From January 2011

Think small. The new art of marketing.

When you’re a big business, or even a good size small to medium business, you typically want to reach a broader audience and most often use mass marketing techniques. You know social media doesn’t scale and need to fill that lead pipeline or bring lots of people to your doorstep – online or bricks and mortar. But you likely see diminishing returns in your advertising, right?

In a world of a million channels, mass simply isn’t as effective as it once was. People have infinite choices and personalize their media consumption. The masses aren’t massing together in tidy, reachable chunks.

So what do you do?

Micromarketing is the path forward. Greg Verdino does an excellent job showing how businesses big and small are using one on one interaction to generate business. He makes a point early on to say that while you the reader might not be exactly like one of the businesses featured, the techniques are transferrable to your own – and provides both B2C and B2B examples.

Chapter by chapter he takes you through the concept of micromarketing, bringing it all together in the end with a nice worksheet to get you started.

Here are some key takeaways:

You get better results by doing lots and lots of little things. It’s about finding the few people who’ll help you spread the word by sharing their experiences with your brand. Even Wal-mart has embraced this with their 11 moms profiled in the book.

We’re moving from awareness to attention. Attention is the holy grail of marketing today. And you can’t get that from using mass techniques.

Think about interactions rather than interruptions. If you’re not relevant, people tune you out in a snap. In fact, they don’t even hear you.

You have to conduct business in real time. Not when it’s convenient for you. Skip the recorded customer service messages and lengthy delays. Find ways to speed the process and you’re likely to delight your customers – and they’ll spread the word.

Do the right small things. You still have to be strategic in your approach. Spraying the market with disjointed one-on-one interactions isn’t going to scale or deliver results. You need to find a way for those little things to add up to something bigger.

The key to micro marketing is about finding ways to engage your customers and prospects in a meaningful way, giving them both a platform and reason to share your story. Panasonic did this very well by giving select families a suite of HD equipment, then a blogging platform to talk about how it’s changed their life with their Living in HD Community. Unscripted. Unfiltered. Ford did the same with the Fiesta with the Fiesta movement to reach a very cynical audience.

This approach works whether you have a budget or not. In fact, not having a budget – or the means – can sometimes results in the biggest results as he shows in the example of Lauren Luke – a single mom turned entrepreneur.

The concepts here are critical to success as marketer going forward. Even if you’re using mass techniques (and they certainly have a big role) – I believe micro marketing cannot be ignored. It does, however, require a mass marketer to rethink how they market and that can be the toughest hurdle to cross. Do yourself a favor – read this book and internalize the key points. It’s a definite keeper.

What six words define you?

You can’t build your brand without building a foundation. Most businesses start with a product and build a brand around it. They focus on the whiz bang features before defining the personality. The emotional side. The side that really matters. No matter what your product, how expensive or complex, it comes down to people. People respond to emotion than rationalize with data. Given a choice, people ultimately do business with those they like.

We, like many companies, were really good at talking about our robust feature set. We were (and are) successful and growing. Yet our outward persona didn’t truly reflect the warmth, openness and caring personality of our culture. Sure, many of our customers have been with us long enough to have their kids grow up with many of our employees’ kids. But from afar, you would never have known that.

Two years ago we changed that. We took a step back to define who we were as a company. What words represented us if you saw them on a billboard plus how we talked about our products and services. I share ours below for example only; yours should naturally be very different.

To arrive at your final five or six words, gather your stakeholders in a room and one by one share words that each thinks describe your company. Keep going until people run out of words. After brainstorming over 70 words, we landed on the following six:

Contemporary – we keep current with the industry and technology, but never push our customers to the bleeding edge.

Collaborative – whether within the company or outside, we work openly together, sharing knowledge and breaking down silos.

Configurable – our product fits the way our customers work. Not the other way around.

Integrated – pretty much what everyone in our space says, but it’s true for us – and an important attribute.

Comprehensive – our software serves the entire construction business. It’s not a limited suite.

Rock Solid – both our company, products and services exhibit this quality.

For how we talked, we decided that we were never arrogant, that we’d be provocative and most of all, human. These are the words we measure everything we do against. In fact the theme of our user conference this past year was Rock Solid Collaboration. And that’s exactly what we executed against. Before we took the time to define the words that represent us, there was little consistency in how we talked to the market. Now we have a platform on which to build and share our story but in a very natural, conversational manner. Employees have a guide.

But don’t view this as a rigid script.

When you go through this exercise, you create a framework in which you can operate. It allows you to take risks, to push your brand to be more relevant yet staying true to a core personality, and purpose. To define yourself rather than let others define it for you.

It provides needed focus to navigate a noisy market. And separate yourself from your competitors because you now stand for something memorable. You’ve distilled many thoughts down to something simple and repeatable. Something your employees and colleagues can use to describe your business so you present a more united front. If you don’t do this, everyone will describe what you do very differently. They’ll use the words that first come to their mind.

It only works, however, if your words are true to your product and company. If not, you must decide if you can become these words. If so, great. If not, try again because people will see right through you.

Lessons in leadership, good bosses, why social is hard, stupid questions and the internet

There are few things as important or as effective in inspiring a movement than seemingly basic – but really tough for most – leadership skills. Priva Ramesh provides a great summary of five leadership lessons you can take away from Martin Luther King Jr.: Be a transformer, not just task master, Be a visionary – and walk your talk, be an effective communicator – internalize what that really means, be inspired and help inspire others, and finally walk your talk. It’s last that seems to trip many people and companies up.

Robert Sutton is a favorite resource on what good management is all about and I often recommend his earlier book, The No Asshole Rule. Sound advice inside for good and bad managers I believe. So this post on 12 things good bosses believe is a great follow up. I particularly like #8: What happens after someone makes a mistake. And it also doesn’t hurt to focus on the small wins that help your teams move forward (#3). All provide sound lessons that help you in the art of management. There’s a lot here – he goes deeper into 10 of the 12. Good reading!

I have gained much respect for Beth Harte via #imcchat which she co-hosts with Anna Barcelos. She’s one of the most knowledgeable when it comes to integrated marketing and lives what it means to be customer centric. She speaks from personal experience about the work it takes from the inside to launch a successful social media program is spot on and offers sound advice for any of you in a similar place within your company. Her points about the need for agility and how your customers are tired of being bombarded cannot be overstated.

While long familiar with Bruce Mau and his work, I hadn’t seen his manifesto until Judy Gombita passed it along last week. Written in 1998, it’s completely relevant today and can provide some focus for you and your teams whether doing cutting edge design or navigating that budget in Excel. A few that really resonated for me are going deep, capturing accidents, thinking with your mind and most of all: ask stupid questions (something I do regularly). But there’s a lot more here; jump in!

Lest we forget, Mitch Joel’s post is a good reminder that the internet is first and foremost a business. And as a business it’s about money. Not your personal connectivity or well being. That it allows you to connect is wonderful.  Privacy is nonexistent if you play and your content is somewhat yours. He does a good job connecting the dots and reminds you that these facts do not make it all bad either. Oh, and everything can change really fast so don’t get too used to what is today.

Is Quora good for business or mere time killer?

I signed up for Quora when they first started allowing people in after the private beta last year, but fairly quickly clicked away at the time because I didn’t feel the need to participate on yet another social platform. Much like my first – and perhaps many people’s first reaction to Twitter – I didn’t see the point.

But as the cacophony of hype swelled over the last few weeks, I decided to jump in and see if I’d find any business use there. It didn’t hurt to read the insights by people I highly respect like Shel Holtz and David Armano. And while I still haven’t adopted nor found the value in FourSquare or Gowalla for me personally, I started seeing the potential of Quora once I set aside my resistance.

In the short time I’ve been dabbling , I find the potential lies in the following areas:

  • The ability to learn from peers and conduct research. For example, this question on measuring the ROI of social media; something top of mind in any company developing a social strategy. At least at this point, it’s seems easier to find solid information compared with some Google searches I’ve done.
  • The ability to ask questions of others to test your ideas before releasing them in your market
  • It provides a platform for a knowledge business to demonstrate their credibility. Forget the sales pitch, build your awareness on Quora. Show, don’t tell is a very powerful sales tactic.
  • The ability to find potential business resources and partners by searching on topics, observing responses and behavior. That combined with their overall digital footprint should provide a decent snapshot. Like dating and interviewing, you want to sample behavior in a variety of settings.
  • For entrepreneurs and sole proprietors, there seems to be a lot of valuable content on business models, funding and investing. You can learn a lot of practical business knowledge here without paying for a business degree. Granted, there are plenty of books that do the same, but Quora is searchable and snackable. Speed rules.

Like Twitter, the breadth and depth of the communities and knowledge forming on Quora is not immediately apparent. There’s little to distract you from the core purpose of learning and sharing ideas a little deeper than you can on Twitter. No, you’re not going to rock your business out of the gate. Like any other social platform, Quora will take some time. And ultimate success and staying power will depend on how they evolve the service and manage the noise that comes with mass adoption. They’re certainly not out of the woods yet. Cwora very plainly highlights the risks they face in achieving staying power after the hype dies down.

What’s your take?

Whose identity is it anyway?

Logos have become an oft discussed topic of late. First Gap and now Starbucks. With regards to Starbucks, Stephen Denny talks about how this push for simplicity in logo design is not always a good thing. Paul asks the question why do we feel so compelled to talk about such a small defenseless object? Tom  suggests Starbucks missed an opportunity with the logo – that rather than talk about the corporate strategy, they should have used it as an opportunity to tell a new story. One that mattered to their customers.

Which begs the question, whose identity is it? Does the brand own their logo and everything that goes with it, giving them free reign to change as their strategy suits them? Or do the customers own it and should have a say in when and how it changes? And how important is the logo compared with the total brand experience – all those touch points from the product and service to navigating often difficult customer service centers?

Marty Neumeier in The Brand Gap articulates it very well: “A brand is not what you say it is. It’s what they say it is.” Thus it’s whatever image and experiences exist in the consumer’s mind. Which can certainly change on a whim. Freddie shares this sentiment in his thoughts on Starbucks’ logo change.

Now any of you who’ve navigated corporate approval processes know, in most companies, the end product is largely dependent upon how many people have a say – the more there are, the more sanitized the end result unless the company has a strong design philosophy baked into their culture. Or a very strong leader at the helm. So I really pity the team that asks its customers for design input. First, most people don’t think about the complexities of rolling out a new identity (nor should they) taking into account media (print, environmental, digital), culture (how that affects color choices, form, translations, etc.), existing infrastructure, heritage and costs to say the least.

I do think Starbucks did a good job on their change. It stays true to their heritage and is no shock to the system. It feels familiar. However, I do agree with Tom that they’re not at the level of Nike or Apple in which they can truly getaway with dropping their name. It’ll be interesting to see how the roll out goes – we’ll learn more then.

People around me often ask what a mermaid has to do with coffee. I tell them it’s a part of their heritage, but I bet many didn’t realize until this iteration what exactly that image was. Turns out it was inspired by the seafaring history of coffee.  And she’s the story teller so they say.

But why do some logos create such controversy? When Xerox rolled out their new identity a couple years ago, I don’t recall too many getting up in arms about their move from a pixelized ‘X’ to a stylized red globe.  Could be we’re not as passionate about printers and copiers as we are coffee and jeans?

Did anybody care when AT&T updated their logo? Other than they lost a lot of warmth when the Cingular Jack was retired, I think not – little love or attachment for the brand.

Would Audi, BMW, Mercedes, Porsche or VW dare change their logos? I think we’d see a lot of chatter if they did. But I can’t see they have a need to do so as they’ve done a nice job keeping their brands current without needing a logo refresh.

For consumers, though, change makes them uncomfortable. And with a brand like Starbucks – one so many people frequent virtually every day that it’s an extension of themselves, it creates discomfort. I think any change would do so. They’re in a catch 22. Starbucks does a lot of things right. I’ve consistently appreciated how they connect with their local communities. And how when they recognized they strayed by focusing too much on growth, losing their heart, they found a way to bring it back. In the face of rapid change, people like to grasp on something comfortable, stable. They go into their past and get nostalgic. It’s a way of coping.

And as for a logo being that small defenseless object, while a brand is not a logo, the logo is a way to capture all of the meaning created by the collective experiences each of us has with a brand. So when we look at a logo, it means something personal to us – good or bad. It paints a picture in our mind of what we can expect when we interact with the people and company behind it.

So before you tinker with your company’s brand, take a good look at the emotional equity it holds. And don’t necessarily think the logo is the problem with a struggling brand. Look holistically at the entire experience. While you may be able to design a kickass logo and own the strategy behind it, you don’t own what it ultimately means to those who matter most. And that extra shiny new logo means nothing if the experience it promises doesn’t hold water.

On names, wow, vision, parasites and the deep end of digital

Picking a brand name has got to be one of the toughest jobs out there. All the best web domains are taken. And just about every word in the English language – that makes sense, anyhow, has been used and reused. To make it tougher, the flat world requires that brands translate effectively into virtually any language. I’m sure most of you have heard the stories about the Chevy Nova, which it South America means it wouldn’t run. Or the or how the Volkswagen Jetta translates into letta in Italian which means misfortune. So that’s why I found this article on how Lexicon develops some of the most successful names in the world insightful. Like Blackberry, for instance. Read on!

This past Tuesday’s #Leadershipchat hosted by @lisapetrilli and @swoodruff discussed vision – the importance of and creating. As well as how vision is very different than mission. Garage Technology Ventures has a great read on crafting your wow statement – something that will cut through the noise and actually mean something to the right people. Whether for your business, brand, product or yourself, being able to articulate a clear vision that’s memorable is critical. And many of us tend to gloss over it, put it off, or make it far too complex. Particularly if we’re in a highly technical niche, it’s easy to go straight to the jargon, and a fairly difficult exercise to distill one’s vision into a snackable, memorable chunk. Their key takeaway is to make it simple. And simple is hard. It’s something I need to do a better job personally, and would bet many of you do to. So read on and spend some time here. It’ll pay off later.

Too many brands focus on the quick buck at the expense of building something meaningful, and hence sustainable. Sometimes that takes a bit of time and many boards of directors get impatient. This profile on Under Armour – now a billion dollar brand and growing underscores the importance of managing your brand story and ‘respecting the consumer.’ Note how Kevin Plank, CEO, talks about passion, vision and people – which underscores again why the piece above is so important. They grew slowly – by solving real problems. I like stories of brands built out of solving an unmet need. Rather than sensing opportunity and tossing a me-too product at it.

Who doesn’t like or often need to get something for nothing? With most facing shrinking marketing budgets, and ever higher objectives,  each dollar needs to work harder and be spent with more finesse. That’s why Stephen Denny’s post on Parasite Branding is a timely read, which talks about how to leverage another brand to dramatically expand your audience and reach. I first met Stephen (@note_to_CMO) on #imcchat and quickly came to appreciate the value he brings to the discussions. He makes you think bigger and challenge mediocrity. Read on then dive deeper into his writing – I also recommend his post lamenting the push for increasing simplicity in logos, which may not always be the best approach.

Are you maximizing your opportunities in all digital channels? If you think digital means placing a few banners and creating a microsite or two, think again. Frédéric Winckler who I know more by @lefreddie makes you think. If you haven’t noticed yet, I like to think and ask questions. He talks about creating deep digital programs – learning and pushing further than most of us have at this point. There are many salient points here, including how many companies start social media programs too late: only when they want to sell; but need to build them right into your products and services. And about building community, tapping into your audience, and thinking about platforms rather than the web.

More than meets the sky? Pulling the remarkable out of the mundane.

At the beginning of 2010 I set out to shoot the sky every day of the year. It didn’t matter what time of day except for that it had to be in daylight. Not sure of the moment I decided to start this exercise, but recall myself asking, what if? What would that look like? What’s the end purpose, result? It was definitely not a ‘begin with the end in mind’ project, but more of a let’s see what happens. A why not project.

Aside from people looking up and at me a little odd as I often snapped the sky while walking into the office each day, it’s made me think about how marketing, social media and the customer experience intersect. To think about finding the deeper meaning to the work we do. These are no more than 1/3oth – 1/500th of a second each out of a day. Contrast that with the 8,760 hours or 525,600 minutes or 31,536,000 seconds in the year and you realize just how little time they comprise – less than 3 or 4 seconds all in.

How, you ask? Each sky alone is pretty unremarkable – especially on all those gray days we have here in Portland. But when woven together, they become an interesting pattern that begins telling a story. You can draw the conclusion on any given day what the weather was like and imagine what you were doing or would do. But there’s also the notion of what’s missing. You can’t, for example, know what the entire day was really like. Sure, on those clear blue days, particularly in summer, you can make a pretty good guess. In addition, you’re looking at just a portion of the sky – were there clouds behind or to the side? So how accurate would you assumptions be? How much would they be influenced by the weather you typically experience where you live?

It’s like data – just as you can make the numbers tell the story you want, I could make up a story about the weather, point to the photo and sound pretty convincing. Fact is, numbers lie. And so does 1/250th of a second.

Data and lies aside, the point here is how a lot of unremarkable details pulled together create something interesting. They create stories. And the more of these details you have, the richer the story you can tell. For example, I can do this exercise for 2011 then compare the two years – analyzing patterns. Looking for a common thread.

And that’s what we need to do in business. Each of our customers and colleagues bring their own filters and experiences to a brand, conveying their own meaning and attribution. The more of these we pull together, the clearer the story we can tell about our brand. The better we can communicate back what matters. The better we can engage, socially, because we’ve taken the time to understand them and appreciate their nuances.

One customer is just a single data point. But collectively – and by listening and charting their feedback and comments and buying habits, we can learn a lot about what resonates. And what doesn’t. We can find the emotional triggers that cause people to pay attention. It’s the details that matter. Small and big.

Don’t gloss over them. Brands that get this succeed. Think Apple – from the interface to the texture. Mercedes Benz and the secure thud their doors make. Nordstrom with their passion for customer service. Zappos creating wow and delight. Contrast that with brands that don’t get the details. Brands that make it difficult to talk to live customer service. Brands that don’t engineer the entire experience, or produce uninspiring, me-too wares.

So if you take away anything from this, it’s how much the details matter. And that the mundane, collected, can become something rich. Don’t be so quick to dismiss something because it’s boring. Be curious. Beneath the surface of something seemingly unremarkable is something potentially interesting. You have to keep your mind open, to dream a little. Some of these little things bring real pleasure and can provide the keys for you to unlock magic in your business.

Valuing time and going beyond 140

Following up on my post about social media dying and what’s next, I thought I’d share a bit more.

Twitter is an amazing place to meet new people. But it takes work. It takes time. Just like real life. The cool thing is that you don’t have to leave your computer to travel the world connecting with people. The other piece is how it allows you to find people with whom you share common interests. Like Marketing or even cupcakes. It’s much harder to strike up a conversation with a stranger walking around at lunch. You’d likely get punched or at best some funny looks . . .

I’m sure Tom Moradpour would laugh if I suddenly called him at work to chat about the Gap logo fiasco that led to #UsGuys. I know I’d think twice if someone did that to me. We’re too busy for such random interruptions. But when you embrace a medium like Twitter, it’s different. Like meeting in a coffee shop and striking up a conversation over a shared experience.

But there’s a limit to the 140 characters. Unless someone knows your communication style, you risk offending if you come across snarky or sarcastic. I can certainly dial up an offbeat sense of humor and connect some pretty weird dots, and that’s hard to show online. Just like email, it’s tough to convey emotion. Sure, you can toss in a :-) or ;-) or :-( now and then, but really, does that show the nuances? I think not.

There’s just no substitute for face to face communication. We humans are not wired (yet, anyhow) to communicate solely via a computer terminal. It’s too sterile. Creates an artificial barrier. But it is a catalyst for building relationships.

Studies show that as much as 90% of communication is non-verbal. (The estimates range from 65 – 90% with a UCLA study pushing it to 93%). That means as little as 10% comes through via the words we share online.

So now that I’ve met some really wonderful people online, I want to connect in real life. I had that chance with Valeria Maltoni and Christina Kerley this year and found them to be wonderful people in person too. In fact their online personnas effectively represented their in-person selves.

Having said that, I’m realizing I want more of the in-person kind of connections. And that’s my goal for 2011: to connect locally and meet more of my Twitter friends face-to-face.

We lost one of our great colleagues this year to cancer – far before his time. I was just getting to know Scott better when the cancer really took hold. He fought hard. And inspired many of us. That reaffirms how precious our time is and that we all need to focus on what matters.

Much like what Chris Guillebeau talks about in The Art of Non Conformity. If you don’t value your own time, do you expect others to value it? I’m working through Resonate by Nancy Duarte and recommend anyone in business who’s presented or sat through a presentation do the same. She talks about valuing people’s time as a presenter. Making the most of it. I think that includes pretty much everyone. Right?

We have a virtually unlimited number of online communication tools available. But no matter how high tech we get, we’ll never get more time. Or more time back. Medical Science is advancing (much slower than tech) and we may be able to extend our lives by living healthier. But we never know what lies ahead. Which is why time is so valuable.

So if I seem a little protective of my time – know that it’s because I place high value on it. And do the same for yours. If you interact with me, I want you to walk away thinking that was time well spent. Online or in person.

No, that doesn’t mean I’m all business. We humans need levity and laughter to generate innovation and creativity. We get things done by playing once in awhile. That’s why I enjoy people who can laugh at themselves. I take my work very seriously but myself not so much.

So here’s to 2011. Where we all can sort through the clutter to find meaning and engage. That’s what this post is about anyway. Despite the recession I’m excited about the future. I’m insanely curious about learning new things – becoming better at what I do – and sharing what I learn with others like you.

Look for more on this subject over the coming months. Time and value are my hot buttons.  . . . Let’s make the most of it.