marketing and sales executives from Silicon Valley

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Social Media: tools, costs, impact, ROE, and ROI

There are so many experts telling you what to do and how to spend your time/money on social media, so I was happy to see a presentation from a knowledgeable colleague. In it, he reviewed several key issues surrounding social media: tools, costs, impact, and ROI. While the presentation is on the long side, it's a good read.

If you are strapped for time I recommend leaping forward to page 34 using the slide control, as that provides a case study with a quick view into a way to look at and evaluate social media efforts.

One reason this presentation appeals to me is that it attempts to define a closed loop approach to measurement and recommendations. Using initial or preliminary goals, I can look at the analysis and reports to see how I'm progressing toward those goals by choosing and analyzing a few key metrics. Over time, as I progress toward my goals or fail to reach them, the measurement allows me to re-evaluate my choice of metrics as key indicators of goal progress or even redefine my goals or sub-goals based on what resources I can apply to the process.

The key to this approach, however, is to have goals. These goals can be simple or complex, and can be co-mingled with costs, for example:
  • Simply have or expand a social media presence
  • Create market awareness and findability
  • Create the largest social media footprint without advertising
  • Create the largest social media footprint with a limited ad budget
  • Use social media to drive sales
  • Use social media to establish thought leadership
  • Drive sign-ups to your service
Each of those goals is valid depending on your business needs and stage of business, and each has implications on both ROE (return on effort) as well as ROI (Return on Investment).  Pursuit of any of the individual goals alone or in combination has implications in terms of pre-requisites, resource allocation, and budget, which then translate to identifying which metrics you track on the way to your goal.

So, what is your goal, and how will you know when you get there?

Disclaimer: I know the creator of the presentation and have been an advocate of his measurement and ROI centric approach. Funny how I agree with it, no?

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Market Camp Silicon Valley

At the first marketing camp unconference in SV and it's good place to be. It was terrible to wake up in the 7am hour on Saturday, but the sheer number of people here sacrificing their Saturday represents both personal commitment and possible productivity pain.

I think this could be a great thematic direction for SVForum, as this was the first large scale marketing conference that I've seen where the egos were secondary to the learning. Like the unconferences for hacking and technology, this featured directed topics, lots of discussions, and Q&A. This was the place to learn what's on people's mind: What do marketing people think and worry about? What marketing issues are top of mind?

As a problem solver, it was fascinating to see what people consistently had questions about. What did I gather was the major direction? Marketing people, or at least people tasked with marketing, are saddled with tactical issues. Several of the sessions had topics covering strategy and planning, but most were limited by the generic for of "How do I do X" or why are things changing?

The undertone is that business is changing. Many of the "How To" questions were based on several areas that I followed:
- How do I best use Twitter?
- How do I best use Facebook?
- How do I measure return on effort and return on investment?
- How do I grow (users, engagement, customers, etc)

If I could take one thing away from this conference, marketing automation and the training around it is really solving problems. This particular audience seemed more tailored to startups, small business, and consultants, so the defacto vendor mentioned over and over again was hubspot. One caution here - several people stated that while hubspot was good to start, it was painful to leave.

I'll be looking for the final slides here.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Industry Expert vs. Functional Expert for Out-of-Box Thinking

I was talking with several people about hiring the right people for their marketing roles. It seems that hiring processes have either encouraged inflexibility or laziness, with poor results. The crux of the topic can be boiled down to two key statements:
  1. Most HR departments have a rigid experience requirement, such as 10+ years experience, to insure market familiarity
  2. Resulting hires tend to want to do things the way they've been done for 10+ years, often with mediocre results, though not necessarily horrible results.
I once heard that the definition of insanity was doing the same thing over and over and expecting the same results. I don't think these HR people were insane, so is there anything unexpected going on here? If you do something for 10 or more years, you learn the traditions of a  business. Traditions and network matter, especially for well established and long lived business. On one extreme, I worked for Pacific Bell, they gave me an 11 page document that only had acronyms that I was required knowledge for the business. At the same time, those traditions can lead to stagnation and a lack of innovation. You may often hear the phrase "but that's how we've always done it" when any type of change is introduced.

One CEO I spoke with made an interesting comment: "While the staff and even executives are hired with the industry experience requirement, look at how CEOs are hired". That's an interesting point.
  • In energy, telecom, steel, semiconductors, and banking, you see CEOs almost always coming from within the exact same industry. 
  • In other technology, you may see CEOs, valued for functional experience, cross over to another technology area. Meg Whitman moving from eBay to HP and Eric Schmidt going from Novell to Google come to mind.
Another CEO told me that HR departments can be either overwhelmed or lazy, leaving them to fall back on what's easy. He said that while some industry experience is indispensable, once a minimum threshold is met, the company culture, position goals, market culture, and personal attributes become more important.

I've seen some recruiters who get it. One told me that in Finance, you often see people jumping from industry to industry all the time. Their functional expertise helps them understand and approach a variety of financial situations. Financing, deal making, and money management constantly changes, and once someone has the minimum industry understanding, their ability to creatively solve problems is paramount since the old ways may not work.

The same should apply to sales and marketing. Great sales and marketing people understand that people, markets, and situations change. It's often a good idea to NOT do the same thing you've done for 10 years or even 5 years, as the market, people, and buying behaviors have changed.

How do you hire? Do you fill a position or hire a functional leader?

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Ambush Marketing - Big Win and Lessons from Nike

Nike's neon shoes were all over the place during the Olympics. The presence of the shoe was so ubiquitous that I assumed that they were a sponsor. They weren't. Reebok was the official
sponsor and has not renewed it's role for Rio. One possible reason? Nike implemented executed a well planned ambush marketing effort. The basics are covered in Ad Age here.

What people saw during the Olympics was a neon yellow shoe on the feet of athletes. The visibility and brand reinforcement, most notably, during track and field, when usually two or three athletes were shown in their events, with their feet seemingly glowing. The shoes were high contrast, visible, and part or many events where the wearers won a medal. The message to watchers, of course - the bright neon shoes helped win medals.

Nike insists that their products are all about the athletes, while other contend that their athletes are their marketing vehicle. While Nike backs it up showing gold medalists wearing Nike shoes, others point to Nike's own description of good products. The article quotes Martin Lotti, the man responsible for the marketing win:

"Mr. Lotti believes good Nike products have four elements: performance, emotion (a Team USA insignia over the heart, for example), environment (in keeping with the spirit of this being the first "green" games, the Flyknit is Nike's most sustainable shoe ever) and aesthetics."

Only one of the four items is for the athlete: performance.  The other three are about marketing, but to focus on the marketing aspect is to miss the big picture. It's the combination of good product and marketing that made the ambush marketing at the Olympics a success. Great athletes wear good products, good products were highly visible during the Olympics. Some athletes won with those products, so Joe Consumer might get the same benefits. It's a simple and well orchestrated marketing effort that leveraged product, celebrities, and distribution.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Small Time Brands Go Big, if They Survive Long Enough

A branding article in the Harvard Business Review caught my eye: "How These Small-Time Brands Made It Big", as I try to keep apprised of the psychology of branding and product acceptance. The article is a good refresher on some branding fundamentals, but also glosses over some core dependencies. If, as a reader, you can internalize the take-aways and understand the key prerequisites, I recommend you engage with the article.

The fundamental take-aways in the article:
  • Focus on a small idea
  • Deploy a powerful visual
  • Treat the name as a strategic creative decision
  • Don't overwhelm customers
Those take-aways are indeed valuable, but often get lost or misrepresented when applied. In nearly all of the examples provided, the author correctly mentions, but almost glosses over the struggles and hard times the companies endured before the brand really mattered. Yes, the brand was important, but the brand is/was an accelerator, not the core value. In each example, the brand didn't make the company, the company developed a great product or service before people cared about the brand.

Here's how to put things in perspective:
  • Nike: A shoe company under a different name for 14 years before it became Nike, and even then, the logo was rushed out to make production deadline and cost $35
  • Instagram: The now-famous service is a rebranding and outgrowth of the less popular Burbn
  • Twitter: Tweaked a $15 stock photo that came to signify the brand
One take-away that you shouldn't miss, is that the entrepreneurs behind the brands in the examples built the business and customer base first. Once customers love or simply believe in your product or service, you've proven yourself brand worthy, which is where the value of your brand comes from. 

Build value first, and the brand value will come.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Publicity by Pranking Victoria's Secret

While reflecting on how a colleague is trying to "Cross the Chasm" with his startup, I naturally reflected on basic marketing principles for customer development, such as reputation building, free PR, and testimonials. There are other principles, but I'll focus on those few since they came to mind when the topic of my undergraduate school's small size yet excellent academic reputation came up as a comparison.. And that's when I thought of Victoria's Secret.

My undergraduate education was earned at Harvey Mudd College (HMC), a small engineering focused school in southern California. It has consistently ranked in the top 3 for top engineering schools and for a brief time was ranked as the top undergraduate institution by US News and World Reports. Sure, we had more PhDs per capita than CalTech at the time, but for every one person who knew that, ten would ask "Harry Mudd - that guy from Star Trek?" Before geek was cool, and before there was a "Big Bang Theory" on TV, it was difficult to get recognition for my small, young, but rigorous school.

I and my classmates continue to fight that uphill battle, silently rejoicing when Harvey Mudd is acknowledged for any reason. Sure, we've had math champions, CS champions, famous faculty, and even the school President is on the board of Microsoft. The problem is that only a few "in the know" would assign weight to those facts, despite my personal bias that HMC President Maria Klawe is a recognized leader and lends additional credibility to the school. No, it would take a hilarious prank on Victoria's Secret to make me really happy.

In one act (many small ones, really), students from the school banded together to dominate a contest to win Victoria's Secret lingerie. The prank leveraged student technical know-how to beat voting protection systems to not only make it seem like Harvey Mudd had over 1 million students and alumni, it also spelled out school phrases, and catapulted other Claremont colleges into the top rankings. The prank on Victoria's Secret was covered in news sources all around the web, and an article in Yahoo voices can still be seen here.

Now back to my original comment about reputation building, free PR, and testimonials - this small, but meaningful prank demonstrated a few key points that could help attract new students and make alumni proud:
  • Reputation building: The student body self organized to pull off a technical feat. You can bet the school is both technically skilled and has a tight community.
  • Free PR: HMC did not have to spend a dime to advertise that the students were skilled technically or that there's a creative, if not "puckish", personality of pranks at the school.
  • Testimonials: Tthis prank was acknowledged by many online sources and shared via Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn and became virtual lore at the alumni meetings that followed. This also led to follow up discussions where fellow alumni suddenly started talking about the pranks they did or others did while at school. 
In short, sometimes communication and reputation can be assisted by events, people, and tools that tell a story about a school or product that has merit, but can be amplified by leveraging the goodwill of another brand. It helped Harvey Mudd, and it may help others looking for increased visibility.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

The Truth Behind Food Styling Can be Viral

Since when does a video exposing the marketing tweaks to a product  go viral and reach over 5 million views? The McDonald's Canada video on "food styling" just did. You'll find the video on the top video viral chart there.

I try to look at business videos applying 3 main filters to understand it's influence and potential for spread:

  • Is it relate-able or use an archetype?
  • It it relevant/timely
  • Is it memorable
Is it relate-able?
There's a resounding "YES" here. Nearly everyone I've known has asked the question answered by this video. Who hasn't wondered why fast food has never looked as good in person as it does in the photos - would be a better question. The premise is good and it draws people in.

Is it relevant? 
I'd say yes, but not in the usual way. Normally, when something is relevant, it is connected with your current needs or interests. In this case, there are few people who are particularly interested in this question. The real relevancy is two fold: 1) universally relate-able topic, and 2) market concern over "pink slime" and fast foods.

Suffice it to say that a universally relate-able topic always has some relevance, but add that to the recent concerns over "pink slime", and people are more interested in what goes on or in their fast food. I'll admit that I wondered if there was any real-world air brushing or special chemicals applied to the burger, and that kept me watching.

Is it memorable?
If one of life's mysteries was answered for you, would you remember? Of course. The revelation in the video, of course, isn't so appealing, but having worked in the film industry and marketing, I came in with some expectation of staging. Sure, I've staged products, I've staged homes for sale, and even created special demos that avoided known bugs. In this case McD's gave us the tour of how it takes hours of prep, staging, and even some photoshop to make the burgers look as good as they do in the photos. 

This video hits all the key points for me, and it's no wonder that the video went viral.

Monday, June 18, 2012

C.E.O. Pay Is Rising in Effort to Spite the 99%

I was sent a article from the NY Times about how CEO pay is skyrocketing in spite of efforts of the "occupy" movement to raise awareness of the disparity between CEO pay and rank and file workers. This article made me wonder "How often do CEOs jump ship for larger pay?"

Shouldn't CEO's get paid every cent they're worth? That's a vague statement, as a quote from the article stuck out from front line workers "Why should I kill myself to get a 2 percent raise if the C.E.O. is going to get a 20 percent raise?"

The main justification for the huge pay increases is that it keeps CEOs in place and prevents them from jumping ship. This may be true in some cases, but shouldn't there be a published study about the topic before corporate boards make wild assertions that glorify huge packages for CEOs and imply a level of worthlessness to the average worker? 

A study of this topic should answer a few questions:

1) How often do CEOs jump ship for larger pay?
2) How successful are the companies who land CEOs who repeated jump for higher pay?
3) When CEOs jump ship for higher pay, does the industry matter or do they jump anywhere to make more money
4) Do CEOs jump to go to a better company or a chance to make more money?
5) What is value creation equation when setting pay for CEOs? 
6) When is it financially prudent to let a CEO jump since the pay required no longer makes sense?

My guess is that there will never be such a study, as there is no accountability for the people setting the pay package. When there's a bad hire, it's easy to say "we didn't pay enough for the right talent" than to answer some harder questions.

That said, a brief thought experiment is in order.  What if CEO pay was capped at $5M or even $1M/year plus unlimited discretionary options for long term restricted stock? You could have the potential for unlimited pay, but remove the incentive for jumping ship. Would you still see CEOs jumping around? Would you see longer tenures when the shorter term incentives are reduced? 

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Facebook Stock Beat-down a Mark on Social Media?

Experts continue to provide their opinions on why Facebook's IPO was a failure and what it means for social media and engagement. I was taken aback by one analysis in particular on AdAge.

The argument is basically this: Facebook is all about engagement, so the the stock drubbing is a sign that the market does not believe in engagement.

The author cites examples of limited engagmement success metrics as well as the transition to modern marketing where consumers have more choices to engagement. The article author seems to believe that a weakness in the engagement model translates to a direct distaste for the stock.

I have a more simple way to look at the stock drubbing. The price is too high. If there was no market for Facebook's services, it wouldn't have somewhere near 900M users. There is clearly some value provided by the company, but with all stock, the question is perceived value - one of the cornerstones of branding and marketing. Stocks have no inherent value - a share is a proxy of the perceived value of a fraction of the company that can be bought and sold. If people believe that a company has less value than the summed value of it's shares, people sell the stock and drive the price down. If you believe that a company has more value than the price of the stock, you tend to buy. In both cases, the buyer or seller is betting on market value of the stock, not necessarily the value of the products or services from the company.

To clarify this perspective, another article that states the issue directly. Facebooks Price-to-earnings (P/E) ratio was over 100 when it was priced at $38, compared to Apple with a P/E ration of 13.6 and Google at 18.2 as stated in a CBSNews article. In this comparison, Facebook stock looks way overpriced, regardless of the actual value delivered to users. At a P/E ratio at least 5x of some other popular high flying brands, Facebook will have a hard time supporting a multiple that high in the long term.

I can see the value of Facebook as a service as it helped foster new and past friendships as well as introduced me to new products and services. I have seen it enhance brand engagement for local businesses and major retailers and product providers. I have also not yet found a way to justify a 5x multiple over Apple and Google. The stock drubbing is not a social media condemnation, but simply a reflection on price.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

3 Keys to Content that Matters, or Boost Your Emotional Intelligence

Is your content worth sharing? Maybe that's the wrong question.

In a recent AdAge article, the CEO of Buzzfeed discussed that it takes more than smart people in a room to work out a good content strategy - it takes emotional intelligence.

While the article touches a good topic, this particular discuss is more valuable because of the comments. Paul Dunay, added some simple keys that people often forget:
To make sure your content is seen it must succeed in three primary areas: 1. Provocative enough to "grab" attention and 2. Compelling enough to "hold" attention and 3. Relevant enough to "share". 
That would make the article valuable by itself. The only concept still missing from this discussion the distribution strategy, but alas, creating content and distributing it are two different animals.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Segmentation for Fishermen

In the debate about product-market fit, the phrase "boiling the ocean" is used to negatively describe a target market that is too big to effectively service. Can a product be good enough for everyone? Not really - as the one size fits all mentality ignores many of the obvious and subtle differences between individuals that can make or break a buying decision. On the other hand, the product and marketer needs to balance the needs of the individual sale with other considerations, such as volume, cost to produce/deliver, product maintenance, and support. In my earlier segmentation post, I discussed how log analysis and excel spreadsheet cranking let to understanding a segment.

In the big picture, you won't always have excel jockeys or tools that quickly reveal market segments. That when you take a deep breath and acknowledge that segmentation can and does take many forms, leading to misunderstanding, misuse of the terminology, and poor delivery on expectations.

When creating products or marketing campaigns, there are many layers of customer identification. Here are a few:

  • Demographics (age, gender, location)
  • Psychographics (personal interests, activities, and opinions)
  • Behavior (specific site actions, loyalty engagement, frequency and usage rate)

The cost of segmentation mechanisms increase with the dept of the data-set, but the resulting targeting should also yield the best results. Imagine the difference marketing to a Female of 35 years, with 2 kids in elementary school, vs marketing to a Female of 35 years, with 2 kids in elementary school who uses coupons, watches Ellen, and likes reading books? How would that change product or the marketing campaign? Would that change if you know she spent 2 hours a week on coupon sites, read mommy blogger reviews, and signed up for 3 product safety for kids email lists?

Don't get too carried away. Having more data could lead to analysis paralysis. The smart marketer knows that he/she needs to wade through a haystack of profiling info and extract the key actionable nuggets that allow him/her to make an impact. If profile data suggests that the physical or online places that the target 'hangs out' are within your ability to reach them, then 'go fishing' there. This common sense advice is a basic extension of using the old BPA statements for magazine advertising applied to online advertising or other physical events. Find the venues and vehicles where your target segment is involved or engaged, and communicate to them there.

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Saturday, March 24, 2012

Make Your Groupon or Deal Put More Money in YOUR Pocket

Deal sites like Groupon, Living Social, or Zozi seem like a great idea:  Using the power of Groupon-like sites and their millions and millions of users, your business gets massive exposure, a boatload of new customers, and the coolness factor associated with one of the hottest Internet companies of the today. It doesn't cost you anything upfront, and it can be budgeted as a marketing expense that only occurs when people buy your product or service.  

In fact, Groupon has many satisfied customers, and you could be one of them. Not so fast. There's also the 'other side' of the story, where some businesses say that Groupon sucks - damaging your brand, drawing the wrong customers, destroying profit. There's even a PC World expose on it. There was even a report published (and covered in HuffPo) that most small businesses hate Groupon.

That brings me to a deal I saw on Yahoo Deals from a music studio. For $20, I could get rehearsal studio time for 3 hours. I'm not even sure if I'm good enough to be called a 'real musician', but at that price it's something I would consider and not feel like I was being too indulgent. As with most deals, if I'm interested, I read more and do a little research to see how shady or reputable a firm is. In this case, I clicked through to the website and found a pleasant surprise. I did have to make a decision on the spot to get that $20 deal. The studio was offering the same price on a web-only special.

It may not be a good deal for the deal company, but it was suddenly a better deal for the studio and for me. Sure, I would get the same price, but now I didn't have to pay ahead of time in the hopes that I might use my deal voucher. At the same time, if I had a charge/transaction problem, I could deal directly with the studio - or have my credit card deal directly with them. The studio, on the other hand, no longer had to give away the 50%+ in the reduced fees that it would receive from the deal, it would be paid immediately when the transaction cleared, and it received free advertising from Yahoo and the originating deal company. Now that's leverage.

This particular studio may be banned from future deals with this deal company, but if they believed that they would end up like other small businesses that hate the deal sites and never use them again, then they haven't really lost much. Even better, the deal was favorable to deal site and non-deal site users, unlike the deal that caused user backlash from FTD.

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Thursday, March 15, 2012

#SXSW 2012 Marks the End of an Era

As I read the article on Ad Age titled "What if the real 'Winner' of SXSW was AmEx?", I felt a strange sense of loss. Big brands, with big budgets, were the focal point of a number of news stories covering SXSW. I couldn't help but wonder "what happened to the Indie Music and Indie Startup scene?". SXSW, it seems, may have sold out and, if it hasn't, is losing touch with it's roots.

If you read the article you'll see it says AmEx "stole the attention away from the thousands of startups represented there", but shouldn't that be easy to do when you can afford to hire Jay Z, rent the venue, and market that info? The real question should be how much did AmEx spend to buy the buzz and can startups compete with the likes of AmEx and Nike pouring huge bucks into #SXSW.

I do think AmEx did it right, as pointed out in the article, but they had an unfair example that startups are unlikely to match. This of it this way: If Twitter or Foursquare had launched during AmEx's high priced media blitz, would they have won the show instead? Would have they received the same attention? Maybe Gowalla's story might be a bit different.

From a marketer's standpoint, the culture and flavor of SXSW may be shifting dramatically away from independent music, art, culture, and tech to a show that has sold it's soul to big budget branding. That may forever change what can be introduced and marketed there, the tactics, and more importantly, the cost to play.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Do You have a '3 click tire kicker'?

I recently had a conversation about website optimization and conversion, where I was asked about past tactics I've used to convert users on a website. The person asking was concerned about the numerous user types and thus the need to create many landing pages. The person was initially against the my use of personas until I explained how they mattered.

In my example, I described a persona that I summarized as the young 'female who seeks trust', where the persona could be more deeply described as a teen female who used web-based profiles for personal expression and identity gratification, but who also didn't necessarily trust new new web services. We developed that persona from research, surveys, and observation. What was of interest to me was how the 'trust' issue would play out in terms of web activity. In the field, that persona came to be renamed the  '3 click tire kicker' since this user type was typically a female 14-24 who clicked on three different services info pages before downloading and installing our software.

What was most interesting was that log analysis showed that categorically, these users did not always click on the three same service pages. As long as they investigated three or more of the available services did they convert at a higher and more dependable rate. Post-conversion interviews and surveys revealed that users felt that there was alot offered by our technology and they could save time and effort by using our software.

I used this example to explain that a persona was the start of the site optimization process. We verified the persona and used it to identify a category of users - a segment that followed a certain conversion behavior - that we could then create pages that met their needs. By applying similar practices it would be possible to identify other segments that could require additional product requirements or implications. I may have been able to reverse out the same results without creating the persona, but it was a guiding heuristic in approaching the data that lead me to focus on a type of behavior. In any view of this example - a segmentation hypothesis (via a persona in this case) was an essential part of the insight generation process.

The caveat here is that the results and analysis were not necessarily that easy. I used both proprietary non-linear path analysis and manual log analysis of log snapshots of 10,000 rows to perform the analysis.  Type type of analysis is compute or manpower intensive. In a later post, I'll discuss other segmentation options.

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Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Simple or Complex - the waffle paradox and the not-so-easy answer

Seth Godin's "waffle paradox" is one of those topics that seems to trip up fast acting decision makers. After all, people like simple answers, they make great sound bites -- and who needs complexity?

On the other hand, as Seth Godin points out:
"Nuance is the sign of an intelligent observer. Nuance shows restaint and maturity and an understanding of the underlying mechanics of whatever problem we're wrestling with. After all, if the solution was simple, we would have solved it already."
This goes back to a discussion I recently had over search engine marketing (SEM) and search engine optimization (SEO). The person I spoke with had been pitched by an SEO firm which told him that he needed to pay $30,000 to SEO his site to drive more traffic, close more leads, increase revenues, etc. It sounded so simple that he could just pour money on the unverified problem, and things would magically happen. The pitch was short, sweet, and direct -- AND good enough that the person asked me if it was worth it.

My response was "it's not that simple". I had a number of questions: Did he even know if there was a problem? If so, how large was it? Were there any signs of lost business? Would he really recover the $30,000 costs through increased sales? What would he really get for that $30,000? Did he get a free audit from any of the hundreds of SEO firms that will do free SEO audits in hopes of winning the business?

I worried that my response was too complicated. My colleague appreciated the list of questions, as they justified the uneasiness he felt during the SEO firm's pitch. He wanted nuance, but that would not have captured his ear. As it turned out, nuance had to combat simplicity. Of course, I had the context to ask the right questions.

So I don't blame the SEO firm for over simplifying in their pitch. Simplicity works - increase revenue, cut costs, don't leave money on the table. That get's my ear. On the other hand, simple may get you to the dance floor, but a business relationship is closer to a Tango with intricacies that are just more complicated.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Social media explained and the next phase of #socialmedia

While people debate social media and what all the services do, I found an elegant, yet tongue-in-cheek, image from Adverblog that does the job admirably.

From a clarity and classification standpoint, this image  delineates a complementary ecosystem owned by the major companies shown. Nearly every social media company who currently or hopes to compete with one of the leaders would overlay one or more of the companies listed.

If you agree with not only the implied classification but also the market dominance suggested by the image, then you may also agree that any competitor in that space has a low probability of success due to the ownership of each social media category by an incumbent 800lb gorilla.

New entrants, may attempt to introduce product suites, integrated features, or better differentiated features, however the problem is not one of a better product, but one of category ownership. A new entrant with a suite or integrated product must be more than just better with some feature advantage. They need to overcome thought leadership of each of the major competitors that they overlap. I would argue that direct competition for those major segments is over, unless one of those leaders grossly pisses off their user base.

The implication for me is that a new entrant must follow a narrower vertical strategy where they can capture both the pain and imagination of a niche market and own it. Yes, the whole of social media will likely follow the path of social networks - products for businesses in narrow verticals where the open access and unsecure information of the current leaders creates social media demand that lacks the privacy, security, and narrow market knowledge that practitioners in a narrow field of focus require.

This is not new, of course, as this parallels the growth and segmentation of enterprise software. Where once there was ERP, CRM, and Supply Chain, etc, there are now those software (and SassS) in specific verticals such as government, human resources, finance, automotive, energy, bioscience, medical etc. The only thing that prevents or delays the next wave of vertically focused social media, is the process and structure of demonstrating consistent and repeatable results and ROI in the same way that CRM analytics enabled the creation of pretty charts showing how to identify, cull, and optimize that sales funnel.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Where did my review go? Social Media Fail.

I believe in the power of social media and the power of crowds. Specifically, I rarely questioned if review systems were good things designed to help and inform consumers. I also believed that reviews were a way for product marketers to gain insight into the values and shortcomings of products.

Unfortunately, one of my favorite stores, Brookstone, has fallen short on providing reviews that would benefit customers, and especially myself.

The issue at hand is not one, but two disappearing reviews (out of 8 for the product) that I had submitted following two product returns and several calls to customer support.  The real problem is that the two reviews were posted months apart for a product that lacked a key feature that the retail store confirmed was not in the product. The product is linked at the end of this post, if you're interested.

So to sum it up - I paid $400+ for a product online with ship to store (Brookstone retail). I Tested it in store, where it was clear that the “Foot rollers” did not work, and I confirmed with customer support that the product was supposed to have the feature. I returned it and wrote a review about the product failure, but great in-store customer service. I read it on the site, thinking that I was helping them correct the product mis-listing or boost quality control. A few months later, after a hard day on my feet, I tried again. I looked for my older review, and it was missing, so I assumed that there was some system glitch, and/or that the product was somehow improved or different. So I ordered again.

As they say, insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, and expecting different results. I might have to check my mental reasoning skills, as the same thing and more happened. Not only did the product not have the feature, but service again claimed that it was supposed to have rollers. This time, however, the sales person confirmed that he had not seen the product EVER have working foot rollers. My new review included a suggestion that the customer service or marketing department verify the product features as it would help other customers make an informed decision and reduce return costs.

This time, my review was gone in less than a day.

6 months later, after another aching foot day, I went to check and the product that I wanted earlier. There the product was, claiming to have the missing, but key feature, -- but neither of my reviews were there.

Fool me once shame on you, fool me twice, shame on me - but more than that, Brookstone. I can’t trust your online rating system, and will never order from you online again. This time, however, the review won’t be removed, and this note can hopefully serve to shine a light on customer service and review systems.

I have continued looking for a better foot massager (notice that it still claims to have foot rollers). If you know of a comparable one with foot rollers at the same price or better, let me know.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

The limits of crowd-sourced marketing

I met with a few people today and ended up in a "crowd-sourced marketing" discussion. I enjoy the live sharing and discussion, but especially the banter back and forth around an idea. While I do enjoy it, I have colleagues who are dead set against that type of activity - unless they are paid for it.

I completely understand where they're coming from, and they bring up a number of good points. Here are a few:

  • You could give them an idea that could save their business
  • You should be paid for the good ideas you provide to others
  • They may never hire you - "Why buy the cow when you get the milk for free"
  • You cheapen your brand by giving so much away

I don't disagree that those points could be true, however I have my own response based upon my experience:

  • Ideas are cheap. Without the details and careful thought about implementation, it's very rare that an idea could save a business
  • Ideas are only the first of many steps. If you want my details and help with strategy and implementation (the hard part), then I deserve to be paid.
  • If someone takes my idea and doesn't hire me, the odds are that they can only implement part of what I've verbalized. There's more to an idea than what you can share in quick meeting.
  • My ability to create, position a product or service, or provide valuable ideation comes grows from past experiences including collaboration. Part of my brand is idea generation, then finding a way (scrappy or full blown) to make it happen. 
Do you agree or disagree?

I've heard a number of good ideas which have been followed by poor implementation, poor messaging, or poor positioning, and that has lead me to believe that the details and the implementation matter as much or more than the idea itself.

The more I see the more I believe the statement attributed to Edison holds true "Genius is one percent inspiration, ninety-nine percent perspiration" (source WikiQuote).

So the next time you worry about someone stealing your idea, think about the time, effort, and energy needed to make steal or copy that idea. If they really did implement your entire concept that you gave them - then yes, the person is a douche-bag, but if you just had the idea and never followed up on it, what ownership do you really have?

Disclosure: This discussion is about marketing ideas and does not apply to patents created or owned by me or my employers. Just sayin 8-).