E-Commerce Newsletter A-Clue.Com, Volume 4 Number 18
by Dana Blankenhorn
Volume IV, No. XVIII
For the Week of May 1, 2000

This Week's Clue: The Revenge of Rob Frankel

This Week's Clue: The Revenge of Rob Frankel

SSP (Shameless Self Promotion)

The Last TV Election Continues

A Small Win for Privacy

One Market Crash We'd Like to See

Clued-in, Clueless

The entry of standard marketing disciplines is the great story of Internet marketing this year, and I'll admit I've pounded the table here on behalf of Jay Abraham recently. Now I'm going to pound the table again, this time on the subject of branding.

Branding is one of the most important, and misunderstood, subjects in marketing. Few people know it as well as Rob Frankel. His new book, "The Revenge of Brand X," is both the best and funniest treatise on the subject I've ever read.

Take for example this explanation of the difference between sales and marketing, taken practically at random. "Sales guys often are given lots of freedom to travel and do whatever they have to do to bring home the bacon. The problem is that while they're out there bringing home the bacon, they often fail to realize that the home office has gone vegetarian." Yes, Virginia, he's saying, strategy and tactics are different things. (But he says it so well that you remember it.)

Frankel's point is that brands are developed from the outside in, that they must permeate everything you do, and that they are more powerful than ever in the age of the Internet. For small businesses, they are absolutely essential. 

Frankel is not "giving away his act" (as so many consultants do) in publishing this book, either, since a big hunk of his premise is that by its nature branding must be done by outside strategists. His goal is to make you a better buyer of branding services by helping you understand what you're buying, how to buy it, and what to do with it once you get it.

A brand makes you the "only choice" for your target market, he writes, and must speak to that target market of the benefits it will get from the brand. Frankel hates brands that try to speak too widely, like Uniglobe. He also hates brands that hold no emotional attachment, that are held up only by massive ad spending, like Microsoft and Coca-Cola. He also dislikes brands that aren't properly exploited online, like Proctor & Gamble

On the other hand Frankel loves brands like FedEx, Apple Computer  and Southwest Airlines. He shows you how to tell the difference between good brands and bad brands, based on how people react to the brand. (It's about them, not about you.) 

Frankel also offers "action items" at the end of each chapter in his book, things you can do now to improve your understanding of the branding concept and your decision-making. These items are especially effective when he starts talking about exploiting your brand on the Internet. While there may be other good brand creators out there (Frankel's brands tend to words rather than pictures) no one in branding understands the Internet as well as he does. 

Even if you have a strong brand you'll want this book for its insights on such practical matters as Web site design, autoresponders, and how to build a community.

Frankel's critiques of big companies are cogent and right-on. They'll help prevent a lot of mistakes. He puts the home page of the New York Times  beside that of the Los Angeles Times so you can easily see how the former builds the brand while the latter abuses the brand for short-term gain. You won't agree with everything he says (he doesn't like Amazon, while I think Amazon stands for a definite promise) but you'll understand why he feels as he does when you finish reading. He doesn't just tell you how he feels, in other words, he tells you why he feels that way. And if you think you need a lot of money to be a "big time brand," in his words, he shows examples of companies that spent very little  money to build "big time brands." 

You'll also remember what Frankel says because his writing is simple, clear, frank, clever, funny and memorable. Advertising grabs their minds, he writes. Branding grabs their hearts. Well, this book has grabbed my business heart, and I think it will grab yours, too. 

SSP (Shameless Self-Promotion)

I'm now making myself available for consulting to a limited number of clients, with an eye toward assuring their long-term success. If you're interested give me a shout at 404-373-7634.

Also, please pass this along to friends and urge them to join our list. And don't forget our new e-mail address .

I write daily for ClickZ, and weekly at Andover.News. I write monthly for  NetMarketing, Boardwatch, and  Intellectual Capital. I've been in Advertising Age and the Chicago Tribune .Once every other month I'm in CLEC Magazine. You can always buy my book . Subscription instructions are at the bottom of each issue.

Remember that it's journalism that keeps the Clues coming...

Takes on the News

The Last TV Election Continues

Despite silly stories indicating one party or the other has a "killer app" that will decide the issue this will be remembered as the last (or one of the last) elections of the TV era. It's 1952, folks, not 1960.

George W. Bush managed to guarantee this last year through a very clever (if obnoxious) complaint to the Federal Election Commission, which spent nearly a year coming up with "guidance on Internet issues" that went out April 13 as part of an advisory for candidates .

The Political Law Group of Perkins Coie LLP told PoliticsOnline  (they're pushing their own site called Political Buzz) that more formal rulemaking on this issue may still be coming. In other words, the government may still try and regulate what you can say about politics, on your own site, in the name of controlling campaign spending. This creates great uncertainty, and guarantees that no major Internet effort will be undertaken before the fall, when it will be drowned out by TV ads anyway.

When we autopsy the political year, however, we'll likely find many close local and state races where the influence of the Internet will have proven decisive. But it won't be in the way you think. It won't be found on the Web. It will involve the use of e-mail to keep volunteers organized. (Curiously, this is just what the child pornographers and the drug dealers did when they got kicked off the Web - they went to e-mail.)

A Small Win for Privacy

Privacy, involving what you can do with the data you have (as opposed to the mere collection of data through cookies), will be the first Internet political issue to gain mass currency and interest. (It won't be sales tax.)

Here's an indication that some forward thinking companies "get it." Intel's decision to take user identification features out of a coming 1.5 Ghz chip doesn't sound like much of a concession, at first blush. The chip won't be out for some time, and it will mainly be going into servers. But when you make your engineers back off of a useful feature (knowing what's going on with a PC is at least as useful as knowing when your refrigerator might break so it can call the repairman), you're taking a political action and that resonates.

It was obvious to me at the recent ClickZ Email Conference  that marketing people still don't understand what they're in for. Speakers were dismissive of European privacy practices. They said that major companies were simply dumping their databases rather than try and comply with the new COPPA Act, which limits what you can do with kids' data. This is a huge mistake. It means crafting technical policies that do meet political realities will become a huge business advantage for anyone who can do it. People are leaving money on the table because it looks hard to get? Honey, all money is going to look hard to get in a year.

One Market Crash We'd Like to See

Frozen in fear by inflation (especially wage inflation - God forbid anyone should get a raise) Wall Street went back to testing its recent lows last week. This means "second-tier" Internet companies are dead money for the foreseeable future.

All this is happening despite predictions that Web retailing will grow 85% this year, to $61.1 billion . I think privately owned companies have an advantage here, as do "meat space" companies that take a lesson from last year and make sure their fulfillment operations are efficient. This also means those Internet companies defined by the market as "first-tier" can get great bargains , although they'll get no credit for that in the near term.

One market, however, may finally be crashing to Earth. The New York Post writes that no three-letter dot-com names are left , which I think is an attempt to push us all into the arms of speculators. Don't go there. Don't go for generic names. Stay the course with $35/year names that are still available, and will remain available. Your business will brand whatever name you get. (And who cares if you have to put a "dash" in it? That's flavor!)

Clued-in, Clueless

Clued-in is RightNow Technologies  of Bozeman, Montana. (Yes, Virginia, Bozeman, Montana.) Their vice president of marketing, Tom Kuegler , gave the best (most actionable) talk at the recent ClickZ Email conference. You can save a ton of money by integrating your help desk with your site through a database and empowering those people to make changes.

Clueless is the "average investor" (or should we say speculator) who bought stock on margin last year and got hammered in the recent fall. This was obvious, you were warned, but you didn't listen and you were burned. So shame on you.

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