Monday, December 28, 2009

The Catch-22 of Education Marketing

How do we raise the value of a degree?

The successful marketing of education relies on understanding the interplay of three different elements.
  1. Prospect - the quality(ies) of the applicant pool entering the school
  2. Program - the curriculum, both classroom and the intangibles
  3. Placement - the odds of getting that dream job

The sweet spot occurs at the intersection of these three Ps. Yet a Catch-22 exists in the development of an educational institution: The best employers won't target a school unless it has the best job applicants and the best college candidates won't consider a school if the best employers don't target graduates.

The glue is the "Program" - the skills, knowledge and experiences gained along the way to a degree. Balancing what students want and what employers need (as well as what researchers pursue) is the ultimate, long-term job of a marketer.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

The 7 Minute Gift

What can we provide each other this season?

Yesterday I had the opportunity to participate in a unique event sponsored by the Community Foundation of Utah - a speed mentoring session.

For two hours a variety on non-profits met with entrepreneurs to discuss their needs in a specific area - networking, strategy, fund raising, etc. I was at the marketing table and talked to groups ranging from community gardens to art centers to national volunteer organizations about how better to position themselves in the minds of constituents.

The idea for the event grew out of the notions that a) entrepreneurs and non-profits have a lot in common, i.e. they're always bootstrapping something, b) non-profits need the experiences, connections and insights that entrepreneurs have and c) entrepreneurs as a group are extremely philanthropic by nature. So adapting the structure of speed dating and speed pitching 50+ non-profits met with 50+ entrepreneurs in a series of 7 minute sessions. This was followed by a panel discussion on corporate social responsibility.

In order to make this successful, and by all accounts both groups were more than pleased - they were satisfied and happy, the non-profits were individually coached ahead of time on preparing their pitch. They knew what to say and ask their questions. As mentors we were given a brief abstract on what each organization did and what their need was. It was amazing how much 'work' could be accomplished in those 7 minutes.

As professionals we're usually busy looking for new clients or serving our existing ones. As an employee of an ad agency most of these groups would have never crossed my path because our market is different than where they sit today (euphemism "for they couldn't afford our services.")

The chance to share some thoughts, ask some questions, and hopefully provide some guidance with those who need it most was personally very satisfying. Certainly a better professional gift than the office 'white elephant.' And all it cost me was a morning.

To Fraser Nelson and all the rest that put on this wonderful event - I thank you.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Strategy vs. Tactics

What's the difference?

strategy: answering why an objective will be met

tactic: answering how an objective will met met

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Rights, Rituals, and Revenue

Who doesn't want culture to evolve?

The branding folks over at Black Coffee posted the "Remix Manifesto" a great documentary on sampling and intellectual property in the music/movie industry. At the core is the notion that while culture evolves by creating mashups and new rituals the old guard wants to prolong the status quo.

Aren't Orange County Choppers and Girl Talk doing the same thing? They both remix samples of existing products to extend our sense of culture with new icons. However, one gets a TV show and the other potentially gets sued. What's the difference?

Money flow.

It appears that the amount of fighting the incumbents do is directly related to their business model. Any industry whose revenue stream is based on residuals will fight anyone who changes what was originally produced. This explains the musvie industry's protracted fight for digital rights management as well as big pharma's support for extended patent protection. The mantra is simple: "Protect our revenue stream." This is why we can't sing Happy Birthday without paying royalties; but does allow us to take a Trek bike and make a single-speed.

Marketing sits at the intersection (in the cross-hairs) of cultural evolution. Our job is to satisfy two distinct masters. On the hand the consumer needs a solution that is culturally relevant. On the other is the business objective of earning as much from an investment over as long a time as possible. When these two objectives can't be resolved equitably, as with digital entertainment, culture goes underground and emerges again at the fringe where new rituals, and possibly business models, emerge.

While the law is always on the side of money; time is always on the side of culture.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Prisoners of Paradigms

Why is it so hard to change?

Just finished 'Management Rewired' by Charles Jacobs. This was the third book I've read recently on answering the question: Just how do we make decisions? This one focuses on management and leadership while Buyology and How We Decide led me to think about the "Biology of Branding".

It seems that rebranding, organizational change, and innovation are three sides of the same coin. We want people to see them as new and adapt them. We explain the logic using rational arguments and expect people to fall in line. It rarely works that way leading to the question: Why are they so hard?

They are all prisoners of paradigms.

The brain processes all inputs requiring each of us to filter the possibilities into a short list of things we need to pay attention to. We do that by forming expectations based on experience. Since we all have different experiences and each day brings new data to our mind, we need some tool to look at the big picture. It turns out that it is emotion or those parts of the brain associated with experiences and feelings that guide our course of action. These in turn create reinforced pathways - paradigms if you will - that create shortcuts to decisions and actions.

Without emotions I was never, ever be able to decide between Nikon and a Cannon based solely on a checklist of features because there is no referee. In the end, I chose Nikon because of I wanted one since high school. The desire to take emotions out of the RFP process, performance reviews, and 'balanced score cards' also explains why they rarely produce the desired results.

The implication is that there is not one universal cause and effect as in the physical world and this means:
  1. Newton's laws don't apply to people; so all those feeds and speeds brochures telling prospects why our product is better don't really help make the decision - they do help defend the decision. It also means pay for performance won't work either.
  2. There are multiple versions of the rational truth; while features and advantages maybe generalized benefits can not - they're personal. This is good for innovating at the fringe where people are actively seeking new solutions.
  3. Socrates was right and Aristotle was wrong; questioning and participative is a much better strategy than top down ordering. Maybe SoMed means Socratic Media?
Most of the time paradigms or mental shortcuts are good, as long as we want to perpetuate the status quo. But if we want to change our own, or others', minds we're in deep trouble.
  • Rebranding means creating a new pigeon hole in the mind for your company while simultaneously closing the old one down. Starting with "We want to rebrand, but don't want to piss off our core." will pretty much guarantee failure.
  • Organizational change means creating a new set of expected behaviors while eradicating the ones that got you to the point where you need change. Try adapting Henry V's style rather than Patton's when rallying the team.
  • Innovation means creating a new solution to an old problem (or at least a different way of satisfying a need.) Getting people to realize it doesn't have to be a certain way means severing pathways honed over time.
So how do we change people's minds? How do we institute change? Seems three things will help:
  1. Create cognitive dissonance - force the brain to say, "wait a minute this isn't what I expected." Make it process the information again (and again and again). We must be taught that coins have three sides, not two.
  2. Use an experience or physical act to demonstrate that things are different. A new logo is part of this as is moving the executive offices from the top floor to the main floor or even a new pricing model. (But by all means don't stop - these are simply symbols.)
  3. Paint a vision using a story. Brands, organizations, and innovations all succeed when surrounded by a culture formed by telling stories.
Paradigms are good when we're sitting on top of the hill we want to be on. However, they are serious obstacles when trying to get to the top of the hill.

Friday, October 09, 2009

Social Media is a Red Bike

Just what is social media?

To me it is a red bike, like my new cruiser.

The term isn't social-media or socialmedia; each would refer to mean a single concept. But rather, it is an adjective describing a noun.

Social media is a special type of media, just as my cruiser is a specific type of bike. As such we should look at the two terms distinctly as David Cushman described earlier in a post: Social + Media = Change. What does each mean? What does the combination mean?

Media, like bike, is a broad term covering a wide range of types. What is common is that all bikes and media do the same thing - they are vehicles for carrying something. Bikes carry people; media carry messages. It's only when we throw an adjective in front of bike or media do things get really interesting. This is when segments, skills, and best practices emerge.

I don't ride my road bike the same way or for the same reason as the red bike. The road bike is used for long, solo rides - think of mileage or speed as media tonnage or reach. The red bike is for the neighborhood where meet and greet is the objective - it's a conversation starter; it's social. The purpose, and thus tools, are very different.

So putting the concepts together:
  • Social Media: utilizing human interactions to convey a message
This requires a new way of doing business. If you're marketing is more like a peloton, time trial or gravity racing and you want to communicate then its time to get a red bike.

Friday, September 18, 2009

When Designers Buy Analysts

What is an Adoniture?

The big news this week in these parts was the acquisition of Omniture, the web-analytics company, by Adobe, the content creation company for $1.8 billion.

Here's the picture being used to explain the new beast - delivery and engagement are optimized/analyzed.

The above looks like a lot like embedding analytics into Content Distribution and it implies that the decision about what creative to use will be made AFTER consumers see it/use it.

At first glance this might seem just a bit odd: This would be like our Creative Director hiring me.

Is this a good thing?

On the rational and paper side of things:
  • both companies need a new way to grow; analytics and designing are mature markets.
  • both needed a broader portfolio to compete with the likes of IBM's 4,000 strong analytic consultancy
  • Omniture's new target market - the CMO - fits with Adobe's existing market - the creative
  • both companies love agencies (but for different reasons)
  • the idea of convergence of design and analytics is attractive
Why might this not be such a good idea?

On the human side of things:
  • radically different cultures emerge when selling a $100,000 product and a $1,000 product; not to mention UT and CA
  • clearly not a merger, but rather one group to subsume the other - expect an exodus of people as soon as options vest
  • the process of creating content will change because the objective is different;
  • this model suggests that 10x the versions will be requested to find what works; it will become mechanistic
On the business side:
  • the companies don't sell to the same person or thru the same buying process
  • optimizing web traffic, user flows and ecommerce aren't usually the art director's job.
  • it is damn near impossible for an enterprise software company (Omniture) to go down market into the SMB world
  • retrofitting an old-school approach to web analytics to the nuances of content distribution will be very hard
  • page views (the guts of Omniture's pricing model) aren't relevant in a chunked or engaging world
  • still some missing pieces, but nothing another acquisition couldn't resolve, e.g. ad server or offline media
On the marketing side:
  • it is now very confusing just what an 'Adoniture' is; people will not combine two existing pigeon holes in their brain
  • in the age of open source, APIs, and bits it is hard to see how this could be unique with a significant barrier to entry.
  • the markets (Fortune 100 vs. creative shops) cannot be rationalized into one; hard to see new/under-served consumers
I like the idea. The question on our white boards for education and B2B clients: How can we a track a chunk of content thru social media sharing?

Friday, August 21, 2009

The Biology of Branding

How does branding really work?

Mark Gallagher over at BlackCoffee recently launched a site asking us to answer the simple question: What is a brand?

This, and a couple of recent books I've read, got me thinking about the physiology behind 'branding'. Just what happens inside our thick skulls?

We know sex, drugs and rock and roll work. But how? The simple answer is they stimulate the release of dopamine - the ultimate pleasure drug. When faced with a choice of more dopamine or food & water, rats chose the former - and they die of thirst in a happy stupor.

Dopamine isn't just a drug, it is related to specific neurons and that means it spreads through the brain like blood through capillaries. Thus, dopamine is involved in the processing of not only pleasant things but balances negative/risky propositions and purely rational thought. Ever wonder why you argue with yourself about a purchase: "It's expensive and I'm not sure versus, but what they hell I like it?" That's the insula battling the nucleus accumbens.

Most importantly - these neurons learn to associate external stimuli with pleasure. The age-old Pavlovian stimulus-reward mechanism can now be mapped out in the brain. This means that brand cues and rituals (and to a degree consistent messaging) as well as delivering on one promise are so important to branding. Deliver inconsistent products or confuse people with varying messages and the dopamine receptors learn to hedge their bets. As uncertainty of the outcome creeps into our experience the prediction error gets too big and the dopamine turns off. If the outcome is too negative the result may be avoidance altogether.

It seems the brain doesn't like to be fooled.

And because we're social, we'll tell others to avoid the pain we've learned. Not only that, we'll avoid pleasure if it means preventing pain for others. Monkeys will choose to not get treats if it means another monkey won't be shocked.

We decide emotionally and defend rationally.

It is not a case of being 'rational' or 'economic' that makes us capable of making good decisions. It turns out that it is emotions that allow us to make decisions. Without knowing how we or others will feel we are simply incapable of making a decision. Numerous studies have shown that without the emotional part of the brain, we are incapable of making even the simplest decisions. The 'ah ha' moment, "it just felt right" and "it is the right thing to do" all come long before we can explain why that it is so. It takes time to process experiences into a logical explanation.

To a large degree expertise is simply knowing without rationally exploring every option. From football quarterbacks to soap opera directors to fighter pilots - they cannot always explain why they picked a given receiver, blocked a scene one way or shot at one radar blip versus another. In these scenarios there is simply no time to act rational and process all the options; through repetition and particularly the review of mistakes/failure the brain becomes wired to instantly assess and respond. "I knew he was going to be open" is not the result of a rational review of all the options; it is the result of dopamine out weighing the risk.

For many brands facts just get in the way. They don't really help make a decision but do justify it. Ever bought a digital camera? They are way too many things to consider from CMOS to megapixels to burst speed to weight to effective focal length to memory type. The comparison charts give us the ammunition to defend a decision. In the end it will be simple - it feels right in my hand or I always wanted a Nikon. If the prefrontal cortex doesn't get some feedback from dopamine it will be in an endless loop of rationalizing this versus that. People are often incapable of making decisions based on facts alone.

Ever wonder why you jump up when your team scores on TV? It certainly isn't a rational thing to do - we're not there and we're not even participating. So why do we feel these emotions? We have mirror neurons. These brain cells fire when we see others experience something - both positive and negative. This is what makes us social, empathetic and moral. It also provides insights into why testimonials and celebrity endorsements work. "They're like me and I can relate."

It seems then that biology teaches us that branding comes down to:

1. Understand the pleasure received from a product
2. Capture that pleasure in a set of cues or messages (this is where segmentation plays a huge role)
3. Reinforce and don't deviate

The books referenced are:
"How We Decide" by Jonah Lehrer
"Buyology" by Martin Lindstrom

Friday, August 14, 2009

Fragmentation of Search

Where is all this merger and acquisition going?

As products and companies are acquired or dropped one thing is for certain: What used to be one category will splinter, as all categories do in time. For search it used to be easy - it was just 'search'. But now we're seeing the evolution of two kinds of search:

Commercial Search: the paid activity to redirect people to find (buy) something. In this world the travel agent model of Google is hard to beat. Ad Words, Ad Sense and other link-based routings work just finds.

Recommendation Search: the opinions of others (those we know, trust, or just relate to) represents a completely new type of search and underlying business model. The Facebook, FriendFeed, Twitter and LinkedIn models fit better in this world. In time, this is likely to fragment into personal and professional recommendations.

So, its not so much a question of 'who will win?' but what needs of ours do they best support.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Wordsmithing with SEO

How do words affect a post?

This post is written with the help of "SEO Blogger" a browser plug-in from Wordtracker. For fun I wrote what came out of the finger tips, then checked my thinking against the tool.

When people write posts blogs they choose specific terms keywords to convey a message. The choice is often based on thoughts and intent keyword research in order to plant an idea in their minds. Hopefully the result is a topic for conversation conversation starter.

If you're crafting stories and messages technical writing then this tool might help.

Friday, June 19, 2009

10 Marketing Disciplines Defined

How do we describe what we do at a party?

Sometimes I need a simple way to explain what I do. So, here's my list of definitions for marketing that usually work:
  1. Marketing: aligning solutions and needs to everyone's mutual benefit
  2. Outbound Marketing: getting seen, heard and hopefully some attention
  3. Inbound Marketing: getting found through different and unusual places
  4. Content Marketing: sharing what you know and have to help people make decisions
  5. Social Marketing: leveraging human interactions to convey a message
  6. Search Marketing: increasing the odds of being in a prominent position when people look
  7. Email Marketing: saying or offering something of value to those interested in hearing from you
  8. Direct Marketing: targeting a single individual in the hopes of eliciting a response
  9. Affiliate Marketing: encouraging and rewarding others to market to their audience
  10. Inline Marketing: leveraging media in ways that meet customer/prospect expectations
I'm sure there are many more. Got one to add? Drop me a note.

The Personalities of Education Seekers

What kind of people go to different types of schools? and why?

Earlier I wrote about the four different sandboxes marketers can think about in the education space. Using the (in)famous 2x2 quadrant four different goals can be obtained based on how general or specific the program and school are. In summary, they were defined as follows:
  • Stepping Stone: the badge needed to eliminate a potential objection
  • Short List: the credentials to be recognized as highly qualified
  • Open Doors: the secret hand shake (and Rolodex) to move in certain circles
  • Keys to the Kingdom: the seal of approval from the most respected place to gain skills
People who follow each of these paths do so for different reasons and there selection process of where to go to school is very different. As such, they can be turned into personae that help us develop the right messaging and media plans.

The following picture highlights each of the benefits, decision behavior and motivations of each of the four named personae.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Leveraging Content in Marketing

Why is content important?

Lately there has been lots of discussion around both 'content marketing' and 'inbound marketing'. On the former Kat French has written the '10 commandments' for content as well as a recent addendum and Todd Defren (and commenters) has offered a definition of inbound marketing. From the two writers:
[Content marketing is] transforming "information and data" into "engaging, portable, search-friendly content"

Inbound marketing is findability based on authority based on authenticity based on content based on passion.
Doing a typical web 2.0 thing, I'll create a mashup:

Content marketing: sharing what you know and have in ways that it makes it easier for people to decide to do business with you.

People make decisions emotionally and they defend their decisions rationally. Content can be used effectively in support of both needs. Along with context, content is paramount to helping people make choices. Consider the purchase of technology or making entertainment choices: we continually consume content in all manner of forms to help (and defend) why we choose what we do. If this is the case then there is no 'one right way' to package and distribute content. Since bits want to be free, our job is to facilitate their dispersion.

PS - I ended up dropping the explicit reference to inbound because in this day and age of the social graph, engagement and conversations I simply lose track of the concept of 'us' and 'them' or sides. Inbound still has a bit of company centricity to it. If there is 'inbound' marketing then there must be 'outbound' marketing where the only difference I see is a possible swapping of 'telling stories' for 'findability'. If you aren't an authentic, passionate authority then you probably shouldn't be a marketer.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Marketing of Education

What do I get from a degree?

This post is a little different and reflects more of 'my day job' rather than purely personal thoughts.

Recently we've had the opportunity to talk to several education institutions and this intense activity got us focused on the question: How do we approach marketing a degree?

Rather than start with the media plan, we thought about the reasons why someone gets a particular degree. That in turn provided insights into who and why a person wants that benefit. Finally, these considerations informed the media planning process. Using the classic consulting 2*2 matrix approach for positioning and differentiation we've outlined outcomes for various types of schools and programs giving each a name, an image and a reason for being.
  • Schools: range from general state universities to very specific niche or prestige schools
    • General: full range of education opportunities: national online schools, state schools, general liberal arts
    • Specific: Branded B-Schools, any 'top 10', single focused schools
  • Programs: range from general purpose degrees, e.g. liberal arts, to specific skills and credentials
    • General: Masters Finance, BA Psychology
    • Specific: Masters in Jurisprudence Health Care, Bachelor in Internet Marketing, Cosmetology Diploma
What people want as an outcome from these two dimensions is fairly easy to imagine and explain using an analogy of sand boxes.
  • Stepping Stone: a general program from a general school allows you to get the next level of your career. This is often a default or local choice where 'any sandbox' will do. (Masters in Finance, UofU)
  • Short List: a very specific program from a general school gives you the credentials to get in the short stack of resumes in the HR office. This combination gives you the 'tools to make things from sand'. (MJP Healthcare, Loyola)
  • Open Doors: a general program from a specific school is about the network and access. A 'business' degree from branded B-Schools opens the doors because it was the 'right sandbox.' (MBA, Wharton)
  • Key to the Kingdom: the singular focus of a program and school is all about achieving a dream. The degree gives you the ability to make sand. (Rhode Island School of Design; Computer Science, Neumont)
What we draw on the whiteboard looks like this:

Each quadrant has a persona and hence warrants a different approach to marketing. For instance, it is clear that the brand may be the school or the program. In rare cases like Thunderbird, they are one and the same. This impacts messaging. The degree to which one of the dimensions is 'specific' influences the choice of broadcast or targeted media because people are more likely to research and extend effort to attend one of these options.

More to follow.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Innovation Needs Roundup

How do we know which ideas to pursue?

The transition from ideation to execution reminds me of tending a perennial garden. There's lots of stuff growing there but not all of it is desirable.
  • Ideas sprout up everywhere, in places we don't want, and usually a lot faster than we can control.
  • Good ideas, like perennials don't look like much when you first plant them.
  • Bad ideas can be aggressive and crowd out those needing nurturing.
  • Good ideas produce sustainable, year-to-year, growth; bad one's are seasonal.
  • Bad ideas attract as much attention as good ones yet are designed to be viral (dandelion).
Most ideas are weeds, we need a weed killer.

Personally, I need to heed my own advice -- lots of ideas; some should be killed. Although at $9 a pound 'wild greens' (aka weeds) are the new gourmet food and maybe I should sell them.

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Implications of the Destination Free Web

What does the world look like when there are no websites?

The idea of a web without sites continues to be nurtured, poked, prodded and experimented with. Two years ago Steve Rubel wrote that traffic happens elsewhere and again this week he wrote about the end of the destination era.

The mantra of "If we can drive traffic to our site, all will be good in the world." rests on a presumption that people want to go to or find a site.

Some factoids:
  • Of all the possible sites on the web, the average person visits just over 100 a month.
  • Over two-thirds of us don't visit a blog or social network site during the work day.
Given a finite amount of time that we can give to the sourcing and consumption of content coupled with continuing proliferation of pages something doesn't add up. While the odds that people will use the Internet for information continues to rise; the odds that a specific piece of content will be found (like this post for example) does not rise at the same rate, if at all. The math doesn't work.

However, a new model is emerging: the ability for people to share and filter is a game changer. While RSS was a step in the right direction past the bookmark they both presume I want to see all content from a given source - I don't. In business, information needs are highly time and topic sensitive. Today's challenges will be solved and we move on to the next. The beauty of conversations is: I can ask for help. And people being social creatures are very willing to respond.

If it weren't for people sharing things they find useful, I wouldn't know what I know. Tweet Bite

This shift has profound implications for marketing functions like 'search', advertising and analytics.
  • How do we find things if they aren't somewhere?
  • What do we tell people instead of "Come to my place?"
  • How do we track the flow of objects through the ether?
The Internet and the Web were created to connect files; the browser started as a frame around text located someplace else. At the time it made sense - connection and transport was expensive; local storage wasn't. Small, incremental innovations over several decades got us to where we are today. (I alluded to this in a piece on the history of Web 2.0). But, now that the flow of bits is near ubiquitous and 'free' the question has to be asked:

Why do we put stuff somewhere to be found rather than out there to be shared? Tweet Bite

Monday, May 04, 2009

Rethinking the Ps of Marketing

What should a brand be thinking about?

A lot of us were taught the four Ps of marketing: Product, Price, Place and Promotion. On a one-way street from company to shopper these made sense. The marketer owned the communication and was in the driver's seat making educated guesses or decisions about the go-to-market strategy.

But in this day and age of ubiquitous communication are these the only Ps? With people having a way to share their voice (they always had one) there are other considerations that arise.
  • What promise are you making to me?
  • Where do you position yourself in my mind?
  • Does your personality match mine?
Promise, Position and Personality are the new Ps - particularly in a world where people share their aspirations and frustrations. It seems that understanding these is important to defining the original set.

Branding is about Promise, Positioning, and Personality - selling is about product, price, place and promotion.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Bombastic Boasts

Why is boasting bad for business?

This post is part of the 10th Anniversary of the Cluetrain Manifesto which concluded that 'all markets are conversations'. Numerous bloggers volunteered to write about one of the 95 theses of the manifesto in the Cluetrain Plus 10 project. This one is about #24.
Bombastic boasts - "We are positioned to become the preeminent provider of XYZ" - do not constitute a position.
The above sounds like the description that a myriad of companies use in their annual report or as a synopsis in a job posting. So, what's wrong with this statement?

Here's a list:
  1. Wrong pronoun: people don't care about the company; we care about ourselves and our community.
  2. Wrong purpose: people don't care about stuff or things; we care about satisfying a need.
  3. Wrong tone; people don't like 'preeminent' braggarts; we prefer authenticity and transparency.
  4. Wrong role; people don't like outsiders telling them what to think; we prefer participants.
  5. Wrong tense; people don't like a future solution; we want it now.
Positioning is about creating and occupying a place in our minds that resonates with a need. It gives us something to talk about. Think automobiles and play the word association game.
  • Safety = Volvo
  • Driving Machine = BMW
  • European Luxury = Mercedes
  • Engines = Honda
  • Basic = Toyota
  • Small = Volkswagon
Each of these product lines owns a term in our minds. They are well-positioned. In fact the products have done that job so well that we tend to trust them to deliver on the promise behind the word. They have become brands.

The Bombastic Boast makes no promise or contract with us; it is a company-centric claim about being a seller of XYZ with no clue on what it is useful for or why we should care.

Positioning puts a stake in the ground. It defines the market a product serves as well as those it does not. No product should attempt to satisfy everyone's needs. That is a recipe for ending up in the 'mushy middle' -- a place that sounds rationally attractive because it covers the largest group but in reality is a patch of quicksand that we tend to avoid.

So how should the makers of XYZ position themselves?

Successful positioning requires three elements - 1) a category, 2) an audience, and 3) a set of proof points.
  • Category provides context about the solution and the related need. We need a cubby hole to put a product in because we think classification scheme first, example second.
  • Audience specifies for whom the solution is best suited. We want to know that others like us use the product because there is safety in numbers and we trust the wisdom of the crowd.
  • Proof points give credibility and a reason to consider the product. We want the facts to rationalize our emotional decisions.

Positioning works by satisfying our needs on our terms. We'll talk about that.Tweet Bite

Boasting about yourself rarely accomplishes anything more than self-gratification. Besides, we don't listen.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Reading Styles: Formula 1 vs. Drag Strip

Why are my reading habits changing?

I don't know if it is the fact that I'm AARP eligible or just becoming a curmudgeon but I'm really tired of fighting to read. In the rush to augment revenue streams online content is often peppered with obstacles that distract and interrupt my reading. Here's an example from today:

There are only 51 words of content among the glitz and glamor of ads. Plus, the content on the rest of the page goes through a chicane to the right side of the page. I doubt the folks laying out a print version of this story would chop it up like that.

Now, I happen to like pomegranates and think the article on their marketing was good. The included slide show was a bonus. But I had to struggle reading it. Here's what I'd prefer:
  • Content is content and ads are ads. They are not simply segments of a wire frame to layout in a labyrinth to maximize confusion and odds of at least glancing over an ad.
  • Comments are great, but why bury them elsewhere? And why not associate them with the section of the story instead of chronologically?
  • Write in a style conducive to online behavior where speed is critical - scan, grasp, digest and navigate.

A message to publishers: Don't make me navigate content like a Formula 1 race track where corners are the point of the race; I'd prefer a nice drag strip where the focus is on the finish line.

Maybe the business model is micro-payments; not to eliminate ads but to comprehend.

Monday, April 20, 2009

The Sounds of Swirling

What happens after the toilet flushes?

Somebody pulled the handle and we're all wondering what happens next. A spate of articles and posts recently have discussed the newspaper industry, advertising budgets, social/digital media and the economy. It is clear that they are all spiraling around trying to figure themselves out. So, what happens when its all said and done? Will the bowl fill back up?

Starting at the macro level, many industry firms are suggesting a decline in global ad spending from 5 to 10%; that translates to somewhere around $15b to $25b in the US alone. These are relatively easy cuts to justify since they are external spends and don't involve operations or staff. Note that from the vendor point of view this equates to 20,000 jobs in ad agencies using traditional rules of thumbs.

Advertising spend equates directly to pages of magazines and newspapers. Pages are dropping faster than spending - down 26% in first quarter. The old corollary was to track pages of advertising to find trends - fat mags are hot topics; but now skinny is the new black. If there is less spending then the container is much smaller. If the container is smaller there is less revenue to pay for the creation of content. While it is correct to think about the separation of editorial and advertising, the amount of the former is dependent solely on the latter.

Newspapers, and analog distribution methods in general, run the risk that their content and revenue models might someday be separated like Siamese twins. It happened in music with the melting of the jewel case, its now happening in words. Here's a list of where 'newspaper' content has gone along with some thoughts on the rest of the product attributes. It once again proves that categories don't converge, they diverge - just look at all the niche options (Craig's List, Flickr, Yelp, etc.) that have sprung up to satisfy individual aspects of what was once the newspaper.

Social media is a relevant tool for marketing; but that doesn't mean it is a replacement for advertising. It works for recommendations but possibly not so well for other purposes of messaging. And even online marketing, one area where spending is up slightly, is not as cost effective to run as broadcast. Both forms of digital are labor intense and have scalability concerns. In addition there is a false sense of performance - just because we can show engagement, it does not always mean sales.

The general economy discussion focuses on resetting consumption patterns -- we simply use too much stuff. The credit crisis, debt load, uncertainty about the future, layoffs and pay cuts all are ratcheting incomes and spending back and saving up. This double-barreled blast drastically changes one's view of 'disposable income.' If the human mind is reset, then it is quite possible that consumer spending will not return to previous levels once confidence is regained.

All this leads to the question: What does the toilet bowl of the future look like?
  • Advertising will not completely recover because it will be socially irresponsible to create artificial demand.
  • Analog containers will not reappear in their former state of being since there is no digital equivalent to a fixed form factor.
  • Content will move to a variety of smaller, niche online and offline channels making it much more expensive to place, monitor, and measure media.
  • Paying for reach or impressions will continue to be threatened as 'performance' becomes king.
  • Finders, or personal aggregators, will fill in the void to deliver the highlights.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

SoMe the Marketing

What role does social media have in marketing?

Earlier today Brian Solis posted a good piece on the Conversation Index that included the line:
"True social marketing is not marketing at all."
While I agree with and wrote about the premise that social media should not be considered another broadcast channel to say it isn't marketing seems to equate marketing with advertising.

Marketing is so much more than advertising. Its a shame that the size of the advertising budget often masks the more important functions:
  1. Understanding what and how people perceive and express their own needs.
  2. Translating the understanding into a single, different idea that resonates with people.
  3. Guide the perception through to satisfaction with a set of products and services that meet those needs.
In the broadest sense:

Marketing aligns solutions with needs to everyone's mutual benefit. Tweet Bite

On #journchat last night this point picked up some support in discussing PR and Journalism. Marketing is the alignment of a pitch (solution) with an article (need) to the readers' (everyone) benefit. This is done by building relationships, understanding the audience, and listening in order to tell stories, which just happen to be the best sales tool ever.

What better opportunity to 'do marketing' than to participate in social media?

Friday, April 03, 2009

Newspaper Content Won't Migrate Like Wildebeests

Where will newspaper content go?

The recent announcements and closings in the newspaper industry might be the start of a downward spiral of closures. It's possible that eight of the top 50 papers could close in the next 18 months. Clay Shirky' essay "Newspapers and Thinking the Unthinkable" discusses the issues around the point that ...
"Society doesn't need newspapers. Society needs journalism."
We have seen this problem before: "Appetite for Self-Destruction" by Steve Knopper covers the music industry's migration from from analog to digital over the past three decades. The digital solutions don't look anything like album art wrappers for shiny discs.

Digital avoids the need for and costs of containers that made the two business models run - printing presses and plastic molds. Without a container, the content will go someplace else. In a recent speech George Colony of Forrester made the point...
Bits want to be free .... bits want to break the law.
So, where will content go?

It won't be like the wildebeest moving en mass to greener pastures. Because the container acts as an aggregator newspapers represent the head of the information tail - a few properties with the most reach. So if the head gets cut off it won't grow back but rather it seems likely content will move into the long tail. This makes it possibly more relevant and more difficult to find. Hyper-niche markets emerge tailored to smaller segments. But there is no reason to assume that different types of content will end up in the same form factor. Fast breaking news is headed toward twitter, op-ed is headed to blogs, sports to team/league centric portals, and classifieds have already left the building.

Nothing like a newspaper will replace the newspaper. Tweet Bite

Note: The 'tweetbite' is an experiment with @streamingsocial and shud push a comment to your twitter account.

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Brands Mate via Social Media

How is a conversation with a brand consummated?

Earlier I had written about influence as it relates to a product recommendation between two people. In short, influence can be thought of as the effects of experience, relevance, and brand charge. A person's recommendation has more influence if it comes from an 'expert' and is made in a straight-forward manner. Repeated or collective recommendations ultimately surpass a threshold and a purchase decision is made.

But what happens when one of the participants is a brand or company? (I continue to think that most products can't talk, but their minders can.)

Clearly experience and relevance play a role, but what about charge? Is it safe to think that a brand will only talk about itself in a positive form? While chest beating may be common in advertising, there are counter-examples.
  • Progressive provides information on the consideration set for those seeking car insurance.
  • Some brands admit their mistakes publicly; product recalls and help lines may fall in this camp.
  • Behavioral targeting, although crude from a conversation point of view, is an attempt to get the timing right.
But there is something missing in this brand-person interchange that is usually present in person-to-person activities. The ability to go back and forth in order to clearly understand the need is missing. For most brands, understanding the specific individual needs to be satisfied is still guess work or the presumptive result of focus groups and research (which may also be a guessing game.)

Helping align solutions to needs may be the right role for social media since it allows for a modicum of two-way conversation. This give and take seems like a mating-ritual: are you right for me and am I right for you?

However, the analogy of mating starts to break down in terms of scale. It seems unrealistic to talk to everyone individually. Maybe the role of all communications - Advertising, PR, Customer Service, Analyst, whatever - should be to foster one side or the other of the alignment by either helping me to articulate my needs better or clearly explaining the advantages of your offer. In the end we both want to be compatible in an eHarmony kind of way.

Before you ask for my hand in marriage let's make sure we're a match.

Monday, March 30, 2009

On Marketing, Customer Service and Public Relations.

Is it time to play musical chairs?

Social media, conversations, communities and the like are wrecking havoc with traditional silos. The reason - people's behavior and hence expectations are changing.

Consider that from a brand's perspective:
  1. There is no sales funnel - people change their state of mind and intention as they see fit.
  2. There is no single way to get or deliver news - people have more, faster options
  3. Opinions are available for the asking - trust of 'people like me' trumps all other options.
As they say: If it weren't for customers, sales would be easy.

Social media is emerging as the preferred route when information is needed now. It may be the last-point of contact before a decision is made: "What do you think?" or the first-point when searching for information as in "Can you help me?" In the past, these questions had either limited reach and/or defined channels. But today they are asked among friends, followers, and fans in an asynchronous world with no limits on reach - with the expectation that anyone can and will respond.

One of the implications of social media is that we're outsourcing or at least sharing decision making with others. The wisdom of the crowd helps us decide on what camera to buy, what blog post to read, or how to fix a broken product. The assumption that the consumer makes the decision based on his/her interaction with a company is really no longer valid. (A point made in "Branding Only Works for Cattle." )

Recently, Todd Defren wrote about PR and Customer service and the fact that PR was well suited for understanding how to manage and route customer inquiries because it dealt with 'people,' getting things done, and the ability to assess events.

But why stop the organization reshuffle there?

If PR is the new customer service, then is customer service the new marketing, and marketing the new PR?

  • Marketing should be focused on aligning solutions with needs to everyone's mutual benefit. What better organization to understand needs, frustrations, and delights than customer service? They're in the business of talking to people - day in and day out. We only need to expand their remit to tell the stories they hear about how they solved customer problems.
  • Public Relations has been about getting stories told through journalistic channels. As those outlets crumble and information consumption spans every conceivable outlet what better organization to develop tactical plans that manage the complexities of delivering targeted content than marketing? We only need to change their remit to distribute content not just advertising.

Looking at how people interact with one another and with companies might give us insights into how to better organize to support them.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Posting of Tweetbites

How can we push a single thought to twitter?

Sometimes when we write stories, articles of blog posts we come up with a simple phrase that captures the essence of our thinking. (it wasn't the previous one.) Maybe it's a headline, a bullet or a summary. It would be nice to tweet that text with a link to the source. So, here's a test of the idea worked up with someone I work with - LJ Jones, @streamingsocial from (no surprise)

  • Maybe this is a profound thought that should be tweeted. Tweet Bite
  • Tweetbite pushes a bullet to your status. Tweet Bite
(The first tweetbite references this blog, the second references

The rest of copy is a long-winded story; or better yet, an in-depth analysis of the point being made. There are lots of ways this could be used and made more useful.

Note: this is in exploratory, test mode, so may break someday or be rewritten. Right now. the tweetbite generator takes as input the text and the source url to create a link in the above icon.

I can think of different things - like right-clicking a highlighted chunk of text and see 'Tweetbite'.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Blog Twitter Interface Revisited

How can we push important points to twitter?

Earlier I wrote a piece on the intersection of blogging and tweets and concluded that there needed to be a better way to go back and forth. For instance some posts contains lines that I just want to tweet. For instance a statement like ...
The weakness of RSS is that you have to know the source first.
Might be an interesting tweet in and off itself. Now wouldn't it be good if we could create a chicklet for the phrase.

As a first step, we can make it a link like so:
The weakness of RSS is that you have to know the source first.

That link pushes the phrase to your twitter status. Next up a widget (or would that be a gadget) to do it more seamlessly and a URL generator.

Thanx to @ljjones for the idea and the HTML.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Destination Free Web

Where are we headed?

For a variety of reasons the web is changing from a set of interconnected sites to one of almost a free flowing of information. Back in 2007 I wrote a piece for Chief Marketer entitled "What's Still Missing from Web 2.0?" A lot has changed since then, so I thought I'd update some thinking.

The basic premise is that the history of any product or technology will give you clues to its future and trajectory. Using the story from Genesis, the article outlines what happened in each of the last six decades and concludes that the sole purpose of the Internet is to connect different bits of information where they are held. The browser and search succeeded because they assisted in moving people from place to place. It ended with the speculation that the model of moving from place to place was not what people really want. We want to have content served the way we like it. There are simply too many destinations to remember, bookmark of otherwise keep track of. It concluded with the following:
The marketer with a lot of content has a choice – entice people to come to their site which is an ever increasing expense, or relax the assumption about destination and focus on the distribution [of content].

So what's changed?

First, social activities on the Internet have gone from niche to mainstream. In the aggregate these tools account for more activity than email and rank only behind search. It is well established that display advertising fails to effectively redirect people away from where they're comfortable.

Second, technologies are advancing quickly to support the transfer of data as opposed to the maintenance of a connection. Broadband and streaming are becoming mainstream as well.

Driven in a large part by the social media sphere there have been numerous examples of the implications of these changes.
  • Contact forms will move from a site to social profiles as noted on Web Strategist. This also suggests that lead form and landing pages will go the way of the carrier pigeon.
  • Twitter is built on a variety of technical backbones making it nearly completely portable with more than 50% of the activity happening on non-Internet sites. The fact that it doesn't require content to work (like Google) makes it extremely flexible.
  • Web 3.0, semantic web, etc. is loosely defined as finding and consuming the content not the container. Like any food we aren't interested in the wrapper, just the content.
  • The source of information may no longer be known as a 'site' as tools like Apture continue to push the edge of content mixing.
  • Company news is being converted to consumable and findable chunks by the social media news rooms like pitchengine or newscactus.
It seems we are on a trajectory for a 'destination free web'.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

On the Competition for Social Media Help

How does a community behave commercially?

The "Social Media Club" launched its first question of the week:
How can we best support our social media community and our peers knowing full well we’re often competing for the same clients and client money?
I like to think that co-opetition means that it is in everybody's best interest to move a category forward even if a specific opportunity is competitive. While the term is usually thought of as a means of leveraging cost structures on complex deals, the application to social media at the moment appears to be more of a 'greater good' opportunity.

Three thoughts:
  • Part of the uniqueness of social media by its very nature is it also allows us to build out our network of like minds in order to learn. I can't think of another business-related vehicle that facilitates contact with outsiders as much. In other times and places the only time we could chat with competitors without the risk of being fired was at trade shows. During rapid category growth learning and experiences out-weigh the competitive threat. Only in a fixed or diminishing pie do competitive threats arise.
  • In time we will develop our own competencies, niches and unique solutions as this medium both matures and fragments. For instance I wouldn't attempt to build a private community, a social user group, or counsel CEOs on PR crises. I would (and do) leverage social media as it relates to branding, positioning, and lead generation in specific categories. The challenge will be in recognizing that leaving a nickle on the table is a commercially viable strategy and better for the client in the long run.
  • If we think about a career its really a series of hopefully cool projects; if the paycheck comes from the same source so much the better. So, if we are to pursue our individual passions and interests we need to know who else is doing neat things. The active use of social media in this regard leaves the other options in the dust.
Without interaction we're only as good as our individual thinking.

Some tags: #SMCQ1, #Coopetition

Friday, March 13, 2009

Social Media Footprint

What can brands learn from green?

There should be no doubt anymore that social media has a role in people’s lives. Penetration is beyond the tipping point and every news source talks about it, uses it, or tries to ignore it. We're past the tipping point. The question for marketers is not whether, but how this media impacts them. To try to make sense of amorphous thing called 'social media' this post borrows a concept from the environmental movement to help put it into context.

The interplay between people and the environment is extremely intricate and until green and carbon footprint emerged as concepts there was no mental picture of what ‘environmental impact’ meant. It was simply too complex to think about with lots of variables, assumptions and points of view. While green offers a powerful associated idea, footprints are measurable. Wiki defines them as the “measure of the impact human activities have on the environment in terms of the amount of greenhouse gases produced.” In particular, the measure is metric tons of CO2.

Why does the concept of a ‘footprint’ work? For the very reasons marketers love: it is simple, memorable, and visual. And in the end, there is one number.

Is there a corollary for social media? It is certainly a complex arena with as many points-of-view as there are writers, bloggers, speakers, and CEOs. It also has as many technologies as there are ways to produce CO2 – from social networks to blogs to forums to bookmarking to video. If social media is about people sharing experiences and discussing interests then one can think of a Social Media Footprint in as the impact these activities have on a business. The remaining step is to think about a way to summarize social media that combines the numerous facets that make up influence.

The success of the carbon footprint is that all sources can be reduced to one variable – tons of CO2. This makes it possible to simply sum up all the parts to get the big picture. Add the impact of your house, your car, and your air travel together and you get your footprint. Now it is true that other factors impact global warming, like methane emissions and solar radiation, but the fact remains people, companies, and countries galvanized around the simplicity of this concept.

In social media, the conversation is the thing. Thus, the Social Media Footprint for a brand should focus on capturing the amount of conversation happening along with the presence of the customer base online. Several people have documented the breadth and diversity of social media, e.g. Scoble/Barefoot’s “Starfish” or Solis/Thomas’ “Prism.” Others still have wrestled with the idea of measuring the influence of individual resources. Marketers are thankful for such categorizations but may still wonder how to make it simple to communicate the overall effect.

While the ultimate objective should be financial, it may be easier to first build a common understanding by using simpler measures to start – things like total reach – before moving on to ‘engagement’, ‘influence’, and ROI. This concept isn’t dissimilar to the evolution of broadcast media which started impressions or rating points and then moved to financial measures. It also provides a framework for both documenting assumptions and testing hypotheses: “If we double our social media footprint, we’ll increase sales by x%.”

Some ideas for creating the footprint include:
  • Social Networks: penetration, share of profiles, and breadth of profiles of the brand’s customers compared to that of a benchmark group.
  • Blogs, Micro-blogging and Forums: brand mentions, blog rolls, link activity and or comments
  • Video and Podcasts: share of product or company activity
  • Bookmarking: share of links and tags
Similar to ‘tons of CO2’ the intent of the above approach is to provide an understanding of a brand’s relative rather than absolute position. The Social Media Footprint is a way to compare across brands. It is not meant to be precise since understanding the concept of influence is still very much a work in progress. And just like environmental impact it is unlikely that there will ever be a single metric for measuring social media or the influence of a given source; that’s not how the world works. But hopefully this idea suggests a way to begin thinking strategically about conversation marketing as people talk amongst themselves.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

The Twitter Paradox

What has twitter done to me?

The answer is somewhat paradoxical: I read more yet less at the same time.

Through links embedded in tweets I have a chance to see far more articles, posts, comments and thoughts than I could ever find on my own. Yet the breadth of sources forces me to change my consumption patterns. I now treat copy just like search results - I scan. Getting to the gist of a post or article is becoming quite critical. And if it isn't evident - I move on.

Gone are the RSS feeds from what had provided value; in its place are the near-time thoughts (recommendations) from people who I am learning to trust. So if @--- says "must read" - I do in a kind of a Pavlovian response. Yet as the number of tweets and retweets of a given item increases I'm wondering why this or that content is important to an individual. What's still missing for me is the answer to that question. It is easy to retweet stuff, I do it. But it needs more context.

Earlier today Brian Solis wrote about blogs potentially losing their influence. I'll skip the definition of what influence might mean in this context. But certainly agree with the implication that behavior is changing. In fact the actual writing of content may change to make it more consumable for micro-blogging. This in turn may reduce the opportunity for deep thinking and digestion.

Is twitter a tapas bar?

Friday, March 06, 2009

Left Brain Marketing and Right Brain Technology

Why did the roles have to switch?

Several years ago I presented to an assembly of marketing services executives on why marketing is difficult to support with the usual set of reporting tools. The title was: "Satisfying Left Brain Marketing with Right Brain Technology." I followed former Forrester analyst Eric Schmitt who had just written about the effect of media fragmentation, consumer trends, and the need for measurement in a paper entitled "Left Brain Marketing." Given the continued focus on accountability, ROI and results I thought I'd dust if off as a post.

First, let's recap how the brain works. This won't be too detailed - but for the curious see Marian Diamond's biology lecture at Berkeley or read the Brain Atlas: How each area of the brain relates to customer loyalty.

Here's a short list of attributes associated with each side of the brain.

Marketing is often associated with the right side and creativity while analysts are coming out of left field, literally. These perceptions have certainly changed, e.g. not every agency is like Mad Men, but it can still lead to some interesting Venus-Mars discussions. For example, consider the extreme conversation around developing a new customer segmentation scheme.

Marketer: "We need to find new customers."
Analyst: "What requirements do you have?"
Marketer: "I don't know, one that gets us into a new market."
Analyst: "What data to we need to use?"
Marketer: "That which tells me the answer I need."

Five years ago when I first presented this it got a lot of laughs as if hitting a nerve. There's been a lot of progress on closing the gap from both sides. Marketers are much more precise in their requests and analysts better understand ambiguous needs. But let's go back to the basics and why the chasm existed.

Marketing is not creative because it produces ads; it is creative because that's its job - find new markets, grow the business, and satisfy unmet needs. None of those tasks can be easily managed by a spreadsheet or a daily report. In fact, back in '98 CIO wrote about marketing's 'creative mandate' and it was that role that made marketing the last hold out for IT. Why?

Most departments manage to a plan that is only an incremental change from the status quo, e.g. production, operations and even sales. On the other hand marketing is told by the CEO "grow this business," "blow the doors off," "beat the competition," etc.

In short, marketing is paid to change history. They are looking for what they didn't know they needed to know.

Now let's look at the corporate or IT analyst responsible for producing information. The vast majority of management reports look at the business through the rear view mirror. Their sole purpose is to answer the question: Are we on plan to hit our numbers? If not, where are we off so we can take corrective action? Nearly everybody is on board with this approach because their job and compensation is aligned with those numbers. Ever try to stop producing those reports? You'll hear all kinds of reasons for keeping them alive. It turns out that report building is like capital investing: a lot of upfront costs that we hope to amortize over the lifespan of the project. This works great for the 'daily sales report' and other questions that stay the same. In fact, these reports are so stable you can draw an organization chart just by looking at them. Products, markets, and financial periods are easily transferred to job titles.

But marketing threw a monkey wrench into the whole notion of management reporting. Why? Because the half-life of a marketer's question is measured in hours if not minutes. The exploration of new ideas generates a lot of of questions. Some produce produce useful answers but most end up with 'oh, well it was an idea.' The traditional method of producing reports actually trained marketers to NOT ask questions because they couldn't get answers in either a timely or cost effective manner. This learned helplessness created the gap between marketing and technology.

What was needed was a way to drive the marginal cost of a new question to zero. If this could be achieved then marketing could ask all the questions it wanted and not have to wait 6 weeks and spend $1,500 to get a report that would only be used once. Technology and management reporting needed to change and figure a way to make marketers self-reliant. To do this some right-brain thinking had to be applied. The approach was to provide marketers with the ability to ....
  • Follow a train of thought and change their mind without having to go back to the well every time they thought of something different
  • Create new information (data) since we have no idea what interim metrics might prove useful
  • Visualize patterns and relationships since we don't yet understand how to organize any better
So rather than define reports in terms of rows and columns our focus was on understanding what behaviors and transactions mattered to marketing and what attributes might be useful to better understand what people do.

Today, the fire hose that is social media data poses some of the same challenges. How do we harness the vast quantities of raw data to help marketing achieve its objective: align solutions with needs to everyone's benefit?

(Disclosure: at the time this talk was given I worked for a software company focused on solving this problem. Today I work on the agency side trying to understand it all over again.)

Thursday, March 05, 2009

Social Media ROI

What is the value of engagement?

While this is the beginning of the season for Bridal Shows, we're talking about the use of social media and its impact on a business. The Social Media Academy published a piece on defining ROI.

The group defines it as follows using their emphasis:
Contribution Margin in currency generated from externally referred customers
over Interaction Cost in currency for human interaction and other cost to manage and engage in the ecosystem
I'm left with a couple of questions. First, what is 'externally referred customers'? Second, what 'ecosystem' is being considered, and possibly more importantly what isn't considered? The report says both are easily defined; I'm not so sure. We know people will use the channels they want, when they want making attribution an extremely difficult challenge. (See the "TV impacts search" reports.) Without definitions for these concepts the fact that it is based on margin and cost (a very good thing) it falls short.

There are only a few finite outcomes that result in contribution margin.
  1. A non-customer becomes a customer (trial or penetration)
  2. A customer doesn't become a non-customer as soon as we'd expect (repeat rate.)
  3. A customer buys more frequently (purchase cycle).
  4. A customer spends more per transaction (units per).
If social media does a good job of reinforcing #2, #3, & #4 how is that accounted for? Collectively these elements contribute heavily to life time value and that should be as much a focus as acquisition. Brand evangelists reinforce one another, e.g. Fiskateers, so to appear to focus on acquisition only is potentially misleading the impact of conversations.

Update: Just read a good article on measurement that offers a holistic view.

Monday, March 02, 2009

The Nature of Influence

How and why does influence work?

There have been numerous discussions on the use of social media to find and leverage the recommendations of consumers. While the idea has face validity and support ranging from "The Tipping Point" to the "New Influentials" there is still the need to understand how it works. Micah Baldwin had a post today on measuring online influence that talks about influence as being driven by trust. This post offers a potential definition of 'influence.'

To understand influence let's look at a typical conversation pattern. Here's a conversation network map or diagram of the conversations involved in the decision of attending an online high school. As with many decisions there are numerous players and connections.

The parent, the central figure of the decision, has numerous sources of information ranging from:
  • Other parents
  • School district officials, Administrators
  • Students and Teachers
  • Online high school providers
Which ones have influence?

The answer to that question requires establishing the elements of influence, i.e. what factors contribute to a source having a greater contribution than another? The general consensus is that trust and brand recommendation make up influence. In short hand, that would look like:

Influence = f(Trust, Brand Charge)

Now these terms need to be defined in measurable elements. Borrowing from Social Network Analysis and marketing, we can propose the following.

Influence consists of Trust and Brand Charge. A positive recommendation from a trusted resource has substantially more influence than a so-so comment from a casual source.

Trust is built upon Strength and Relevance:
  • Strength of a relationship is based on experience and the willingness to help in the past. Experience in turn can be defined in terms of frequency and longevity of the relationship.
  • Relevance is based on expertise, usability, and bias. Clear, direct, unbiased statements have more relevance.
Given a relationship, the message can be charged: Single, unambiguous and timely recommendations - 'see this movie tonight' - have substantially more influence than vague statements delivered out of the decision making time frame.
  • The number of alternatives affects the intensity of the recommendation.
  • Clearly sentiment plays a role: Positive vs. Negative
  • Timing, or distance from decision, also affects charge.
In sum, Influence can be broken down into a set of nine components that can be the focus of specific activities. If a brand wants to exhibit influence it has to provide useful information over a longer period of time than the typical campaign. Furthermore, the information has to be delivered in a way that improves one or more component of influence as perceived by the recipient. This last point suggests why two-way conversation is much more effective.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Twitter Meets The Blog

How can we merge micro and major blogging?

Twitter, the now nearly de facto micro-blogging platform is great for what Olivia Mitchell has called twitterbites - a pithy and smart statement that summarizes a point, starts or continues a conversation. On the other hand, blogs are a great platform to develop a thought more fully and allow a collection of comments.

So, we have two excellent ways to converse - one more simultaneous and real time, the other more asynchronous and linear. If there were no link between the two, all would be fine. But tiny URLs create a bridge between the two worlds; spawned by a reader who found the post interesting or the author wanting to publicize the topic.

If I think a about a twitter-blog interface (and thanks to Danny Brown for provoking this line of thinking) - I see a potential for a different form than the traditional linear Post-Comment model of blogs.

A good post usually makes several points that warrant discussion and feedback. So rather than asking for comments on the whole thing what about calling out 'headlines', bullet points and comments as tweetbites - individual elements that can be sent to Twitter to move the conversation to that platform? This suggests that a post should have multiple links, each to various parts of the post, rather than one top level link.

Now this would probably change how we write - our English teachers may cringe. But if Google and Twitter are training us to scan rapidly and think in chunks then why not extend this to blog posting and put 'tweet this' throughout the post? This would also provide a way to find which elements of a post generate the most interest.

Another thought, a blog should capture the twitter stream of the comments linking to the post itself. That way we could see both worlds at the same time. Something like Cover it Live for example.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Social Media, Job Creation and Economics

How might social media change the size of the firm?

Not only does social media aid in finding a new job as anyone with a LinkedIn account can attest, it also provides the platform for creating and marketing services. In the last hour I've run into blog coaches, presentation guides, writers, designers, developers and speaking docents. They are all using social media to develop their business. This raises some questions: If it works for individuals, why doesn't it work as well for companies? What kind of line forms in the sand where it is easy for people to cross but hard for companies? If this talent is readily available, why is it in-house?

Looking to economics, does Roland Coase's "Nature of the Firm" offer insight? His Nobel Prize ideas focused on understanding why firms were the size they were. In a nut shell, firms grow to the size where the cost of doing something is the same inside as outside; in short transaction costs are in equilibrium. But size comes with a cost - specialization. "My job" becomes more fragmented as we grow from SOHO to Corporate Campuses. Thus, it becomes quite possible that the purpose of a company gets lost in the doing. If we reduce business to a series of transactions, each with a cost and benefit, then we also lose the bigger issue: Brands need to stand for something. (see the book on the topic.)

As companies shed jobs, hopefully they will gain a sense of what they are all about. Here social media plays an important role: Customers will tell them if they dare listen. Equally important companies can find a lot of good talent via social media and recommendations to help develop and deliver the story. If it is easier to find skills via social media, i.e. the transaction cost goes down, then it is likely there will be more SOHOs in the future because it won't be brought in-house. This leads to a thought: companies in the future won't be as large, therefore job creation should focus on facilitating this transition.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Explaining Social Media and Marketing in 50 Tweets

How do social media and marketing intersect?

Later today I'm on a panel at the Social Media Club in Salt Lake City (#smcslc) discussing how marketing and social media work together. While mostly a Q&A session I need to prepare a 4 minute set of opening remarks. So what better way than to use social media do distribute the ideas?

To illustrate how social media might work, the content consists of 50 short statements of less than 140 characters. This makes them perfect for tweets. They are meant to spark conversation and debate. Starting with a broad definition of marketing the story line weaves through social media, how to participate, and what you need to address as a brand.

UPDATE: Link broken; will fix. Email me if you want a copy. Here's a link to download a PDF of the full list.

UPDATE: Newsroom was temporary, but had 600+ visitors. Also, it can be found on social media newsroom created for it.

Enjoy, discuss and share - let me know at @apowerpoint.

The list:

1. Marketing aligns solutions and needs to everyone’s benefit.

2. While advertising gets the $250 billion budget, it is not marketing’s Job 1.

3. CMO Job 1: Create products in tune with consumer changing wants and needs; listen and extrapolate

4. CMO Job 2: Communicate that there is a solution to an audience’s unmet need.

5. Brands should solve problems; products should be sold.

6. To survive as a brand you must add value; what better way than through direct interaction with people?

7. Social media must reflect value proposition, positioning, and brand essence – simultaneously – just like advertising.

8. Social Media leverages human interaction as the vehicle for passing a message. Create a Social Media Briefing book.

9. Smoke signals, jungle drums, rotary dial phones, and email were all ‘social media’.

10. Crowdsourcing and brand hijacking are common in social media.

11. Media fragmentation and category divergence result in overload and hyper-choice – so we ask somebody else.

12. Two-thirds of the economy is driven by personal recommendations: McKinsey (they also said we only needed 900k cell phones)

13. People trust people more than entities; but there can be false prophets, pied pipers and spammers. (Edelman and Nielsen).

14. Know thyself and thy audience – be simpatico re the use of social media.

15. A simple change in prepositions impacts an organization to its core: when “to” becomes “with”.

16. Success with social media is not easy, cheap, fast or even guaranteed.

17. There are two knobs on the ‘influence’ etch-a-sketch: trust and relevance, each with their own impact.

18. Learn the difference between passive, conversational and active listening. Listen before you jump.

19. People usually don’t talk about brands first; they talk about their problems in their terms.

20. Follow first, ask second, and contribute third. Earn respect.

21. Regarding messaging, you must be honest and transparent in social media. Stop the spin you are dealing with equals.

22. Social media will evolve into marketing, journalistic, and personal segments.

23. Learn the Scoble starfish: there are 100s of tools, but only a few categories. Know their strengths and weaknesses.

24. Social media tools may become the new CRM platform; they certainly will be integrated.

25. People use social media their way: washing machines are on twitter; dogs have fans.

26. Common interests are the new demographics; approach a common ground: 17 year old girls and 70 year old men ski.

27. While Google never forgets, some topics have the half-life of a mayfly others are a bit more permanent.

28. Social media requires patience in terms of both group acceptance and impact.

29. Building a brand’s reputation takes work – just like building awareness.

30. Brand monitoring is an insurance policy.

31. Participation in social media without a business objective is a recipe for failure.

32. Participation without a strategy may be worse than not having an objective.

33. Buzz is fickle, fleeting, factual and fictitious – figuring out what is what can be frustrating.

34. Get SM wrong and it spreads like wildfire in the tree tops; only rarely does it destroy the roots. People forgive.

35. Get customer service wrong and it travels even faster with possible life-threatening injuries to a brand.

36. Guidelines required – the professional/personal line may be fuzzy, but there are legal issues.

37. Your opinion matters; it can be sued. Yelp!

38. Distribution of content is more important than posting of content; stop before you build another site.

39. If we're marketing 'with' instead of 'to' consumers, we need to be 'developing with' instead of 'pitching to' journalists.

40. Social media newsrooms have lots of uses. This list is on one.

41. We’re moving away from links of destinations to a destination free Web where information flows.

42. Content is consumed very differently on the web – multi-tasking, scanning, multi-media required.

43. We decide emotionally, we defend rationally. Social media needs to be augmented with facts.

44. Social media can help conversion as much, if not more than, lead generation.

45. By definition B2B sales are a natural community – ripe for social media and the Social Media Proposal.

46. Build your business in the long tail where the market is fragmented and interesting.

47. Social networks have different sweet spots and audiences; know the options via a social network footprint.

48. Social media and advertising have yet to find the emulsifier that allows them to mix together.

49. Advertising on social networks is a clash of pronouns: 1st person (My…) vs. 2nd person (hey you…)

50. Marketers can do 5 things to SPARK a conversation: stimulate, participate, amplify, repair or kindle.

51. BONUS: Social media is uncharted territory for a myriad of reasons: Have fun.

UPDATE: broken links, email for copy.