Thursday, February 26, 2009

The Decentralization of Brand Building

Powerful, complex and volatile, a brand is often a company, product, service or individual’s most important competitive differentiator. While marketing, public relations and advertising can help to preserve, protect and enhance the brand, it’s important to recognize that, ultimately, the brand is a collection of perceptions in the minds of your stakeholders. That was never truer than today, at a time when the Internet has empowered its 1.6 billion users to tell the world—loudly, instantly and continuously—when a brand is failing to live up to its promise.

The reverse is equally true, as I was reminded today when I happened on a video called “If I Made a Commercial for Trader Joe’s” on YouTube, which its creator, San Francisco-based Carl Willat, says he “shot on my Palm Treo before I accidentally ran over it with my car.” It’s hard to imagine a paid commercial that would have the power of this three-minute-long, unofficial, fan-made riff on the unique quirks and pleasures of Trader Joe’s.

The video was posted on YouTube on January 27. By February 12, it had been downloaded nearly 124,000 times and it had swept the blogosphere, with hundreds of thousands of references and links. The vast majority of comments were made by people who talked about why they loved Trader Joe’s … reinforcing the retailer’s brand promise of being a place where “value, adventure and tasty treasures are discovered, every day.”

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Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Senate Bill Would Bring Hedge Funds under SEC Scrutiny

The Hedge Fund Transparency Act of 2009, a Senate bill introduced on January 29, may mark the beginning of the end of the “shadow banking system” which has been blamed for aggravating the subprime mortgage crisis and ultimately contributing to the global recession.

“A major cause of the current crisis is a lack of transparency,” said Senator Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa) who co-sponsored the new bill with Senator Carl M. Levin (D-Mich.). “The wizards on Wall Street figured out a million clever ways to avoid the transparency sought by the securities regulations adopted during the 1930s,” he added.

The Hedge Fund Transparency Act would require hedge funds to file an annual disclosure form with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission(SEC), comply with the agency’s record-keeping requirements and cooperate with its investigations … a requirement Grassley and Levin said is necessary to protect investors and the U.S. financial system. (The $100,000 question—whether the SEC is capable of taking on this additional regulatory responsibility—has yet to be answered.)

Bloomberg reports that hedge funds lost $600 billion in 2008 — more than any year previously — and may shed as much as $450 billion in assets this year.

Last November, four hedge-fund managers—George Soros of Soros Fund Management; John Paulson of Paulson & Co.; Philip Falcone of Harbinger Capital Partners; and James Simons of Renaissance Technologies—testified before Congress that some form of federal oversight was appropriate.

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Monday, February 9, 2009

Bank of America Tweets Its Customers Well

Our New York City-based public relations firm is a strong advocate for using the new consumer-generated, or social, media to build connections, rapport and trust. In fact, our specialized Online Fluency practice, headed by EVP + Partner Robbin Goodman, is devoted entirely to the art and science of social networking with stakeholders. So I was intrigued to read an interesting piece on one of my favorite blogs, The Consumerist, about how Bank of America is using Twitter to resolve customers’ problems.

The bank has appointed an official BofA Twitter rep, David Knapp (screen name BofA_help) to “help, listen and learn from our customers.” Knapp handles inbound requests and scans Twitter for people talking about their problems with the financial services giant and reaches out to them.

One customer reported trying to contact Bank of America “a dozen different times and three different ways,” but one tweet to BofA_help put him in directly touch with executive customer service.

Another shared his story about how Bank of America helped fix his problem: “I got the fee I was disputing canceled, and they promised to send me a gift certificate. We'll see,” he said. “… if they keep up this level of customer service I might not switch banks when I move this spring.”

It’s early days yet, but the initial response to this social media experiment is very positive. The Consumerist reports: “If you're listening to the elevator music on the phone with Bank of America, why not shoot a tweet over to Maybe he'll solve your problem before you get off hold. It'll only cost you a few seconds and 140, or less, characters.”

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Monday, February 2, 2009

Fie on Your Green Buzzwords

Last month, Lake Superior State University (LSSU) published its 34th annual list of “Words to Be Banished from the Queen's English for Mis-use, Over-use and General Uselessness”. At the top of the list for 2009 was “green” and all of its variations (e.g., “going green,” “green technology” and “green solutions”).

Other words condemned by the word mavens at LSSU include two more environmental terms — “carbon footprint” and “carbon offsetting” — plus “maverick,” “first dude,” “bailout” and “Wall Street/Main Street,” among others.

The List of “Words to Be Banished” was originally conceived in 1975 by former LSSU public relations director Bill Rabe and his colleagues. The LSSU PR office receives thousands of nominations every year from people targeting pet peeves from common parlance, current events, politics, technology, advertising, sports and entertainment. A committee makes the final selection of “Words to Be Banished” in late December.

Technorati Tags: Lake Superior State University", LSSU, Words to Be Banished, green technology, green solutions, environmental terms, maverick, bailout, Bill Rabe, , business, communications, public relations

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