Blessed Are the Change Agents

Years ago, an agency asked me to define its target buyer as part of a brand repositioning. My client wanted to do business with companies eager to innovate. I recommended that my client stop thinking of its buyer in terms of a formal title such as CMO and instead seek out a persona I referred to as the change agent — which I described as a leader who is in a position to effect behavioral change needed for a business to grow and innovate. Find the change agents, I reasoned, and you find the wellsprings of innovation inside a company.

So I read with interest a new report from Brian Solis, The Digital Change Agent’s Manifesto. It turns out that over the past few years, Brian has been interviewing about 30 change agents (with a focus on digital change agents) to better understand them – and to provide a road map for change agents to flourish.

A Revelation

Brian’s report is a revelation. Here is a report that helps businesses identify change agents inside their own organization and set them up for success. His report is also a rallying cry for people who believe they are change agents or on the path to becoming one. Brian maps out the attributes of a change agents, calls out stumbling blocks to success, and identifies 10 mandates for change agents to prosper. Although he focuses on digital change agents — because of the distinct challenges and opportunities digital presents — the report is a manifesto for change agents of any type.

Why You Should Read Brian’s Report

Business leaders should read Brian’s report for one simple reason: at a time when digital disruption has become the norm, companies that can find and support change agents more quickly than their competitors will possess a distinct advantage. Companies that fail to nurture and support change agents will lose these visionaries to someone else who can. And change agents don’t exactly walk around wearing “Ask Me about Change” buttons.  In fact, they might be flying beneath the radar screen, by choice. Brian’s report will help a C-level executive find and uplift them.

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Introducing “20/20,” a Film Shot with Google Glass by Clark Kokich

Clark Kokich has built a career helping brands master digital technology. So it’s only fitting that Kokich, the chief strategy officer at Marchex, former Razorfish CEO, and author of Do or Die, has created 20/20, the world’s first narrative live-action short film shot with Google Glass. The five-minute movie, which follows a day in the life of a young man through his Google Glass, makes a powerful statement about personal privacy and the power that technology assumes in our everyday lives. For as long as I’ve known him, Clark Kokich has always been fascinated with the way that digital technology can both disrupt and shape the way we live and do business.

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20/20: romance competes with technology. Which will win?

In the following interview, he discusses the themes of 20/20 (a product of his film company, Perché No?) what it was like to make a movie with Google Glass, and his views on technology and privacy (including his opinion of Edward Snowden). Check out what’s on his mind — but more importantly, take five minutes to watch the provocative 20/20. This movie will make you think.

What inspired you to make this movie?

Last spring I was having coffee with Margaret Czeisler, global vice president of the Razorfish xLab. She pulled out a Google Glass for me to try. It was the first time I fully understood the power of the technology. Then, as I was driving home, the idea for the film just popped into my head. I more or less wrote it in my mind in the car and typed it up when I got home.

In the movie, Google Glass is omnipresent, and not always for the best. Where do you think Google Glass is headed in the next few years?

It’s hard to say. I used to work at Code-A-Phone, a company that made telephone answering machines. Remember those? Our biggest issue was confronting the backlash from people who became pissed off when they had to leave a recorded message.

In the 1990s, I worked for Cellular One. At that time, cell phones were regarded as a smug status symbol. “What kind of an asshole takes a call in their car?” We’re seeing that kind of backlash right now with Google Glass. And I suppose this film doesn’t help, does it? But who knows what will happen.

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In the end, if the technology solves a real problem, people will get over it. Right now, I don’t think Google Glass solves an obvious problem in the same way answering machines and cell phones did.

The movie’s subtext about spying is obviously quite timely, with Edward Snowden recently speaking at the 2014 SXSW Interactive festival. What’s your view of Snowden? Hero or a traitor?

I do think he broke the law, and there should be consequences for that. But I don’t consider him a traitor. If I had to guess, 50 years from now he’ll be regarded as an important historical figure; someone who took a huge risk – and sacrificed everything – so that the rest of us could know what the hell is really going on.

I could relate to the scene where the protagonist is multi-tasking too much with technology at the expense of the people in the room with them. How do you avoid that happening in your own life?

I’m actually pretty good about that. I’ve never used technology just because it’s new and cool. I can admire it, and want to learn more, but I’m not an automatic adopter. I also think it’s important to be doing the things that are important to you, not that are important to others. For instance, if I’m on the road, I don’t answer emails on my phone just because they came in. My fingers are too big for that kind of nonsense. If something’s critically important, maybe. But for the most part, I decide what’s important to get done right now, and I only concentrate on that. Just ignore everything else.

What was it like shooting a movie in Google Glass? What did the experience teach you?

It was a pain in the ass. We tried to monitor the shooting in real time through an iPhone, but doing so was too clumsy. So we ended up shooting a scene with no idea what we were really getting. Then we had to wait to download the file and check it on the computer. If there was a problem, you had to start over. It took forever.

What’s next for your filmmaking?

We’re going to shoot another short this summer. This one is more serious. No more Google Glass fun and games.

The Innovative Sound of AM & Shawn Lee

The rock and pop music industry is alive and well. The business of music as we once knew it might be dead, but musicians continue to thrive and innovate — if you’ll let them. Case in point: today AM & Shawn Lee released La Musique Numerique, a striking blend of rock and electronica that received a four-star (out of five) rating on Allmusic. Their new single (“Two Times”) and video were featured USA Today, which describes La Musique Numerique as “a blissful experience from start to finish.” I met AM at a concert in 2010, and we ended up creating an innovative co-branding relationship for AM and agency Razorfish, where I was vice president of marketing at the time. I’ve maintained a relationship with AM in my current role as senior vice president of marketing at iCrossing. I continue to be impressed not only by his music but by how he works. For instance, as Billboard and Mashable have noted, AM & Shawn Lee typically build tracks by sharing their music online across multiple studios (AM is based in Los Angeles; Lee in London) without collaborating face to face. Moreover, they boldly combine retro moog-synth sounds with contemporary dance and rock.
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So here’s my challenge: check them out. Give them a fair listen. If you don’t like them on first listen, try them again — remember, sometimes your ears need time to get accustomed to fresh music. See them on tour (here’s where you can find them — and you won’t need to fork over hundreds of dollars to experience their music as you would with the Rolling Stones). Their future is in your hands.

Jeff Bezos: the king of content

Jeff Bezos wants Earth’s biggest online retailer to become the world’s mightiest content publisher and distributor.  In a recent interview with Steven Levy of Wired, Bezos shared how Amazon is creating a web content powerhouse through an a three-pronged, interlocking approach that encompasses the Kindle, Amazon Web Services, and publishing platforms for authors and movie makers. Bezos isn’t just CEO of Amazon or CEO of the Internet, as Wired calls him. In 2012, Bezos may very well become the king of content.

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“Do or Die”: tough medicine for the CMO

Marketers need to shift their focus from saying things about their brands to creating great products and experiences that will make people love their brands.

That’s what Clark Kokich believes. Clark, chairman of Razorfish, is the author of Do or Die, a new book that challenges marketers to rethink the way they build relationships with consumers. Recently he discussed with me the ethos of Do or Die, including how his simple premise — that marketers should stop saying things and start doing things — has a far-reaching impacts on the way marketers do their jobs, ranging from how they generate ideas to how they collaborate with agencies and their peers in Information Technology and Creative.

Do or Die, available exclusively on the iPad, argues that marketers just don’t have the ear of the consumer like they used to — not at a time when consumers have tools like Yelp to tell each other what they think about a brand. The book cites a Nielsen Company study that asked 25,000 Internet users from 50 countries, “Which sources of advertising do you trust most?” Nine out of 10 respondents said that they rely on friends and colleagues, and the next most popular source was consumer opinions posted online.

As Clark sees it, the problem is that too many marketers and their agency partners remain mired in an old model of sharing “one-way monologues” touting the benefits of a brand.

“Saying is great when people are listening,” he writes. “Saying is fantastic when people believe what you’re saying. But saying is a dud when consumers aren’t paying as much attention to traditional media and don’t find a one-way litany of sales points all that convincing.”

The solution: borrow a page from companies like Nike and Virgin America, which are finding imaginative ways to create immersive experiences for people to interact with their brands. For instance, while many of Virgin America’s rivals pour their marketing dollars into one-way advertising, Virgin famously builds its brand by transforming the laborious process of air travel into a fun experience.

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Nice guys finish first

Last year I blogged about how Twitter was a catalyst in the forming of a co-branding relationship that I formed with indie musician AM and Razorfish (where I was in charge of marketing). Since then, digital has once again helped launch a relationship – this time between AM and musician Shawn Lee. On the strength of a trans-Atlantic collaboration formed entirely in the digital world, AM and Lee have launched a new album, Celestial Electric, which was just named one of Yahoo Music’s “Ten Utterly Fantastic New Albums” of the week.

As discussed by Mashable and my post on the iCrossing Content Lab, AM and Lee essentially used digital to launch a new sound, “electro soul.” The initial fruits of their work, the single “Dark into Light,” caught the attention of publications such as Rolling Stone. AM and Lee are now on tour (with Thievery Corporation) to support Celestial Electric, whose positive critical reception includes reviews such as this one and this one.

Seeing AM succeed is satisfying on a number of levels. I have been captivated by his sophisticated style of music since hearing him in concert in March 2010. But I’m also glad to see a genuinely likable and cool guy like AM and his collaborator Shawn Lee get the attention they deserve. AM’s personal warmth is evident the moment you meet him, and I’m lucky to have worked with him.

Success (especially in the fractured music industry) does not always come to decent and talented people. AM and his manager Mia Crowe are not waiting for success to come to them; they have worked hard to help AM find an audience for his music, which has been described as a mélange of “the best of musical worlds, rippling through classic roots sounds: pop and rock, steamy soul and R&B, Brazilian tropicalia, British Invasion, and ‘60s Bay Area psychedelia.”

On the Content Lab for iCrossing (where I am vice president of marketing), I provide more insight into the story behind AM’s success. And you can learn more about AM on Facebook, Twitter, his website, and on YouTube.

How a janitor and “Hotel California” shaped me

If I have enjoyed any success as a writer and marketer, I need to thank the guy who pushed a broom and carried out the trash at my junior high school in 1977. His name was Larry, and he introduced me to “Hotel California,” a rock epic that has influenced me for many years. Some of the lessons I’ve learned from that six-minute song might be useful to you, too.

Featuring blistering guitar work and a mysterious narrative that is part fantasy and part Raymond Chandler, “Hotel California” has captured the imagination of fans and critics for decades. The song and the album Hotel California topped the Billboard charts for the Eagles in 1977. Rolling Stone magazine ranked the song Number 11 among the top 100 pop songs of all time.

“Hotel California” has also had an enormous impact on me throughout my career as a writer, book editor, and marketing executive (including the work I do today as vice president of marketing at iCrossing). How and why?

Thinking Critically

When Hotel California and its eponymous single soared to popularity in the summer of 1977, I was a lonely eighth grader living in the oppressively conservative community of Wheaton, Illinois. My family had moved to Wheaton in 1975, and with the dislocation came hardship. My parents’ marriage was unraveling before my eyes, my older brother was drifting away, and I was an outcast struggling against bullies.

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Build your brand with your Twitter profile

Most executives on Twitter rely on boring personal profiles that say little about them beyond their titles. And yet your Twitter profile is an opportunity to build your personal brand and humanize your company (even if your account is personal).  Here are three executives who get it right:

1. Clark Kokich

The first few words of Clark’s profile are predictable and necessary – he’s the chairman of Razorfish (where I was once CMO) and director for three different companies. But then Clark drops something different on you: in addition to being a proud dad, he’s a mediocre husband, bad guitarist, and aging Baby Boomer.

Clark (who I know personally) scores points for showing a sense of humor about himself. How many senior executives to do you know who use the words “mediocre husband” and “aging Baby Boomer” in their personal profiles? His profile says, “I’m comfortable enough in my position to exercise some humility and have a little fun.”

2. Rachel Pasqua

Rachel’s profile is short but intriguing.

Like Clark, she starts with the professional – vice president of mobile for my current employer iCrossing. Then she adds something direct (twin mommy) and interesting (“Repairer of the Irreparable.”).

And notice Rachel’s graphic. Technically she departs from a social media best practice by not using a personal picture as Clark does. But her use of the Emily the Strange graphic, along with the cryptic “Repairer of the Irreparable,” piques your curiosity.

I want to ask Rachel what Emily the Strange means to her – is the character a personal inspiration? Maybe she likes the clothing line? Or both? She gives you a clue that she’s a “get it done” type – professionally and personally (you probably have to be if you are VP of mobile and a mother of twins).

Because I work with Rachel (she’s an excellent mobile marketing thought leader), I’m sure I will ask her.

3. Brian Dunn

You have to cut the CEO of Best Buy some slack.

CEOs – especially those who run giant publicly traded companies – have their words and actions watched so closely by investors, employees, lawyers, and business partners that it’s tempting for them to avoid social media completely. (A topic Forrester Research CEO George Colony addressed at a 2010 Forrester Forum.)

Brian might not say a whole lot in his Twitter profile, and I wish his Twitter handle used his name (maybe it was taken already). But he does something Clark and Rachel don’t do: he leads with the personal (“Father. Husband”) before the professional “CEO of Best Buy”).

Like Rachel, he employs a somewhat cryptic statement that makes you want to learn more about him (“Fanatic about the Connected World”). And he links to his Best Buy blog where you can see just how much of a fanatic about the connected world he really is.

Good for Brian. And extra points for using what is obviously not a slick, airbrushed corporate photo. He’s not smiling . . . but he’s authentic.

Authenticity, a sense of humor and humility, and intrigue . . . those are a few of the reasons I’ve singled out Clark, Rachel, and Brian.

Who are some of your favorites?

Latin American women: the new global power bloc

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Any business that wants to succeed globally had better respect the power of the Latin American woman.

That message was delivered emphatically in two ways recently:

  • On October 31, Brazil elected its first female president, Dilma Rousseff, reportedly a former left-wing guerrilla who later became an energy secretary in Rio Grande do Sul state. Her election is an important global event in addition to a Latin American one. Brazil is the world’s eighth-largest economy. Companies ranging from Caterpillar to Louis Vuitton have made Brazil a hot destination for global expansion. In her first few days as president-elect, she has vowed to sustain long-term economic growth for Brazil by decreasing the country’s national debt and lower interest rates, which are among the world’s highest — a message characterized as investor friendly and hopefully comforting for multinationals who intend to succeed there.
  • Just days before Ms. Rousseff’s election, my employer Razorfish, with the help of Terra, released a report (The Stampede) asserting that women are the key for multinational CMOs to build relationships with the so-called Classe C working class. This finding is significant because the Classe C population is fueling the growth the hot Latin American economic markets. According to The Sampede (announced on October 26) women are the main purchasers and decision makers in the homes of an increasingly affluent and powerful “new digital middle class” in Latin America, which might surprise executives who assume a patriarchal Latin American society. New digital middle class women are more likely to start their own businesses than men are, and as Razorfish executive Joe Crump told Fast Company, “Seven out of 10 borrowers in micro-lending are women. Online buying is also driven by women. Online, women have access to all the same shops as upper classes,” he explained. “Normally they would be watched by security in the actual shops.”

The Stampede shatters a number of misconceptions about the Classe C population that marketers need to overcome if they want to succeed in Latin America. In Brazil, Classe C constitutes about 100 million residents who “snap up cars, cellphones, and new homes, quickly becoming a prime target for marketers,” according to Advertising Age. Joe Crump, a New Yorker who lives in Brazil part-time, visited the the homes of Classe C residents in Argentina, Brazil, and Mexico, interviewing them about how they live and their media habits.

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Faces of the new digital middle class

Among his findings: contrary to popular belief, Classe C put digital at the center of their lives. For them, digital provides opportunities to equalize the social and economic playing field in highly class-stratified societies — hence Razorfish renames Classe C the new digital middle class. In Brazil, 63 percent of families with a computer at home are Classe C compared to 23 percent for Class A/B as reported by MediaPost.

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The Stampede

And as Joe Crump told Fast Company, the new digital middle class “want phones that are smart for their lives. They like phones that look high-end, but have features that suit their lives.” Savvy marketers like Samsung have already caught on to their sophisticated tastes in digital and are aggressively promoting mobile devices to them while less enlightened marketers assume wrongly that Classe C is a culture shaped by television.

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You had better get to know her better

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The new marketing power bloc

Whether you call them Classe C or the new digital middle class, this consumer group is going to be influencing businesses around the world for the foreseeable future. The Economist recently noted that Latin American economies will expand again by 5 percent even as many other regional markets only emerge slowly from recessionary conditions. Citigroup released credit card data in July 2010 that showed consumers in Latin Americas increased their spending 15 percent in the second quarter of 2010, while U.S. consumer spending fell 7 percent. And women lead the way.

For more on Latin America and Classe C:

How Best Buy evolves its brand

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How do you keep evolving the brand for a $49 billion retailing giant? At Best Buy, keeping the company brand fresh starts with the vision of CEO Brian Dunn, who addressed 650 Razorfish clients and employees at the 10th Annual Razorfish Client Summit.

At the Client Summit (which I organized), my employer Razorfish challenged marketing executives to succeed by taking ownership of change at a corporate and personal level. The theme of the event was “Evolve.” Brian set the pace for the event by discussing the top five strategies for evolving the Best Buy brand:

  • Meet people where they are. It’s not enough to have a strong message, service, or product. You have to distribute your ideas to where your customers live. Best Buy does so by aggressively using social media, such as the vaunted Twelpforce team of Best Buy employees who provide technical advice to customers on Twitter.  “Too often we rush to try to monetize social media,” Brian said. “Not everything you do is a source of revenue or profit pool.” To be sure, Best Buy is hardly the only big brand using social media; but it’s important when a multi-billion dollar company like Best Buy reinforces its use of social to its peers at an event like the Client Summit.

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  • Don’t be afraid to have a little fun. Brian believes in encouraging a fun, irreverent culture inside Best Buy even though some of his counselors have advised him to adopt a more reserved tone befitting a Fortune 100 company. (His reply: “Tweet me.”) Having a little fun inside Best Buy reflects on the company brand, for instance the use of humor to educate Best Buy customers about recycling.

  • Find the core of your story, and shout it from the rooftops. This is a refreshing message at a time when social media pundits have belittled the importance of effective messaging. Yes, it is important for a brand to have a compelling message — it’s how you share it that matters. For instance, Best Buy relies on authentic testimonials to show that the company cares about its customers.

  • Engage your employees. He said, “It’s easy to say, ‘Yep, our employees differentiate us,’ but if you’re not connecting with your employees to listen and learn, then I think it’s just lip service.” Brian puts his money where his mouth is. He has a reputation for visiting Best Buy stores all around the world, hosting town hall meetings and speaking plainly with store employees. And he listens to his people on Facebook and Twitter. But he engages employees in other ways, too, such as pranking employees on April Fool’s Day with a fake employee newsletter story about Keith Richards working part-time at a Best Buy store in its Musical Instruments department.

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  • Be relentless with your message. Brian passionately believes in the Best Buy “Connected World” message — or the notion of connecting people through technology to the services they need, the information they crave, the entertainment they desire, and the people they love. Brian shares that message consistently to everyone — analysts, news media, vendor partners, employees, and shareholders.

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After the Client Summit, I had a chance to experience what Brian was talking about. I returned home from the Client Summit to discover that the wash machine in our home was broken. So I decided to try a local Best Buy for a replacement — not because Best Buy is a Razorfish client but because I often shop at Best Buy for home entertainment and usually find what I want. I’m happy to report that my experience was positive from the time I stopped by a Best Buy (on Butterfield Road in Downers Grove) on October 15 to the time my new wash machine was installed on October 17 (a Sunday afternoon). Here’s what Best Buy did right:

  • The in-store service was prompt. No waiting around for someone to help me.
  • The salesman, Tony, read my family’s needs perfectly. He understood that we sought an easy-to-use machine at an affordable price. He explained the features of units with different price points so that we made an informed decision, but he helped us find the right Whirlpool model without too many bells and whistles.
  • The in-store experience was actually fun. Think about that: my wife and I had fun buying a wash machine. That’s because Tony had a sense of humor, and he clearly enjoyed trading jokes with his fellow employees and with us. The appliance section just seemed like a place where employees give off a good vibe.
  • The post-sales experience was flawless — an area where many retailers stumble. I received a follow-up phone call confirming the delivery date/time within 24 hours of my purchase. The delivery occurred within 48 hours of the transaction. And — this is really crucial — we were given a brief (two-hour) window. It just kills me when delivery people force you to sacrifice your entire day waiting for them. But I can live with two hours (and by the way, the delivery occurred inside the window with an hour to spare). The delivery team was professional and, like the Best Buy employees, personable.

The Whirlpool is working just fine, too.