Key excerpt from: 10 Things You Must Do to Earn Your Audience’s Trust + my footnote makes a great point in 10 Things You Must Do to Earn Your Audience’s Trust (my BOLD highlights):

4. Own your subject. You don’t need to be an expert at first. You should work hard to become one, but when you’re starting out, you should find the book other books and websites in your area reference. Read that book. As time goes on, pick up the books that book referenced.

Most non-fiction books tend to regurgitate what’s already out[,] ditto for websites, but by going to the core book and then going from there you will be ahead of the game.

A few things to consider:

1) The threshold to being able to help someone else with your expertise is often very low, because the other person is starting from scratch. In a sense, everybody can be an expert in the eyes of someone else at a given point in time.

2) In fact, due to the “Curse of Knowledge” (read Heath & Heath’s “Made To Stick”), you are likely severely overestimating the amount of detail someone you are in a position to help really needs. In other words, once you know a lot about something, it is difficult to put yourself back into the position of someone who doesn’t yet have that knowledge.

Most of the time you will just overwhelm them with information that they really didn’t need or could process at that moment. (Think just-in-time knowledge rather than just-in-case.)

3) Instead of merely piling additional detail, get to a level of depth that allows you to truly innovate. Offer a solution that is not merely 10% better, but 10 TIMES better.

(This is Guy Kawasaki’s formula for tech start-up success, but it really can be applied to just about all other areas of business as well.)

Offer something that reduces all of the detail, depth, and complexity for your customer or client by giving them something new. To get there, follow the advice from the quote above, and then reconnect the dots in a whole new way.

Brand Naming Lesson From The NCAA’s March Madness

The last few weeks have seen the annual "March Madness" surrounding the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament, with the conclusion only days away.

While the competition is fun to follow, especially if your favorite team or alma mater is still in the running, I’d like to draw your attention to some factors in play, hidden in plain sight if you will, that add to the excitement:

While there are countless multi-round tournaments in any number of sports, only the NCAA has evolved a truly outstanding "portfolio" of brand names surrounding the tournamant and its stages, each of which make use of the principles of good brand names (first discussed here), foremost of the principle of "rhythm, rhyme, and speakability" including by way of alliteration:

First there is the already mentioned "March Madness" to describe the entire procedure. Then there are the named tournament rounds, the "Sweet Sixteen" (what is sometimes called a 1/8 final), the "Elite Eight" quarter-final, and the lastly the "Final Four" semi-final.

Note that in large part due to the alliterations, the NCAA terms roll of the tongue much more so than the traditional, generic terms.

Now you may be saying, "why does this matter so much, I don’t even care about basketball…"

It matters because enjoyment derived from saying a brand name is a strong predictor of the both the viral success as well as the depth of imprint in the consumer’s mental real estate of that name. Making it enjoyable to repeat, to say or think more often, will accelerate the spread of a meme through a population, and embed it more thoroughly in the individual.

Rhythm and rhyme, including alliteration (which you could see as a form of front-loaded rhyme), are pleasant and also more memorable to our unconscious minds (that is the reason why you still remember most advertising jingles to this day).

It doesn’t hurt that each NCAA "brand name" is reasonably short, while also still being sufficiently descriptive/evocative of the things they are referring to.

In fact, they even take out some of the complexity of having to think of the somewhat confusing traditional "quarter-final", asf. terminology (number of teams left devided by 2), in favor of simply counting the number of teams still in the tournament. Simplicity is typically good. Simplicity wins.

Yet none of the names are too generic to hurt differentiation in your mental real estate. And they all are easily understood, requiring no spelling out (unlike this massive brand name failure). But the alliterations providing a certain rhythm and rhyme are ultimately the most important drivers in this case.

The end result is, more people talk about March Madness and its rounds, more often.

It is very likely that you were already familiar with these NCAA Tournament "brand names" EVEN IF you’re not particularly following basketball. Now that’s strong branding. You would do well to apply these powerful principles to your own brand naming.

If you can’t get all of them lined up for a given name, apply as many as you can. One thing we do know is, "March Madness" is a winner…

It’s been 13.5 Years, Microsoft!

Henry Blodget over at the newly rebranded “Business Insider – Silicon Alley Insider” (a hint of “Microsoft branding mess” in that one, no?), this morning wrote an excellent post on how the balance of power may have just shifted back to Yahoo in the long-running Micro-Hoo buy-out saga (of Yahoo search only, or otherwise).

I consider this a must-read to get yourself back up-to-date on everything that has transpired over the past 3+ months behind the scenes, while we were all busy watching something else, the global financial melt-down, say.

It is almost precisely 1 year and 1 month to the day that Microsoft first launched its unsolicited buy-out bid, and you know the endless back-and-forth that ensued. What stands out is that as of today, while Yahoo’s stock has fallen from its pre-offer price of about $19 on 2/1/2008 to about $12 (and Jerry Yang was so maligned for not taking Ballmer’s offer that he ultimately resigned a few months ago), Microsoft’s stock has gone from $32 to now around $17 during that time!

If you do the math, that’s worse than Yahoo’s stock has done. So who still wants to argue that Ballmer would have really been much better at steering Yahoo (or really worse: the combined Micro-hoo “Franken-carrier”)? Which brings me back to the headline, and this quote from Blodget’s post that sums it all up very neatly:

Another six months of Microsoft Internet futility.  Last summer, Microsoft had been struggling to succeed online for 13 years, and it had only managed to run a distant third.  Now it has been struggling for 13 and a half years.  The company’s Internet branding, strategy, and organization is in its usual chaotic disarray.  Perhaps the new search head, stolen from Yahoo, can cut through the bureaucracy and fix everything.  After 13.5 years of a lot of talent and money being thrown at this problem, however, we wouldn’t hold our breath.

So the saga continues. The patient (Micro-hoo) indeed isn’t completely dead yet… but Yahoo’s new CEO Carol Bartz now appears to have the upper hand in any negotiations from here on…

Note: In case you don’t recall how badly Microsoft’s branding in particular has been going, refresh your memory here. Branding is where it all begins, after all, how can you know what you should be doing if you don’t know who you are?! And hoping that an engineer like Lu, however talented, is going to fix branding and related woes is simply delusional.

You might also enjoy this post on complexity, and why even the 800 Pound Gorilla such as Microsoft cannot avoid it’s pernicious effects.