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Building Relationships: Franco Uomo

14 Aug

Building Relationships: Franco Uomo

Those that know me understand my love of fashion. I’m obsessed with shoes, jackets, vintage rock tees, premium denim and bespoke dress shirts. Many of you also know that I spend a fair amount of time at the eBay Mothership in San Jose. When you combine the aforementioned two, it’s not hard to understand how I came to be a loyal Franco Uomo customer at his shop on Santana Row.

Franco has a personality that is larger than life. He’s animated, generous and has a spectacular eye for detail. When you buy something from him, it’ll be fairly expensive, but you know you’ve purchased the very best.

Franco and his staff have been very good to me over the last couple of years, but a week ago they went above and beyond what I could ever expect from any business relationship.

I realize that most businesses will never be in a position to do something like this for their customers. Beyond the fact that it’s the equivalent of finding a needle in a haystack, it just doesn’t scale. However, I think there is something here for the rest of us. How can we pick up signals from our customers and act on them in a way that shows how much we value them, not just for their business, but as people? I’ve been swishing that question around in my tiny brain for over a week and I don’t have an answer. I’d love to know what you come up with…

Franco has always told me that relationships are the most important thing to him. Relationships should be at the heart of every business strategy. Are they the centerpiece of yours?

Tell Me Your Story

8 Jun

Tell Me Your Story

A few weeks ago I was in Austin, Texas on a corporate retreat with one of my clients when the subject of clothing and fashion came up. I had just returned from a pilgrimage to my favorite boot shop in town when my colleague, Peter, pointed out that I seemed to be drawn to bespoke clothing and brands. In the past we had chatted over drinks about my love of certain types of brands and products and he understood that to mean “custom” products. As I thought it about it more, I wasn’t necessarily drawn to custom products or even expensive brands, it was more about those that had an interesting story to tell.

I’m a fan of supporting small businesses – even more so when they have a compelling story about what led them down the road they’re traveling on. For example, I know that Jerry Ryan, owner of Heritage Boot in Austin, is from Ireland and had wanted to be a bootmaker in the United States since he was a kid. I know that Jack Sepetjian, and his family at Anto Distinctive Shirtmakers in Beverly Hills, have been making hand-measured custom shirts for clients like Frank Sinatra, Mickey Rourke, Tom Cruise and Eric Stonestreet (Modern Family) for a more than half a century. I know that Mike and Brook Carhartt, of Carhartt Winery, crafts some of the finest Pinot Noir in the Santa Ynez Valley by lovingly tending to their family-owned 13 acre vineyard just north of Santa Barbara.

How do I know all this? They told me. They’ve made it a point to weave these stories into the fabric of their brand and that is a powerful thing.

Even today, I still speak to businesses that don’t see the value in sharing their stories with their customers. They feel like the conversation should ultimately be about low prices, volume and revenue. And while I agree that we’ve descended into a Walmart-centric culture where people want the absolute lowest prices for anything and everything, I believe that there are people like me that will seek out and pay more for quality items from a brand whose story we can identify with. I believe these people, like me, will not only pay more to support these brands, but they will also shout their loyalty from the rooftops. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve Tweeted about my favorite pair of Heritage Boots, or talked my friends’ ears off about a delicious bottle of Carhartt wine. When I find something I like, I want to share it with those around me and I don’t believe I’m the only one that feels this way.

Interestingly, I didn’t discover any of the brands I’ve mentioned above on Twitter or Facebook. Instead, a conversation with a concierge here, and a sommelier there and I was on my way. But, just because I didn’t initially find these hidden gems online, I did research them there and it was then that I fell in love with their mission and commitment to their craft. For the record, there are lots  of other brands I dig that are heavily engaged online including; Ugmonk, Franco Uomo, Robert Graham and The Biltmore. They all deserve your attention.

Now let’s be clear – I didn’t write this post to show you how to tell your story – I’ve written many posts on how to use the web to build your brand. You can start HERE, HERE and HERE if you’re so inclined. Instead, I wanted to try and convince you that your story is worth telling. Passion is contagious. People respect those that are committed to doing things differently and driving their brand forward. They want to support those that are unique and passionate about taking the road less traveled.

I challenge you to craft your story: why do you do what you do? How did you get here? What does your brand mean to you? Start there and put it online. Then share it in person with your customers. Let me know how it goes.

 

Over-Sanitizing Your Content

16 May

Over-Sanitizing Your Content

Creating original content for your business is a great thing, but you’re not doing yourself any favors if you’re constantly scrubbing out all the dirt, bite and passion from your blog posts, tweets and videos. Sometimes getting a little grimy is good thing.

I speak with businesses every week that say they want to make their corporate communication channels compelling and engaging to their users, yet when it comes time to pull the trigger, they trim and cut out all the meat that made the content worth publishing in the first place.

Recently, Chris Brogan posted an article on his site about agencies discontinuing their blogs due to lack of engagement and readership. He believes, like I do, that if no one is reading your blog, it’s probably because it’s boring.

Businesses take risks every day. Some of them pay off and some don’t. Content creation is an investment – one that I believe is not only worthwhile, but essential to your business. If you’re going to spend the money and human capital to make a go of it, have the courage to push boundaries. Be bold. Speak your mind. Take a position on issues relevant to your industry. That’s what your users want to see and it’s what will help you build a passionate community around your offerings.

What do you think? Do you agree that we shouldn’t over-sanitize our corporate content, or is there more at play here? I’d love to get your comments below.

Converse Embraces Their Rock N’ Roll Status

23 Jan

Converse Embraces Their Rock N’ Roll Status

Converse All-Stars have long been the footwear of choice for rockers of all genres, ages and styles. From the Ramones to Joan Jett to Billie Joe Armstrong to Slash, Converse have dominated the rock n’ roll uniform for decades. In fact, in full disclosure, I own about 10 different pairs of “Chucks” in various styles and colors and wear them just about every day. To me, the word “iconic” doesn’t begin to do this brand justice.

Today, I saw that Converse is giving back to the music community that’s been so good to them by opening a recording studio in Brooklyn, NY that caters to up-and-coming talent. The best part for bands? If you’re selected you get recording time free of charge. You also get Converse’s considerable promotional muscle working to help you find a larger audience for your work.

As Converse’s CMO, Geoff Cottrill, says “we are absolutely in the business of selling footwear and apparel. This is an opportunity for us to say thank you to lots of people who are already wearing our footwear and apparel.”

Obviously, Converse is spending a significant amount of money to fund this studio in the hopes that the investment keeps them relevant in the hearts and minds of rockers throughout the world. Is it a good plan? I think so. Rock n’ roll has arguably kept this brand hip and timeless in a way that few others have been able to pull off. This project allows Converse to talk about the support they offer to the music community, while hopefully capitalizing on the goodwill and hype of the social media community.

What do you think? Is this a quick ploy by Converse or a real chance for struggling musicians to get their music heard in a way not possible before? I’d love to get your comments below.

The Growing Impact of Online Video

14 Dec

Several weeks back I was interviewed by my old friend, Mark Yoshimoto Nemcoff, at BlogWorld Los Angeles about eBay’s increased adoption of video in their communications strategy. And while I can’t comment on the larger eBay philosophy, I can say that in my role at eBay Partner Network, we’ve worked really hard to make video content a priority in our comms plan for the last year and a half. While this video obviously speaks to my work with eBay, I think the fundamental principles discussed here are important for every company to think about.

Are you using video in your marketing strategy? Why not? Does the cost seems prohibitive? Do you think it’s too much work? If your business is using video, what made you take that leap? How has it changed your relationship with your customers? I’d love to get your thoughts in the comments below.

Celebrate Your Business

4 Aug

Celebrate Your Business

This week in Santa Barbara we’re celebrating “Fiesta.” Traditionally, it’s a celebration of our Spanish heritage – an excuse for those that live here to enjoy our town and the people that live in it while watching parades and tossing back drinks. This got me thinking about how businesses could (and should) be doing the same things within their walls (maybe sans drinks and parades). How do you celebrate the people that make your organization great?

How Do You Keep a Struggling Medium Alive? Ask Brian Williams

3 Aug

How Do You Keep a Struggling Medium Alive? Ask Brian Williams

The evening news on television is something that I enjoy watching. In fact, I make every effort to try be in front of my TV each night at 5:30 when Brian Williams goes on air here in California. I realize that I’m not part of the mainstream – viewership of the evening news has been steadily declining for years. These days, it’s mostly people in their 60’s and 70’s that typically don’t get their news online as it breaks from outlets like CNN.com, MSNBC.com or channels like Twitter. So, the television news business has something of a marketing dilemma that they need to overcome:

How do you keep a 30-minute new broadcast relevant for a more connected, tech-savvy generation?

I would love to pose that question to Brian Williams. He seems to be doing his part to stay relevant and implanted in the psyche of a younger group of viewers. Consider that he’s hosted SNL to positive reviews and regularly appears on shows like 30 Rock. This past week he was part of a very funny skit on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon:

I think this gets at the heart of why people like me watch the news. I don’t have to watch Brian Williams every night. I get my fill of the major headlines throughout the day online. By the time network anchors are in make-up, I’m up to speed. I watch NBC’s Nightly News because I like Brian Williams. I think he comes across as authoritative without being robotic. I also appreciate the fact that he writes most of his own broadcast each night so he’s vested in the news he’s reporting. He’s not afraid to throw his personality into the mix and show people that he’s an actual person. Sure, people like my grandparents may watch television news because they have a limited number of choices to stay informed, but if this decades-old platform is going stay relevant for my generation (or my daughter, Emma’s generation), then these personalities have to make you care about them. We have to be interested in who they are, while still respecting their ability to report the news. Brian Williams has done a masterful job of walking that line.

For this post I’m talking about TV news, but there are loads of other professions and platforms that are dying a slow death. What other parallels can we draw here? How do you stop the decline of an outdated product or delivery system? Is it even possible?

Grow Your Audience with Twitter

4 May

Grow Your Audience with Twitter

Today I wrote a post for the eBay Partner Network Blog that I think is very relevant to my readers here. I’ve often talked about the importance of using social media in a smart way that is centered around goals and building log term brand reputation:

From the ePN Blog:

“As publishers at eBay Partner Network, many of you use websites or blogs as part of your business model. That means you’re constantly thinking about how to increase traffic to those properties and stimulate more engagement with your brand. Today I want to talk to you about how you can accomplish that more effectively using Twitter.”

For me, using Twitter involves three major components:

1. Setting Up Your Infrastructure

Did you choose a Twitter handle that properly reflects and represents your brand? Did you complete your profile in a complete and thoughtful way? Did you include your URL?

2. Creating Excellent Content

A couple weeks back I wrote about how Content is King – that applies especially to social media channels like Twitter. How can you expect people to follow and engage with you on Twitter unless you have something interesting or important to say? A word of caution though: don’t use Twitter as a one-way broadcast channel. People get over that really fast. Instead, try to get involved in conversations and be part of a meaningful dialogue.

3. Building Your Community

This will take you a bit of time and effort and shortcuts will usually come back and bite you. I recommend following people that are into the same things that interest you. Do keyword searches for people that have the same types of interests and engage them in a discussion. Over time, people will see you a contributing member of the community and will start to follow you back.

Make sure you check out the full article over at the eBay Partner Network Blog for a deeper dive on these points.

Hashtagging Primetime

26 Apr

Hashtagging Primetime

I’m sort of a TV nut. Truth be told, I probably spend too much time obsessing about my favorite shows. In my defense I can say that I’ve drummed up more than a few content ideas for this blog by feeding my TV addiction. Watching what brands do well (and do poorly) in their television marketing has sparked more than a few tirades on these pages.

Two weeks ago I was watching an episode of Fringe on Fox. In the lower right hand corner of the screen, just above the affiliates ID badge, I noticed the hashtag “#Fringe.” For those unfamiliar, a hashtag is either a community or brand driven convention labeled with a “#” meant to add additional context to tweets. While using hashtags to promote a show may not be a new concept, Fox is the first network that I’ve seen use hashtag placement on screen for the entire episode.

So, who cares right? Well, as a marketer, YOU should.

FOX GETS TWITTER

Clearly Fox understands the power of Twitter. I also appreciated the subtly of their hashtag implementation. They didn’t beat it over our heads with a big explanation or garish graphics. Instead, they figured that if you are hip to Twitter, there was no explanation needed. To those of us dialed into the social web, that makes it sorta cool.

SAY NO TO THE DVR

One of the big obstacles that TV executives have been battling in recent years is the ubiquitous DVR. When people timeshift their favorite shows, they fast-forward through the advertising. That advertising is what keeps networks on the air.

I personally don’t know anyone that schedules time to watch their favorite shows when they actually air – do you? Instead, we program our season passes into our DVR and watch our faves on our own schedule. Instead of fighting that viewer shift, Fox is doing something that might actually have the power to affect real change on that behavior – they are creating a community experience around a shared passion.

Let’s use sports as an example – why do you think that DVRing sporting events hasn’t really caught on? I think it’s because sporting events are meant to be shared by a community – we feel connected to the fact that others in a relevant geographic zone are watching something at the same time that we are watching it. In fact, if you’ve logged onto Twitter or Facebook in the last week you’ve surely seen people live updating while watching the NBA playoffs. As humans, we get off on those types of shared experiences. Fox is essentially creating that type of communal event around Fringe. By creating and encouraging the use of a hashtag, they are inviting fans of the show to watch it as it airs and live tweet with millions of other enthusiasts. You can’t create that level of excitement with a timeshifted program.

SPREAD THE WORD

There is no better way to create buzz about your shows than with strong word of mouth. NBC can (and has) shown me all the promos for “The Voice” that I can stand, but I’m way more likely to watch it if I see members of my social circle talking about it online. Traditional advertising has it’s place, but you can’t beat the trusted recommendation of your personal social graph. By creating and promoting the use of a hashtag, Fox is not only connecting enthusiasts of its shows during their airing, but also generating trending buzz on Twitter.

SAVVY VIEWERS

Would this type of campaign work on a show like NCIS or Law & Order? Doubtful. Those shows tend to skew to an older, less tech-savvy demographic. My guess is that you wouldn’t find my Dad watching either of those programs while updating his Facebook profile. The audience for Fringe on the other hand is a younger, hipper demographic and Fox is taking advantage of that enthusiasm. For the record, I’ve also seen them apply the hashtag treatment to Glee as well. You don’t get a more rabid, vocal fanbase than the “Gleeks.”

MINIMAL INVESTMENT, MAXIMUM RETURN

These are the types of tactics that brands don’t spend enough time thinking about. If you break this campaign down, it involved absolutely no time, resources or infrastructure on the part of Fox to implement. Hell, their graphics department didn’t even have to create a badge! All they did was type #Fringe or #Glee into the character generator and apply it to the screen. Everything else is handled by the existing Twitter platform. It doesn’t get any simpler or more cost-effective to launch a marketing initiative than that.

What other tactics have you seen that are as easily deployed ? I’d love to get your comments below.

The Value of Conferences

19 Apr

The Value of Conferences

Last week I left my home in Santa Barbara and went through a ridiculous itinerary of two flights, two cab rides and a train excursion to get to ad:tech in San Francisco. As I was halfway through my Planes, Trains and Automobiles adventure, I started to ponder the value of it all. Are conferences like ad:tech worth it?

In addition to the crazy hours of travel (noted above) we spend money on conference registration, hotel rooms, meals, cocktails, cab fare and any number of other charges that inevitably pop up while traveling. For what? Why do we do it? Is there real value in spending all this time and money to meet your customers or partners face to face?

I think so.

I attend between seven and ten conferences in a typical year. I attend for a variety of business reasons and always have firm deliverables, but I attend for another big reason: it energizes me. Too often we get stuck in a rut and are so focused on our singular view of the world that we forget that there are thousands of other marketers out there trying to accomplish similar things. Trading opinions about a keynote or sharing war stories over a cocktail remind us that we’re part the same business species. For me, that’s a comforting thing. Whether it leads to a business relationship or not, the renewal of purpose is worth the entire expense of the trip.

But, we all serve our masters and the powers that be usually insist that we come back with business leads and new ideas on how to make our organizations better. That’s fair I guess, especially since said master is footing the bill. That said, how do you go about sorting through the hundreds of business cards you inevitably gather? Do you have a tactical plan or do you start cold calling? Maybe you prefer to send the “hey, it was great seeing you at ad:tech…” email. Or, maybe you forget about those cards altogether and they’re still sitting on the back of your desk gathering dust. My suggestion? Spend an hour on your first day back in the office and take a hard look at each card and assess the real business potential there. Did you exchange cards because you met at the bar while waiting for your cocktail or was there a serious exchange of ideas?

Once you’ve determined the handful of cards with real value I suggest capturing them digitally in a way that makes sense for you. There are dozens of apps that will do this for you, or you can create something as simple as an Excel spreadsheet. Take this time to also create your follow-up strategy. You want to reach out while the meeting is still fresh in their mind, but you don’t want to bombard them on their first day back in the office. After that initial reach-out, their response should give you a better sense of what type of business (if any) you can expect in the near term.

Personally, I’ve never had any business come from a conference meeting in the near term. Instead, what usually happens is those initials meetings and business card exchanges often turn into friendships over time, and that has lead to lots of my consulting work. In fact, I can’t think of a single client I’ve had that I didn’t know already on some level. Trust, reputation and familiarity go a long way in my business and I’ve found that very little tops an honest exchange of ideas over a cocktail.

So what’s your take on all this? What do conferences mean to you? Why do you attend and how do you measure your success afterward? I’d love to get your take in the comments.