A-Clue.Com
by Dana Blankenhorn
Volume III, No. XLII
For the Week of October 18, 1999

This Week's Clue: Everybody Wants to Build the Brand

This Week's Clue: Everybody Wants to Build the Brand

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SSP (Shameless Self-Promotion)

Law Suits Wanted

An Internet First Worth Watching

The Status of E-Mail: Standards Wanted

Clued-in, Clueless

This Christmas, it's all about brand building.

Online marketers have begun to realize that traffic and sales only go so far. To really have a place in the future, and to compete against all those real-world competitors (read Wal-Mart), you've got to have a brand.

At first this meant a gimmick . Buy.Com  and Cyberian OutPost  were the poster children for this trend. Buy had the stupid 1950s "Martians" ads, while Outpost had the wolves attacking the marching band. The idea was to stand out - at least Buy had some reference to what they did.

The dirty little secret marketers don't want to admit is that brand building starts in operations, not in marketing. The marketing then matches a fulfilled promise. Yahoo already had a reputation for finding people and things by typing a word in a box before it started its "Do You Yahoo?" campaign. IBM had an 80-year heritage of dealing with complexity before its first eBusiness vignettes ran.

This doesn't mean you can't have killer creative. The old guy in the Yahoo "Fishing" ad, and the blue-bordered black-and-white IBM vignettes were both strong. But they reflected promises the sponsors had already fulfilled. In other words, the images matched the reality.

As we move into the Christmas selling season, this need to match pitch to reality becomes more vital. But so does the need to deliver a pitch (and a reality) that matters in real customers' real lives. 

CMGI's Internet World tchotschke, a set of colored links for its components that could be mixed-and-matched in the booth, then set in the pocket for giving to the kids, was great, and it reflected the corporate reality. But what did it prove? It proved that CMGI is a conglomerate, none of whose pieces stand out. The booth may have impressed investors and charmed the cognoscenti (it charmed me), but components like AdSmart , Altavista and 1clickcharge were left to build brands on their own. Look at CMGI's roster of owned companies  - there's not a real consumer franchise in the lot. CMGI is a brand-less brand. 

Seen from that perspective CMGI's b2b rival, Internet Capital Group, has it easier. ICG didn't even have a stand at Internet World, and why should they?  Commerx  doesn't have to be known outside the plastics business, and PaperExchange  doesn't need visibility outside buyers and sellers of bulk paper. When your target market is narrowly defined, brand building gets much easier.

The biggest challenges occur when your brand's promise expands. Amazon.Com had some killer creative, based on a real promise, but now that it's promising to sell everything its ad agency faces the biggest challenge of the Christmas season. Amazon doesn't just need great ads, but great ads that build on its old ads and make its new promises an extension of the old. (Let's spitball one such ad - measure the Earth and decide it's still not big enough to hold the whole selection. Maybe the gang from those Xerox ads is available...) 

All this is Business 101, but when money flows like water the basics get lost. Marketing and brand building aren't just about writing great ads. You first offer something of real value, then define the audience properly. You tie your promise to reality, then you make great creative, and (finally) you stay consistent. When you live in Atlanta, you inhale this kind of Clue. This is, after all, the town that Coca-Cola built.


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I have begun my adventure at Voxcap.Com, discussing how next year's elections might impact the future of the Internet. I write daily for ClickZ, and appear every Saturday at 6 Eastern on TechEdge Radio in Phoenix, Arizona. I write monthly columns for  NetMarketing, Boardwatch, and  Intellectual Capital. Once every other month I'm in CLEC Magazine. The lead item here is also the Monday e-commerce column of Andover.News. You can still buy my book . Subscription instructions are at the bottom of each issue.

Remember that it's still journalism that keeps the Clues coming. Give me a call at 404-373-7634. (Yes, I do some commercial writing.) Now back to the show...


Takes on The News

Law Suits Wanted

There's a time to hold your tongue, and a time when you wish someone had a lawyer. Two cases this week had me wishing for the latter.

The first case was eBay's attack on AuctionWatch, an auction aggregator. As Ticketmaster and Universal Studios did earlier, eBay is claiming something it has no right to - the "right" to control who links into a public site. Those who don't like links have recourse in charging for access or hiding a site behind a password-protected firewall. Legal bullying should not be an option, but the fact is it's unlikely this case will come to trial, either. TicketMaster finally bought Sidewalk, and Universal Studios only went after small sites. Someday, however, a case like this will go to trial - I can't wait.

Unisys also needs the kind of kick in the backside a good lawsuit would bring. They first tried to demand Web license fees for the .gif format in 1995. They were laughed out of the market, but maybe they don't care about the Web market any more, because they're back. Their position is even weaker now, because there are plenty of other good graphic format alternatives out there. Still, the anger is palpable  and if Unisys does push this case in court, they're likely to find their patents invalidated.

Lawyers follow the golden rule, and the best lawyers are most often on the bullies' side. Remember the case of Clue Computing . Network Solutions tried to take Clue's domain on a complaint by Hasbro Corp., maker of the board game "Clue," even though Hasbro already owned www.clue.net. A judge finally ruled in favor of the little guy, but the legal bills have nearly broken the winner.

In many countries, the loser in a suit would pay the winner, and Hasbro would pay Clue's legal bills. But in those countries, too, the threat of such an outcome keeps many good suits from going forward. In this country, meanwhile, small players get bullied in court, and often don't even win when they win. That's why, informed of the eBay claim at Internet World, a representative of Auction Rover simply shrugged his shoulders, said he'd try to negotiate and, failing that, halt the access of his customers to 70% of the market.

An Internet First Worth Watching

Last week's coup in Pakistan was supported by a coup in cyberspace. Crackers supporting the coup replaced the government home page with a notice supporting the coup leaders, signing their work "the Islamic group of Hackers". In addition to being the first cyber-coup, it's also the first announced presence of hackers identifying themselves with an Islamic cause. While the hack wasn't much, the danger is real enough, because the Internet equivalent of an atomic bomb is easy to create and detonate.

The Status of E-Mail: Standards Wanted

One of the great (unanswered) legal questions of our time is the status of e-mail.

The fact is that e-mail can be many things. It can be a contract, it can be a proposal, it can be a telephone conversation, but it can also be a snide aside. I often have trouble moving my e-mail between laptop and desktop (Microsoft Outlook doesn't make this easy) but when I get on the road I find it's no big deal - most of my e-mail content is ephemeral.

If it is so ephemeral the question must be asked. Should law enforcement be allowed to make cases with it? This has been done since the Iran-Contra affair in the 1980s (Ollie North didn't know the delete key didn't delete). It was done to death in the Microsoft anti-trust trial. It's done routinely, yet isn't it like taping phone calls after the fact? Do you really want to be held legally accountable for everything you say? You are with e-mail.

Naturally, a technical solution has been developed. "Disappearing e-mail," from vendors like Disappearing Inc., QVTech and Infraworks  would thwart the cybercops, destroying the messages before anyone could use them against you. (If you got a death threat, you could print the screen.)

In some cases such software may be a good thing. But that's not always what you want. So this here is a job for standards bodies, both formal and informal (even Microsoft). Give us a messaging protocol that lets a sender decide what will happen to a message - should it be shredded, can it be passed along, can it be saved? Maybe this could be a "digital envelope" standard. I suspect this is one ol' Gigadollar might want to push through personally...

Clued-in, Clueless

Clued-in was Ivebeengood.com  from Trilogy Software. In a zoo of an Internet World, where everyone was fighting for attention, their Santa Claus motif was the best. It was the perfect way to sell a combination shopping cart and electronic wallet.

Clueless was Ivebeengood.com. The best marketers at Internet World blew it big-time by not having the software ready on time. (They now say the software will be ready October 27.)


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