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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(Photo courtesy of Fast Company)

Impulsive Behavior And The Trap You Set For Yourself

Research indicates that the more impervious your audience feels they are to your product, the more likely they are to succumb to it. But does this really work? And how can this be ethical marketing?

I took my nieces to the Ferris Wheel at Navy Pier the other day and was shocked by the sign above the ticket window: [something to the effect of] "Go ahead and indulge."

Bleh! This just feels slimy doesn't it? Is it even the optimal message?

Good Marketing Or A Big Mistake?

Probably a mistake, according to recent research.  Sure, it sounds good ("Doesn't everyone want to induuuuuulge?") but it doesn't hold up under the microscope.

Nordgren, Harreveld, and Pligt completed a study in 2009 about the Restraint Bias (PDF). This bias states that the more you believe yourself impervious to temptation (there's the bias), the less you're able to restrain yourself. The more self-assured that a former smoker can visit his old smoking haunts, the less likely he will be able to resist the temptation to light up.

In a very real sense, people set this trap themselves. By deciding, especially in a vulnerable mood, how they will behave, they increase the chances that they will go against their logical impulses. In fact, this study seem to suggest that the more emphatic you are, the less likely you will complete your goal.

However, show a little humility ("Maybe I can't resist and thus shouldn't expose myself") and you might meet that goal.

Ethical Implications

The study dealt solely with tempting "bad behaviors" (snacking, smoking, skimping on studying). This is misguided.

Read the study, but then consider: how could you use these finding to persuade your audience to enact a better reaction? Marketing is no longer devoid of ethics (damn well better not be for readers of this blog), so it's up to us to figure out how to use these findings for the general good.

So you tell me - how effective is the "Go ahead and indulge" message? Might it be more effective as "You're strong enough to resist, right?" (But assuming the product is decent, natch.)

My only concerns with studies like these or more advanced neuromarketing is their being used for bad ends. Before you harness these studies, remember that ethics are a pretty powerful "smell test" for most of the public. You would be stupid to try to sneak something on an ever-more-savvy public.

How would you use this information for good? And then, how would you use this information to totally kick ass?

P.S.: Ug, willpower get more complex thanks to Johnnie Moore and Scientific American. (Seriously, a good read though.)

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(Photo courtesy of theycallmetelly via Flickr)

25 Content Strategy Blog Posts I'd Like To Read

You read Content Strategy for the Web or maybe just some blog posts on the subject. Maybe you attended the Web Content conference last week or just think content strategy could be for you. No matter your expertise, there's no mistaking: we need more intelligence devoted to content strategy. Here are 25 ideas for content strategy blog posts you should think about writing. How about tackling one this week?

If you do, feel free to link back to this post so your readers can get inspired too. In that respect, props to Chris Brogan and his post, 50 Blog Posts Marketers Could Write for their Companies, for inspiring this post.

Which post are you going to write?

For the content strategy newbie:

  • How did you first hear about content strategy? What piqued your interest that first time?
  • What are the top 3 benefits of a content strategy program, in your opinion. Or what 3 ways will it change the way you work day to day?
  • How are you educating yourself about content strategy? What blogs or books are you using?
  • How does your previous (or current) job prepare you for future content strategy work?
  • Some say that content strategy practitioners are to copywriting as information architects are to design. Have you found this to be the case in your position?
  • How do you explain content strategy to your closest co-workers? What metaphor aptly describes content strategy in your office?
  • From where do you draw your daily inspiration? This could be a person, place, experience, book, or feeling.
  • What do you most enjoy about content strategy? What makes you the happiest in your job?

For the content strategy journeyman:

  • What has been your most successful content strategy effort? What one thing helped it work?
  • How do you explain what you do to your grandparents?
  • What personality traits have you found serve you well? Which ones trip you up?
  • What's the biggest hole in your industry that content strategy can help fill? How is your industry in particular reacting to content strategy?
  • In the latest action movie you've seen, which character would have been most like a content strategist? Why? Is the content strategist the hero?
  • Having had some experience in the practice, what are you most looking forward to in the next year in content strategy? Where are the biggest opportunities?
  • How have you gotten involved in the content strategy community? Have you joined a Google group? Your local CS meet-up?
  • What's been the biggest internal dispute you've had this year regarding content strategy? How about with your client?

For expert content strategists:

  • What are you doing to promote content strategy in your organization? How are you a content strategy ambassador?
  • How has your agency or business implemented content strategy in the last year? What was the impetus?
  • How did your college degree prepare you for your content strategy job, especially since it's highly likely you did not major in content strategy? What path would you recommend to future strategists?
  • What are some new opportunities you see in the field this year? What stands out to make an impact in the next quarter?
  • Failure can often provide priceless insight. What have you learned from recent failures?
  • What's the first thing you do in the morning to prepare for your work each day? How does it help your content strategy work?
  • What processes have you set up in your agency or business to improve your content strategy? What's been your biggest hold-up?
  • How have you customized your offerings to match your client's needs? Did it make the end strategy result better or worse?
  • What leadership are you showing outside of your own organization? How are you expanding your influence for the betterment of content strategy?

Which topic will you take on? Please leave a comment on this post if you answer these, so the rest of the community can read your answer.

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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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What's Your Listening Speed? (Dedicated to SXSW)

This past weekend, I took my first speed-reading class (it was awesome; I'm blazing through Switch).

But one of our exercises made me think of everyone at SXSW. It made me wonder: What's your listening speed?

Read vs. Speak

One of our first exercises was to record how many words we could read in one minute. Afterward, we counted the lines and got our words per minute (WPM). Then, we spoke the same passage again to determine how many words we spoke per minute.

I can't recall why we did this; honestly, it's not important. What I do remember is that our instructor asked us to compare these two tallies - which did we do faster: read or speak.

Almost everyone in the room (in downtown Chicago) read faster than they spoke. The instructor laughed and said that in New York - and only New York - people almost always spoke faster than they read. Midwesterners almost never did.

A-Types In Austin

For some reason, this comment made me think about SXSW. Austin is full of A-type personalities (in the best ways possible), buzzing about fully immersed in live music, social media, and various nerditry.

There's talking, blogging, reading, all types of communicating - and that is wonderful. I'm totally jealous.

But I hope everyone is remembering to listen too. (I know you are - I'm sure you're full up on knowledge and ready to burst.)

We don't have a way to measure listening - no WPM here. But, I am hoping that while New Yorkers are good at talking, Midwesterners are good at reading, I hope the SXSWers are practicing their listening.

I hope so because they'll need to spend the rest of their year telling us about what they learned. I can't wait!

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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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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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MOvember A Huge Success

Movember 3

I don't often veer off the strict marketing road here at OMB, but the fight against cancer is important to me and millions of people around the world (and maybe you, too).

I'm happy to announce that you - folks who care enough to read this blog, plus my family and friends - raised $300 to fight prostate and testicular cancer! Plus, my corporate team raised over $1,500!

Thanks to many folks, including fellow marketer David Mullen, I raised several hundred dollars to benefit a good cause. And I never could have done it without such a committed, wonderful group of readers of this blog. For that, I thank you.

I don't reflect very much on how this blog has affected my life, but it's times like these when I want to thank the whole OMB family - readers, visitors, and hard-core fanatics (both of you), alike. I sincerely, sincerely appreciate it.

If you missed the chance during "Movember," it's not too late. You can still donate to my MOvember page.

Or, if you'd like to make other year-end charitable gifts, here are two worthy groups BG and I support (both accept tax-deductible donations):

  • New Leash On Life dog rescue: We volunteer with NLOL (heck, we've been fostering Izzy for a couple months), and strongly believe in protecting otherwise-homeless or euthanized dogs in Chicago. You can make a tax-deductible donation on their site.
  • Open Books operates a community bookstore and provides community programs to promote literacy. They're a non-profit organization that actually does a lot of good for literacy (especially among children) in Chicago. You can donate here and make a real difference.

Thanks again for proving the quality of readership that this blog has. Your support - whether financial or just in spirit - made Movember a success and I can't thank you enough.

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One Of The Best Tools For PR Pros

If you are considering a career in PR, or are just starting out in the biz, you might be surprised by one of the most important skills you need. To find out what it is, watch the video below or on YouTube.

What do you think? Am I so right or so wrong?

I'd love to hear from PR pros as well as folks just starting out. Please leave your thoughts in the comments section below.

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Why The New Creativity Changes Everything And Will Punch You In The Face

Sad Businessman

If you’re a marketer in love with the status quo, you should quit right now.

This isn’t a post about the fast pace of change or an “X is dead” post; rather, it’s an “I friggin’ love our business and evolution of marketing” post. Yeah, I said friggin’.

Fundamental business models are changing – you can see it everyday. We hear news all the time about another sacred cow being slaughtered (newspapers – Moo!).

But not everyone is losing money. Why?

Innovative businesses are using what Joseph Jaffe dubbed “the new creativity” to reach and connect with a new generation of consumers. It’s simple to understand, an art to produce, a feat when accomplished, and willfully ignored by most businesspeople.

This Blog Post Brought To You By…

In the old days, businesses bankrolled the creative process (“Welcome to Guiding Light, brought to you by Dove Soap”). Businesses placed their ads against creative work to cover the cost. Those 2 minute bathroom commercial breaks are the reason you could watch “Everybody Loves Raymond” for free (lucky you).

Other models came about, notably the subscription model, which offered the convenience of delivery by trading money up front and in advance.

The early days of the internet brought us contextual ads. Glory upon glory, we could now (sorta) sync up ads with the actual content. Sure, it’s awkward when McDonald’s ads show up against stories about childhood obesity, but whatevs.

Web 2.0 botched it all up though. People ignored or rebelled against ads in their social spaces. Impressions plummeted in value. The general public (hell, you and me) got used to free content online and no RIAA or anyone else would tell them different.

What Is The New Creativity?

Last week, I serendipitously caught up with back episodes of The Beancast and saw a new study released by eMarketer.

In episode #76 of The Beancast, Joseph Jaffe described “The New Creativity:”

“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.” (minutes 37-38)

The old creativity required advertisers and marketers to create something interesting enough (or loud enough) that would effectively interrupt the user’s day so that they’d pay attention to it. It’s a one-way street. And kinda inherently douche-y.

But the new creativity is a little different. Advertisers and marketers are encouraged to tell a compelling enough story to entice the user to tell their friends about your product. Plus, the marketer often gets the benefit of instant feedback from the user about their pitch/story/content.

It looks roughly like this terrible sketch:

Biz models 1

As you can plainly see, the old way involved a lot of yelling marketers and irritated consumers. (See those lines coming off the consumer? In the biz, we call those "irritation lines." They're usually accompanied by a "Grrrr!" sound.) With the new creativity, communication goes both ways between a marketer and consumer, and between a consumer and their friends. (Many thanks to Jonny, our 5-year-old neighbor for contributing this work of art.)

The Results

We see this everywhere.

We can see evidence of this in the obsession with (and success of) social media marketing, the decline of direct marketing, the spread of viral – it’s everything we used to do, but now the more profitable interaction is between friends (rather than between marketer and user).

The tools – and it’s important to remember that these shiny objects like Twitter, Flickr, delicious, etc – are just that: tools. Now, they can amplify each person’s voice. Blogs allow a personal publishing platform never conceived of in all human history. Influencers arise, the same way they do in your social circles. The only difference is that the bullhorn these influencers use is a hell of lot bigger.

And when the important (read: profitable) interaction is between friends, the old business models don’t work as well. Would you mindlessly slap an ad on the Starbucks table while sharing a cup of joe with a friend? Would you insist that friends “subscribe” to your future conversations?

Of course not. It’s weird. It’s anti-social. And it’s not working. (Cue marketer panic from recent years.)

That's why marketers in love with the status quo should quit right now. If you're not ready for it, the new creativity will punch you in the face.

Um, So Like…What Do We Do?

So while some Luddites continue to completely block content with a firewall and a few lucky ones have made a subscription model profitable (I’m looking at you, WSJ), most are waking up to the new world.

It’s time we look at another business model. Tout de suite.

But I’m going to make you wait for it (it’s OK, it’ll build tension and that’s fun). Later this week, I will suggest a business model that is showing great potential to marketers…especially those embracing new social networking tools (that's the eMarketer study I mentioned). Plus, I will apply this to a business desperately in need of a new path. Hopefully that application - the execution of an idea that gives power to the consumer - will be enlightening.

Please come back for that post (subscribing is uber-easy). And please leave comments below about the new creativity. Is it bitchin’ or bogus?

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Who Guards Your Website Content - The Marketing Minute #1

I've just started reading Kristina Halvorson's Content Strategy for the Web (review forthcoming).

She contends (and I wholeheartedly agree) that a major problem with the current state of web content is that no one owns it (pg 19).

That sentiment inspired me to create the video you see above. If all goes well, I intend to keep filming occasional "Marketing Minute" segments. (So feel free to let me know what you think about it.)

One clarification I'd like to make, however: in the video, when I speak about the necessity of an executive editor, I don't mean literally.

You do not need to give someone that exact title. It doesn't need to read "Executive Editor" on their business card.

But my thought about the powers of that job remain the same. (To hear those, watch the video above or check it out on YouTube.com.)

What about you? Do you think I'm right on or way wrong? We would all love to hear your thoughs in the comments section below.

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Who Is Your Human? The Power Of Employee Personal Brands

pezz

In a recent post, I mentioned that I was struck by a quote from Mitch Joel, author of Six Pixels Of Separation in which he discussed the power of the personal brand within a corporate structure.

“[I]t is not about how your business connects and communicates in online channels, it’s about how you (or your employees) as an individual build, nurture, and share personal brands. A company is no longer made up of anonymous people building one brand; rather, it is made up of many personal brands that are telling your one corporate-brand story in their own, personal, ways.” (page 126)

I encourage you to read the whole post found on Experience Matters.

In it, I explain why employee' s personal brands can be a great boon within a corporate structure, how to properly support employees in their marketing of your company, and why you should consider using employee personal brands to your advantage.

How big are your employee brands? Potentially bigger than your company. Again from Joel:

"I was not afraid to be told that I was an idiot for thinking that individuals would soon have personal brands that would rival even the biggest corporate brands out there..." (page 213)

Is it possible? Maybe so.

I really enjoyed writing this piece and think it could be quite helpful to a lot of people. Do check it out.

P.S.: I will be posting my full review of Mitch's book Six Pixels of Separation on Thursday. Subscribe to be notified automatically. Thanks!

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Is Marketing Starting To Tone Down?

Brawndo

I saw this 5 hour energy commercial a couple weeks ago and can't stop thinking about it. It illustrates a trend I've noticed, but I am curious if you have too.

The commercial spoofs the type of young, skateboarding, scruffy-haired, Jeff Spicoli meets Sean White meets Andrew WK soda drinkers. 5 hour energy makes a convincing case by being the staid older brother - more able to make a smart decision about his choice of beverage.

It made me think - is marketing finding a better ROI by toning down the rhetoric? Are they gaining by using logic instead of screaming?

I don't know if you've watched Ideocracy lately, but Brawndo seems even more ridiculous than it did a few years ago. It was always a parody, but now it feel like a parody beyond its time.

Maybe it's the recession. Maybe it's a move from TV to online. Maybe people just got sick of commercial pitchmen who sounded like drag racing promoters (Sunday, Sunday, Sunday!).

Do you agree that marketing is starting to tone it down?

Try Angie's List Today!

Let's take a less adrenalin-prone product than energy drinks. Perhaps the most mundane is toothpaste.

I noticed a change in toothpaste packaging as well. A few years ago, it was all about which one could make your teeth the whitest. It was about the surficial beauty, the EXTREME clean.

Have you seen the way toothpaste is marketed today? The design colors are much cooler. They've swapped "extreme" for "total." There is an emphasis on health, rather than beauty. Check it out:

Toothpaste

Am I just creating patterns where none exist or are we seeing a shift in priorities? Is volume of message being replaced by quality of message? I have no scientific studies to back this up; it's just something I've been noticing and wondering if you have as well.

I'd love to hear your thoughts on the subject. Feel free to use the comment area below to share your thoughts with the community.

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Agencies: Don't Forget To Sell

Yesterday, I published a blog post at iMediaConnection's blog and I hope you'll check it out: The Modern Agency Still Sells, Right?

I am particularly proud of this piece because it has the potential to jolt agency employees out of their social media fascination. I contend that some agencies are losing their focus in the web 2.0 world.

They've forgotten to work for the sale.

The initial idea for my post came from Phil Johnson's Ad Age article, Agencies Should Be Defined by What They Know, Not What They Make. I was alarmed by the focus on marketing agency knowledge, rather than a focus on creating something (ads, copy, even social media opportunities) to fulfill a client's business objectives.

From my post:

Clients aren’t comforted by what you know. They’d rather see how you turn that into sales.

Agencies that use social media, then foster loyalty and trust, and then turn that into sales – those agencies will triumph. But agencies that dabble in social media without even considering ROI or sales…think Pets.com 2.0.

Marketers and advertisers who consider sales not lofty enough of a goal would do well to remember David Ogilvy’s number one obiter dictum from Confessions of an Advertising Man:

“We sell – or else.”

What do you think? Am I off base to warn agencies about their potential social media amnesia? Has the role of the agency really moved from selling in a web 2.0 world?

Check out the the post and feel free to leave a comment below.

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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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Measuring Social Media ROI - It's Not A Web 2.0 Myth

Yardsticks

Not long ago, I declared that I'm f*cking sick of the "ROI of social media" debate. The post got some attention, including a follow-up on ReadWriteWeb.

Good. It's a conversation that needs to happen.

But in past posts, I neglected two topics:

  1. A history of media metrics, thereby illuminating how much has changed and how important this is
  2. The role of agencies as guides through a web 2.0 world

Today, I rectify that with a guest post on Critical Mass' Experience Matters blog entitled Why Your Social Media ROI Is Broken– And How To Fix It. (Disclosure: I am employed by Critical Mass.)

Who Should Read This And Why

If you work in or with an agency, I recommend this post. It describes an agency's changing responsibilities to their clients - how to help clients understand social media and find success with their web 2.0 ventures.

Most importantly, I hope it gives you courage to face this moving target. Here's a description of the changing marketing world from my guest post:

We are moving from a period of raw quantitative measurement (i.e. How many unique visitors did we have?) to a qualitative period (i.e. Did our social media engagement create more trust which in turn created more sales?). Trust, loyalty, and brand advocacy aren’t intangible anymore.

Is your agency at least aware of these changes? How have they advised you regarding social media metrics?

Trash Your Crappy Web Metrics And Grow A Pair

This is not the time for timid marketers. If you aren't ready to try new things and risk your neck everyday, please allow the rest of us to move past you.

Let me put it to you straight: web analysis allows you to determine the real ROI which, in turn, allows you to see what tactics are working and which aren't.

Not the tactics that your boss likes or that tested well in focus groups - the tactics that really work.

Personally, I recommend facing these new challenges head on. It's tough, but how else will you know if you are really reaching your goals?

What About You?

I would love to hear from you on this topic. Do you measure your social media outreach? If not, what is holding you back? If you do measure social media, what are the elements that you measure? Are these personalized to your goals?

In short, how's it going out there?

Please check out Why Your Social Media ROI Is Broken– And How To Fix It and leave a comment there or here (comment section below). I look forward to hearing from you.

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Your Secret Marketing Tool: The Daily Public Transit Commute

Commuters

BG and I took the train together yesterday morning and I had an epiphany.

The morning commute is the perfect marketing tool. And no one uses it (pretty much).

Yesterday was the first day I wasn't cocooned in my iPod and book. I was chatting with BG and had my eyes and ears totally open to the world around me.

I'm ashamed to say, it was probably a first.

A New World

I listened to the way people talked about current events, I spied what they listened to on their iPod, and I peeked over shoulders to see what people were reading (yeah, I'm that guy).

It was great! I picked up more details about human interaction than I would have after a week researching online.

How is this a marketing tool? Marketing is all about relationships, and becoming more so all of the time. As I mentioned in a post about how marketers are now anthropologists: "Now, relationships are a prerequisite to business, not vice versa."

On the train, I was able to observe how people related to media, other people, and the world around them. You can figure out someone's priorities pretty quickly in a packed train car.

For 30 minutes, I studied sociology, anthropology, and marketing all at the same time. And it was awesome.

Try Something New

What's the alternative? Enveloping yourself in the retreat of a car interior?

If you live in a city with public transportation, let someone else do the driving tomorrow morning. It'll give you time to study that elusive "public" marketers are always talking about. To paraphrase David Ogilvy, the customer isn't an idiot, she's your train companions.

If you've got the guts, we'd love to hear about your experience. Or, if you have another secret marketing tool - a place you go to check out human behavior - please also share it in the comments section below.

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Why I Do Not Post Every Day

Stop-Relax

A lot of popular bloggers put up new blog posts everyday. But you might have noticed that I don't - 1-3 times per week, usually. But I haven't explained why I've adopted that frequency.

If you are a blogger (or think you might be in the future), I hope this gives you plenty to think about regarding your own blogging frequency.

Why don't you post every day?

Well, there are a few reasons. Here are the most important:

  • Don't have anything to say: It seems elementary, but for many would-be bloggers, it's not. There is enough cacophony in the blogosphere already. I refuse to add to it if I have nothing useful to say. (Subscribers to this blog know this - they are only notified when I post; never when I don't.)
  • It's already been said: There are a lot of smart bloggers out there. I'm not going to repeat or piggy-back on someone else's good idea. But if you're interested in the good stuff I'm reading, follow me on Twitter. I always tweet about smart articles (feel free to DM me yours, if you think it's really great).
  • Different priorities: Like many bloggers, I juggle a blog with my day job and family responsibilities. Sometimes, I need to devote my blogging time to the day job (even the 5-7am shift). Other times, I feel it is more important to spend time with BG and the dogs.
  • Traveling: Unlike some of the more hard-core bloggers, I usually take travel time as a chance to relax and don't post while I'm gone. For instance, I'm writing this post at the edge of the Pacific Ocean in Mexico. Our honeymoon is going great, but I thought this would be an appropriate topic with which to break from my norm of abstaining from blogging while away. (That's how much I value you readers...plus BG is taking a nap, so no interference with family time.)

What about you? Have you felt the pressure to post every day? How has that effected your writing? Or, have you changed your blogging frequency for any particular reason?

I'd love to hear from you, even while I'm away. And be sure to take some time off yourself during this summer season. Please look forward to a more regular posting schedule starting next week.

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