I Work For YOU This Sunday

This Sunday, I would like to help you do whatever it is you do. No charge. No strings.

When I started this blog almost 3 years ago (sheesh!), I did it because I wanted to help. I've slowed down my posting recently, but the urge to help others and share knowledge cannot (and should not) be quelled.

Why The Hell Would You Do That?

Fair question. I've been reading Seth Godin's Linchpin and he mentions the act of giving gifts - in fact, makes a case that our entire online culture is slowly turning to this type of economy. Well, I don't know about the whole web, but I do know that helping folks - YOU - who read my blog makes me feel great.

Godin says:

"I don't write my blog to get anything from you in exchange. I write it because giving my small gift to the community in the form of writing makes me feel good. I enjoy it that you enjoy it." (page 169) and earlier: "The act of giving the gift is worth more to me than it may be to you to receive." (page 155)

It so happened that I read those words this morning on the train to work. After my commute, I read the post, The Meme To End All Memes by Beth Harte and Geoff Livingston. It saddened me that one of their top 10 memes that should die included "#7: Requests for my time suck."

Who moans about people wanting your help? Isn't that why you started blogging in the first place? Ug, it makes me sick to my stomach. Sure, I ignore the Russian "SEO" requests and I've never been truly inundated, but I really cannot fathom responding with such vitriol.

So, I'm trying to counteract one of the memes Beth and Geoff listed. I'm not going to complain about all you people sucking up my time. I'm going to give it to you freely. It's a gift, dammit.

So How's This Work?

I'm setting aside 9am-5pm for you. Whomever you are. I will be available.

If you want help with plumbing, you probably won't like the results. But for questions about online marketing, content strategy, and a tad about social media, feel free to send your queries to OnlineMarketerBlog [at] gmail [dot] com.

For instance, you could ask me to...

  • Edit your business proposal
  • Assess your new ads
  • Do a brief website content assessment - where you should start, etc.
  • Brainstorm business/marketing/writing ideas
  • Develop a blogging strategy

As always, there's some fine print (see the * below), but it's basically a free-for-all. For 8 hours on my day off, I'm yours. How can I help?

(Don't keep it to yourself, either. Share this post through your social network and subscribe if you'd like to receive updates. You can unsubscribe at any time - no skin off my nose.)

*Generally first come, first served. I can refuse work. You don't have to like the results. There is no legal, binding anything associated with this help. Depending on quantity, I may not get to your request within the time allotted. I will keep all names, corporations, and sensitive information private, but I reserve the right to blog about the other stuff.

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Charlene Li's Open Leadership A Must-Read For Ethical Marketers

Charlene Li, formerly of Forrester Research and co-author of Groundswell, does with Open Leadership what so few authors would find possible: making a convincing argument regarding a real and very powerful movement in the zeitgeist, despite it being inherently fuzzy to understand and difficult to prove.

But just because it is difficult to determine ROI, does not mean the elements of open leadership are not effective. From Li:

"In actuality, the activities taking place on [social sites] are inherently highly measurable, but we have not yet established a body of accepted knowledge and experience about the value of these activities versus the costs and risks of achieving those benefits." (page 77)

The Value of Ethics

And not only is this leadership style actionable and (somewhat) measurable, but it also serves as a venue for your personal values. My favorite aspect of this book is the relation of an open leadership style to the leader's own ethics.

Li writes in great detail about trust building, personal values and humility. Social technologies and open leadership simply allows broader activation of the leader's (your) personal values.

When she speaks of humility, Li notes that open leaders accept "that their views...may need to shift because of what their curious explorations expose." (page 169) She quotes Ron Ricci, Cisco's VP of corporate positioning, as saying "Shared goals require trust. Trust requires behavior. And guess what technology does? It exposes behavior." (page 198)

You begin to understand that Li isn't railing against command-and-control operations nor does she dive off into kumbaya territory. But she does convince the reader that a world of ubiquitous social technologies, business transparency, and digital communication will require a different kind of leadership.

Open Leadership Isn't Trying To Be The New Groundswell

As a huge fan of Li's previous book, Groundswell, I couldn't wait for Open Leadership. But they really are two different animals.

I found myself wishing there was more about the inevitability of openness. That - along with KPIs and a few other fundamentals - are given short shrift. Maybe there's not a lot to say. Maybe not many studies have been done.

But unlike Groundswell, which was data-driven and highly intuitive, Open Leadership doesn't provide enough ammo for younger leaders to march these ideas into the C-suite.

In order for these ideas to be enacted, one likely must already be in some position of leadership. While Groundswell provided the facts and figures for anyone to persuade doubters, Open Leadership does not. It's an idea book, not a text book. That's OK - just something to know before you begin reading.

Buy The Book

Overall, I wholeheartedly recommend Open Leadership. It's innovative, smart, and unlike any book you've read before. All that and it's highly convincing as well. Do yourself (and your employees) a favor and read this book.

[I received a free advance reading copy of this book from Jossey-Bass publishers, but that did not influence my review of the book. I profoundly apologize to Ms. Li for a stunningly late review of the book she kindly sent me. Better late than never, I hope.]

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Brian Solis' Engage is Bloated, Boring, and Not Worth Your Time

This is a positive blog and I don't take cheap shots. But when I find a book so disjointed and frankly unusable, I have to mention it.

A lot of people love Brian Solis and I'm sure he's a good guy (this isn't personal). But that makes his recent book, Engage: The Complete Guide for Brands and Businesses to Build, Cultive, and Measure Success in the New Web (whew!), all the more disappointing.

Engage reads like a few reheated blog posts tied together with twine and gum. Here are a few reasons I don't recommend it:

  • We've heard it all before: I could insulate a house with each book that's been written as a social media primer. Solis offers only rote, near-impossibly-simplistic suggestions in the intro, manifesto, social media 101, 201, 202, 203, 203... Well, there's a lot you've heard before.
  • We've heard it all again. And again: Repetition is useful if ideas build on each other. Solis has few (if any) ideas that build on each other. (Just skip part 3 altogether.)
  • Shotgun, not sniper rifle: This is the most untargeted book I have read on marketing. There's no real audience. This book includes reams of information to the n00b and expert alike, but in such close proximity as to be confusing to both groups. Solis doesn't identify a target and hit it; he loads up with buckshot and prays to hit something.
  • Doesn't add value: There's just very, very little here that is useful to you in any way. For instance, chapter 20 - the "Human Network" chapter - merely collects lists of marketing frameworks without Solis explaining their relevance or reason for inclusion. We hear about McCarthy and Kotler's 4 Ps. Lauterborn's 4 Cs. Shimizu's 7Cs. Heuer's 4Cs of a social operating system. Armano's 4Cs of community. Mishra's 4 Cs of social media. Not to be outdone, Solis ends the chapter with his own 12 Cs of community cultivation. Why? What's the connection? We'll never know.
  • Unusable: Solis provides prisms and compasses and all sorts of visuals. These visuals have tiny elements that make them look well-researched. And while he sometimes gives an outline (chapter 21), there is little explanation of how the heck you can use these poorly-copied visuals. Unlike other books, Engage doesn't appear concerned with being usable.

The Good Stuff

That's not to say there is nothing good about this book. The hidden gems are certainly hidden, but they are there.

If you do read Engage, here are the pieces not to miss: socially-based business (pg. 106), importance of syndication (pg. 114), targeted landing pages (pg. 123), listening (pg. 209), and conversation audits (pg. 222-223). Sure, you have to dig for them, but they are good.

For Reals

Let's be straight: Solis makes way more money than me, people seem to love his advice, and he travels around the world to promote his books. Check out his Amazon and Barnes & Noble reviews - barely a critical word amongst them.

Maybe I'm the only one. Does my cheese stand alone? Or has no one had the balls to mention that the emperor has no clothes?

I'm not trying to start a fight or make this personal - but I truly do not understand the appeal. Engage is a dense, disappointing, unenjoyable slog through the new media landscape. Just avoid it.

Feel free to explain it to me or just tell me how wrong I am in the comments section below.

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Heath Brothers' Switch Not Perfect But Definitely Worthwhile

Chip and Dan Heath's new book, Switch: How to Change Things when Change is Hard, is not perfect, but it will certainly be useful to marketers.

The book focuses on ways to harness logic and emotion to guide the way to change (and the path that will help get you there). It's a metaphor that business owners and marketing professionals will find especially useful.

I've already written about this book - you can find it referenced in recent posts - but I wanted to devote the sixth episode of my Marketing Minute podcast to the book.

Find my review directly below or on the OMB YouTube channel.

What did you think of the book? Am I correct in my assessment? I'd love to hear your thoughts in the comments section below.

Read up on more of my recent book reviews or buy Switch on Amazon. You can also subscribe to the podcast for updates only when I post new videos. Thanks!

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The One Question Content Strategists Can Never Ask Too Much

Yesterday, I was in a tough meeting. We knew there was a problem. But we couldn't figure out the answer. (Sound familiar?)

We talked about capabilities, functionality, and process. Nothing was clicking.

Taking a recommendation from Switch, I asked a simple question that (for me) turned around the meeting:

If this problem was solved right now, can you describe what it would look like?

Immediately, the conversation changed. Once the goal was identified, all we needed to do was come up with a plan to get there. As strategists, this is our golden zone!

It wasn't until this morning that I realized why this was so important, especially in a creative agency.

Scott McCloud explains the six steps in the creative process in his (awesome) book Understanding Comics. The six steps are:

  1. Idea/Purpose
  2. Form
  3. Idiom
  4. Structure
  5. Craft
  6. Surface

For more details, just buy the book (you should - there's a ton of great theory in there). But creation process aside, just look at those words.

Remind you of an agency at all?

Account folks give form to our projects. Developers build the structures that hold our creations. Designers use their craft to create beautiful surfaces. (I'm taking some liberties with McCloud's list, but you get my drift.)

So where do content strategists appear?

We touch all points in the creation process, but our main impact is felt at the beginning of this process - shaping ideas from insights and determining how to satisfy users as well as the business objectives.

We all get stuck seeing only the trees instead of the forest from time to time. But strategists are required to see above the treeline and point the way toward the goal.

Asking someone to describe what a solution looks like in effect takes them from ground level where they worry about their position, their budget, their resources, their deadlines...and transports them to the end goal. Whew!

Once we imagine ourselves at the goal, it's much easier to turn around and figure out how we got there. There's less clutter. Less in-fighting. More solutions.

As the idea people - designers of the core content experience - it's incumbent upon us to guide the idea-creation process. And sometimes to take that first step, we need to just imagine being at the last step and then figure out how we got there.

What do you think?

Have you found that asking your teammates to describe success has helped guide your strategy? What hiccups have you faced along the way?

I'd love to hear your thoughts in the comments section below.

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How Bogotá Completely Changed (And Its Lessons For You) Part 1

A city in ruins. Rampant corruption. All systems - political, social, judicial - broken.

But, as it turns out, not beyond repair.

You simply must watch the documentary Bogotá Change. It tells the story of how one of the most crime-ridden, downtrodden, disbelieving cities made a transformation - in less than a decade! - to a city on the rise. (For a limited time, this movie is free on Comcast - On Demand > TV Entertainment > Sundance Channel. Watch it.)

Many of the ideas that started working for Bogotá in 1994 are the same as those outlined in the recent book, Switch: How to Change Things When Change Is Hard by Chip and Dan Heath.

At their core, both the book and the movie describe how amazing leaders created real change. But each also contains lessons for ways in which you can create change within your own life as well.

The rest of this post will list some of these ideas. But a simple blog post isn't enough. Read the book. Watch the movie.

And then, shake things up for yourself.

"Crazy" Antanas Mockus, His Superhero Suit, And Simple Problems

Antanas Mockus - Bogotá's first-ever independent mayor - was...not a typical politician. He was thrust into the spotlight when he mooned his university, for instance (with a slight nod to goatse, if you watch carefully). He also fought back physically against protesters at a debate - literally swinging punches. This guy was friggin' nuts.

But he was right about a lot as well. He put the philosophy of his academic life into action. He said, flat out, that he wanted to change people's morality. While he might misbehave, he was unshakably moral, striving for honesty in every action. Through this morality, he was able to change his country's behavior.

"I think that he was very clear that through education...that if he educated people, if people were behaving in a different way, then the city would transform itself." -Guillermo Penalosa, Director of Parks & Recreation

How did Mockus change behavior? For one, he dressed up in a superhero suit before publicly picking up garbage and painting over graffiti.

Much like Malcolm Gladwell explained in The Tipping Point in reference to graffiti elimination and fare-jumping stoppage in the New York City train system, Mockus fixed these small, but very public, elements.

As the Heath brothers explain, leaders create big change "by formulating solutions that were strikingly smaller than the problems they were intended to solve." (page 71) Change agents send the message that these small (bad) behaviors are simply not accepted here, which leads logically to other, bigger, behavioral changes.

And when these small behaviors were improved, people feel better about themselves not just as individuals, but as a collective people. Mockus frequently mentions how "we" behave.

The Heath's concur. "[The science] shows us that people are receptive to developing new identities, that identities 'grow' from small beginnings." (page 161) Mockus knew this. Create small change and link it to people's identity of themselves.

Soon, it became known that Bogotáns didn't disrespect their city by leaving their trash around or writing graffiti on the walls. And that meant the public space was to be cared for. That's how big change started to happen.

Traffic, A Thumbs-Down Sign, And Mimes

Mockus wasn't finished. Traffic in Bogota was another problem.

Citizens ignored traffic laws. Chaos ruled the roads. And the traffic cops were even more morally corrupt than average.

Mockus started small. He gave drivers a white "thumbs-up" sign and a red "thumbs-down" sign. How could this solve the traffic problem?

Drivers complimented other drivers by flashing a thumbs-up when that driver obeyed the law. When a driver didn't follow the rules, they saw a lot of red thumbs pointing down.

It's not that people didn't know the rules. It's just that there was no societal pressure to obey them. Bogotans were taking the easiest path (literally).

Mockus didn't stop there. He employed traffic mimes. (Yes, you read that correctly: traffic mimes.)

These mimes scripted proper behavior. They stood in front of trucks attempting to cut in line. They walked elderly citizens across the street, in front of cars that could have plowed through the pedestrians.

Scripting behavior works and the Heaths know it:

"Ambiguity is the enemy. Any successful change requires a translation of ambiguous goals into concrete behaviors. In short, to make a switch, you need to script the critical moves." (page 53-54)

I think it goes even further. Mimes are like children. They're non-confrontational; they can script behavior without raising ire. I think that's a huge component in their successful campaign.

This exercise showed that even the least infraction of the law would no longer be tolerated. It is thought that the mimes had an effect on the level of violence decreasing in the country at around this time.

Not Done Yet

I hope you've enjoyed part one of this study of Bogotá and Switch. Tomorrow, I'll provide a few more examples and reveal numbers describing the effect of these campaigns.

Please tune in later this week to read part two. Subscribing is a great way to ensure you won't miss it!

Update: Here's part 2!

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Neuro Web Design: What Makes Them Click? - For More Than Just Designers

Neuro Web Design cover Dr. Susan Weinschenk was the subject of one of my first blog posts back in November of '07, but I'm so pleased to again mention her and her book, Neuro Web Design: What Makes Them Click?

Dr. Weinschenk is definitely ahead of the curve. In this era where every click can be counted, expect to see clinical doctors, psychiatrists, psychologist and other highly skilled professionals applying their craft to business, especially online. This trend arrives just as online marketer's palates are craving more numbers to show the ROI of their strategies.

A Formula That Works

Dr. Weinschenk usually begins each chapter with an easy-to-read explanation of a seminal study, then delves into the ramifications of the findings, and finally relates these findings to online business. It's a familiar formula as you progress through the book, but it definitely works.

It's easy to make the connection between the study and the marketing goal; it never feels forced or phony. There were, in fact, a few instances where I wanted way more depth.

This flow - from science to application - is smooth and natural. There were a few instances where more science would have been welcome rather than colloquial stories, but these instances were few and didn't take away from the major, and very pertinent, lessons.

Good For Everyone

Don't let the title of the book fool you: Neuro Web Design: What Makes Them Click? is for more than just designers. Anyone who works in an agency - especially copywriters, content analysts, information architects and of course designers too - will get a lot out of this book.

In fact, I would agree there is at least as much here for copywriters and content analysts as there is for designers. Studies in human behavior can be applied to a number of disciplines, but copy's natural adherence to business objectives and messaging (usually a little more than artists) lends itself to this sort of rigorous study.

Science Or Theory?

One small note: I find that marketing books generally fall into two categories - think-y books without many citations like anything by Godin or Toy Box Leadership and then those with copious notes like Made To Stick.

Weinschenk's falls in a strange middle area. I understand this is likely an attempt to appeal to a broad audience, though I would have liked to see it fall onto the meatier side of the equation. She's so strong on the science, I hope her next book delves deeper into the studies, even if it's less accessible. I think many readers would find it worth the effort and it would be truly unique for the professionals who live and breathe online marketing.

Final Word

Get this book. It's accessible, compelling, and unlike anything else you're likely to read.

It doesn't matter your experience level or job title. Anyone who works in marketing, especially at an agency, needs to read this book.

Her Other Work

Read more about Dr. Weinschenk's work on her blog at http://www.whatmakesthemclick.net. She also has two podcasts (one audio, one video) on iTunes that summarize key stories in her book. Dr. Weinschenk - those are great, please make more!

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Smart Gifts For Smart Marketers

Train Reading1

I love this time of year. It's the season when people slow down, plan, and re-focus on their goals. I do it. You do it.

For smart marketers, a great way to stay up to date is through the very best information (makes sense, right?). So here are some of the books that I've found most helpful, most insightful, and the best guides for marketing in the coming years.

You can purchase items I recommend at the OnlineMarketerBlog store, including Kindles and books like these that I reviewed in 2009:

  • - Mitch Joel's Six Pixels of Separation In my mind, this is the first post-web 2.0 book and a must-read for savvy online marketers.
  • - Paul Gillin's Secrets of Social Media Marketing This is a great book to take your online marketing to the next level. However, newbies might be frustrated by the scope of experience needed to fully understand all of the lessons in this book. That said, this is great for those generally familiar with online marketing tools.
  • - Goldstein, Martin, and Cialdini's Yes! 50 Scientifically Proven Ways To Be Persuasive This is a book every marketer should revisit every couple of years. If you want to convince people - and who doesn't? - you should read this book.
  • - David Meerman Scott's World Wide Rave The perfect primer for business in a web 2.0 world. It offers a great entry point for new marketers and fresh ideas for more familiar readers.
  • - Scott Fox's e-Riches 2.0 This is a must-read for anyone dipping a toe in the online marketing world. It details everything one could hope to know and offers an in-depth look at the tools and philosophy behind today's online marketing. A little more basic than World Wide Rave, but a great primer.
  • - Hunter and Waddell's Toy Box Leadership This book is a good reminder of how to lead, without taking too heavy a tone. For the ambitious and parents, especially.

I spend over 500 hours per year writing this blog. And even more time reading and researching the material that goes into it. A lot of that material comes from books like these.

Marketers can gain the smarts and skills needed for success through books like these. But like Lavar Burton says, "Don't take my word for it." Try out some of these books, or others I've discussed on the blog, and let everyone know what you think of them in the comments section below.

You can read full reviews for all of these books on the Book Reviews page. Plus, my reviews from last holiday season might give you some more ideas as well.

(The links used above are affiliate links which means I get a small referral fee from Amazon if you purchase them from this page. This does not raise the price for you and it's a nice way to show appreciation if you enjoy this blog. Thanks!)

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The Freemium Option Better For Video Sites?

TV2

This week, I am writing a three-part series about business models for online video websites. Sites are changing. Online business is changing. Video is blowing up.

It's time we really thought about the best way to profit from creating and displaying video, while providing the best experience for the user.

Let's get to it.

(Quick note: Subscribing ensures you won't miss subsequent posts.)

What's A Hulu Subscription Look Like?

In recent days, Hulu – the NBC/Fox/ABC-backed video site – released and then recanted news that it intended to charge for service via News Corp. Deputy Chairman Chase Carey.

Carey said that Hulu would need to incorporate a "meaningful subscription model as part of its business." But he didn’t go into any more detail than that.

Most pundits assumed this meant a firewall-blocked subscription model in the works – a slightly backwards-looking model that succeeds best in scarcity: scarcity of quality content and scarcity in access.

But we don't live in that world anymore. The online channel has tons of quality content and most content creators/publishers are tripping over themselves to provide online access to their work.

The old version of a subscription model would be met with great hostility considering 1) there is no lack of free video content online and 2) it reeks of a bait-and-switch to start charging for something that had already been totally free.

So how can Hulu make money?

The New Creativity

I had already been thinking about this in my review of old business models (easily or not-so-easily) moving into the digital space. I detailed the changing business models in my post Why The New Creativity Changes Everything.

I advocated what Joseph Jaffe dubbed "The New Creativity" in The Beancast episode #76 around minutes 37-38. The short version is this:

  • The old creativity was centered around innovative ways that advertisers and marketers could loudly/rudely/creatively interrupt a consumer's day in order to push their brand message.
  • The new creativity requires that the advertiser or marketer create an experience so compelling that consumers share it amongst their peer groups.

So, instead of a one-way marketer-to-consumer system, we now have a system where marketers try to influence the influencers, while also realizing that they are in a dialogue with all consumers and potential consumers as well.

Sounds simple, right? It helps explain why we’ve seen the boom in things like social media marketing and the downward trend in direct marketing and TV/radio ads.

The "Freemium" Option

If Hulu is to succeed, especially when in direct competition to Google-owned YouTube, it needs to be nimble and creative. They need to think beyond non-contextual ads and firewalled content.

Largely embraced by social networking sites, a freemium business model hasn’t been adopted by many larger, more traditional companies. But it has the potential to provide a great customer experience and differentiate Hulu from well-known competitors.

A recent eMarketer study reported on an Abrams Research survey in which social media leaders were asked the best way to monetize social media (note: it doesn't say how they determined who was a "social media leader," but just go with me for a second).

The most popular answer? 45.5% of respondents answered that a freemium model would be most profitable – more than double the next most popular response.

Chris Anderson defines a freemium business model in The Long Tail:

"Already, one of the most common business models on the Internet…is to attract lots of users with a free service and convince some of them to upgrade to a subscription-based 'premium' one that adds higher quality or better features."

It is roughly a business where most of the basic services are free, but a percentage of uses pay for more/better/quicker elements of that basic package.

Flickr is a common example. Anyone in the world can start an account and upload 100MB of photos and 2 videos per month. This satisfies a great (happy) majority. However, a "Pro" account provides unlimited uploads, archiving, high-res options, and expanded groups.

The key is that the paying customers – the committed 10% let’s say – cover the cost of the 90% using a basic service for free.

A freemium model isn’t for every business. It favors businesses that are tech-centric, start-up/new, agile, and almost exclusively offering an online service. But what model could be more perfect for the era of social networks?

Let's See It In Action

Tomorrow, I will outline seven ways Hulu could package technology they already have into a freemium model users would willing pay for (heck, I sure would).

Sites like Hulu, facing competition from Google and a number of start-ups, will need to be nimble and smart. I hope you join us tomorrow to gauge for yourself whether my suggestions would be worthwhile for sites like Hulu.

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Mitch Joel's Six Pixels Of Separation: The First Post-Web 2.0 Marketing Book And Why You Should Buy It

MitchJoel

I attest that Mitch Joel's new book, Six Pixels of Separation, is the first (and best) post-web 2.0 marketing book.

Strong statement? Damn right.

Here's why I believe it and why you can't miss his book.

In A Nutshell...

For my money, Joel's is the first new media marketing book that assumes knowledge of the basic moving parts and launches right into how to use them for business. This book really is about how to market in a new age.

Most web 2.0 marketing books explain the basics (what is a blog/delicious/Twitter, etc), give examples (i.e. Zappos, ComcastCares, Amazon, etc.), and suggest you connect the theory and those examples in your own business.

And that's OK. There is plenty of room for books like that. (I recommend Scott Fox's e-Riches 2.0 or Chris Brogan and Julien Smith's Trust Agents).

These books help a lot of people and that's great. But there hasn't been a serious web 2.0 marketing book that went far beyond it.

Until now.

Why Is This Book So Great?

So why should you spend your hard-earned money on this book? Here are a few reasons.

First, Joel gives you the tough medicine you need to hear. It's not always easy or expected, but you're in the advanced class now, buddy.

I love the against-the-grain statements you get with Joel that throw the new conventional wisdom on its head. Gems include:

  • "The general drum-beating is that the consumer is in control, not the company. But it's not true." (page 94)
  • "The assumption here is that whatever it takes to get your message through all of the clutter is fine, as long as you disclose and are transparent about your intent. But that simply is not the case." (page 172)
  • "Until now, you may be thinking that everything we've talked about is about getting you and your business online. It's not. Getting online is easy." (page 187)
  • "[B]eing wrong suddenly becomes a powerful entrepreneurial force." (page 209)
  • "Let people steal your ideas." (page 213)

If those quotes don't pique your interest, you can stop reading now. Close this window and come back when I've got something better for you.

But I think it's more likely that thinking like this is interesting to most of you. It's not the normal stuff about community and the blogosphere and kumbaya crap. It's tough minded and it's about your business.

Another thing that is great about Six Pixels of Separation is that it lives up to the values espoused within it. Trust is a seminal aspect of web 2.0 and the future of business. But trust is rarely spoken about overtly (see pages 34, 123, and 125 for explicit mentions of trust).

Trust is less a topic point or chapter subject, but rather more of a moral to the story. And the book itself builds trust by building a case, point by point.

The Trouble With Link Bait

Is this a perfect book? Of course not.

I was particularly confused by his section on link bait (page 170-2). It was confusing and clunky. The section lacked a clear definition and I couldn't even tell exactly what he thought about link bait, much less his definition of it.

Having been on the receiving end of this topic before, I expected a refinement that was missing here.

But honestly, missteps like this are small potatoes in a book that is otherwise fantastic.

One Final Note As A Writer

I read a lot of marketing books. No really, like A LOT. (This is a small sample from just the last couple years.)

And no matter how good the author, new releases always contain at least a few typos. It's to be expected.

But this book has none! ZERO. This might not be a big deal to you, but to the writers out there, you know how cool that is.

The Final Word

If you know the basics, but want to be challenged, I wholeheartedly recommend Six Pixels of Separation. If not, this isn't the book for you.

If you agree or disagree, I'd love to hear your comments below.

P.S.: This book is available for the Kindle as well and you'll save a couple bucks. (Plus, Kindles are only $299. Just sayin'...)

P.P.S.: If you enjoyed this review, you might also like my recent reviews of other marketing books.

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Advertising Through The Years: Features, Benefits, And The Customer

OMB-Advertising_Over_Time-JPG063009

The header graph above illustrates a curious trend I've seen regarding advertising/marketing over time.

It's no surprise that our attention spans have decreased considerably. But over time, there have been interesting changes in the ways we communicate features and benefits.

I'm wondering: have we gone full circle? Do we care more today about products than in recent decades?

Epoch 1: Product Features Rule

Early advertisements featured a lot of text; consumers appear to have had more time and patience for ads back then. And the focus is squarely on the product's features.

Consider this 1898 ad for the Western Electrical Supply Company (courtesy of telmore.com):

1898_Western_Electric_Catalog

This ad fits into the first row of my header graph - it focuses on the product's features. In this case, simple brightening and dimming capabilities and the connection of a circuit sans socket or receptacle.

Epoch 2: Product Benefits Rule

This next time period focused on the benefits a product could provide, while still prominently featuring the product, itself. David Ogilvy defined it in his book, Confessions of an Advertising Man:

"The key to success is to promise the consumer a benefit - like better flavor, whiter wash, more miles per gallon, a better complexion." (page 25)

You can see an example of this in Oglivy's own "Head Over Heels In Dove" ad, seen on page 72 of On Advertising. (You can also find it as the first result in this Google search, courtesy of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.)

The focus is on the benefit to the consumer, rather than the features of the product. Additionally, the text is greatly decreased (though still far more than we would have today) - indicating a decreasing lack of consumer attention.

Epoch 3: Consumer Benefits Rule

As shown in the header graph, epoch 3 is characterized by an ever shrinking attention span, and a shift of focus from the product to the consumer, herself.

Think about your quintessential '80s beer commercials.

Products no longer seem to just add to the consumer's life - they create something new, something totally outside of the ability of that product. In epoch 3, a light beer can create an insta-party, complete with co-eds, cult status, and catchphrases. Here is one example (courtesy of idsgn.com):

Cotler's Pants

These jeans do not come with an orgasm guarantee, but it'd be understandable if you thought that from the ad. Whatever the ad is trying to communicate goes way beyond any benefit of the jeans.

Epoch 4: Product Features Rule...Again?

So what's happening today?

I would argue that in this fourth epoch - our modern day today - we've actually gone back to an emphasis on product features. This might sound crazy, but hear me out.

Ads are now just the entry point. Instead of being the only means of communication as they were before, now ads point us to websites where we can explore whatever information we care to.

You'll notice in my header graph that this epoch is marked by an even shorter attention span, but a wider one as well - to accommodate the research consumers do online. Think about all the time you've spent checking out products on Amazon or specialty sites like AutoTrader before you've made your purchase.

Augustine Fou touched on this process in his ClickZ article recently:

Modern consumers will tend to go online and do their own research to inform their own purchase decisions, rather than rely on what a paid ad claims. Finding objective information from an advertiser or simply knowing what information is official, standard, or true, is far more useful than the superficial claims made in very brief ads.

Let's take one more look at that header graph:

OMB-Advertising_Over_Time-JPG063009

So, what do you think? Have we gone full circle - back to caring most about product features?

In each epoch (shown by the white numbers in black circles), there seems to have been a change in behavior in how we advertise the product to the consumer (the little green guy).

Does this make sense or is it all a bunch of bunk?

I'd love to hear what you think in the comments section below.

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5 Reasons To Buy David Meerman Scott's World Wide Rave (And 2 Reasons Not To)

wwr

I'm trying a new format for my book reviews. Instead of a measured, logical summary and analysis, I'm just going to cut straight to the meat of it - here's why I think you should buy this book (or why you might want to skip it).

I recently finished David Meerman Scott's new book, World Wide Rave. I am a big fan of Scott's work - he's an innovator who has the guts to practice what he preaches. (He quit a high-paying job to write books like these, for instance.) You can check out his website at WebInkNow.com or check his Twitter stream at @dmscott.

So here are 5 reasons why I think you should buy his book (and 2 reasons why you might not want to).

[Sidenote: I read this thanks to Amazon's Kindle for iPhone WhisperSync. Hence, page numbers are between 1-2928. Sorry. You can use my citations to give a rough idea of where to find particular sections though.]

Get It

1. He hits on ideas central to social media marketing (and marketing in the future)

Scott emphasizes again and again that we need to think in terms of what we're giving to the community, not in old media terminology. He most succinctly put it as such:

"You've got to think in terms of spreading ideas, not generating leads. A World Wide Rave gets the word out to thousands or even millions of potential customers. But only if you make your content easy to find and consume" (pg. 959).

Tenets like this seem really easy, but they are still a major sticking point for marketers in firm companies. Scott makes it simple to focus on what really matters in a web 2.0 world.

2. He translates theory into language your boss can understand.

Or rather, he confronts your boss' out-moded ideas of how we gauge marketing success. His discussions about the old rules of measurement - tracking "leads" and "press clips," especially - reveal exactly why these markers don't make sense in social media marketing (pg. 1080).

And Scott speaks frankly. ROI obsession is causing your marketing to get boring. Like, soul-crushingly, lawyer-infused, uber-numbingly boooooring. And then he tells you why (pg. 1117 onward). (Try highlighting these sections before gifting this book to your boss or corporate overseer.)

3. Even n00bs can get it.

Scott speaks to the 90% who are still figuring out their online marketing, much less social media marketing strategy. That can be a tad frustrating for the other 10% of us, but hey, if we're meant to be advocates, we need to get off the high horse.

It's good that Scott covers the basics. No matter how new you are to social media marketing, I'm confident you will not get lost in this book. Heck, he even takes a moment to define social media - something that often gets skipped in even the more basic books (pg. 1261, the "Let's Be Honest" section).

4. He makes the case for true content marketing

Content marketing, as I understand it, just means that you garner trust due to the content you put out. It's not direct marketing; you generally build up trust until someone thinks of you when they have a need in your specialty.

Content marketing has its advocates, notably Joe Pulizzi from Junta42 and (to a slightly lesser degree) Rick Liebling from eyecube. But it's pretty rare for a marketer to call this out in such detail. He says:

"A good journalist [someone you could hire for your content marketing] can create interesting stories about how an organization solves customer problems and can then deliver those stories in a variety of ways...Consumers will love it. How refreshing to read, listen to, and watch these products of journalistic expertise instead of the usual come-ons that typical corporations produce [read: marketing schlock]" (pg 2258).

5. He's fun to read and that's rare

Have you ever taken a business book on your summer vacation? Here's how it normally goes: You have the best of intentions, so you drag this tome out to the beach with you. Before you know it, you've dozed off before finishing the preface and your snooze in the sand results in a bright red burn and your vacation is ruined.

That's how it usually works for me, at least.

I'm not saying it's a laugh riot, but this book is engaging. It moves. It has a sense of purpose. It's got a lot of examples interspersed with the philosophy. And that's miles better than most of the other books out there. And I've got the burns to prove it.

Skip It

Nothing is perfect in this world, so here are 2 valid reasons for skipping this book.

1. Lack of evidence

I don't expect every marketing book to be chock full of research, graphs, and charts like Groundswell was (despite how much I love that book!). But, a little supporting evidence wouldn't hurt, ya know?

And it's not like Scott doesn't provide a lot of citations - he does. But I feel like his most salient points are where he drops the ball in this regard.

Take for instance his argument about social media restrictions for employees. He builds up a case where those who have restricted open access for their employees in the past have been haunted by this decision. He provides a reasonable hypothesis of trends relating to computers, then the internet, culminating in social media. He provides all of the theoretical proof you could want.

But his thesis falls short without real-world evidence. Has Microsoft or Starbucks done this? What were the specific ramifications for Business X when they restricted employee access? Which companies have avoided this fate? I admit I was left wanting in just a few instances like these in the book.

2. Same 'ol, same 'ol

I was disappointed at a few parts in the book when examples were trotted out that I'd heard about months (nay, years) ago. It seemed tired. It seemed like something I'd read before. Seriously, I've heard that MailerMailer story 500 hundred times before.

But! (And this is a significant "but.") The reason I'm sick of examples like MailerMailer is because I'm such a fan of Scott's work. So really, this is hardly his fault. He's trying to reach a new audience with this book and it's likely they've never heard most/all of these stories before.

It's only because I have read all of his white papers and many of his blog posts that things like "Where the hell is Matt?" seem trite. If you haven't, then it's new to you.

Final Verdict

This time, I leave the final verdict in your hands. In other reviews, I have ended the post with a pithy thought and recommendation. But that kind of post is boring, to be honest.

This time, I'd like to hear from you. Would you buy David's book from this post? Or, if you have read it, what did you think? Would you recommend it to others? (Better yet, if you read his blog and white papers but haven't bought the book - will you?)

I enjoyed the book and believe I'm a better marketer for reading it. Plus, because Scott practices what he preaches, he gave away the book during the first five days of publication and I essentially read it for free (Thanks, David!). So, while I have no real obligation, if it made me a better marketer, as a gentlemen I damn well better talk about it, right?

So, what do you think? Would you read World Wide Rave? Or did you read it? What did you think?

P.S.: If you enjoyed this review, you might also like my recent review of Paul Gillin’s Secrets of Social Media Marketing; Goldstein, Martin, and Cialdini's Yes! 50 Scientifically Proven Ways To Be Persuasive; and my list of the top 5 gift books for marketers.

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Book Review: Yes! 50 Scientifically Proven Ways To Be Persuasive

yes

Authors Noah Goldstein, Steve Martin, and Robert Cialdini provide what they promise: 50 case studies where science determined the difference between "yes" and "no" responses.

The book feels like a quick read - the 50 chapters are short and the writing style familiar. But Yes! 50 Scientifically Proven Ways To Be Persuasive stands out for two reasons: everything is backed up by hard data and there is a prominent focus on the ethical use of these studies throughout the book.

Gimme The Facts, Ma'am

Remember how much I liked Groundswell? Yes! might not have quite as much data, but it comes close. It isn't bogged down with numbers, but the authors are very clear about the research and testing that goes into their conclusions.

For instance, let's imagine that your business relies on your employees to make deals with other people. In one of the Yes! tests, when one group of test subjects was asked to mimic an negotiator's physical behavior, they reached a deal 67% of the time. Think about your imaginary business for a second. How much would a 10% decrease in deal-making hurt you? What about 20%? Then, when I tell you that non-mimicking pairs of negotiators reached a deal only 12.5% of the time - a difference of more than 54% - you might start believing in the author's persuasive techniques (page 135).

Giving Marketers A Good Name?

The other major reason why I encourage you read this book is because the ethical ramifications of our work is never hidden away (also making a good gift for college students or young marketers learning the ropes).

They advocate that not only is unethical marketing morally distasteful, but that it's less profitable too. In one example, the authors contend,

"Often the first influence strategy that comes to mind will not be the most ethical - or the wisest, as was demonstrated...as ethical persuaders, we can take comfort in knowing that those who do choose to wield social influence as a destructive weapon, rather than a constructive tool, will inevitably end up pointing that weapon at themselves and shooting themselves in the foot" (page 220).

We are in more desperate times than usual, but we are also reaping the fruits of social media marketing where, improbably, the good guys (Zappos, others) really can win.

Buy It Or Skip It?

This isn't a perfect book by any means. A few of the stories are boring, a little of the humor falls flat. But these aren't damning failures by any means.

I'd say buy it. The hard cover is usually under $20 and the soft cover even less. It's perfect for a business trip and quick enough to be read in a weekend. Pick up Yes! 50 Scientifically Proven Ways To Be Persuasive.

There are a lot of airy, feel-good marketing books out there and they have their place (usually for marketers new to online or social media marketing). But the 10% who have been dabbling for years in this arena don't need those types of books. They need Yes! types of books.

P.S.: If you enjoyed this review, you might also like my recent review of Paul Gillin's Secrets of Social Media Marketing and my list of the top 5 gift books for marketers.

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Top 5 Gift Books For Online Marketers

As you plan for Christmas, Hanukkah, or other holidays this season, you might have a marketer, writer, or advertising person on your list. If so, this is the post for you.

I've written before about the need for marketing folks to always be studying, constantly learning their craft. Here are the top five books that marketers on your list will need to succeed in 2009.

Top 5 Gift Books For Marketers

1. Groundswell: Winning in a World of Transformed by Social Technologies by Charlene Li and Josh Bernoff - This is my pick for best marketing book of 2008. Li and Bernoff explain social media marketing with more analysis, data, and charts than any other book on this list. Every page is filled with nuggets of wisdom, but be warned: this is not a book for the uninitiated. Readers should have a basic understanding of marketing and online behavior to get the most out of this book.

Who should receive this book?: Hard-core marketers, social media junkies, small businesspeople who already "get" blogging and Twitter.

2. Made To Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die by Chip and Dan Heath - You may have read the Heath brother's monthly article in Fast Company magazine. Like their articles, this book is always thought provoking, drawing from research that crosses the boundary of marketing into psychology and sociology. There is a science to persuasion and a commonality in successful marketing campaigns. This book does a great job of explaining why and how you can replicate that success.

Who should receive this book?: Young creatives at a marketing or advertising firm, psychologists turned businesspeople, marketers who want to understand how to "go viral."

3. Join The Conversation: How to Engage Marketing-Weary Consumers with the Power of Community, Dialogue, and Partnership by Joseph Jaffe - Jaffe is one of the leading thinkers and proponents of new marketing. As a thought leader, it's no surprise that his book is chock full of insight. This book is intended not just to teach marketers the particular skills they need to thrive in this new environment, but also to change their very way of thinking. It's not quite as radical as that sounds - it is always pragmatic - but it is certainly convincing that the ways of marketing have indeed changed forever.

Who should receive this book?: College students considering a career in marketing, retired marketers looking for new thoughts and ideas, businesspeople in other departments who are curious about the changes they may see in their own marketing department in the future.

4. Secrets of Social Media Marketing: How to Use Online Conversations and Customer Communities to Turbo-Charge Your Business by Paul Gillin - Gillin says that the book is intended for the 90% of marketers who are not yet comfortable with social media marketing tools. As a member of the 10% who are, I would disagree. I got a lot out of this book. It's full of examples and great tips, but most importantly provides a complete overview of the social media world. My personal copy is marked up and dog-eared - a sure sign of a useful book.

Who should receive this book? Old-school marketers pessimistic about this "Web 2.0 stuff," work-from-home Moms building a new business, the I.T. guy you fight with whenever you want to include more functionality on your website.

5. Ogilvy On Advertising by David Ogilvy - Do you notice how much shorter this title is compared to the others? The book reads the very same way. Ogilvy, likely a master of the art before you were born, says what needs saying and nothing more. Though the book was published in 1983, the universal truths provided in the book stand the test of time. It pays to know where your industry came from, in order to really move it forward.

Who should receive this book? Idealistic young advertising staff, copywriters of any age, the agency tough-guy who needs to hear advice from the original Ad Man.

Only For The Hard-Core

It's a little tough to imagine, but if the marketing person on your list is the hardest of hard-core, they may like a MarketingSherpa report under the tree. They're a little pricey, but the amount of money saved by taking their advice makes it worth it.

I recommend either the 2009 Email Marketing Benchmark Guide or the 2009 Search Marketing Benchmark Guide (on sale). Not for amateurs!

My Hope

My sincere hope is that you have friends and family to share the holidays with. And if you're able to afford gifts this season, I hope you consider the ones I mentioned above. They've truly helped me this year and I hope they do the same for the marketer on your list.

If this post was helpful, stumbles and re-tweets are like holiday gifts for me!

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(Note: I am an affiliate with Amazon and MarketingSherpa, but I've read every page of the five books I listed and think they are absolutely worth purchasing. My commission is like, 3 cents anyway.)

(Image courtesy of Randy Son Of Robert via Flickr)

5 New Social Media Jobs You Will Fill In The Next 5 Years

Social media has already changed business profoundly. If yours hasn't, you are already behind the curve. If you have customers, their expectations regarding how they interact with businesses has likely already shifted dramatically.

So how will you deal with these changes in your business? They will surely impact marketing and legal, perhaps even I.T. But what else is on the horizon?

This is my list of five employees you might hire in the next five years (and whose positions didn't exist five years ago). Part of this equation depends on how big you are and how ingrained social media becomes in your business. Another aspect is your company's size - smaller companies may likely combine aspects of these jobs.

That said, it's likely that someone will need to fill the following positions in some way. How are you preparing?

  1. International Community Compliance Chief: Facebook and MySpace may be dominant in the U.S., but how much attention are you paying to social networks in other countries? Do you have a presence on Korea's Cyworld, Orkut (huge in Brazil), Mixi in Japan, Bebo in the UK, or Grono in Poland? Someone in your company needs to claim the company name on all of these sites, oversee even moderate design, set up unique referral links, and ensure that all of these efforts match your company's over-arching strategy. (Thanks to Paul Gillin's Secrets of Social Media Marketing for these examples, roughly on pages 101-106.)
  2. Community Manager: People are talking about your brand. If they do it within the auspices of the company, in a sanctioned forum, message board, or internal blog, you will need a community manager. This employee needs to both ensure (through personal interaction) that the community is a valuable assets without spammers or flamers (definition #1) and they need to set up the internal documentation with which you regulate employee interaction. These people are the face of your brand to the outside world and the customer ambassador to internal staff.
  3. Online Reputation Manager: While the community manager has a public presence and is sanctioned to act, an online reputation manager is wider-reaching in their scope, but largely hidden from public view. This is the person you turn to when you need to know which online influencers are talking about your brand. They need to have a comprehensive view of your competitors' online reputation. They need to identify openings in the market or current customers' requests. The online reputation manager is the spy agency (within reason) for your company.
  4. Blogger Outreach Manager/Blog Cultivation Expert: A lot has been said about the right way to approach bloggers and the wrong way to approach bloggers. Do you have an expert on your staff who already has relationships with bloggers in your industry? Everyone needs good PR or the occasional digg/stumble/sphinn/[insert goofy web 2.0 term of the day]. "[Bloggers] are a potentially significant new constituency for public relations efforts, and they are the engine that drives successful viral marketing promotions" (Paul Gillin's Secrets of Social Media Marketing, again.) Let the blogger outreach manager cultivate like-minded souls online and advise you to the up-and-comers. Allow this individual to build relationships with them now before you need their help.
  5. Chief Conversation Officer: This is the big kahuna of social media leadership in your company. The Chief Conversation Officer is an amalgamation of many of the roles described above. However, the CCO reports directly to the top and it is a soup-to-nuts position: they are responsible for finding the online conversation, documenting it, sharing it, analyzing it, and ultimately joining in on the conversation (in a non-creepy, non-"marketese" kind of way). Here are more details about the Chief Conversation Officer position.

How are you preparing for the influx of social media into your business? Are you cultivating leaders within your organization to help? Please share your ideas and suggestions in the comments section below.

(Image courtesy of preciouskhyatt via Flickr)

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7 Marketing Tips From Comic Book Superheroes

Superheroes reflect what is best about us.

Sometimes that comes across in the youthful exuberance of Spider-Man. Sometimes it is the way Batman quells his taste for vengeance by stopping the very criminals who would create more orphans like him. Sometimes it's just trying to make our parents proud by doing good like the big, blue boy-scout, Superman.

Smart marketers take advice and motivation from a wide variety of sources. It pays to be open in your thinking; in this rapidly changing world 2.0 landscape, inspiration often comes from unexpected quarters.

In that spirit, here are 7 marketing tips given to us by comic book superheroes and their own personal mottoes:

  • Hulk: "Hulk Smash!": The green giant frequently yells "Hulk smash" before doing, well, you can probably guess. And in these two words, he expressed both the utter focus marketers must bring to their work, as well as a willingness to completely let loose. Marketing is not a career for the timid; it is a career for smashers.
  • Daredevil: "The man without fear": In uncertain economic times, the marketing budget is often the first to get cut. CMOs and others (rightly) fear for their jobs. However, as Bryan Eisenberg write on ClickZ, you can bolster your position and have less to fear if you tie your efforts directly to dollars coming in the door. Fear is a paralyzing specter in marketing, a career inherently bound to risk. But you do not have to fall prey to it.
  • Green Lantern: "In brightest day, in blackest night, No evil shall escape my sight! Let those who worship evil’s might, Beware my power – Green Lantern’s light!": Per Wikipedia's definition, a Green Lantern's ring is "sustained purely by the ring wearer's strength of will. The greater the user's willpower, the more effective the ring. " In this time of great change, how often are you frustrated, anxious, or discouraged in your marketing efforts? Strength of will may be the only thing to carry you through to eventual success.
  • Iron Man: "The cool exec with the heart of steel": This motto, taken from the 1966/67 television series, relates to the duality of marketing: creative but business, calm but frantic, Tony Stark and Iron Man. And even as Stark battled his alcoholism, we cool execs must also keep tabs on our personal health. I'm reminded of a quote from David Ogilvy: "It is reliably reported that seven out of every hundred executives in American business are alcoholics, and it is reasonable to assume that the proportion in your agency is at least as high...Your alcoholics may include some of your brightest stars." In this high pressure business, with all its duality, be sure to keep both sides healthy.
  • Superman: "For truth, justice, and the American way!": I'm less interested in Superman's nationalistic identities, as I am in truth and justice. Much like the man himself, Superman's motto seems a little hokey these days. But marketing is at an interesting cross-roads. Marketers were previously despised for interrupting and figuratively shouting at consumers. But now we have the opportunity to add to their lives, to be invited in to the buying process, to stop problems before they escalate, and to tell the truth quickly and honestly.
  • The Watchmen: "Who watches the Watchmen?": This ominous motto is peppered throughout Alan Moore's award-winning tome, usually scrawled or spray-painted on gritty walls. To me, it speaks to the importance of oversight. As marketers we must foster each effort, but also measure the results in order to prove our worth and remain on the most effective path.
  • Spider-Man: "With great power comes great responsibility": You knew Spidey would round out this list, right? These days, everyone has power. Marketing agencies are becoming flatter and publishing is practically free (you're reading a blog, after all). Anyone, in theory, can become a thought-leader and bring about change. So how are you going to change the marketing world? Will you help usher in the new era I discussed in the Superman section? I'm reminded of a quote from Seth Godin (hence the illustration at the top of this post) as featured on Marketing Over Coffee:

"Marketers do things to people all of the time, especially the spammers who call you at home during dinner. They're doing something to you. And they think they deserve it, that they're entitled. 'Well, you're not on the Do No Call list.' No, but it's wrong. They do it to us because that's the way it's always been done, because it's their job. But what leaders do, what people with tribes do, is that they do it for us." (1 hour, 16 minutes in)

How are you using this new era to become a superhero? Or, who do you see as the modern marketing superheroes?

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(All superheros mentioned in this post are property of Marvel Comics and DC Comics. I hope they understand that this post is based on adoration and do not sue me.)

The Best Way To Kill Your Email List In 2009

Tough economic times increase the pressure on marketers to hit their goals for open rate, click throughs, conversions, and new email subscriber acquisition. Some marketers believe renting email lists is a way to reach these goals.

MarketingSherpa reports in their new 2009 Email Marketing Benchmark Guide that 29% of B2B marketers plan to increase spending on third-party list rentals (compared to 23% planning cuts). In this free excerpt of the report, their experts weigh in on this development:

"Pressure to meet numbers has always been a problem for email. It forces marketers to send too many emails to too many list members - the 'batch and blast' mentality that has eroded the trust of consumers and business[people] over the last 10 years...and that's not necessarily good for the long-term health of the medium."

(If you are interested in this report, you can get more information at the end of this post.*)

And yet, later in the excerpt, they report that 66% of consumers would be much more or somewhat more likely to subscribe to an email list if the company guaranteed not to share their information with other companies.

So, in this next year, we can expect to see businesses engage in an activity that decreases customer trust and engagement with that very business. A lot of marketers could kill their email list in 2009.

List Rental's Influence On Relevance

Let me be clear: companies who use rented lists are inherently and unquestionably going to deliver content that is less relevant than what the subscriber signed up for. Period.

Lowered relevance equals lowered trust. The customer will trust both companies less - after all, one sold her information and the other delivered spam. Unless she agreed to receive third-party emails (and a default checked box does not mean agreement), she will likely unsubscribe and refrain from doing business with either company.

Lack of relevance is one of most complained about email marketing practices. From a recent eMarketer article: "'There is a substantial gap between what marketers believe is relevant to the consumer, and what the consumers rate as valuable,' said Lori Connolly, director of research at Merkle."

List rental is the toxic waste of online customer relations. It poisons everything it touches.

Marketing In A Recession

A recent Merkle study, as reported in that same eMarketer article, said that about one-third of respondents said "they had stopped doing business with at least one company as a result of poor email marketing practices." That's almost the same percentage of B2B marketers who expect to increase their spam through list rental in 2009.

List rentals equal decreased relevance. Decreased relevance equals decreased trust. Decreased trust during an economic slowdown equals a serious threat to your business.

Loren McDonald from MediaPost's Email Insider explains:

"Consumers with a growing concern about the future of the economy and their own pocketbooks with increasingly choose to do business with companies they trust and may be less likely to risk their personal data and inbox space on unknown entities or those for whom trust is questionable."

You can't afford to kill your email list during this economic downturn. But building your own list, building trust, and staying relevant can avert this disaster.

What do you think? Am I totally off-base? Or do you have a list rental horror story to share? Feel free to use the comments section below.

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Google, Social Networks, And The Future Of Search

Would advertisers pay more to reach you rather than your mother? How much are your clicks worth?

These are the questions posed by Heather Green in a recent BusinessWeek article: Making Social Networks Profitable. Green lays out intriguing possible scenarios in which Google could redefine advertising through social networks like Facebook and MySpace.

It represents either trivial speculation or one of the more profound changes in modern advertising and PR.

I've developed one theory about Google's possible plans. It seems to make sense given Google's track record and recent trends. But really, I'd love to hear from you - whether you think this theory is guaranteed to come to fruition, completely bunk, or just so-so.

But first, let's examine influence ranking and then go through how Google could use this to revolutionize search and social networks.

The Problem of Influence

Google has a patent pending on technology for ranking the most influential people on social networking sites. Take a moment for the implication of this to sink in.

While intriguing, this prospect and Green's article start with some questionable assumptions. For instance, what is influence?

Two ideas are particularly tenuous. "Well-connected chums make you particularly influential. The tracking system also would follow how frequently people post things on each other's sites." However, we all know from personal experience that just because a person is vocal and has a lot of friends on MySpace does not mean they are influential. Quantity of friends and frequency of interactions are not specifically markers of influence.

Her third and final idea of influence - that of getting your friends to click on articles or videos you send - may be worthwhile. Unlike quantity or frequency of social networking activity, your friends' clicks do indicate their trust. However, as an advertiser, I would be less interested in clicks and more in the resulting purchases. It's an incomplete metric at least.

(Just before I was about to hit "publish" on this piece, I saw Joe Marchese's excellent piece critiquing Green's take on influence and the use of measuring it at all: Google To Decode Social Networks. It's a must-read if you're interested in influence ranking - especially the last paragraph.)

What's The Use?

Green hypothesizes that Google could identify the most influential members of groups and both sharpen and expand advertiser's targeting. She believes they will better target with the same old display ads they've been using.

I respectfully disagree.

The hypothesis of sharpened and expanded targeting is hardly a departure from Google's current practice. Sure, social networkers tolerate banner ads now, but this makes the ads more invasive and especially abuses the most influential ("[Nike] could work with Google to plop an interactive free-throw game on the profile pages of the community influencers").

This course of action would set off twin firestorms from privacy advocates and those concerned about social networking monetization (they aren't getting paid by Nike, after all). Plus, it's not really an advancement. Google tends to make bold leaps, not timid advances into an area they already dominate.

Maybe there are other ways Google can use social network information.

Google Today

So how could Google use a patent that ranks influential people (assuming they can) on social networking sites?

I started sketching out at a very basic level what Google does. This is what I came up with. Primarily, Google organizes and prioritizes information on websites and display ads.

  • Google parses information about websites:

User provides search terms + Google provides search algorithm = SERP

  • Google parses information about search terms:

User provides search terms + Google provides ad serving mechanism = AdWords

Google Tomorrow

This is how the system currently works. But if the next step moves forward as Green describes, the user will tacitly provide social networking profile information rather than a search term. So the equation becomes:

User provides social networking profile info + ? = ?

What would Google provide and what do they hope to achieve?

Well, it seems likely that they will provide some tool to sort data - in this case to determine an influence ranking. If Green is correct about their patent filing, the equation becomes:

User provides social networking profile info + Google provides influence ranking/search algorithm = ?

And what could they serve up? I think it's going to be experiences.

User provides social networking profile info + Google provides influence ranking/search algorithm = Real-life experiences

Experiences?

Right now, Google dominates the web. They have the most robust search and ad serving capabilities. Since 99% of their revenue is derived from advertising, where can they go but into the real world? How else can they provide something worthwhile for their advertising partners?

Imagine this:

I'm walking in my neighborhood, chatting on my new Gphone. At the same time, Mastercard is sponsoring a concert featuring my favorite band just a few blocks over. All of a sudden, I get an ad on my phone with information about the concert and a digital coupon if I can bring along two more friends. I use Google to locate a couple of my friends in the area and we head to the show.

In this scenario:

  • I win: I get to see my favorite band and get a cheaper ticket to the show.
  • Mastercard wins: By delivering uber-targeted messages, they get more brand exposure (along with the residual effect of pleasing the influentials). Plus, they don't get charged for ad impressions that don't result in a ticket purchase.
  • Google wins: They rake in the money for all of the ads served.

This advertising scenario takes the best of what Google does (parse and deliver information) with what advertisers want (targeted messages and accountability) resulting in a very pleased customer.

Influentials could be rewarded by the discounted tickets I described or a number of other ways. Perhaps initial messages go out to them a week ahead of time to build buzz. Maybe their ad reception radius is larger.

Think of all the information contained in a social networking profile. You've got location (ad: the store you just passed is having a sale!), alma mater (ad: another Stanford alum is sitting at the bar!), favorite books (ad: Borders is having a Nabokov sale!), and much, much more.

Maybe I'm wrong, but it seems possible, if not likely, that Google would take a giant leap to extend their reach. What do you think? Am I totally off-base? Feel free to leave your comments below.

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(Photo courtesy of ricki888c via Flickr)

Finding Your Passion And Preparing For Success

Courtesy of jbhill via Flickr I recently wrote about the necessity of passion in your blog writing, and got some really positive feedback. It's been great to hear about what you are passionate about.

There are no value judgments when it comes to your passion. A lot of folks consider it strange that I get so excited about online marketing tools and how businesses can act more human. But, that's what I love!

Maybe your focus is model trains or investment theory or green civil engineering - it doesn't matter what it is as long as you are passionate about the topic and want to share that excitement.

But how do you get to that point? What if you haven't identified your passion?

In this post, I will explain some of the tactics I found helpful when I was struggling with these questions. After all, before you can start sharing your expertise, you've got to figure out exactly what your passion is and equip yourself with skills to facilitate sharing it.

How Do You Find Your Passion?

It's easy to talk about ways to share your passion if you've already identified it. But how do you figure that out in the first place?

Here's a secret about your hidden passion: it's likely that you are already doing it. But, a lot of folks discount aspects of their lives. For a long time I didn't realize that my curiosity about the online channel or my belief in social media marketing tools was anything special.

Here are some ways I identified my passion. See if they work for you:

  • First and Last: What do you think about the instant you wake up and right before you drift off to sleep? Real priorities tend to emerge before all the stresses of the day begin and after they are resolved. Your mental guard is down when you're in bed - what aspirations come to mind then?
  • Voice Volume: When you are out with friend, what subjects do you discuss in the loudest tones? An increase in your volume indicates excitement - an important element of passion.
  • Passion's Office: What comes to mind while you're in the shower? For me, lot of these drifting thoughts identified integral aspects of my passion. When I found myself thinking about online marketing in the shower every day, I knew I'd hit upon something.
  • The Millionaire Exercise: How would you fill your days if you had all the money in the world? This is an old goal-identifying exercise, but it does work. I'm one of the lucky fellows who would be doing exactly what I do now, even if I had no money concerns.

It's no surprise that finding a subject you care about is Kurt Vonnegut's #1 tip on how to write with style. Consider this advice from a prolific and endlessly creative author:

"Find a subject you care about and which you in your heart feel others should care about. It is this genuine caring, and not your games with language, which will be the most compelling and seductive element in your style."

Use these suggestions to determine your passion. Be sure to comment below with other suggestions that have helped you in this process.

Preparing For Success

Passion isn't enough. It's tough to accept, but it's true. No one will ever care about your passion if you can't communicate its importance.

Once you've identified your passion and committed to sharing it, there are universal things that will facilitate your success. Here are three that worked for me from both a practical and emotional standpoint (and believe me, I continue to work on these every day):

Practical:

  1. Read Critically: Consider everything you read in a deliberate and critical manner. (Bonus tip: Only read quality materials. If you put garbage in, then garbage will come out.)
  2. Think Logically: Prepare for inevitable challenges with this mental discipline.
  3. Write persuasively: Figure out your passion, share it, but the next element is getting others passionate about it as well. Consider arguments that run counter to your beliefs and practice rebuttals in your writing.

Emotional:

  1. Become Curious: An insatiable appetite for information about your topic will fuel your work. Curiosity has the added benefit of keeping your mind open, as well.
  2. Develop Empathy: The only way to convince others of your passion is to understand their perspective. Genuine caring is a big step in that direction.
  3. Accept Love: Whether you chose to write a blog or use another method to share your passion, it's going to be a lot of work. You must be willing to accept praise - it will get you through the difficult times when you aren't feeling as passionate.

I hope this two-part series has been helpful. I will get back to the usual marketing and social media business blogging now, but I hoped it would be useful to share how I do what I do. The goal is that it will help you find your life's passion and then share it with the world.

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Is Social Media Passing Your Business By?

Courtesy of jbhill via Flickr Social media - everything from Facebook to Digg to Twitter to Flickr - has been quickly snagging the attention of small business owners and employees of big companies across the world. The business applications for these tools are being explored and many are finding success.

But is this all hype? Are businesses really adopting these tools and, if so, why do they succeed (or fail)?

In this post, I will give you proof that the use of social media in business is expanding rapidly, illustrate what social media offers your customers, and give you some questions so you can determine whether it's the right strategy for your company.

Social Media: What's The Big Deal?

Some businesspeople scoff that social media is a passing fad. Thanks to a recent study from The University of Massachusetts Dartmouth Center for Marketing Research, we have proof that it's not. Social media is becoming more familiar - and more applicable to business - to a much wider audience. From the social media in the Inc. 500 study:

"Just over one quarter of the Inc. 500 reported social media was very important to their business/marketing strategy in 2007. That number has increased to 44% just one year later."

So why the sudden and dramatic increase? I contend that businesses figured out where their customers were congregating online and are learning a new way to communicate with current and potential customers.

Go Where Your Fans Are

In David Meerman Scott's e-book, The New Rules of Viral Marketing, he tells a story about a business finding its customers online and communicating directly with them (which also turns out to be cheaper and more efficient).

Cindy Gordan, VP of New Media and Marketing Partnerships with Universal Orlando, was tasked with promoting a new Harry Potter theme park. She told only seven people, but those seven people reached 350 million potential customers through social media.

What I find interesting is Gordan's insistence that she was compelled to use the social media channels and websites where those Harry Potter fans gathered and shared news.

"'If we hadn't gone to the fans first, there could have been a backlash,' Gordan says. She imagined the disappointment dedicated Harry Potter fans might feel if they learned about Universal Orlando's plans in, say, The New York Times rather than an insider fan site."

Customers expect you to meet them where they are. In overwhelming and still increasing numbers, they are online and frequently reading blogs, checking in with friends on MySpace or Facebook, and sharing what they find online with their friends.

Sure, customers are online, but must businesses join them?

Talking The Talk

If you are a frequent reader of this blog, you know that I'm a big believer that businesses must communicate more personally with their customers (note that communication is a two-way street). They don't want you interrupting them with marketese, but they are willing to have a chat if your product is good and you are polite.

A recent AdWeek article details this shift in conversation and explains who in business can bring about this change.

"Once thought of as an interesting new media channel, social media is increasingly seen as a catalyst for changing how companies operate. It points to a new corporate structure that favors open over closed, dialogue over monologue, and decentralized power over command and control."

Some people think this new way of doing things is bogus. But as General Eric Shinseki said, "If you don’t like change, you’re going to like irrelevance even less."

The AdWeek story gives examples of businesses getting wise to the change though, including Ford, Pepsi, and Intel. The article seems to advocate, as Joseph Jaffe and I have in the past, the idea of a Chief Conversation Officer. It may seem "out there" now, but don't say I didn't warn you.

On The Other Hand...

I am a true believer in social media for business, but take a long look at your business before jumping in headlong. Focus on strategy rather than cool technology. Consider whether you have the infrastructure to support a social media campaign. Re-read posts on this blog for help with this.

Like Seth Godin says, if your business is selling meatballs, don't slop ice cream on top. In other words, not all businesses need a social media campaign. Don't expect to see ball bearing manufacturers on Twitter - their customers aren't there and it doesn't fit their business model or strategy.

It's true that not every company needs to have a Facebook group or share photos over Flickr. But every business needs to be listening. 99% of businesses' customers are online and many of them are talking about your product. You need to be attuned to what they are saying. Not only can it stave off crises, but researching your audience can only improve your actual product.

Your customers are talking about you. Don't let the benefits of social media pass you by.

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