Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

New Address for Word Currency

March 6, 2008

TO: Word Currency readers and cohorts –

This blog is now hosted on the Smith-Winchester website. New address: www.smith-winchester.com/wordpress.

Please visit and update your feed or aggregator. We’re launching a series on the impact of “potent messages”(as opposed to wishy-washy ones). Hope you can join us.

-David Gordon Schmidt

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New PR Paradigm

November 27, 2007

Here’s the second installment from our CEO Emeritus, Charlie Weaver… from his recently-finished article that explores customer-created brands and the new battle for mindshare.

 

For some, public relations has become the new magic bullet. In their book, The Fall of Advertising & The Rise of PR, marketing strategists Al Reis and Laura Reis make a strong case for Public Relations as the lead marketing tool for those attuned to the new branding and communications realities.

The authors argue that traditional advertising has lost its communications function and, by extension, it’s role in development of mindshare. The primary purpose of advertising, they assert, is to defend a brand once it has been built by public relations and related third-party tactics.

It’s tough to argue with success. Many of the world’s most powerful brands have been built with little or no advertising. Google, Starbucks, eBay and dozens of other category leaders have risen to prominence on the strength of the new public-relations paradigm.

Or have they? While there is solid evidence that positive third-party media coverage played a strong role in propelling these and other brands into the public consciousness, it’s not time to transfer all your eggs into the PR basket just yet.

Pets.com Wimpers and Disappears

Take Pets.com, the ill-fated dot com start-up that set out to revolutionize the way people bought pet food. The venture capitalists ponied up $50 million. The technology gurus built a killer website. And the marketing team breathed life into the Pets.com sock puppet – a hit with consumers and an instant classic in advertising circles.

So what went wrong? Some would argue that this was a prime example of the growing inability of mass media advertising to connect in a meaningful way with its target audience.

It seemed that TV viewers, while entertained, could not be moved by the self-serving messages of an unknown brand. Yet Pets.com and its dot com contemporaries didn’t lack for PR either. Newspapers, consumer magazines and other media outlets overflowed with glowing reports of the dot com revolution and its power to liberate and empower consumers. Pets.com was one of the revolution’s early heroes and the recipient of lavish media coverage.

Trouble is, no one thought to check with the consumer. Brands like Pets.com, HomeGrocer.com, Jobster and TripHub didn’t fail from lack of effective PR, or because traditional advertising no longer worked, but because they didn’t have a viable value proposition and didn’t deliver a brand experience anyone cared about. They disappeared because they couldn’t convert mindshare into paying customers.

Linux Community

Then there’s Linux – the number one brand in the open-source software category and poster child for the PR model of mindshare building. However, the Linux brand wasn’t built by PR, but by a passionate and committed community of users and developers. PR followed mindshare, more than creating it.

Linux software grew out of a project at the University of Helsinki and was placed on the Internet where it was made freely available to programmers who could apply and modify it to suit themselves. It wasn’t owned by anyone. So there was no one to advertise it. And no one to send out PR releases touting it.

The power of The Linux brand, first popularized in the mid to late 1990’s, came from its ability to deliver a high-value functional brand experience consistent with the psycho-social and emotional mindsets of Linux users. They supported and defended the brand, first and foremost, because they passionately believe in it. Champions of the Linux brand were completely self-selecting – they themselves created the compelling experiences that gave the brand power. In the process, the lines between commerce and community virtually disappeared.

It wasn’t until after the Linux brand was embraced by the technology community, that companies like Red Hat and Novell refined it and built businesses providing related support and services. The brand came first, its commercialization second.
The same basic process unfolded with online brands such as social networking site MySpace and video sharing powerhouse YouTube.

Viral YouTube

From its May2005 launch, it took YouTube just six months to achieve national brand status, and under two years to command a $1.6 billion buyout from Google. Advertising had no role in YouTube brand ascendancy. And PR came along only after YouTube had been canonized by its user community and experienced by the millions who flocked online to get in on the fun.

Like Linux and MySpace, the YouTube brand was a viral marketing phenomenon—experience-driven, community-based, and pulled into existence by brand acolytes, rather than pushed by the brand’s originator.

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To read the entire article “The New Mindshare: Rise of the Customer-Created Brand”

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Sure, But Is it Cost-Effective?

July 17, 2007

IT’S LAME

A couple of suggestions from colleague Dave Arnesen:

1) “Cost-Effective.”

 

It’s supposed to mean that you get lots of “effect” for minimum cost…. maximized “bang for the buck.” But the term is lame because it’s tame…and way over-used.

Like “innovative,” it’s one of those adjectives you throw in because it sounds good and, what the heck, why not? In business writing, both PR and advertising, we’re almost all guilty of it. We can’t really say that the product is “cheap,” and we can’t stick our neck out and position the pricing specifically against the competition. We could and should be talking ROI. How about “cost-assertive?”

When was the last time you heard anyone ask a salesperson “Is this product cost-effective?”

Cost-Effective Money

2) “Total Solutions Provider”

So, is this opposed to a “Partial Solutions Provider?”

IT’S GAME

“River.” As in “a river of new ideas.”

Also in style: Dennis Miller-type metaphors used in technical articles (with presumably a little less political agenda).

Example: “plow through coding tasks like a monster truck at a tea party.”

(Credit to Joel Spolsky, Fog Creek Software – Inc, 5/07)

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Leading is a Throw-away

February 15, 2007

IT’S LAME: “Leading” as an adjective

I recently surveyed several hundred business publication editors about words and phrases I felt were overused. The word “leading” (as in “… a leading producer of …”) was voted one of the worst. 94% surveyed felt it was overused. One editor called the word an automatic “throw-away” when he sees it in a press release.

Sticking the word “leading” into the description of a company is so common and so rote, it is meaningless. Where are the “followers?” Given that everybody uses it, “leading” certainly doesn’t mean #1 or even #2.

If you want to impress your prospects, quantify your company’s achievements, or describe your position and your USP within your market, then back up your claim. But watch out for slipping superlatives in there just for the heck of it. (i.e. unparalleled, unsurpassed). More about this in future posts.

IT’S GAME: “Distinguish” (to compare)

“Distinguish.” Use it in a sentence that specifically differentiates your product or service from the competition. Doing this helps us stay away from using broad, unsubstantiated brag-and-boast statements about being the best.

Example: “The unique ‘color-all-the-way-through’ feature of Monarch composite decking and railing distinguishes it from other wood or composite products where scratches and gouges show through the surface coloring.”

We want to post your opinions. Please comment on our “lame” and “game” choices, or add others.

AND READ ON

For more ideas on avoiding formulaic writing, read one of the better articles on writing powerful press releases, by Ann Wylie of Wylie Communications: Write a World-Class Release

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