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Brand image should be grounded in brand origin.

By that I mean, the foundation or “genealogy” from which a brand draws its image and differentiation.

This thought came to mind as a colleague and I sketched on a white board possible solutions to a client’s marketing challenge. Marketers at this company believe their brand owns a premium position in a crowded category. Their advertising is all about clothing their products in that premium image.

But when we talk with people who know the category well, they tell us buyers and specifiers regard the brand’s products as “pretty good.” Better than average, but by no means best in class.

If that’s true, then one of the brand’s challenges, it seemed to us, is that its image is not converting into audience influence. And we think we figured out why:

The brand has neglected to articulate its origin.

Brand Origin: Underpinnings to an Image

We tested the half-baked thought with a few examples.

Pick a German auto brand. Say Audi, or Mercedes-Benz. In the minds of consumers, it might seek to own “precision” as a brand image. The origin of that image? It wouldn’t be shocking if the brand’s marketers pointed to “German engineering.”

Now, I don’t know if German engineering qualifies as legendary. But based on bits and pieces from history and present-day global business, I have a general perception (accurate or not, I’ll confess) that Germans as a society and economy do a pretty solid job manufacturing, running government, and building and driving the Autobahn.  So, to some degree, there’s a “back-story” on which the auto brand’s image is based.

How about IBM? Computers and consulting services. IBM is telling me with its marketing that it’s about empowering a “smarter planet.” Behind that, at a more fundamental level, I have this sense that IBM has spent, and continues to spend, a fair amount of time and energy pondering the intersections of human and machine intelligence. Let’s consider that the origin of its “smarter” positioning. So I might be inclined to go along with the idea that if IBM is making it and selling it, it’s probably a fairly smart solution.

One more: Apple. Personal computing, communication and media devices. In our white board exercise we had to choose a word that Apple wants to own as its brand image. We chose “usability.” Apple products are renowned for being so easy to use, a user manual is superfluous. We’ve all heard stories of precocious toddlers quickly learning to operate an iPhone or iPad.

The origin of all that usability? Steve Jobs.

Uh oh.

For all the great achievements of Jobs and Apple, were they ever able to establish that the origin of their brand’s image and products was something other than Jobs’ brilliant vision?

We’re not sure they did. And with that, we had two takeaways from our little white board exercise around branding and positioning.

One: If you want to own a brand image in the minds of your target audience, it has to be based on something other than: “Believe it because our advertising shows and tells you it’s so.” Your position and image must be grounded in something more fundamental. Something original.

Two: If the origin of your brand resides in a single human being, even a brilliant founder, that might not be enough to sustain your brand image when those underpinnings pass away. ___

Does this simple “origin” thought model resonate for your brand? Have you pondered your brand’s origin? Is your content marketing strategy informed by that origin? Comments and discussion welcome.

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This post, originally published on Hanley Wood Marketing’s Content Is Marketing blog, is cross-posted here for subscribers to Touch Point City. For more marketing ideas and insights from my colleagues at HWM, subscribe to Content Is Marketing

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What’s the secret to getting Marketing and Sales alignment on your message?

Here’s a thought: Forget about the message for a while.

Focus instead on content.

Recently a firm called Corporate Visions surveyed more than 700 B2B marketing and sales pros on the subject of messaging development. They asked respondents whether their companies had a collaborative, repeatable process for creating their “message.” Further, the survey asked which of their organizations’ stakeholders were typically involved in message creation.

You can see the survey results here, but I’ll summarize  the two key findings:

  • 33 percent of those surveyed said they do NOT have a collaborative messaging process, while another third said their process is only “semi-collaborative.”
  • Of those involved in message creation, field sales reps — the people who presumably know customers and prospects best — were least represented in the process.

As marketing and sales challenges go, coming to alignment on a message is not a new challenge. Chalk it up to egos, silos, or honest disagreements. Whatever the cause, aligning around a message is a persistent struggle for many organizations.

But let’s take a closer look: Alignment around a message. Put another way…

What’s the best way to describe the benefits of our product? How can we position ourselves most effectively against the competition? What can we say to customers or prospective customers that will make them most likely to become aware of us, consider us, and ultimately decide to buy our service?

In short, coming to alignment on a message requires that Marketing and Sales agree on the answer to this question:

What can we tell you about us that will make you want to do business with us?

Try Alignment on Content

Therein, perhaps, lies the alignment challenge.

For starters, it’s a complex question. There might even be several good answers. But the thing to remember is this: More and more, your “message” is a fairly deep-in-the-sales-funnel consideration. By some estimates, today’s B2B buyers might get two-thirds of the way toward making a purchase before they are interested in, or ready to hear, a “what can we tell you about us?” message.

To help them arrive at that stage in the buying process, there are plenty of questions you can help them ask and answer. Questions that call not for your message, but for relevant information. Useful insights. Case studies. Research. Content.

Content that, done well, speaks volumes about your organization and its ability to understand and solve customers’ challenges, long before you have to come up with a message that tells them you understand and can solve their challenges.

Assuming your Marketing and Sales teams will spend time getting in alignment this fall, consider: It’s conceivable that the more time and effort you devote to understanding your audience, and then planning and producing great content, the less time you’ll spend sweating and struggling over a sales message.

Value your audience enough to provide them with great content, and don’t be surprised if they get your message, loud and clear.
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What say you, marketing and sales pros? Have you found the secret to achieving Marketing and Sales alignment on your message? Or are you spending more time focused on content, and not worrying quite so much about message?

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This post, originally published on Hanley Wood Marketing’s Content Is Marketing blog, is cross-posted here for subscribers to Touch Point City. For more marketing ideas and insights from my colleagues at HWM, subscribe to Content Is Marketing.

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If building a corporate brand was ever a no-muss, no-fuss, “ivory tower” sort of exercise, where a marketer’s primary tasks were two — push out high-minded awareness messaging, and take pains to treat the logo consistently across all other marketing  touch points — it’s pretty much not that anymore.

Probably never was, come to think of it.

Two pieces of research, and one personal shopping experience, brought this to the forefront recently for me.

WPP’s Millward Brown announced its latest Brand Z rankings, highlighted in this AdvertisingAge article. As Jack Neff’s piece points out, the Brand Z rankings are among a handful of different (and often conflicting) methods currently being tried to place financial value on, and then publish rankings of, the most valuable corporate brands.

Neff quotes execs from some of the different brand-rankings publishers on how their methodologies differ. He also notes that the Marketing Accountability Standards Board has been working to develop an industry-standard valuation system.

To say brand valuation is a work in progress would be an understatement. In fact, after reading Neff’s article, @hwmarketing felt prompted to publish this alliterative tweet: “Is there any rhyme, reason or relevance to these rankings?”

–  The Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project revealed new data, summarized in this eMarketer article, which shows just how “real time” consumers are becoming in using smart phones to seek information, solve problems and manage their lives. In the 30 days prior:

  • Half of all U.S. smart phone owners said they used the devices to coordinate a gathering.
  • 49 percent used their phones to decide whether to visit a business (e.g., a restaurant).
  • 47 percent used their phones to “solve an unexpected problem,” while 46 percent “looked up some information in order to settle an argument.”

I bought two shirts at a store inside Boston Logan airport. Reluctant shopper that I am, but with some time to kill and noticing a “sale” sign on a rack of shirts, I tried on a few and picked out a pair. The store associate (is “clerk” still an acceptable term?) offered to have them drop-shipped to my home, saving me the trouble of carrying them on the plane.

When I received the package, one shirt was missing a button. Straight away I went online to find a customer service number, then used my mobile phone to call and explain the problem.

This had all the makings of a brand moment of truth: I’d either get the run-around, or the person I spoke with (assuming I reached a real person) would pleasantly attempt to help solve my missing-button issue. Fortunately, a real person told me to either ship the shirt back for a replacement at no charge, or go to my nearest store and exchange it. “No problem.” I’ll make that trek to the store this weekend. Ideally, “no problem” will truly prove to be no problem.


Is Brand Value Macro or Microeconomic?

So what’s it all mean?

If according to someone’s rankings the brand from which I bought the shirt had a high valuation, that value would have gone to zero in the mind of this consumer if I’d gotten unreasonable resistance when I called to report the problem with my purchase.

That’s one reason why the true value of a brand is so relative, subjective, ethereal — and ultimately incalculable?

A brand, especially enterprise brands, comprise hundreds and thousands of interactions, experiences and information exchanges, happening every day, across multiple touch points. The website. Social media. The sales force. In-store experience. The monthly billing statement. The customer service operators. Oh yeah, and the product. Buttons or no.  

Presumably brand marketers know that where their brands rank on a list of valuation calculations is not really the point. Good for temporary bragging rights? OK. A macro measure of a brand’s strength among consumers, at least relative to other brands? Maybe. Sort of.

But how a brand performs in the micro — when someone picks up their phone or clicks through from their tablet, looking for answers and reasons to believe or buy — that’s still where brand value ultimately gets determined. Isn’t it?

The good and bad news for marketers?

According to Pew Research, these brief, fleeting opportunities to either demonstrate brand value, or diminish it, are likely to be coming our way more and more as time and mobile technology march on.
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Are you putting much stock in brand valuation rankings? How important is it to have a common, agreed-upon brand valuation methodology? Comments and discussion welcome.

This post, originally published on Hanley Wood Marketing’s Content Is Marketing blog, is cross-posted here for subscribers to Touch Point City. For more marketing ideas and insights from my colleagues at HWM, be sure and subscribe to Content Is Marketing.

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If you’re a B-to-B corporate marketer, should you extend your marketing program to Pinterest?

Can we put a pin in the marketing hype around Pinterest?

Dumb question, right? After all, Pinterest is the latest hot social sharing network. And we’re talking hotter than hot.  I recently saw Pinterest described as the fastest growing social networking site ever (Facebook included). 

A HubSpot e-book, How to Use Pinterest for Business, cites data from Hitwise 
which ranks relative newcomer Pinterest the fifth most visited social site,
ahead of more established heavyweights such as LinkedIn and Google+.

And leave aside for a moment the potential advantages of hitching your brand to the latest social media meteor. What could possibly be the harm in adding another social sharing site to your mix? Just dig into the corporate marketing vault. Pull a nice assortment of photos, posters, ads and videos. Create your profile. Put up a pinboard or two. And watch the audience engagement and site traffic roll in.

So, should you extend your marketing program to Pinterest?

I’m going to step out onto Luddite’s Leap here and say “no.” Especially if you’re in a B-to-B relationship with your most important buyer or specifier audiences. And maybe even if you’re B-to-C.

If three or more of the following statements apply to you and your organization, you might want to hold off for a while on “pinning,” and instead put your immediate focus and resources on other priorities:

14: Your e-mail open and click-through rates are plummeting, but you’re continuing to pump out e-mails without a plan for testing ways to turn around those metrics.

13: You’ve yet to blog, post a video on YouTube, explore SlideShare as a content distribution channel, or engage with groups relevant to your audience on LinkedIn.

12: You’re still struggling to “close the loop” between where your online traffic (and leads) are coming from (i.e., sources), and which of those channels are converting into engaged followers or actual customers.

11: Your marketing team is already feeling challenged to sustain regular updates, useful curation and community engagement via the other social sharing sites where you already have a presence.

10: You’re not going to be able to add any budget, staff or outsource marketing support in the near future.

9: It’s been longer than you’d like since your team produced a relevant, differentiating content asset — an ebook, a how-to video, a webinar, a useful widget — for the audience(s) you’re striving to reach and engage.

8: You’ve yet to conduct an A/B landing page test, to see if a different approach to copy, graphics and the registration form can make an impact on downloads of your existing content assets.  

7: You’ve yet to develop a content asset and make it available to all comers, ungated, just to see how far and wide your content can circulate.

6: Beyond “It’s growing like gangbusters!” or “Everyone else is doing it,” you’re having a hard time articulating a cogent rationale for adding Pinterest to your marketing mix.

5: You’ve yet to hear from any of your customers or prospective customers who are using Pinterest to search for suppliers or product information online. 

4: Your lacking a solidly functional mobile website.

3: Your organization’s website is still closer to brochureware than a content-rich engagement hub.

2: You told yourself once that you’re not going to be one of those marketers who chases the next shiny object.

1: You remember that admonition your parents used to give: “Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should.”

My skepticism about the current hype surrounding Pinterest might stem most from that last one, to be honest. I have no doubt people are discovering all sorts of ways to express and enjoy themselves, and to find others of like mind and interest, on Pinterest. But that doesn’t mean it automatically merits a land rush among marketers to stake out promotional turf on the world’s fastest-growing communal cork board.

In fact, I wonder if we marketers do ourselves, our brands and our customers a disservice if we continually behave as though every last medium, gathering place and community — offline or on — is automatically considered, first and foremost, a marketing opportunity.

Do we run the risk of irritating rather than engaging if people can’t find a place, a moment, to express themselves and relate to one another without Big Marketing poking itself into the conversation?
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What do you think? Am I all alone on Luddite’s Leap here? Or do you agree it wouldn’t hurt for B-to-B marketers to consider taking a pass on Pinterest?

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Look around your business. Better yet, conduct an audit: Where in your sales, marketing or service continuum do customers or potential customers get stranded in a content desert?

Where in your marketing continuum is the content desert?

What do I mean by a “content desert”? 

Think about the process of providing relevant, useful or entertaining content as cultivating an “engagement oasis” for the audiences you wish to attract and serve. A welcoming place where they can derive value and feel nurtured by your business and brand.

Now think of doing the exact opposite, either purposefully or unwittingly. Allowing a place on that continuum where your organization makes little or no effort to provide information, interactions or experiences of value. Or, perhaps worse yet, where you bombard y0ur audience with purely promotional, “let us tell you more about us” messages.

A content desert.


Please Continue to Hold While We Fail to Engage You

I survived 10 minutes in a content desert this past weekend, when it was my misfortune to have a malfunctioning dishwasher. When I called the manufacturer and service company (in this case, one in the same) to schedule a repair, I was placed on hold because, according to the automated voice, “all of our representatives are assisting other callers.”

Now, let’s examine this commonplace scenario from the corporate marketer’s perspective: A person who bought your product is having an issue with that product. They reach out to you. You’re about to have five, eight, or in this case 10 minutes of one-on-one, uninterrupted communication with that customer.

What will you do to engage them during this special time? What can you offer that might leave them feeling better informed, entertained, or in some way more connected to or empowered by your brand?

Take thought and care with those 10 minutes, and the potential benefits are clear: That person on the other end of the line is more likely to become a brand advocate and referral source. More likely to buy your products and services in the future.

But here’s what this manufacturer and service provider chose to do with its 10 minutes of uninterrupted communication:

  • Invite me to visit them on Facebook. Why? No reason given in particular. No promise of an entertaining video, helpful information, or even a cheesy contest or sweepstakes. Just a flat invitation to “visit us on Facebook.” Sorry. You’ll need to do better than that.
  • Invite me to join them in online chat. OK, that might be a good idea. And I’m somewhat impressed that they offer this feature. But in this case it meant I’d need hang up the phone and go boot up my computer, surrendering my place in the phone queue, a place I’d already invested some time to earn.
  • Cross-sell another service. In this instance, a free estimate on a particular home improvement service. Not the worst offer or call to action in the world. But how much better would it have been if that service were presented in a value-adding context? Perhaps the recorded message could have spoken to issues and challenges I might be experiencing with my home, rather than merely promote the service the company was trying to cross-sell. Or it could have invited me to visit a website to learn more about financing options that would make the service being offered more affordable. Or a series of videos that showed how other consumers have improved their lives and homes by using the service.  Instead, all I got was an offer to buy something else from a company that was already causing me some grief because of the last product I’d purchased from them.
  • Thank me for my patience, and for remaining on the line. You’re welcome. But then again, what choice did I really have?


Where’s Your Content Desert?

As content deserts go, this wasn’t exactly Death Valley. Probably hundreds, maybe even thousands, of on-hold messaging scenarios play out like this every day, from businesses large and small. The marketing “sins” here, if any, are more of omission than commission.

The larger point is this: If somewhere in your marketing, sales and service continuum you can expect to have a few minutes,  maybe even 10, of direct, uninterrupted communication with customers or potential customers, what will you do with that opportunity?

Subject them to a content desert? Or cultivate for them an engagement oasis?

Where in your marketing, sales and service continuum is there a desert you can transform into an oasis?

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Photo credit: www.freenaturephotos.com

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Takeda's Dr. Gout

He plays a doctor on TV.

Imagine you’re chief marketing officer for a global pharmaceutical company. To reach potential customers in the United States, you decide to spend significant amounts of your budget on prime-time TV ads during the Major League Baseball playoffs.

You create a 30-second spot, featuring a serious-looking male doctor in wire-rim glasses and a white lab coat. Strangely enough, the good doctor (who also narrates your ad) never once mentions your brand or product. Only at the very end, for a second or two, does your company’s name appear in a subtle line of superimposed type: “Presented by (company name).”

You call this brand advertising?


Beyond Branding. Inviting Engagement.

Perhaps not. At least not in the traditional sense.

But that’s OK. Because you could call it branded content.

The scenario described above is not fictitious. It’s an actual ad from Japanese drug firm Takeda Pharmaceuticals. A campaign that chooses to be less about conventional branding and more about inviting engagement. Takeda uses a fairly traditional (and not inexpensive) marketing channel not to push a product brand name or to hype trial, but instead to focus primarily on consumer education.

Specifically, their ad promises that by visiting www.goutinfo.com, consumers will find information on how to better understand, manage and consult with their doctors about gout, a painful condition caused by excessive amounts of uric acid.

Sure enough, visitors to the microsite get just that. In addition to the TV ad itself, the site features a no-nonsense, easy-to-understand collection of educational content, starting with the site’s main header: “Important Information to Help You Manage Your Gout.” Site copy speaks in straightforward language about gout, excess uric acid, and the potential harmful effects of both. It offers tips on managing gout, both its occasional flare-ups and chronic challenges. Management strategies highlighted include not only drug treatments, but lifestyle and diet tips, as well.

Takeda's goutinfo.com microsite, which includes 30-second TV ad plus plenty of content.

Consumers can print a “conversation card” to help make their next meeting with a doctor more productive. At a few points in the microsite — where you can “Sign up to stay informed,” and “learn more” about treatments for long-term gout management — visitors are invited to www.goutsmart.com, where a drug named Uloric is first introduced into the experience.  


Marketing Content: It’s Not an Oxymoron

I don’t pretend to fully understand the dark arts of pharmaceutical advertising (e.g.,”See our add in Golf Digest”?). I also don’t have metrics to know whether Takeda’s gout campaign is generating big results, in terms of Uloric awareness and prescriptions.

But as an interested observer, I applaud the example Takeda is setting here. The focus on informing vs. pure promotion. Especially because on the night I noticed Takeda’s ad, I saw another which prominently showcased a drug company’s name and logo, and repeated (no, belabored) their product name no fewer than 10 times.

Sometimes people who believe passionately in content marketing all but reject other, more traditional tactics — direct mail, telemarketing, print and TV advertising. Others — me among them — believe that often it’s the integration of traditional tactics and content strategy that makes for the most successful marketing.

As Takeda demonstrates, just because you’re running a TV ad — even in prime time — it’s not mandatory that you focus solely on your brand or product. You can advertise a value-adding experience. Promote a content asset. Blend traditional and content marketing in smart and effective ways.

In other words, you can turn content marketing inside out. Or, more accurately, dare to stray from traditional marketing by approaching content marketing in reverse.

You can dare to try marketing content.

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Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying Takeda is the first drug company to focus on consumer education with its marketing. But see if you agree the TV spot and microsite are remarkably soft-sell and content-centric. Meanwhile, what about you and your company? Would you dare run such a content-focused ad in prime time? Would your leadership approve? Maybe you think what Takeda is doing is a mistake, a missed opportunity. Comments and discussion, as always, encouraged and appreciated.

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Factor in both works and words, and no executive in U.S. history lived as notable and quotable a career as Apple CEO Steve Jobs, who died this week at age 56.

As well-earned tributes flow, along with “best of” articles on Jobs’ contributions to computing, connectivity, media and management, what might content marketers infer from 10 of Jobs’ most quoted observations on business, innovation and life?

“Sometimes when you innovate, you make mistakes. It is best to admit them quickly, and get on with improving your other innovations.”
Even the most prolific and accomplished content marketers will make mistakes now and then. Typos and bad line breaks creep into blog posts. Links are occasionally broken. That e-book we thought would light up the landing page proves woefully short on wattage.

Harvesting marketing inspiration from the words of Steve Jobs

We sweat the details and fret the mistakes — or at least we should. But ideally it’s the commitment to envision, then publish, that next added-value content asset, and then the next one, that overrides the occasional glitch in the minds of our communities. 

“I’m convinced that about half of what separates the successful entrepreneurs from the non-successful ones is pure perseverance.”
If content marketing were a race, tortoises would have the edge. Focus and consistency over time. Being multi-channel and integrated vs. going for the one blockbuster downloadable asset. More about regular blogging than writing a best seller. Continuously measuring, rethinking, improving.

“You can’t just ask customers what they want and then try to give that to them. By the time you get it built, they’ll want something new.”
Listening is valuable and important. It should be part of content strategy. But the big wins and wows tend to come when marketers say: “We know this category. We understand these people, their businesses, their dreams and pain points. There’s an opportunity to change the game here. To create something they’ll find uniquely valuable.” That asset, that idea, doesn’t necessarily appear fully formed in customer surveys or sentiment analyses. More often is shows up while you’re singing in the shower, or riding the bus home from work.

“Innovation has nothing to do with how many R&D dollars you have… It’s not about money. It’s about the people you have, how you’re led, and how much you get it.”
Except in rare cases, there won’t be the money, staff or time to plan and execute exactly what we’d draw up on the white board. So you look at your budget, and all those tactics you’ve been investing in for years, and ask yourself: Can we start by shifting 20, 25 even 30 percent of our budget from what has been to what could be? If we always do what we’ve always done will we always get what we’ve always gotten? And then you identify a core team of passionistas — internal stakeholders or external partners — and start talking strategy, personas, channels and KPIs.  

“Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life.”
And don’t waste time repurposing someone else’s content. Guest bloggers are great. Curating to help your audience stay abreast and make sense of relevant news and information is smart. But too many would-be content marketers assume the quick and cheap path is to slap their logo on a collection of previously published work, or rely on a content farm churning out articles for a nameless, faceless reader.

“I’m as proud of what we don’t do as I am of what we do.”
Sometimes it’s the tweet you dare not to send, or the “viral” video you choose not to post, that sustains the integrity of your content strategy. Or that skimpy blog post you elect to hold for further development, even though it’s Friday and the planning calendar says it’s time to keep cadence. If you’ve thought hard about your brand’s personality and value proposition, and have a clear vision for the audience personas that matter most to your business, way more often than not you’ll make the right call.

“Do you want to spend the rest of your life selling sugared water or do you want a chance to change the world?”
When it’s all said and done, do you want to have bested the direct mail control by half a percentage point? Found a clever way to put one over on those search-engine swifties over at Google? Or do you want to have attracted and engaged a business-critical audience — prospects, customers, employees, dealers, you choose — in ways no brand has dared try, much less accomplished?

“I want to put a ding in the universe.”
Imagine if every B-to-B marketer went to work looking to put a ding in their industry, never mind the universe. Can’t do it, you say? Easy for Steve Jobs, selling those cool consumer technologies. My product’s a commodity. I’ve got no say in R&D. There’s not enough budget. And besides, customers only care about price. Tell it to Rick Short. He’s making a ding over at Indium. His product? Something that operates deep and unappreciated inside all those devices Jobs and Apple are renowned for: Solder.

“Here’s to the crazy ones, the misfits, the rebels, the troublemakers, the round pegs in the square holes… the ones who see things differently…”
Paul Gillin dares to declare that big ideas don’t have ROI, and he’s probably pretty much right. Sadly, most big content strategies don’t come gift wrapped in a spreadsheet of predictable lead volumes and revenue numbers. But what you know in your head, and your gut, tells you there’s this opportunity to do something special. And you know you can measure, course correct and evolve as you go. Planned smartly, executed well, it stands to reason ROI will come. But to get there, you might have to challenge yourself, your boss, your team, your clients, to see things differently.

Our belief was that if we kept putting great products in front of customers, they would continue to open their wallets.”
Likewise, if you keep putting relevant, value-adding content out in the market. Via your online channels, within social media, through your sales force, in your advertising and direct marketing. Exposed to great content consistently, over time, customers and potential customers will open their minds, hearts, browsers and office doors. Invite them to do that, and their wallets will open, too.

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From an early Mac Plus owner, a movie buff and a content marketer, thanks, Steve Jobs, and the employees of Apple and Pixar, for your leadership, products and ideas.

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What about you? As a marketer, as a business person, what inspiration do you take from the works and words of Steve Jobs? Comments welcome.

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