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Steve Jobs is Dead, I Hope What He Stood For Lives On

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More than just a Tech Titan

Steve Jobs died today. You can read all about his business life, and what the public is saying, but here’s my hope:  Not that Apple will continue to make great products, although that would be great. Not even that he inspired others to create great tech companies, though he surely did. What I hope is that the man who perhaps better than anyone else over the last 30 years exemplified what America can and should be, will have inspired this country to follow in his footsteps. To create nothing less that the best products, and to do so with style. To run a business not just by the numbers, but by intuition and a desire to make the products not only that people need; not only products people want; but products people didn’t even know they wanted.

To, in short, be insanely great.

That’s Jobs’ legacy, not the iPod or an amazing commercial; not even the personal computer revolution. Those were just the tools he used. Jobs legacy was his enactment of American Exceptionalism. Now, more than ever, we need to remember that and strive to emulate him.

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Work as a Lifestyle

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Even politicians are stylish in Monocle's World.

It’s long been said that the line between personal and professional life has blurred. Telecommuting, mobile technology, laptops and the global economy have all helped to create an environment where traditional 9-5 hours are a thing of the past. Gyro, a global, independent ad agency, has taken this notion to heart, creating the notion of the @work state of mind. Check out the pdf here and watch this video:

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I whole-heartedly agree with this approach, but wonder if we aren’t transitioning to something else: work as a lifestyle. I don’t mean that in the Gordon Gekko Wall Street-sense, or the American Psycho business card scene-sense, but something more natural. Sure, The Economist publishes a Culture section, but those are about diversions. If we’ve entered the @work state of mind era, then one publication brilliantly captures the now seamless melding of work and play: Monocle. I’ve shared my love of Monocle in the past and have always found it a worthwhile read. But now I’m seeing it in a different light. Their editorial isn’t merely global reportage of business and cultural trends, it’s a guidebook on how to live in an @work state of mind age. I’ve been reading the October Issue and was struck by two, possibly subliminally connected, notions: most of the ads are for fashion houses – Ralph Lauren, Fendi, Dunhill, Ermenegildo Zegna (that’s just in the first 17 pages); and with no more than one or two exceptions, literally every person profiled or even featured in an editorial photograph, could have been a model for those fashion house ads. No, they didn’t look like the guy in the Hermes ad, but they were all slim and wearing great clothes. Take a look at Carl Bildt, Sweden’s foreign affairs minister.  Was he styled by Monocle for the shoot?

Does Monocle cover the style of business, or the business of style? It’s impossible to tell because the people they profile seem to live in both worlds, and that, I believe, is the point. Monocle understands that the distinctions between business and culture, between professional and personal, no longer have meaning.  The people profiled are committed to what they do, and therefore they see no distinctions between who they are and what they do.

In some ways I see the books of William Gibson, especially his most recent Blue Ant Trilogy, as also showcasing this “work as lifestyle” movement. The lead character in Patter Recognition is Cayce Pollard, a “freelance marketing consultant, a coolhunter with an unusual intuitive sensitivity for branding…” Her relationship with clothing is described thusly:

“CPUs. Cayce Pollard Units. That’s what Damien calls the clothing she wears. CPUs are either black, white, or gray, and ideally seem to have come into this world without human intervention. What people take for relentless minimalism is a side effect of too much exposure to the reactor-cores of fashion. This has resulted in a remorseless paring-down of what she can and will wear. She is, literally, allergic to fashion. She can only tolerate things that could have been worn, to a general lack of comment, during any year between 1945 and 2000. She’s a design-free zone, a one-woman school of anti whose very austerity periodically threatens to spawn its own cult.”

Where does the job end and the person begin? It’s often difficult to say in the works of Gibson.

Monocle further blurs the lines itself by not only being a publication, but also having online and physical retail outlets in New York, London, Hong Kong, Tokyo, Beijing and Osaka. With exquisitely curated offerings they aren’t merely selling clothes, they are purveyors of the Monocle lifestyle. This is why Monocle is such a powerful brand in my opinion. They understood the “work as lifestyle” trend and created a brand that feeds into it.

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Nike Miyashita Park Cup: Revisiting a Clash of Cultures

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The Miyashita Cup is the latest chapter in a complicated story of corporations and culture.

Back in July last year, I wrote about Nike and their troubles in Miyashita Park in Japan. Nike was looking to turn a local, public park that had fallen into disuse back into a vibrant, family friendly space. The problem was that the park had become a bit of a squatters village and several local groups had taken up the cause against the huge multi-national. BBC has the original story here.

To be honest, I had given much thought to it until I saw a couple stories earlier this week. Apparently Nike “won” as Miyashita Park was the host to a local futsal soccer tournament. Hypebeast had this report on the Nike Miyashita Cup, and here’s Nike’s promotional video showing how bicycle power was used to generate the light for the event:

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Also worth noting perhaps in Hypebeast’s report is that the tournament was won by a team representing FCRB, which is a sort of pseudo Nike sub-brand.

Kckrs.com has more on the tournament and controversial park here, and SLAMXHYPE has a lot of great photos of the event and afterparty.

Nikeblog.com (unofficial) had this to say about the event:

“Japan may not have Rucker Park, but they have Tokyo’s Miyashita Park. And like Rucker, the recent Nike Miyashita Cup the soccer tournament was the intersection of culture, style and sport, with all three showcased during a memorable event. Check out the short video put together by Nike Sportswear, showing how they do tournaments in the Far East.”

Hmm, no mention of the park controversy here. Minds Like Knives has a very good overview of the situation, and the “win” achieved by the anti-Nike activists – not letting Nike’s name appear as part of the park.

So, who is the winner here? The local people have a refurbished park; the activists kept Nike’s name off the place; and Nike is hosting an event in the park that is garnering attention all around the globe. Sounds like a lot of winners.  But what of the homeless people? Here’s what I found on the Shibuya Ward’s site:

Shibuya City has proactively provided humane support for people without registered domiciles (“homeless”) illegally residing in the Park. In 2009, Shibuya City has offered housing support and aid so that the homeless can self-sufficient after conducting one-to-one consultations(*3). As a result, all 30 homeless people who used to occupy the Park have been comfortably relocated.

(*3) 105 homeless people resided in Miyashita Park in 2004. The number of homeless people decreased by 30 due to welfare support services provided by Shibuya City at the timing of the construction of futsal court. There were still 30 homeless people residing in the Park in September 2009. Upon the construction of the refurbishing plan, Shibuya City Parks Management and Life and Welfare sections jointly conducted a survey to understand each homeless person’s requirement. In addition, both divisions have conducted patrolling and regular one-on-one consultations to encourage them to become self-supporting using public support initiatives and public welfare assistance. Furthermore, the City has been mediating between homeless people and the emergency protection centers, independent support centers. Alternate site for setting tents have also been offered to the homeless people. As a result, some homeless have become independent and now reside in apartments. As of October 8, 2010, the last remaining homeless person in Miyashita Park has voluntarily moved to an alternate site.

Full disclosure, I’ve been a huge Nike fan all my life, so I’m probably a little biased. I didn’t think having Nike ‘take over’ the park was a bad thing, but I can see and appreciate that this is a complicated issue, especially from a cultural perspective. I don’t know exactly what happened to the homeless people and that’s a bigger issue than whether or not Nike has their name on the park.

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CEO Interview: Alan Chan of bre.ad

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Alan Chan, CEO of bre.ad

Keeping up with the latest developments in social and digital media isn’t always easy. New tools and applications are introduced constantly, some with great fanfare, and many disappear just as quickly as they came to light. Many things more difficult is the marketing blogger community who desperately try to find the “next big thing.” That results in some ventures being overly hyped before they are really ready. I’ve been trying over the last few months to really step back and examine the tool before rushing to judgement. One of the best ways to understand the intentions of the creators is to ask them directly, that’s why I’ve been doing the CEO Interview feature with more regularity. I hope you find these brief interviews helpful and informative. Today I’m speaking with Alan Chan, the man behind the URL shortener tool, bre.ad.

 

Rick Liebling: Tell me about bre.ad. Where did the idea come from?

Alan Chan: Bre.ad is a social recommendations platform that allows you to attach a 5-second personalized billboard to any link you create using the Bre.ad URL shortener. You can recommend (or “toast”) anything you want, from your favorite charity to your own website. Watch this video to see how it works:

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The inspiration for Bre.ad came when I was working on my last company, Arbitrage. I felt 140 characters was sometimes not enough to express myself and I wanted to create a tool that empowered anyone to meaningfully promote the things they care about.
RL: How does bre.ad work?

AC: Bre.ad works in three easy steps. 1) On our site, you create personalized digital billboards to promote your favorite things. We call each billboard a “toast.” 2) You shorten links using the Bre.ad link shortener and share those links on Twitter and Facebook. 3) When your friends and followers click on your shortened links, they will see your “toast” for five seconds before being redirected to the link you shortened.
RL: There seems to be a focus on brands and celebrities, is that who you see as the primary user of the service?

AC: Bre.ad is perfect for anyone who wants to make the links they share more meaningful, but the Bre.ad URL shortener is especially useful for online content producers who have something to promote. Our diverse users include entrepreneurs seeking exposure for their new ventures, individuals raising awareness for their favorite charity, and public figures promoting their personal brands.
RL: Tell me about the analytics the platform offers?

AC: A history of all your shortened links is stored on your Bre.ad profile, along with click-through data by day, week, month, and lifetime. The Bre.ad development team is working hard to build new features and analytics which will be rolled out over the summer.
RL: I think bre.ad‘s really clever, and I can see a lot of great uses for it. I can also see it being used as a crude, spammy tool.  How do you see the platform evolving in order to keep it fresh?

AC: Curating a good Twitter or Facebook account means sharing content that people enjoy. When used correctly, Bre.ad is perfect for that. Every “toast” is voluntarily created by the friend whose link you clicked. Users are encouraged to share meaningful recommendations because “toasts” are customized with their photo and a personal message. If you don’t want to see your friend’s toast, you can always skip it by clicking “Continue” in the top right corner.

 

Like all the CEOs I speak with, I encourage you to try out their service and judge for yourself if it has value for you. I think you’ll find bre.ad, if used judiciously, can be a terrific tool for brand awareness or driving interest in something you really believe in.

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Bre.ad: User-created advertising, or something better?

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Don't burn your toast.

This week a nifty little tool called Bre.ad made its public debut. What is bre.ad? Here’s a video they created that explains the service:

 

 

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Pretty cool, right?  An interstitial with a custom message (and image) before people are taken to the link you provided.  Similar to bit.ly, bre.ad also provides some analytics to see how many people are clicking your links. I played with a bit and immediately thought of several ways it could be used.  They are certainly pushing brands and causes which makes sense, and I can see it being adopted by bloggers as well.

My concern is the same one I have will all new social media tools – will over-use/misuse kill bre.ad before it gets off the ground? We’ve seen this a lot recently, where a rush of people (using marketing bloggers) jump on something new, try it out without putting a lot of thought or strategy behind it, and the result is over-saturation that turns people off.  If every time I click a link I get a hard-sell message to buy a product, I’m going to start to think very carefully before I click on a bre.ad link.

Smart marketers are going to use bre.ad in ways that benefit people, not themselves. The same message for every link is not going to work. Just like all other aspects of social media, bre.ad will require time and effort to be of value.  I urge marketers to explore bre.ad, but I also caution you to wield this tool carefully.

 

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TOMS: More Than Just Effortless Benevolence

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More than just 'effortless benevolence'

My friend Len Kendall has a post about TOMS Shoes up on the Fearless website titled Effortless Benevolence as a Sales Driver. In it he talks about Tom’s One-for-One business model (buy a product, and an equal product is given to a less fortunate person somewhere in the world). It works in part, according to Len, because so little effort is needed on the part of the consumer (the effortless benevolence of the title).

Check out the Campus Clubs section of the TOMS website and you’ll find this video:

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That’s also how TOMS succeeds. Empowering people to make a difference drives the company (and lets people like me participate on the ‘effortless benevolence’ level). If TOMS was just about buying the shoes, then it would be LIVESTRONG (nothing wrong with that, by the way). But it’s also about shoe drops:

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I think ultimately it’s a symbiotic relationship. Without the tremendous effort – with the opportunity to give the tremendous effort – TOMS is something else.  Len asks, “…will their bigger and more well-known competitors try to copy them soon?”  If we’re just talking about the ‘effortless benevolence’ model, then yes. But could Nike (or Zappos?) create a TOMS program?  I suppose they could, but I think it would be a lot harder than it looks.

The TOMS model doesn’t work if you just throw money at it, or rely on distribution channels or a big advertising campaign. In fact, my guess is that Blake Mycoskie, the guy behind TOMS, had none of those things. Has he succeeded in spite of those ‘handicaps’ or has he succeeded because he had to figure out a different way to succeed?

 

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