Archive for January, 2009

Personal Branding. Brought to you by American Idol

They each have a distinct brand.

Idol contestants. They each have a distinct brand.

Guilty pleasure admission – I watch American Idol. There, I’ve got that out in the open. I feel better (with flashes of shame). But I’ve learned a few things by watching that show, other than how to hit that high C. American Idol gives us a couple of important lessons on personal branding.

The One Who…

When talking about American Idol contestants, we typically don’t remember their names, so we describe them in other ways: She’s the hippie girl; he’s the one that sounds like Sinatra; she’s the homeless girl; she’s the cute single mother; he’s the funny one. We’re defining the contestants by a certain set of characteristics – some physical, some behavioral. But, we are defining their brand. They are capturing a distinct position in our minds and hearts. This is a brand. How do people describe you when they talk about you? “He’s the one who is really focused on ROI, with a super-fun approach.” “She’s the mobile phone expert.” “She’s an over-bearing know-it-all.” 

And, you can’t have two cute, young, country singers. We only want one. You can’t have three hippie dudes. Our minds only want one brand to occupy that position. So it is with your personal brand. For example, you simply can’t be that guy who knows a lot about websites. Too many other people can occupy that same brand. Specialize the hell out of it. Be the guy who knows everything about SEO. Or even more, be the guy that knows everything about linking strategy for SEO. Or even better, be the guy who knows everything about SEO, and does instructional podcasts weekly, and always incorporates images of 80s TV stars. I don’t know – that’s a goofy example – but you occupy a clear brand position, at least. Be unique. Stand out. Just know that you will be described as something – what will it be? How will you be described?

Embracing Your Brand…

The other major lesson learned from American Idol is embracing your own brand. Ultimately, the contestants that succeed are the ones who decide who they are, and embrace it, whole-heartedly, in everything they do. You must embrace your brand. You simply cannot occupy more than one brand position. So, embrace what you are and pump it up. If you are the nerdy one – embrace that. If you are a bleeding heart, embrace that. Being true to your brand will ultimately be more powerful than trying to occupy a brand position that you could never own. Again – stand out and be unique. But don’t deny your brand – embrace it. 

And I’ll accept that the only place I’m a star singer is in my shower.

American Idol Cheerleaders


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Living Well in a Recession – $3,000 T-Shirt

Stumbled upon this t-shirt today at that reads, “Fuck the Recession. I’m Still Rich.” You may not have a problem with it, but I think this is an awful idea. Don’t get me wrong – I get the gag – based on irony. A t-shirt that says something like this is usually not actually worn by somebody who has money. That’s what I thought, until I saw the price tag. $3,325.00! Ridiculous. I thought maybe the price itself was a joke, but I added the item to my cart, and sure enough, it costs $3,300! 

Tshirt Front

Tshirt Front

Tshirt back

Tshirt back

$3,325 at checkout

$3,325 at checkout

Here’s my problem with it. When we’re in a “recession,” you should not (as an individual or a business or organization) show signs of living or spending opulently. It’s tacky. It’s insensitive. I guess I just don’t think it’s that funny or novel to spend $3,000 on a t-shirt in this economy. People are hurting. Genuinely hurting.

To waltz around with signs of spending money lavishly is really socially insensitive to me. There are some companies that are doing this – sending out postcards that are gilded, printing Annual Reports with ornamental and lavish features. Stop doing this! Granted, in my line of business (advertising and marketing), I wish clients were spending more money – but I think it makes such poor business sense. If you even look like you’re spending a lot of money right now, you will offend customers. I don’t care if you got a good deal. Perception is reality – if you look like you spent a ton of money, you spent a ton of  money. Be aware of the messages you’re sending.

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The True Cost of SMS

Just a straight repost here to share with you from Phil Barrett. Great info about SMS and the actual costs to the carrier associated. What do you think? Will mobile carriers be forced to eventually change the way they do business? In what ways? Here is his post:

The New York Times reported last week that the true costs of text messaging (or SMS) to carrier is effectively zero.  This is curious as the average U.S. carrier has doubled their costs in the last three years from 10 cents a message to 20 cents.

The cost is effectively zero as the bandwidth used to transmit messages is so minuscule that that even the 2.5 trillion sent in the U.S. last year had little impact overall on their infrastructure.

A major part of the reason is that the message is carried on what is called a control channel – space or spectrum reserved for the operation of the network itself for connecting a tower to a specific mobile device. The reason SMS messages cannot be more than 160 characters is so that they can fit within this channel.

The control channel sends 160 characters each time a connection is made – even if there is no SMS message attached for the free ride.

It’s like charging your wife for gas to drive her home from the office – even though you were already heading home regardless if she needed a ride or not. Then charge her double the following day. See how long that relationship lasts…

Cross your fingers that new carriers like Globalive will do more than just say all the right things during their courtship of your mobile service contract when they go live in 2009.

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Verizon Caught Saving Customer Money. WTF?


photo by Thomas Hawk

photo by Thomas Hawk

I stumbled upon an article on The Consumerist about Verizon calling a customer to tell him he could save money on his plan. Yeah, yeah, yeah – I’ve heard that a million times… “can we look at your account to try to save you money?” Then they up-sell you and you end up with a 5-year contract or some other ridiculous commitment.

BUT, that wasn’t the case here. It seems as though they actually wanted to save this customer money (and they DID). It seems like they actually cared that he had a good experience. It seems like they actually wanted him to be a satisfied customer. ((Check out the full story at the end of this post))

This is weird. I don’t know how to deal with this. Companies aren’t supposed to do that. Companies are supposed to extort you and squeeze every last dime out of you and then move on to the next poor sap. So, big kudos are in order for Verizon. THIS is exactly the way a company should treat it’s customers. This is exactly the way to keep a customer – do right for them. Hmm – that’s a pretty good idea.


“…another call. This time it was from Rosanne. I am pretty sure that was her real name too. I was talking to somebody in Verizon’s customer service department whom is apparently tasked with reviewing new accounts and making sure everything is okay (kudos to you for having QA/QC on your plans Verizon!). She asks if my phone is for corporate use. “No”. But you have a corporate plan. “Yes I know, it is for the discount program at work”.

It turns out that she wanted to save me money, and she did to the tune of $40 per month! Basically for somebody who is not a corporate user, doesn’t need to get email from an exchange server or have access to the intranet at work, the $45 per month Blackberry plan (hence forth, VZW BES) was not required. Instead, I should have the $30 per month plan (hence forth, VZW BIS). Now, the VZW BES is labeled on Verizon’s website as “Unlimited Data” while the BIS is just “Internet and Email”. I confirmed with the CSR at least 3, maybe 4 times that both plans included unlimited data (that is, until I suck down 5 gigs worth to my Storm!). She told me that they were (she did go and confirm some things either with a supervisor or the computer, and I was on hold for the 2 or 3 instances for no more than 45 seconds).

So BAM, right there switching the Blackberry plans saves me $30 a month over both lines with zero change in services I am actually going to be using. I am not paying for things I won’t use now. This is awesome. Further more the CSR decides to check our minutes usage. We have a 700 minute share plan at this point, the smallest / cheapest they offer. We barely use 300-350 total peak minutes between the two of us on a busy month. Turns out, there is an unadvertised “loyalty” plan that is used for “loyal customers” (and probably also for those threatening to leave VZW) that is a share plan of 550 minutes and is $10 per month less. As a bonus we were given 500 additional minutes that is a “reserve” of sorts. If we do go over rather than getting billed the minutes come out of that reserve first. Cool eh?

So after 14 minutes and 3 seconds on the call, I am not saving $40 per month. How cool is that?”

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Twitter adds 4 million users in 2008

Twitter numbers are in for 2008 (well, Dec 07 – Dec 08), and they exploded! They boosted their numbers from about 500,000 in December 2007 to about 4.5 million in December 2008. In fact, they gained one million unique visitors in December 2008 alone. This reinforces my anecdotal observations. I, for one, LOVE Twitter. I think it’s great, and will continue to get better. Some people hate it. It will interesting to see how it progresses from here. (btw – @mikemcdowell if you’re not already following me).

Anecdotally, again, I have really seen an increase in the number of brands that are using Twitter now. Sadly, I feel like many brands are f’ing things up. They start following people based on keywords. Yeah, they use automated services that “auto-follow” people on Twitter based on keywords. This feels a little like phishing to me (I know, not the same, but kinda the same concept). What’s equally unbearable, is that once they follow a person, they don’t use Twitter effectively as the communication medium it is. They use it to blast promotional messages, offer nothing to their followers, etc. I rant more about this in a previous post.

The other interesting trend to look at (which I saw at Mashable), are the trends for social network giants Facebook and Myspace. Facebook has now caught up, and in fact, passed Myspace. They both trump Twitter’s 4.5 million, as they are bringing home about 60 million. Eiher way, interesting trends. Take a look at the graph:

Also, big props to, a pretty nice website analytics website (that’s where these charts came from).

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