Your business needs social media.

First things first, please.


Your business needs:

… a clearly understood problem it is solving.

… a product or service that addresses that problem in a manner that delights customers to the point of surprise.

… an amazing team that believes in it.

… a visionary(s) and leader(s).

… a personality, a brand and a conscious.

… a viable business model.

… a collaborative environment that fosters trial and error.

… a designed culture that makes all the above happen.


Focus on these things first and Facebook gets a whole lot easier.

One word stories

If you’re friends with me on Facebook, you know that I often post one word status updates. I started doing this last year out of complete boredom. As luck would have it, something very interesting happened. I got more conversations and replies to my one word posts than many of my more descriptive updates. I began to force myself to think in only short, abbreviated updates. And so, for a period of about six months, I would only post a single word.

I’ve written previously about what you can learn by stripping things down to the bare minimum. So, as my business partner @deziner often asks, what are the learnings from this particular instance?

Whether it’s a status update or a tweet, you are essentially telling a micro-story. When you edit it all the way down to one word, it invites everyone to imagine and create the rest of the story. They must fill in the blanks. So, when I posted “Wings,” John Sprecher scribed “Buffalo or Paul McCartney and…?”

At it’s heart, this is what social media is all about—shared storytelling. A user shares an experience that friends and followers then participate in based on their own experience.

From a brand perspective, this is one of the most overlooked, misunderstood, and underutilized aspects of social media. Shared storytelling has been going on since humans gathered around a fire. Stories are retold (The Odyssey), re-imagined (Romeo & Juliet becomes West Side Story) and repurposed (Petroglyphs as done by Paul Klee).

I often wonder why so many in marketing still cling to the hope that they alone should control the story. The only reason I can see is if your brand story never held any truth in the first place.

Reminder for the day.

Happened upon this statement in a post today:

The railroad tycoons thought they were in the business of railroads when they were really in the business of transport—they were myopically product focused instead of being customer focused.

I’ve heard this before, but it’s a good reminder to think about. What is your business really in the business of? Not the item you make, and not what people say they bought. What do you really deliver? Because ultimately, that is what people are buying.

Have you defined what business you are in?

"You know you’re branding your children, right?" said with snark.

I had this said to me recently in the course of a discussion regarding the sharing of my 2 boys’ endeavors via social channels. I’ve taken to talking about them under the label “littlemen” both offline and online, utilizing the term in discussions in reference to them, as well as the hashtag #littlemen, #littleman & #littlestman when sharing on social platforms. It wasn’t the first time I’ve heard a comment of this nature in reference to what I was “doing:” putting in place these external, recognizable  “marks” that refer to my boys. But I never really gave much thought to it, and even joked about it myself at times. “They’ll thank me for it later on.”

But this time it struck me differently.

This comment was delivered with a clear sense of disdain. I didn’t probe further to understand the obvious sense of disapproval, because I could formulate the counterpoints on my own. Exposing the world to my children and vice versa in the public space is always a fun topic, and one I’ve learned to “agree to disagree” with many on. But what struck me this time was the notion that I was apparently orchestrating activities to undertake this action of “branding.” That it was a concerted effort to write a story, or curate a perception of my boys to somehow endear people to them for some sort of gain. And then it dawned on me:

That’s what traditional branding is. And it is backwards.

The business of branding, or developing brands, is based on definitions. Defining the words that can be claimed, the people that need to be engaged, the marks that will be used and the rules of what fits and what doesn’t. The successful brand is measured by achieving things such as:

  • Delivers the message clearly
  • Confirms your credibility
  • Connects your target prospects emotionally
  • Motivates the buyer
  • Cements User Loyalty
So when I am told I am “branding” my children, it just doesn’t fit. Because these things are the farthest from my mind when I share my children’s activities. But therein lies the learning, and my own new definition of branding. Brands aren’t defined and then adhered to, brands are lived and simply shared. The rest falls into place.

Brands shouldn’t be something we put on paper, tape to the wall and then hope to live up to. Brands are lived. The definition comes from sharing and exposing others to that life.  I hear things like – “It’s important to spend time investing in researching, defining, and building your brand.” Really? Perhaps that’s the problem. It’s why so many “brands” fall short of resonating or becoming something people care about.

A great brand is not defined by mission statements or vision propositions. It is not defined by logos or color palettes or communication policies that are required to be adhered to. A brand is grown organically, authentically and most importantly shouldn’t be defined by a project that has a deliverable. Perhaps a brand is simply a life lived that is chosen to be shared. Maybe there are not a concerted efforts to uncover what people want to hear or believe them to be. Words and actions are not molded or positioned to deliver on an assumed opportunity to gain sentiment. And what if there’s no discussion about what followers expect to be delivered, about the tone of discourse, or how perception can be shaped.  What if those things are decided simply by who they are.

Seems the goal for those that work to “brand” businesses, ideas or others should start with finding windows into the personalities and lives of those they are trying to brand, rather than building the walls they need to live within.



Human Behavior: Green and Gold, Through and Through

I can never remember not being creative. I can also never remember not being a Green Bay Packer fan. In fact, these two traits are somehow intrinsically linked. Some of my earliest formative memories from age three or four, are the joy and freedom of drawing scenes from Packer games. Piles of stick figure bodies with a stick figure ball carrier jumping over the top. These crayon drawings would adorn the Westinghouse refrigerator in our home at 2304 Lawn St., Racine, Wisconsin during the 1960s.

In those days—before North Face and Mountain Hardware clothing—my mother and father would layer up with bulky long underwear before making the pilgrimage to attend a Packer game at Lambeau Field in December. They’d go to the games in Green Bay with friends of our family, the Maritatto’s, who just happened to live two blocks from another Italian household by the name of Lombardi. During a weekend visit to their home, I tagged along with my older brother on a walk to the Lombardi house. He rang the back doorbell and asked for an autograph. We were ushered into the house, and Marie Lombardi led my brother to the den where Vince was reading. I stayed in the back hall entry way, peering down the darkened basement at a Packer rug at the foot of the stairs. Over forty years later, this encounter of me merely watching Marie Lombardi cook Vince some scrambled eggs for dinner somehow has taken on mythic proportions.

We had these before Wii

Long before there was Madden NFL 11, I had a collection of mini plastic football helmets that you’d buy from a gum ball machine. We had sand colored tight pile wool carpeting in our tiny living room, and I drew a football field with white chalk on the carpet in order to stage a football game with the aforementioned helmets. My makeshift field pretty much looked like the frozen tundra. Oddly, I don’t remember my mother complaining much about having a gridiron sketched on the living room floor. What I do remember is there was a Detroit Lion helmet with a pencil sharpener in it. Man, that little helmet could bust tackles.

For two seemingly never-ending decades, Dan Devine was followed by Bart Starr was followed by Forrest Gregg was followed by Lindy Infante. I held out hope and never wavered. I passed the years by hating the Bears, because the Vikings had not quite reached that level of hatred. Yet.

Then there was the moment. If you are a true Packer fan, you remember where you were when Brett Favre hit Kitrick Taylor for a touchdown to beat the Bengals in Week 3 of the 1992 season. Because it was then and there we had a flash forward that took us all the way to a victory in Super Bowl XXXI. If you’re like me, you just knew it in that instant.

I am a Packer fan. I watched year after year of stinging playoff defeats in 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, and finally in 2007. I watched our flawed hero think he had actually become bigger than the team we loved. Horrified, I watched Hector willfully climb into the Trojan horse. In an epic story that demands an ending worthy of the great Greek dramas, Aaron Rodgers must defeat the Men of Steel, whose best player Troy Polamalu is suffering from a bad achilles. Pinch me, although I may never want to wake up.

I am a Packer fan, even though I own only one piece of licensed clothing which I won’t even wear today. Instead, I will watch Super Bowl XLV in a black Nike knit hat, a navy fleece Red Cross pullover, with a brown scarf my mother knitted wrapped around my neck. I wear this because it is what I wore when we destroyed the Giants 45-17 which began the current winning streak. If I do not wear this, somehow the gyroscope in the universe that connects my every move to the outcome of the Packer’s fortunes will become unbalanced and we stand the threat of defeat. I cannot allow this to happen.

A few weeks ago, @deziner asked me what the obsession with football is about. I answered the speed of the game, the violence, the fact that there’s so much hand-to-hand combat, quite unlike any other sport. But if I was asked what my obsession with the Packers is, I don’t know that I’d be able to answer. Certainly, geography and lineage play a role. (I mean, we can be brand loyal to detergents our parents purchased). Although despite my fanaticism, my two boys have zero interest in football, let alone the Packers. They’ll probably be drawing comics during the game, so they have the creativity gene, but not the Packer gene.

I am a Packer fan. In fact, I love the Packers. It’s a weird behavioral thing that certainly needs some user research. I find it to be completely irrational. I yell and scream at the TV. I read about the team incessantly. I will text 6 other Packer fans just like me throughout today’s game. I am blindly brand loyal, even though I have never once—ever—seen an ad for the team that states its features and benefits.

I am a Packer fan. It’s been a lifelong experience that continues to build on experiences.


Packers 31 Steelers 17.

Just sayin’.

Branding lessons from a bean counter

I’m on vacation this week, which is always a good time to catch up on reading, both online and off. I try to read Seth Godin everyday, but like you I’m way too busy to read everything he publishes. Well, this post last week You’re already self employed nailed it. (Again.)

Oddly enough, I heard this very same thing about 20 years ago while sitting in Jim Wicker’s office, who was head of accounting at the now defunct Mil-Mar Shoe Company. I worked as Creative Director for Mil-Mar Shoe Corp., which owned the now defunct Warehouse Shoes, a regional chain of 22 retail stores. I don’t remember the impetus for the conversation, but Jim said something to me that stuck with me forever: “You need to look out for the Mark Fairbanks’ brand.”

Trust me, Dan Schawbel he was not. He was a bean counter, and openly said so. But from that day forward I understood I was working for one person: me. I was self employed. I was my own brand.

Jim Wicker talked like this man. But he looked nothing like him.

This helped guide me throughout my career. I looked for opportunities that provided challenge and therefore personal growth. When I stopped learning, I moved on. I set goals for my brand: agencies I wanted to work for, individuals I wanted to learn from, skills I wanted to develop, a reputation for my creative, and oh yeah, these little gold and silver things called awards. I think it’s worked out pretty okay.

It’s a valuable lesson (one that you can’t learn soon enough) to get in the mindset that you are always self employed even if you receive a paycheck from an employer. Yes, it’s good to identify with and be proud of the company you work for. Years ago, I totally bought into the Kohnke Hanneken brand, because I knew working at the top creative shop in Milwaukee would be the best thing for my brand in the long run. I was (and still am) proud to have been part of that agency. But in an industry as volatile as ours, it can often be a painful discovery to realize that no agency is bullet-proof and nothing lasts forever. Always begin with the (your name goes here) brand. It will make you a better and more valuable employee, team member and contributor to your community.

Don’t take it from Seth. Take it from Jim Wicker.

Being unGeeked


Managing and cultivating a brand is hard work. Plain and simple. So many inputs to juggle and directions to look. There are moments things spin and you feel you need to be looking in every direction at once. Now throw in digital, and social media and you’ve got yourself 300 more things to understand, consider and apply. Are you ready?

It can be daunting. There’s no lack of advice and direction and perspective on what all this means, and the “best” way to “do it.” Lots of people talking at us, but that only goes so far. Thank goodness for opportunities like the unGeeked Elite event in Milwaukee, WI. coming up May 13-15, 2010.

Why is unGeeked important to businesses who want to manage their brand? Because this event is about you, to it’s very core. The speakers, the format, the opportunities have all been assembled around what will provide the best value to you.

Let’s start with the speakers. 8 keynotes including:

Yes, you read that list correctly. All the rockstars, in one place. In addition, 15 regional speakers will present on a wide range of topics. Discussions range from mobile marketing strategies with @sarasantigo, to real life case studies about social media brand building with @AJBombers and @streetzapizza. I and the Translator crew have the good fortune of discussing why you should approach digital branding efforts from a an experience standpoint, and how paying attention to all your touch points is imperative.  Check out the lineup and list of topics. It’s really quite impressive.

The most exciting part? Each session is about you. Our speakers aren’t presenters, they are discussion facilitators. That’s right. No talking at you, rather with you. Each speaker will be short on slides and big on mic time, opening the floor to you, providing lots Q&A time to allow for very relevant and timely discussion around the questions you have. Tickets to the unGeeked Elite event are still available at the early bird discount rate of $550 which includes all three days of sessions, 4 books, breakfast, lunch and attendee private parties each day. And don’t forget your chance to be part of exclusive 20-on-1 personal consultation sessions. I mean really, how can you pass this up? It would cost you more to miss it.

In the next few weeks I’ll be periodically posting information about the event, and my personal journey prepping for this exciting opportunity. I’d love to hear your questions and feedback surrounding the event, as well as input on what you’d like to talk about regarding the role of digital experience in helping to build your brand. I’m so excited to be unGeeked. Aren’t you?

Friday morning bacon: brunch edition

Okay, so I got a late start on my weekly homage to all things bacon today, because I was putting the finishing touches on my presentation tonight for the students attending the WSPR panel discussion. Of course, I must serve them up some bacon in the form of career insight. For tonight’s event I will give an obligatory introduction, including past work, awards, etc. etc. But if you’ve hung around me enough, you know the thing I value the most in my career is the incredible people I’ve been fortunate to work with. The relationships, the friendships, the bonds. That’s bacon. My closing slide is meant to impress on them that getting your work in an annual is great, but the people you work alongside will become your lifetime achievement award.

The closing slide. Always start and finish with your best bacon.

Oh, and @adny, you didn’t make the slide because you are not on Facebook. #baconfail


PUMA Fuseproject

Nothing screams bacon more than a suede pair of PUMAs. Now, check out their innovative Fuseproject packaging, thanks to @tsevis and @Nixondesign who obviously are always sniffing the air for the merest whiff of frying bacon.

RT @tsevis: The New PUMA Fuseproject–Packaging as Branding. +reduces material costs/shipping! (via @Nixondesign)


Two Person Creative Teams

If you’ve ever fried bacon (and if you haven’t, stop reading this blog immediately) you know there is inherent danger in preparing something so delicious. It is a forgone conclusion that at some point, grease will splatter and you will be burned. With that, I direct you to this searing post brought to my attention through the magic of RT by’s Trish Hundhausen.

Good stuff. RT @T_Haus: Advertising Agencies: Kiss Your Creative Teams Goodbye | via @addthis

Read the post. But don’t miss out on the splattering bacon grease in the comments section. Yum. It will be the subject of an entire blog post here on Just Sayin’ next week.


The Brief in the Post Digital Age

Bacon never has to change. It is infinitely perfect. Creative briefs, on the other hand, need to work a little harder in this day and age as Goodby’s Gareth Kay astutely explains in this deck posted to Slideshare.


An Intellectual Take on Farmville

Go ahead, rub your eyes. It’s smokey in here from the bacon we’ve been frying. But no, you did not read that wrong. Hunt Adkin’s Josh Smerick shared this cerebral piece on the importance of games and play, and why Farmville #FAILS at all criteria.

What is—and what isn’t—a game. Some scholarly thinking in this post from media commons on Farmville:


A Decade of Digital

Your t-shirt sir, is pure bacon.

Somewhere, there must be a bacon hall of fame. If there isn’t we’re getting on it, pronto. And when it’s completed, the first inductee will be Faris Yakob, Chief Innovation Officer at MDC Partners. Bacon is pure genius. So is @faris. Read this. Save it. Read it again.

Great thinking on why digital demands a different approach RT @TheMarketingSoc A decade of digital: 10 things for 2010


A Last Minute Entry

Bacon, good. Democracy, Bad.

My good friend Rob Franks (@R_Franks formerly known as @blogfoot) tweeted this huge slab o’ bacon my way while I was in the middle of writing this post. Apparently, long before there was Fathead there was Soviethead. As the body copy clearly states “Stalin and Lenin—as awful and sinister as any wild dream.” That, I must say, is hickory-smoked. It’ll take two pieces of paper toweling to soak up the grease dripping from it. Did I say I love this? I love this.


As always, if there’s something we missed (we probably did, we were busy this week) please share it with us below. Bon Appétit.

The day that strategy died

Last week I sat listening to a sales pitch. The subject: document handling. The young woman giving the sales pitch had all the prerequisites: friendly, articulate, earnest (great shoes, too). But something unnerved me. Throughout her spiel, she kept using the term strategic to describe how her company approached document handling versus the competition. And all I could think was, if strategic is used to sell document handling, what meaning does it have left anymore?

When the copier salesperson becomes a document strategist, we’ve got trouble in River City.

In all fairness, maybe a document handling company’s approach can be strategic. As a start-up, we’re not in the position to buy a strategic solution, so I was naturally a bit detached. I guess buying a copier, laser printer, scanner, and phone system separately would be considered tactical. But does buying them all from one source make it more of a strategic purchase? So while sitting there in my chair, sipping ice coffee and nodding attentively, I had a brief out of body experience. I found myself thinking: Is this what the majority of the digital industry has started to sound like? Liberally sprinkling the words “strategy” and “strategic” like salt on cured meat because consultants have told them this is what clients are looking for? Mouthing the words, but with little comprehension of what they mean? Or the talent and commitment it takes to truly back it up?

Just sprinkle the word “strategy” liberally to preserve your client relationships.

It all points back to human behavior—which of course, drives business behavior. If Forrester, or a consultant, or a book in the airport bookstore tells you your clients want something, then all you have to do it is say it like you mean it, and <poof> it becomes reality. If I move aside the cobwebs in my brain, I remember a time when I was employed in traditional advertising. Suddenly, branding was what clients wanted. And in Pavlovian fashion, that is what we started saying in capabilities presentations, whether we understood it or not.  Hell, we were slapping print ads and storyboards on a wall in front of them. If this was now blessed as branding, so be it. It’s an easy trap to fall into, especially when it involves chasing dollars or protecting existing business. Our inclination is to stretch and say we can do things we either can’t, don’t completely understand, or at least have very little experience doing. But for those of us who do have experience thinking and doing work that’s strategic, what happens when the word becomes devalued? Not only by direct competitors in our industry, but by anyone believing it carries a competitive advantage? I passed a truck for a freight company on the freeway yesterday that listed three services (with some vague strategerie attached to them) and the word SOLUTIONS in type that was two feet tall. “10-4 good buddy, we got ourselves a strategic convoy.” Someone help me. Please.

“Meow, meow, meow.” Translated: “We beg of you, don’t say the S word.”

So what, you may ask, is my definition of strategic when it is applied to digital? I would describe it as this:

  • A fundamental understanding of a client’s vertical and business objectives
  • Complete immersion in—and appreciation of—brand essence, positioning and messaging
  • Understanding of competitive landscape driving insight into opportunities, threats and risk
  • User and vertical centered research which provide insight into user behavior, needs and solutions
  • Establishment of a clearly defined measurement plan including goals/KPIs, baseline metrics, conversion points, and conversion forecasts
  • A comprehensive experience brief that demands exploration of all possible on-line (and off-line) touchpoints, the solutions that make them possible, how the application of recommended solutions will fulfill a client goal, how solutions align to audience/market insights to drive results, and how solutions align to goals/KPIs for measurement
  • Uncompromising experience design that begins with search, but encompasses a holistic approach to overall digital marketing objectives based on insights gained
  • Iterative development fueled by sustained program management and analytics insight

That, to me, is what strategic means. If you hear the word used and it is not supported by this, it is something less than strategic. Buyer beware: a soothing sales pitch can easily turn strategy into a box that gets checked without any deeper investigation. The trouble is there are a lot more salesman out there than there are great strategists. Just as much as digital agencies want to say strategic, clients often are too eager to want to hear the word said by them.

But strategy is not talk. Strategy is a discipline. It is a belief system. It takes a fundamental understanding of what it actually is, how it works, and why it works. For every Razorfish or Digitas, there are countless other digital shops now adding “strategic” as an adjective to how they approach their work. Some will even bring strategists into their fold, a tactic that generally fails, largely because bringing strategic thinkers into cultures that have been built on execution and technology is a difficult proposition.

I’ve been fortunate enough to work with some brilliant strategists, both traditional and digital. I get to work with @deziner everyday. Then there are those I have worked with including @gkalantzis, @faithjames, and @jSmerick. And there’s one I still would like to work with @suespaight, but I have to settle for Twitter and the occasional cocktail with her. In the hands of these people, strategy will never be dead. It’s just that for the time being, the meaning has been diminished for me. Which leads to my current state of second-guessing: how often should the S word be used in front of a client? Because suddenly I fear that every time the word strategic is used, somewhere a kitten dies.

Your point-of-view, as always, is welcome below.