How’s this for underlining your credentials?

Videogames are a massive industry, and as a flagship title for the Playstation brand, Gran Turismo games take years to develop, millions of dollars of funding, and huge marketing campaigns for when they launch.

But there are two key activities which really underline the amazing credentials of the brand.

The GT Academy is amazing:

The GT Academy recently won a Cannes Lion for the best use of branded content. It’s an online racing competition which whittles down Gran Turismo players around the world to a small group who compete in real motorsport training and competition with the eventual winner getting the chance to race professionally.

Which is quite nice, but the real value? Previous winner Lucas Ordonez and his team finished in second place in the LMP2 class at the Le Mans 24 Hours.

Let me run that by you again.

A 23-year-old who had never raced cars spent a lot of time playing Gran Turismo, and by being one of the fastest at a videogame, he was given the chance to race professionally and has now finished on the podium at the most prestigious 24-hour race on the planet.

That’s pretty compelling considering how many car fans have at least a passing interest in motorsport, or even the slightest dream that they could have been a racer if only they’d had the time and money.

Living the product:

If that isn’t enough, the original creator and father of Gran Turismo, Kazunori Yamauchi, who continues his obsessive quest to make it the best racing game available, is also a talented racing driver.

As a case in point, he’s just  finished first-in-class at the Nurburgring 24 Hour race.

How much does it reinforce the Gran Turismo brand when you know the man with an obsession for authentic racing simulation is also quick enough to be a professional racing driver?

The closest non-videogame comparisons are probably films icons like Steve McQueen. His films may have been of varying quality, but there were few stars able to maintain the money he was able to charge. And so much of that was down to the ‘personal brand’ he’d built, including being a talented racer of cars and motorcycles.

 

I guess that’s why I’m so keen to build up my own websites alongside my client projects. I don’t want to just be able to refer to successful campaigns I’ve run or been involved with which benefitted from existing brand strength, or huge marketing budgets. I also want to be able to show I can do it from scratch with no investment, no hidden funds, and just time and skill.

Could the internet make us all nicer people?

Social networks, blogs and online identities have given rise to a lot of discussion and concerns on the best way to manage how you’re seen by other people (I’m trying to avoid using the words ‘personal brand’). And you’ll regularly see examples of people failing to realise that what they do online could get them fired, for example.

But is this carrying over to the offline world?

I commute every day on busy trains, and quite often encounter people who, for whatever reason, appear to be rude and inconsiderate, and sometimes selfish or offensive.

And 10 years ago, the only option was to either ignore it or confront them.

But with the rise of mobile phones and mobile computing, I end up hearing some of their conversations, and can end up accidentally catching a glimpse of their details if they’re sat next to me.

Now I’m not alone in this – so I’m wondering how long before we see more people being regularly embarrassed by photos, video and reports being uploaded? And how long before those uploads start being linked back to that individual – not only if they search, but also via friends, family, and employers?

Could this mean we start to see people act a little nicer in their everyday life because they’re conscious any transgression could end up on Facebook/Twitter/Youtube/Flickr, and how will this impact on the way we live our lives? Will it lead to a more pleasant environment, or will it end up like a bad reality show as the pressure of the crowdsourced surveillance becomes too much?

And should it become normal to presume that any public space will put you under the watch of the wider digital world as well as those around you and the existing Governmental cameras?

Why I hate the use of ‘personal brands’

I’ve recently experienced the benefits of banning myself from using the word ‘brand’ in a business context after joining an experiment by Mark Earls.

As a result, I’ve been a lot more specific about what I really mean – awareness, reputation, tradition, logos, content, tone of voice etc. But at least in a business context, I can see it’s excusable to use the term sometimes, rather than listing out everything it could mean.

But ‘personal brand’ – that’s just silly.

Branded by powerbooktrance (CC Licence)

Branded by powerbooktrance (CC Licence)

Because at the end of the day, a ‘personal brand’ surely means just three things? (Although I’m open to disagreements/suggestions for additions).

Awareness: Have people heard of you?

Reputation: Do people think you deliver?

Revenue: Are you able to make money from your awareness and reputation?

And I’d suspect much of the rise in ‘personal brands’ comes from people really wanting to build ‘personal revenues’ as a main source of income, or as security in case of redundancy.

But does an individual person really come up with explicit rules for their tone of voice in all communications? And is that ever sustainable? Do you really aspire to becoming Me Inc, rather than real person?

Personally, I don’t see Scobleizer or Louis Gray as brands. I see them as people who simply have particular personalities that might mean they absorb and share information at a high rate, or that might lend them to networking more, etc. They’ve built awareness and their reputations, but unless they’ve been branded like cattle, I struggle to see why we need to label them with a term that should really be retired with traditional media.

And the new breed of people chasing a personal brand appear to be missing part of the point.

Geoff Livingston has a great post which sums up a lot of the pitfalls of concentrating totally on building a personal brand.

But at the same time, I totally agree with much of what Chris Brogan recommends in Personal Branding.

Paradoxical?

  • There’s nothing wrong with building awareness and reputation by marketing yourself. But trying to build a ‘personal brand’ isn’t necessarily the right thing to do if you want to be successful in a large company. It’s better to be part of success, and then reference it.
  • Claiming a ‘personal brand’ could make you believe that you don’t need to work as hard on your latest project, because your ‘personal brand’ will save you – when you’re only as good as your latest project.
  • Personal branding actually contradicts Chris when he talks about being more than just one thing – after all successful branding normally relies on a core message.

And most importantly, the second you start thinking about yourself as a ‘personal brand’, you run a huge risk of sounding like a tool:

Cartoon by Hugh McLeod (gapingvoid.com)

Cartoon by Hugh McLeod (gapingvoid.com)

Promote yourself. Use the same avatar everywhere. Build a strong reputation based on great work. Interact everywhere you can. Choose Life. Just don’t call it a ‘personal brand’ unless you’ve tattooed your personal logo on your personal forehead!

The Bankruptcy of the Non-Descript

So far we’ve lost Woolworths, MFI and  Zavvi, while Whittards has been bought by a private equity firm after going into administration.

At least MFI and Zavvi still have websites notifying people of their current status – Woolworths has: ‘Our site is currently undergoing essential maintenance. We apologise for any inconvenience caused.  Please check back later.’

What’s interesting is that there are various reasons for the first three disappearing – the problems with the music industry, the downturn in the housing market, a drop in consumer spending etc.  And despite the possibility of a buyer for Woolworths, there’s nothing happening fast. Meanwhile Whittards was snapped up quickly.

Which makes me think this could be the start of something I’m going to call:

The Bankruptcy of the Non-Descript:

In Case of Bankruptcy, Please Help Yourself - by Noaz. on Flickr

In Case of Bankruptcy, Please Help Yourself - by Noaz. on Flickr

Put simply, Woolies, Zavvi and MFI all had a problem, in that they didn’t have a clear belief and description. Woolies started as an American ‘five and dime‘ store – but mutated over the years, leaving Poundland as the modern equivalent. (I’m not linking to the Poundland site due to the annoying auto-playing explosion that just burst my eardrums!). In the end, Woolies was a strange amalgamation of Pic’n’mix sweets, entertainment, soft furnishings etc.

Zavvi came out of a management buy-out of former Virgin Megastores, and at the time left a lot of people asking friends what had happened. Apparently the aim was to be different from competitors by having ‘exclusive and limited edition products in the future’. An aim buried in a wikipedia entry, and an interview in industry publication MCV.

MFI had all sorts of problems, but most importantly, look at who it’s up against – Ikea. I’d guess most people already know what the Swedish success story stands for, but if not, try here, and here. Functional, well -designed furniture that everyone can afford, with Swedish names, Swedish food stores, and bargain hotdogs at the end of the trip.  My girlfriend has been known to forcibly demand Ikea trips to placate her homesickness for Sweden!

I may have had similar excitement at the sight of a Marks and Spencers are months without a sausage roll or pork pie in the U.S, but can you imagine curing your homesickness with a trip to Zavvi or MFI? Even Woolworths?

This isn’t about having a national identity – it’s about having a distinct belief and identity that everyone can clearly understand, and that people can align themselves with.

This isn’t an absolute rule:

I’m not going to say that having a belief will ensure success, or that you won’t make it through 2009 without one – there are far too many other factors involved, from changes in consumer spending to Government bailouts.

But I do think that within each industry and category, we’ll see a greater survival rate for the companies we can believe in.

So I’m going to start tracking what happens, and I’d appreciate your help. It may become a wiki page, but for the moment I’d just ask you to let me know in the comments if you see companies going under, and whether they had a clear belief or not.

Watching Swisscom/LeWeb unfold in slow motion online

There have been lots of examples of online backlashes recently. For instance Motrin.

Neville Hobson has a really comprehensive round-up of why it’s not good to agree to supply a major online conference with internet access which then results in an epic fail.

The only thing I’d change is that the warning came at the very first moment they had a problem supplying LeWeb08, and they should have been publicly reacting from the moment it happened. It’s already four days after the event, and attempting to defend yourself by saying a major convention for online professionals and geeks is demanding on internet resources is a bit like saying that you were surprised when you put your hand in a fire and it was really hot.

If you’ve got 1600 influential online professionals in one place it’s A: the time to really shine no matter what the budget, and B: the time to have a backup policy in place, and some emergnecy planning.

Because no matter who is actually correct, or what the actual amount of service was, the chance to impress that many people in the current economic climate is pretty rare.

Contract it with the recent shining social media reputation management example from Ford.

Funnily enough, Neville has an interview with Scott Monty, who stopped the PR disaster.

Ford’s quick response to online communities which acted in haste

Earlier today, a lot of blogs and forums were buzzing with the news that Ford had contacted a fan forum site, TheRangerStation, demanding they relinquish the use of all Ford logos and trademarks and pay restitution fees of $5000. The coverage ranged from hugely popular car blogs like Jalopnik, to forums like Mustang Evolution.

It seemed particularly weird, considering the company had set up TheFordStory to reach out to customers on a more personal basis, they were featuring blogs and communities as part of Ford Digital Snippets, and one of my Twitter contacts is @ScottMonty, who is head of Social Media at Ford.

So I messaged him to ask what was going on, along with a few other people, and Scott immediately started responding on forums and blogs even while he was finding out the details.

It turns out that actually TheRangerStation was selling vehicle decals using the Ford oval – perhaps without any ill-intent – but a very clear case of trademark infringement. Particularly as something very similar happened back in January regarding a Mustang Calendar made by a forum, which was soon clarified.

What has been really interesting is that an official statement is on the way, and in the meantime there have also been emails from the law firm in question. And all the while Scott appears to have been actively searching out as many communities as possible, ranging from Digg to individual forums for specific car models, to clarify what is happening and update people as much as possible.

It’s to be applauded that they haven’t waited for an official statement before reacting – Motrin, for example, still have a post from November 20th on their homepage after the Motrin Moms backlash. (Edit – official response now posted)

If you insist on an official statement, and you only post it on your own site, you rely on hordes of angry people taking the time and effort to visit you instead of rushing to post an angry response on whichever site they discover the story. By actively going out into the community, a lot of sites have already changed their original posts, comments have been calmed, and many of the negative commentary that would have been indexed for all eternity by Google will now reflect the situation more accurately.

It does also raise the perennial question regarding accuracy – a traditional mainstream media source would be expected to contact Ford to get their response pre-publication, even if the response didn’t arrive in reasonable time, or it was a ‘no comment’. And while I wouldn’t expect that of forum posters, it should be something that blogs and people serving news to their communities should consider implementing, in order to provide the best possible information, and to resist the urge to copy and paste to follow the herd based on the assumption that everyone is telling the unbiased truth.

Even as I write this, there’s still a trickle of Tweets promoting the original story, with no fact checking whatsoever – at a time when traditional news companies are falling, and we’re all in a position to play a part in a huge change in new reporting and distribution, we should be making every effort to raise out game.

Musical matters to cheer the soul…

I admit to feeling a bit down when I got home from a reasonably pleasant day in the office last night. Not only had my car self-destructed at the end of my road, causing me to have to push it for 5 minutes to my house at the end of a long day, but then my internet connection decided to start playing up.

Still, two stories did brighten my evening considerably.

Bono enjoying a holiday

Bono enjoying a holiday

Brian Solis has a great write-up of what in reality is fairly inconsequential to the world at large – but fairly important to someone who protects his image and uses his fame to promote good causes. I do love the way the original Mail article tries hard to align his charity work with the scandal of being around teenagers, one of whom lists being a fashion party organiser as her occupation.

Riffworld

Riffworld

On a less scandously, and brighter note, when I wrote about the music industry recently (Behind the music, and ‘Why record companies are really screwed‘), I can’t believe I didn’t pick up on Riffworks. Fortunately there’s a good post about it on the Wikinomics blog by Anthony D Williams, which has a great quote about the free downloadable recording and software,  the Riffworld collaboration tool, and how it means guitarists can find ways to play together without having to advertise locally and carry their gear around in an old car or van.

How CNN and Citizen Journalism can move forwards…

I’ve already covered why the fake Steve Jobs heart attack story published on CNN’s iReport shouldn’t be seen as a fault of Citizen Journalism as a whole, and why we should all be encouraged to verify and fact check articles before we take them as gospel, or reprint them.

The Silicon Valley Insider has published a defence of their repeition of the story, but for me, it does little to convince me that they did anything other than repeated the story quickly to grab page views.Especially when they appear to justify reprinting any rumour that is possibly credible enough to be worth publishing.

‘Sometimes this information is fact. Sometimes it is rumor or scuttlebutt. Sometimes it is speculation. Always it is information that we believe is credible or interesting enough to bring to our readers’ attention.’

In their defence, the original story did contain a disclaimer: ‘We’re making calls, but as yet we have no idea whether it’s true.  Confirmation/denial the moment we get it.’

Anyway, in my opinion, as someone who has worked on websites with User Generated Content, and various levels of moderation, I think there are a few ways that sites containing Citizen Journalism can evolve.

  • Scott Karp covers one method. Rather than a totally open system that just requires an email address and solving a Captcha code – effectively meaning anyone can publish fairly anonymously, CNN and other site owners could actively search out anyone already publishing content, and select people who demonstrate a verifiable responsibility/ability. Increasingly this will be the role of professional Editors online, and although it goes against the ‘open ideal’, the main downside is that it costs organisations time and effort. Scott goes into more detail, and the restrictions he’s applied to Publish2 in a post well worth reading.
  • Sam‘s post on my previous article highlights the legal dilemma – moderate everything at a huge cost, or let it be a free for all. I disagree that we shouldn’t blame a company that encounters problems because they’re not willing to pay for the resources to moderate a service – but I think there is a third alternative – crowdsource the moderation. An effective rating and reputation system would indicate reliability and past success rates in the hands of fellow Citizen Journalists. And although it will be tough to make a system than cannot be ‘gamed’ to a large extent, it would have avoided an event like the CNN one – where an account is used to make one fake story then disapear. The better the system and the more effort it takes to game it, the smaller the amount of fraudulent users that will make the effort.
  • Increase the private identification of users. One easy way is to offer a small payment for articles, which requires bank details/paypal account details etc – or even some proof of identity before being allowed to post. It may add to the need for resources – but it’s less work than moderating every article, and would also weed out many of the fraudulent accounts.

That’s three possibilities with a bit of thought. I’ve actually been thinking about this problem for a while, and I’m working on some ideas which may help to increase the reliability of Citizen Journalism and Blogging, whilst also removing some of the barriers the citizen journalists and bloggers undoubtedly face – if I heard Steve Jobs had suffered a heart attack, would I know who to contact for a fast response, and would they be likely to respond? Or would my attempts to verify the facts mean I get scooped by a larger site or mainstream media and miss out on the benefits of getting the news first?

In a 24 hour, second by second online world where every moment counts if you want to break a story first, we shouldn’t blame people for falling for the idea that accuracy can be discounted in the rush to publish before anyone else – especially as the result of it backfiring can be a loss of respect, authority and readers.

But I also don’t think we should excuse it as a necessary byproduct of online journalism which can’t be evolved and solved. That’s just laziness. And many of the comments on the Silicon Alley Insider story pick up on this. In our efforts to evolve online journalism, it’s just stupidity to disregard all that preceded us in ‘dead tree’ publications simply because the digital world offers new opportunities and challenges. In my next post, I’ll outline some of the things that should make the transition from ‘traditional’ to ‘digital’ journalism, if the online world wishes to base itself on solid foundations and be taken seriously in terms of reputation as well as numbers and revenue.

Does Google mean I’m famous?

Just had a boost on a wet Tuesday morning – a name search on Google has always brought me up fairly quickly – but mainly because I worked on a pretty big website within it’s niche.

But having registered www.danthornton.net, and done pretty much nothing with it, I’ve ended up with the eighth result! Take that, owner of danthornton.com, who said they would consider selling and then never came back to me!

The plan was to use that address to accumulate my many networks and conversations, but I still haven’t quite got round to working out exactly how that’s going to work. In the meantime, simply redirecting it to my About page has meant that I’ve got some personal brand presence online that’s totally within my control.

And as Jeremiah Owyang pointed out, there can be big impacts on someone’s online identity and reputation in some circumstances….