Tag Archives: two-second advantage

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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Why Brands Should Produce Content They Can Sell for Actual Money

I’m going to throw down a gauntlet here: The measure of great branded content is whether the audience will pay for it.

Most of the time these days, brands looking to create content dive right into the free model. They believe they have to foot the bill to create a web news site, a magazine, a book. And then they give it away.

Brands in some way have been doing this forever, from airline magazines to Mayo Clinic’s web site and everything in between. The web has especially fueled the era of free content — Wired magazine shouted that to the world in 2008 with its cover story, Free! Why $0.00 Is the Future of Business.

But there’s also always been another side to that story. Merck created its Merck Manual more than 100 years ago, and first gave the drug guides away to doctors — but later sold them to consumers. Now you can buy one in a bookstore or on Amazon — or buy one of its spin-offs, like the Merck Manual Home Health Handbook.

Weber, the grill company, pumps out a whole series of grilling cookbooks — and people buy them, at as much as $40 a pop. When I co-wrote the book The Two-Second Advantage with TIBCO CEO Vivek Ranadive, the idea from the start was to write a book good enough to sell to a mainstream publisher and make the bestseller list.

Bike apparel company Rapha publishes a literary cycling magazine, Rouleur, that it sells for $20 dollars an issue. Twenty dollars!

Harvard Business Review is a great branded content success. It is, actually, Harvard Business School’s branded content play — and it’s become a stand-alone business. These days, it’s available online, as an iPad app, and in the traditional magazine format. Buy an all-access pass for $99 a year.

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I can’t think of a brand that has created a new, digital content offering, and charged for it. (Let me know if I’m missing something.) But — why not? If it’s good enough — especially if it’s useful — people will pay for it.

Why should a brand even try to create content it can sell?

Well, for one, if you get the audience to pay, you’ll get a better audience. The audience will be invested in your content, so it will be more loyal, more likely to actually consume the content, more likely to buy into the brand.

And if we’re honest, free also lowers the expectations of greatness. If a brand is creating give-away content — it’s not charging the audience and it’s not charging advertisers — nobody expects the content to be truly, consistently great. The brand doesn’t have to lure the best talent or design a beautiful product. The burden is only to put out something that’s OK. So making a decision to sell content is making a decision to produce great content — and that can only be good for the brand.

It’s not about the money, by the way. As any media company knows, content can be a tough business to try to make a profit on. But, hey, if paying customers offset some of the cost while the content is benefitting the brand — what’s not to like?

Yes, sure, in a lot of situations, free probably makes sense. It lowers the barrier to getting an audience, especially when starting from scratch. Heck, this blog is free. If I charged for it at this point, I’d be lucky if my dog Louie subscribed.

But free isn’t always the answer. And when it comes to content, free may be the enemy of great.

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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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