Close Circuit Message to Ron

Following up on a 2-beer conversation with a peer in the twin cities, here’s a list of the sites I read (almost) everyday to stay up to date on the news and the web (among other topics):

For fun and general knowledge goodness:

  • – I like the stories about the london tube maps, and arcane discussions of jets, conveyors and laden swallows. A chestnut.
  • – Not always safe for work, but really f’n funny and smart.
  • – almost everyday, updates or not

Because I have dreams, people, and can’t get enough:

Rant: Bad Jeep Commander Branding or, I Hate the Mudds

I love to hate this site for so many reasons. It’s such a freakin
boondoggle! Whoever signed off on this, either at Organic or
Chrysler/Jeep, needs a loooong vacation. Meet the mudds.  "They’re up
for anything", the site says. Except, clearly, a bath. How much $$ did
they spend on this? God only knows, but it’s got to be over $1mm.

The site is sort of a trifecta of shadenfreude fun for me these days,
as I a) look for a new family grocery-getter to replace the lame
tan-van b) work on an online brand management strategy for work and c)
try to remind myself why I’m bustin my ass to teach some co-workers
about the way the web is changing everything about branding.

It was the right idea, but with bad execution that will backfire. Good ideas:

  • use a multichannel campaign to engage, inform and, hopefully, entertain prospects for a new vehicle.
  • Use long-standing brand attribute (adventurousness, earthiness, durability) to re-inforce the qualities of the new vehicle.
  • Incorporate an adventure/game (geocacheing) as part of a sweepstakes
  • Take advantage of users’ broadband connection to create a rich online experience.

Here’s a short list of "wrongs":

  • Splash screen, like it’s 1995
  • Dorky fake family with awful pig shit on their faces (Oh, I get it, they’re last name is "Mudd". HaHAHAHAH)
  • Cloying pun for a last name (see above)
  • Lame attempt to get on the very last car of the blogging bandwagon with, you guessed it, a character blog!
  • All Flash, all the time.

First,  it’s important to be consistent with your brand messaging. And, be honest. Don’t try to be someone you’re not. I work for a company that has been relying heavily on very traditional mass advertising to roll out its new brand. We’re trying to communicate a specific set of values, a personality, but, unless you’re in the demographic group we’re targeting, our ads seem a little, uh, off. We’re lucky, we’re a new company, so we can keep working on it until we get it right. But, if you’re Jeep, and you try to do something a little different, something that’s pretty far off the brand message, there’s a definite disconnect thats clear to those familiar with the brand (read the comments). And, your most passionate customers will jump all over you. Online. Google-cached forever. So every searcher of "Jeep 7 passenger" will find all the posts.

So, marketers have lost control of the message. consumers with keyboards and an ax to grind are now just as important to the succesas that super expensive timeslot you purchased on Desperate Housewives.

Second, for god’s sake, respect your audience. Fun doesn’t have to mean a fake family on a hokey roadtrip. A site like this is insulting to someone who is considering putting over 35k into a truck.

Third, if you’re the weasel/intern from the ad agency who’s been tasked with monitoring the blogs, don’t respond to criticism like a robot. Be honest. be real. Be engaged and polite, but don’t be obsequious like Miguel on the board at mike’s totally free jeep news now – Forums. Miguel, you sound like diplomat, but not someone who we really believe speaks for Jeep (especially when your email address is from the ad agency, BBDO).

I see this as an experiment gone wrong. But it also demonstrates how much opportunity there really is to get it right. It’s a good lesson for those of us who believe this internet thing is going to be big someday, and there’s plenty of ways to take advantage. But, you have to trust your users and respect them. Otherwise, you’re left to fake with actors and you end up with the Mudds.

Here’s what Jeep should have done:

  • Found a real family who has an active, outdoor life
  • Given them a video camera or two, some digital cameras, a GPS, a laptop and Sprint national wireless account
  • Put ’em in a new Commander
  • Give ’em some cash and a map
  • Ask them to check in via a blog
  • Put it all online in realtime

At the same time, Jeep should be running a contest for existing SUV owners who have worn out their current SUVs, to win a new Commander:

  • Users could post a picture of their old SUV
  • Let users tell the story of what adventure  they’d take with their new Commander
  • Allow other users to vote on who gets to win the Commander

Next time. If You’re going to spend some money on an interactive campaign, don’t just put TV on the interweb.

Example B: Good Idea Gone Horribly, Horribly Wrong

Someone, somewhere in the corner office of a PR firm glanced at an article about blogs and the term stuck in her head as something to follow up on. Except she never did. But she knew this internet thing called blogs was going to be big someday, that smart people she knew thought they were cool. But, she never really bothered to understand why.

Then, in a timely coincidence, her contact at JuicyFruit complained that they weren’t connecting with the kids, that they should be trying "something cool and viral". Aha! Thought the PR weasel.

"Let’s do a blog for the kids," she said, "We can make it edgy!"

What a great idea, everyone agreed. Then, they got to work and tried very hard to make it "cool" and "edgy" so that it would be "viral". Round after round of revisions were submitted and compromises were made on the way to the eagerly awaited launch of the new site. The suits were excited, the client’s original concern and anxiety gave way to high expectations and pride.

If only someone involved with the making of the Juicy Fruit site would have taken more than 25 seconds to look at blogs that work, at sites that go viral, they would have put  a bullet into the skull of this lifeless, lame, embarrassing excuse of a site.

(update: what if they meant for the site to be bad? Like, in some bizarro-world attempt to create a site so bad people would talk about how bad it was, thereby driving people to the site. It’s just so crazy it might work! All your gums belong to us!)

Example A: Ignore the Web at Your Peril, PR Weasels

According to Steve Rubel, it’s been a year since the Kryptonite shitstorm blew up. Man, Good times. Everyone who has a brand to protect, nuture and love like a hothouse flower should use today as a reminder that your brand isn’t yours anymore, but you can still participate in the conversation. 

And, the beat goes on. Maybe this is just a Minnesota Meme, but our own Garrison Keillor, he of the woebegone lakes, perma-grimace, red socks and a disdain for brand-jackers, is getting the wrong end of the blog-world for his Cease and Desist letter to Rex at Rex even warned Keillors lawyer that pissing and moaning about this would make him look out of touch. But, now, as Keillor presses the issue, the blogworld takes notice. It’s only a couple days now until some national publication picks this up. Not the kind of PR you want, I’d guess.

More on Attention and the Attention Economy

(updated 8/28 @ 6:15pm)

I’ve been working on getting my head around and what Attention.xml is and could be. Short Answer: Mindblowing. Longer answer, potentially a revolution  (like a Web 3.0 size revolution), more likely a big idea that will morph into something  very important (but not necessarily revolutionary) over time.

Your Attention is What You do On the Web
Think about, for example,  example, the OPML file that contains your RSS feeds.
Or, the list of tags you’ve generated at or Flickr. Or, your
My.Yahoo page preferences. Or, your Google search history. Or, the emails you get in Gmail. Or, the list of recent MS Office documents you created on your desktop. You’re leaving tracks all over the internet, sometimes intentionally (the sites you comment on, the ratings you give in Amazon), sometimes unintentionally (the headlines you click on All those tracks are evidence of your interests, what you are paying attention to.

Why is this Important
A couple questions pop out immediately:

  • How are those tracks getting used by site owners? By advertisers? By you? 
  • How much of your site usage should get used?
  • Shouldn’t you own your history and have some control over how that’s going to be used, by whom and when?

Some Assumptions
The importance of your "tracks" or attention, is based on the assumption that the sites either are doing something for you based on your actions (like Amazon’s recommendations and personalization) or should be doing something. If marketing is a conversation, your attention is your half of the conversation. Good sites should be watching your tracks, paying attention to your attention, and improving your experience in a smart way based on what you are essentially telling them. Technorati, for instance should be recommending other feeds based on your preferences. Google could be showing you news based on your search history or RSS feeds.

Most sites ignore your attention, which is a sort of slap in the face. Experienced users sort of assume big companies that know better are using your site usage data, and potentially even your personal data, to modify the user experience. For instance, when you log in to Wells Fargo to check your account, don’t you sort of assume that they’re putting certain links in front of you based on your account balance and accounts you hold? Amazon does, so why should Wells Fargo? Or, your credit card company? That is, don’t you expect that they’re using your attention to help them sell more stuff to you?

The winners in the future will not only create wins for themselves (as Wells Fargo puts that High Yield Savings link in front of you when they notice you have made a big deposit), but they’ll create wins for you, too. So, if the see that you’ve searched their site for 529 accounts a couple times, they’ll provide you with articles or news on college savings. They’ll respect your interests and time, and try to help you out. That’s a win/win.

So, we should assume:

  • Good companies respect your attention
  • Bad companies do bad stuff based on your attention.
  • Average companies ignore your attention

Users Are Paying Attention to How Companies Treat Them
Maybe more than ever, we’re watching how we’re being treated by companies, how they’re talking to us, how they’re marketing to us, how they’re ignoring us. We want to be heard, and treated with respect. We realize we’re making an investment of sorts with the sites we visit, and we want to have a conversation, not get spammed with ads, crappy products, or unrelated recommendations.

A Couple First Steps
AttentionTrust and Attention.xml are attempts at responding to these questions by creating a) awareness that there’s an explicit and implicit shared ownership of users’ attention and b) a technical format for sharing and brokering that attention.

The definition of what "attention" means in this context gets murky, but here’s my short, soon to be edited attempt:

Attention is:

  • A machine readable record of what you are reading, tagging, sending, blogging and listening to
  • Shareable with the public, your social network, or private networks, select sites, or no one/no sites
  • Shared/used based on your preferences and at your discretion
  • Temporal
    • Progressive – in the sense that your interests, habits, gestures will change and progress over time
    • Historic – In the sense that your "attention" is record of what you’ve paid attention to in the past
    • Predictive – in the sense that your past attention is a pretty good indicator of what you might pay attention to (or ignore) in the future

Yeah But…
(in progress)

As I tighten my thoughts on this, I’ll be looking at a couple links:

Any other ideas?

Jupiter and Forrester Get on the Blogging Train

Forrester launched their blogs yesterday, starting with 6 analysts blogging on a variety of topics. They join Jupiter Research and the rest of the world in blogging. It’s about time. Not only is a way to generate traffic, but, more importantly for firms like Jupiter and Forrester, its a way to widen their nets and generate field insights. If they do it right, they should be able to generate some decent give and take with their readers and that, in turn, should give them some valuable insights and feedback.

Some advice from a prospective reader:

  • Don’t sell your research. Reference it, give away some goodies, but don’t telll us how smart you are. Prove it and let us make up our own minds
  • Go Out on a Limb – Even if you’re wrong, you can learn a lot by testing the waters with your interpretations. Trust your readers to assume you’re at least tryi ng to get it right. Then, if you realize you’re wrong, share the thought process that got you to that decision.
  • Allow comments – Forrester does, Jupiter doesn’t. Unless you’re afraid that either a) no one will comment or b) they’ll disagree with you, the blogs should allow comments. (psst – it’s good for flow back to your site, too. )