Five Things Marketers Could Learn from Ashton Kutcher

December 11, 2009

I try to keep up on news in my industry, so it was with great interest that I read the latest cover story in Fast Company about fellow Twitter lover, Ashton Kutcher and his production company, Katalyst.

The cover provocatively asks if Kutcher could be “a new kind of media mogul.”

My answer?

Unequivocally.

As a strategist, I can recognize a solid and smart marketing process when I see one – and Kutcher’s is watertight:

  1. Be hot, famous and prolific in some key social media channels.
  2. Watch as step 1 generates a large following of gawkers and fans.
  3. Watch as steps 1 and 2 attract large corporate brands who want to sell stuff to hordes of gawkers and fans.
  4. Let those brands piggyback on, or co-opt the content within, the aforementioned channels.
  5. Monetize participation, release co-opted content to the aforementioned hordes and make beaucoup money.

As the article states, Kutcher intends to become, “the first next-generation media mogul,” using his own brand as a springboard and syndication system.

And, I have no doubt he’ll be successful at it.

But his strategy (heck, his whole company) is uniquely suited to capitalize on Kutcher’s stature, connections and lifestyle.

So where does this leave the rest of us whose personal brands aren’t so much springboards as they are teeny planks?

Me? I was never on a TV show. I’m not married to a celebrity. I have no pre-existing corporate endorsements. I’ve never punk’d Justin Timberlake so bad that he nearly cried (btw…that was a great episode, AK).

And yet, I’m working this space just as aggressively as Kutcher and his posse. And, I’m looking to magazines like Fast Company for ideas and inspiration on how to be successful in my own right.

Is there anything a regular lady from the Midwest like me can learn from “team Ashton?”

While the consensus online seems to be that Fast Company took a gigantic jump over a very attractive shark in writing this article, I still think the answer is “yes.”

1. Find your hook

I’ve got two words for you: trucker hat. Kutcher knows the value of a gimmick, a prank or a well-positioned must-have accessory, and he works that sucker for all its worth.

Do you have a “trucker hat” idea for your business?

  • Is your value prop that you “do good work?” (Congrats, that’s true for every other company in America too. What else you got?) Are you the “first,” the “best,” the “only,” or the “award-winning” anything?
  • Is your hook easy to identify, ubiquitous and a key player in every facet of your overall marketing strategy?
  • Will your hook translate well across multiple platforms and media spaces?

2. Mix the mediums

Social is not the end-all, be-all of marketing. Part of the key to the success of Kutcher’s company is that they are integrating content across multiple platforms, and seeding projects in television, movies and the Web.

Are you thinking outside of the social media box, too?

  • Are you creating marketing content that is snackable, portable and customizable across a range of platforms?
  • Are all your marketing channels designed to work together symbiotically?
  • Are you keeping an eye on emerging technologies so you can be the first to identify the new places where your clients or customers might want to play?

3. Pretty it up

Yeah, Kutcher’s good looks are doing him some favors in his race to “mogul-ness.” But, “be hotter” isn’t a real practical strategy for the rest of us to pursue. Perhaps a more tangible lesson we can learn from this former model is that working your looks is just as important as having them.

Is your company ready for its close-up?

  • Do you have a consistent and appealing visual identity across all your marketing platforms and spaces?
  • How is that headshot of yours holding up? (Is it reinforcing your brand, or is it just a so-so pic you shot with your laptop cam?)
  • Are you striking some awesome, “blue steel” marketing “poses” via your podcasts, video and writing?

4. Keep an eye on the Benjamins

Kutcher knows Hollywood, and he’s cannibalizing that world to build his new business model. One lesson we can learn from him (and that world), is that everything costs money. (In Hollywood, it takes a village to raise a celebrity…and all those villagers need to get paid.)

Are you ready to capitalize on your new media investments?

  • Are you approaching your contacts and pitching unique marketing partnerships where you can share the work and the wealth?
  • Do you have clear strategies in place for ensuring that the content you give away will come back to you as revenue down the road?
  • Have you identified some companies who are doing this well? Are you tracking their every move and taking copious notes?

5. Enjoy yourself

For all we know, Ashton Kutcher could be reading Ayn Rand books in his spare time. But in public, the AK brand is all about having fun. And you know what? People loooove to have fun, and they are attracted to other people having fun. Marketing doesn’t get any more simple than that.

Are you having any fun?

  • Do people enjoy reading/watching/listening to your marketing? (Um…do you?) Is it interesting? Provocative? Funny?
  • Are you enthusiastic about what you do? Are you letting that enthusiasm bleed into and invigorate your brand?
  • Are you remembering to break a few rules now and again?

Ultimately, Ashton is an anomaly…

So it doesn’t really matter if he’s the “first next-generation media mogul,” or not.

Really, the more interesting question is…

…who will be the second?



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The Top Five Essentials for a Successful Company Twitterfeed.

November 4, 2009

It’s started.

Companies everywhere seem to have received the “We gotta be on Twitter!” memo and are swarming to the application to fire up a feed.

But does anyone care?

Since I’m a “heavy tweeter” and follow a lot of people, I seem to be on the radar of many of these corporate feeds.

The number of corporate followers I get seems to double each week. While the amount of time I have to vet each follower is growing smaller.

As result, I’ve developed a Twitter litmus test to help me decide which companies I should follow back.

Corporate marketers? Take note:

1. Is Your Company’s Twitter Profile Complete?

Your Twitter profile is your company’s online business card. Make it an effective one.

  • Include a picture. It’s O.K. if that picture is your company’s logo. Just make sure it’s a version of the logo that looks good on multiple color backgrounds. I view my Twitter stream in Tweetdeck against a black background. If you use a gray logo with a transparent background as your avatar, I will literally never see your tweets going by.
  • Tell us where you’re located. I make it a point to follow local companies. Leave off your locale and you could be missing the opportunity to transfer the Twitter conversation to a face-to-face forum.
  • Write a keyword-rich, informative company description. Don’t waste this valuable (and searchable) real estate with dippy slogans like, “We work hard, but have fun too!” or obtuse mission statements like,  “Creating authentic experiences for consumers.” I want to know, in a glance, what you do and if it’s relevant to my business.
  • Include a URL. This doesn’t necessarily have to be a link to your corporate website. But it does have to be a link to a location that will provide me with more detailed information on what it is that your company does.

2. Does Your Twitter Profile Show Your Company Having Conversations with Actual People?

When I’m vetting a company, the Twitter profile page is an invaluable research tool.

  • Do you have hundreds of followers, but follow none of your clients or customers back? (My first impression? You don’t seem like a very nice person to do business with.)
  • Do you follow a ton of people, but have no followers in return? (My first impression? You probably post some pretty boring tweets.)
  • Is your feed full of posts, but includes no @ replies? (My first impression? You like to talk…just not to us.)
  • Is your feed full of @ replies, but no posts? (My first impression? You don’t have much to say, so you use gratuitous, “Me too!” and “LOL” comments to make your company appear “engaged.”)
  • Is your feed full of retweets? (My first impression? You have nothing original to say, so you repeat others’ tweets so you can appear relevant in the space.)

3. Is There a Sense of Human Voice in Your Twitterfeed’s Content?

Nearly all the companies that I see jumping on the Twitter bandwagon are under the mistaken impression that it’s the world’s cheapest and fastest broadcast medium.

Couldn’t be further from the truth, my friends.

If I want to know all about your company’s news and hear how awesome you are, I will go look at your website. If I want to engage with you and learn more about why your business may be relevant to mine, I will go to Twitter.

You need to have something interesting to share with me when I arrive.

You wouldn’t just walk around a cocktail party distributing promotional flyers and call that effective networking. Treat your twitterfeed the same way.

Ask questions. Be helpful. Throw your two cents into conversations. And most importantly, give me a sense that there’s a person behind the Twitter curtain.

I don’t care if that person works in marketing, PR, or the C-suite. I just need to know that they are a human.

4. Does Your Company Use Twitter to “Sell” or to “Brand?”

What is your social media content strategy? If you don’t have one, don’t be surprised if you don’t see a big return on your Twitter investment.

Write your tweets so they sound like the sponsorship messages you hear on public radio, not the ads you hear on a Clear Channel station.

Go ahead and mention your company. Share with us what you do and how you feel about the work, (Feelings? In business communications? Why yes!) and ask people questions about their businesses in return.

Structure your content so that the process of sharing and “telling” your story also serves as the “selling” of your company.

5. Does Your Company Respond to Followers and Follow Backs in a Genuine Manner?

I met a really great business contact recently and had some lovely face-to-face discussions with him. Shortly thereafter, I looked him up on Twitter and started following his company (he manages their feed).

In response to my follow, I received an auto-generated direct message with a generic “thanks for the follow” and an offer for me to download “an exclusive whitepaper which could help me double my follower count overnight!

Needless to say, this person is no longer one of my business contacts.

If I meet you, and you know my name, but you treat me like an anonymous cog when you reach out to me through social media channels, I will treat your business like an anonymous cog in return.

Treat your clients and customers like you’ve had a dirty one-night stand with them, and you’ll see a whole other side of Twitter’s power – a side that has the ability to break your company’s reputation just as easily as make it.


The Social Media Secrets That No One Wants to Tell You

July 24, 2009

Every time I hand someone a strategic plan I get a little sad.

Not because the project is over (I’m usually pretty happy about that.)

Mostly it’s because – if I’ve done my job right – at that moment I’m staring face-to-face with a client who has a little spark in their eyes that seems to be saying, “Awesome. Now we are done.”

Then, like a oncologist looking at a suspicious mass on a CT scan, I have to be the bad guy and say to them, “Know what? Actually the hard part has just begun.”

This is particularly confusing when the client and I are talking about strategies for social media.

This stuff just looks so darn easy. They figure that once I give them a roadmap, some pretty apps and some technical partners to support them, they’re all set up for “strategic success.”

But what I CAN’T give them (and what they’ll need most to succeed), is the “social” part. That part they have to do themselves.

And that’s going to take some work.

There…I said it…successful marketing using social media takes work: dedicated, frequent, thoughtful and innovative work done by someone with some sort of interest and investment in your social circle and your brand.

(so, no…it’s not a good idea to outsource this stuff to a “Twitter intern.”)

Writing this blog post took some work. Sending a tweet out later to share with my network that it’s posted will take some work. Finding the time to read and respond to comments that are posted in reply will take some work.

And it’s going to cost some money.

(Man, I’m just full of fun news today, aren’t I?)

Because while I’m blogging and tweeting and replying, I’m using my billable time. I’m making a choice to invest my time in people and relationships and that may produce a (possibly career-transforming) return on investment down the road…or, just as easily, they may not.

So why bother?

First, It’s about the most fun work you can snag these days.

If you are using social media as a marketing or public relations tool – and you are using it effectively – you won’t feel like a human press release feed, “socially” distributing lame marketing spam to the masses. Instead your job will be to have relationships – share stories, listen to concerns, offer advice, (and yes, from time to time, share your salesy news.)

If you make the process a habit, build a network based on authenticity and genuine interest in others and treat each social contact as the prime client engagement vehicle that it should be, you actually might have a delightful time.

Secondly, the stuff you put work into will last longer and ultimately have more value.

Look at weight loss. There are a million books, plans, tools and services out there that are essentially designed to avoid smacking you over the head with the cold hard reality of the matter: if you want to lose weight, you need to eat less and move more.

No one really wants to hear that.

But the ones who do, and who accept it, are the ones who lose the weight and KEEP it off.

Same holds true for this “micro marketing” approach. Do the work, do it well and avoid being an ass while you’re doing it, and it will work.

Even better, it will deliver benefits to your doorstep that you could have never planned for.

And that, my friends, is the thing that puts a spark into my eyes.


Ready. Set. Let Go….

May 6, 2009

It’s spring in Minnesota. So we hauled out our four year old’s bike and spent some time with her revisiting the basics, like…

Don’t look down at your feet. Look ahead at the sidewalk.
Don’t pedal backwards unless you want to stop moving.
Don’t run into the back of mommy’s heels. That hurts….A lot.

Afterwards, we set out for a spin around the block.

By the time we’d gotten half way around, she snapped into the groove of it and suddenly flew off ahead on her own.

And, I freaked out.

What if she got hit by a car coming out of the alley?

What if she forgot how to use her brakes and tumbled over the handlebars?

What if a ravenous dog ran out of a yard and just upped and ate her?

And then I took a deep breath and remembered, “Oh yeah…this is what’s supposed to happen.”

It’s not possible to steer my daughter’s bike for her. She has to do that herself. And, sooner or later, she’s going ride that thing off into her adolescence.

And I was reminded at that moment of all the companies I’ve talked to lately who are freaking out about social media.

These companies have their own precious offspring – a message, reputation, product or game plan that they’ve invested lots of time and attention in crafting, pruning and polishing.

And then they stick this precious artifact online into a social environment and it just takes off down the street.

The loss of control takes their breath away…

  • What if people have bad things to say about their company? (Good. Better they say it to your face than behind your back.)
  • What if the message gets mutated and twisted and taken out of the preordained context? (Quite all right. Now you have something to engage them in discussion about.)
  • What if it gets misattributed or ignored or – heaven forbid – stolen by a competitor? (Been known to happen. Try to be more interesting next time.)

Yeah…all these things could happen to any company that uses social media as a marketing tool.

(Just like a gigantic Rottweiler could chomp my kid’s arm off while she’s tooling around the block.)

But what if you loosened your fists, took a deep breath and imagined more

  • What if your message, set free, transforms into something more powerful and impactful than your company could ever have strategized for?
  • What if it organically grows and attracts its own community of ambassadors who are happy to serve as your marketing evangelists?
  • What if the act of letting go doesn’t become your company’s riskiest marketing move, but your wisest?

Either way, you’ll never know until you let go of those handle bars.

Like any caretaker, I’ll never stop worrying about my daughter, no matter how many years I watch her pedal off ahead of me.

But, I also know that the fear of watching her ride away is always followed by the magic of watching her return – a girl forever changed by her freedom.