Sheldon Cooper and Brand Deflection

A couple of days ago we were having new carpet laid throughout the house, and at one point during the day I was walking out to my car for a coffee run when the head of the carpet crew looked up and asked me if I liked the TV show “The Big Bang Theory.

The question threw me for a second, not because I don’t like the show – I do. It’s a must watch for my family – but as to why he’d asked in the first place. I must have looked puzzled, because by way of explanation he pointed in my direction and said “Your shirt.”

At the office I may be all dressed up, but the days I’m working from home you are more likely to find me in jeans, sneakers and a superhero logo t-shirt. The thing is I don’t own any Big Bang Theory shirts. Not a single “Bazinga !” adorns my closet space.

I looked down and realized I was wearing a Green Lantern t-shirt. Just like this one.

sheldonshirtThe one that Sheldon Cooper often wears on The Big Bang Theory. – Mystery solved.

On my drive to grab my drink I started to think about what had just happened. In my Content Marketing role at Caterpillar a major consideration is how we build and develop messaging and content that supports the brand message and the brand story. Ideally every interaction with the brand (and that includes the logo – perhaps the most frequent brand encounter) should reinforce the brand’s promise.

Yet my carpet guy had seen the Green Lantern logo, a brand owned by DC Comics and by association, its parent company, Warner Bros., but associated it with a completely different property and message. In this case one owned by CBS.

The more I thought about DC Comics brand placement on The Big Bang Theory the more I realized that as much as it’s cool for me as a comics geek to play spot the reference, I’m not sure Warner Bros. is getting the business value it wants from that relationship.

comic_book_storeThe comic book store featured in the show seems to stock only DC Comics related titles and merchandise (Click on picture above to get a good look at the stock); but whenever comics, or comics characters are mentioned on the show in dialog it is usually a conversation about Marvel characters. Characters and brands owned by the directly competitive comics publisher, who are now owned by Disney.

In a recent episode the girls on the show ventured into the comic book store to see what it was that was so important to their boy-friends/husband; and then spent half the show discussing the physics of Thor’s hammer. Thor being yet another Marvel character.

So what are DC Comics and Warner Bros paying for with this brand and product placement? Is it brand awareness? To me it seems more like brand deflection.

How is your brand message being used and communicated. What channels are you using to spread your brand’s story.?

Is your value message getting through, or is it being deflected?




A little lesson in Content Packaging thanks to the Fab Four

Earlier today I was alerted to this video from Carlton Books giving what they term a “Sneaky Peek” at their upcoming book celebrating the 50th Anniversary of the Beatles’ first hit record.

As both a Beatles fan and scholar, I knew that this great looking book was destined to join my Fab Four research library (as I’m working on an idea for another Beatles related book proposal).

Then I started thinking about this video from a Publishing and Content Strategy perspective.

Anyone whose heard me speak on digital publishing will know I often repeat the phrase that “pixels and print are not mutually exclusive.” In other words it isn’t an either/or decision between digital and traditional print publishing, in most cases a book can exist equally in both and often help each other. – Which is definitely the case with my own Beatles book where Kindle sales have driven increases in print sales.

However there are some things that each medium does better than the other, and I strongly believe that print will flourish for publishers who figure out how and why print is special. In my view there is one advantage that print has over digital – reading a printed book is a tactile experience that engages the senses of feel and smell as well as sight.

A book like the one in the video above could not be done on a digital platform. Yes the written word and the photos could be reproduced, maybe even the video from the DVD and the sounds  included in a multi-media enhanced eBook – But the way it is packaged and presented is as a interactive tactile experience, and that’s what will make it special. You can only do that in print.

The packaging of the book is also a great example of re-purposing existing content to be consumed and experienced new ways. Instead of a photograph of a concert poster or ticket, why not recreate them? Move interaction with the content from a passive one to an interactive one.

As well as the book itself and its refreshing content packaging, there is also the smart way that the content, and the idea of the book, is being promoted via the use of other media such as video and social networks.

Smart move Carlton Books – you’ve got my $$ already – and I just helped you spread awareness a little further.

Every Presentation, Ever: A Communication Failure?

I have spent, and continue to spend, a lot of my professional life either giving, or sitting through presentations. I have seen every one of the communication failures parodied in this video.

After I’d watched the video and smiled in recognition, and even winced occasionally about things know I’ve done in the past. I started thinking about the title.

Is every presentation ever given an exercise in communications failure?

I would submit that the vast majority are – sure there are good ones (see the various TED talks for instance), but most presentations are simply a dry regurgitation of facts and ideas that could be better expressed in much more entertaining and different ways.


By focusing on the speaker, not on the PowerPoint.

Think about the conference sessions you remember most – I bet it was the ones with the energtic, passionate, articulate speakers, rather than the ones with the prettiest slides. I have seen a growing trend amongst top rated speakers and presenters to just use single image slides acting as a backdrop to a particular point as a way of getting the audience to focus on them and the message they are delivering. I even have spoken to several other regular conference speakers about dropping the use of slides altogether, but conference organizers seem to get scared when you say you don’t have any slides.

During the course of the year I attend two distinct types of industry events, first there are the technical and business conferences, then as a pop-culture writer there are the the various conventions. For as long as I have been attending science-fiction and comics conventions the default way of communicating with the audience is to have a panel of guests discuss a particular topic in which they have a stated interest, or experience. No PowerPoints, just people discussing what they know and what they are passionate about. The results are invariably both enlightening and entertaining.

Yet business conferences are still dominated by the “person in front of a slide deck” model. – Why? Over the last couple of years I’ve been lucky enough to be invited in a few business conferences that have experimented with the panel approach (usually just one or two in a program dominated by presentations), and in every case they have been well received, and a joy to participate in.

But it doesn’t necessarily need a panel to get that same effect. I mentioned the TED talks earlier – many of the most viewed videos are of a single person on stage, just talking. Sharing ideas with a passion.

Of all the presentations I have ever sat through the most spell-binding was from graphic design guru Edward Tufte who spoke for a whole day on the subject of graphics, and never once used a PowerPoint slide.

Instead of “presenting” information and hiding behind slide decks we should be encouraging expression of ideas, conversations, and discussion. – That’s what communication is really about.

The Force is strong in this Content.

I, like many of my friends, linked to, and shared, the video below today on our various Social Network accounts. I guess we did it for a few reasons:

  1. It’s funny.
  2. The kid is cute.
  3. It leverages a shared pop-culture reference that we all (well at least my friends) can immediately relate to.
But later in the day I started to think about this video in terms of content strategy and marketing.
Just before I wrote this post I checked some numbers on YouTube.
This video was posted on February, 2nd – just one day ago. It has already posted some impressive numbers:
  • 2.3 Million views
  • 605,000 posts on Facebook
  • 29,600 links from Twitter
  • 23,705 “likes”
  • over 3,500 user comments.
Partly for the reasons I mentioned above. In short it’s great content that people enjoy and want to share. And that’s the key to a marketing message like this going viral – you need good content that the community is happy to recommend and share.
But also it plays across markets, and across language barriers. Of the 1 minute 2 seconds running time only, 8 seconds uses text that would need translating. There is no voice over to be translated or actors to be dubbed. It’s all done through the power of images and music.
Using different media types in this way can be (if you will excuse the pun) an effective force for making your content connect with your audience.

Print or Digital ? – Using Augmented Reality to bridge the gap.

One of the the strangest aspects of all the recent discussions in the mainstream publishing world about the emergence of eBooks seems to be the notion that digital and print are mutually exclusive delivery options.

Nothing can be further than the truth; as we well know in the technical and corporate publishing world, electronic delivery of information is just one delivery option.
But how about combining the two? Print publications augmented by digital content?
Check out this video of a young reader’s reaction to a copy of the BBC’s science magazine, FOCUS, with augmented reality content.
Think about how effective that would be when used to deliver technical or training materials?
Perhaps Augmented Reality maybe just the thing to bridge that perceived gap between print and digital? Food for thought.

Where’s The Manual?

Over the last couple of days my life in corporate and technical communications seems to have crossed over into my life as both a pop-culture writer, and motor racing fan.

While watching the advance press-screening of TOY STORY 3, I was delighted to discover that a central plot point revolved around the toys using the manual to discover how to effectively reboot Buzz Lightyear via his ‘reset’ button – of course, as they say, “hilarity ensues.”
Then this morning I was pointed in the direction of this amusing video of McLaren Formula One team drivers, Jenson Button and Lewis Hamilton, both World Champions, trying to build one of their race cars without the aid of their team. The plaintive cry of “Where’s the manual?” made me smile.
But as much fun as it is to hear “manuals” used and talked about like this, it made me think about a more serious take.
I still keep hearing people in the technical communications industry say they aren’t valued, that what they do has no place in a hi-tech digital world. Well it doesn’t come much more hi-tech than Formula One, or digital than Pixar, but still the idea of, and need for, a “manual” is paramount.
In both cases, the toys, and the drivers, wanted to know how to do something.
And that’s where the future of technical communications lies. It doesn’t matter what form the “manual” may be, now or in the future; we have the skills to provide the best answers to the question “How?”
Now, that’s real value…
Just ask Buzz or the McLaren F1 team.

Wow this looks cool – but hang on a minute…

The first time I saw this video from the folks at TIME Inc. on the possible future of their glossy magazines (in this case Sports Illustrated), I thought – Wow, they get it. Someone has at last seen the real potential of using digital content.

But the more I watched it, two things suddenly occurred to me.

  1. While the flashy interface may look cool, it is still very much a paper based paradigm with a page-based sensibility. – Now I accept that jumping straight from physical paper limitations to the theoretical infinite canvas of a digital world may not be acceptable for the consumer market, and this sort of screen bounded design maybe the best solution to manage that transition.
  2. The text is still being considered as a design feature and a lump of fixed content. There doesn’t appear to be any mark-up used to make the text intelligent. Where are the hyper-links in the articles? Consider an SI article that on the mention of an athlete’s or team’s name lets you pull up a library of photos and past articles from the SI archive. Or links to apps that let you build your own performance statistics. How about a link to a virtual tour of a stadium? Or an audio clip of a classic piece of commentary.? Why not the ability to search the text, and order your results the way you want them?

While the surface results of this mock-up look amazing, underneath it is still bound in many ways by thinking of the publication as the product and not the delivery of intelligent content as a portal to adding value.

The Augmented Future of Technical Documentation?

For those of us who have written, or write, technical documentation for hardware, and engineering products, this video of a BMW research project perhaps gives a glimpse of the future.

And BMW are not alone, a quick search online produced videos of several different prototypes of using Augmented Reality for maintenance, service and repair procedures.

This type of development, once again reinforces my message that technical writers need to step up and become technical communicators comfortable with developing content that can be delivered in any media.

Technical documentation is not just about the written word, it is about the communication of ideas and knowledge.

The Future is Today

Back in December I posted an entry on this blog about how observing my daughter do a homework assignment had made me rethink the way we need to approach presenting information. In business we are still bound to the book paradigm that was created in the nineteenth century, and that we, as “adults,” are more comfortable with because it’s the way that we were taught to find and assimilate information.

My conclusion was that today’s generation approaches information gathering and learning based on a different more chaotic model, where social interaction is more important than structure. In short to survive and prosper we should start designing information not for ourselves, but for the next generation.

Today I came across this video – which makes the point much better than I ever could – the video’s focus may be education, but it applies just as well to the future of corporate communications.