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Sunday, November 22nd, 2009

Thoughts on Open Brand Standard

I am fascinated with developing Open Brand Standard. Currently I am researching and participating in expanding Creative Commons approach to Brand Commons.

With several years experience in providing branding service to non-profit projects, and understanding about sharing economy and Creative Commons, I has developed an innovative model called Open Brand Standard, which consists of four core principles: Brand Commons, Open Branding Service, Brand Heroes and Open Media.

The model offers a new way of thinking about brand ecosystem including high-level concepts and practical actions. I think a common pattern of current traditional brand ecosystem has four roles: brand owners, brand agencies, customers and media. These four roles will transform into a new level of performance under Open Brand Standard.

Brand Owners: From Creative Commons to Brand Commons

Brand owners can not only adopt creative commons for their contents, but also allow their fans to build a tribute brand project. For example, TED launched TEDx program to allow active TED fans to organize independent TEDx events.

Brand Agencies: Open Branding Service

Under traditional branding service, brand agencies provide paid creative service for brand owners. The Open Branding service adopts a different approach that is brand agencies work for brand owner without payment, but brand fans make donation to brand agencies for they excellent contributions. For example, an agency can design a poster for promoting Firefox which is a open sources browser, and Firefox fans can donate for the work.

Customers: From Customers to Brand Heroes

Brand Heroes refer to active customers who not only buy and use the product, but also join the movement of promoting the brand. I believes regular customers can be brand fans, then brand volunteers, and then brand heroes under Open Brand model.

Medias: From Controlled Media to Open Media

The usual way of building a strong brand is that brand owners launch advertising campaigns in media. I believe this approach still means brand owners have control over which media channels to display their brands. In contrast, Open Brand Standard allows customers to choose media channels even build their own media channel.

As Joi Ito emphasized in Creative Commons: Enabling the next level of innovation, “Technology allows us to connect in an increasingly seamless way, but the complicated copyright system originally designed to protect innovation has become a source of friction. Just as we needed open network protocols to create a frictionless online network, we now need open legal standards to resolve the friction that results from outdated copyright restrictions.”

The concepts of Open Brand Standard aren’t designed for any business organizations, but for non-profit organizations and some positive organizations.

Just as Creative Commons brings an open legal standards to resolve the friction that results from outdated copyright restrictions, we now need Open Brand Standard to build a new brand ecosystem, in which positive brand forces can make the world better.


Wednesday, October 14th, 2009

Free Consultant for Internet Entrepreneurs

This is a translation of a media report by Yongqing Lin that originally appeared in Chinese in Communication Information News on Nov 2, 2006.

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Starting a business on the Internet is relatively easy. Various programs, such as returned scholars venture parks, high-tech venture parks, and web 2.0 projects, stimulate young people to pursue their dreams of starting Internet businesses.

Even great ideas, however, cannot be implemented without sufficient capital. According to a survey on Internet startups, 37.1% of the startups require less than 5 million RMB, and 16% need less than 1 million RMB. No matter what the business is, it has to start with fairly substantial initial capital.

Investors keep an eye out for opportunities to earn profits while companies are willing to give up some stocks in exchange for development capital. Investors and entrepreneurs need each other, but because of information asymmetry, investors and entrepreneurs can neither find each other nor understand each other well once they do; therefore, many agents and media are making efforts to match the two parties.

A Young Consultant

Oliver Ding does not come from a venture capital. On his simple but creative business card his title is consultant, and the business range is corporate identity and venture capital.

On the Internet his nickname is Microspace, and he now works for private investors. His work involves business plan writing, IPO due diligence investigation, B2B brand consulting, investor relationships, website planning and consulting for start-ups.

I interviewed him at a cafe in Fuzhou. Initially, it was a bit hard to reconcile his shy demeanor with his dynamism as a consultant.

Ding sent me a copy of The Art of Start by Guy Kawasaki. He said if he could recommend only one book to Internet entrepreneurs, he would recommend this book. Guy evangelized Apple’s Macintosh to software and hardware developers and led the charge against world-wide domination by IBM. He runs a venture capital website to connect entrepreneurs with investors. Well aware of the rift between entrepreneurs and investors, Kawasaki remarked that the chance of an entrepreneur securing venture capital is as likely a person swimming on a sunny day being struck by lightning.

Besides Capital, Entrepreneurs Need Communication

Despite the difficulty many entrepreneurs still spare no efforts to find opportunities to present their projects to venture capitalists. During this process the role of consultants is important because they can provide professional service to entrepreneurs who usually know little about financing procedures.

In fact, the difficulty entrepreneurs have attracting venture capital derives from several factors. First, they cannot write good business plans; and investors usually require detailed business plans addressing issues like costs and growth potential as well as analysis of target market and consumer positioning. Furthermore, they lack experience with business operation, have no clear profit model, rarely have a good team in place, and lack sufficient market potential.

Because of his distinguished reputation on the Internet and his column at a noted Fuzhou newspaper, Ding is well known to many young entrepreneurs, some of whom have contacted him for advice. And Ding always tries his best to answer their various questions.

Ding said, “Because of the confidentiality of a business plan, a start-up team rarely communicates its projects with others, yet a team needs constructive advice. Many teams have great ideas but find it difficult to systematize them or find that the product demo does not correspond to the descriptions on their plan. For example, when I found some mistakes in a team’s PowerPoint presentation, I pointed them out. Several months later I found their product demo was completely different from the plan. They had to address various mistakes by redeploying people, improve technology and reposition products. They wasted money on all these steps.”

Once Ding talked with an Internet developer who was leading a team to develop a local B2C e-commerce platform. Ding found that they did not have a thorough understanding of customer needs and behaviors and would very likely encounter a development bottleneck if they launched the website too soon. In another example fewer than 100 days after launching a website, members of a team found that they still needed more planning of the design of the whole project.

Ding said opportunities and timing are among the key factors that determine the success of a project. Entrepreneurs need to have clear minds to study the ideas of project, customer needs and customer behavior models. They should not take the launch of projects lightly because after a website is launched, it burns money quickly. An entrepreneur should try to make sure his or her website can rise to prominence quickly and retain as many first time users as possible.

Ding believes that at every stage of a project, an entrepreneur should actively seek advice from users, consultants and people in the same trade. The advice from outside can help him scrutinize his project more objectively to improve it.

Stories of Internet Entrepreneurs

Ding stated that among the entrepreneurs he met, many started their businesses in rented apartments. For example, Mr. C. demonstrated for Ding an e-commerce platform website that allowed people to set up shops and browse for the latest commodities information. In addition, it also provided for collective purchasing. Mr. C. and his team chose a special market positioning to implement the e-commerce business model. After the presentation Ding offered three tips. First, in terms of structure, he suggested that the website must structurally strengthen the management of personal accounts, optimize navigation quality and improve the viscosity of users. As for content the website needed a reduction in the content to commodities of only one category. About marketing, Ding suggested to launch marketing campaigns step by step.

The seven-person team led by Mr. C. rented an apartment to develop their business. Because some team members still had other jobs, they worked in their respective companies and came to the apartment in the evening to discuss the website business. They took no pay and pooled their own money to support the project. At very low costs the team finished the first stage of the website development and already launched the website.

Ding mentioned that when meeting with Mr. C. at a cafe, Mr. C. ordered only a glass of water, no coffee or tea. His frugality was apparent.

At the end of my interview, Ding invited me to attend a business seminar put on by Fuzhou Internet entrepreneurs. Through regular meetings, such as the seminar, Internet entrepreneurs in Fuzhou share ideas and network with one another to broaden their horizons.


Wednesday, October 14th, 2009

Blog Bridges Six Degrees of Separation

This is a translation of a media report by Steven Lin that originally appeared in Chinese in Economic Observer on August 3, 2006.

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In the About Me section on his blog, Oliver Ding said, “I work for private investors, conduct investment banking on their behalf, and provide financial services to businesses by cooperating with agencies and investors. My responsibilities involve writing business plans, being engaged in IPO due diligence investigation as well as consulting and start-up consulting for B2B brand strategy. By 2000 I had worked for 6 years in the advertising and communications industries.” Known on the Internet as Microspace because of his unique views on communication and marketing, Ding has attracted a group of avid followers and dedicated readers and maintains contacts with many people in related fields.

Ding, a vigorous advocate of the Internet, has helped other bloggers with visual design projects by sharing his professional experience. He recently designed a new logo for the Chinese Blogger Conference. “The core design will not change, but some slight modifications will be made; for example, the background will change from blue to green when this conference is held in Hangzhou. The ambience of each city is quite different.” The first Chinese Blogger Conference was held on November 4–5, 2008, in Shanghai. Ding attended the conference, excited not only because the visual design he created enlivened the whole event but also because he met many bloggers with whom he communicated online for a long time but never had the opportunity to meet.

Other people feel the same way that Ding does—surprised to find many “strangers” calling his name. Over 200 participants of varying ages and backgrounds came to the conference from different cities. Some were college graduates, some venture capital managers, and some scholars studying abroad. People with such diversified backgrounds rarely find opportunities to gather.

In the 1960s Stanley Milgram, a social psychologist from Harvard University, the idea of Six Degrees of Separation. He stated that if a person is one step away from each person they know and two steps away from each person known by one of those people, then everyone is at most six steps away from any other person on earth. He believed that through a maximum of four people, anyone could establish an effective relationship with any stranger. Blogging has nearly made this concept a reality in the digital era.

The prototype of the blog appeared in 1994s, when 32-year-old Justin Hall instituted his own web log. He is now regarded as one of the earliest bloggers. In the early stages of the blog, bloggers had to upload the software to a hosting space because no blog publishing software or blog service providers were available. At this time the blog acquired its basic feature; that is, entries are commonly displayed in reverse-chronological order. Later as blog tools became increasingly convenient and simpler, the public enthusiastically embraced blogs; and the reverse-chronological order of entries is still in place in the Blogosphere, enabling a reader to become familiar with the blogger, often more familiar with the blogger than with friends or colleagues.

When Ding initially came to the Internet in 2000, the most popular websites in China were online forums. Switching from advertising to his present industry, he hoped to keep in touch with advertising pioneers; thus, he joined an online forum called Wisecase.com (also known as Internet Advertising Pioneer) to discuss the Internet and the advertising. He became acquainted with many interesting friends through this website and met some of them off line occasionally. Then as more and more people went online and more useless information appeared on the Internet, Ding moved to a new Internet application: blog.

“By the time I started blogging, I had already become disillusioned with the online forum. It is kind of waste of time and the organization of topics is chaotic. It is too difficult to follow a topic efficiently,” Ding said. “In contrast, a blog provides a good way to present and share your ideas continuously and clearly.” With RSS readers, he can easily follow updates on his favorite blogs. The flashing yellow flower sign on the MSN name list also serves to notify users about updates logged by their contacts. That is why when bloggers gather offline, they seem to have known one another for a long time.

Except for enabling readers to follow a writer continuously, a blog can also help readers find interesting writers and topics through hyperlinks that multiply in the blog world. With the help of permanent links and trackback, each blogger build his or her networks. With a click of mouse, readers can find people through other people in the social network.

From the blog of Issac Mao, a venture capital manager, Ding learned about the Opensource Opencourseware Prototype System (OOPS). Then he visited the OOPS website and became a member. Later he designed the logo and T-shirt for OOPS. In 2005 when OOPS was very popular, Ding’s work frequently appeared in media very often. He attended the OOPS Mainland China Volunteers Convention in Shanghai in June 2005 and met with Mao, who talked about organizing the Chinese Blogger Conference. Ding designed the visual identity for the event.

Issac Mao is one of the earliest blogger in China, and under his leadership the website CNblog, a group blog, introduced the blog to Chinese communities. Now Oliver Ding, Issac Mao, and many other bloggers are organizing various discussion groups on the Internet. The topics of the groups range from organizing the 2006 Chinese Blogger Conference to new Internet technology to Internet entrepreneurship. Everyone shares his or her experience and knowledge as well as expands networks.

One blogger writes, “To give an example, in my contact list, there is Oliver Ding. You don’t know about him, but you can know him through my network. He has many friends in venture capital on his network. If you want to know these people, you can do it through his network.” It may have been impossible in the past, but is possible now.


Wednesday, October 14th, 2009

The Stories behind BrandVista.com

This is a translation of a media report by Guo Wen that originally appeared in Chinese in China Business Journal on March 7, 2009.

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The Internet is an invisible world in which Rodney Cao has run his website for about 10 years. During this time he has established a stable and invisible network and “accidentally” established his own business. Now wherever he goes, he can feel the existence of the network.

Cyber-Friendship

Cao was very anxious and had trouble falling asleep one night not long ago: His 10-year-old website BrandVista.com was down because of other websites on the same server. He could neither visit his website nor take out the database. “Even though the website has experienced various challenges during the past decade,” he said, “it is still up and runs well 99% of the time. But this time I felt so bad because it disappeared.” He still sounded very uneasy as he told the story.

Friends in need

After hearing about Cao’s troubles, Oliver Ding (Nickname: Microspace), the former chief editor of the website, sent Cao an email from the US, suggesting that he transfer the hosting of the website to a server abroad. Ding also suggested using WordPress blog software to rebuild the site with a Nimbo magazine WordPress theme. He attached reference website links to the email. BrandVista.com came back quickly with help from Ding and other friends, including Rolland. “Finally, the Web2.0 era of BrandVista.com is on the horizon,” Cao said.

BrandVista.com weathered the storm with the help of friends. In fact, the successful operation of the website over the last 10 years has depended not only on Rodney Cao’s perseverance but also on assistance from numerous friends, whom Rodney has actually never met in real life.

Cao is an advertising veteran with many years of experience in 4A agencies. Observing the emergence of the Internet, he established BrandVista.com on February 23, 2000, when he was a group account director at JWT Shanghai, which is a branch of a top 10 international advertising agency. The site focused on marketing communications and offered weekly articles written by Cao to share his thoughts and insights. “Working on the site helped me organize my ideas, share information and experiences with friends who have the same interests, and explore new ideas,” he said.

“More than a website, it is also a community of people with a commitment to careers in marketing communications.” People often posted abstracts of English articles, and others volunteered to translate them. Cao contacted foreign scholars, for example, one studying Google, to get permission to post his articles on BrandVista.com. “I often received payment from media that published my articles. At the height of its popularity, a search of brand on the Chinese Google turned up my website as the first result. This level of popularity lasted about a year and a half,” Cao said. The website was clearly a pioneer among those specializing in branding and marketing communications.

An Invisible Community

Running for over 10 years, the site has about 10,000 registered users, many of whom engage in heated discussions on the website but rarely saw one another offline.

“This is an invisible community,” Cao said, seldom meeting members in real life.

“Cao is one person I know who really likes social networking websites. You can find him everywhere. He is on my contact lists at MSN, QQ, Facebook, and Linkedin,” said Phil Ren, the founder of MeiHua Information, a marketing research firm specializing in marketing competitive intelligence business.

When he established Wisecast.com (also known as Internet Advertising Pioneer), which is a leading website for online advertising research, Ren came to know BrandVista.com and left a message for Rodney Cao. From that point on, they became good friends; and now MeiHua.info and BrandVista.com have each other’s links on their respective websites. Ren regards BrandVista.com as the precursor to MeiHua.info in terms of providing information service, and he still receives BrandVista list-serv messages on marketing communications case studies and market trends analysis. Henry Yang, CEO of iResearch Inc., a prestigious Internet market research firm, was also active at BrandVista.com.

Dehong Wang, founder of Foresight Brand Management Consulting Co., Ltd., initially visited BrandVista.com when he started to do business with Cao in 2000. At that time a website set up by an individual was still a new thing, and also a rare thing is that is has been running for over 10 years. Focusing on marketing communications, BrandVista.com has attracted many marketing and communications professionals. Wang later worked on a brand manager website and engaged in in-depth communications with Cao. “By running BrandVista.com, Cao provides a community for professionals of marketing communications. He often wrote articles at midnight so that others could read them at their leisure,” Wang said.

Cao has said that he did not deliberately set out to create a community. “The purpose of some communities is unclear because people join them with various purposes, but our community is specifically designed for sharing ideas and experience relating to marketing communications. This is a cyber-community, and I try to gather and organize various marketing communications ideas and experience for others to learn from and comment on,” he said.

The website has become very popular, not only among marketing communications professionals but also as a place for students in the field to study after class. Jie Zhang from JWT said many of her colleagues have been members of the website for years. And every May or June, when students write theses and dissertations, the visits to the website always surge.

As a result of the formation of this cyber-community, Oliver Ding met Rodney Cao in real life fairly often. Whenever he came to Shanghai, Ding always made time to meet with Cao and even visited his offices at JWT and Ignite. Most of the communications between them are, however, done online. Later when Ding left the advertising industry, he became less active in this community; but he continued to visit the website often.

Xiaochun Chen (Nickname: Wu Yue Chun Xiao) recently graduated from college with an advertising degree. Shy but full of ideas, he took the opportunity to learn from others at BrandVista.com and reciprocated by translating many articles for the website. He now serves as a brand manager for a foreign wine company.

Unexpected Gains

“BrandVista has brought me many unexpected business opportunities. After all, it is said, No pain, no gain,” Cao stated. Through the website he came to know many clients. For example, a professional from D’Arcy Worldwide Shanghai, an advertising agency, knew Cao through BrandVista and later introduced him to the interactive business of Coca Cola China’s website. After reading an article on the website, the marketing executive of Bright Food Co., a top food purveyor in China contacted Cao to sign an advertising contract with him.

BrandVista helped Cao recruit employees and attract business while he established Shanghai Ignite, Ltd., an advertising agency. The management team of Ignite were all members of the website, some joining it when they were still in school.

The influence of the website is apparent everywhere. When Cao went to Yunnan Province to promote wine for his client last year, he simply posted a message on the website and found some local members to help promote the event.

Once the chief editor of BrandVista, Oliver Ding now works at a web application development company in Texas. When he was still in Fuzhou in 2000, he found BrandVista.com through a search engine and later sent his articles on corporate identities to Cao for publication on the website.

Ding then suggested that Cao change the website from an html format to a database-driven format to make content management easier. As the chief editor of the website, Ding was responsible for updating articles, creating illustrations for the front page, and writing weekly emails for members. In addition he also recruited friends to take charge of forums. Ding said the website also served as a matchmaker when a couple met through the website.

“I think that people want to participate in building the BrandVista community because they believe that advertising industry and marketing communications professionals need a platform to encourage one another in the pursuit of professional excellence. We believe this vision can help enhance our happiness at work, and as we work for the vision, we also contribute to the industry. As we benefit from this community, our careers develop; so making contributions to the community is one way for us to pay back,” Ding asserted passionately.



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