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

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

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

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

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

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

THE Handbook for CS Success

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

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

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

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

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

What Do These Badasses Do?

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

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

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

So What Do I Think?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What Could Work?

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

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

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

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

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

What Definitely DOESN'T Work

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

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

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

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

OK, there are two things here.

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

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

WHY Won't This Work

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

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

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

Means, Not Ends

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Marketers are faced with ethical quandaries every day.

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

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

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

A Path With Roadblocks?

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

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

The Golden Rule

But, maybe I’m wrong.

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

Emotions and the Golden Rule require us to:

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

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

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

Ethical Strategy, Better Tactics

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

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

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

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

What About You?

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

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

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5 Ways To Promote Creative Marketing

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

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

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

How Do You Promote Creativity?

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

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

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

You’ve got no choice."

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

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

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

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

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

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

Which leads perfectly into...

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What Did I Forget?

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

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

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Does Your Social Media Strategy Need A Zen Alarm Clock?

I'm a terrible sleeper.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I hope you enjoy this Marketing Minute video.

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

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Facebook Fan Page

I'd happy to announce that OnlineMarketerBlog now has a dedicated fan page on Facebook. I hope you take a moment to join.

Why should you sign up as a fan? Here are a few reasons:

  • It's where you are. You're on Facebook anyway. Now you can get some OMB goodness without that pesky CTRL+T.
  • It's going to be your one-stop shop. Facebook will soon feature a robust email system. Functionality is going to expand as Mark Zuckerman plots to waste even more of your work day. Now OMB comes wrapped in with the rest of that goodness.
  • No Farmville. Ever. Or Mafia Wars. Or pokes (what the hell is that anyway). Just strategic marketing posts with no B.S.

I hope you join the fan page. I look forward to our future conversations! Harness the power of The Book (H/T @UhhYeahDude).

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5 Things Napoleon Can Teach You About Strategy

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

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

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

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

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

Things could not have looked more dire.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Formula That Works

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

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

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

Good For Everyone

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

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

Science Or Theory?

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

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

Final Word

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

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

Her Other Work

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

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Was Gone But Back Again

You might have noticed I've been absent from the blog for a little while. That's true, but I'm here today to tell you I'm back.

Why did I take a break? There were several reasons.

  1. Blog burnout: It's a very real thing. I've been writing OMB for over two years. And non-bloggers would find it surprising how taxing it is to come up with topics and get writing time every single week. I just needed a mental break.
  2. Day job priorities: I have been doing some pretty awesome stuff for Critical Mass that I hope one day to share here. These tasks required more mental bandwidth and something had to give. But I've gotten over a hump and expect to turn more attention back to the blog.
  3. Law school is a bitch: Not for me, for BG. With her in law school, I was not only in charge of the dogs and trash, but laundry, shopping, sweeping, cleaning...and that's cool. I'm happy to support her work. But her schedule has leveled a bit to where things are more balanced now - allowing me more time to write.
  4. I was a bitch: To paraphrase Dean Wormer: annoyed, angry, and pissed off is no way to go through life. I found myself with no patience for other marketing bloggers and quick to snap at anyone. I didn't want that to come out in my writing and I didn't want that unhealthiness in my life. (I'm calmer now...not sure why.)
  5. On the internet, no one can hear you blog: Let's face it: one guy not blogging isn't front-page news. Most of my traffic is from search engines and I don't have a cult following (I don't lose sleep about this, trust me). Anyway, I figured if I needed a break, few tears would be shed.

This is all to say...I'm back!

What's this mean for you? Well, I hope you'll subscribe to the blog. Don't forget to also subscribe to the podcast in iTunes (search for OnlineMarketerBlog) or click the button at the top of the center column.

(And if you need more reading material than I can provide, check out books I recommend.)

I will be back with more blog posts, including some cool book reviews and maybe a couple of video podcasts. I hope you'll stick around.

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My Post On the3six5

Yesterday was my day for the3six5 project, which means my entry is featured there today. Check it out at:

http://the3six5.posterous.com/january-24-2010-dj-francis

Here's a small snippet...

Today, I did the nerdiest thing I've ever done. I competed in a board game tournament.

Most people who know me would be shocked. They just don't see that side of me. Most of them see me as a businessman. Some of them see me as a brother or son. A special lady sees me as a husband. But a board game competitor? It is not a side I show to many folks.

We all have these secrets, don't we? You can never really know your fellow person. It's like we see each other through a dim and dirty mirror; passing each other like shadows on the wall in Plato's cave.

For the full entry, go to the3six5 project. Feel free to leave a comment or RT if you like it!

Also, you will notice that the3six5 project is run through Posterous. Subscribe to my Posterous feed (under "Get Updates in right-hand column) to find new, innovative articles and get a slightly different take on marketing.

Smart Gifts For Smart Marketers

Train Reading1

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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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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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7 Ways Hulu Can Benefit From A Freemium Model

Hula2

This week I've been positing a theory to you folks: That the new creativity is ideally expressed through a freemium business model.

And today, I'd like to apply this theory. Let's kick this idea around:

I believe a freemium model would best suit video sites like Hulu and others, rather than a traditional "subscription" model where some content lies behind a firewall. A bunch of video sites like Hulu are looking to monetize, but who will find the process that entices viewers to pull out their wallets?

Today, I will outline 7 ways Hulu could package what they already have into a freemium model users would willingly pay for (clamor for, more like it).

[Quick sidenote: For the lead-in and first official post in this series, check out the links in the first paragraph. Since this is #2 out of 3 in the series, subscribe to ensure you receive the third in this series and all subsequent posts. Now, back to the fun!]

Let's See It In Action

If the new creativity is getting someone to tell their friends about your product, how much is a crappy ad going to convince me? Not much. And when was the last time you bragged to a friend about an old-school subscription?

The new creativity and the freemium model were made for each other.

Consumers tell their friends about great new services, especially free ones. As virally distributed critical mass builds, a certain fraction of those folks will opt for a premium version of that service.

The new creativity brings people in. A freemium model expands this audience and makes the whole endeavor profitable.

But what about Hulu? It's nowhere near as big as Google-owned YouTube, but Hulu almost certainly has more pressure to produce profit. Ad overlays are tolerated, but a subscription model was recently mocked by CNN because it "may send most of Hulu’s users searching for alternatives."

Consider this:

What if Hulu adopted a freemium model? What types of premiums could they offer for a small cost to a fraction of the tens of millions of people who watch?

And what if the premiums were outside the narrow realm of "content"? Ad Week reported that "A Hulu rep said the company's strategy of offering high-quality content supported by advertising remains unchanged, while leaving the door open to adding paid content." But what if it wasn't just content they charged for?

If the new creativity is a method of encouraging consumers to talk about the brand to other consumers, while creating more direct access to the brand…let's think creatively about how Hulu can create something users will not only pay for, but tell their friends about as well.

7 Ways Hulu Can Benefit From A Freemium Model

Here are just a few premiums Hulu could offer (most of which would have the secondary effect of attracting even more viewers/paid traffic). Let's consider what conveniences Hulu really has to bargain with, and how they could be packaged:

  • Access:

1. Give premium members advance notice. Allow members to view shows before the rest of the Hulu viewing audience.

2. Give members the opportunity to provide feedback. Use members to test out pilot episodes, to become a focus group of sorts. Use Hulu as a testing ground for new content such as webisodes, rather than just a repository. Let members help the show sidestep potential disasters while still in beta.

  • Convenience:

3. Allow members to automatically or easily transfer their favorite shows to their smart phone or portable device. Let users create a watch list and automatically pull episodes from the web portal into whatever device they choose. Compatibility is the new convenience, so allow me to take The Office with me on my iTouch or PSP.

  • Whuffie

4. Raffle off the name of a show's character to premium members . Aussie radio hosts Hamish and Andy recently teamed up with a popular writer to name one of his main characters after a lucky listener (minute 8 in the audio). It's a great idea to arouse support and build an audience.

5. Give away video birthday/anniversary wishes from the actors. Prominent actors in web-only shows, like Tony Hale from CTRL, give members a chance to interact on a closer level. Imagine while filming these short interviews if Hale had sent a personalized message to a winning member. A contest for this privilege would spread like wildfire considering his Arrested Development fame and it would cost the show nothing.

6. Allow members to create their own channel and earn cash. Ads still run if non-paying users watch a member’s channel. Allow the member to keep a small percentage of that income. That will fuel their desire to share the channel and push more content in front of users (allowing Hulu to charge more for ads).

  • Time

7. It should go without saying, but don’t make members watch commercials ever. Period.

Some Pessimism From The Back Pew

Some experts will disagree with me, saying that viewers will simply never pay for online content. I have quotes from some top agency minds saying just that.

But later this week, I will outline why they (and that mindset) are soooo wrong. Stay subscribed and please feel free to comment below. I'd love to hear your thoughts.

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The Freemium Option Better For Video Sites?

TV2

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

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

Let's get to it.

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

What's A Hulu Subscription Look Like?

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

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

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

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

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

So how can Hulu make money?

The New Creativity

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

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

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

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

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

The "Freemium" Option

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Let's See It In Action

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

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

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Last Chance To Support Movember

I don't often talk about non-marketing-related subjects, but this is too important to pass up. I'm raising money in support of men's health issues by growing a mustache - or "mo" - this November Movember. Check out the video below or on YouTube to learn more about this effort.

My goal is to raise $610 dollars - that's a dollar for every man who dies each week from prostate cancer. Help me raise funds to fight prostate and testicular cancer: http://tr.im/DJstache

1 in 6 men is diagnosed with prostate cancer, so if you are a dude, or love or know a dude, it's important that you help. All money that you donate goes to The Prostate Cancer Foundation and The Lance Armstrong Foundation. So, you know that you're supporting good folks doing good work.

I've raised almost $300 thus far and my team is also doing great. But I need your help today to reach my goal.

Show some love for the bros growin' mos. And thank you.

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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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