out to all aspiring novelists to get going. Here’s the challenge: Write 50,000 words in 30 days. I can’t imagine how it’d be possible. Every time I talk with my neighbor the successful novelist, I’m struck by how painstaking her craft is.

But, then there’s the guy who composed a novel entirely on Facebook. So I ask you. Could you produce 50,000 words you’d be proud of in 30 days?

Monday, November 1, 2010

Personal Brand

Today is Monday, and it’s the start of a new month. Feels like a new start in lots of ways, right? So this week, I’m going to focus posts on personal brands. A personal brand can be and elusive thing to create. Overpreening can result in a crippling self-consciousness. Have you ever noticed that people who are really good at managing their personal brand make it look effortless.

Yesterday was the last day to enter Dan Pink’s clever online contest, “What’s your sentence?” Pink invited peeps to reduce their lives to a single sentence. Tough to do. Even tougher if you’re the kind of person who defies category: Bono, Richard Branson, Margaret Mead. There are people who become their jobs, Steve Jobs for instance. There are people who become their partner’s job—Nancy Reagan, for example. There are people who morph like cats with nine lives—Al Franken.

As we witness the rise of the RenGen, renaissance generation, exercises like Dan Pink’s invitation to boil our lives down to a simple sentence will prove ever more challenging. That’s because people are breaking down categories, crossing disciplines and expressing utterly new genres.

Still, if you want to build a personal brand, it’s good to know what lies at the beating heart of who you are. Take a crack at it.