Inside a hurricane there is a moment of silence. You can't take the noise and pounding anymore. You are ready to jump out of your skin. Then, in that crazy moment, the storm's center arrives. Quiet arrives. Quiet like you've never experienced. Contrast creates deafening quiet. Soon the storm returns. You puncture the other side. The ride continues.
An eye of our collective Digital Marketing Storm settled briefly today. It is the day before Thanksgiving. Our web site is speeding up even as staff and friends hit the road. During a mid afternoon lull a thought settled in too. Process is product I thought.
What does that mean? What are you doing right now? Whatever you are doing, no matter how seemingly insubstantial, your actions are product. Pema Chodron in her book The Wisdom of No Escape explains we are complete just as we are. Think of this idea and apply it to work. Work is a series of tasks leading to some polished result. Polishing is product too. Expose what you do every minute no matter how unpolished because process is product.
Knowing process is product brings benefits. Most will reject or not understand process is product. If your company understands available content goes up as costs decline. In a search engine marketing world there is no such thing as too much content. Our web site's yearly content need is greater than 1,000,000 words. Sounds like a lot, but it is too little. Competitors are creating more content faster. Internet marketing benefits accrue to the swift. We stay in the game at 1,000,000 words a year assuming we figure out how to write, post and edit the equivalent of ten books a year.
Exposing process increases transparency. People know you warts and all. Confidence required to expose warts helps customers see companies as humans - people not machines. Lifting the curtain allows customers into the back room. They see how tricks are done and so don't see them as tricks. They understand you and your company are honest and hard working.
Exposing process reduces costs in another way. Your customers become involved. Never, my P&G boss taught me, build a perfect display. Perfect displays look too good. Customers won't mess them up. They won't buy. If your process is too perfect you create barriers. Your customers won't think you need their golden opinions. Leave your socks on the floor and bed unmade. Your customers may share ideas on picking up your room. Expose process to save millions.
When process goes viral, passed around by customers who freely participate, a tribe forms. A few hundred loyal followers who spend time helping create your widget are literally worth their weight in gold. What will they do when you launch? Your tribe will march to mountain's top and SHOUT their joyful experience. Your product becomes theirs. They own it not you. Share ownership early and often creates an evangelical army. Remember companies can't sell anything anymore (read my tribal marketing post). Set up the means of communication, form the tribe and you won't have to "sell" at least not in the traditional old school sense.
Push every piece of process out to the world. Your company becomes archivist and active librarians. Start with your web site. Create an area identified as a research lab. Invite customers to play. Post, post and post some more. Visuals, things you would have thrown away, every piece of early product process is valuable. Push it to the world. Push it out NOW. LISTEN carefully to how the bell rings.
Change your mind. Change your process. Use wisdom from your crowd to tweak, shave, shape and change your product. Do these things and you won't have to "sell" your widget. It will arrive with the best kind of marketing - evangelical owners who tell a story to anyone. They tell your creation story. You will hear your courage, occasional stupidity and how, in the end, you listened when your magical customers set you straight. At that moment smile and think, "process is product".
Wednesday, November 25, 2009
Tuesday, November 24, 2009
Not sure when it struck me. We were working on a military outreach for Veterans Day. Saying THANKS to brave men and women who wake up everyday to do a difficult job was our motivation. Our work got me thinking of Tribes by Seth Godin. As usual Seth is right on it. Seth is part marketing psychic. Here is how Seth defines a tribe:
"A tribe is a group of people connected to one another, connected to a leader, and connected to an idea. For millions of years, human beings have been part of one tribe or another. A group needs only two things to be a tribe: a shared interest and a way to communicate."All marketing is tribal marketing now. Marketers can't speak directly to customers anymore. Trust is long gone. All customers are over-marketed and underwhelmed. Too much abuse of the "because you can do something doesn't mean it is the right thing to do" rule has wrecked havoc on the old ways. Marketing isn't dead but marketers are. Any marketer clueless enough to speak directly to consumers will learn how to lose millions gaining little.
Tribes Pg. 2
Speaking or selling directly is out yet things are being sold as I type this. Friends, word-of-mouth and recommendation systems have stepped into the void. The best any marketer can do is to provide Seth's "way to communicate". Seth shares how Senator Bill Bradley defines a movement:
Senator Bill Bradley defines a movement as having three elements:When a marketer speaks directly she hurts her case. Our new marketing world requires authenticity, transparency and confidence. Create remarkable things, purple cow things, and tell the truth. But, what is truth. Truth is what customers tell you. "Your cow is purple," they will tell you, "because of x, y and z." I've been marketing one thing or another for almost thirty years and customers always surprise. We may have designed X into our widget, but Y and Z are angles only a customer can see. Smart move? Listen and hand over keys to your baby. Let customer drive. More from Seth:
Tribes, Pg. 27
- A narrative that tells a story about who we are and the future we’re trying to build.
- A connection between and among the leader and the tribe.
- Something to do-the fewer limits, the better.
The essence of what’s happening in the market today revolves around creating purple cows. Tribes,Pg. 45When do you know beyond doubt you've reached remarkable purple cowness? When your tribe tells you so. How do you create a tribe? Create a way for your customers to communicate and interact with each other. Provide a platform then listen, lead and get out of the way. Leadership is an important topic worthy of its own post, but here is Seth's thought on leading tribes:
We choose not to be remarkable because we’re worried about criticism. We hesitate to create innovative movies, launch new human resource initiatives, design a menu that makes diners take notice, or give an audacious sermon because we’re worried, deep down, that someone will hate it and call us on it. Tribes, Pg. 46
If leadership is the ability to create change your tribe believes in, and the market demands change, then the market demands leaders.Go forth and lead by creating the means for your tribe to communicate. What is the old saying, "lead, follow or get out of the way." Tribal marketing requires you to lead, follow and get out of the way.
Tribes, Pg. 22
The answer, as you’ve probably guessed, is that there’s a difference between telling people what to do and inciting a movement. The movement happens when people talk to one another, when ideas spread within the community, and most of all, when peer support leads people to do what they always knew was the right thing.
Great leaders create movements by empowering the tribe to communicate.
Tribes, Pg. 23
Wednesday, November 18, 2009
This has to be my favorite interview of any subject ever. Andy Warhol answering a snarky interviewers questions while his dealer Ivan Karp cracks up beside him. Note how straight the interviewer continues to play it despite it clear and present absurdity.
Thursday, November 12, 2009
Creating Purple Cows
A friend wanted to smack me. “You left out the best part,” she told me after reading Digital Scale. “You end the piece with a call to arms, the need to create purple special things and then you stop,” she told me over lunch. She caught me. The hardest thing any marketing person does these days is find, pitch and create Purple Cows.
Seth Godin fans know The Purple Cow, his 2003 book, may be one of the most important marketing books. Seth’s strangely colored cow’s simple premise is only unique or “purple” things should be created. Don’t think, Seth explains, you will incrementally improve a Ginzu knife. There can only ever be one Ginzu knife. That purple cow exists and you can't succeed by copying.
P&G had an early version of The Purple Cow. Unique Selling Proposition or USP was P&G’s Purple Cow (read my Death of P&G). P&G, when I worked there in the early 1980’s, was the land of incremental improvements. New and improved were holy writ. Every six months Tide (or Downey, Bounce or Mr. Clean) would be new and improved. There was always some small explainable tweak, a new unpronounceable feature, to shoulder millions in advertising. There was a reason and a story even these "new and improved" stories only existed in some mythical Procter and Gamble marketing heaven.
P&G loved to hire retired military. My boss, Sam Space, flew jets over Vietnam. Time doesn’t stand still. P&G today is vastly different than P&G circa 1981, but the lesson is applicable. Soap operas, P&G's advertising creation to sell soap, are ending. Soap operas ending may be one of the best marketing "sign-of-the-times". An entire TV paradigm, soap operas, seems hopelessly out of date. “Reality" TV has long since over exposed every personal intimacy, tick and foible. In a culture of alien babies, Jerry Springer insanity and paternity tests on Maury what soap opera writer can compete?
Creating Purple Cows
Didn’t mean to seem flip. Creating true purple cows may be the hardest thing any marketer does. There are two ways to create purple cows: junk bond and toe dipping.
Creating Purple Cows: Junk Bond Approach
Junk Bonds is a favorite analogy. My staff groans when they hear me say “junk”. They know more about junk bond traders than most due to my relentless examples (sorry guys). Junk bond traders know diversification is their best protection. In any set of ten junk junk bonds a majority will fail. Fail means lose money. Junk bond traders bet one or two will hit big enough to carry the cost for all ten. A few winners pay for many losers in Junk bonds and purple cows. Using a junk bond approach means risk is spread among many ideas. If you strike 2 out of 10 you are in the purple cow hall of fame.
The Internet is a junk bond purple cow creating machine. The first “product” marketing teams create is a story (read Seth's All Marketers Are Liars re: importance of storytelling). It has never been easier to test a marketing story. Throw ten stories online, wait and see what lure catches fish. Then feed the fish. I’ve helped market several purple cows (M&M's, Magnetic Poetry Kit, Zen Board). All of my experience in creating past purple cows means nothing in creating one today or tomorrow. Brilliant screenwriter William Goldman’s defining Hollywood statement, “nobody knows anything,” applies to purple cow creation. Past experiences are worst than useless. Past experience have no bearing on what is about to happen AND they may act as blinders. No one knows anything and the most dangerous people in the room think they knows something.
The junk bond approach to creating purple cows is sum up your market. Remember any summary is impossibly time stamped and probably useless. Start creating stuff. Get your potentially purple cows moving. Put your cows in an online pasture. Post a huge “Get Your Picture Taken With A Purple Cow” sign, sit back and LISTEN. Listen to every rustle in the reeds. Jump on any movement. Feed any small flame. Mix any metaphor (lol). Share what is happening. Create a NOW feedback loop on our site. Receive an email with a good question? Flush it to your site almost before you stop reading. Feedback is kindling. Blow customer feedback kindling and roaring flames may result.
What if roaring flames don’t result? Anything happening NOW is valuable. I’ve seen entrepreneurial fevers, been in one too, and warn against them. Passion and commitment are important purple cow creation ingredients. You can’t casually create purple cows. Remember your cow isn’t purple until THEY (customers) tell you it is. Your ability to force purpleness is zero. See the problem? In order to create a purple cow you have to incorporate future traits. If you could do such a thing, predict the future, you wouldn’t try to create a purple cows. You would float by on your yacht and wave (maybe).
Be passionate about your commitment to create purple cows NOT to any individual idea of what YOU think is purple. If this sounds like eastern philosophy you win a gold Buddha. Jim Collins, in another great marketing book Good to Great, wrote how Hewlett and Packard created philosophy and values before products. HP’s founders understood values are hard. Products are easy. One of HP’s first products was a bowling ball foul lane alarm. See how indifferent you should be to any single idea. Get your junk bond purple cow creation THING together, spread the table with lots of ideas and be committed to creativity, magic and passion.
Creating Purple Cows: Toe Dipping
Toe dipping creates fewer simultaneous ideas. Total investment is kept small until market feedback shapes and molds the idea. There is less idea diversification in toe dipping. Two or three options may compete in a toe dipping strategy. Toe dippers are good at fast proto-typing. They push new born ideas out for market maturation. Microsoft and Apple are toe dippers.
Now that I’ve offended every reader, let me explain. Microsoft pushes software out the door with bugs knowing wisdom of crowds feedback is the fastest way to clean their product. If Microsoft had to carry the financial load of so much error checking and quality control even they would go broke. Rely on the market to do more than its fair share of work and you risk being branded a user – someone who takes more from the market than they give back.
Apple is a toe dipper in a different way. Apple incubates fewer ideas longer. Apple’s brand is tied to high design. If they pushed five new bug ridden products to market the central message of their brand – we know design – would be tarnished. Apple is too smart. They avoid Microsoft’s full foot dipping preferring to incubate longer. They use the extra time to improve fit, finish and design.
Creating Purple Cows: The Best Approach
Creating purple cows is hard. It is highly context sensitive. Context such as your market vertical, your company’s processes and your team’s skills play roles. Creating purple cows takes everything you have and a little luck. There is no way to tell you how to create your purple cow. One final piece of advice. Purple things are easier to create when you think, speak and act like customers not marketing pros or product creators. Hypnotized by your own brilliance reduces chances of creating purple cows. Don’t drink your own cool aid. Listen, incorporate what you hear and modify, modify and modify some more (see chart).
Good luck. Martin
Monday, November 9, 2009
Connected: The surprising power of our social networks and how they shape our lives by James Fowler.
James Fowler and Nicholas A. Christakis, MD may be my generation's Watson and Crick. These social scientist have astonishing research that make me want to lose weight for the greater good. Losing weight sucks. Gaining it, after a certain age, is beyond easy. Good News: We are positively affected by our network. Bad News: We are negatively affected by our social network. Fowler comes out in favor. The over of our social networks is always greater than the under.
Connected rang my new altruism bell. New altruism, our genetic desire to help each other, is exploding thanks to the web. Previous posts discussed two favorite new altruism books: NonZero by Wright and Mind of the Market by Shermer. Fower and Christakis, in a round about way, think new altruism is here too. Here is a link to Fowler's BookTV interview.
James Fowler Discusses Connected on BookTV
James Fowler's Web Site
More on New Altruism soon.
Sunday, November 8, 2009
New Ken Auletta Book Googles Us
Ken has it right. Google has changed everything. Anyone who thinks otherwise won't be employed for long. Going to pick this book up as soon as possible. In the meantime here is link to YouTube where Ken discusses his book with Brian Lamb from CNN:
Ken Auletta Interview
Shakabuku, as any self respecting Gross Point Blank fan already knows, is defined in John Cusack's 1997 film as a swift spiritual kick to the head that alters reality forever. Such a kick is harder to come by than one can imagine. I've had several (LOL), and even wrote about a few:
Why Do Republicans Want To Kill Me (nothing like almost kicking it to give you a spiritual kick to the head).
Punched In The Face (times when I tried to use actually punching to achieve a spiritual uplift).
Julio And The School Yard (young, stupid, full of beans and lucky to be able to tell the story)
I am a backsliding fool. Why does the latency between a swift spiritual kick to the head and its decay shorten? Short term memory is just that apparently. Shocking my buku doesn't seem to last, or last long enough to prevent the next swift kick (lol). This must be why Buddhist monks spend their lives chanting on a mountain. Have they been swift kicked and hope to maintain OR are they searching for Shakabuku? Can you find real Shakabuku on top of a mountain? Probably all turns on one's definition of "swift". Thick headed entrepreneurial capitalist like moi require more and swifter kicks than my eastern brothers. As Martin Blank says to Marcella, played well by John's sister Joan, about destiny's debt:
Marcella: Sir, I'm really beginning to worry about your safety.
Marty: Look, I got to go.
Marcella: Yeah, we all got to go sometime, sir, but we can choose when.
Marty: No one chooses when.
Hope you've found your Shakabuku and it took.
Thursday, November 5, 2009
There is a new sheriff in town and he is angry. Digital Scale has two six guns and he can shoot. If you manage web sites, want to create a web site or market online you need to understand the Internet’s new scale laws:
Digital Scale Law 1: Speed
Recently our blog started outranking our site. Blogs are easy to update. Adding content is self-reinforcing. Its fun. Even more important, blogs present information in search engine spider friendly ways. Search engine “spiders” are pieces of code sent out to catalog and index web sites. You want your site in search engines such as Google and Bing. Search engine presence is tantamount to being in business or not. If your site is not in search engines it becomes a tree falling in the forest with no one around to hear it. Your site is invisible UNTIL it is in a search engine.
When our blog started outranking our site a friend said, “Martin unless you can update your site as often as your blog you are killing yourself.” Web sites can be easy to update. Ours isn’t. As web sites become more complicated and large databases are used to help manage and display content. When I created my first site databases weren’t needed. It took a year before we had 300 individual pages. The site I manage now has 14,000 individual pages and needs 5x as many. You can’t manage 20,000+ web pages without a database.
Databases can create spider problems. Spider traps are traps search engine spiders go in but they can’t get out. We created a trap once because we wanted to allow customers without cookies to see our site. Less than 2% of our customers shop with cookies off. The trap we created slowly killed search engine listings eventually costing over $500,000 in lost listings / sales. All orders from the “shop with no cookies” crowd couldn’t pay for a tenth of the cost of our trap.
It is possible to train a spider. You train spiders with content changes. If your site changes weekly search engine spiders will visit weekly. News sites change frequently. Google doesn’t want to be left out of what is happening now, so their spider knows to check news sites every hour on the hour. Training spiders with frequent content changes is a good idea and a perfect database application.
My company is used to planning for monthly printed catalogs, so we change much of our site monthly. Monthly is too slow. Daily gets a site in this emerging web scale game, but hourly is better. Setting up business rules to control databases is the Best way to accomplish hourly updates. Best Sellers, New Products, New Articles and New Reviews are excellent fodder for automatic frequent updates. Build a business rule such as “grab the most recent 5 products and feed them to the home page every hour” and get out of the way. Best to let computers do ALL this work. Humans only slow things down. Humans are out. Business rules, databases and dynamic zones (areas where feeds play or “fire” on your site) are in. Now is better than later. Now and messy is better than later and perfect.
Digital Scale Law 2: Long Tail (of everything)
The Internet changes everything. Chris Anderson’s influential book The Long Tail explained how. Remove shelf space limitations; take advantage of digital economics (more power for less money every year also called Moore’s Law) and it makes economic sense to “sell” every X widget on the planet (where X is whatever business you are in). “Sell” is in quotes because selling every widget may NOT require physical inventory. Many sites only write about products. When it comes time to ship a product they move content traffic to a partner.
Web marketers are starting to realize The Long Tail concept applies to everything. There is a Long Tail of Search (keywords extending toward infinity). There is a Long Tail of Content (articles extending out to infinity).
The Long Tail of Content may seem different than music. Music is loaded on servers and served to searchers turning pennies, the cost of serving thanks to Moore’s Law, into dollars. Sitting in a presentation by Barnes and Noble I realized inventory, in this post long tail world, is a new form of advertising. Inventory creates listings. Listings generate traffic. Traffic converts to dollars.
Content is advertising too. Content generates search listings and listings turn into dollars. The Long Tail of Content requires new processes, processes that create content for pennies. Cheap content may become dollars just as one more tune on iTunes costs Apple almost nothing to load but may generate thousands. I’ve paid some writers $1.00 a word for articles. Can’t afford to pay such a princely sum in an infinite content world – no one can afford it. The need is too great.
The Long Tail of Content requires new ways to create content such as User Generated Content UGC (same as it sounds) and Content Mash Ups. Content mash ups develop unique combinations from existing content. Mashing up content is a computer thing too operating much like speed’s business rule based process. Your programmers write rules breaking your content apart and then recombine it in unique ways. Uniqueness is critical. Search engines will penalize your site if you just duplicate existing content to stuff pages into their index. You don’t want to fight with search engines. It is like fighting with God. You aren’t going to win and pain will be great.
Digital Scale Law 3: Purple-ness
Some site are winning with boring, wrong, frequently updated content. These sites are betting Google’s frequency algorithm trumps its reputation (judged by links) algorithm. Short term they may be right. Long term they are wrong. Long term Google wants the BEST and MOST RELEVANT content. Best is determined by update frequency and how current content is to THIS MOMENT. Bad content fresher than old content may win a short-term race.
If no one links to new bad content its search engine displacement, the rank of its listing, decays (falls in rank order). Best way to prevent decay is write content so purple it creates buzz. Purple is a term from Seth Godin’s excellent The Purple Cow. Seth explains, in one of my top 5 web marketing books, all boring things are done better already than you will ever be able to do them. Exceptional fun, cool shit is the only thing worth doing. If you aren’t making exceptional cool shit, you better be able to write purple content. Purple content may delay the inevitable. People will flock to your site based on cool purple content, buy your thing and then discover it is the same old thing with cool purple content falsely written about it. BIG PROBLEM.
Better to create a cool purple thing AND write about it in cool purple ways. The right question to ask any new product is, “Is it purple enough.” If your product won’t spark rounds and waves of word-of-mouth support, links and chatter don’t do it. Don’t use your most valuable assets, time, to do non-purple things. Another way of saying this is ONLY DO PURPLE THINGS.
Monday, November 2, 2009
Central Junior High Rat Pack
Jim Hammond just emailed me about a strange dream. I haven't seen Jim for twenty years. His dream was about the last time we ran into each other in an airport. Jim is the second member of the Central Junior High Rat Pack I've heard from in the last week. Laurie Chaplin, cute girl with the pigtails in the picture, wrote me a couple of days ago too. Laurie has 2 sons in college and another one leaving home soon. Time flies and I love the Internet.
Marty Smith #51
Jim reminded me of a time when my early facial hair meant cold beer, more responsibility than we could handle and cherished friends now lost to time and distance. If you are of a certain age, attended Central Junior High School in the early 1970's and are wondering where we all got off to email me (martinsellingzoe(at)aol(dot)com).
Ray Galvin are you out there? Ronnie Harding what are you doing these days. Billy Sullivan, my good good friend, I hope you see this and email me. I shared several posts I wrote about Greenwich back in the day:
Punched in the Face Cessy Borchetta knocking me on my 8th grade butt.
Dogs are People Too My dog Friendly eating chicken at Garden Poultry downtown Greenwich Connecticut.
If you learned to type in Ms. Geter's typing class, played football for Mr. Stenz, remember Mr. Mansfield, remember "live to ride, ride to live" Steve Isley or hung out in the smoking area behind the gym email me. Life must be lived forward, but it can only be understood backwards. If 1973 Greenwich is a smoky drugged haze, email me anyway. Jim just reminded me of about five things I forgot. Someone will remember (lol).
#51 CJHS 1970 - 1973
PS. If you attended Eastern or Western email me too as we've long since forgiven you for living in the wrong part of Greenwich (lol). All is forgiven.
Scurria & Marquez - 1920 E. NC54 in Durham, NC
Some have fewer dentists than wives. I’ve not been so lucky. By virtue of corporate or personal relocation, I’ve received dental care from more than ten dentists from Connecticut to Kansas. Mark Scurria Doctor of Dental Surgery located in Durham, North Carolina is my favorite. Great dentists inspire confidence, have a certain calm patience and are as much artist as doctor. I’m a dental coward. I hate dental pain and trauma. Mark Scurria’s da Vinci-like sculpting abilities rebuilt my teeth. I wouldn’t trust anyone but Mark to do the amount of prosthodontic reconstruction we are doing. Mark taught at UNC Dental, a top school. It is easy to understand asking Mark to teach. He has a teacher’s patience, curiosity and investment in his student’s (or patient’s) understanding. You know what is happening and why. Some have many wives to find “the one”. I’ve had many dentists to find Mark Scurria, D.D.S. and am glad my friend Susan taught me a new word: prosthodontist.
Mark's office number: 919.544.8106 (tell Mark you read my review and he owes me a free crown or something LOL. I pay Mark not the other way around. I offered to write this note as a Thank You for Mark's hard work on my teeth nothing more :).