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Brand positioning tip #6: build peninsulas, not islands


In previous posts about brand positioning, we’ve talked about points of parity & points of difference, the competitive frame of reference, brand mantras, and the concept of “brand permission” as tools you can use when developing your brand positioning. Today I want to cover one of the biggest positioning mistakes that I see companies make.

Island hopping is for the South Pacific, not for brands.

I call it island hopping. Let me explain with an example.

Say your company makes dish detergent. You’ve been making dish detergent for 50 years. All you know how to make is dish detergent. Your kids grew up as the famous heirs to a dish detergent fortune. When you show up at parties, people go “hey, look, it’s that dish detergent dude/dudette!” (When your kids show up at parties, people start whispering about videos they saw on the internet, but that’s another story).

Now you hire a new CEO. He has a Harvard MBA. He shows you lots of PowerPoint slides that explain how crappy the market for dish detergent is going to get over the next 50 years. He says you need to diversify into another business, and he suggests the boutique hand soap business is starting to really heat up (after all, who doesn’t want to smell like juniper peppermint citrus after they wash their hands?).

And he’s right. Your kids are spending all your money, and the dish detergent business is going pretty sour.

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Introducing opensource.com


One of the things I’m most excited about as I start my new job at New Kind is that I have the opportunity to continue to do work with Red Hat. Today, in the spirit of release early, release often, Red Hat opened the doors to a new website, opensource.com. In addition to my work here at Dark Matter Matters, I’ll also be writing for the Business channel of opensource.com.

So what is opensource.com?

It is the beginning of a conversation about how the world can apply the lessons of the open source way broadly– in business, in government, in education, in the law, and generally in our lives. Unlike most other open source sites, it is not just about software. From the site:

The term open source began as a way to describe software source code and the collaborative model for how it’s developed. Red Hat used this model for developing technology and built a business model around open source and its principles: Openness. Transparency. Collaboration. Diversity. Rapid prototyping… The open source way is more than a development model; it defines the characteristics of a culture.

Although this site was started by Red Hat, it is not intended to be a Red Hat site, but rather a site where the open source conversation is extended to all companies and organizations, even beyond the technology industry. Red Hat CEO Jim Whitehurst states it really well in his introductory post:

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What I’ll miss most about Red Hat


Today is my last day at Red Hat. What will I miss most? Seeing my friends every day.

In the Polaroids below are some of the people who’ve made the last 10 years a lot of fun. All pictures (except one that she is in) taken by Ruth Suehle at my going away party last Thursday with an old skool Polaroid OneStep 600 camera. I’m the guy in the white shirt.

This is one awesome group of folks. Thanks for all you have done for me.

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2 reasons why the term “crowdsourcing” bugs me


Interesting article in Forbes the other day about the way Threadless, the awesome t-shirt company, thinks about community-building. For those of you who aren’t familiar with Threadless, they do about $30 million in revenues with a unique cultural/business model that merges a community of t-shirt creators and consumers into one happy family (you can read more about them in the Forbes article).

We are a crowd. We are ready to "source" something.

This quote from Cam Balzer, the Threadless VP of Marketing, in particular, caught my eye:

“Crowdsourcing is antithetical to what we’re doing. That’s because crowdsourcing involves random sets of people who suddenly have a say in how the business works, but that’s not how Threadless operates. We’ve got a close-knit group of loyal customers and have worked hard to build that. The people who submit ideas to us, vote and buy our products aren’t random people, and they aren’t producing random work. We work closely with our consumers and give them a place on our site, the Threadless forum, where they can exchange ideas with one another–ideas that go beyond designing T-shirts. We have consumers who have voted on 150,000 designs, which means they’ve spent hours interacting on our site. People who do that aren’t jumping into a random crowd. They’re part of the community we’ve cultivated.”

This really hit the nail on the head for me. I often see the word crowdsourcing being used in the same sentence with open source or community building. But the word crowdsourcing doesn’t describe the type of community I like to be involved in. Here’s why:

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Roger Martin and the new liberal arts MBA


This morning’s New York Times had a great article entitled Multicultural Critical Theory. At Business School? highlighting the changes many business schools are making in the way they teach their students. Probably the most visible leader of this movement has been Roger Martin, Dean of the Rotman School of Management at the University of Toronto, who is prominently featured in the article (and will be speaking here in Raleigh next month at the Institute for Emerging Issues Forum).

(VIDEO: a recent Roger Martin talk)

What kind of changes are the schools making? From the article:

“While few [business schools] talk explicitly about taking a liberal arts approach to business, many of the changes are moving business schools into territory more traditionally associated with the liberal arts; multi-disciplinary approaches, an understanding of global and historical context and perspectives, a great focus on leadership and social responsibility and, yes, learning how to think critically.”

Why? Look around you. In business, we are currently experiencing a double crisis of ethics and innovation. Take the results of a recent Gallup poll on Honesty and Ethics of Professions. Americans now trust the ethics and honesty of businessmen less than lawyers. Ouch.

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The lo-fi communications revolution is not being televised


I have a decent (and still growing) LP collection, and my turntable gets almost daily use. In fact, I often buy music on vinyl rather than downloading it or buying CDs.

One of my recent vinyl purchases was Pet Sounds by the Beach Boys. Probably one of the greatest albums of all time, but it wasn’t until I heard it on LP that I really felt like I started to get it. There was something about listening to it in the way it would have been listened to when it came out in 1966. Pops, crackles, and Brian Wilson just felt right together.

But as I’ve made my way around music stores, I’ve noticed the number of brand new releases coming out on vinyl seems to be increasing. And I’ve also seen many bands going (on purpose) for a lower fidelity sound.

I remember the lead singer of a local group here in NC, The Love Language, was quoted on why he liked low fidelity in Spin Magazine a while back:

I’m a real lo-fi junkie,” [Stuart McLamb] says. “I like the [Band’s] Big Pink philosophy — you should have a dog on the floor of a basement while you’re recording. That’s where the best stuff happens.”

A dog on the floor, man! Not some fancy studio in New York City run by rich guys in suits named Hunter and Cody. The places where the dog is invited is where the best stuff happens.

Where am I going with this? I believe that there is a lo-fi movement not only in music but in communications more broadly that continues to gain momentum. Communications that are too high fidelity may not be viewed as trustworthy anymore. Take this quote from the Wikipedia page for “Low fidelity”:

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2010: New year, new job, New Kind


Well folks, there are gonna be some changes around here in 2010. So let me cut to the chase.

After 10 1/2 years, I’m leaving my full-time position with the greatest open source company in the world later this month.

This was no easy call. Red Hat has been a fantastic ride. I’ll spare you the trip down memory lane, but Red Hat has been the defining job of my career.

I certainly wouldn’t leave Red Hat to join another big company. In fact, thanks to DeLisa Alexander, my wonderful boss, and Jeff Mackanic, my long-time partner in running the Brand Communications + Design group, I’m going to continue to work with Red Hat– just in a different capacity. More on this later.

I’ve always wanted to start my own company, see how entrepreneurship fits, and have never had a good opportunity before. In 2010 I believe we are entering one of the most exciting opportunities for entrepreneurs in decades. I aim to give it a go.

As folks who’ve been reading Dark Matter Matters know, I have a deep interest in seeing how the lessons of open source might be applied to companies outside of the technology industry. I’m excited about taking some of the principles we’ve used to build brand, culture, and community the open source way at Red Hat and finding other companies who could use them too.

To that end, the news that won’t be a surprise to folks who know me well: I’ve decided to join up with two of my best friends, David Burney and Matt Munoz, who have spent the last year building a new kind of communications firm– New Kind.

David and I have worked together for almost 10 years, first when he owned Burney Design and was Red Hat’s creative agency partner, then as my boss at Red Hat for 4+ years. And, of course, he and I still play together in our band The Swingin’ Johnsons.

Matt and I first met while he was working on the Red Hat account at CapStrat. He was an early architect of the modern Red Hat brand identity, leading projects like the Red Hat brand book and the Fedora logo design.

As for New Kind, we have a lot of ideas.

So rather than stretching this post too long, I’ll promise to continue to share my ideas here at Dark Matter Matters if you promise to continue to read.

Thanks to my amazing Red Hat family, especially my brothers and sisters in the Brand Communications + Design team, for 10 great years. The hardest part of this decision was knowing I would no longer be sitting beside you five days a week.

Happy new year, and thanks to each of you for making the first year of Dark Matter Matters a special one.

A New Kind awaits!

Hey, I Wrote a Book!

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