Gap's actions over the last week expose some deep problems—problems that even great design can't fix.
The new Gap logo is old news. If you've been following their marketing train wreck you know that after getting tarred and feathered by the online community they backtracked by announcing they would crowdsource their brand in hopes of finding an identity that really gets the job done.
Besides the fact that their agency who created the new logo, Laird+Partners, must feel pretty unhappy and that Gap's management must be under intense shareholder scrutiny, the idea that a crowd is the solution is just wrong.
For the uninitiated, crowdsourcing is a problem-solving and production model that broadcasts a challenge to the public, asking it to put the power of a distributed network to work. It's been a hot topic ever since Wired's Jeff Howe coined the term in 2006.
I'm all about the idea of distributed networks and leveraging the power of thousands to get a job done. In fact, I love open source software, like Drupal's awesome CMS. It's a great example of a type of crowdsourcing as people all over the world work to make Drupal better, fixing problems, collaborating and generally delivering an awesome solution.
But, the people working on Drupal are all programming experts; they’re specialists. There are no good natured retired factory workers with a little spare time hacking code—unless of course they know code! If you're working on Drupal you're a programmer.
Gap's proposed solution is to throw the doors open to anyone with MS Paint. Forget any qualifications, experience or skills. Gap says they think you can fix their brand, and that's troubling on two levels.
First, does Gap disrespect their brand so much that they are willing to let just anyone work on it? Can a company that does hundreds of millions of dollars in sales, all based on its brand, actually just throw that brand out to the crowd and think that's responsible brand management? Forget the fact that a huge corporation that makes millions of dollars is asking hundreds of thousands of people to work for free. What makes Gap think the masses can fix their failure? Why don’t they understand that they need the help of experts?
Second, is Gap is really being sincere in asking the crowd for help? If they respect their brand and they know they need the help of experts, then they don't really think the crowd will have the right answer. Crowdsourching is just a PR ploy; manipulation to put a good face on a really stupid move and to get everyone to just shut up. If they don't expect the crowd, their customers, to have the right answer, then why insult them by asking for help? And let’s face it, if they really believed in crowdsourcning they'd put all their clothing designs up for grabs.
Gap does not respect its brand or its customers. They have a problem that runs much deeper than a design or marketing issue. They've got a leadership problem. I don't care how good a design solution is, paid or crowdsourced, great design can't fix a lack of integrity or broken leadership.
I meet with my local competitors as often as possible. Rochester is a small community and it's nice to get to know the people working in our industry. Recently, I met with two different competitors and was struck by the difference in each of their approach to online marketing.
I won't get into all the details here, but the point that struck me is this: One agency was throwing all its resources and energy behind social media. Everything in their view was about leveraging the communities of Twitter, FaceBook and the like. The other agency, although social media savvy, viewed social media as just one tool in the marketer's toolbox.
Anyone that follows me on Twitter (@mikegastin) or works with our firm knows that I align closely with the latter. Social media and SEO are tools. They're important and can be useful in a greater strategy, but at the end of the day, they can't carry your company's marketing needs on their own. In fact, I don't believe any one tactic is enough, traditional or digital.
How about you? Have you dumped collateral, direct mail and print ads all in favor of on line marketing? If so, do you have metrics to show how it's worked out? Or, have you decided to keep some of your traditional marketing efforts and mix them with on line marketing? I'd love to hear about your experiences, so please leave a comment!
Dave Mammano, founder of Next Step magazine and NextStepU, talks about social media, traditional publishing, the iPad, branding and entrepreneurialism in a recent interview with Mike Gastin.
Dave and I sat down over a cup of coffee near his office in lovely Victor NY to talk about his business, publishing, marketing and social media. Dave's a great guy and has a lot of experience in publishing and advertising. Check out his thoughts on where traditional publishing is going and his experiences with social media.
Mike: You started the company 15 years ago and I’m curious how the idea for NextStep came about.
Dave: I decided I wanted to start a business before I started on the idea for NextStep. I ran the school newspaper in college and loved it. I mostly sold ads. I knew I wanted to stay in ad sales so I went to radio sales for three years and never fell in love with that business. I did OK with it and I liked my bosses, they were nice guys, but I hated having a boss. I hated taking direction, I hated being boxed in from a creativity perspective and I decided that I just needed to do my own thing. I was 25. I thought about all the friends I had that left college directionless. So I thought, wouldn’t it be neat if there was a magazine that could help students while in high school decide on the right, post-secondary choices?
I realized I could do this! I know print, I know how to sell ads, I know how to write a little bit. So I went and created a demo issue, a 12-page little dummy issue. I brought it around to potential advertisers in Rochester, mostly colleges, some local banks, bike shops, Record Archive, everything.
I ended up selling about $15,000 worth of ads, which was enough to print about 10,000 copies. I distributed them free to about 50 high schools around the 5-county area. We broke even on the first two issues and then by the third issue we made a little bit of profit so we expanded to Buffalo and Syracuse—about 30,000 copies in about 150 high schools. By the sixth issue we really developed a good model for cash flow and then just kept expanding. In ’97 we went to all of New York State, and then later expanded nationwide.
Mike: What were the big marketing challenges when you started the magazine?
Dave: Well, it’s a tough demographic to reach. I mean our audience is college-bound high school students so that could be inner city, Pittsford, African-American, Asian, white. It’s a big audience to try to market to. So to advertise traditionally was gonna be very tough so what we decided to do is a lot of guerilla marketing—be where they are physically. We would sponsor events, college fairs, career expos and go into the high schools and speak. We don’t have the budget to do TV and radio.
Mike: How have you leveraged social media? Did you have any early missteps, did you learn anything?
Dave: We did have a misstep. We tried to jump into the social media thing about two years ago. We did some stuff on Facebook, we started blogging, but we didn’t really do anything with it. We let it sit there and sure enough, we didn’t really get much momentum with it.
Then about four months ago we jumped back into it but this time we came up with a whole plan. We really started promoting the Facebook page, our fan page, and the magazine to our database of users. We promote our Facebook page in our newsletter that goes out to 300,000 students, on our web site and in our magazine. We promote the heck out of it and now in the past few months it’s gone up to almost 500 fans. Six months ago it had seven fans.
Also, Laura does a really great blog. So she’ll post,“Check out my blog” on our Facebook wall and she’ll promote the blog in our magazine.
In addition to that a couple times a week we’ll give away something for free from our advertisers. We promote it on Facebook and then we’ll promote that someone won. Hey! John Smith from Tulsa won a University of Buffalo sweatshirt!
Mike: I have to imagine your advertisers, when they hear what you’re doing with social media, feel more confident to say I’m gonna spend here.
Dave: Right. We get viewed more as an educational media company instead of a magazine.
Mike: I noticed you rebranded the company. You went from NextStep Magazine to NextStepU. What motivated that?
Dave: We were known as NextStep Magazine, our web site was NextStepMag.com, and we were losing buys, frankly, because people, buyers would pigeonhole us as print only. Advertisers wouldn’t give credence to anything else we were doing. We do a lot of custom publishing, we have some great online products, we do a lot of digital publishing, we do custom publishing digitally, we were going to be moving to the mobile world in the Fall and the iPad.
Mike: Oh, interesting! Are you developing an app?
Dave: We’re gonna have an electronic version of our magazine on the iPad in the Fall. And then we’ll look at developing some cool apps after that. But step one is just to be able to read the magazine on the eReaders.
We chose NextStepU is because it gives credence to repositioning the company. So now you see NextStepU and you’re like, what’s that? NextStep Mag you say, that’s a magazine. NextStepU, what is that? We position as an educational media company that offers many media platforms including print, online, digital, mobile, custom publishing, and we’re here to help you.
Mike: You started out as a print mag when the commercial internet was in its early stages. What struggles have you experienced making the transition from solely a print offering to print plus digital?
Dave: I’ve experienced that mass publications, mass circ publications, are hurting. Obviously Newsweek just went on the block two weeks ago.
Mike: I think I saw it on Craig’s List.
Dave: (laughter) That would be a good place to sell it, right?
I think that there’s so many other choices today to get your media. I mean there’s Google News, there’s the internet in general, 24/7 news stations. We used to get our news from the newspaper and Tom Brokaw and that was it. Now, by the time you get to work you’ve probably checked out MSNBC.com and then maybe you’ve watched a little CNN while working out, so you already know the news. You really don’t need to read that morning newspaper too much anymore. And really is there a need for Time, Newsweek, and US News & World Report now? People don’t have the time to read two-hour articles anymore, and so those mass magazines or newspapers, they’re probably gonna reinvent themselves to some extent to find their place of relevancy but I think there definitely will be some purging along the way.
But from a print perspective, what I think is going to make the cut better is the small niche-oriented magazines and newspapers. You might subscribe to your Messenger Post newspaper regionally because your son is playing soccer and you want to see his picture in the paper. Gatehouse Media’s strategy is good because they’re really focusing on local stuff that you can’t find on CNN or the internet. They’re finding their place of relevancy.
Magazines I think are going survive by being very niche oriented. Instead of a circ of 30 million or 20 million, it could be 200,000, but guess what? You’re super serving a very fine niche that people want to reach. Everybody has a hobby or two and a lot of times people will subscribe to magazines to support their hobby. If you look at niche-oriented magazines, most of them are actually doing very well.
Mike: Your magazine is a niche because it’s serving a very specific population and a very specific time in their life.
Dave: Well, you know the metaphor, and it’s kind of comical, but we’re like a bridal magazine. You read it for a year or two and then ideally you’re never gonna read it again, right? You know, same thing with NextStep. You’re gonna read it when you go to college and then you’re done with it. But the cool thing is you’ve always got people on deck coming up. There will always be brides, there will always be students.
Mike: Do you have data on readers of the magazine versus users of the web site, meaning, are they two different groups or are they the same people using both?
Dave: It’s like there’s two circles and there is some overlap. It’s like 30% overlap. But a lot of our readers will go for the print magazine and will also go to the web site. We show that about 74% of our traffic actually types in the URL.
Mike: OK, so it’s direct traffic.
Dave: Which means that they either dream it or they saw the magazine. What I have found is there’s people in general will read print to go deep. People don’t stay on the web and read for a half an hour. They just don’t. The average time spent on the web is like seven minutes, so they’re browsing, they’re getting the headlines, they’re getting their quick tidbits, that’s why blogs, successful blogs, are like 400 words. No one’s reading a six-page Newsweek article online most of the time. But if you’re on the airplane or you have some time to yourself at home, you could get cozy with your magazine. It’s tough to get cozy with your laptop and read a six-page article or in bed.
Mike: I think Apple is hoping that’s what the iPad’ll do.
Dave: Yeah, the iPad is definitely a game-changer. No doubt. I’ve seen Time Magazine on it and it’s great! It’s full of color, it’s beautiful, you know, get your little finger and turn the page and it’s great!
Mike: You talk to a lot of advertisers. Can you share a common mistake that you see?
Dave: The common mistake is people are judging too heavily based on ROI. They’re not giving any credence to traditional advertising. They divide the number of leads they receive by the dollars they spent. But you can’t track all this stuff. You can’t track it being part of a bigger marketing picture. You can’t track all the people that saw the ad, that went to your web site and then eventually enrolled. So a lot of CMOs are letting resources go that are very helpful in the overall picture.
Mike: Do you have advice for publishers?
Dave: Don’t get tricked into abandoning what made you successful by abandoning your core. Most of our revenue still comes from print. If we were just to say we gotta fold print, we’d be out of business. You know, we would have completely changed our business model so I would say find a way to preserve the core while slowly turning the ship towards all this new stuff and offer your advertisers the full surround sound of marketing opportunities. We say, hey, we could offer you branding and awareness all the way up to real-time lead generation and everything in between. The clients that do best with us do everything—they do some print, some online, some lead generation stuff. They do a good mix because the audience is always new and you need to do the branding and awareness advertising to make the introductions. Otherwise, no one’s going to click on you for a lead if they don’t know who you are. So it’s all full circle that needs to be included.
Mike: I asked you about advice for publishers, do you have any advice for marketing folks?
Dave: I think the advice for marketing folks is don’t be lured by just doing all the bright new shiny stuff. Don’t run a social media strategy without a traditional marketing campaign to back it up. If you use traditional media well, it’s gonna drive people to your social media stuff.
Mike: And vice versa.
Dave: And vice versa, exactly. So don’t forget the full surround sound of marketing opportunities out there.
Mike: That’s great advice. Dave, thanks for taking the time to share with us!
It's time for the Marketing Tip of the Week, a feature dedicated to helping marketers get that extra edge.
This week's tip: Realize You're A Publisher.
What business are you in? High tech manufacturing? Health care? IT? Marketing? It doesn't matter what industry we find ourselves in any more because we're all in publishing.
With the advent of web sites and their use to promote companies, we all became publishers without even knowing it. Every business that matters in America has a web site. Even my dry cleaner has one! If you're in business you have to be online. It's just that simple. And, if you have a web site then you are publishing content.
So, the question isn't if you're a publisher or not. We're all publishing. The question becomes are you a good publisher or a lousy publisher? Are you putting out great content that your customers and prospects want to consume? Or, are you careless about content?
Some marketers get this. They see their web site as a digital printing press and they use it to regularly put out great content that they know their audience will love to consume. They're building loyalty, credibility and sales by being great publishers.
But, some folks just don't get it at all. They throw a site up and leave it there to moulder. The content is poorly written and it's not relevant to the needs of the users.
There was a time in England when owning a printing press was illegal. The monarchy knew that a press was a powerful tool that could be used for subversion and so only very trusted people were approved to own a press. The king knew that the ability to mass communicate was power. Today, we marketers have that same power sitting right in front of us. Are we using it?
Buy an offset printing press today and you can easily spend a quarter of a million dollars just to get started. But, a printing press is only valuable when it's in use. You wouldn't spend $250,000 for a press and then just let it sit in your warehouse. But, that's what businesses are doing today when their web site just sits there, unused.
Realize you're a publisher and use the power of your web site to make your business more profitable, stable and healthy.
This morning I discovered, to my utter joy, that my company is listed number one in a Google Search result. That's right, kids. We've obtained the Holy Grail of search engine optimization, online marketing and social marketing. We're number one, baby!
So, now, whenever anyone searches for a certain string of words, the Bob Wright Creative blog will come up number one out of 265,000 search results! Think about that. Out of a possible quarter of a million options, our company will be number one. Can you imagine all the revenues that will pour in from that free advertising? People all over the world will find Bob Wright Creative and will want to do business with us!
Maybe it's time to start hiring more staff.
What's the search string, you ask? Well ... okay, I'll tell you. A while back I posted this. It seems that due to this post and my clever use of SEO, tags, key words, punchy writing and crafty (the haters say unethical) use of someone else's content, we now own the following terms:
"Helvetica on dollar"
Read it and weep, competitors! Bob Wright Creative now dominates the helvetica on dollar market. So, if you have a client that needs "helvetica on dollar" you can forget it, because everybody in the world now knows that our company is the worldwide expert. You might as well pack up shop and find a new profession.
Competitors, we'll be accepting the terms of your surrender on Monday.