The Unbundling of Your Brand

Once upon a time, you’d buy an album. Maybe that album had a hit single in stores, but for the most part, you bought the album.

Once upon a time, you watched a network. Sure, you skipped around at commercials, but largely your TV stayed tuned to one channel that night.

Once upon a time, there was a single Facebook app. Everything you did on Facebook, you did in one app.

Today, assuming you buy any music at all and don’t just stream stuff, you buy by the song. You fire up iTunes or Google Play or your music vendor of choice and you purchase a track.

Today, you have a favorite TV show, but chances are you watch shows wherever they are. Maybe they’re on the actual television. Maybe they’re in Hulu or Amazon Prime or Netflix. But your loyalty is to the show, not to the channel it’s on.

Today, you have a Facebook app for everything. Pictures? Instagram. Messages? Messenger. Your page? Page Manager. Video? Hyperlapse. News? Facebook news? Paper. It’s not just Facebook, either. If you used to use Foursquare, now you have a couple of different Foursquares to deal with. If you used to use LinkedIn, now you have Pulse, Connected, CardMunch, and the regular app.

We’ve dismantled the monolith and unbundled it into tiny, bite-sized pieces that serve specific purposes. As consumers, we’ve come to expect that we can pick and choose just the pieces we want and leave the rest behind. This is equally true of content marketing, when you think about it. How often do you actually subscribe to blogs, websites, or newsletters, versus just seeing things passively come into your social network’s feeds?

So here’s the big idea to consider. Have your consumers, your customers already unbundled your brand?

For some customers, your brand may be your blog and nothing else. That’s all they want, and it may be all they ever want. They may never buy something directly from you. For some customers, it’ll be one product and one product alone. Apple has convinced a lot of people to buy iPhones, but an iPhone owner isn’t necessarily an iPad or Mac owner. For some customers, it might be certain select, individual tweets you make regularly. To them, that is the entirety of your brand to them and that’s all they ever want it to be. If you have multiple bloggers on your blog, one author might be your entire brand to them. I know I do that to some blogs – there are some authors I flag right away to read, and others fall in the “I’ll get around to reading them” and never do. I’ve unbundled that blog to pay attention only to certain pieces of it.

How do you know if your customers have unbundled your brand for you? Ask them. Survey them, call them, have some focus groups, buy them coffee – whatever it takes to ask them how they’re experiencing you.

Should you pursue an unbundling strategy, of intentionally making lots of little pieces? If you have the bandwidth and capability to do so, it’s not a bad idea to at least consider. If a valuable audience segment absolutely, positively loves your email newsletter and nothing else, then polish that newsletter up until it shines, because the likelihood you’ll get increased word of mouth is fairly high:

The one thing you shouldn’t do is force bundling on your customers and consumers. You’re swimming against the current, against the way people have grown accustomed to buying, to consuming, to enjoying their favorite brands. Can you refuse to let pieces of your marketing content be unbundled? Sure. You can stop Tweeting or blogging or sending emails, or have one and only one monolithic take-it-or-leave-it content plan. But in doing so you risk losing the interest of the hordes of people looking for their favorite aspect of you, and that’s a dangerous risk to take.

Unbundling is the reality. How you react to it will determine how well your audience can enjoy their favorite parts of you.

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The biggest mistake in your 2015 marketing strategy

Old money sign

There’s a mistake lurking in your 2015 marketing plan. It’s a doozy, a real whopper. It’s probably lurking in your plan right now if you’ve made one, and if you haven’t, it’ll be in there when you do.

The mistake is this: 2014. And 2013. And 2012. And so on. The past is what’s in your future marketing plan, and the past is going to hurt you.

Every day, I talk to people, to colleagues, to friends, to clients, and to prospects. Every day, I hear people mention outdated knowledge, knowledge that is now ineffective or outright harmful to your marketing. In years past, it was good advice, but times change.

SEO? SEO became content marketing and public relations.

Social media marketing became content and paid media marketing using social platforms.

PPC became RTB/RTX and programmatic.

The grand strategies haven’t gone anywhere – make great products, market where your audiences are, avoid saying stupid things out loud – but the implementation certainly has. The tactics you’ll use in 2015 will be different than even in 2014.

So how do you keep up? How do you figure out what’s relevant and what’s out of date? Here’s what I do: go old school and subscribe to a few email newsletters to keep up with the changes. If you can make time once per week to read through a handful of emails, you can keep up to speed with everything that’s going on.

Digital Marketing

My colleague Scott Monty publishes the excellent This Week in Digital, which is a must-read.

Content Marketing

Jay Baer’s One Thing is an excellent daily big idea delivered to you.

Social Media

The Social Fresh newsletter rolls out on Tuesdays with what’s new in social media.

Paid Media

Though new, Larry’s Links from Wordstream promises to have lots of good paid media insights.


Hands down, Search Engine Land has some of the best roundups out there when it comes to SEO, SEM, and local search.

My Newsletter

My Almost Timely newsletter a little more eclectic – it’s a roundup of what I’ve shared each week, broken out by category. Even so, it’s heavy on marketing news, so you’ll still get the goods.

Can you make the time for this handful of marketing newsletters? If so, you’ll drive the past out of your future and always be working with the latest knowledge.

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What’s your marketing scratch game?

Chris Brogan recently mentioned not having a scratch game when it came to pancakes:


I thought this was amusing, because as foods go, pancakes are fascinating. For those folks who aren’t familiar, a pancake is a breakfast bread that’s cooked entirely in a pan or griddle. The recipe for your average pancake goes something like this:

  • 1 cup of flour
  • 1/2 cup of milk
  • 1/4 cup of sugar
  • 1 teaspoon of salt
  • 1 egg
  • 1/4 cup vegetable oil
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder

Mix it all together and then put on a griddle in portions until cooked.

That’s a fairly straightforward recipe, and that’s where most people stop. They get the recipe, they cook the recipe, they eat. There’s an entire world happening beneath the surface, however, something that can up-level your scratch game considerably. The recipe describes the structure, and underneath the structure is the framework. Once you understand the framework, you know what can change and how much flexibility you have to adapt it.

Let’s look at the pancake recipe again.

  • The flour provides nutritional mass, and in the case of wheat flour, it also provides stability via gluten.
  • Milk provides a protein-based liquid transport that helps the leavener work and create gluten when water is exposed to gluten proteins.
  • Egg provides additional structure in the white part, and mixture stability via emulsification with the yolk.
  • Salt and sugar enhance flavor by activating additional neuroreceptors on the tongue.
  • Oil in the recipe provides lubrication and keeps the goods from sticking to the pan. It also creates a more rich sensation on the tongue.
  • Baking powder provides leavening via the release of carbon dioxide. This gives pancakes their "fluffiness".

Now that you understand the framework of what a pancake is and what all of the components do, you also understand what can be changed and how. This is what makes your pancake scratch game powerful For example, you can’t omit the baking powder without providing a different kind of leavening that’s gas-based. If you omit it or substitute it for something scientifically non-equivalent, you’ll cook up bricks rather than light, airy cakes.

You can, if you’re gluten-allergic, substitute the wheat flour for a different kind of flour. Doing so reduces structural stability, so you’d need to increase the amount of egg in order for the pancake to hold together.

You can, if you’re lactose or dairy sensitive, substitute in soy mile or almond milk or any other water-based protein colloidal suspension without needing to change anything else.

Want to reduce or substitute the sugar? Not a problem – in this recipe, it only adds flavor. You could substitute with vanilla extract and a bit of stevia.

Want to add dried fruit or chocolate chips or any other solid additive? Add a bit more egg or flour to provide additional stability.

Want to add a wet flavor of some kind? If it’s water based, substitute out a bit of the milk (such as apple cider). If it’s oil based, substitute out a bit of the oil.

All of this variation comes from understanding the framework of what makes a pancake versus what doesn’t. Once you understand the framework, you can customize and make exactly the kind of pancake you want to make. This makes your scratch game incredibly powerful. You understand the function, and thus you can vary the form; you understand the spirit, and you can adjust the letter.

Unsurprisingly, all of this applies not only to cooking, but also to your marketing. A recipe is nothing more than a tactic. (recall that strategy is the menu) If you just blindly follow marketing recipes without understanding what they do or what the outcome is supposed to look like, then you’ll forever be locked into the same way of doing things, rather than adapting as things change. Your marketing scratch game will be weak, and you’ll have to resort to using other people’s boxed products at a significantly higher cost and questionable ingredients.

For example, let’s say that you found a marketing recipe promoted by a social media expert that said you should follow 25 people a day and reply to anyone who mentions you. What’s the underlying structure? It’s about acquiring audience reach (follows do tends to net follow-backs) and engagement (replying to people sets the perception that you’re actually interacting and not just broadcasting).

Once you know those ingredients and what they do, you know what can change. If you don’t have time to follow people, a promoted account campaign can do the same thing with probably similar results. On the other hand, like the baking powder in the pancake recipe, you can’t substitute anything for engagement. There isn’t a viable substitute for acting like a human being and talking to people.

Take the time to not only acquire marketing recipes, but understand what the framework is that makes them work. That understanding will help you make them far more useful than just blindly following someone else’s experience and hoping it applies to your business as well. Your marketing scratch game will be amazing – and so will your business results.

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