The Corleone Family Brand Nation


I had the occasion to watch Godfathers Part I and II recently. Start to finish, without interruption. Although I’ve caught pieces of each many times over the years flipping through cable, I can’t say how long it’s been since I’ve watched the entire story unfold.

This time, it occurred to me that this is a story of watching the Corleone brand get built, achieve enormous influence, and eventually decline.

What happened?

Corleone Began as a Social Brand

We meet our brand visionary, Vito Corleone, at his daughter’s wedding—at the peak of his power—with  so many people packed onto the Long Island estate they’re crawling up the walls.

Yet there’s an intimacy here. This is a vibrant community of interconnected people, all feeling a strong sense of belonging to the Don—and because of this, to each other. The opening sequence of our story begins with an introduction to the Corleone brand nation.

But it’s not until Part II that we see the Corleone nation’s seed, its roots, how it was cultivated and why it flourished. Part II has always been my favorite of the two. Perhaps this is why.

The first most striking thing about Vito in the early years is that he’s an enormously social animal. Dropped at Ellis Island without connections or a word of English at age 9, by the time he’s a young adult, this man is dialed in. Another 30 years, and he’s a man of colossal influence.

“You ever need a favor, you come, we talk,” we hear the future Don as a young man again and again in the streets of early 20th Century New York. Vito knew how to run a social business. Building relationships with the grocers, the street vendors, his neighbors—perhaps the original Dale Carnegie, our Vito knows how to win friends and influence people.

 The Corleone Brand Delivered Excellent Experiences

But Vito knows it’s not just about cultivating awareness. The Corleone brand is undeniably about building strong relationships by meeting expectations and over-delivering in surprising ways. When a widow from the neighborhood petitions him to speak to her landlord and overturn an eviction, Corleone not only delivers, but also gets her rent lowered by $10 a month. When his business partners are squeezed by Don Fanucci, the Black Hand, Vito offers to get Fanucci to back down. Not only does he again deliver, he disposes of the Black Hand entirely, significantly changing the day-to-day experiences of not just his partners, but the entire neighborhood.

The Corleone Brand Essence:  Loyalty

The Corleone brand was built on a culture of service. With laser focus, Vito constantly considers the world from the customer point of view.  He doesn’t think about the expense of going out of his way to provide a service for the poor widow.  He takes on enormous risk by disposing of Fanucci to benefit the neighborhood.  He sees his actions an opportunity to build loyalty—to Vito, synonymous with brand equity.

And he’s right.  In Vito’s Little Italy years, we discover beautifully how loyalty becomes the Corleone brand essence and how magically it propels brand influence.

The Height of Corleone Brand Prowess

30 years on, Vito is still the essence of loyalty. In the opening scene of Part I, we meet Vito as he is petitioned by the local undertaker to do murder for vengeance. The Don asks the man why he should do this favor—the undertaker is not a Corleone customer and he’s offended the Don in the past.

In the end, Vito decides to do business with the undertaker because he’s in the habit of building relationships, building brand equity through loyalty. (Something that will come in very handy when he needs Sonny’s mutilated body cleaned up for the funeral.)  Vito seals the deal with Sicilian affection—a kiss, an embrace, reassurances that the requisite services will be provided.

Throughout both films, we hear the phrase again and again, “provide a service”.

The Corleone brand was built on a customer-centric, culture of service, grown from the heart of loyalty. In the mature full blossom of the Corleone brand, we then see Vito outside in the sunshine, enjoying the wedding party, smiling, dancing, mixing it up with his loyal customer base—his superfans.

Life is good for the Family.


Corleone Brand Erosion

But by the 1940s, the category has matured. The competitive landscape is fierce.  As power is transferred from the aging Vito to his eldest boy, Sonny, the Corleone brand goes adrift. Sonny is obsessed with power and stamping out the competition. His decidedly uncustomer-centric decisions are motivated by the promise of quick profit. Vito warns that Sonny’s interest in entering a new category—narcotics—will alienate their loyal customer base of politicians, judges, and police. Sonny doesn’t listen.

By the late 50s, Vito and Sonny are both dead. Younger son Michael is in now control and we see the great contrast between his and Vito’s brand stewardship. Markedly unsocial, Michael’s decisions are utterly centralized, informed through interaction with only with an anointed few from an ivory tower.  The few times we see him in public—at Anthony’s first communion party, in a Havana nightclub—he barely speaks and most certainly never smiles.

Michael Corleone’s key drivers are self-protection and dominance and this now becomes the Corleone projected brand image. He seems to have no relationships with his constituency.  In fact, he seems to have no relationships whatsoever.  His perspective on the subject of loyalty has become fully warped, centered on loyalty gotten, not given—encapsulated poignantly in the new Don Corleone’s order that his own brother, poor Fredo, is murdered.

In the final sequence of this great tragic story of the rise and fall of an iconic brand, we see Michael alone on the Tahoe estate, devoid of character, standing for nothing, remembering his early years.  We flash to a scene back in New York at the dinner table when a young Michael tells older brother Sonny that he’s enlisted in the army.

Sonny is furious and demands to know why. “I want to serve my country,” young Michael replies quietly.

Slow dissolve and we are back with middle-aged Michael in Nevada who for all his wealth and power is quite clearly an empty shell. We can’t help but wonder with him, “What would the Corleone brand be now if only the culture of service had been preserved?”

This blog originally appeared on the Lithium customer community.

“You Cannot Make Friends with the Rock Stars”

screen-shot-2017-01-04-at-4-13-09-pmIn Almost Famous, Philip Seymour Hoffman as Lester Bangs said something I’ve always loved. “You have to make your reputation as a journalist on being honest and unmerciful”.

I’m going to expand on that. If you want to be a real thinker, you must have unmerciful observations. 

Read the NYT with the same unmerciful eye as you would the rantings of a conspiracy theorist. Listen to Fox News with the same skepticism as you have for NPR–and vice versa. Watch CNN with the same critical eye you put to The Enquirer. Treat a White House press release with suspicion equal to  your three-year-old’s explanation of why the cat is inside the piano. Look not for what is right with the messages you see everyday across social media. Look for what is wrong with them. Listen without mercy.

We think today’s media is so ruthless and unmerciful. But the opposite is true. All you and I are hearing in the media are the voices of those who have made friends with the rock stars. The sooner we observe, rather than adulate, the closer we will get to truth.

This clip is not short (2:25), but it’s a wonderful treatise on the subject of bias. You can check it out here.

Added funny tip: Each time Hoffman says “rock ‘n roll”, substitute it with “politics” in your head.


The Future Workplace


Very interesting podcast on the Future of Work from PRI as a follow up to a recent Time Magazine cover story exploring among other things, generational shifts in the needs and demands of labor.

Apparently Alvin Toffler was on the right track as far back as 1971 when in Future Shock he predicted a future workplace not of bureaucracies, but ad-hocracies. Of loose, impermanent associations between highly specialized individual contributors.

When I first read the book, I remember assuming that it would be the corporations that would lead the evolution toward increasingly complex, specialized networks of human resources. It seemed such an efficient, attractive prospect to the managerial mind. I don’t remember imagining that labor would be the catalyst for dissolving hierarchical institutions into interconnected resource networks. What would be in it for them? No retirement, no paid vacation, no management training, no career path.

But it turns out to be the preferred avenue for labor exchange among the young. Gen Ys are less interested in perks like health care and paid vacation and less interested in the long-term security of corporate ladder climbing – all the things corporate bureaucracies have traditionally provided. Looks like tomorrow’s work force will be negotiating mostly for increased flexibility, which smart employers will learn to use to their advantage.

Of course, a networked labor force only works if each individual contributor is strongly accountable. The good news is, lack of accountability has no place to hide in a management-labor relationship that is entirely pure. No perks. Just work.

That we can look forward to a more entrepreneurial workforce willing to take on more risk in ad-hoc relationships with employers is good. That we can look forward to a workforce who assumes personal responsibility by paying for their own health care, vacations and retirement is good. And that, by it’s very nature, this evolved workforce is more accountable – marvelous!

Twitter Value Prop: Addiction?

addictionI’ve been wondering what the Twitter value proposition to me is for some time. I get what Twitter is, and yes, I Tweet, but I’ve never been entirely sure why Twitter should matter to me. Apparently, many share in my quandry, says Silicon Valley, The Harvard Business Review, Nielsen and others.

By a number of measures, Twitter’s metrics look pretty dismal. User engagement is low and customer retention even lower. Numbers like these beg the question, what is the real and compelling value to a business or consumer in using the Twitter application?

Even the CEO says what he’s shooting for in a relationship with his audience is addiction.

Customer Experience Optimization: Technology + Metrics + Culture

delightful_resultsWhile the Industrial Revolution ushered in the era of the celebration of product, the Digital Revolution now celebrates the consumer.

Because today’s consumers initiate and control the conversation, the sooner marketers shift from a product to a customer experience focus, the sooner they will reap the benefits of adapting properly to the changing marketplace.

More than ever, today’s marketers are increasingly interested in building optimal customer experiences that drive long-term profitable relationships than they are in driving revenue from widget sales. As they should be. In the age of the empowered consumer, marketing optimization is quickly becoming a function of managing the customer experience.

Shifting from product to customer experience marketing indeed seems a daunting task for enterprises with multiple lines of business operating across multiple channels. Exactly how is it done? Where do we begin?

Optimization is an ongoing, iterative discipline that is part technology and part process. It’s important to consider investments in each when making the move to customer experience optimization. Although technologies for optimization are easy to spot, processes are less so. The difference between formalized business processes that remain focused on product marketing and those trained on optimizing the customer experience is evident in two key areas: metrics and culture.

So where should you begin? By making investments in all three—technology, metrics and culture—in order to make the switch from product-centric marketing to customer experience optimization.

There are many forms of marketing optimization technology, including those that focus on multivariate testing, or controlled experimental design and rules management. The term “optimization software”, however, spans a number of applications from web analytics to behavioral targeting to paid search bidding tools.

The market for marketing optimization technology is emerging, fraught with change, overlap, widely differing approaches and sometimes contradiction. Keeping your eye on the fundamental objective of optimization—to ‘make as effective, perfect, or useful as possible’—is a good way to ensure that your optimization technology investments are sound.

Just keep in mind that s focus on controlled testing should provide the backbone for any marketing optimization approach no matter what the technology investments—or constraints.

What you choose to measure is as important as measurement itself. Marketers often take great pains to vet investments in measurement technologies and processes, scrutinizing features and methodologies to ensure that their new metrics capability is top notch. Often, however, the plan for exactly what they will measure is less thoroughly drawn.

How well your business generates and maintains long-term profitable customer relationships depends both on how well you manage each customer interaction as well as the entire experience across media and channels. Both the granular detail and the bird’s eye view matter. Your recent ad campaign might have generated huge lift in site traffic and conversion, but upon further inspection seems to have delivered rather undesirable customers. Order values are down and a high return rate has put a strain on customer service. Your successful ad campaign has in fact reduced profitability, but if you only measure ad clicks, you don’t even see it.

Customer experience optimization means implementing a metrics framework that measures your campaigns and programs by their ability to drive broader business outcomes than just clicks. It requires cooperation from many different functional groups, like IT, operations, and marketing and should include a plan for building communication and understanding between these groups. Because they typically start out with different needs and goals, disparate measurement priorities and data requirements, varying measurement infrastructure and methodologies, a proactive, considered plan for how to consolidate your metrics framework so that it still delivers value to each key stakeholder is critical.

“Optimization is part process, part technology.” “Customer-centricity is a journey not a destination.” “There is no optimization silver bullet.” Common—and quite true—refrains in the marketing optimization marketplace. Each of these statements infers that there is something else going on in the practice of optimization that can’t be addressed with black box solutions.

One of the biggest obstacles marketers face as they endeavor to optimize the full customer experience is organizational culture. Although marketers talk an awful lot about delivering great customer experiences, 75% report they have no single person named responsible for the entire customer experience from end-to-end. Silos exist.

Especially now that customer experiences are woven across multiple media and channels, multiple functional teams are usually involved in making them happen. Without a strong conductor on the bandstand, these teams don’t necessarily operate in concert. The ability shift from a product to a customer focus in your marketing efforts can be much more of a management problem than a technology problem.

Remember that you don’t use paid search advertising to sell widgets, you use it to attract the right types of customers who happen to be online at the moment. Shifting your focus away from the product and even away from the channel itself are key first steps in championing the move toward customer experience optimization in your organization.

And Speaking of Publishing …

imgresCouldn’t agree more with Seth Godin’s latest blog about the future of publishing both online and off. Although we will miss the morning town paper if it goes away entirely, Godin correctly calls our attention to the point that what we’ll really miss is quite a small percentage of it. 98% of the information traditionally packaged by the city paper is better served online anyway—stock quotes, weather, entertainment reviews. And with less felled trees.

Not sure Site entirely agrees with Godin’s statement that “we don’t use this to support that online. Things support themselves.” To our eye, purveyors of good content are still too timid to ask to be paid for it outright, but we’re optimistic that we’ll see a few breakthrough publishers this year that stop wrapping “free content” up in advertising noise and start asking their audience to pay for what they value.

Sustainable Publishing Online – It’s a Good Thing

internet_tacosSurprisingly courageous remarks from Jonah Bloom at Ad Age about where the publisher-advertiser-consumer relationship is going in 2009. Noting that online publishing has outgrown the amount of online advertising that might support it, Bloom thinks publishers need to find new revenue models if they expect to survive. Site has been wondering about publishers relying too much upon ad revenue for a while now and is interested to see if Bloom’s predictions for the coming year pan out. As online marketers, we’d love to see endlessly expanding ad budgets. But as online business people, we’d like to see more creative—and sustainable—online business models that break out

Internet Marketing – Good News, Bad News

yin_jangFirst, the good news. For those who make their living online, an impressive 68% of advertisers plan to increase digital spending over the next 6 months.

Now, the bad news.

Passing the holidays in lovely Tucson, AZ, Site notes that although our beloved desert hideaway of 750,000 citizens has doubled in size in the past 20 years, its town paper, the Arizona Daily Star, has noticeably shrunk. With each passing year, the news recedes and the ad space grows. Site loves the Internet, but still can’t help but morn the waning of a great American tradition–the town paper.

Malcom Gladwell on Innovation


I had the good fortune to hear Malcolm Gladwell speak at The Conference on Marketing held in Naples, FL earlier this week. His talk (refreshingly delivered entirely without slides) explored the concept of two distinctive types of creative innovation: Conceptual and experimental.

Conceptual innovation, he argues are those bold, breakthrough ideas that are well articulated quickly and delivered into the world. Experimental innovation is the slow, iterative process of exploration that may happen over a lifetime before it’s gotten right.

Examples of conceptual innovators include Orson Wells, Picasso and Herman Melville. Conceptual innovators tend to peak early – often the value of their output decreasing over time. The highest price Picasso ever fetched for a single painting occurred at the age of 26. Work done in his 60s is valued roughly at 1/4 of his peak prices. And we all know what happened to Orson Wells after Citizen Kane. Not much.

Cezanne, on the other hand, was an experimental innovator. He painstakingly painted the same scenes over and over again, evolving his genius in slow, iterative, baby steps. Cezanne peaked in his 60s, his later work valued at roughly 15 times work done in his 40s. Another experimental innovator, Alfred Hitchcock, explored the thriller genre again and again over a lifetime delivering perhaps his best picture, Vertigo, at the age of 59.

Gladwell argues that much to its detriment, today’s culture has lost patience with the experimental innovators. Musicians are now routinely dropped from the roster if their first single isn’t a blockbuster. Yet the traditional music industry is now in complete free fall according to Gladwell, because “you cannot run a creative business unless you have a combination of Picassos and Cezannes to create lasting value.” Long term, lasting value comes from a portfolio of ideas that include both the bold and groundbreaking as well as those that need iterative experimentation in order to mature.

Moreover, consumers form a very different bond with Picasso and Cezanne ideas. Picasso ideas get a lot of attention, but don’t develop lasting loyalty or significant influence (Friendster who?). Cezanne ideas may take a while to mature, but have much greater impact and create more lasting value over time. The Sopranos, we are reminded, didn’t have much of an audience in season one or even season two. But with a little patience, HBO allowed the writing, the characters and even the audience to mature and the series has now arguably has changed the face of in-home entertainment for a long time to come.