VCU Basketball Will Do Remarkable Things Off The Court.

The success of the VCU basketball team has inspired the university.

The success of the VCU basketball team is growing the VCU brand in all areas. This phenomenon is exactly what Seth Godin talks about in his book “Purple Cow.”  Godin says to be successful, a brand must be remarkable. How does “Purple Cow” connect with VCU and the basketball team?

Joey Rodriguez celebrates victory over Kansas. Photo of Richmond Times-Dispatch on 03/28/2011

For those not familiar with VCU, it’s a big university with big university accomplishments and with a community college brand. The alumni are minimally active. The students wear t-shirts and hoodies from other colleges more often than VCU t-shirts and hoodies. But, this week VCU students are wearing yellow and black like never before. And I bet the VCU development directors (fundraisers) are having crazy success.

Shaka Smart (VCU head coach) and the basketball team finally has captured the imagination of the nation. The black-and-yellow VCU Rams are a purple cow. The basketball team is remarkable – something to talk about.

The basketball team is giving VCU a national reputation. In turn… The team is finding jobs for alumni who are out of work. The team is increasing the number of admission applications next year. The team is hiring more faculty. The team is providing more scholarships. The team is funding more research. Purple cows inspire amazing things.

Can the VCU basketball team create a VCU football team?

The success of the VCU basketball team has added more fuel to the argument in favor of a VCU football team. A remarkable basketball team does not mean a remarkable football team. The buzz created by the basketball team comes from their success in the NCAA Tournament. If the university was going to invest in a football team to the extent that the team would be remarkable — competitive at the national level (like Virginia Tech, Florida State, Texas, and Michigan) — then it makes sense to talk about VCU football in the same conversation with VCU basketball (this year).

Unfortunately, VCU will not invest the $50 million – $100 million needed to have a nationally ranked football program. And so the VCU football team will not be remarkable (like VCU basketball this year). While there are many good reasons why VCU should have a football team, using the success of the VCU basketball team to argue for a football team is not a rational argument. However, rational thinking is not why people do things. People (including university officials) do things for emotional reasons. The basketball team has inspired everyone associated with VCU. And so those in favor of bringing football to VCU should capitalize on the moment. Now’s the time to make an all-out blitz to push for Rams football.

Football isn’t the best investment for VCU right now. A smarter investment is put more money into getting the basketball team back into the Final Four. Invest in coaching, facilities, and recruiting for the basketball team. It’s a lot less than starting a football program, and it will be more purple (as in the cow).

Learn more about purple cows in this wonderful TED Talk.

Go Rams.

Can MySpace be cool again?

After being in decline for 20 social-media years, MySpace is finally waking up and doing something about it.  Please note that a social-media year is equal to two dog years, and a dog year is equal to seven people years.

Here’s a little history lesson that goes back a half century (in social media years). MySpace used to have twice the traffic of Facebook. Then Facebook became more relevant while MySpace didn’t. In the middle of 2009, the traffic numbers on Facebook flew past the number of visitors on MySpace, and Facebook continues to grow in popularity. In October 2008, MySpace had over 60% of the social-media market; now it’s only 30% of it. Facebook is now top-dog with over 58% of the social-networking traffic (all according to Hitwise).myspace

The Wall Street Journal reported today that MySpace is trying to “recover its cool by becoming an online hangout that connects friends around entertainment.”  There are many things that I like about this. First is that MySpace is finally doing something to revitalize the brand. It’s about time!  Secondly, this strategy connects with consumers (they love entertainment) and it connects with a core aspect of MySpace — music. MySpace has always been a great place for bands (big and small) to showcase their music. The musical niche is about the only strong suit MySpace has held onto during its free fall.

The article says that MySpace is ramping up its technology initiatives to create new products that let users share entertainment content (music, games, celebrities, videos, and blogs) with friends is an essential part of its strategy. “This is not an all-things-for-everybody portal,” Mr. Hirschhorn says. “This is a social entertainment experience.”

MySpace has hired several key big-time executives to support this effort — a new CEO and a new chief revenue officer (focused on ad sales). They are looking to create opportunities for big brands to create ad sponsorships in the new MySpace. It will be interesting to see if they can invite advertisers to the party without alienating the guests (the MySpace users).

Who will be ahead in the next social-media year? Nobody knows. Social networks have been hit by a fad component that Yahoo, Friendster and AOL can tell you all about. You can also ask Twitter about fads. I’ll put my money on the network that figures out how to seamlessly tie into cell phones (customer convenience) AND make it easy and natural for brands to connect with people (monetization).

Volkswagon makes the world a better place.

Successful brand become bigger than their products. They become ways of life for their loyal fans. VW has a new viral campaign doing a nice job of this. It’s called The Fun Theory. Through the site and the viral videos, VW engages people in wonderful ways — giving the audience a VW brand experience. This also shows that VW is a positive part of our community — socially aware. Check out the videos that have been seen by over 1 million people in just a matter of days.

The website says that it is “dedicated to the thought that something as simple as fun is the easiest way to change people’s behaviour for the better. Be it for yourself, for the environment, or something entirely different, the only thing that matters is that it’s change for the better.”

To encourage further interactivity with the site (and with VW by extension), visitors are encouraged to “take part in the competition to find fun ways to change behaviour.”  Winners receive cash prizes for finding fun ways to get people to exercise and to get people “to pick up their dogs doings.”

VW is has a subtle presence with a logo smaller than a dime and the line, “An initiative of Volkswagon.”  Bravo VW!

Dancing and Inspiring Critical Mass

Find the tipping point in this spontaneous dance party at the 2009 Sasquatch! Music Festival (watch the video).

Gladwell (the author of The Tipping Point) is right:  little things can make a big difference. Who inspired this dance party?  Most people will credit the first guy dancing (the guy without the shirt). However, if it weren’t for the 2nd and 3rd guys, the small group of five people would not have joined in. And the small group is what inspired the huge group of people to get up and dance. This is a wonderful example of critical mass – a threshold in social behavior that triggers a larger event or a new action.  This video reveals fantastic insights into inspiration and what it takes to inspire others into action.  Brands and ad campaigns seek to inspire critical mass. Most fall short.

A few takeaways from this video:

– Everyone is a leader if he/she leads.

– Don’t try to change everyone. Change a few and everyone will follow.

– Be uncool. Cool dudes aren’t cool; they’re fearful. They limit themselves and those around them. The first 20 dancers weren’t trying to be cool; they didn’t fear being singled out. In fact, they sought the attention of being different. And the last 20 dancers joined the crowd because they were following the lead of the mass.

– Live passionately.

– If you see a good thing going on, join in.

– Allow change to take over.

– Don’t be afraid to dance your face off even if you “can’t dance.”

– Enjoy!

By the way, the song is “Unstoppable” by Santigold.

Getting People To Your Website

Getting web visitors is what every website owner wants (including me!). Many people call it driving traffic. I refer to it as creating gravity because many of the best actions will pull visitors to a website as opposed to pushing them there from other places.CreatingGravity

When the discussion of creating gravity or driving traffic comes up (with me at least), it usually involves a small budget. People often think that it’s easy for any website to get a million hits. It’s because of the stories like the YouTube video of a cat dancing to an old disco song… and getting 7 million hits in one month. A dancing cat getting 7 million hits is impressive, but a website for a local insurance agency won’t get that much attention… no matter what. Unless a salesman puts on some tight polyester bell-bottom pants and danced like a cat to a Bee Gee’s tune. But would we want to buy insurance from that guy?  Not me.  I digress…

Like anything in business, creating gravity takes all resources:  time, money, expertise, creativity, and luck. If you want to skimp on any one of these elements, you need to make it up in the others.  As I mentioned earlier, most discussions of creating website gravity involve a small budget, so here are my top ten ways to create gravity to your website without using high-tech or high-dollar anything.

1. Create Controversy.  Stir the pot.  Tap into people’s passions. Take a tip from the conservative talk radio shows like Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck.  Leverage other media (the editorial section of a newspaper and re-print online) and other websites (make strong comments on other websites).

2. Build a Network. Create a community of like-minded sites; the whole is bigger than the sum of the parts. Brainstorm ways the community can grow beyond your community. Consider reciprocal banner ads.

3. Cover Events. Being the first to report is huge. Exclusive and underground coverage is great.  Time is of the essence!  Be the first to post some interesting news and people will flock to your site. Keep in mind, the word “news” is used liberally. Think “Entertainment Tonight” not Walter Cronkite. It can be photos from an industry event or a POV of an industry trend or just some good old scuttlebutt.

4. Make Top-Ten Lists – they make it onto Digg, Slashdot and even into the mainstream press.  Case studies:  Letterman’s Top Ten might be the most famous, but on the web, Nielsen’s Top Ten Web Design Mistakes and the recent Top 10 Unintentionally Worst Company URLs (that made both del.icio.us/popular and Digg) are good examples. Heck, you’re reading a top-ten list right now!

5. Graphic & Web Design — using design portals to drive traffic to your well-designed site. Examples include CSSThesis and CSSBeauty.

6. Leverage Social Networks.  Of course there’s the popular ones:  Twitter, Facebook, MySpace, LinkedIn, YouTube, AOL, etc.  Also consider using Ekstreme’s Socializer Tool. Using Digg, Slashdot’s, Reddit, Furl, Shadows and StumbleUpon. The list is endless and ever changing.

7. Blog and Blog Comments.  Regular content generation is required. Requires passion and expertise on the subject.  Case studies:  thousands of great blogs including Better Living through Design, Montreal Food, Re-Imagineering and Creating Passionate Users.

8. Buy Some Google Adwords. They can be cheap, and you get what you pay for, but it’s quick, easy, and worth a go.

9. Offering Something Incredible.  Build-it-and-they-will-come product.  Case studies:  Zillow, Flickr, Craigslist, Kayak, Web2.0Awards.

10. Don’t Forget the Simple Things: Use an email address from the URL. Build an email list and e-newsletters. Case Study:  Yoe.com

Bonus tips:

• Sell something on eBay or Craigslist as a way to drive traffic to your site.

• Use your business’ primary client contact point to drive traffic to your site. To encourage people to go to your website, what signature could you add to every email that is sent from your company? What could you print on the back of everyone’s business cards that would get people to go to your site? What could you print on your packaging that would entice website visits?

What ideas do you have for creating gravity (or driving traffic) to a website?  Please add a comment.

Brand USA needs some work

It’s easy for Washington’s attention to be on all of the big, ugly problems that face the United States because there are so many: the War in Iraq, the tanking economy, the War in Afghanistan, the energy prices, Korea, and Social Security.

However, there’s a bigger problem that needs their attention, and fixing this critical problem will help with all of those other problems.  We need to fix America’s brand – Brand USA.

It’s basic Marketing 101 that a company cannot succeed without a strong brand. Smart companies know that the integrity of their brand is the foundation of the strength of the organization. And companies know if the brand is in trouble, there’s trouble around every corner.

With this in mind let’s look at a short list of the big concerns that face our country. Iraq is a good place to start. Do Iraqis trust Americans? No. Iraqi people hate Americans and they hate our country. We cannot even offer them assistance without putting ourselves in harm’s way. But they don’t hate us as people; they don’t know us. They hate our brand.

The economy is in a dive. Investors don’t know where to invest because they don’t think things are going to improve. Businesses don’t want to expand because they don’t think there’s any growth potential. People don’t want to spend any money because they don’t have confidence their job is safe. It’s a nasty cycle that’s spiraling down. The poor outlook for our economy causes ripple effects on the world’s economy.  What’s going to get people wanting to buy more things to ignite our consumer-based economy? Consumers don’t tend to react to rational things like an interest rate drop or a bailout plan. Those are only going to affect corporations and accountants. But they are too cold and abstract to instill confidence in Americans. American consumers react to emotional things like the hope of the American dream, the story of an everyday American hero, and the handshake from a next-door neighbor. These are the images of the Brand USA that need to be part of the plan for economic recovery.

John Kennedy surprised many with these simple words: “…this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before the decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to Earth.”  Many thought that it was impossible and crazy, certainly in the timeframe allotted. But Kennedy’s leadership, inspiration, and confidence created inspiration and self-confidence in the American people. In turn, Kennedy boosted Brand USA. He motivated Americans by challenging the country to get behind the effort and to make it happen. It was the power of Brand USA that motivated the entire movement.

According to a study by FutureBrand (a global brand consulting firm), USA dropped one position to 4th place in the Country Brand Index, a study that measures countries with the best brand reputations. From USA Today.

Many people say that President Obama is making strides toward improving public diplomacy – another way of saying building a positive Brand USA. To give fair representation, John McCain promised if elected he would bring back the US Information Agency, focused on international PR efforts with Voice of America and Radio Free Europe. This function is currently a low-priority function of the State Department. Obama offers many opportunities to spread Brand USA, but the country’s PR effort must get a higher priority. The Christian Science Monitor reports, “The National Defense Authorization Act of 2009 requires that the president issue a new comprehensive strategy by December to guide interagency efforts on public diplomacy. It cannot come too soon.” In referring to one of Obama’s recent speeches, the article says, “public diplomacy cannot be a one-shot affair with a presidential speech. It demands follow-up, amplification, and explanation. Foreign audiences need interpretation of US government policies, and insight into the American way of life and love of freedom.”

Brand USA has the potential to do powerful things. We could develop alternative energy sources — having a big effect on our economy and on global warming. We could establish credibility with countries that have grown skeptical of the US over the years. We could reestablish hope in the American people that tomorrow will be brighter. And it all starts with a strong brand – Brand USA. A brand that inspires individuals all over the world again.

Media Complication Continues to Confuse Brands

Media fragmentation and media multiplication makes for media complication.

Traditional ways to advertise include the five traditional media — TV, radio, newspapers, magazines, and outdoor (billboards). The popularity of the Internet has added a sixth media channel (online advertising) to the mix. Only 25 years ago there were three major TV networks. There was an era when advertising during prime time on those three networks could reach 80% of the households in the US. Back then, most households got a newspaper delivered to their doorstep every day. The University of Southern California now reports that 80% of Internet users (age 17 and older) consider the Internet to be an important source of information — higher than television (68 percent), radio (63 percent), and newspapers (63 percent). Hence, newspaper subscription numbers are dropping. In the last 25 years the number of magazines has gone the other way; it has doubled. Instead of general, broad-appeal magazines like Life and Reader’s Digest, today’s magazines focus their editorial toward specific audience interest. Now there are three different national magazines dedicated to crocheting that we can all subscribe to. Now, homes with a satellite dish can receive hundreds of channels. Cable homes don’t get that many, but the options are plenty. With satellite radio, iPods®, video games, Netflix® and Blockbuster®, the American public simply has a lot more home entertainment options that involve consuming media without advertising.Old TV watching

At the same time advertisers are having a hard time getting noticed by consumers, brands are having a harder time standing apart in the marketplace. It’s more competitive than ever for brands. The relative cost to bring a product to market continues to drop. Distribution is relatively easier and cheaper than ever so it’s easy for regional brands to expand into new territories. It is cheaper today to simply knock-off a successful product as compared to designing and engineering a totally new one. This phenomenon creates low product differentiation among competitors. There are more and more product options for consumers. Visit a super market and count the brand options for basic things like mayonnaise and ketchup (or catsup). Stroll down the aisle to salad dressing and the options can be overwhelming. The options for beverages (sodas, juices, beer and wine) are mind blowing. The marketplace today is full of competitors having a harder time communicating with consumers.

Meanwhile the scope for common people to communicate has grown enormously. Just twenty years ago if a company wanted to tell a million people about their product, they used one of the traditional media (TV, radio, newspapers, magazines, etc.). There were only a few people who had access to these media because the cost was too high for the average citizen to afford it. So if a normal citizen wanted to tell a lot of people about something without spending a fortune, they could write a letter to the editor or post a sign along a busy street, but that was about it. With the Internet, people have recently been given the tools to easily communicate with millions of other people.

Citizen communicators now have an unlimited reach, and the time needed to create communications is now just seconds. People can communicate on things they experience within moments. By using a cell phone, citizen reporters send news around the world as it happens — stories, photos and video.  Disgruntled customers can air their grievances within moments of a dispute. And, happy customers can share their stories as they happen.

There is a clear change happening in media. There are new ways for companies to communicate with consumers, for consumers communicate with companies, and for consumers to communicate with other consumers. Media evolution or revolution; media democratization or saturation; media fragmentation or multiplication? It doesn’t matter. What matters is that changes in media mean changes in conversations.