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A short video intro to The Ad-Free Brand


My publisher recently created a series of short video segments where I discuss The Ad-Free Brand. They were filmed in our New Kind office with a laptop internal video camera and Skype connection, so keep your expectations low (and certainly don’t confuse these videos with the kind of expensive advertising I rail against in the book:)

Today, I’ll share a five-minute overview of the book itself, and next week I’ll feature three separate Ad-Free Brand tips.

Can an open, collaborative approach still work when not everyone has opted in?


Over the past two weeks, I’ve been reading the book Power and Love by Adam Kahane (thanks to Eugene Eric Kim for the recommendation).

After working with Eugene on the story of Wikimedia’s open strategic planning process, I’d remarked to him that the Wikimedia effort was one of the most successful, large-scale collaborative exercises I’d ever seen. Eugene replied that if I thought their project was big, I should read Power and Love to get a sense for the types of large-scale collaborative projects Adam tackles, often on the scale of nations.

It’s really a wonderful, introspective book, filled not just with successes but failures as well, and is probably one of the better-reviewed books I’ve seen on Amazon.

Adam is perhaps best known for his work facilitating the Mont Fleur Scenario Project in South Africa in the early 1990s. In an incredibly difficult, post-apartheid environment, Adam brought a diverse group of people together to collaborate on ways to smooth the country’s transition to democracy. He has since led collaborative projects in India, Guatemala, and Israel, among other places around the world, and describes many of these projects in the book.

As I read, I couldn’t help but notice one thematic appearing over and over. In many of Adam’s projects, there was little hope of getting everyone involved to rally around a shared purpose, something I view as a pre-requisite for building a successful community of passion. In fact, even when a fragile collaboration was pieced together in a workshop, it often would fall apart again quickly once the session was over.

In the open source world, we are usually lucky enough to be working with opt-in communities. Meaning, people are participating of their own free will, and have almost always joined the project because they share a common belief about what it might accomplish.

But reading Adam’s book has made me wonder, do the principles we regularly discuss here on opensource.com apply in communities where passion is strong, but not everyone shares a common purpose? Can open collaboration be successful in places where competing agendas are flourishing and not everyone has opted-in to the same project?

My experiences tell me that in communities without a shared purpose, productive open collaboration is usually incredibly difficult. Our current political environment here in the United States is certainly case study #1.

In the open source world, we don’t know how lucky we have it.

Do you think an open, collaborative approach can really succeed in environments where not everyone shares a common purpose and has joined of their own free will?

I’d love to hear what you think.

[This post originally appeared on opensource.com]

Three approaches to designing brand positioning for ad-free brands


In my last few posts (here and here), I shared some tips for collecting and synthesizing the brand research you will use to design positioning for your brand. In this post, I’ll share three approaches to designing brand positioning I believe will work for the majority of brands:

• The lone designer approach
• The internal community approach
• The open community approach

Each of these approaches has strengths and weaknesses, and they can also be mashed up into a hybrid that better suits the culture of your organization.

The Lone Designer Approach

Are you a small organization or an organization of one? Perhaps you are attempting to position a website or simply get a small company off the ground on a foundation of solid positioning. If you found during the research phase that you were doing most of the work yourself and don’t want or can’t afford to bring others into the positioning process, you may be a good candidate for the lone designer approach.

The lone designer approach is exactly what it sounds like: a positioning process run by one person alone or by a very small group. The advantage of this approach is that you have complete control over the process. You won’t have to spend much time arguing with others over the exact words in your brand mantra; you won’t need to conduct time-consuming collaboration sessions; and you will only go down rat holes of your own choosing. The lone designer approach can be very efficient and is the least resource-intensive of the three approaches.

The downside of the lone designer approach is that it gives you no head start on rolling out your positioning to your brand community. By making your positioning process a black box and revealing only the finished product, you are taking some risks. First, the positioning you design might not resonate or, worse, might be ignored because you didn’t include input from others beyond the initial research. Second, you may have trouble getting others to help you roll it out or take ownership over its success because they had no role in creating it.

Usually I recommend the lone designer approach only to small or new organizations with no access to a preexisting community of employee or community contributors who care about the brand. If you already have a community of supporters around your brand—even if it is small—strongly consider one of the other two approaches (internal community or open community).

The Internal Community Approach

You understand the powerful impact that engaging members of your brand community in the positioning process might have on your brand. You believe your organization is progressive enough to allow employees to help with the brand positioning process. But you just don’t think your organization is ready to open up the brand positioning process to the outside world. If this sounds like your situation, the internal community approach might be the best option for your brand.

The internal community approach opens up the positioning process to some level of participation from people inside the organization. It may broadly solicit contributions from every employee, or it can simply open up the process to a hand-selected group of people representing the employee base.

The internal community approach to brand positioning is a smart, safe approach for many organizations. It makes brand positioning a cultural activity within the organization, allowing you to collect a broad range of interesting ideas and begin to sow the seeds for future participation in the brand rollout down the road. In addition, it can become a compelling leadership opportunity, helping develop future leaders of your brand as well.

While this internal approach is still community-based, it is usually perceived as less risky than an approach involving external contributors. You might find it easier to sell the internal approach to executives who fear opening up the organization to the outside world or think doing so will give the external community the perception the organization is confused or doesn’t know what it is doing because it is asking for help.

The Open Community Approach

Even though I’ll be the first to admit that it is not right for every brand, the open community approach is by far my favorite approach (as you can probably tell by now) and is a very effective one for ad-free brands. The open community approach opens the positioning process to contributions from members of both the internal and external brand communities. Running an open community brand positioning project is similar to running an internal community one. Both approaches have the advantage of bringing in a variety of viewpoints.

Both can create valuable brand advocates who will be helpful down the road. The open community approach just takes things as step further and allows people outside the organization to contribute as well. The benefit of this approach is that it can usually form the beginning of a constructive dialogue with all the people who care about your brand—not just those who work for your organization. It can help you build relationships based on trust, sharing, and respect with people in the outside world. And it can save you money and time by revealing flaws in your positioning much earlier in the process.

The downsides of an open approach? If the project is poorly organized or badly communicated, it really will realize the fears of some executives and show the outside world you don’t know what you’re doing. An open positioning approach requires a deft, highly skilled, effective communicator and facilitator. It requires coordination between different parts of the organization that are in touch with the outside world to ensure communication is clear and consistent.

But although the risks of opening up your positioning process to the outside world are higher, the rewards can be much bigger as well. By transparently opening a relationship between your brand and the outside world, you are embracing the future of brand management, accepting the role of your brand community in the definition of your brand, and proactively getting your community involved in a positive way.

You are beginning a conversation.

This is the sixth in a series of posts drawn from The Ad-Free Brand, which is available now.

Some words of thanks from a new author


The first copies of The Ad-Free Brand showed up at the house on Friday afternoon. So I guess that means, after nine months of work, it is finally out. Awesome.

This book is the work of many people. It is filled with the helpful edits and brilliant suggestions of Jonathan Opp, Rebecca Fernandez, and Rick Kughen, plus the insightful contributions of Kevin Keller, Greg DeKoenigsberg, Paul Frields, and many others. It is a product of the patience and support of my wonderful girlfriend Maggie and my New Kind friends David Burney, Matt Muñoz, Tom Rabon, and Elizabeth Hipps.

There are so many people who’ve helped me out over the past year, and I owe all of them a debt of gratitude.

I thought I’d share the acknowledgments from the back of the book here in the hopes of introducing you to the work of a few of the people who helped me make this book a reality. Please take a few minutes to click through the links and get to know some of these great folks and the very cool projects they are working on. I can only hope you learn as much from them as I have.

Acknowledgments

One day last September, I received an interesting email out of the blue from someone named Lisa who had stumbled across a blog post of mine. She asked me whether I had ever lived in Indiana as a child. I was born in West Lafayette, Indiana.

As it turns out, Lisa was my neighbor and childhood best friend. I moved to Kansas City, Missouri at age 5 and had lost touch with her until I received this email, almost 35 years later.

As Lisa and I caught up, we learned we each had book publishing in the blood. Lisa is a Senior Publicist at Pearson in Indianapolis. I spent the first five years of my career as a literary agent and editor. In one email to her, I mentioned that I had been thinking of going back to my publishing roots and actually writing a book of my own. Lisa introduced me to Rick Kuhgen, an Executive Editor at Pearson. One thing led to another, and before I knew it, I was writing.

So I’d like to thank my childhood friend and current publicist, Lisa Jacobsen-Brown, without whom this book would probably still be something I was thinking about doing… eventually. I’d also to thank Rick Kuhgen, a true writer’s editor—responsive, thoughtful, and with a hint of poetry to his own words.

I’ve benefitted from the wisdom and friendship of many wonderful people along the journey.

Thanks first to Maggie, my source of energy. This book would have never been possible without you.

Thanks to my mother and father, who I hope see parts of themselves in me and in this book.

Thanks to my sister, Erika, who has been a great friend and confidant ever since she quit telling on me.

To Matthew Szulik, my mentor and friend, for letting the best ideas win. To Jonathan Opp for helping me find a voice. To David Burney, for opening my eyes and making me a designer. To Matt Muñoz, for always bringing optimism and passion.

To Jeff Mackanic, for your friendship and for quietly, consistently making everything happen. To Rebecca Fernandez, for bringing value before words. To DeLisa Alexander, for your faith and friendship.

To Tom Rabon and Elizabeth Hipps, for making each day at New Kind better than the last.

To all of my friends from the Red Hat nation, past and present, around the world. Special thanks to the Red Hat Brand Communications + Design team, a group of the most talented folks I’ve had the opportunity to work alongside.

To Kevin Keller, for your wise advice, guidance, and contributions.

To Michele Zanini, Polly LaBarre, Gary Hamel, and the team at the Management Innovation Exchange for introducing me to a new set of friends.

To Bob Young, Lisa Sullivan, Michael Tiemann, and Donnie Barnes, who were open when open wasn’t cool.

To Greg DeKoenigsberg, Jeremy Hogan, Chris Blizzard, Paul Frields, and Max Spevack, who know more about inspiring communities than I ever will.

To Kevin Trapani and Dan Moore, for inspiring us to consider a better way.

To Alina Wheeler and Jelly Helm, for perspective, at the right time.

To the rest of the Pearson team, especially Seth Kerney, Megan Wade, and Bill Camarda, for all of your hard work bringing this book to life.

And finally, thanks to my other friends who don’t give a crap about brands, ad-free or not. You know who you are, and I appreciate everything you do.

In a tough job market, your open source experience may be an asset in more ways than one


Does this describe you?

You’ve been using open source software or contributing to open source projects for a long time. Perhaps you are in a job where you utilize open source tools regularly, or maybe you are just fooling around with them for fun or to learn new skills.

You’ve been known to tell (possibly true) stories that highlight how long you’ve been a part of the open source world (from “I remember downloading the first version of Fedora” to “I was in the room when the term open source was coined”). But, most importantly, you consider yourself an active member of one or more open source communities.<img title=”” src=”http://opensource.com/sites/all/modules/wysiwyg/plugins/break/images/spacer.gif&#8221; alt=”” />

Did you ever consider that your time spent participating in these open source communities might be more than just good technology experience? That it might prepare you for jobs completely unrelated to using or making software?

In college, I studied history and political science. Not because I wanted to be a political scientist or a historian but because, well… actually I’m not really sure.

But in retrospect, I’m really happy I studied these fields.

Why? They gave me plenty of experience doing research, writing, and learning to articulate my thoughts and ideas effectively. While I don’t remember how Alexander the Great defeated the Persians at the battle of Issus and I can no longer compare and contrast the views of Rousseau and Locke effectively, I use many skills I learned when studying these subjects on a daily basis.

At the risk of sounding like an advertisement for a liberal arts education, let me get to the point.

While you’ve been happily participating in open source communities because you have a need for a piece of software or want to help make it better, you may also be the beneficiary of an important side effect. You may be getting experience in how organizations of the future will be run.

Over the past few years, I’ve had an opportunity to work with organizations in many different industries, including finance, education, service, hospitality, even in the government and non-profit worlds. Many of these organizations are busy exploring how they can better compete using techniques that many of us in the open source world have already successfully put into practice.

For example, some are interested in testing large-scale collaborative projects involving people outside their organizations. Others want to know how to create internal meritocracies where people feel empowered and the best ideas can come from anywhere. Others want to begin to form more meaningful relationships with the community of people who care about their organizations. If you’ve been reading opensource.com, you’ve seen us highlight many examples in business, government, education, health, and elsewhere.

These organizations have a lot to learn from those of you who already have real experience using these practices in real communities.

In his book Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell introduced the idea that those who became world-class practitioners at their craft (he uses examples like Mozart, Steve Jobs, and the Beatles), have done so in part because they were able to get an inordinate amount of practice before others in their field. According to the research Gladwell cites in the book, a person needs about 10,000 hours of practice to achieve mastery.

How close are you to putting in 10,000 hours participating in the open source world? If you’ve spent 40 hours a week working in open source communities for 5 years, you may have your 10,000 hours in already.

But even if you don’t yet have 10,000 hours, my guess is you’ve already learned quite a bit about how open source communities work.

So if you believe that the organizations of the future may be run using many of the same principles that are currently being used to great effect in open source communities, and you already have plenty of experience working within those communities, could you be an asset to an organization that is looking for better ways to compete? And could you be an asset not just because of your open source technology skills, but also because of your open source thinking skills?

An example: My friends Dave Mason and Jonathan Opp, who each have well more than 10,000 hours of experience in the open source world, recently entered the joint Harvard Business Review / McKinsey M-Prize contest on the Management Innovation Exchange with a hack deeply inspired by their open source experience.

Their idea? Take the principle of “forking” as practiced in open source development projects and apply it to the way organizations are managed (read the full details of their hack here). Their “Free to Fork” hack was recently selected from a pool of almost 150 entries submitted by people from around the world as one of 20 finalists for the M-Prize. Pretty impressive.

So think about it: Beyond your technology experience, what else have you learned from working in open source communities that might be valuable to a potential employer? Are there hidden skills or ways of thinking open source has taught you that might be worth highlighting in a job interview or in making the case for a promotion or new assignment?

Start thinking of your open source experience as a new set of thinking and working skills that may be very much in demand in organizations hoping to remain competitive in the future.

By doing so, you might open yourself up to interesting opportunities you wouldn’t have considered before.

[This post originally appeared on opensource.com]

Synthesizing your positioning research


In my last post, I shared some of the sources of data that you can use to inform your brand positioning. But once you’ve collected all of the information you can get your hands on, what do you do with it? In this post, I’ll share some tips for how to synthesize your brand positioning research so you can begin to draw some meaningful conclusions from it.

My advice? Get a room. No really, try to find a dedicated space inside your office where you can begin to hang materials on the wall, sort them into piles, and write up your ideas. The physical act of organizing materials often helps you draw connections between them.

You might want to create a wall like the one we created for the Red Hat brand inventory. Here’s a picture of it:

Consider hanging things by where they were created, or how old they are, or whatever other variables are important to you. You might want to reorganize them multiple times in different configurations to see if that gives you new ideas.

If you can’t afford the space or don’t want to create a big messy room, you can create the equivalent on your computer. Organize your research into folders, one folder for each of the four key questions. Make duplicate copies of or shortcuts to research that informs the answer to more than one question, and put one in each folder that applies.

Once you have all the research that informs the answer to each question in one place, it’s time to start doing some analysis. If you are like me, you aren’t starting from scratch, but have been beginning to analyze the data and information as you’ve collected it. But looking at all of the data at once will help you see it differently, making new connections and revealing things you might not have noticed before.

At this point, your goal is to synthesize all your sources of information into the clearest, simplest possible answers to the four key questions. Are the data points revealing common themes, ideas, or opportunities?

Continue reading

Where can you find the data that will inform your brand positioning?


In a recent post, I highlighted the four key questions that your brand positioning research must answer. And I promised a followup post showing you some of the places you could find data to help inform your brand positioning. Here it is!

To review, great positioning is found at the intersection of the answers to the following four questions:

1. What does the brand community currently believe about or value in the brand?
2. What might the brand community believe or value about the brand in the future?
3. What does the organization currently claim about the brand?
4. What would the organization like the brand to become down the road?

So to make things as simple as possible, I’ve made a chart below that will show you many of the places I look first for data to inform brand positioning. At the top of the chart you’ll find many things you probably already have access to and just need to analyze through a brand positioning lens (like marketing materials or website copy), while at the bottom of the chart you’ll find some more complicated research sources that will take a bit more work (like surveys or interviews you’d need to conduct, for example).

Continue reading

Hey, I Wrote a Book!

The Ad-Free Brand: Secrets to Building Successful Brands in a Digital World

Available now in print and electronic versions.

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