Kel Kelly

Hey, thanks for swinging by my blog.

Whether it's topical news, internet happenings, social media, public relations, marketing, start-ups, mobile shiz or whatever, I promise to wade through the bullshit and give you my unbuffered perspective.

You'll note I never take on a "corporate tone" — whether I'm chatting you up at a party or speaking to the CEO of a multi-billion dollar company, my voice never changes. I say what's on my mind and I'm often the champion of the underdog.

I'm a social media junkie and smoke Google Analytics in a crack pipe to get my day going. I hope my immersed insight and offbeat view make you laugh. More importantly, I hope you take a second and share your thoughts by posting a comment. If you have any ideas on how to make my blog better, shoot an email to [email protected].

Peace out.

Archive for April, 2009

Brand: Perception Trumps Reality

Apr. 22nd 2009

Today’s brand association for Wall Street is best represented by the word “greed,” even though the vast majority of employees on Wall Street are honest, hard working human beings. The brand association for McDonalds is aligned with “unhealthy,” even though the restaurant sells salads. For many, the brand association for the Catholic Church includes “homophobia” even though every Catholic I know disagrees with the church’s position on gays. Unfortunately, the brand association for Iraq includes “terrorism” even though the majority of Iraqis are peaceful people who do not condone violence. And the brand association for Fox News is “conservative” even though….ummm….well….that one won’t work.

Why am I droning on with all these brand association examples? Because when it comes to branding, perception trumps reality. In my last post I discussed how the image of the “Boston’s Tech Brand,” ‘er…well I believe I said, “sucks eggs.” I had a couple of people who were offended by my premise. One in particular, posted links and went on a diatribe about a bunch of hot, Boston-based social media companies and icons. Unfortunately, if you were to play tech brand word association with people and said Boston, 99% of them would not say “social media.” That means even though we have pockets of hot companies in social media…and clean tech and robotics and whatever, our brand perception is not aligned with those sectors. Remember, it’s all about perception and often times the perception does not mirror reality. In other words, Boston doesn’t own mindshare for those categories of technology. Unlike the Bay Area who totally owns the perception of kick-ass internet companies, I believe Boston does not have an undeniable brand perception for any new, cool, or hip technology sector. Given that someone from Governor Deval Patrick’s administration called me after reading the post, it’s clear I am not alone in having this perception.

I also said in my post that we own that perception. As a region, we need to shift the focus from the stale, reheated regional tech icons who haven’t done anything in decades to people, companies, and organizations whose personalities mirror the image the Boston tech brand wants to reflect. Here are a few random examples:

  1. Tom Gerace : Tom is a repeat successful entrepreneur. Back in the dot-com day, Tom and his brother borrowed money from their parents and started Be Free, a pioneer in affiliate marketing. Tom took the company public and then sold it for hundreds of millions of dollars. Today, Tom is the founder & CEO of, a hot Web 2.0-based user-generated community for a niche demographic. Tom is wildly successful, approachable, real, cool, hip and doesn’t have a drip of Boston elitism in his body.
  2. Chris Hughes : Chris is one of the co-founders of Facebook who was also credited with single handily developing and executing the social media strategy that put Obama in the Whitehouse. Chris recently joined Boston-based venture capital firm General Catalyst as an Entrepreneur in Residence. Although he may be a recent transplant, he is ours now and we should be pimpin’ him as the personification of the brand image/perception we want to own. He is a young, hip, fresh face that represents the antithesis of the existing good-old-boy face of Boston’s tired tech brand.
  3. Josh Bernoff: When it comes to well respected voices in the tech world, Josh is at the top of the list. He is an VP and Principal Analyst at Forrester and co-author of Groundswell — Winning in a World Transformed by Social Technologies. Josh is as respected on the West Coast as he is on the East Coast and believe it or not that is a big, big deal. And unlike other East Coast authors of social media books, Josh Twitters, blogs, uses Facebook and truly immerses himself in that world.
  4. Scott Kirsner: Scott is an author, writer and blogger. His new book, Fans, Friends & Followers , deals with one of the central challenges that creative folks face in these digital times: how do you cultivate an audience and a business model that will support your work? What I love about Scott is he doesn’t allow the bullshit to flow. He is known to call out peeps who misrepresent and inflate their position of importance in the Boston tech world.
  5. Helium: Helium is one of Boston’s greatest success stories when it comes to today’s hot technology start-ups. While traditional media hits a wall at 100 miles per hour this citizen journalism hub has thrived. Big-ass publishers like Hearst have flocked to Helium to grab a lifeline in the tsunami social media has unleashed on the traditional publishing world. And unlike many Web 2.0 early stage companies, CEO Mark Ranalli has successfully monetized their business, something even companies like Facebook are still trying to figure out. <Disclaimer: Helium is a Kel & Partners client>
  6. MIT: MIT has it all going on: smahts, hot geeks, edginess, sex, sizzle, and a laid-back attitude — something the Boston tech scene needs to master. When it comes to tech innovation, I believe Stanford gets more pimpin’ than MIT due to the lift from the West Coast tech buzz. We gotta change that!
  7. Kiki Mills & MITX: Finally a tech organization that isn’t about wearing suits, bad hotel chicken and stuffy awards. Kiki Mills and the gang have done a fan-effing-tastic job transforming MITX into Boston tech’s version of MTV awards. However, it’s time to lose the “M’s” association to Massachusetts. This org should be national, yet Boston-based.

There are tons of other people, companies and organizations that would be a great representation of the hip, edgy, cool, fresh, new tech brand Boston needs to build. Who do you think they are?

Note: There has been quite a bit of rumbling about elitism emerging in Boston’s social media scene. I highly discourage this elitst approach. “Elitist attitude” is something we need to shed from our Boston tech brand image. The beauty of Web 2.0 is it brings the power to the people and the diversity of opinion is the essence of what makes the user-generated-content world great. Some people choose not to compete on number of Twitter followers and I find their insight to be slamadamadingdong.

Posted by Kel | in Uncategorized | 8 Comments »

Boston’s Tech Brand

Apr. 13th 2009

When it comes to being a hot technology brand, Boston sucks eggs. Unfortunately, the problem is bigger than a simple rebranding strategy and it’s not something a new logo or tagline is going to fix. Why? Because the personality of a brand can only represent the personalities of the people behind it. Here in Boston, our technology brand image continues to be driven by the same good old boy network of faces, many of whom haven’t changed in over a decade. Like the polyester suit that lets the world know you are out of touch with today’s trends, Boston continues to pimp “leaders” who had their glory days over a dozen years ago and haven’t done anything hot since. For the record, this isn’t about sexism. There are many fantastic, edgy new male personalities here in the Boston area who aren’t part of the “club.” The problem is that many don’t get the visibility or platform to emerge and help put a new face on Boston’s technology brand.

There is no judgment here, only a feeling that we are responsible for our own image. Compared to the Bay Area and Silicon Valley, the Boston area looks like a bunch of uptight peeps. When you go to a Web 2.0 Expo and Tim O’Reilly gets up in jeans and sandals, it screams the personality of the West Coast brand — hip, innovative, fresh, risk-taking, and relaxed. You can feel it the second you walk into an event. From newly minted Mark Zuckerberg (founder of Facebook) to repeat icons like Marc Andreessen (co-founder of Ning and Netscape) to three-peat icons like Max Levchin (co-founder PayPal, Yelp and Slide) their personalities really are the West Coast brand image — they are successful, casual, laid back and approachable. They live, eat, breathe and get totally cocked on the Internet-driven world we live in. Unlike our Boston area reheated icons, in a million years, they would never write a book on social media without being an insatiable blogger who smokes Facebook like crack and twitters to the point where their significant other is ready to kill them…or even better, their significant other twitters too.

What’s a Boston area peep to do? Own the brand. Change your ways. Vote suits off the island and for God’s sake people, lighten up. Better yet, shake it up. Have some fun. Throw away the PowerPoint and jump on Mac’s Keynote. We have all the ingredients to be a hip, cool, iconic beacon on the hot technology horizon. From being a kick-ass city to “wicked smaht” peeps from MIT to cool Web 2.0 start-ups like Helium to social media mavens like Laura Fitton (aka Pistachio), we got it all goin’ on. It’s time to start struttin’ some new stuff and usher in a fresh lineup of companies and peeps to represent the Boston area tech world. Obama hopes to put a new face on the United States brand. Isn’t it time we put one on Boston’s technology brand?

Are ya’ with me?

Note: I understand much of the tech world in Mass is outside of Boston. However, the rest of the world thinks “Boston” whether the actual physical location is Waltham, Woburn, Burlington or beyond.

Posted by Kel | in Uncategorized | 26 Comments »