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September 2009

free isn't free : 3 dimensions of Free

This whole free meme is pretty hackneyed and sooooo "three weeks ago" but given some recent experiences, I thought I would share some perspective.

When there is scarcity, Free is a blessing. 

It's 1999, you're in college and you want music.  You're tight on cash and you want an mp3, so you hop onto Napster.  Sure, the first three files you downloaded sounded horrible, but the fourth was the perfect rip.  You waded through the junk to get to gold.  Because there was a scarcity.

When there is perceived freedom, Free is an expectation. 

We expect pretty much all of our online content to be Free, especially text content.  A couple of years ago, we laughed at the Wall Street Journal for maintaining their subscription model, even (shudder) online.  We lived in the age of freedom, and equated free expression and virtually free distribution with free content.  I'm still not convinced a production model to create great content exists in the truly Free model, but time will tell.

When there is something on the line, Free is a burden. 

When your client wants to launch on Twitter and there is a hiccup in the system, there is no number to call.  When you are using GMail for your small business and the mail goes down, there is nothing you can do.  When you are counting on a buddy to fix your car and the fix doesn't quite work as promised, there is nothing you can do.

Free is great.  Free is relatively democratized.  Free is nice to have.  But if you are doing anything of importance, don't count on free.

Just because it's there, doesn't mean it's right for every occasion.  If the right choice is Free, proceed strategically and with caution.  You rarely own or control Free.  More often than not, Free is a borrowed platform.  Plan accordingly.

the writing on the wall : the case for social ROI

If you live, work and breath social, you probably believe that it is core to the future of marketing.  Justifying that belief by say, demonstrating Social ROI however, is a bit harder.  Justifying a commitment and ongoing investment before proving that ROI is even harder.

The writing is on the wall.  Interruptive advertising is in decline.  Content can earn People trust and listen to their peers.  Brands can now be like peers.  So we should learn to market like people, right?

Measuring roi

Here's the issue: the C-Suite doesn't read the writing on the wall, they read the ink on the balance sheets.  And without investing seriously in social measurement, the balance sheets aren't going to tell the full story.  But the case to make this investment is slow getting to the balance sheets.  And so, the case to make social core to business is slow to advance.

Forward looking execs look up from the table and read the wall, they invest in growth opportunities.  They don't just experiment in tactics, they invest in strategies for tomorrow.  But until measurement gets sexier and more serious, social will continue to be an experiment for a majority of marketers.

The writing may be on the wall, but it's going to take a new crop of marketers to get it onto the balance sheet.

a different new year

So tomorrow (Friday) and Sunday are Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish new year.

For many, this is a day to sit through long services, get dressed up and eat hearty meals.  But the real value to me, is in taking stock, celebrating what we have and setting goals, both religious and in life overall for the coming year.

The past year has been a tough one for all of us.  If we didn't lose a job, a close friend or family member did.  One of my good friends lost his wife, and another close friend and mother of four was diagnosed with MS.  While money is tight, nearly every non-profit I have ever supported fell on hard times.  For the first time in my life, I have had to structure my ma'aser (tithes to charities) in installments to accommodate the many needs of the institutions close to me and my family.

On the other hand, my sister celebrated her Bat Mitzvah and my son turned two.  My role at Digitas grew exponentially, my wife passed her nursing exams and got a great job.  It's been a year of ups and downs.

Looking back at one year ago today, we are in a far better place.  Last year, the financial scare of the crash of Lehman Brothers (one year ago to the day on the Jewish calendar) powered an urgency in our prayers.  The sky was falling.  I think we can agree that the crash wasn't quite as harsh as we had feared.

Jewish belief states that on Rosh Hashannah (New Years) our fate is written, and one week later on Yom Kippur (The Day of Atonement) our fate is sealed.  This isn't to say that we can't change who we are and thereby change our fate throughout the year, but our trajectory is set over the next week.  For the past few years I was privileged participate in prayers led by my friend who just lost his wife 6 months ago.  I will never forget hearing him break down in tears year after year as he sang the words "who for life and who for death" while his wife battled cancer.  This year she sits in heaven, praying for her three year old daughter and husband.

There is a portion in the prayers where it says "who (will be chosen) for life and who for death, who for health and who for sickness, who for wealth and who for poor fortune, who for peace of spirit and who for turmoil..."  This gets me every time.  We have had a tough year.  The focus of my prayers for this year is to be granted the vision to focus on the positive and to help others focus on the positive in their lives. 

Life isn't always easy.  We can't change the financial climate or cure cancer by snapping our fingers.  The real test isn't how well we succeed in amassing wealth, but the perspective we bring to our reality.

Shannah Tovah.

nine east coast tips for west coast tech reps

Over the past three years, I have spent countless hours meeting with startups and emerging media players across ad targeting, next gen video, set top box providers, software, hardware, social, mobile, semantic systems and gaming.  Different tech companies have different perspectives and approaches, but here are a few key best practices that I have seen blossom or implode.

  1. The Intro - Cold calls should have died in the 90s.  Get on Facebook, get on Twitter, get on LinkedIn and find someone you both know.  Find a shared passion and make sure it's real.  If they blog, read it.  If they are senior and have a public passion (sports?), find a ball game or a major conference and invite them to join you.  Start the relationship out right.  Only cold call if you are a pro, and even then, avoid it like the plague.  Do not, ever, send a meeting invite before introducing yourself.
  2. The Players - Who makes the pitch is almost as important as how you make it.  Don't bring in your principles unless they are very experienced in sales or are very big names.  Principles have invested so much blood, sweat and tears into the product, that they want to share their accomplishments.  While your accomplishments are nice, you are here to sell, not to read your resume.
  3. The Materials - Powerpoint isn't evil.  Come in with a pitch, a product to sell, and a catalyst for a conversation.  Bring structure to the meeting. 
  4. The Pitch - Make your key points clear in the invite and your opening sentence.  Set the tone for the meeting in your invite and your introduction.  If you want to mind-meld and pick people's brains, set expectations in advance.  We respect your tech and we may have ideas for how to bring it to us, but the conversation needs to start with a value prop discussion.  Come in with focus and prepare to be flexible.
  5. The Tone - You are likely here to generate leads.  Take feedback.  Don't worry about your Powerpoint.  Listening is just as important as talking.  Get your sales leads talking and get them smiling.  Get your key points lined up in advance and get them across in your opening.  Do not focus on your materials.  They are necessary gravy.  Expect nothing.
  6. The Place - Whenever possible, meet in person.  If the timing is right, bring lunch or offer to take someone to lunch, especially if they are more senior within their organization.  If you present via WebEx or the like, schedule a follow up in person next time you are in town.  Nobody buys off a WebEx.
  7. Follow Up - Do not add us to all of your email lists.  We don't care about every press mention.  Do not stalk your leads.   One or two follow up emails and a phone call or two is it.  If you aren't getting a response, it's likely because they weren't wowed or don't have a live opportunity for you.  Unless you made a strong connection, you probably shouldn't send Facebook requests after just one meeting.  DO NOT ask for a sales lead to send you an email about anything.  Don't ask them to send you a client list, don't ask them to write up their ideas for your business, or requests for consultation.  They are your customers, not your consultants.
  8. Keeping in Touch - We are responsible for our own businesses.  Keep it real.  Reach out when you have real opportunities or something really new to share.  To be totally honest, we love to see great things, but we may not care to join your developers for drinks on a weekend in your office building.
  9. Advisory Boards - If you have a relationship with someone, respect their opinion and honestly believe that they believe in your product, they may be able to help advise on the future and direction of your organization.  Remember, your decision to invite them is about your business, but your invitation and communications are all about them.  There are three reasons why east cost agency people join advisory boards.  Agency equity (reputation, networking, access), personal equity (reputation, networking, investment shares) and client equity (working on behalf of a client). 

that just isn't compelling - the social dud

  • Your phone is now available in three colors. 
  • Your breakfast cereal now has 30% more fiber. 
  • Your car now gets 5 more miles to the gallon.

Frankly, these may be groundbreaking to you as a marketer, but they aren't socially compelling to your users.  I have never mentioned to a friend or colleague that my dryer sheets are biodegradable.  It just doesn't matter.

And so, agencies are asked to build borrowed interest and invented excitement.  Agencies know how to do this in traditional channels like PR and 30 second spots.  What they forget, is that the conversational activation requires the same degree of creativity and insights.  And therein lies the greatest hole in the social space.

Every agency has a social strategist.  Many clients have social leads or social experts.  With all this focus on strategy and execution, we don't hear much about creative beyond the occasional visualization.

And this is why so much of social just isn't compelling.  It just isn't creatively engineered or envisioned.

technorati's new direction - the changes needed for success

Technorati logo This morning, countless bloggers around the globe received an email from Technorati about four updates - A. a survey for their latest State of the Blogosphere Survey, B. Changes in Technorati ranking, C. Technorati's new direction as a content hub, and D. a reminder about email settings.  Emails from Technorati used to be exciting.  Aside for their State of the Blogosphere study, the other 3/4 of the email didn't excite, or inspire much confidence in the brand.

Technorati was once the golden child of the web.  They were the go to solution for blog search, the #1 ranking of blogs and the definitive guide to the blogosphere.  Then they went through an identity crisis.  At one point they were building a social monitoring service (similar to Radian6), at another point they were building RSS ads, at another point they were building social campaigns and websites.

The one time category leader is now sitting at the back of the bus.  Their authority ranking has failed to keep up with the times, with no coverage of links from Twitter or FriendFeed (not to mention scores like average engagement, on-topic engagement etc) and a seriously flawed blog update system (who wants to ping them every time you have new content?).  Two years ago I visited at least once a day.  More recently, I log into once or twice a month.  The conversation has shifted, and Technorati hasn't kept up.

Other than serving as a decent blog listing service, Technorati has brought one fantastic peice of equity to the conversation every year, their State of The Blogosphere study.  For last year's study click here.

However, before gaining access to the survey, Technorati asks you to take a survey that highlights the strategic flaw in their services.   The survey asks questions like "Which of the following activities do you participate in to attract visitors to your blog?"  Firstly, Technorati doesn't say "engage" it says "attract visitors".  Secondly, none of the options include Twitter, FriendFeed, Facebook or any of the other conversation platforms.  These are included in a separate section.  This may just be me, but the lines in my life are fairly blurred.

And therein lies Technorati's fundamental flaw.  Blogging is no longer about the content so much as it is the role of the content in the conversation.  Blogging is a placeholder, a personal homepage of content and opinion that serves as an owned landing environment for the blogger's social footprint, a footprint that more often that not extends far beyond the blog itself.  We as users have evolved.  The conversation has evolved.  Blogging has evolved.  I'm not sure that Technorati has.

Call it experienced skepticism, but I don't see Technorati succeding as a traditional content aggregator. However, if they can bring a human, conversational touch to the content they could set themselves up for a rebirth.  Lord knows, we don't need another aggregater.  However, if they can bring a series of well known and respected Community Managers and Social Advocates to the conversation, attending conferences, participating in the industry dialogue by vertical or topic, highlighting great content, generating provocative content and being a good social citizen, they have a chance.  

Technorati was born in web 1.5.  Content alone won't bring them to the promised land.  It's time for Technorati, one of the original social offerings to become truly social themselves.

long live the strategists

Long live strategy As the corporate world begins to ask the important questions, like Why, How, and Who about social, a new breed of services is becoming increasingly critical to strategic success in a shifting world.  And while creativity drives a campaign, strategy drives operational engagements and long term success.  This is a shift from bringing social to your business to bringing your business to social.  And this isn't only about social.

Customer support, blogger outreach, asset development, creative positioning, offline integration, new communications policy, as these needs meet scale brands will be looking for a partner to make this operational, to make sense of it all.  This will be the greatest new challenge facing consultants, media agencies, pr shops, social shops and creative boutiques over the next 10 years. 

Short term, campaign or brand specific vision is often necessary to get a foot in the door, but the real, sustainable, long-term relationships will come from a new breed of strategic offerings.  There is no known operational model for digital transformation.  There is no silver bullet management tool, yet.  But while the climb is steep, this new breed of offerings is going to be the first to define real ROI.  This new offering is going to be the first to take a strong look at a cross-agency, cross-campaign and possibly cross-brand model of business.  These new offerings will look beyond CRM or push messaging, incorporating business design, business processes, product positioning and even call center support to reshape a business and find new models of efficiency.

And this is only the beginning.  If the 90s were the age of digital possibilities, and the 00s was the era of VC backed social connections, the 10s will be the era of real, deep transformation.  This is no longer about having website, it's about adopting a new framework for doing business.  Long live the strategists.

For more on this topic, I strongly recommend

social drowns out the shouting heads

The government can Politics and advocacy used to be about a simple slogan.  It was catchy, it was easily understood, it was over-simplified and it was polarizing.

However, as the web gave everyone a voice, and small interest individuals found one another and formed communities, something interesting happened.  We started listening and discussing.  WE recreated and rediscovered the middle road. 

My opinion is no longer formed by FOX, CNN, or MSNBC.  My opinion is informed by multiple data sources, including the news media.  In this new world, anyone, be they Bill Maher or Rush Limbaugh, Jon Stewart or Glenn Beck, that does not provide a platform for the serious exchange of ideas is no longer an opinion leader, they are a shouting head.  And frankly, I don't need a shouting head when I can speak with and discover informed opinion online.  (And on that note, kudos to Jon Stewart for offering complete unedited versions of his political interviews on his website.)

Take the current debate around an alternative to the current healthcare model in the US.  On the one hand, I have a family member living overseas experiencing the downside of socialized healthcare, waiting months for necessary procedures and solutions.  On the other hand, my grandmother is having a hard enough time convincing her private insurance company to cover the pills her doctor prefers, and I'm not convinced the government would be any better.

I know what I would hear if I were to turn to the media on right or the left.  But I enjoy the discovery and dialogue offered only online.  Because even if the discussion is polarized, it is detailed.  It is long.  It gives me the room I need, as a concerned citizen to read, to view, to comment, engage and then post.

Now what does this mean for the traditionally aligned media platforms?  I'm not sure I was ever really in their base to begin with :? )

Inspired by the video here (dem) and here (repub).