It was my pleasure to be interviewed by Peppers & Rogers1to1 Magazine for a story on the evolution of branding.  My responses were folded into the article “Hasbro Gives Control of Its Brand to Customers” HERE

Below is an expanded version of my answers.  It’s a topic that’s at the very core of how I think about brands, communications and the marketplace.  I would welcome your thoughts.

I’m doing a story about the evolution of branding: particularly the growing influence of the customer experience in branding strategy.  How is branding strategy different now than it used to be?
The biggest difference is that a “brand” is something that marketers and companies are accustomed to controlling. In the past, a company sent all of the brand messages that general audiences heard.  Brands pulled the strings – they had all the information that was to be had, and so were able to manage consumer expectations and impressions. In that kind of world, an unhappy customer or supplier – or a disgruntled employee or competitor – could only reach as many people as were in his or her own circle of friends and associates.

Today, any individual can reach literally millions of people in real-time.  The message is whatever each person wishes it to be.  Even if that message is inaccurate or unflattering, its reach is almost limitless.  And a message someone posts can grow in influence as others pick it up and begin circulating it to ever larger circles – that’s how something becomes “viral” – which means that marketers have to be as viral as their customers, ever- vigilant and ready to address whatever comes their way from any corner of the world.

A quick example is Motrin. Motrin created an ad in 2008 that used an irreverent tone in an effort to sympathize with moms who have sore backs from carrying their infants.  This offended some moms,  Had this happened in 1988, you probably would not have heard about it unless you were personally close to one of these women.  Today, moms created and posted angry videos of their own online, the Motrin ad was viewed 400,000 times on YouTube and thousands of comments were posted on Twitter alone.  And this happened on a Saturday, by the way: we’re on consumer time now, not brand time.  So same reaction, perhaps, as many might have had 20 years ago, but much bigger megaphone.

This is something that companies and marketing teams are not organized to address – and it exposes all elements of a brand, warts and all, 24/7.  Brands are no longer the shouters: they’ve got to be the listeners. For brands that embrace a conversational relationship with the market, this can be an exciting experience that ultimately creates even more respect and love for a brand.  But for marketers who are accustomed to maintaining a tight rein, there are fundamental challenges ahead.

Branding used to be a way to gain awareness to a mass audience. But tools like social media, more robust customer data, and increased online activity in general seem to be pushing branding toward more personal engagement. What are your thoughts?
I don’t think it’s an either/or: each makes the other better.  Better data helps companies spend their mass advertising budgets more effectively and more precisely, which in turn provides air cover for more personal, individual efforts on the ground.  But there’s no question that it’s always been somewhat difficult to measure the effect of many forms of mass media, and – as other customizable channels become even sharper – there will be even more pressure on companies and their media partners to “prove” value from TV and other big efforts.

Personal engagement has another effect, as well: it raises consumer expectations.  How many times have you heard a frustrated person say “but they know me!” in response to an email addressed in the wrong language, or to the opposite gender? Consumers now know that companies have all this data, and they expect to benefit from it.  How well this data is, in fact, applied may then have an impact on whether the market listens to any messages a brand might send in any channel.

How do trust and credibility play a role in branding strategy these days, and how is it different than before?
Everything’s laid bare now.  There is virtually no nugget of information that isn’t available with a quick Google search.  An employee can create a pseudonym, for example, and tell the world how things “really” work, or that a company is being misleading or untruthful.  There’s no way to hold things back, or sweep something under the rug anymore. 

This puts intense pressure on brands to be more authentic and more worthy of consumers’ trust.  Let’s say a company manufactures merchandise overseas in unacceptable or even illegal conditions: in the past it could continue to do so for years, if not forever.  Now that people walk the globe with high-speed Internet access and cell phones that capture video, those times are over.  And if a company does get “caught” doing something today, these dynamics make the blast exponentially more damaging.

Where do you see the future of branding headed?
I’m hopeful about the future. My own professional community is full of marketers who understand that a brand is no longer corporate IP that needs to be policed and protected: it’s the beating heart of the enterprise. Instead of being talked at, consumers want to talk with a brand, and see the very human passion behind what you sell.  That can be scary, but it’s also pretty darn exciting.

What’s the biggest challenge to getting there?
One of the most difficult challenges is the uneven level of understanding and expectations of those who surround the marketer: the CEO, the CFO, the pressured head of sales and the Board, to name a few.  Executives already know what television advertising or print is, no explanation needed.  There’s comfort in that.  There’s going to be a lot of uncertainty and skepticism about dipping into a world that looks a little crazy, to do something a brand’s never done before.  And the road won’t be smooth: it’s already difficult to explain why something “negative” that’s said online is par for the course and why the brand must continue to engage, not back away.  I am very empathetic to the people on both sides of that table.

Any other thoughts?
For those who already know that good ideas rarely come from sitting behind a desk and who get charged up by listening to product users, prospects and partners, this is a great world.  Assuming a brand is being authentic, there is no real “bad” feedback – there are only lessons that help make you better and better.  There’s going to be plenty of trial and error, but this is all about getting closer to your customer, and that’s a great thing.

 

by Stephanie Fierman

I’ve been a passionate advocate of online personal branding and reputation management since 2007.  That was the year, as some of you know, that I had a personal experience with the power of Google – a “digi-mugging,” if you will.  Or maybe a “Web-jacking.”  

Whatever we call it, it was the moment that I came to realize that the game had started without me.   I started a blog, wrote a 4-part series on the topic (Part 1 Part 2 Part 3 Part 4) and never looked back.  I’d discovered that I would need to manage my own brand online – not just as good offense but also good defense – and wanted to help other executives do the same.

How much time are you committing to managing your own personal brand today, and – if asked – what would you advise the majority of businesspeople who are only now getting hip to the digital world?

The ball’s already in play. It’s just a question of whether you’re on the field.

Everyone already has an online personal brand.  It’s just a question of who the brand manager is.  The Web isn’t waiting with a blank slate until you’re ready to pay attention to your online persona. Everyone’s already out there – because of a wedding announcement (from your current or former marriage), past interviews, industrial gossip or rumor, quotes, political contributions, publicly-available legal filings. These are all examples of content that is already living your public life online.  Is that acceptable to you?

Your resume is no longer your resume.  Google is your resume. Google is da bomb.  Around 75% of global Internet users, or 943.8 million people, used Google services in June 2010 – more than any other Web company in the world.  In the U.S., 66% of the core searches in July (or 10.3 billion of the 15.6 billion total) were conducted on Google.  Yahoo is a distance 2nd with 17%. There’s a lot of looking going on. 

In other words…

It’s not about what you do when you’re ready: it’s about what’s going on when you’re not paying attention.  45% of employers, for example, are using social networks to gather information on job candidates, and 35% say they’ve dismissed candidates based on information found there.  Usages is even higher in the recruiting community: 85% use search engines to research candidates, and  45% say they’ve eliminated candidates based on information found on the web.  

And I’m not only talking about proactive job search (i.e., offense).  Successful executives, I believe, are accustomed to thinking about what they want, what they can do next – Master of the Universe stuff.  If I decide to look for a new job, then I’ll start paying attention to this stuff.  What I try to get across to people is that everything we’re talking about – in this particular example, the employment category – is about defense as much as offense.  What about the company that’s looking to fill a job paying 30% more than you’re making now?  Its head of HR has heard your name and does a Google search on a Sunday afternoon.  What might he find about you? 

Let’s use Facebook as an example. 

In 2009, Facebook was the most popular online destination for snooping employers.  So what, you say, you haven’t done anything dumb.  You would never, for example, post some stupid photo to your profile (duh).  But are you tagged in photos posted by other people?  Has someone tagged you and two friends drinking at a party?  People drink at parties: you know you weren’t drunk and anyone judging one photo is an idiot.  Really?  Not to be paranoid, but… are you willing to gamble that a potential employer looking at the same snapshot would agree with you?  More than half of the employers who have knocked a candidate out of the running say that provocative photos are the #1 reason for doing so.

You’ve got to make sure that you have and keep a broad view of the field.

What about where you work right now?  What would your boss, your peers, your staffers or your HR department find out about you right now if they went to Google?  Ditto for clients, (current or potential) business partners, board search, trade associations and other entities you’re likely to care about.

If someone had been wandering my Twitter profile this past weekend, they would have found this attached to a tweet.  No context, just the photo.  Do I need this? What might it communicate to someone about this person’s judgment – or mine?

And P.S:  let’s remember that tweets are now searchable on Google.  I see some of the craziest… you get the point. 

How often do you check your Google results, anyway??  (Answer:  once a week, please.)

This is not to imply that everyone should have a presence everywhere.  Not all executives are good at stream-of-conscious thinking, or can shift from heavy issues to pecking out 140 characters on Twitter.  Additionally, many professionals will need to preliminarily determine what the online cross-over is, if any, between a “personal” voice and a professional one.  And lastly – cool factor aside – social media may not be the best way for a particular executive to attract desirable “followers” or “friends” at a particular moment in time.  I insist on good defense, but offense is in the eye of the beholder.

What play do you recommend, Coach?

When advising a relative newbie, here are a few pre-game thoughts:

Take time to understand the legal and regulatory environment that surrounds you, your organization (if relevant) and the content you may be publishing. Assume that what you say is discoverable in a lawsuit and subject to SEC and other requirements (like Reg FD).  Assume that everything is “on the record” and “in print” (and act accordingly).

Remember that what you say will last forever on the Web. One of my favorite quotes in this regard is “Tweet with caution, Facebook with care, 10 years from now it will still be out there”

Listen to the conversation about you and/or your company first.  Make your own observations before jumping in.

Find a safe place to practice like a Yammer. If you want to check out Twitter, consider signing up with a pseudonym first and tweeting about gardening or fly fishing or some other like topic. You must have your own account to read or follow a tweet stream; you do not need to expose your executive self  before you’re ready.

Once you’ve decided to put your helmet on, here are a few guidelines:

Musts:
* LinkedIn – Create a profile. You need one to study the site, and it’s the place right now for executives to find others

* Facebook – Create a profile if only to lay claim to your own name

* Use a single identifier everywhere. Stick to Matt Jones or Matt P. Jones or Matthew Paul Jones



Up a Notch:
* Twitter – Wander about after opening an account under a pseudonym, and use the site’s search engine liberally to get a feel for the ebb and flow of real-time business conversations

* Start a blog

* Register on sites that let you establish a PURL.  Such sites include Digg, FriendFeed, Tumblr, StumbleUpon, OpenSalon and Squidoo. Use them every once in awhile, if you can.

* Study the search engines and try things out; focus on sites that tend to rank highest


* Share content on community sites like Flickr and Slideshare


Advanced Techniques:
* “Syndicate” your blog on sites that aggregate such posts (and have their own Google rankings)

* Work on securing offline speaking engagements, and get the events promoted on the Web

* Create your own “online” speaking engagements – your own YouTube channel, podcasts, etc.


Now before I get a bunch of comments and emails, a disclaimer: in no way is this intended to be comprehensive advice regarding what you should pack for the big game or how to behave once you get there.  It’s really just a quick slap on the back before the coin toss.  But I’m on my high horse about making sure that everyone at least knows how to protect themselves so – whether you’re warming up on the bench or helping someone who is – these are few ideas that will help avoid a penalty flag on the field.

This post was originally posted here on the Marketing Executive Network Group’s blog, MENG Blend.

There’s a real reputation-meets-revenue battle happening online.

Today, any advertiser with a Google AdWords account can buy virtually any keyword to advertise its own goods, regardless of whether said advertiser has the rights to use the word.  This is particularly troublesome for companies that have spent decades burnishing brand franchises and consider the associated names and words to be reputational assets of great value. 

If you go to Google right now and type in “LVMH” (the owner of numerous brands including Louis Vuitton and Hennessy), one of the sponsored ads shouts “Designer Handbags 70% off,” with a URL that includes the Louis Vuitton name. That has LVMH steamed and the company sued Google in Europe for trademark infringement.

Well the ruling is in… and it’s a split decision, advantage: Google. Upon Google’s appeal of earlier rulings (that didn’t go its way) the highest court in the EU has determined that – on its face – the mere fact that an LVMH-protected word is available for sale by Google does not mean that Google is in violation of LVMH’s trademark rights.  stephanie-fierman-louis-vuitton.jpg

Specifically, the court has said that the search company is not violating trademarks if (a) its automatic ad system is judged to be “merely technical, automatic and passive” in its operation, and if (b) the company is not aware and cannot be expected to fully police all the words that advertisers purchase.

Since computers are programmed by humans, I would argue that the first point is debatable, but there it is.  It was not a flat-out win for Google, however, as the court also ruled that Google must remove said ads if the brand owner formally complains about an advertiser infringing on its marks.  If Google fails to do this, the court says it won’t be so helpful in protecting Google’s revenue stream the next time around.

The court also reinforced that Google could be held liable for selling keywords that openly encourage or facilitate counterfeiting, which is a win (or at least a booster shot) for brand owners.  And lastly, the court also clarified the responsibilities of advertisers who mustn’t, by “using such keywords, arrange for Google to display ads which do not allow Internet users to easily establish from which undertaking the goods or services covered by the ad in question originate.”

I don’t know about you, but if I’m an advertiser that gets into hot water for legally buying a word that Google sold to me – and I’m not trying to sell knock-offs – I’m naming Google in my legal response.

stephanie-fierman-brand.jpgLVMH has been on the attack re. this issue for a long time all around the world, and must fight infringement in all possible sales channels. It has sued (and has won), for example against eBay in the past.  And  LVMH was front and center in the effective elimination of a thriving Louis Vuitton counterfeit trade on Canal Street in New York City.  After this ruling, the company will flood Google “Don’t Be Evil” Inc. with complaints until the search company will at least have to question what (and how much) it is defending by taking on massive legal expense (and bad PR) in order to make money from advertisers leeching off others’ trademarks.

And speaking of buying Louis Vuitton knock-offs on the street, a LVMH board member asks what may be the most probative observation yet: “Under trademark law anywhere in the world, brand owners have the right to stop third parties from using their names. “Why make an exception for the digital world?”

 As the division between online and offline “worlds” continue to disappear, why indeed?

Wow, Chuck E. Cheese has a problem.

The Wall Street Journal ran a half-page story in Section A yesterday that would cause any parent to run for the hills.  While CEC describes itself as a place “where a kid can be a kid,” and the cover of its 2007 Annual Report boasts “The Evolution of Fun,” it appears that the actual stores have become a nexus of bad behavior and danger.  Police all over the U.S. have been dealing with fights, guests carrying weapons and boozed-up brawls.chuck-e-cheese-stephanie-fierman.jpg

When a public official describes his local Chuck E. Cheese as “something out of a Quentin Tarantino film,” you have a serious problem.  The picture at right shows the CEC in said politician’s Milwaukee neighborhood – with an armed guard out front.

A simple glance at Google tells the Web 2.0 tale.  Of 9 front-page search results for “Chuck E. Cheese,” 5 are negative.  Of 10 front-page results for “McDonalds,” 0 are negative.

So where is the crisis management and what is the company doing about this problem?  While the company’s head of marketing describes the fights and problems as “atypical,” the risk to a corporation is not always volume-based.  Only one child or parent needs to die in one of these melees for CEC to get sued into the ether. 

Not only is (a) taking aggressive action and then (b) broadly communicating your plan the “right thing to do,” it ultimately protects the bottom line and shareholder value.  Take the saddest, most base scenario: if the company gets sued over a child’s death, it will be in far better stead with the court if it can show an active, consistent and good-faith effort to address this problem.  Such a good-faith effort could very well include suffering a short-term revenue hit by closing the most troubled locations in the near 500-location chain.  And continuing to serve alcohol in most stores is a recipe for disaster.  What percentage of revenue coming from alcohol sales – at children’s birthday parties – is worth a legal disaster that effectively cripples the company?

I frequently refer to the Tylenol poisonings in 1982 and J&J’s decision to pull all U.S. product off the shelves even after the company had been determined to have no involvement in the tragedy.  This may well be the best example of a company taking the long view in memory.

There is a range of choices CEC can take.  At the lower end of the range, management needs to take action in its own backyard to resolve these issues.  At the higher end, welcome Alderman Zielinski in as a valued advisor.  Hold a press conference with him in Milwaukee where he ceremoniously padlocks his neighborhood location while you rightfully announce that no amount of money is worth putting people’s lives in danger.  Ask Zielinski to help you create a national “Having Fun Can Be Safe” campaign nationwide. 

Wherever CEC lands on this spectrum, it had better land quickly.  Or ol’ Chuck may be toast.

Chuck E. Cheese    

Stephanie Fierman Prefers Tylenol

September 9th, 2008

More than 25 years ago, Tylenol changed the “crisis management” business forever by taking decisive action to compromise profitability based on something that was not its fault.

In the fall of 1982, seven people in Chicago died after taking Extra Strength Tylenol capsules laced with potassium cyanide.  A 12-year old girl was reportedly the first to die.  Panic ensued.  Police cars roved the streets in and around the Chicago area blasting warnings from PA systems.  When it was determined that the poisoned bottles had come from different factories, the possibility that Johnson & Johnson (Tylenol’s ultimate parent) was somehow to blame was decisively ruled out.  Officials came to believe that one or multiple criminals had instead removed bottles from stores, tampered with the contents and then surreptitiously returned the bottles to store shelves.

And yet, responsibility never entered into the decision-making process underway at J&J:  only public safety did.  The company stopped all Tylenol production and promotion.  It issued a national recall not after the episode was over, but while it was still very much underway.  The bottles returned to J&J as a result of the recall had a retail value of more than $100 million.  I shouldn’t say that J&J stopped all Tylenol promotion:  it paid for and issued new national advertising instructing individuals to avoid taking any products that contained Tylenol, and offering to reimburse anyone who sent in an existing bottle of Tylenol capsules.

Once both the crisis and J&J’s action plan were in full force, Tylenol’s market share dropped like a rock from 35% to 8%.  To be expected.  What was not expected was that share rebounded in less than one year:  a return widely credited to J&J’s immediate and decisive action to sacrifice its own well being for the health of – really – the entire country.   Since then, J&J’s response is widely considered to be the gold standard in crisis management.  Act now.  Ask later.

I cannot overemphasize how I feel today about J&J’s behavior that long-ago autumn when I was still a kid.  It made an impression that has lasted my entire career:  one that influences how I measure companies and my own conduct as a business executive to this very day. 

So when I see a company disregard such a lesson for no other reason than financial gain, I am not just nonplussed – I’m disgusted.[Bassinet Recall]

SFCA Inc. purchased the assets of Simplicity Inc., a baby bassinet manufacturer, earlier this year after Simplicity went out of business.  SFCA is an affiliate of the private equity firm, Blackstreet Capital.  Two weeks ago, fifteen retailers – including Target, Wal-Mart, Toys R Us, Amazon and Kmart – halted the sale of certain Simplicity bassinets that the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission said could be hazardous to babies after two baby girls died (from strangulation in their bassinets).  The Wall Street Journal reported that Toys R Us were selling eight of the 66 models affected by the warning; the chain pulled the products anyway.  And all the retailers affected agreed to permit consumers to return the bassinets for a refund or store credit, regardless of how long ago the product had been purchased. 
These retailers heeded the lessons learned from the shining example set by Johnson & Johnson.  Act now. 

SFCA, on the other hand, is doing nothing, holding fast to its claim that it bears no legal responsibility for the hazardous bassinets.  The USCPC couldn’t even issue a product recall, because SFCA would not cooperate.  Rick Locker, a lawyer representing SFCA has declared the company unwilling to recall  “a product that it did not make and sell.”  The blog Daddy Types reports that – while SFCA may have hired Locker to assist with this matter – Locker is also paid as counsel for the Juvenile Product Manufacturers Association:  the lobbying organization that helps protect the makers of children’s products.  


Ironically, the JPMA’s website is currently heralding September as “Baby Safety Month.” In July, the association tooted its own horn for “reaffirm[ing] its commitment of safety.”  The communications contact on the July press release isn’t someone at a real PR or crisis management firm:  it’s a woman at Association Headquarters, Inc., an organization whose lone means of support is selling services to organizations such as… JPMA.  You can’t make this stuff up.

dilbert-business-ethics2.jpgHenceforth, SFCA has taken a “Who, me?” approach to its products killing children.  The company claims that it might go out of business if it took all the offending bassinets back.  I find this particularly ironic and outdated in our Web 2.o world.  If SFCA came out on the Web and announced a recall (even though they were not legally responsible), the company’s future would be far more secure.  The company would be a hero.  Parents would rave and remember the company when they went shopping the next time.  They would tell one another, at a time in history when spreading the word is easier than ever.  Their marketing folks would get college and business school cases written. 


Isn’t this exactly what Tylenol did and exactly what happened as a result (in a decidedly Web 0.0 world)?  But then again, it’s not hard to imagine those meetings in 1982 where well-meaning lawyers warned that a recall could take down the company and J&J’s top management said, So be it.  We’re not going to stand by and let people die.  Short-sighted greed and bad lawyering are in full control at SFCA. 
The drawbridge is up.  SFCA is not legally required to take back the affected bassinets, there are no mandatory standards for safety in the category and the USCPSC cannot bring legal charges against SFCA.

No matter.  There is a higher standard for working and living on this planet that J&J set and by which all corporations should live.  As an aside, I’ll say once again that it’s just good business: (a) the positive halo effect for J&J post-crisis was and still is phenomenal, and (b) not doing the right thing will get you in the end.  You can expect boycotts and bad press at minimum: perhaps a crazed parent manufacturing a terrible happening to take you down if you’re really unlucky.  Permanently disastrous online search results.  But aside from it being good business, it’s about acting human, like someone whose own child or grandchild was killed by your product.


There is no exception – and if there is, I haven’t heard about it and SFCA most definitely does not qualify.  This is capitalism run right into the ground, taking humanity and business ethics down with it.

SFCA  Simplicity bassinets   Blackstreet Capital  JPMA 
Johnson & Johnson 1982 Tylenol   Rick Locker  

“A growing cultural vulnerability to rumor.”

That’s how The New York Times describes a phenomenon that appears to be engulfing the U.S. The impetus for the article, Rumor’s Reasons, is the ceaseless momentum surrounding the claim that Barack Obama is a Muslim.

The rumor was ignited in 2004 by a vituperative web columnist. While mainstream news sources ignored him, the story took root in blogs, email, message boards and the like. Even after Snopes de-bunked the claim, it rolled on.

There are several plausible conclusions to be drawn from both this situation as well as the Times article – some of which have been discussed previously (Parts 1, 2 and 3) on this blog, as well as www.stephaniefiermanmarketingdaily.com :

* The Web lets rumors travel around the world and hang there forever.

* Repeating a claim, even if to refute it, increases its apparent acceptance. It’s the no-win situation of “Where there’s smoke, there’s fire.” The problem is that sometimes smoke is just smoke.

* A point related to “Where there’s smoke”: when an individual attempts to determine whether or not a statement is true, she will often look to society for signals. Do others believe it’s true? This takes on new import when one realizes that the mechanics of the Web reward volume, not truth. So in the upside-down world of the Internet, more does not mean better/more true. In fact – if the subject strenuously objects – the result may be the opposite. Obama denies being a Muslim: websites write about the denial itself and the story duplicates exponentially. Personally, I think the fact that a story is read on the Web only adds to its petri-dish-like effect. Didn’t our parents always teach us to “get it in writing?” If it’s in writing it must be true…

* Rumors mutate. Remember the game of telephone when you were a kid? A recent version of the Obama-is-a-Muslim story includes the line “I checked this out on Snopes, and it’s true.” This line will satisfy many listeners.

Here are some fresh take-aways on the topics of online rumors and reputation management:

1. Actively manage your online reputation. Consider shortcutting the process by hiring an SEO specialist – some work by the hour and will give you invaluable tips.

2. On the whole, spend your time building positive, truthful content. Work with your SEO specialist to build a plan for improving your search results. Tenure, volume and linkability are what count.

3. I do not discourage people from asking publishers to remove untruthful, damaging content, but keep this effort in perspective – and bear in mind the interests of the opposing party. Consider the possibility that a site passing an online rumor may be pleased to fan the flame by broadcasting your objection. And not to go all new-agey on you, but you’re talking about seriously bad karma. Toxicity. No one needs that.

4. I’ve spent nearly all of my time on this blog counseling you, the reader, on how to build your own/your company’s reputation. And maybe this goes without saying, but – when you are judging others – apply the Golden Rule. A graduate school would do well to put JuicyCampus posts into perspective when considering an applicant. Better still, everyone should ignore them entirely.

Many of us are most likely to study an individual’s online “persona” when we are considering the person for a job. There’s no question that it’s tempting to move on if you see unfavorable (albeit unsubstantiated) online content about a candidate, especially when there are many others from which to choose.

Don’t do it. If the Golden Rule isn’t enough of a deterrent, ask yourself whether it’s worth getting sued. While it’s not illegal to look someone up on the Web, there may be legal liability if you (a) do not give the candidate an opportunity to address the offending content, and subsequently (b) decide not to hire the individual. If you haven’t documented a work-related reason for rejecting the candidate, you may be liable. Read this thought-provoking FinancialWeek article, and note that both the legal and background check communities are beginning to counsel employers to eschew the Web (social networks, in particular) when gathering information on candidates.

Farhad Manjoo, a staff writer at Salon.com who penned Rumor’s Reasons for the New York Times, concludes by saying “There’s an arms race between truth and fiction, and at the moment, the truth doesn’t appear to be winning.”

Let’s decide that this is unacceptable.


And, friends: Check out my new daily blog at www.stephaniefiermanmarketingdaily.com, offering shorter takes on news and trends of the day.

I would like to wish all of my readers and their families a very happy, healthy and prosperous 2008.  And a forgiving one, too, since too many candy canes pulled me off track from posting my weekly Favorites. Yes, that’s right, I blame the candy. I’ll get back on track next week. 

In the meantime, here are some pieces that ran from mid December ’07 to early January ’08.  Enjoy.


Steve and Barry’s Uses Celebs to Drive In-Store Traffic
The 265-store retail chain rarely advertises, but gets plenty of fresh exposure from partnering with celebrities who get their own exclusive line of clothing.


Study:  Googling Oneself is More Popular
While self-Googling is becoming increasingly popular, about 60% of Internet surfers say they aren’t worried about the quantity or quality of information available about themselves online.  Readers of this blog know otherwise.



How Silicon Valley and Washington Say “I’m Sorry
Do we have a leadership vacuum?  I say we do.  And how many times can we buy into “I’d rather apologize later than ask permission first” before we start asking questions?  How much of this is marketing spin and how much is real?


Bhutto News Draws YouTube Crowds To TV Coverage
Not everything is a “tipping point,” but there is something real happening across demographic segments when one clip (on YouTube!) draws 185,000 views within 24 hours of the assassination.  Many clips drew between 40,000 and 80,000 views.


Walk 100 Yards North, Turn Right, Enter Store
ShopLocal is just one company pioneering product locating and comparison via mobile devices. Shoppers get search results that provide product, pricing, retailer information and GPS-driven directions to the store of their choice.


Marketer Discontent Set Records In 2007

This is a tough one.  There’s so much change in the marketplace that marketers are more prone than ever to shop their accounts from agency to agency.  Aside from the obvious pain on all sides, there’s no way to interpret this phenomenon broadly.  Bad creative, weak client direction, pressured CEOs, lack of reporting and measurement skills… there are a lot of reasons for this wrenching trend.


Big Fish, Little Fish—Choose Your Pond
Here is an interesting piece of research on executive pay.  It looks at a number of elements including the ratio of average employee to executive pay and how the size and structure of an organization impacts compensation.

The Short Life of the Chief Marketing Officer
This blog would be remiss if it did not provide a link to the most recently quoted article focused on the plight of the CMO.  This piece does not cover a lot of new ground, but I do give it credit for circling around what I’ve always said is the heart of the matter:  that is, fuzzy, mismatched expectations between the CEO, the organization, its stakeholders and the CMO him/herself.

 If I had to explain what I mean in one (two?) sentences, I would say that some equate marketing and, by extension, the role of the CMO, to “branding” and advertising.  On the opposite end of the spectrum, many understand the CMO to be a senior business person first, with a core expertise in the entire marketing mix:  one that should be at the CEO’s senior management table when matters concerning the customer are discussed.

If I sound like I have a bias, I do:  I am in the latter camp, not the former.  I do not mean to say, however, that either one is “right.”  Any point along this spectrum can be perfectly fine if it is mutually-agreed and adhered to by the CEO, the board, the organization and the CMO in question.  In good times, and bad.  And there lies the rub.


The New Corporate Intranet, Web 2.0 Style

Serena Software, a vendor of enterprise change management software, is replacing its existing intranet with Facebook on the front-end, attached to a CMS on the back-end.  The implications of this are pretty interesting.  I just hope that Serena eliminates Facebook’s “Change status” function, lest the company get a lot of “In meeting”  “On phone” “In meeting” “On phone” “On phone in bathroom…”



Tiffany Goes Into Business With Swatch
Swatch is setting up a company that will use Tiffany branding and designs to sell watches that will be made and distributed through its global distribution network.  Hopefully, this is a genius move that reflects the melding of mass affluent and luxury purchasing trends around the world.



Newspapers Still Wield Some Influencing Power – Online
Newspapers are still powerful, or are at least still read by those who are:  Mediamark Research reports that readers of newspaper sites are 52% more likely to be categorized as “influencers” than non-newspaper Web site readers.  Good info, for those planning media budgets for ’08 who may think that newspapers are on their way out.



Nielsen Releases 10 Most Popular Lists of 2007
GoViral Ranks Top 5 Viral Advertisements of 2007

I guess I’d vote for the RayBan spot (3.2M YouTube views since May) but ONLY because the Blendtec ad (2.7M views since July) to me is, well, royalty and should be on a list all its own…



I Really Hope My Brain Does NOT Always Work Like Google
As has been previously reported in this blog, Google tends to report popularity.  NB: If what’s popular is also truthful, I’m all for it.


Companies Should Keep and Forward Old Phone Numbers
This is a great tip that seems so simple, but we all know that companies do not always follow this advice.  If a customer pulls out a dusty old catalog and is ready to order a Christmas gift, be sure she can find you.