Posted tagged ‘marketing’

Enough with the social networking!

April 6, 2008

This week I received invitations to two more social networking sites. In this case they were promising to help me manage my online reputation.

I seem to be getting these continuously these days. In the early days of LinkedIn, I used to think “cool, a great way to network and enhance my SEO efforts.” I even advised clients and everyone I knew to do the same. (and yes, I secretly smiled at the “luddites” who said they couldn’t see the point.)

Now, I just think “what a nuisance.”

There are the really big sites, of course, such as Facebook and Linkedin (sorry I could never get interested in MySpace — I don’t work in cartoons). They’re good for just general networking, socially or for business purposes.

But every pursuit in which I’m interested now seems to have at least one, and often several, community site dedicated to that pursuit alone. Marketing — many. Management — several. Consulting — a few. Science — a couple of good ones. Music — of course. Job searching — oh yeah. Online reputation — apparently at least three.

All of them are vying for my time constantly. I could literally spend my entire day on these sites, networking myself into poverty.

What I find particularly upsetting about this avalanche of social networking is that they all claim they’re “innovative”. Since I work in the innovation management field considerably, I beg to differ. Innovation is creating radical or near-radical change — in products or business models. These are not innovative: they’re just taking standard community building tools and slicing up the social networking field in ever more fine gradients for marketing purposes.

At best it’s called working a niche. More likely, it’s simply copycatting with a slight differentiation.

Let’s take the latest invitations I’ve had. They are part of a group that includes companies like Naymz.com ReputationDefender.com and DefendMyName.com. For a fee, they promise to scrub search engines of anything I don’t want to see about me out there, or to create a new online identity for me.

Isn’t this just search engine optimization, which I – and probably you — have been practising for years? It’s just a newer version of the Google Profile technique.

Also it presumes that social networking sites are where most of our content rests — which to me seems a pretty narrow view. Most MarCom people have (or should have) much more content on their sites than simple social networking profiles, or blog comments.

A well rounded search engine profile should have these, of course, as well as white papers, FAQs, articles, endorsements, and other expertise-marketing content.

To help in organic search, SEO should be a planned and consistent process, with new content added on a schedule. If social networks are to be part of this mix, fine, but it shouldn’t take it over.

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Complexity to Clarity: Translating geek and other business languages

March 27, 2008

This morning, I facilitated a discussion among technology marketers on the growing problem of language dichotomy. Specifically it was the problem of an overwhelming culture of geek speak and how it bleeds in to the marketing side of things.

Now, the problem of the genius manager who can’t seem to speak in anything under 10 paragraphs, isn’t new. But what does seem to be new is that it’s spreading beyond just tech speak. Jargon, or verbal shorthand for those in the know, is growing everywhere, and in many non-technology sectors.

I’m convinced it’s because of the growth in complexity of modern business: As business management becomes increasingly more process oriented, it becomes increasingly more complex. But at the same time the demand for simple communication — among customers, employees and other stakeholders — has never been higher.

There’s so much information washing around out there now, that people can’t process it all. And this amplifies when the information is difficult and time consuming to process. We’re in the age where information moves at light speed so as to convert to knowledge, and if you can’t convey something simply and quickly, no one listens further. There are just too many alternatives that can be added to their knowledge base.

So, we’re talking about an information flow problem, which seems to be most egregious in the technology space. This is probably because too much emphasis in IT is put on the T (technology) and not enough on the I (information) part.

What came out of our discussion was a recognized need to return to the basics of communication. This can be summed up in a few points.

  • It’s not about the technology, it’s about the business. This can be expanded to mean it’s not about the product or service but about what the product or service does for the buyer. That’s all he or she cares about, and so that’s the information that should be delivered.
  • Know thy customer. Or, in other terms, separate the information receiver into needs segments. Sounds pretty basic, but many business processes don’t think in these terms. They think in terms of what they do, not what they can do for someone.
  • Be extremely clear about the benefit or threat (if ignored). This is an old sales technique, and is also the basis of the oldest information delivery system around — the news industry. It means you have to put your product or service into terms that are understandable emotionally — it helps because of this (i.e. saves time, saves money, or something else), or avoids a threat that might hurt you (i.e. less revenue, higher costs).
  • Know yourself. There’s usually miscommunication in business because the information deliverer doesn’t really understand what its own business is, and so can’t convey that to the receiver. Use the W6 process I posted on previously to determine who you are, what you do, and who you do it for.
  • Simplify, simplify, simplify. As a marketer, you have to act as the bridge between the geniuses in the labs who created the product or service, and the not-so-genius people who are going use it. The only way to do this is to put it into simple, understandable terms. Strip away all the add-ons and subtleties and say it in a few short words. Then put them back in when the prospect asks questions.
  • Consider the differing intelligences. Intelligence is how you process information, and most information deliverers, i.e. the CEO or CTO, often have linear intelligences…. they think logically. But there are 7 different intelligence types and it’s a good bet that most receivers are of the six that are not linear. So it’s like someone sending out a signal on one radio channel while the radios are tuned to other channels. It’s just not going to register.

PR 2.0: Bringing the press release back from the dead

March 11, 2008

It’s pretty common today for people to believe the press release, newsletter, or press kit is dead. But my friend Phoebe Yong and I don’t think so. Instead we think they’re calcified and mostly ignored because they’ve become so templated, boring and useless.

So recently, Phoebe, of Magnolia Marketing Communications, and I launched Digital Pressroom PR 2.0, a new service that uses social media tools to update the press release, press kit and newsletter formats so that they actually accomplish what they’re supposed to — point out a good story, offer useful information, gain attention, and, we hope, generate some business for our clients.

Basically, we’ve jazzed up the formats to make them more interactive, useful, and even entertaining. The heart of the release or newsletter, is still the story, but underlying it is the thinking that this is a collaborative effort at creating knowledge instead of a one-way system of delivering information.

So around the elemental story we put links to pictures, videos, funny or entertaining content that touches on the subject, and links to everything ever written about the organizations — good or bad.

It’s the latter point that really encompasses social media thinking, which is all about openness and sharing. So we’re encouraging that. It’s a good bet that any reporter or reader is probably going to perform research on a company anyway, so you might as well offer it up to him or her ahead of time.

This creates the perception that you’re a transparent company or organization because you have nothing to hide. It also creates the perception of integrity and authority: That you’re willing to to be honest with customers, investors, the press and everybody else because they’re your partners in this, not your enemies or prey.

This point is also where we’ve found some resistance to the concept. Many marketers and communicators still believe that you have to control all information about your organization, that you must deliver contrived “messages” that sell, only put you in a good light, and suppress any semblance of reality. It’s top down advertising thinking and delivery.

And it’s dead. No one believes it any more. That kind of thinking is what has created the belief that marketing and communications is all just spin doctoring and bullshit. By being transparent, honest, and a little entertaining, you’re engaging in a conversation with someone, not at them.

Another bonus is that the PR 2.0 concept works equally well for both traditional press and new online publishers such as bloggers (although the two are rapidly converging today).

For the traditional press, beset by shrinking staffs and increasing demands on their time, you’re performing much of their research and background work for them. Ergo, you have a better chance of being noticed.

For social media, you’re offering up what they need — a compelling story, with pictures and video — to increase traffic to their sites. Nothing like a catchy video to market the blog or website (and your product or service) virally.

BTW: if you think the latter are just a bunch of kids writing about their hot date last night, look at some of these stats from WordPress.com for just the month of February:

  • 245,329 blogs were created.
  • 432,478 new users joined.
  • 1,920,593 file uploads.
  • 2,814,893 posts and 996,000 new pages.
  • 4,961,330 comments.
  • 3,813,432 logins.
  • 540,799,534 pageviews on WordPress.com, and another 304,499,648 on self-hosted blogs.
  • 726,789 active blogs in February, where “active” means they got a human visitor.

Too Much Information!

November 15, 2007

If you’re involved in marketing technological or professional expertise, you’ve probably run into the client or boss who insists on delivering so much information that intended receivers are left hopelessly confused.

That’s generally because they have little understanding of cognition, which is a loose concept that describes the human faculty for processing information, applying knowledge and changing preferences. It is often simply called gaining knowledge.

Cognitive load theory suggests that an important factor in knowledge acquisition is human cognitive architecture, made up of short and long term memory. Short term memory, also called working memory, is limited in the number of elements it can contain simultaneously, while long term memory contains structures, or schemas, that allow people to perceive, think, and solve problems.

Its believed that receivers of information process it first in working memory, so for schema acquisition to occur, information delivery should be designed to reduce working memory load.

For marketers working in the professional services, technology, health and science fields cognitive load theory is important. Technically challenging or overly complex material puts a heavy load on working memory, and often the complexities are lost because the receiver can’t process all the information.

So expertise marketers must access the long-term memory’s schemas, where the receiver merely adds the information to existing understanding structures.

To do so, try to:

1. Change marketing/communications methods to avoid approaches that impose a heavy working memory load.

2. Eliminate the working memory load associated with having to mentally integrate several sources of information by physically integrating those sources of information.

3. Eliminate the working memory load associated with unnecessarily processing repetitive information.

4. Increase working memory capacity by using auditory as well as visual information.

So, in summary: Think before you load up your materials with text-based information. That load could be too much for your intended targets to process.


Experience It Yourself: The Best Kind of Marketing

October 16, 2007

As marketers and communicators we’re often forced to work with … shall we say …. less than grabby material. It can be a real job sometimes to get anyone to notice your product or service.

But sometimes the material is so damn good, the only thing we can do is harness it, get out of the way, and let people experience it themselves.

I was thinking about this after viewing a post from Matt Mcall on his VC Confidential blog. I’m not really a big Youtube fan, and I think I’ve watched American Idol maybe once in my life, but this video of a schlump in Britain auditioning for Britain’s Got Talent, the original British version of American Idol, blew me away.

Paul Potts, a dumpy, not very good looking and extraordinarily ordinary cell phone salesman from Wales appears in front of the panel, which includes the fearsome Simon Cowell, and quietly introduces himself. Everybody’s eyes are rolling as he describes his incredibly boring life. The rolling eyes turn to “oh noooo!” looks when he tells them he wants to sing opera.

But about three bars into Potts’ version of Nessun Dorma, panel members are agog. By the end, one panel member is crying. (Heck, I was crying). The audience was stunned, and then roars its approval. That voice! That delivery! Phenomenal!

It went beyond good, it was simply inspirational.  Potts went on to win the semi finals, and then the finals. Now he sings for the Queen. The video has been downloaded 9.5 million times.

Mcall sees the Potts story as the apex of entrepreneurship — someone with a dream conquers odds to be a success — which is natural for a venture capitalist.

But I see it as the essence of great marketing. A fantastic product or service that nobody knows about, cares about even less, and is even hostile to. Until they actually experience it.

If you’re trying to market an idea, a service, or a product that’s exceptional but doesn’t have the big marketing budget of competitors, maybe some form of experience marketing is your best bet.

Like cell phone salesman Paul Potts, just getting a chance might be all you need.

Captain or Corporal?

October 16, 2007

Marketers and communicators routinely lament the pressure for them to become implementers of tactics when they would really rather think in terms of strategy. They want to be Captains instead of Corporals.

But many can’t because they haven’t figured out an elemental trait of all strategists. This is a clear understanding of purpose.

Every marketer, communicator, business planner, or consultant who thinks as a strategist instead of a mere tactician begins a project with a purpose in mind. Often called the objective, it’s the end point for the entire exercise, the place you envision being at some point in future.

But, for many reasons, some people can’t think in those visionary terms. Instead of “what do we want to achieve and how will we know it when we see it” they think, “here’s what we do, and here’s our plan for doing it”. Then they proceed to assemble several tactics in a form of project management process that’s big on tasks and timelines, but little on reasons for doing them.

I remember once auditing a beautiful PR proposal for a social networking site from a marketing firm that laid out exactly how it was going to get the site lots of ink in all the top publications. It had connections to everybody who was anybody in the media it seems, and it was going to use every one of them to generate reams of publicity for the client.

The proposal was so persuasive I almost didn’t notice the outrageous fee they were going to charge for all this connecting. But amidst all the pretty graphics and persuasive language was a major flaw: There wasn’t any purpose for the publicity, other than stroking the client’s ego by putting him into august company.

Was the client’s business goal defined? Not really. Would it have helped the client achieve that goal? Not really.

Granted, the client might not have understood his own goal that well. But that should have been part of the PR firm’s job, I think. If it was thinking as a strategist, it would have established this business objective before doing anything else. Instead, it believed the goal was to generate publicity: After all that’s what it did.

It was being a good corporal — designing an implementation plan and planning its execution flawlessly .

But there was no captain there asking the elemental question: “Why are we doing this? What do we hope to achieve?”

Crank Up The Idea Machine

September 29, 2007

As a marketing or communications professional, you’re supposed to be an idea person. Your job is not only to execute tactics, but to continually generate ideas for campaigns, material, or discussion.

Problem is it’s a brute to do and think at the same time. Performing requires focus and concentration on one thing: Idea generation involves an opposite skill, letting the mind roam free.

So, like most of us, you probably opt for the doing part of the equation: it’s measurable, and certainly pleases the bosses and other supervisory types who tend to reward performance more than thinking.

But if you don’t generate a constant stream of ideas, you’ll never be more than a performer — an illustrator of other people’s ideas. Just another industrial worker.

Organizations tend toward this kind of industrial situation, which is a leftover from the old days of factories and machinery. Problem is that most organizations today aren’t factory and production businesses. More often, they’re knowledge businesses that operate on ideas, not supply chains of raw materials.

So despite the natural push to turn you into an assembly line worker, your real job is to generate ideas. So how do you do it?

By borrowing an industrial technique and adapting it to the creation of knowledge. Here’s some steps:

  • Study some creativity techniques. There are many, so pick the three or four that work best for you.
  • Build “dreamtime” into your workday. Pick a time, such as a lunchtime walk, where you do nothing but create ideas.
  • Set a daily idea quota. Use your favorite idea creation techniques during your dreamtimes. Start small, say five, then work up from there. They don’t all have to be brilliant or work related. You’re exercising, not taking part in a competition.
  • Keep an idea log. During your idea time, write down (in a special notebook set aside just for that purpose) the ideas you generate. Also immediately write down ideas that just pop into your head as information flows past you through the day.
  • Assess and sort regularly. Ideas aren’t worth much if they’re never looked at again. So every couple of day, revisit them, and sort out the best of the bunch for further study or action.

You’ll be amazed at the results. In fact at first you’ll overdo it and jot down far too many ideas. Or you’ll revert to To Do Notes. That’s okay. Enjoy the creative binges, and ignore the tendency to just go through the motions with To Do. Eventually you’ll hit your stride and will be producing ideas like some kind of machine.