Grow Up: Content IS a Commodity

The always-impressive Rachel Lovinger wrote about a recent backlash she is seeing to the word "content."

While I haven't experienced exactly what she is describing, I have seen symptoms of this bigger illness - mostly that "content" is so vague a term as to allow the uneducated or uninitiated to play in the space with subpar results. (Basically the same dynamic we saw a few years ago in terms of unique, quality content versus the content farms online detritus.)

Lovinger deftly sums up the issue:

The core problem seems to be a feeling that the word “content” reduces thoughtful, artistic expressions to a commodity. The websites and apps we develop to elegantly deliver words, images and media experiences are perceived as empty containers, hungry for content to be poured into them. Content marketing campaigns depend on calendars that demand to be filled on a regularly scheduled basis. This may give the impression that an effective approach to content is to churn out generic stuff that fits the size and shape of the container, and meets the deadlines.

Content Isn't Art

While I certainly share a distain for garbage content or even the practices that produce it, it also got me thinking about the other end of the spectrum. There will always be those who try to churn out a crappy product (content, in this case) faster and cheaper. But there are also those on the other end who do as much damage by elevating content to an artistic expression

I fall into the pragmatic center. I tend to agree with Lee Clow that an advertisement is a piece of communication. Content may require someone with artistic sensibilities, but it is not art. Content IS a commodity. 

Why am I so emphatically "reducing" content to a commodity? Because I've tried to sell just an idea to a client. It never works. They might agree, but agreeing to something as imperceivable as an idea is never something that can be approved by a corporation. 

The success I've had with content marketing is, in fact, largely because I can package up content programs into commodities. Looking over current content to see what you can repurpose is a good idea. But a content audit is something a client can buy. BIG difference. 

I see sweet, well-meaning agency folks fail consistently because they simply don't give a client something she could actually purchase.

We work in a business with a lot of vagueness. Even our most concrete metrics don't tell a clear story all the time. (For instance, does time on site mean that a viewer is really interested or does it mean they're confused and can't find what they want right away?) We're at our best when we eliminate vagueness for our client. That's the way to truly become a strategic partner.

Commoditize Your Content Strategy

I'm not a business guy. I'm an English major. I don't get friendly with the numbers side of our business all that often. But I am also a problem solver. And the only way to solve the client's problem is to convince them to do what you know needs done.

So, give your idea a name. Consider additional components that might go into that commodity. Think about how long it will take, what is in scope and out of scope. Outline the goals and what documents you will deliver at the end of the project. 

A client needs to buy a commodity, not an idea. Ideas are great for art. But we're in the business of provoking action. That requires a commodity. And in our case, that commodity is content. Long live content commodities.

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Please share via your social network (links below). Also, stay tuned for part two where I discuss what isn't a commodity: strategic leadership. Fun times!  

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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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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How Bogotá Completely Changed (And Its Lessons For You) Part 2

[Read Bogotá part one for more awesomeness about Bogotá Change and Switch.]

The Carrot Law

Mockus wasn't finished. There were 70 homicides for every 100,000 people - far, far too high.

Instead of trying to confront the whole populous with PSAs, instead of confronting the symptoms by increasing penalties for public intoxication, he simply halted the problem at its source.

Mockus sent out the mandate: Bars must close at 1am. Fewer drunks. Less drunk. In bed earlier.

He called it The Carrot Law - slang for someone who doesn't smoke for drink. And it worked.

Likewise, the Heath brothers assert the power of small changes in Switch. And that these small changes can have a huge impact.

"It's a theme we've seen again and again - big changes come from a succession of small changes. It's OK if the first changes seem almost trivial...With each step, the Elephant [your emotional urge] feels less scared and less reluctant, because things are working." (page 147)

Other tactics complimented The Carrot Law. Police were reeducated in non-violent tactics - not broad "interactions" as a whole, but each small interaction with citizens.

In addition to violence in the community, Mockus also focused on violence originating in the home. Children were encouraged to report offenders in their own families and taught to direct their anger at inanimate object.

The belief in the administration was that violence in the home was just repeated in the streets. This was a full-scale, city-wide re-direction of aggression.

Maybe it sounded crazy went it started. But in the 4 years under Mockus, the number of deaths was reduced by 1/3 and kept going down afterwards.

Enrique Penalosa - A Businessman For Urban Design

Mayors in Bogotá are restricted to one term, so after Mockus, newly party-less Enrique Penalosa became the city's second independent mayor.

Unlike the professorial Mockus, Penalosa was a businessman. But he'd promised to continue the work Mockus began.

Traffic volume was still a problem and Penalosa was pressured to build expensive elevated highways. But that wouldn't have fixed the problem - just moved the problem into the sky.

Instead, he urged rejection of the expensive elevated highways and, instead, poured that money into both improving public transportation as well as completely altering the highways.

When he started, public transportation fought for space amongst the cars and trucks. But in Penalosa's plan, the car lanes became bus lanes. And the buses were refurbished into beautiful modern vehicles.

You could still drive a car, but it'd be even more crowded than before, as you were pushed to the side lanes. And as you're baking in your car, thinking about the gas money you're burning, you'd look over to the bus lanes, gliding along in comfort. Pretty persuasive, don't you think?

Penalosa wasn't cracking down or forbidding anything. Instead, he smoothed the path he wanted people to go on.

People aren't bad; they just usually take the easier route. In this case, quite literally, the easiest route was by bus.

The Heaths cite another executive changing different behavior through similar means.

"'We're taught to focus on incentives by our business background,' say Bregman [a successful change agent]. 'Or even our parents: "Do this or you won't get your allowance!"' But executives - and parents - often have more tools than they think they have. If you change the path, you'll change the behavior." (page 185)

In just 36 months, the Penalosa administration went from idea to the first fleet on the road. The result: less traffic, less pollution, and less class conflict (between those with cars and those without).

Now, 1.6M Bogotáns travel by public transport every day and another 400,000 use their bikes. Overall, traffic has decreased by 22%.

Can't Argue With Results

Mockus, the professor. Penalosa, the businessman. Two very different men working toward their goals through very unusual means.

But you can't argue with the results. These days, 98.5% of kids in Bogotá go to school. Since 1994, homocide dropped 70%.

The tactics outlined in Bogotá Change and Switch work. And they can create change in your life too.

The most important lesson in my mind is that these were men who believed that change was possible - they believed it fundamentally, deep into their bones.

The Heaths call it a "growth mindset." (page 164) No matter the name - and no matter how cheesy it sounds sometimes - the first step in creating change is believing it's possible.

How are you going to create change? Which of these lessons resonate with you?

I'd love to hear your thoughts in the comments section. Thanks for reading!

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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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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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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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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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How Marketers Can Ruin Video Sites Like Hulu For The Rest Of Us

Smug1

A Brief Intro...

I started this three-part series with a discussion of "the new creativity" and asked if the freemium business model would be better for video content sites like Hulu. Then, I outlined 7 ways Hulu could benefit from a freemium model.

And finally, after all of this persuasive writing, I'd like to examine how a few boneheaded marketers will probably f*ck up the whole "free video content" thing for everyone.

Intrigued? I thought so. Let's get into it.

They'll Never Pay For It. Until They Do.

In my last post, I outlined a plan where Hulu could profit by packaging some already- (or mostly-) existing assets into an awesome premium package some viewers would gladly pay for.

Hulu would be happy because they'd be making money. Their free audience would be happy because they'd still get great shows for zilch. And their premium audience would be happy because they'd get a bunch of perks and cool stuff for a nominal fee.

You'd think everyone would be happy, right?

Peter Verna, senior analyst with eMarketer is pessimistic that these perks could be bundled together into a premium package. He was quoted in a November OMMA article, "Trim Marks":

"It's fair to say that consumers are generally not willing to pay directly for online video...

I also think that if Hulu and YouTube are going to start charging for some of their content, they should limit it to feature films. Virtually everything else they offer seems to work better in an ad-supported context, with the caveat that user-generated clips are challenging to monetize through any model."

True, most of the examples in "Trim Marks" were from digital studios creating original content. But comments like Verna's certainly apply to sites like Hulu and the lessons ought to be applied to any website specializing in video content. The history of online video over the past 10 years or so would support his notion that people generally won't pay for online content.

My point is that premium customers aren't paying for online video. They're paying for more flexibility. They're paying for the ability to suggest shows or brag to their friends. They are paying for a better user experience.

A Lonely Voice Crying Out From The Wilderness

Of course, not all agencies are going to challenge their clients to try new business models. Many are happy to pretend the world isn't changing.

In that same OMMA article, John McCarus, VP and director of brand content at Third Act, said "We have made an investment in this and we are doing everything we can to connect the stars in the content-creation community with clients that understand the space and have an appetite."

OK, that's McCarus' idea, but will this sit well with content creators? Isn't this the definition of selling out? If online trust is built through honesty, sincerity, and reputation, I don’t see how this will work long-term. Sure, one-offs will flock to it, but creators looking to connect will likely shy away from this business model.

But the suits go ever further! Studios need to "make room for advertisers to play an active role in the shape of a show," says Alan Schulman, executive creative director for The Digital Innovations Group.

Are you friggin' kidding me? So instead of advertising against content, they will dictate the content as well?

Schulman pushes it even further: studios "should expand their base of business from pure narrative storytelling to weaving other types of narratives like brand-centric edutainment into their offerings."

Edutainment? Yeah, nothing says viral video success like "edutainment." This is a guy with his finger on the pulse on the YouTube generation alright </sarcasm>.

Let me be clear: These are really, really bad ideas. It's wedging the old model (selling ads next to content) into a new form (online) while diluting the content that attracted your viewers in the first place (edutainment).

This is a recipe for failure.

Smart Video Advertising

If you're going to sell ads, you need to be smart about it. Here are a few hints about video ads you should know if you plan to be in this business 2 years from now:

  1. Ads need to be contextual. Since there is no AdWords for video, this means a lot of work either tagging or actually selecting the ads that run against your content.
  2. Users will not pay for content. As I mentioned in my last post, they will pay for a package of perks. They will also (for now) tolerate a pre-roll ad. But dictating the content? Good luck!
  3. Any product placement should be handled subtly. Yes, it was Nestea that was spilled on and gave magical powers to the keyboard in CTRL. But no one needed to shove it in our faces or “educate” us about how great a sponsor was. Just make it work.

In short, if you want to create business advocates – and you should – you must think of their needs first.

And that has been the point of this blog series. It began with a discussion of which business model is best for online video consumers. Then there were suggestions for Hulu to improve their user experience. And finally a warning against putting your desires before the customer.

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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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10 Recession Marketing Myths De-Bunked

Optimism

I recently posted my top 10 marketing myths that deserve to be de-bunked, especially in this economic climate. You can read the full posts at Experience Matters and iMediaConnection's blog.

Marketing during the recession is a terribly important topic for me - so much so that I wrote an e-book on the subject. I'd be honored if you read it today during lunch or on your commute (there's no cost, of course).

I'm so passionate about this topic because I think we are in a time of great opportunity. It's easy to get depressed or pessimistic or cynical. It seems like everything on TV or elsewhere in the media is all doom and gloom.

It doesn't have to be this way. I truly believe that this is the perfect time for you to break out of your mold. Differentiate yourself from your competitors. Do the tough work that will allow you to burst out of the gate once money starts flowing again.

Try Angie's List Today!

Here are a few of my favorite myths in need of a good de-bunking:

2. I'm Afraid. How is this a marketing myth? Think of everything you hear around the office that translates into "I'm afraid."

  • "Has the boss seen this?"
  • "Nobody's done that before."
  • "It's risky."

A lot of businesspeople hunker down during a recession, hoping they can just ride it out without creating too many problems. That's actually more risky (and scary).

It's OK to be afraid of new marketing tactics, but it's not OK to allow that fear to stop you from taking risks. As General Eric Shinseki said: "If you don't like change, you're going to like irrelevance even less."

5. I'd be better off letting my competitors try [insert new marketing initiative] first. Then I can learn from their mistakes.

What you consider mistakes are actually learning opportunities. Sure, some missteps are more seriously, but consider the experience your opponent is gaining while you sit on the digital sidelines.

Expert commentary from Sun Tzu's The Art of War explains the importance of being ahead of your opponent:

"Once war is declared, [the leader] will not waste precious time...with all great strategists, from Julius Caesar to Napoleon Bonaparte, the value of time - that is, being a little ahead of your opponent - has counted for more than either numerical superiority or the nicest calculations with regard to commissariat."

Being first allows you to build up what Len Kendall describes as a sort of "giving storehouse." His "Give/Take Ratio" post illustrates that subsequent market competitors will have to work much, much harder to earn trust than the early adopter.

8. We don't have anything to share with our customers. Besides, they don't want to talk to us, anyway.

This is sometimes true. Not many people want to chat up the guy who makes their ball bearings.

But there are a lot more brands people want to interact with that aren't making an effort yet. So what do you have to offer?

First, you've got access. If customers are interested in your product, it's likely they would want to take a peek behind the curtain.

Second, you've got an experienced workforce with highly specialized knowledge. Employees frequently have the potential to be amazing brand representatives, given the proper encouragement.

You can find all 10 marketing myths de-bunked at Experience Matters and iMediaConnection's blog. Feel free to leave a comment about any of the myths or list another you'd like to see de-bunked.

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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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Do You Lead With Your Eyebrows Or Your Mouth?

eyebrows

It's a summer Friday afternoon - let's talk marketing! Wahoo!

"Yeah right," right? That's why I'll keep this short.

I want you to make a commitment - just something to consider - no sweat or hard work due right now.

Starting Monday morning, I want you to think about the way you lead. If you're a boss, think about the way you foster your young employee's careers, about the way you inspire, about the very nature of how you lead. Same goes for mid-level employees with your intern oversight. Hell, even if you are the office intern, it's a lesson for you as well. After all, who is going to be the boss in 20 years?

Here's the gist: While I was on my honeymoon (just got back last night), I read some non-marketing books. Among them was Boss of Bosses, a story about the FBI's mob take-down during the '80s (it's the closest I got to beach reading...I did get through almost 2 marketing books as well).

This passage about leadership really struck me:

"[Paul] Castellano knew that the most powerful man was the man who needed to say the least. Neil's carrying on, his slapping of backs - it had a certain gruff charm, but it did not speak of power. True power resided in the lift of the eyebrow, the barely discernible nod of the head. If ["Neil"] Dellacroce wanted to play the emcee, fine - that only showed the relative weakness of his position." (pg. 107)

So, what about you? Do you berate your employees with screams and threats? Do they know exactly how to make that vein in your forehead dance the jig?

I've always respected my bosses who resisted tantrums. They were the ones that really seemed in control - unflappable, collected, above the fray.

If you have employees under you - or you will someday - you can learn a little something about leadership from the former  boss.

If you agree with this, I'd like you to (re)dedicate yourself to this style of leadership on Monday morning. Take the weekend to think about it. Consider what emotional responses might be chipping away your credibility with your employees. Then take a lesson from Paul and let us know how it goes!

Think about it over the weekend: do you lead with a careful lift of the eyebrow or do you scream your head off to demonstrate your leadership? Which is more effective? And how are you taking steps to make your style the most efficient?

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

wwr

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

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

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

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

Get It

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

3. Even n00bs can get it.

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

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

4. He makes the case for true content marketing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Skip It

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

1. Lack of evidence

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

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

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

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

2. Same 'ol, same 'ol

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

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

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

Final Verdict

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

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

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

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

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

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Small Business Marketing Strategy: Is Social Media Marketing Viable?

geoff-and-small-biz

Network Solutions recently published an intriguing report about small business success metrics. Their Small Business Success Index research (opens PDF of executive summary) contends that small businesses excel at customer service - but that small business marketing leaves much to be desired.

Why is this? How can small businesses improve their marketing without costly ad campaigns?

The State Of Small Business

Network Solutions breaks out six key factors that influence success for small businesses - capital access, marketing & innovation, workforce, customer service, computer technology, and compliance. (Details about each factor are included in the full report, available on their website.)

Customer service is the highest ranked of the six factors, meaning most small businesses do well at pleasing their customers. But marketing and innovation records the second worst score.

The problems become more apparent when marketing and innovation is broken down into sub-indices.

Where Are Small Businesses Failing (And Can Social Media Marketing Help)?

Out of seven marketing and innovation sub-indices, I'd like to examine the four lowest ranked and determine whether a social media marketing strategy could help improve sagging attributes.

Consider Michael Stelzner's report published last month: Social Media Marketing Industry Report. In his extensive survey, Stelzner details how marketers are using social media to grow their business.

Consider Network Solutions' marketing and innovation sub-indices when paired with Stelzner's benefits of social media marketing:

  • Finding efficient ways to advertise and promote your business - Network Solutions score: 67 (lowest sub-index)
  • 81% of marketers reported that social media marketing generated exposure for their business (Stelzner)
  • Converting marketing leads into buyers - Network Solutions score: 68
  • 35% of marketers reported that social media marketing helped them close business

  • Positioning your organization as having the same capabilities as big organizations in your industry: Network Solutions score: 71
  • 61% of marketers reported that social media marketing increased their traffic/subscribers/opt-in list (key positioning/branding tactic)
  • Identifying new prospective customers - Network Solutions score: 71
  • 48% of marketers reported that social media marketing generated qualified leads

Social media marketing isn't for everyone. It takes a lot of time and energy. These solutions are often highly personalized to your business (read: one size does not fit all). I have a history of warning marketers before they dive right in.

That said, I think the Network Solutions research and the Stelzner survey prove that social media marketing might be exactly what a lot of small businesses need right now.

So What Does This Mean For Me?

Later this week, I will drill down into the Networks Solutions data. I'll give specific examples of how small businesses could improve their scores in the marketing and innovation sub-indices.

What's this mean for you? Well, my hope is that you'll garner something from my advice that provides a solution to your own small business marketing problem.

If you leave a comment about your personal small business marketing problems, I will try to address it in that post. Please join us later in the week for this follow-up - the easiest way not to miss out is to subscribe.

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Marketing During A Recession E-Book

After many weeks of work, I am proud to release a new e-book: Marketing During A Recession: Economic Slowdowns Are Opportunities (PDF)

We're all worried about how the recession will effect us and our business. But there are a lot of misconceptions and downright mistakes about how to use marketing during this recession. This e-book draws from expert advice and provides you a path forward in these difficult times.

Please download it or check it out on SlideShare. (It's free, of course.)

I got some great help from Joann Sondy, a designer in the online community - she's the reason this e-book looks so much better than my previous ones. She was great to work with and knew the best design strategy for this particular material.

Consider hiring Joann for your next project. You can check out her portfolio at CreativeAces.com (seriously, have your annual reports ever looked this good?) and read her blog at OutsideTheMargin.biz. Some more information about her work is below:

Joann Sondy has an extensive background creating and delivering corporate materials for financial and investor relations. With more than 15 years, Joann has produced distinctive communications that help IR/PR agencies build audience awareness and confidence. If your strategy calls for a presentation, e-book, white paper, fact sheet and/or annual report, contact Joann today. joann{at}creativeaces{dot}dom or DM her via Twitter: @jsondy.

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How The Kindle And iTouch Can Save The Comic Book Industry

watchmen-in-playstation-home

It's well documented that I'm not just a marketing geek, but a comic book geek as well. So I get excited on occasions when those two loves cross paths.

(And I know I'm not the only marketing dude with ink-smudged fingers...I'm looking at you, Brogan and Naslund.)

That's why I got nervous when I saw this recent AdAge video featuring John Cunningham, VP of Advertising for DC Comics. The video (which is only 3 minutes long, so go watch it) frames the Kindle as some sort of potential comic book killer. Here's an example straight from the video:

"This is a business that is very low margin and very low print-run. So, if 10% of the readers migrate to an e-device, that is going to throw off the economics for 60% of the books that are published in this country - and that's probably a low guess."

To fearful folks in the publishing industry, I want you to really focus on what I'm about to say next. Go ahead: get comfortable and really take this in.

Are you friggin' kidding me?

Seriously, are ya? Because fear-mongering about Kindles and iTouchs is beyond short-sighted. Have you learned nothing from the music and movie industries? (Curious about why I mention music and movies? If so, read this great post by Jeremy Meyers for some insight.) And I don't mean to pick on John - he redeems himself as I'll explain later in this post - but acting like the Kindle is going to kill Batman is LAME.

Future Business Models

In fact, rather than kill the comics industry, electronic readers like the Kindle or the iTouch could end up saving the comics industry.

If this business is so low-margin and frugal, any additional profit should be considered. Here are a few business ideas for comic book publishers:

  • Allow me to buy single issues at a cheap price. You already have the content and you'll spend nothing on paper or distribution. It's almost pure profit for you. (Sure, you'll have to allot some time for scanning and development, but not much.)
  • Allow me to pay a subscription fee for back issues. I would gladly pay $5 per month to browse back issues of the X-men and I'm sure I'm not alone. The interaction doesn't need to be robust - just assign a scanner to an intern and collect the (electronic) checks. It'd be the Netflix of comic books.
  • Allow me to subscribe to the electronic version. Comic books get mangled in the mail and delivery can be spotty (I know from personal experience). I would gladly pay a slightly reduced rate to have the files sent to me each month. It would be consistent, trackable, and automatic.
  • Create a website or app that allows me to create my pull list and then prompt me to purchase directly. There are iPod apps that do this, but no real market leader. With this, you would have an ongoing source of income from a customer who asks to be contacted. Plus, consider the market research capabilities (i.e. imagine lots of readers with The Fantastic Four on their pull list who suddenly stop ordering it - that's immediate notification that something about the book has gone sour.)
  • Wrap in author/artist interviews or other bonus material with each comic book and charge me a premium rate. Again, this is content that doesn't take much effort to create - just figure out how to package it. Remember that fans open their wallets for access.

There are lots of options. But try something - anything! - to stay competitive in the market place.

No Zero Sum

The point is - and this speaks to John the DC VP's quote - that this industry is not a zero sum game.

Marketing guys (myself included) question why people would buy more than one copy of a comic book and wonder about the limited resource of time. "It's illogical to read the same thing in paper and also read an electronic version, isn't it?" "If people only have an hour per day to read, we're competing for time in the hour, aren't we?"

Maybe not. Internal reporting from Amazon shows that Kindle users are actually consuming more content (or at least paying for it). John Wall from the Marketing Over Coffee podcast mentioned that "[a]n analyst was reporting [at Amazon's Kindle launch] that Kindle users buy 2.7 times the number of [electronic] books they would physical books" (minute 2:21).

I might not peel off another $4 to try out a new comic book on the stands, but I might download one for 99 cents.

Will People Pay For Online Content?

John Cunningham, the VP of Advertising at DC, later goes on to say:

"I think the key is not to figure out how to ferret out the pirates; it's to come up with a digital delivery system that you can - early on in the process, and that would be sometime in the next 12-16 months - come up with a way where you can convince people [that] it's worthwhile to pay for this stuff because they don't believe that digital stuff should be paid for."

Things like "people won't pay for content online" get said so many times that we eventually assume that it is correct. But that's not necessarily true.

People will pay for your content if it's priced correctly and if the process is convenient. You already have delivery systems: they're called iTunes and Amazon.com.

I've bought every issue of Proof available. Why? They were 99 cents each, they download straight to my iTouch in about 30 seconds, and I can read comic books while looking like a regular businessman on the train (petty, but true). Simple, cheap, and convenient.

BitTorrent is difficult to understand and use for the vast majority of Americans. A lot of people are like Julien Smith as recently featured on the Media Hacks podcast:

Mitch Joel: "If you know as a consumer that you can grab a song off of BitTorrent or it's 99 cents, your value of that is diminished."

Julien Smith: "No, I disagree. I buy a lot of song on iTunes and I have BitTorrented music before. But I will tell you: iTunes is my first choice...because of the fact that iTunes will automatically put it into my [darn] iTunes and onto my iPhone right away. I choose it first even though it costs more, and I'm not the only one" (minute 34:15).

Simple, cheap, and convenient.

And here's the kicker: one of the key comic book audiences is the most likely to pay for content online. Despite conventional "wisdom," the Pew Internet Project reports that "[o]nline adults under age 30 are more likely than other age groups to pay for content online" (Online Shopping PDF, page 13).

Yowza.

What Do You Think?

Am I right or am I wrong? Have you seen a comic book company doing work specifically for an electronic reader? Would you consider buying comic books online if it was simple, cheap, and convenient? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.

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