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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Content Strategists and Planners: What's The Difference?

What’s the difference between planners and content strategists? How is content strategy a different discipline and what type of people should lead it? Why are we making a distinction between the roles now?

These are all valid questions. Neither practice is going away, so this is the time to determine the appropriate roles and responsibilities.

But I've sensed some agency angst since these roles share basic principles (likely more so than even CSers and copywriters). However, I only feel qualified to speak for the content strategists, so...

Planners: What do you think about my description of content strategists below? Are we encroaching on your turf? Is there room for everyone? And content strategists: how do we make the most of our relationship with planners?

Whither content strategists?

First, we must understand that the ecosystem has changed. Content proliferation has been exponential, especially in recent years. Everyone is a publisher (evidence: blogs, UGC, smart phones, etc.). And all of this content needs assessed, ranked, and compared; hence, the rise of aggregator sites, search engines, dynamically displayed content, and product reviews.

Maybe a planner used to be enough to handle the volume of content. And for a small site or organization, they still might be. But with over 15 years of content and double or triple that amount ready to be thrown onto the pile, it is time to admit that:

  1. Content is a different animal
  2. Planners have enough on their plates, and
  3. We should each be specialists in our areas.

How are content strategists different from planners?

While similar, planners and content strategists possess different skill sets. For instance, a content strategists needs to possess:

  • A history with words and writing in order to educate and thus inspire the creative process. While planners assess a brand, its competitors, or the industry, content strategists must prepare for text on the page – a different exercise completely.
  • A background in messaging. Content strategists plan for the creation of content that conveys trust, for instance, while still selling. This is only possible thanks to a planner’s insights, but is a separate skill set.
  • Subject matter expertise, be it legal, regulatory, etc. It’s more than research or the insights garnered therein – it’s tangible to creation, guiding creativity through particular hurdles, much like IAs guide designers.
  • Turning philosophy into action. While never diving into the depths of data planners reach, content strategists must be able to seize planners’ insights, but convey exactly how that translates to each page, no matter how (seemingly) insignificant.

The good news is that there is more than enough room for planners and content strategists. The challenge will be to allow each specialist to embrace their role in the planning process.

But what do you think? Is this accurate?

I'd love to hear from content strategists and planners (especially you planners). How are our roles similar and how are they different? What are the ideal skill sets and background of a digital planner?

I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments section. Thanks!

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What is content strategy and why should I care?

You've heard about content strategy, but aren't exactly sure what it is. And you don't know exactly how it fits into the agency process. It's OK. We've got you covered.

The video below tells you everything you want to know about content strategy, but didn't know you needed to ask. It's only 3 minutes long. And it uses Post-It notes. Quick and easy.

Check it out below or on the OnlineMarketerBlog YouTube channel. I hope it's helpful - I'd love to hear your comments!

Don't forget to stay subscribed to videos via iTunes. 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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Your Marketing Will Suck Without Theory

I played the piano for 8 years when I was a kid. I could sight-read Bach, Mozart...anyone, really. But I was never as good a musician as my friends who understood musical theory. The theory just never interested me. So I couldn't take piano playing any further than I did.

In college, however, I was obsessed with literary theory. Barthes, de Saussure, Derrida, even Foucault - these were my supermen. Understanding the mythologies and iconic systems we use to explain our world to others was fascinating. I hope to spend my retirement exploring these ideas.

Some readers may remember I love comics and graphic novels. I recently picked up Scott McCloud's Understanding Comics: The Invisible Art. He begins the book with a broad explanation of comic theory (yes, there is such a thing and it's really interesting). Citing everything from Egyptian hieroglyphics to the Bayeux Tapestry to Rene Magritte's famous pipes, he begins with theory of - our philosophy of - sequential art.

But today, I'm a marketer. And it's likely that you are as well. How should we interact with theory?

Theory Takes Work

If abstract elements like music, literature, and comics have theory, surely we can agree that theory will be useful for our marketing.

And let's face it - your marketing will suck without theory.

If your designers create something beautiful without knowing how it will sell the product: Fail. If your copywriters dream of being Hemingway rather than John Caples: Fail. If you can't communicate a product's benefits to the consumer: Epic fail.

You must know your craft. We ought to say we "practice" marketing the way lawyers "practice" law. Every day is an opportunity to learn more. David Ogilvy understood this:

We prefer the discipline of knowledge to the anarchy of ignorance. We pursue knowledge the way a pig pursues truffles. A blind pig can sometimes find truffles, but it helps to know that they grow in oak forests. (page 20, Confessions of an Advertising Man)

In other words, you might hit on a "Got Milk?" every once in awhile, but that's no way to run a business.

Study, Study, Study

How much do you study your craft? I'm not talking about skimming through Ad Week while you're on the toilet. I'm talking about really learning it, practicing it, and molding yourself into the best there is.

Ogilvy wasn't charmed by our reliance on art or a flowery sentence. Later in the same book, he stated: "This willful refusal to learn the rudiments of the craft is all too common. I cannot think of any other profession which gets by on such a small corpus of knowledge. (my emphasis)"

Read as much as you can. I'm nowhere near the best at what I do, but I'm trying. I recommend learning from these sources.

But look outside the fishbowl as well. Learning the ways in which our brains operate can make you more persuasive. Learning how and why people make decisions can help you inspire their future choices. Look for inspiration in weird and wonderful places.

What About You?

How are you using theory to improve your marketing? Do you think about the philosophical ramifications of why you do what you do?

I firmly believe that history bears proof that tough practice trumps a fuzzy type of innate "genius" any day of the week. So how are you going to out-work your competitors this week? How will theory make the difference between an impression and a sale? I'd love to hear your thoughts.

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(Image of Roland Barthes courtesy of believekevin via Flickr)

Pour Up Some Advocacy - How Whiskey Companies Are Going Beyond Loyalty

I'm more of a walking man than a wax man. How about you?

I was traveling last week (hence the dearth of posts) and had the chance to read a good article in OMMA: Bottom's Up. The article discusses the Maker's Mark ambassador program.

A particular paragraph stood out to me as exemplifying a key differentiator of this program:

"This self-selections process [for brand advocates] seems to have built an influential base, whose value isn't based on how much bourbon they buy, but how they identify with the company [my emphasis]."

At first I thought - is that really that big of a change?

We all have relatives who cling fiercely to their own proclivities. We know Aunt Sarah only puts Bombay Sapphire in her martinis. But Aunt Sarah was never much of a brand ambassador. Knowledge of her preference rarely goes beyond the family dinner table (and rarer still beyond her death-clutch of the martini glass).

Aunt Sarah isn't much of a brand ambassador. But the Maker's Mark program goes beyond loyalty - it's about advocacy. They not only want consumers to buy Maker's Mark - the company is giving ambassadors a reason to tell their friends to buy it as well.

Great, But Not For Me

While the article stirred up admiration for a great program, I was also surprised that it roused some personal brand loyalty and advocacy as well.

You see, for years now, I've been a member of Johnnie Walker's Striding Man Society. I don't know why or how I started, but I've been receiving their emails for several years.

The really odd thing is that I don't drink Johnnie Walker all that much. I make Jack Daniel's-esque paychecks, after all. (However, JW samples will be accepted by mail or in person. Just sayin'.)

But I've become adhered to the brand and I have some ideas why. Here's what the Striding Man Society does right:

  • Exclusivity: Anyone can sign up to join, but the emails always feel kind of exclusive. Design heavy in black, white, and gold give off a luxurious feel and events are often limited to only Striding Man Society members.
  • Active: Speaking of events, there are enough to feel special, but not too many to where you feel like it's another cattle-call (I'd guess maybe 2 per year in major cities). I've been to a couple events and they are a blast. Educational, slick, professional, and usually free. No complaints about any of that.
  • Aspirational: Sure the website and emails celebrate each label, but they've done a good job of positioning the Blue Label as the all-star. I can't afford it now, but you can be damned sure that my father-in-law will some day receive an engraved bottle for Christmas. And that act will make me feel like a true success. That's good marketing.
  • Classy Benefits: Check out the CTAs in the buttons on their "Labels" page. Even the more plebeian Red Label has a clearly defined benefit (versatility), while other labels highlight complexity, intensity, luxury, rarity and balance. It's subtle, but ubiquitous: each label gives the buyer a reason for purchase, something to justify the cost.

Loyalty Is Just Step One

Brand loyalty is often a lifetime association. So, done correctly, it can easily mean millions for the company that does it right. (After all, how much has Aunt Sarah spent on Bombay gin, right? 'Nuff said.)

The Striding Man Society isn't perfect (please don't rely on visuals in email - with images disabled, your emails are useless), but it has fostered some type of adherence, even in this brand propagandist.

More than loyalty, though, it and Maker's Mark are really shooting for brand advocacy. Loyalty is just about your personal brand choices; advocacy indicates loyalty pushed to others in your personal circle. This is truly powerful stuff (and totally apropos in a social media world).

I tell my friends about JW articles in the email newsletters. I bring them with me to JW events. I forward on opportunities for customized labels. In other words, I take this out of just loyalty (my personal buying habits) and into the social space of advocacy (influencing others).

In a way, Johnnie Walker is like my Chicago Cubs. While I can't always afford to get inside the friendly confines of Wrigley Field (or that smooth, squared bottle), I still cheer just as loud. Here's to more strides in brand advocacy and more success all around.

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Is There No Way To Prove The Value Of Content Strategy?

I'm trying to convince non-creative folks about the value of content strategy. I need facts and figures. Bonus points for graphs.

All I need to prove is that the stuff on your website is valuable to visitors. That content matters.

But there is a serious lack of empirical research to prove this. Why aren't there studies done on the value of content strategy? Is the topic too broad? Is it just common sense?

Proving Our Value

As content strategists, we should be able to appeal to emotion, common sense, and hard logic to convince skeptics of our value.

Emotion I can do. We're solving user's problems and creating a great experience. Common sense is a little fuzzier, but it still works - after all, why wouldn't the content on your site be valuable?

But hard logic - numbers and graphs - I'm having a tough time here.

Melissa Rach from Brain Traffic gets the award for closest to the mark, but even this is too convoluted for an internal or client presentation.

Content Strategy, Not Social Media

I can show you a dozen studies - Forrester, eMarketer, MarketingSherpa - that prove social media's worth. The ROI of social media topic is so 2008.

But broader content - not just on a Twitter feed or blog, but incorporating all website text, metadata, videos, etc. - finding hard evidence for that is proving impossible.

Please Prove Me Wrong

I've searched on paid and unpaid professional research sites. I have worked the limits of my Google powers. But maybe you can help.

As a content strategist, how do you prove your value, in real, empirical numbers? What studies do you use? What have I missed?

I cannot honestly believe there has not been a study of this information (and if so, what a huge oversight!). Content strategists are in a battle to prove their relevance. We'll need research, studies, ROI figures, etc to do this.

I would love to hear what studies you've seen or learn how you are coping with this challenge.

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Only Hardasses Need Read Halvorson's Content Strategy For The Web

Nevermind the title of this post. Forget it. Don't read this book. That's it - end of review.

(Are they gone? Is it just us hardasses?)

Let me be straight: Kristina Halvorson's book Content Strategy for the Web is not for marketing tourists. It ain't for folks who think a Twitter account equals any sort of expertise.

This is a handbook for content strategy badasses. Not sure if you're tough enough to join the club? This book can answer that question as well.

Honestly, I've been dying to review this book for awhile, but took so long because it's so filling. Like a shepherd's pie and Guinness (my lunch of choice incidentally), this book provides a hearty gut-punch of awesomeness.

THE Handbook for CS Success

Content Strategy for the Web covers everything  from the basic elements of process (audit, analysis, and strategy; page 35-36), to questions that a content strategy answers (there's a bunch; page 84), to ways to determine success (meeting users' needs and supporting key business objectives; page 15)

Most importantly, this book - more than any other out there - will guide you in creating a content strategy program of your very own.

Most people aren't interested in this. The same way they weren't interested in information architecture in 1997.

Those folks will keep creating websites with pretty pictures that lack useful, usable content. It won't help their search results, it won't help their customers complete a task, and it certainly won't move the needle for their profits.

And that's why any agency should be damn interested in hiring a content strategy hardass.

What Do These Badasses Do?

Well, that's sort of the point of the whole book.

But in short, they analyse what stuff is on your site, what stuff should be on your site (based on planner research, customer insights, and competitive research), the process to get that stuff on your site, and the schedule to keep that stuff relevant, factually correct, and engaging.

I hate sounding vague about this process since the book is so clear and precise. But it's necessary because this really is a guidebook. I can't explain the whole thing - but I can give you my expert opinion (not to sound pompous, but I'm one of the lucky few to get paid to do content strategy full time).

So What Do I Think?

I can honestly say this has been the most helpful book to help me define for others exactly what I do and why. It has changed the way I think about content strategy - solidified it, formalized it - and will have a definite, positive effect in how I do my job.

I highly recommend this book for anyone interested in content strategy, but most especially those already tasked with the job. If you feel push-back in your agency or find yourself defending your raison d'être, this book will help you immensely.

This is also a great book for unsatisfied library science scholars, copywriters, information architects, and others. If you have a niggling feeling that you aren't satisfied in your current position and think content strategy might be your next career step, this is definitely the book to help you decide.

Get Content Strategy for the Web and channel your inner CS hardass. It's not for everyone - but it could be the very thing you're looking for. It was for me.

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Crowdsourcing Is Not A Viable Business Model And Here's Why

Crowdsourcing is to 2009 as Twitter was to 2008. It was the sparkly object that many assumed was the second coming.

I'm a little sick of it, to be honest.

Don't get me wrong - I'm all for innovation. But I'm not for innovation without strategy, without a vision that goes past the next few month. Crowdsourcing is the fool's gold of internet business models.

This ire has been building, but is partially due to reading Rick Liebling's new e-book Everyone Is Illuminated. Rick has been doing some brave thinking about crowdsourcing and I applaud his effort with this e-book. It's other experts I take issue with.

Which experts am I talking about? The ones who claim that crowdsourcing will replace agencies. Those who think you get better ideas from the crowd than individuals who study this process everyday. If that's you - you're in my sights.

This is all to support Rick's point that crowdsourcing is a means, but not as an end in itself. That gem of an insight is a hard truth proven by what has worked...and what hasn't worked.

What Could Work?

As far as I can tell, there are two things that crowdsourcing does correctly, which Wil Merritt, CEO of Zooppa describes on slide 30:

  1. High levels of consumer brand engagement
  2. Insights that brand communications generate

Well, that's true if everyone keeps participating. Sweepstakes have a long history of success, but those usually require 10 seconds of thought - not the hours required for most advertising/marketing efforts. For every winner, you produce thousands of losers who just wasted their time. Not exactly inspiring.

(These two benefits are likely preaching to the choir and the insights are from a small vocal minority, but whatever...)

But OK, let's assume these are true. I will give you those two points. Now let's look at what crowdsourcing doesn't do.

What Definitely DOESN'T Work

It may have been said before, but let's review what crowdsourcing definitely can't do for you:

  • Brand strategy - The insight and planning that lead to long-term success.
  • Integrated campaigns - Want your campaign to work across print, TV, and web?
  • Production - For all the hype about things being easier to produce these days (and they are), can your crowdsourced winner write, design, and use motion tools? Doubtful.
  • Measurement - Who is pulling your data and analyzing it? Not the crowd.

These are just a few..."pain points." But it's a tough reality for the most optimistic of a very idealistic people. Idealistic to a fault, in my opinion. Take this quote from Zooppas' Merritt again:

"Today CMOs like to claim that the true owners of their brands are customers [True]. If they truly believe this what could be better than to allow customers to create their own messaging about the brands they own and love, and to enable them to share enthusiastically these messages with their friends and family."

OK, there are two things here.

For one, no one's trying to stop anyone from sharing messages. In fact, social media strategy is all about getting others to share your message. That's not revolutionary.

Secondly, what kind of logic is this? I believe my teeth to be my own; that doesn't mean I should give myself a root canal! I'll leave that to the experts.

WHY Won't This Work

Should agencies be concerned the crowd will steal their jobs? In short: no.

  • The Work (Usually) Sucks: Rick is totally correct when he says, "I don't think crowdsourcing creative content is going to raise the value, and therefore fees, of creative work." Doritos might get lucky once, but after that commercial airs, so what?
  • The "Pay" Sucks: John Winsor, CEO Victors & Spoils, had this to say about a crowdsourcing price model: "Get more, pay less" (slide 6). That's more of your work, while paying less money to you. Sound awesome, right?
  • The "Side Pay" Sucks: Rick points out that this is more of a zero-sum game - like Highlander, there can be only one (winner). It's not like the World Series of Poker where pros eliminated early could make money off other marks.
  • The Lack of Perspective Sucks: Evan Fry, also of Victors & Spoils, tells the story of Steve Jobs' horrendous iMac name which a long-term agency partner was able to dissuade him from using (slide 20). You don't get that brand strategy perspective from the crowd.
  • The Brand Guidance Sucks: Spike Jones speaks some truth (slide 24):

"So you REALLY want to base your entire brand...on creative that is pinned to a two-sentence description of what you're looking for? By a bunch of people that want to make a quick buck?...Now do you really think that you are going to get anything of value?"

Means, Not Ends

All due respect to Rick, but I think he buries the lead in this ebook (as have I...duly noted). The real key insight here - and I haven't heard this from others - is that crowdsourcing is a tactic, but not a viable business model.

Rick states it succinctly (slide 44): "But I fear that many brands are using crowdsourcing not as a means, but as the ends."

That's the key idea. Sure, get the crowd involved; solicit their opinions. That will provide the engagement and insight.

But handing over the keys to your brand and letting the crowd control it? No way.

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Follow-up On Ethics - Crisis Management Begins Before The Crisis

I followed up my ethics post from yesterday with a post on the Experience Matters blog entitled "Crisis Management Begins Before The Crisis" (disclosure: it's my employer's blog). Here's the very beginning and the very end:

"Toyota reminds me of a guy who buys flood insurance the day after the big rain...

It’s this process of being heard that gives companies the opportunity to speak to customer emotions. After all, this is empathy. This is a chance to change an ethical crisis into a recommitment to good behavior.

An open dialogue might just allow your brand loyalists to save you during a crisis. Imagine that."

Believe me, the middle section is worth your time. Find the full post here: http://experiencematters.criticalmass.com/2010/03/11/crisis-management-begins-before-the-crisis/

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What is Ethical Strategy (And Does It Really Work)?

Marketers are faced with ethical quandaries every day.

Sometimes these are big issues – What is the lawful (and tasteful) line when marketing to children? Could I work for Big Tobacco?

Most times though these decisions are small – decisions that determine which tactics are fair game and which are off the table.

This subject got me thinking about ethical strategy. Does it hurt or help a marketer to live and work by a strict ethical code? How can we be as persuasive as possible without sacrificing our souls?

A Path With Roadblocks?

A strategy is a plan to reach a goal – a path leading to the achievement of business objectives, in our case. As I first thought about it, an ethical strategy seemed limiting. It seemed as though ethics would limit the tactics marketers could use to reach their goals.

An ethical strategy, for instance, might limit the number and types of magazines we advertise in. It might limit the extent we can distribute content across the web. It could alter the way we talk to customers. These limits would act as roadblocks on our strategic path and slow or stop us from reaching our goals.

The Golden Rule

But, maybe I’m wrong.

If we can agree that the most widely accepted rule of ethics is the Golden Rule – Do unto others as you would have them do unto you – then ethics must have some connection to emotions.

Emotions and the Golden Rule require us to:

  • Understand others (or at least try)
  • Develop empathy and sympathy
  • Grow our Emotional Quotient – the ability to access and manage one’s own emotions as well as those of others or a group
  • Accept our social role – humans as social creatures within a structure of mutually agreed-upon rules

Employing these traits could help us to craft new, more focused strategies by listening and caring about our customers.

If we accept that emotion and these traits are required for an ethical strategy, could this actually be a benefit rather than a roadblock?

Ethical Strategy, Better Tactics

What if, with emotional understanding and an eye to the Golden Rule, we could create better strategy and better tactics than if we went down an unethical route?

After all, what have we learned with the advent of social media than that our networks and our ability to connect and relate have great power?

Maybe unethical shortcuts are really no shortcuts at all. I now think we’re in a world where an ethical strategy would actually be more effective. Developing a strategy that involves your customers or fans, requires honesty and transparency, and generally celebrates collaboration – aren’t these common elements in some of the most amazing success stories of the last 10 years?

And those who hid or lied or cheated – doesn’t that always come to light? The Enrons of the world are many, but nowadays they are far, far more likely to be found out and publically shamed.

What About You?

I changed my mind when it came to ethical strategy. In addition to thinking it’s the correct way to market, I now believe it’s the most effective as well.

What do you think? I’d love to hear your opinions on ethical strategy. Is it the best option for online marketers? When have you felt like you crossed an ethical line? What did you do about it?

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5 Ways To Promote Creative Marketing

Last night I was perusing an article from the Harvard Business Review by Ed Catmull, cofounder of Pixar, entitled "How Pixar Fosters Collective Creativity." I was really struck by how their principles for inciting creativity are the very same I've written about here for marketers.

It shouldn't be surprising; anyone who has been in marketing for some time knows just how creative you need to be to succeed. Sometimes it's the "big idea" kind of creative. Other times it's a creative endeavour to include 10 message points in one sentence or create a feasible campaign in a week and a half. That's creative too, believe me.

There are 5 ideas in this article that Catmull speaks to that really struck a nerve with me. I'm going to link to some past articles that relate to these points - I hope you take a minute to read them. It proves that not only is marketing a creative field, but that creativity is an exercise only for the brave.

How Do You Promote Creativity?

1) Embrace Fear: Catmull says, "[I]f we aren't always at least a little scared, we're not doing our job...This means we have to put ourselves at great risk."

Not too long ago, I wrote about how risky marketing is, and how we should embrace the fear that comes from it. Today, as I read this quote, I think it's even more true now than it was when I mentioned it.

"Once you get over the fear of being different, of possibly failing, a world of possibilities opens up. Are you still worried? Well, maybe this will help tip the scales:

You’ve got no choice."

Embrace the fear. Everyone feels it. And fear can be debilitating or any amazingly creative stimulus.

2) Welcome Risk: We work in an ever-changing industry. It will never be the "same old, same old." If you don't want to risk your ass, you shouldn't have put it on the line by placing it in a marketing office.

Catmull has some advice for the leadership: "[W]e as executives have to resist our natural tendency to avoid or minimize risks, which, of course, is much easier said than done."

This reminds me of my "Failure Isn't Fatal" post:

"As I wrote earlier in the week, our job as marketers is not to mitigate risk by going along with the status quo. Our job is to manage the risk and sometimes we fail.

That stinks, but there’s nothing we can do about it. It’s inherent to the job. So it’s better to get in there and figure out your best odds of success (and learn from your mistakes)."

Which leads perfectly into...

3) Learn From Failures: You won't get rid of risk and you are going to fail at some point in your career. But the most creative marketers are the ones who figure out why they failed and learn from it. Failure is inherent in creative people.

From Catmull: "If you want to be original, you have to accept the uncertainty, even when it's uncomfortable, and have the capability to recover when your organization takes a big risk and fails."

4) Realize That Community Matters: Catmull contends that "community matters" in the sense that a group of highly talented creatives can turn out extraordinary things.

For marketers though, community is something outside of our team usually. They are the hordes we hope to influence (hordes in the nicest way possible, I mean). And we can't do that by simply interrupting more loudly or more often.

I think Joseph Jaffe is correct is his definition of the new creativity - one in which a piece of marketing is gauged by the community's adoption of it.

"I don’t know how much originality is in the idea itself, but it’s in the execution where you see the real beauty of it. And ultimately that control and that power – and to what degree it becomes a meme and to what degree it lives on and gets a life of its own and gets embraced by the consumer – is ultimately in the hands of the consumer.

And maybe that can become the new definition of creativity."

5) Always Be Excellent: Catmull states that the success of Toy Story 2 was, "[I]t became deeply ingrained in our culture that everything we touch needs to be excellent."

It's easy to be crass about excellence. "Blah, blah," you might be thinking.

But I've seen it happen a bunch of times: the kid who excels in everything he does - though he might fail and get scoffed at and underestimated - he eventually almost always reaches that gold ring he'd been shooting for.

It's intimidating to see someone so much an active participant in their success. Intimidating and awesome.

What Did I Forget?

What did Catmull and I miss? How do you promote creativity in marketing?

There's a lot to worry about, a lot of potential pitfalls. But that's never going to change. How are you seizing the awesome today?

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Does Your Social Media Strategy Need A Zen Alarm Clock?

I'm a terrible sleeper.

No, scratch that - I'm a terrible waker-uper.

I set at least two alarms - one placed clear across the bedroom - and hit snooze enough times to wake and enrage BG (rightfully so). While I used to be disciplined enough to rise at 4:45am to write, I'm not disciplined enough to get up at 6am to even go to the gym.

That is, until I got a zen alarm clock (if you've never heard of this, you're not alone. This is one type we've got.)

This morning, progressive bells gently roused me from sleep instead of the heart-palpitation-inducing air raid siren alarms of the past. Slow and steady chimes was the order of the day and damned if it didn't work. I was up and out the door quicker than ever.

What does this have to do with your social media strategy?

I see so many people rush into things. They're scared - "We don't have a Twitter!" - and with a sudden burst they emerge on the scene. They follow 2,000 Twitterers or flood a blog with 20 posts in a week. And what inevitably happens?

They sputter out. They podfade. They don't garner followers or readers or friends.

Is your social media strategy the equivalent of an air raid siren alarm? Is it sudden, panicked, and rushed? These are not qualities of good strategy.

Instead, try a slow, reasoned approach to social media. Develop your tribe over time. Find an audience organically. Give before you get.

Try the zen alarm clock approach to your social media strategy. I can't guarantee you'll succeed, but you will definitely do better (and get more out of it personally) with this approach.

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Raising Awareness Is The "About Us" Page Of RFI/RFP Requirements

Do you really want to raise awareness? Does your "About Us" page really say anything about your organization? In the latest Marketing Minute video, I discuss a trend I've been seeing: an increasing focus on "raising awareness," whatever that means. It's vague, worthless, but prized by the C-level suite.

I believe we need more honest discourse. We need real communication, real requirements, real expectations.

I hope you enjoy this Marketing Minute video.

What do you think? I'd love to hear your thoughts in the comments section below.

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5 Things Napoleon Can Teach You About Strategy

BG and I love documentaries and she has been on a "royals" kick. This week is a tad different, with Netflix delivering a four-hour documentary on Napoleon.

Needless to say, our Friday night was exciting. War, intrigue, ambition, wine (OK, lots of wine).

You all know how much I prize classic strategy. I've quoted Sun Tzu. I sleep with a copy of Machiavelli's The Prince on my bedside table. (True story.)

Honestly, I didn't know much about Napoleon before this video. But I was particularly impressed with one of his first major battles as a General.

He'd been promoted to Commander of the Interior and given command of the French forces at the Italian front. No one expected much. The promotion was likely arranged by his new wife, he was largely untested, and this army had been in disrepair for over two years.

Things could not have looked more dire.

However, as you might expect, Napoleon turned this all around, starting with a rout of the Piedmontese who were aligned with the strong Austrian force just east of Nice. Napoleon entered this battle out-manned, out-gunned, and out-classed. There was no reason for him to win, but he did.

Here are some of the reasons for his victory. It's amazing to see how many can be applied to online marketing and the strategic efforts we make everyday.

  • He is cunning - Napoleon wanted to outnumber the enemy, even if he didn't have the bodies to actually do so. He separated the Piedmontese from the Austrians and went after the weaker of the two. Before the battle, he spread his forces out. Not knowing where exactly he is, the Piedmontese do the same. And at the last minute, Napoleon brings his forces back together and makes a crucial push - at that instant with more men on his side than the enemy's. How are you planning for success? How are you preparing for the next brand crisis or industry shake-up?
  • He is fast - Napoleon's army moves at 30 miles per day. The Piedmontese at 6 miles per day. With greater speed, Napoleon also understands the power of shock. He attacks when it is unexpected. How are you insulating your brand from the unexpected? How are you moving faster than the competition?
  • He is relentless - From the documentary: "He attacks everyday. He attacks when it snows, he attacks at night, he attacks when it's cold. It's not the way the game is played." Later, Historian Jacques Garnier says "He looks for the enemy, fights it, and when they assume he's going to stop - he continues! And the next day he fights again. It surprises them." When was the last time you surprised your competition with your relentlessness?
  • He is ruthless - Napoleon doesn't seem like a man who lost sleep over winning. A historian reports that a Peidmontese officer would later complain, "They sent a young madman who attacks right, left, and from the rear. It's an intolerable way of making war." When was the last time you felt blood on your teeth? How do you press forward ruthlessly for your clients?
  • He gets results - After defeating the Piedmontese, Napoleon insisted on silver and gold, with which he paid his army - the first money they'd seen in months, if not years. Results garner loyalty. He made no apologies for success and he expected his soldier to take risks, but he also rewarded those risks as well. Are you encouraging your staff? Do you recognize their sacrifices? Aligning them to your objectives can pay off royally for everyone.

Perhaps even more persuasive - and more ubiquitous - is Napoleon's near-insane ambition. But how refreshing too! I'd much rather hear about someone too ambitious than someone afraid to even try. On which side do you fall?

He was crass, intelligent, homicidally ambitious, but a professor of the highest order. There is a great deal marketers and strategists can learn from Napoleon.

When was the last time you were crushing, fast, relentless, ruthless, and delivered results? How about any one of these five?

One can easily poo-poo Napoleon. But wiser wo/men will learn the lessons that delivered him victory. How are you applying these lessons?

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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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