Monthly Archives: March 2008

Don’t be a carboat

I’m reading this interesting book on branding I picked up called, The Origin of Brands by Al and Laura Ries.

When I bought it, I didn’t know anything about the Ries pair (father / daughter), and I must admit I was actually looking to pick up Godin’s new book. But the theme of the book caught my attention and it’s been a fascinating read so far.

The book is modeled on Darwin’s The Origin of Species. In it, the Rieses argue that brands, much like nature, are driven by diverging forces.

Divergence is tough for us to grasp. When we’re talking about the future, it’s natural to think in terms of combining existing products or services.

We get goofy and think to ourselves, People use ink pens. People use pencils. What if we combined the two? People would only need one writing utensil!

What we learn after loads of money and time spent on R&D is that you end up with a crappy pen and a crappy pencil, sandwiched into one awkward stick. We’re left with a product that nobody thinks of when they want to doodle or take notes or sign a check.

Instead of convergent efforts, the Rieses promote divergent thinking in the form of establishing new brands in new categories.

So instead of trying to jam ink and lead together, think like Sharpie. Or develop gel pens. Or maybe some edible paint. Whatever it is – make it something that isn’t already out there. Something that people don’t even know they need.

And when you do it, don’t dilute your existing brand by dragging it along with your creation. If your brand is known for making pencils – no matter how much you think people love you and how much “respect” the name carries – don’t slap it on your new line of quirky paper products. You’re better off establishing a new brand, hopefully to be known as the kick-ass, obsessive-about-quirky-paper brand.

And perhaps my favorite example from the book is the carboat. The German company Amphicar introduced their autoboat in 1961 to much publicity. Say the Rieses:

Like all convergence products, the Amphicar performed neither function well. Drives like a boat, floats like a car, was the buyers’ verdict.

So think differently. Be the first. Start new categories. Stand for something specific. Don’t be a carboat.


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Go down swinging

Lately there’s been a lot of projects (both for my company and personal) that I’d like to accomplish. Often these projects involve coordinating other people, convincing them, explaining, selling…

And often it takes a lot of convincing myself: Is this worth it? If this fails, how bad will it affect me? It will take a lot of effort…

This type of stuff. It slows things down, it hurts momentum, it wears on me.

Until I remind myself that at worst, it’s bombing. At worst, it’s exploding in my face and nobody will forgive me for it – except of course, myself.

And I’ll always forgive myself as long as I go down swinging.

Not half-assed, not timidly, not quietly. That would be hard to live with on any scale.

But if I’m going down, I’m going down swinging.



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Community media project, part 4 of 4: Other applications

I’m going to go ahead and wrap up my initial thoughts on this community media project with a few of the ways I think it could be used elsewhere.

Up until now, I’ve focused on some specific small-town media sources and lobbed a lot of large stones toward their small staffs, budgets and circulations. I’m not writing to take those comments back – I have no patience for bad journalism, regardless of the situation. It’s the nature of journalism – it’s in the business of having audiences. And so any time the media puts on a bad show by putting out bad or incomplete information, or missing important stories… or do this – every time we let our audience down, it hurts the cause. It muddles the lofty ideals of journalism.

And it’s not just small geographic-based communities I’m thinking of. Rather, there’s plenty of practical applications for this project, which is fundamentally about making communication more meaningful and more accessible to communities.

How about a non-profit?

How about a university?

How about a political campaign? (Not just the presidential ones…)

How about any organization with an existing community, plenty of agents of conversation and a story to share?

Journalism isn’t gone, it never will be. Journalists are wired to be the best storytellers and investigators and analyzers. That takes training and talent.

But the days of waiting for someone else to tell your story – those are gone. There’s no sense in waiting anymore.

Your thoughts?

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Idea for community media, part 3 of 4: How to build it

I’ve discussed the mission of my media project and I’ve offered some thoughts on the content, the sources and a few of the ways people would adopt it.

Now on to the practical issue: How do you build it?

When thinking about this project, a few things really matter:

  • It’s got to be simple. Simple to add content, simple to upload multimedia, simple to experience.
  • While we’re at it, it should look professional.
  • Must haves include: Navigation, search, subscription.

No problem: Here’s a great WordPress theme (for a one-time fee of $80), and here’s a simple video on how to install it on your own domain. Here’s the theme in action.

Too steep of a price? No worries – there are tons of free themes out there and a with a little tweaking of some CSS code (sounds scary, but not bad) you can make a presentation all your own. Something that truly reflects the community.

It’s so painfully simple, it makes me wonder why many media outlets insist on looking like this. Or this. Or this.

And just to prove small community media can do it, visit the Le Mars Daily Sentinel. Nice work.

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Small town media idea: You asked, I typed

I love the reaction and discourse that’s developing around my community media idea. A big thanks to both Jim and Julie for bringing up some good discussion points in the comments.

Here’s a few of my thoughts on some of these points (paraphrased):

1.) “This isn’t investigation, it’s not breaking news and it’s not a third-party watchdog. This, simply, is not journalism.”

All true. This isn’t traditional journalism – and I probably shouldn’t even use the word journalism in relation to this idea.

But it’s born out of my frustration with existing media sources within these communities today. Shit, really, that tends to be called journalism because it’s printed on paper and has ads and photos and headlines and some quotes from folks.

But in reality, what exists today often not only fails to meet the aforementioned characteristics of journalism, but it also rarely bothers to simply tell people what is going on.

The real point here is, when you’re talking really small communities, great traditional journalism just isn’t much of an option. If we’re judging this idea against the journalism we studied and worked for and continue to fight for today, I can’t compete.

But we’re talking about communities that have no existing media substance. I’m suggesting giving them the tools and slowly building a conversation. Ultimately, encourage people to share their stories – because in these communities, if they don’t, who will?

2) OK – So it’s a new, strange media. But now you have the problem of convincing people to use it.

It certainly won’t happen overnight.

But by bringing together a few key content contributors, a pull could develop.

I’ve mentioned these before, but I’m thinking mayors, city council members, school superintendents, club leaders, religious officials…. People who have a direct impact on the community.

If you can give people a good and reliable reason to use it, they will. The pace of this adoption will largely depend on how starved the audience is for this content.

3) People abuse pretty things. If you build it, someone will try to hurt it. How do you keep the discourse clean?

Right now I don’t have a good answer here. It’s certainly a concern.

And if you’re selling this idea to a community, this will likely be the first question anyone asks.

If I were setting this up overnight for tomorrow, I’d probably hold all comments for review and develop a criteria for what constituted appropriate content.

This point will certainly take some further thought, but it can be done.

— Finally, some notes on this:

This isn’t good old-fashioned traditional media, but that’s not always a bad thing… because:

  1. It’s social. It builds community.
  2. It has the potential to establish direct communication between public officials and the communities they serve.
  3. Multi-media galore.
  4. It’s nimble, quick and damn cheap.

Thanks again for the great comments.

Good talk. See ya’ out there.

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I heart cheap and effective marketing

Wow – check out this 1 min. video (it’s workplace safe) I saw Seth Godin post today:


Filed under Marketing

Idea for small town media, part 2 of 4: Content, sources and buy-in

In my last post I outlined the mission of my community journalism project. This project takes a tool (social media) and places it in an environment with little to no existing conversation.

In case you missed it, here’s the mission again:

To create an online forum to offer a conversation about the existing diverse passions and stories of a small community.

Sure, sounds good – but content is king. So what would be discussed and who would discuss it?

Here’s the deal: People love to discuss their communities – which is part of the reason people are willing to put up with crappy news. It’s the reason social media has exploded. And it’s all because ultimately, life is a social event.

In small communities, there are a few core, physical social nodes. They vary, but typical ones are the church, the school and the tavern. Local government, businesses and social clubs are common also.

By identifying the existing social networks, we can then identify the sources of the content – the “agents of conversation.” Agents could include: The mayor, the school superintendent, the basketball coach, a local pastor, a local business owner… the list goes on. But the real criteria is that it’s people who are contributing and participating in the community. They’re people whom traditional media would be targeting anyways.

Again – this is not good ol’ hard-hitting journalism. But it is an opportunity for an existing community to better communicate what is happening in their lives.


  • The mayor directly speaking on upcoming local initiatives, everything from raising the sales tax to pay for pothole improvements to his thoughts on the county’s new lake proposal.
  • The basketball coach discussing how parents and fans can get involved to help the team. Or doing his or her own game re-caps.
  • The school principal or superintendent speaking on new teacher hires, changes in the state’s educational system or addressing consolidation fears.

And in the true sense of social media, the conversations are two-way. A dialogue is born.

That point leads to my final thought on this post: Community buy- in.

My theory on buy-in is something I was taught repeatedly in my Sigma Chi leadership days –

People support what they help create.

And man is it true. Let them in, give away ownership, embrace critique and celebrate participation. It works in business, it works in social organizations, it works in communities – everywhere.

By putting the conversation in the hands of those it directly affects, you’ve spread out ownership. And by spreading ownership, you’ve spread the commitment.

My next post will be on layout and presentation. Soon, I’d like to draw up a simple step-by-step on how to set up a WordPress blog template on your very own domain.


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