Tag Archives: tibco

IdeaPaint and the Art of Branded Journalism

I’ve had the pleasure recently of working with a company that really gets the idea of branded journalism. IdeaPaint, based in the Boston area, is a young company that makes paint that can turn any surface into a dry-erase board. This may not sound all that impressive, but formulating the paint was so difficult, founder John Goscha went through three labs over six years before getting it right. And now thousands of companies use the stuff.

So IdeaPaint seems to feel it’s important not to be seen as, like, just a paint brand. It wants to be seen as an idea brand — a collaboration company, a company innovative people respect and admire.

One of the relatively new pieces to IdeaPaint’s branding effort is developing content that IdeaPaint users would find valuable. And a few months ago, IdeaPaint and its branding firm, Breakaway Innovation Group, got in touch with me.

The instructions were to write a short e-book about brainstorming. They wanted it to be thought-provoking and fresh — like something you’d read in a good business magazine. No one asked me to push the IdeaPaint brand or even mention it. They wanted me to do this as if it was, in fact, a magazine assignment.

By allowing me to be a journalist, I went looking for new thinking about brainstorming, and quickly found out that a lot of people don’t like the term “brainstorming” anymore. A couple of people I interviewed said they like to have a team “swarm” a problem. While writing the piece, I wondered what word to use if people don’t like “brainstorming.” The word “brainswarming” popped into my head, and I built the e-book around it.

IdeaPaint liked the word so much it adopted it and trademarked it, and now is building a bigger branding effort around it. You can see it here. IdeaPaint and Breakaway even made a video titled “Introducing the New Art of Brainswarming.”

This outcome is similar to what happened with Tibco a couple of years ago. Tibco CEO Vivek Ranadive and I co-authored a book. It was very definitely not about Tibco, but was about new thinking in the realm of technology and business and brain science. We ended up using the phrase “the two-second advantage” in the book. Tibco then adopted the phrase for branding and trademarked it.

I think companies are used to having brand decisions always drive any content the companies produce. But sometimes, by embracing a journalistic approach to content, that process can stir up ideas that can help the brand.

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Growing a Book, Part 2: A Personal POV

TIBCO CEO Vivek Ranadive is getting all sorts of huzzahs from the media these days — some for his company’s performance, and some for his personal elan, like in this Esquire profile.

Part of Vivek’s brand is the book he and I co-authored, The Two-Second Advantage. It’s worth looking at how that book worked as branded journalism — and how it could’ve worked better.

This all started because — as described in the previous post — the CEO wanted to write a book. Vivek wants to be seen as a Big Thinker in technology, and it’s been a good strategy for him, getting him on TV and written about in major publications. That’s helped TIBCO get noticed even though it’s relatively small compared to competitors such as IBM and Oracle.

A good path to Big Thinkdom is a book. Of course, the book has to actually be good, or it can backfire. It doesn’t have to sell that well — society concludes that just publishing a good book makes you smart — but obviously a popular book is better than an obscure one.

Anyway, Vivek and I met in a TIBCO conference room. He had some ideas about how computer systems were going to become instantly predictive, allowing companies to anticipate what’s just about to happen.

I’d been harboring ideas about writing a book on how human talent is based on our brains being instantly predictive. When I described the idea to people, I used a term slightly borrowed from Wayne Gretzky, calling it “the two-second advantage.”

Vivek loved the phrase. Our ideas mapped to each other. And a deal to write The Two-Second Advantage was born.

With the aid of my agent, Sandy Dijkstra, we sold the idea to Crown Business (a Random House division). Vivek and I split the advance and royalties. That wouldn’t have been enough for me to live on and work full-time on the book, so Vivek essentially sponsored me with some additional support. The book took about 14 months to research, write and edit.

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Importantly, the book is not about TIBCO or anything it sells. It’s not even about the current computer software business. It’s a ride through neuroscience and computer science and technology experiments and ideas about what can be. It’s a journalistic book. If you didn’t read Vivek’s bio on the flap, you wouldn’t know TIBCO had any connection to it.

After the book came out, TIBCO adopted “the two-second advantage” as a marketing slogan. I thought that was smart. It tied TIBCO to the book’s ideas, rather than tying the book to TIBCO.

The book came out in September 2011. In its first week, it edged onto The New York Times bestseller list. Then promptly dropped off.

TIBCO created a web site for the book once the book was out, but it remained static. It did a little advertising for the book, and we all (Vivek, the publisher and I) did publicity. In the end, the book certainly boosted Vivek’s brand, which is what it was supposed to do for him. (Hopefully it also informed and entertained a lot of readers and gave something useful to the world.)

On the other hand, we should’ve done more to grow the book and build an audience while we did the research. The web site shouldn’t have been static at the book’s launch, but alive during the book’s creation, and afterward. We could’ve built more lectures and events around the ideas.

We wound up with a bestselling book, which is great — and more than most people ever expect. But in this age, a brand can get a lot more out of doing a book than just a book.

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The New Branded Journalist: A Personal POV

It is with deep sadness that I say this: Traditional media is increasingly a bad place for a good journalist to work.

And it’s a scary place for a journalist who also happens to have a mortgage and a couple of kids in college and needs to ensure that money actually keeps coming in. Which would describe me.

But maybe there’s another way for journalists to get paid decently to do credible, fair work that contributes something to society. With that in mind, I’ve been working on establishing a new kind of “branded journalism” — putting together good journalism with corporate branding in a way that helps both thrive. without compromising either.

Journalism needs this. My story is like a lot of long-time journalists’ stories. I wrote for USA Today for 22 years and built a solid following as its tech columnist. Since I left in 2007, USA Today has gone through one round of layoffs and furloughs after another. Next stop, in 2007, was Conde Nast Portfolio – the most high-profile magazine launch in a decade. I joined as a contributing editor. In April 2009, the magazine was killed.

The economy sucked. The economics of print media sucked. Most every publication was also going through hell. So it’s not like there was anywhere to run to safety.

I’ve written a number of books, and that certainly helps. But in the book business these days, unless you score a mega-hit, an author is never going to make a living writing books through traditional channels.

As Portfolio died, I accidentally tripped into branded journalism — a concept that is still being explored and defined. I got pulled into two book projects, and both turned out to be a form of branded journalism.

One book was for IBM’s 100th anniversary.I had previously written a biography of Thomas Watson Sr., who built IBM. It made sense for IBM to ask me to work on its massive historical project, which led to a book that I co-authored. Making the World Work Better was, from the start, intended to be a serious, credible book — more “commissioned” by IBM than guided or sponsored by it.

Two other long-time journalists — Steve Hamm and Jeff O’Brien — wrote the book with me. We got paid decently, and never felt that IBM interfered with our work. And we created a book that was a serious look at where technology has been, and where it’s going. The book got some nice coverage in The New York Times and great reviews on Amazon. It was, no doubt, the most widely distributed business book of 2011 — some 600,000 copies in seven languages wound up in readers’ hands around the world.

The other book was TheTwo-Second Advantage. I co-authored it with Vivek Ranadive, CEO of TIBCO Software. We sold it to Random House, and then TIBCO subsidized my research and the back-end marketing. I couldn’t have afforded to do this book any other way. The book made The New York Times’ bestseller list.

These books led me to join VSA Partners, which had also worked with IBM on its centennial. I’m at VSA because we’re seeing demand for collaborations like the IBM book or Two-Second Advantage, and I want to help figure out this new marriage of journalism and branding.

Coming blog posts will continue to explore the emergence of branded journalism — as it happens before our eyes.

This post also appears on the VSA Partners site.

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