Visual Storytelling the Postal Way


Pop quiz: name five brands that understand visual storytelling.

I’ll bet your list included a hip brand like Etsy. Perhaps you included a classically visual brand like Disney, or Tiffany, which has successfully employed Instagram. But I’ll bet the U.S. Postal Service didn’t make your list. Maybe it should. The USPS recently unveiled a commemorative Johnny Cash stamp as part of a new “Music Icons” stamp series. And the image, designed to resemble a 45-RPM record sleeve, looks positively badass. The Johnny Cash stamp reminds me that the USPS has been the master of visual storytelling for years.  Yeah, the U.S. Post Office is taking brands to school.

As reported by, the Johnny Cash stamp survived an arduous review process, with the decidedly uncool sounding Postmaster General’s Citizens’ Stamp Advisory vetting 40,000 stamp ideas annually, and the Postmaster General providing final approval. To put things in more hip parlance of the day, the USPS brands itself by crowdsourcing consumer-generated ideas. (For more detail on the process, check out this link courtesy of the USPS.)

And the USPS wisely employs Pinterest to share some of its memorable stamp collections, ranging from Literary Masters to the Wonderful World of Disney. Robert Frost, Miles Davis, and James Dean – they are among the stars who live forever in the world of the USPS. And check out the USPS Facebook page to find out which stamp dominates its Timeline photo.

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The USPS is well ahead of its time in appealing to the era of Pinterest and Instagram – even enduring a quixotic attempt by the Society for the Suppression of Speculative Stamps to stop the sale of commemorative stamps way back in 1895. Of course, the USPS is not the only governmental body that has issued hip postage Continue reading

Beyonce: Doing What Comes Natural?


Poor Beyonce. She allegedly lip-syncs the National Anthem at the presidential inauguration — adhering to an accepted practice in the entertainment world — and the next thing you know, she’s being scandalized. Media outlets ranging from CNN to The Huffington Post have breathlessly reported and analyzed the deeper meanings of Beyonce’s alleged lip-sync. Ad Age recently published an infographic depicting the explosion of conversation about the incident and speculation that she might lip-sync at the Super Bowl XLVII halftime show. You would think Beyonce committed massive fraud when in fact performers have been lip-syncing for ages, one famous example being Whitney Houston lip-syncing the National Anthem at Super Bowl XXV in 1991. In fact, Beyonce is guilty of nothing more than bad timing if indeed she lip-synced, as an unidentified source claims.


I dislike the practice of lip-syncing. Performers who lip-sync deny themselves and their fans the experience of hearing a song re-interpreted uniquely. Lip-syncing is especially annoying when you pay a premium price for the live experience. When a vocal in concert merely replicates the sound you hear in a recorded track, then concert goers are paying not for the singing but for the pure spectacle of seeing your favorite star live — the costumes, the set designs, and all else that comes with particularly high-concept shows. You might as well listen a recorded guitar solo, too.

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The CMO’s Guide to Facebook Graph Search


Where does the hype end and the analysis begin with Facebook Graph Search? One answer: The CMO’s Guide to Facebook Graph Search, published January 24 by three of my iCrossing colleagues, Ashmi Dang, Amanda Peters, and Doug Platts.

According to the PoV, marketers need to get more focused on generating closer connections with audiences by sharing compelling content on Facebook. The rationale: because Graph Search indexes results (in order of relevancy) based on the strength of the relationship with one’s social network connections. Brands that forge closer connections with people will have more visibility across consumers’ networks when people use Graph Search.

As the point of view discusses, employing a holistic social strategy and active community management are increasingly essential to succeeding on Facebook under the new world of Graph Search.

Facebook Graph Search has certainly generated controversy. Intel’s Ekaterina Walter (the author of Think Like Zuck: The Five Business Secrets of Facebook’s Improbably Brilliant CEO Mark Zuckerberg) recently told me she believes Graph Search is very consistent with Mark Zuckerberg’s vision of a more connected and open world. The intent isn’t to do Web search within Facebook,” she told me. “Rather, the purpose is to help people find specific answers to specific questions within their own social graph that is unique to them. Facebook Graph Search is a huge undertaking and will take awhile to fully launch, but this is definitely something the majority of the users were looking for.

On the other hand, Jeff Macke of Yahoo! Finance referred to Graph Search as a Facebook flop. And in Fast Company, Guillaume Decugis warns, “Facebook’s new search tool will either have to remain private, resulting in limited, biased content, or make private data accessible to search.”

I believe The CMO’s Guide to Facebook Graph Search will help you decide for yourself.


Google Shows Corporations How to Honor History

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The 2013 Martin Luther King Day Google Doodle shows how a corporation can honor history without exploiting it. The Doodle, which went live shortly after midnight EST on January 21, incorporates an image of MLK into the Google name, punctuated by a vibrant color scheme of yellow, aqua, purple, black, and white. Clicking on the Doodle takes you to a series of educational articles about one of the most influential men of the 20th Century. The Doodle is a model for other corporations.

We’ve all seen crass examples of businesses taking advantage of history to make a buck — usually in the form of retailer breathlessly offering a sale to honor the memory of someone’s passing with the real motive being to honor the tradition of American capitalism. (These examples show you what I mean, and so do these courtesy of BuzzfeedThe Google Doodle could have just as easily veered into poor taste by reducing an iconic figure to a Continue reading

The New CEO Job Requirement: Social Media


The sad results are in: 70 percent of all CEOs have no presence on social networks. And John Mackey of Whole Foods is the only CEO of a Fortune 500 firm who maintains his own blog — yeah, the same John Mackey who stepped in it by comparing Obamacare to facism in an interview with NPR. Hey: it’s time for CEOs to rethink their approach to social — or should I say get an approach since I doubt they think about social very much. Social media is a job requirement for the CEO.

In 2012, George Colony, CEO of Forrester Research (and an excellent blogger), delivered a presentation about why CEOs don’t use social media, and the reasons apply today: a general aversion to risk, lack of time, a generational bias against social, and the existence of regulatory constraints (as Netflix CEO Reed Hastings recently reminded us). Those constraints are understandable — but CEOs need to get over them. The fact is, CEOs need social media. Social helps CEOs better understand their market, their customers, their employees, and their own brands. Even better, social can help CEOs run their companies more effectively. An IBM study says that brands without social CEOs are less competitive, and according to Social Media Today, eight out of 10 employees want to work for social CEOs.

Recently, I sat down with Jermaine Dupri, to discuss how social media helps him be a better CEO of So So Def Recordings. As you might know, Dupri blew up the So So Def Recordings website and replaced it with his own social media community, Global 14. Dupri and I published the outcome of our conversation as a byline in Fast Company, available here. The byline discusses five ways social helps him run So So Def, an example being the way Global 14 gives him insight into up-and-coming musical talent. We also cite other CEOs who use social media effectively, such as Richard Branson, whose use of platforms like Twitter humanizes the Virgin brand.

If you are a CEO (or aspire to operate at that level), I hope our byline helps you embrace social, even if all you have time for is the occasional tweet. Just don’t blow off social.

The Passion of Mark Zuckerberg: A Conversation with Ekaterina Walter


Mark Zuckerberg has captured the attention of the entire world, as he proved once again with today’s market-moving, stop-what-you’re-doing-and-pay-attention announcement about the launch of Facebook Graph Search. He is, of course, famous and infamous — the symbol for a social media phenomenon that has revolutionized the way we live but also a lightning rod for an ongoing debate about individual privacy in the social age. Does Mark Zuckerbrg have anything worthwhile to teach business leaders, or is his success a unique, unteachable combination of circumstance and individual talent? In the newly published Think Like Zuck: The Five Business Secrets of Facebook’s Improbably Brilliant CEO, Ekaterina Walter argues convincingly for the former. In a highly readable, warm discussion about Zuckerberg and Facebook, she asserts that Zuckerberg can teach us the value of passion, purpose, people, product, and partnerships. Hers is a highly instructive book that even Facebook critics — as I have been from time to time — should read.

Walter demonstrates how the rise of Facebook reflected a deeply personal passion of Zuckerberg’s for connecting people in an open world — one that gave him a single-minded focus that led to the launch of the world’s largest social network. In my favorite chapter, on the value of partnerships, Walter shows how the symbiotic relationship between Mark Zuckerberg and Sheryl Sandberg has made him a better leader. But since this is a book intended to help business people become more effective, Walter imparts lessons from the Zuckerberg/Sandberg relationship, such as the importance of forming business partnerships that combine imagination and execution.


What makes the book more valuable are the lessons that Walter shares from brands that demonstrate the ethos of Zuckerberg — companies ranging from TOMS to Zappos. Her examination of businesses that demonstrate passion, purpose, people, product, and partnerships elevates the book from a read for Facebook watchers to a useful guide for anyone in business.

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How CMOs Can Succeed with Mobile Marketing

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Good news for mobile marketers: U.S. mobile ad spending far exceeded expectations and grew by 180 percent in the United States alone in 2012. The growth of mobile advertising is a timely development in light of today’s news about the publication of Mobile Marketing: An Hour a Day, co-authored by Rachel Pasqua (who works with me at iCrossing) and eMarketer’s Noah Elkin. Mobile Marketing: An Hour a Day gives CMOs and their teams a detailed guide for how to build brands with mobile marketing. The ethos of the book is this: mobile marketing is about the audience, not the device. The key to successful mobile marketing is creating connected moments throughout the entire purchase journey.

The book covers every aspect of employing mobile marketing, such as location-based marketing via destinations like Foursquare and Yelp or managing a mobile commerce site.

According to Rachel, the book represents a distinct shift in the way marketers are talking about mobile. “Brand aren’t just fixated on mobile apps anymore,” she told me as I prepared this blog post. “Marketers have shifted the conversation about mobile to strategy. They want to figure out how to connect mobile to broader campaigns and social conversations that create sustainable value for their brands. And our answer comes down to this: audience.”

Hence, Mobile Marketer: An Hour a Day focuses on the importance of audience and strategy first, and devices second. For example, the first two chapters discuss mapping the mobile opportunity and creating a mobile strategy. Subsequent chapters show how various aspects of mobile marketing, such as the development of mobile websites and apps, tie back to strategy.

You can get a better sense of Rachel’s “audience first” thinking in a blog post she just published that introduces the book. Moreover, Rachel discusses the growth of mobile marketing more broadly in two recently published posts, Why 2012 Really Was the Year of Mobile and 8 Mobile Marketing Trends for 2013.

How are you embracing mobile marketing in 2013?

Netflix: You Can’t Always Get What You Want


If the ultimate measure of a brand is what you do, not what you say, then Netflix is underperforming seriously. The company brags that “Netflix members can watch as much as they want, anytime, anywhere, on nearly any Internet-connected screen” and that members have can “instantly watch unlimited movies and TV shows streaming over the Internet.”  But in reality, members have access to a very limited streaming inventory a problem exacerbated by the newly announced HBO/Universal Pictures agreement that will box out Netflix for the next decade. And recent high-profile service outages have made a mockery of the promise of “anytime, anywhere” viewing. Netflix would do well to start taking accountability for its brand and consider revising its brand promise to manage the expectations of its members.

As has been widely reported, Netflix suffered embarrassing service outages on Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve. Netflix blamed Amazon Web Services for the Christmas Eve outage, and Amazon took accountability by apologizing and explaining the outage. Well, blaming Amazon Web Services helps members understand what happened, but the problem is that no one really wants to hear explanations, nor should they. We don’t need to know how the sausage is made; if we get a faulty product, we need accountability.

But for all the bad PR the services outages caused, a bigger, more ongoing threat to the Netflix brand consists of limited streaming inventory — a shortcoming Netflix attempted to redress with its December 2012 play for exclusive rights to Walt Disney Studios, only to suffer a setback in January 2013 when HBO and Universal agreed to a distribution arrangement that blocks Netflix from crucial content for years.

You don’t stream movies on demand on Netflix; you watch whatever Netflix can make available to you. In recent days, I wanted to watch four movies that Netflix lacked online: Breakdown, The Dead Zone (the 1983 version), Executive Decision, and Waiting for Guffman. In three out of four cases, the movies I wanted were available on DVD only, and the fourth, not at all. These are just recent examples. Too often, Netflix is not a place for me to stream a specific movie that I have in mind, especially with catalog titles — a major problem for the affluent and growing Baby Boomer population, which has money to spend and movie memories that date back a lot farther than The Hunger Games. Clearly, Netflix has a long way to go in order to fulfill its brand promise for people who want to stream movies. And remember, Netflix wants you to stream movies. This is the company that tried to foist streaming on its customers in the first place.

So what’s the solution? I think Netflix should take accountability where it matters: price. When a movie you want is not available, Netflix should offer you a rebate. When Netflix suffers an outage, Netflix should offer you a price break. Would putting its money where its mouth is motivate Netflix to become a high-performance brand? Moreover, Netflix could address the shortage of streaming inventory by revising its brand promise and setting expectations. For instance, movie service Fandor sets expectations by promising members “an online destination for watching amazing independent films from all over the world.”


You won’t find Die Hard on Fandor, but you’ll have success with more esoteric movies such as the 1921 Buster Keaton comedy Hard Luck. By contrast, Netflix has engineered itself to disappoint by positioning itself as something of an all-purpose movie rental destination, which it certainly is not. Is Netflix the preferred brand for television enthusiasts? For recently run movies? I don’t know, but I’d like for Netflix to tell me. Unless Netflix does a better job protecting its brand, ironically Amazon will eat Netflix for lunch.