March 2nd, 2009
This is the second part of my two part interview with Patty Azzarello. Patty actually interviewed me and here’s the discussion that came afterwards. I posted this before, but I’m reposting it so subscribers to the podcast can pick it up as well.
February 21st, 2009
I’ve included this interview Patty Azzarello conducted with me along with the discussion we had with live callers. I think you’ll find these interviews valuable and relevant to the “Be the Voice” blog and podcast series.
Last week I conducted an interview with Patty Azzarello, CEO of the Azzarello Group. Patty does career coaching for C-level executives. I met Patty at the CMO Club conference in November where she gave a presentation entitled, “CMO is a Credibility War Every Day.” I was really impressed by Patty. First, at the last minute, because everything was running late, The CMO Club had to move her presentation slot during lunch. Having to give her presentation over lunch did not deter her. She just plowed through and gave a fantastic presentation.
What I liked most about her session were the tricks she offered to manipulate the presentation of your budget to other C-level executives. If you manipulate the labeling, grouping, and numbers as Patty advises, you can often get the budget you need to do what you want. Definitely read her advice on this.
Putting “Media” back into “Social Media”
Patty and I got to talking and she invited me to be part of her monthly call for her podcast series. We chatted and decided to do a show called “Social Media Realities” where I spent more time emphasizing the “media” part of social media, rather the “social” side which is what most social media consultants spend their time discussing and selling.
Patty has a fantastic write up of our interview and the questions I fielded from her live callers. She boiled down everything to ten issues.
- Content vs. Technology
- Do an Assessment
- Build an Editorial Plan
- Maximize Production Costs
- Participate where it Matters
- Be Helpful!
- Grow Revenue Faster
- Build Your Voice
- Who are you online?
- Great Q&A
But that’s just the tease. Make sure you read her descriptions and listen to the interview and the Q&A right afterwards. Since these interviews are relevant to my “Be the Voice” blog and podcast, I’ve added these interviews to the podcast series.
January 20th, 2009
Interview with Bob Thacker, Senior VP of Marketing and Advertising for OfficeMax, about building a new voice with their “Life is beautiful. Work can be too” campaign.
- Office supplies are not traditionally an exciting and fun space. The category is known for big dull bland spaces that are pretty much all alike.
- OfficeMax’s “Life is beautiful. Work can be too” campaign is trying to change that viewpoint.
- ElfYourself was OfficeMax’s attempt to associate its brand with Christmas. It succeeded hugely.
- ElfYourself was one of twenty applications they tried during the holiday season. It just so happened it was the one that went hugely viral. The Web makes it cost efficient to bet on every horse.
- Make content people want to pass along.
- OfficeMax is now trying to associate its brand with fashion. First step, create a comfortable and fashionable work space during Fashion Week.
- What we want our audience to believe is this is a company that really understands work. We don’t just sell stuff.
- OfficeMax “made news” by launching “A day made better.” They gave supplies away to teachers. They created and published stories.
One doesn’t traditionally think of an office supply store as having an industry voice, but that’s exactly what OfficeMax is trying to do with a category of dullness, grayness, and sameness, said Bob Thacker, Senior VP of Marketing and Advertising for OfficeMax. They succeeded hugely with its holiday viral application, ElfYourself, which had absolutely nothing to do with office products, but sure was fun to play with.
Changing the image of office supplies
Thacker knows that office product retailers are not an exciting group. “Office products,” said Thacker, “Are not seen as fun or exciting or places you go to shop. They’re places you go to buy things and there’s a big difference. Shopping is an experience that engages you in almost every sense and is a form of entertainment obviously created to incite people and encourage people to buy more. Our category is known for big dull bland spaces that are pretty much all alike. In the past there’s been no differentiation between the big three players. Our names are confused. Two of us have similar typefaces for a logo.”
OfficeMax’s “Life is beautiful. Work can be too” campaign is trying to change that viewpoint. The idea behind “Life is beautiful. Work can be too” is that your desk doesn’t just have to be filled with boring black boxes, they can be attractive boxes as well. Here’s the ad for the campaign.
Thacker reminds us of the mocking way the office environment is portrayed in the media. Dilbert, “The Office,” and the movie “Office Space” are our comical views of office life. “It’s all been dumbed down to this space people view very similar to prison,” said Thacker.
In an effort to change the dullness, OfficeMax hired designers to apply their sensibilities to what are viewed as generic products but without taking away functionality or increasing price, said Thacker.
Create experiences people want to share
As for developing OfficeMax’s voice, the supply store has a lot of stuff in the works. They are planning on producing through all the traditional social media outlets, and helping people with basic office issues, like organization. They’re working with Peter Walsh, a well known organization effort.
OfficeMax is hoping to create more experiences that will go viral like ElfYourself. Thacker claims in the month of December they had more visits to ElfYourself than Facebook did, and it was the number one Web site in Australia. As much as he’d like to easily repeat that success, he knows creating something viral is not something you can build and control. For example, they tried to drum up the same excitement for a free Jonas Brothers poster, and it just didn’t work. My feeling is the lack of success is because the Jonas Brothers aren’t of interest to everyone. They don’t target the right audience. Although they may be targeting the children of the right audience. ElfYourself created something that everyone could personalize and was really fun and silly. It became something people WANTED to pass along. That’s how it became viral.
The first year they tried the ElfYourself idea it was one of twenty ideas that OfficeMax had posted over the holiday season and the Elf was the runaway hit, said Thacker. It was an effort to create some fun pass along content and to think of OfficeMax as a destination for Christmas which was a stretch at the time they knew.
But that’s what Thacker likes about the Web. You can test things out for not much money. And when things don’t work, you just move on, said Thacker. He thought it was very valuable to actually do twenty different ideas and to see which one was most successful. They had other successes of those twenty, but none that was the breakout star of ElfYourself. As Thacker jokes, “One way to win at the track is to bet on every horse.”
Creating an association with your brand and another seemingly unrelated industry
To launch the “Life is beautiful. Work can be too” OfficeMax theme, they created a fashionable work lounge during Fashion Week. OfficeMax tried to create a comfortable and attractive space for people to work, said Thacker. It’s a smart move because they wisely associated their brand with the industry of fashion. It’s also a very bold move to try to link your business with an industry that others wouldn’t even think there was a link. The danger of doing something like this is it could come and slap you in the face. But that will only happen if you don’t have an open and honest dialogue about it. If you just do marketing, and refuse to engage in conversation, then you’re going to have problems. People will question your integrity to associate yourself with fashion.
But like what OfficeMax did in trying to associate its business with Christmas (ElfYourself), they’re taking yet another leap and trying to build an association with fashion. I think there’s an even closer and obvious tie and the connection definitely opens itself up to discussion. I just hope for OfficeMax’s sake that they begin that discussion now as they’ve launched their campaign rather than having it just “in the works” as Thacker said. Right now, Thacker didn’t make it clear what the timeline for “in the works” is.
Don’t make ads, make news
“Don’t make ads, make news. Do something that people talk about, remember you for, and then give them something,” said Thacker, “And however you encounter with them make sure it’s a positive one.”
“What we want our audience to believe is this is a company that really understands work. We don’t just sell stuff,” Thacker said.
One huge promotional event that OfficeMax created that generated a lot of news has been “A day made better.” The event is a single day every year where they storm into schools and classrooms all around the country, and completely surprise teachers by giving away office supplies. The event is huge and it draws lots of interest, press, and conversation about the alarming fact that teachers are paying a significant portion of their crappy salary on office supplies. What’s most important is by creating an event like this, OfficeMax has also created all these fantastic stories that are then published on its site. Heart warming stories that OfficeMax has been responsible for creating and publishing. Plus, this nationwide chain has figured a way to connect with each and every community. Thacker also notes that while “A day made better” is a single day promotion, they do have staff that maintains that communication with the teachers and schools throughout the year.
When I asked Thacker what’s the biggest mistake he’s made in social media or building his voice, he has to admit it was OfficeMax’s attempt to associate itself with the women’s site, iVillage. “It’s already a rich site and what we brought to the table was not much more,” said Thacker trying to piece together why the project with iVillage failed.
I’m interested in seeing how OfficeMax creates its new industry voice in the space of fun and fashion. Right now a lot of it appears it’s “in the works.” Honestly, I don’t think it takes that much to start creating stories and conversing online. They’ve already begun a little bit, let’s see how quickly they get up to speed.
December 20th, 2008
Andy Sernovitz is the author of “Word of Mouth Marketing: How Smart Companies Get People Talking” and founder of GasPedal, a word of mouth marketing firm.
- If you have a strong personal brand or corporate brand it supersedes whatever the hot product of the day is.
- Launching word of mouth marketing requires marketers to stop thinking about what can I get for my budget.
- Once you start talking to people and they start talking back, you can never put that genie back in the bottle.
- Word of mouth is a function of customer service.
- For word of mouth to work you need talkers, topics, and tools.
- It’s so easy to apply a little effort and get little successes to create a business case for word of mouth marketing.
- Unbury that hidden statistic that shows that a huge percentage of your customers come to you for free. Compare word of mouth marketing costs to search engine marketing costs.
- Could one person if they were sitting on Twitter would be more functional if they were on the phone?
- Find the heroes within your company and the simple wins.
Developing the “Andy” brand vs. the company brand
Andy Sernovitz is synonymous with word of mouth marketing. From his popular book to his firm, GasPedal, he’s a highly sought after thought leader for speaking engagements on the subject. But that hasn’t always been the case.
Originally, GasPedal was a dotcom incubator, and thus its brand was all about Internet start ups. Over time the company began focusing on email communications, and thus the brand changed to the email marketing people. Now that they’ve expanded that subset of word of mouth marketing, GasPedal’s formed the brand of being the word of mouth marketing people.
“The [company] brand has become a function of what I’m doing at any particular point in time, which is an interesting point in personal branding that if you have a strong personal brand or corporate brand it supersedes whatever the hot product of the day is,” Sernovitz said.
Because Sernovitz is a speaker, much of his work is associated with him personally. The problem is Andy doesn’t scale. Without the company, he’s the product. And only one of him can fly around and do keynote speeches and consult with companies. It’s a common problem for consultants. “What happens is you run out of you, and it’s exhausting. The reason there’s a GasPedal brand is the objective has got to be not buying Andy, but buying our education and our training and what we do so the de-Andification of Gas Pedal is a very explicit product. It’s a very explicit branding objective,” Sernovitz said.
The brand of GasPedal has very little of Andy Sernovitz in it. But separately, in a different brand space is his book and his blog with very little mention of his company.
Word of mouth marketing is not that difficult
Word of mouth marketing is so much easier than people think, said Sernovitz. He has companies that come to him and they say, “I’ve got $100,000 and I want to do word of mouth marketing campaign.” It’s a common introduction because that’s how marketers work. They think about budget. Throw enough money at a problem and you’ll get results.
That’s not how marketers should be approaching word of mouth marketing. One must think, how do I build relationships with people and give them something they want to share?
“Word of mouth marketing is first and foremost about communications. And turning them on, and making them happy, and giving them things to talk about. So when you go into a word of mouth campaign with ‘We’re going to do a campaign that has a budget, and a start and a stop.’ That’s not how it works. Once you start talking to people and they start talking back, you can never put that genie back in the bottle. It’s a campaign misconception,” said Sernovitz.
Word of mouth is a function of customer service
Sernovitz doesn’t believe that social media is synonymous with word of mouth. Social media is simply one of the many tools you can use to generate word of mouth.
In actuality, word of mouth is a function of customer service. You provide that service in a way that your audience should want to share it. He references the popularity of Zappos, the online shoe company. They’re not popular because they Tweet, but rather they’ve developed a customer service methodology that bleeds through traditional and non-traditional (e.g. Twitter) forms of communications. To only talk about their success on Twitter is only capturing a small part of Zappos’ entire customer service story.
For word of mouth to work, three things need to come together:
- Who’s going to talk about you? The talkers.
- What are they going to say? The topics.
- How are we going to make it easier for them to say it? The tools (traditional and social media).
Word of mouth doesn’t have to have social media involved at all. Sernovitz tells the story of Lowe’s 10% off coupons that he sees available on a weekday at the store. He realizes that Lowe’s figures that anyone that comes to its store before 12pm on a weekday is probably going back to work. So why not give people something to bring back to work that they can place on the office refrigerator? It’s a simple sheet that just says “Office Deals.” Lowe’s invites you to take this sheet, put it on your company fridge, offering up ten 10% off coupons for ten of your coworkers.
The Lowe’s coupon sheet is a very economical and efficient means of word of mouth, and it’s not social media. In the Lowe’s example, the “talkers” are the shoppers. The “topic” is the offer, but really you can also say the topic is connecting with your coworkers. And you make it easier with a single sheet with ten offers that you can put on the fridge (“the tool”).
How do you join in the conversation, expand it, and accelerate it?
The essential step of word of mouth marketing that so many companies have a hard time with is just “do it.” Not to do it big with a huge $100,000 budget, but just begin communicating and do it. It’s hard to fail with this stuff, said Sernovitz. It’s so easy to apply a little effort and get little successes to create a business case.
Sernovitz told the story of the Chicago Tribune journalist who became the social media evangelist for the paper with his character he dubbed “Col. Tribune.” All he did was send out light goofy Tweets on Twitter that garnered him a lot of success.
Sernovitz said that any individual can gather the same learnings as a business analyst by constantly trying stuff. All the word of mouth success stories begin exactly the same way – someone just started doing it.
Not all customers come from marketing efforts
Where do you get your business? Does it all come from marketing? Probably not. Unbury that hidden statistic that shows that a huge percentage of your customers come to you for free. No marketing effort brought them there. They heard about you through word of mouth. That’s your number one ROI. You want to get more of those free customers.
It’s easy to calculate the value of customers garnered through word of mouth. Let’s say you pay $5 for a lead through search marketing. A referral through search marketing is not nearly as a strong as a recommendation from a friend. If you add an “email a friend” link on your product page, that referral is worth at least $5 if not more. If you can get 5,000 people to click on that link, the value of that button is at least $25,000. It’s worth it to you now to spend some money on that page, the offer, and conversion. The cost to change that is far less than your SEM efforts.
Shift customer service efforts to enhance word of mouth marketing for the same cost
Word of mouth makes a lot of good things obvious. For example, in the case of a great customer service call (the customer calls, gets their problem fixed, and everyone’s happy) that moment is lost once the phone hangs up. Nobody knows that the call happened. But if that same customer had the same problem and they wrote it up on their blog, the cost to your business is the same. When someone goes to search that same problem, they find it, and can have that same experience. You help a lot more people, but you spend the same amount of money.
I told Sernovitz my story about the woman who couldn’t get satisfaction calling DirecTV’s customer support, but did when she sent out a Tweet. While I thought it was ironic that the two departments weren’t talking to each other on how to handle customers, Sernovitz said it made perfect sense. Twitter allows a company to have a fresh new start with customer service, said Sernovitz. The phone system is loaded with baggage. They can start customer service over again with a presence on Twitter.
When I asked Sernovitz what’s the biggest mistake he’s made in social media, he admitted that he often makes things too complicated. For example, he will set up huge communities with all these varying technologies and functionality, but in the end realizes that the most functional tools are often phone calls and an email list. He finds that the less he does, the more successful he becomes.
Andy Sernovitz’s advice for companies getting started in word of mouth marketing
Offering up the same advice Chris Brogan gave in his “Be the Voice” interview, Sernovitz suggested companies should start by listening. That doesn’t mean hiring an analytics company. Just set up Google Alerts, said Sernovitz. (NOTE: I suggest doing a lot more than Google Alerts. Google Alerts only catch a small portion of conversation about you.)
Second step is to find someone who really wants to do this. Find the person who loves social media and who’s wearing the company shirt on weekends, Sernovitz said. Ross Mayfield suggested the same thing in his “Be the Voice” interview as well. Although it was really hip at one point, don’t have your CEO blog. The CEO should be running the company.
And finally, find the simple wins. Could one person if they were sitting on Twitter would be more functional if they were on the phone? Take them off the phone and find out. Or instead of spending $5,000 on an SEM campaign, why not soup up a tell a friend form?
Simply put, find the heroes within your company and the simple wins. It’s really hard to screw this up, said Sernovitz.
December 16th, 2008
Thornton May is a futurist, anthropologist, cognitive scientist, and an incredibly entertaining guy. The combination of all three has made him a thought leader in the area of business IT.
- Futurists can track three different kinds of futures: linear futures, “aha” futures (market disruptors), and futures that we create.
- May focuses on futures that we create. He attaches himself to questions that matter. Questions that matter are the questions that haven’t been answered yet.
- May is not a thought leader, but rather a caterer for information.
- Active listening is what it takes to be a conversational chef.
- The future belongs to people who are working on charismatic problems.
- Everybody’s connected to some chunk of knowledge that they want to share and our job is to help them out.
I met Thornton May at the CIO Boot Camp at Interop in NYC this year. I was so enamored with the way May handled the event, that I invited him to be a guest on the “Be the Voice” podcast. When you listen to the podcast, I’ll warn you that May’s mind runs a mile a minute, and sometimes his mouth doesn’t keep up with his thoughts. You’ll hear him starting multiple sentences with a single answer.
What does a futurist track?
May explained that there are three different types of futures that a futurist can track. The first are linear, which are known and observable trends. You read those kinds of reports all the time. For example, IDC predicts that there will be five billion videos downloaded in 2010.
The second kind of future are those “aha” futures or the disruptions in the market. The third kind of future, is the future that we create, and it’s the kind of future that May tracks.
Does someone set out to be a futurist?
My guess is one doesn’t set out to be a futurist. Working on that assumption, I asked May what he set out to do initially. May countered my question, saying he doesn’t believe the question is isolated to just “futurists.” He doesn’t think anyone sets out to what they do and specifically points to what Jefferson Thomas said that if someone sets out to be in politics, they may not have the right stuff to be in politics.
May believes his career has grown to what it is today, because “I attach myself to questions that matter…[And] the questions that matter are the questions that aren’t been answered yet.”
“I’m an ignorance leader,” May continued, “I’m attracted to places where we are ignorant.” Not saying he’s exploring areas where people are stupid, but rather referring to areas where there’s an absence of awareness. “I’m very comfortable not knowing the answer, but knowing that we are moving in a non toxic direction towards actually making progress,” May explained. He’s eager to discover answers.
Being a caterer of answers
May doesn’t want to take direct credit for the industry knowledge that he collects. Wearing a bowtie, May says, “I’m not a thought leader, I’m a caterer…I create sacred collaborative shared spaces where bright people can come together and actually move the ball forward on issues that matter to them.”
I was witness to this kind of discussion ringleading that May is famous for. During the CIO Boot Camp, he led a great discussion at a lunch table with wannabe CIOs about why IT people can demand such high salaries (16 min).
“I’m a conversational chef. I actually think everyone has amazing knowledge ingredients. And the trick is to pull them out from people,” said May, “You have to put a lot of bright people in the room and you have to give voice if you will to multiple perspectives and then you synthesize.”
May is old school in that he just likes getting people into comfortable environments like universities or even bars to exchange ideas. But just watch Thornton in action in the above video. He’s so excited by conversation and he so engages people and makes them want to contribute.
How to be a conversational chef
I asked May what he does to bring this knowledge out of people, and to no surprise, he said it’s all about active listening. Referring to himself as a smaller animal, May said, “Smaller animals need to sense their environment or they’ll be lunch.” And that’s why he thinks active listening is critical to his success.
Having done his doctoral work while in Japan, he likens his active listening to Japanese communications. You can’t even speak in Japanese unless you know in what context and social relations that are going on there, May said.
May prefers roundtables because you have peripheral vision to the conversation. He can see the moment when a person wants to engage in the conversation. He turns to that person, and creates a thread.
I asked him what becomes of the follow up. For May it’s all about making the connections and thinking about who should be in conversation with each other. After a conversation like the one above, May simply files it away, mentally, during down times, like when he’s waiting in line at the airport.
Thought leadership without an online presence
Surprisingly, there’s very little editorial by Thornton May online, yet he’s a very well known and respected thought leader in the area of enterprise IT. He recognizes this is paradoxical especially when people like Clay Shirky and Chris Anderson are saying that your Google Page Rank or the people who link to you digitally is the emerging currency of the next Internet economy.
Not so comfortable with new media publishing
Every different media requires different editorial mechanisms, said May. And in situations where he knows the audience, May is comfortable. For publications like Computerworld (May has a semi-periodic column), May knows the publication’s editorial make up and he knows how to speak to that audience. When speaking publicly, May can actually see the people and know them. But when he’s just generically “online” he doesn’t know who his audience is. And so he self edits to the lowest common denominator when he can’t visualize who he’s messaging for. But he is heading towards the opposite where he creates his own online social media voice and his audience will find him.
“I think the future belongs to people who are working on charismatic problems.” Something that makes you gasp cerebrally.
“In this real time, omni-connected, twittered up world, where does perspective come from? You do need some time to think about all this information. All of this real time processing,” said May. Turning to
editors, May said, “I want someone to put this all in perspective for me or help me find perspective on my own.” I believe that’s why opinion columnists are so popular.
May goes through about a thousand business cards every five or six weeks. He thinks about a problem and asks key people what they think about it. Surprisingly, May doesn’t use any automated tools. With all these business cards he’s collected, he doesn’t maintain a mailing list.
But he doesn’t need to do outbound communications because people come up to him and say, “Thornton, I know you’ve got this great network, I’m wrestling with this issue, can you help me out?”
“I’m a big believer of looking at other industries and seeing who may be farther down the curve than you are and seeing what you can cherry pick from their best practices,” May said.
Tackling charismatic problems
I asked how one captures the knowledge that he’s collecting. May corrected my way of thinking and said he believes the knowledge is already there. “The vital first step is attaching yourself to a problem that matters. Because if the problem is significant enough. If the problem is charismatic enough. There will be interest. There will be funding. There will be allowances made to let you do an examination,” said May, “Now you can poach on this knowledge stream that is out there.”
In one case of tackling a charismatic problem, Thornton May was asked about the issue of digital piracy. May discovered that in cases where employees view their senior management as unethical people, they feel obligated to steal from them. And that situation is exacerbated when senior management is monstrously compensated. That issue has yet to be resolved because there’s a huge social fabric issue. It’s a problem that matters, and May is attaching himself to it.
“Everybody’s connected to some chunk of knowledge that they want to share and our job is to help them out,” May said.
December 11th, 2008
David Meerman Scott is the author of “The New Rules of Marketing and PR,” “Tuned In,” and the forthcoming book, “World Wide Rave.”
Summary (David Meerman Scott)
- Three years ago, most companies were more interested in site usability and design for their site, not content.
- Marketers are still being trained that the way to get your information into the marketplace is to buy advertising and convince the media to write about you.
- With new media, you can technically get your message out there for zero cost. That’s simply not possible with traditional media.
- Stop measuring sales leads and start measuring the number of people exposed to your ideas.
- If you’re only talking to and about your customers, you’re missing a huge percentage of your market. You have to focus on your non-customers. You have to focus on the market you’re trying to attract, not just the market you currently have.
- Fallacy of viral marketing. Traffic doesn’t equate to customers for you. Offering a free iPod can go viral and lots of companies do offer free iPods. That’s just people who want a free iPod, not people who want your stuff.
- Ask yourself what can you do today to get more people online to know who you are. Ask that question every day, and over a couple of years you’ll be an industry voice.
- Everyone’s a dork sometimes and I think the alternative is you’re not out there.
(NOTE: I admittedly bury the lead on the title as it doesn’t appear to the end, but you’ll see all of Scott’s commentary leads up to not fearing making stupid mistakes online.)
I discovered David M. Scott while researching for this very blog and podcast, looking for people who wrote about the value of creating content for your business. I reached out to Scott in hopes of just having a conversation with him on the phone. He was so busy with his day long seminars which sends him all over the world, that the earliest time he’d be available for just a phone call would be in a month. I put a note in my calendar to follow up with him in a month, but I also started following him on Twitter and he started following me as well.
Two days later Scott sends out a Tweet announcing that he was flying to San Francisco the next day. He didn’t know I lived there, so I tweeted back that I’d love to get together for a drink or a meal. The next day, Scott and I sat down for dinner and I shot this quick video interview with him.
Ahead of the curve on developing content for your business
David M. Scott’s book, “The New Rules of Marketing and PR” has been wildly successful. But it wasn’t his first book. Scott has written many books before that, and the one that caught my eye, which was so in line with the thinking for “Be the Voice” was his book “Cashing in with Content” which didn’t do nearly as well as “The New Rules of Marketing and PR.”
Scott believes “Cashing in with Content’s” lack of success had a lot to do with the obvious reasons: a small publisher, limited distribution, and it was only available in paperback. But he believes he was too early for the market. “In 2005 I was talking about content [saying that it] was the most important part of the Web site and [at the time] the whole world was focused on design and technology,” Scott said. From my own experience, it’s still difficult to explain to people why creating content is so valuable for their business.
Patting himself on the back for his foresight three years ago, Scott really felt like a pioneer touting the value of content and getting out there and blogging. While blogging has been out for a while, nobody else had written a book about the value of creating content for your company at that time. That’s why I stumbled across Scott.
Explaining the value of content for your business is still difficult. Scott believes the reason is because marketers are still being trained that the way to get your information into the marketplace is to buy advertising and convince the media to write about you. Business and communications schools still teach advertising and media relations.
But what Scott, myself, and many others are trying to prove is that you don’t need to be beholden to others to distribute your information. You can create the content and distribute it yourself. That idea by itself is an enormous logical leap from ‘you have to buy access’ for which we’ve been trained through schooling to believe.
It’s going to cost you zero
If you want to buy access on TV, you have to pay for access. There’s absolutely no other way around it. If you want to buy a TV ad, you need to pay for the audience that it will be shown to. In the new media and social media sphere, there are no pre-defined costs. You can technically get your message out there for zero cost. That’s simply not possible with traditional media.
Measure success of influence
One of the questions I use to chronically get during my early days of trying to sell new media was “How much is it going to cost us, and how many people are we going to reach?” It’s a question that I could never answer because neither I nor my client can control the audience.
Scott argues that in marketing we’ve never truly been able to measure reach and that what we do is we calculate success based on other metrics like sales leads or number of press clips/mentions in the media. “I don’t think either of those are effective ways to measure the success of being a thought leader. Of getting really great information out there. Of creating something that people spread one to another because they want to consume it,” Scott said.
Luckily there are tons of valuable metrics out there that will show your place in the market and your thought leadership. You can measure how many people were exposed to your ideas (e.g. how many people have seen your video, downloaded your whitepaper, etc.). You can measure what people are saying about you. Is it positive or negative? How many blogs are talking about you versus the competition? Where you appear in search results on key words and phrases versus your competition?
Look beyond your current customers – The “Tuned In” methodology
“If you’re only talking to and about your customers, you’re missing a huge percentage of your market,” said Scott, “You have to focus on your non-customers. You have to focus on the market you’re trying to attract, not just the market you currently have.” Think of your potential market as a pie. Your current customers are but a small slice of that pie. There’s so much more to go after.
Scott recommends a simple solution to reaching your non-customer audience. Talk to them. Go to where they are in the real world and in the virtual world. Attend conferences, networking events, and read the blogs that they read. Interview them on their turf and ask open ended questions and listen to phrases they use.
This was exactly the technique Scott used to come up with the idea for his new book. In his open conversations with people, the phrase that kept coming up was “viral marketing.” To test the waters, Scott wrote a free online ebook entitled, “The New Rules of Viral Marketing.” Prior to writing the book, a search for “viral marketing” on Google and Scott would appear deep in the weeds, on page 20, where no one ever looked. Once his ebook was published, Scott’s public recognition for the term “viral marketing” on Google placed him as the fourth result on the front page on Google (as of publishing this blog post). Currently his ebook has 250,000 downloads and more than 500 bloggers have written about it.
“There’s a huge misunderstanding about viral marketing. And there’s a whole cadre of basically charlatans and fly-by-night experts who talk about viral marketing and suggest they know how to create a viral marketing campaign. And typically it’s traditional advertising techniques. Things like bait and switch. Things like inane contests that have nothing to do with your products. Ways to interrupt people to get them to do something and not truly information that spreads because it’s valuable,” said Scott.
That kind of viral marketing doesn’t build a relationship with your audience. “Offering a free iPod can go viral and lots of companies do offer free iPods. That’s just people who want a free iPod, not people who want your stuff,” Scott warned.
All of this plays to the advice he’s building in Scott’s new book, “World Wide Rave: Creating triggers to get millions of people to spread your ideas and share your stories,” coming out in March, 2009. He’s hoping the phrase, “World Wide Rave,” will change people’s thinking about the term viral marketing.
Admire those ahead of you
Scott reminds people though that it’s not just doing one thing that gets you recognized. It’s a lot of little things that add up. He’s written more than 500 blog posts and has four ebooks available for free.
Yet with all of Scott’s success, he looks to someone like Seth Godin, whom he greatly admires, and wonders when will he be able to write as well as him and have as much of an industry name as him. Even the billionaire wonders if he’ll be as rich as Bill Gates. We’re always looking at the people ahead of us. Don’t let others’ success prevent you from beginning the path of your own success.
Scott suggest you ask yourself what can you do today to get more people online to know who you are. It can be just a little thing like leaving a comment on a blog. But do something every day, and those multiplied over a few years, and now you’re the expert in your industry.
Blogging for research and writing a new book
Scott uses his blog to gauge the audience’s interest on different ideas. Certain topics that he think will be of great interest will fall flat with his audience while others that he doesn’t think much of will take off. But what he loves best is when he starts a concept, and those people with more knowledge and greater interest jump in and add value and sometimes correct him.
Scott points to an example about a post where he said the NY Islanders hockey team were the first to give bloggers press credentials. The post alerted the VP of marketing for the bloggers, and another reader commented that the Islanders weren’t the first hockey team to do this.
You can’t control opinion
I asked Scott what was the feedback from his new book, “Tuned In,” and he said it was split. Businesspeople liked the practical nononsense approach while academics thought it was too simplistic and it didn’t break any new ground. In essence, both are saying the same thing, but they’re coming from different viewpoints, each choosing to spin it a different way. You can’t control opinion, you can only disclose what it is that you’re doing. For more, watch this great video which includes Chris Shipley of the Guidewire Group discuss the need for transparency and how people will generate different opinions based on their viewpoint.
Scott thinks that negative comments on his blog are a very positive thing because the person is taking the time to argue against your point. But more importantly, those who support your argument will jump in and defend you. And what was originally going to be a blog post with just one or two comments is now a blog post with forty comments.
David M. Scott is a dork
When I asked Scott about his biggest mistake made in social media, he admitted to a moment of online uncoolness that was pointed out to him by his teenage daughter. After setting up his Facebook profile, he showed it to his daughter to which she responded, “You’re not supposed to write on your own wall. You’re such a dork, dad.”
“It’s OK to be a dork online every now and then,” said Scott. We don’t always know what we’re supposed to do when we start using a new technology. Scott felt foolish when he first started with Twitter and he had only one follower. Scott said you just have to jump in and not worry, “I think everyone’s a dork sometimes and I think the alternative is you’re not out there.”
October 17th, 2008
Joe Pulizzi is the founder and Chief Content Officer for Junta42, a custom publishing and content marketing search engine and resource.
- Launch your own media network rather than surround somebody else’s voice (a traditional media outlet) with your messaging (ads).
- You don’t NEED to advertise with a traditional media network. You might want to, but it’s no longer necessary. You can publish directly to your audience rather than place your messaging around someone else’s leading content.
- Custom publishing is the answer to search engine optimization (SEO).
- A custom publishing effort must focus on customer needs, not your company’s products and services.
- 30% of B2B marketing budgets are going to content development and execution (source: Junta42 study).
- If you just push product with poor content, you’re not going to have a good social media experience.
- Talk to your customers, ask them what their needs are today, and then you need to predict what their needs are going to be tomorrow.
- Learn the art of storytelling, hire people with journalistic talent, or contract out those services.
- Before you launch a content project determine how you’re going to measure its success.
- Be prepared to do lots and lots of work.
Before the social and new media explosion, custom publishing was primarily about customer retention. Companies did not have conversations with customers, measurement was poor, rationalization to do custom publishing was poor, and in many cases, custom publishing happened because the CEO was so vain wanting nothing more than his or her picture on the cover of their magazine. This was custom publishing just ten years ago, said Joe Pulizzi (blog) founder and Chief Content Officer for Junta42, a custom publishing and content marketing search engine and resource. Pulizzi is also the founder of the consulting and custom publishing group Z Squared Media and author of “Get Content. Get Customers.” I spoke to Pulizzi about his believe that companies need to “be the media, rather than surround the media.” Translated, it means become the industry voice rather than surround somebody else’s leading voice (a traditional media outlet) with your messaging (ads).
Be discovered by search engines
“The biggest thing to happen to custom publishing and content marketing is search engine optimization,” said Pulizzi, “You get all these marketing people who want to be on that left side of that search engine. And what everybody’s realizing is what does it is great content. Because of the search engine and because of Google, people are starting to realize that maybe content is king. You really need to look at the type of information we’re communicating to our prospects and customers on a continuous basis.”
Produce content about and for your customers, not yourself
Companies that fail at custom publishing only focus on their products and services. “They want to tell, tell, tell. They want to talk about we’re great at this and we have this awesome product that. And when you have a client that starts there you have a little ways to go to get them to move around and really position it from the customer’s perspective. And that’s what content marketing is all about. It’s all about the customer,” said Pulizzi.
To get them there Pulizzi asks the common questions any marketer would ask of his client. “What are your customers’ pain points? What are your customers’ informational needs? What keeps your customer up at night,” said Pulizzi, “The answers to those questions are what you need to be communicating.” Pulizzi admits that this is not revolutionary thinking, but to his clients it is revolutionary because they have their marketing sales hats on all day long and all they think about is how they can sell more product. “You can’t just communicate about your products and services anymore and really grow your business. You really have to deliver consistent information to your customers’ pain points,” said Pulizzi.
During his days at Penton Publishing, Pulizzi had a tech client (couldn’t mention the name) that created a content strategy where the goal was NOT to sell. Up until that point, this company had been so focused on selling. In this instance, they just wanted to create some customer-focused content. All the editorial produced was focused on the needs of customers. The only reference to the company was a brief description and a mention that they were the sponsor of the publication. Pulizzi claims that nine months later (the time it takes to make a baby) they had millions of dollars in the pipeline (the cost of raising a baby) for an e-newsletter that was designed NOT to sell. One key to this growth was that the company was targeting a new market area, manufacturing, for which they had no foothold. They were simply exposing themselves to a new industry.
Be the media rather than surround someone else’s content
Any company can be their own media network thanks to the low to zero cost of publishing and distribution, brands can now communicate directly with their customers. Advertisers don’t NEED to spend money with a traditional media network. That’s not saying they don’t want to. They do still want to advertise with a traditional media outlet because they’ll have access to the media outlet’s distribution network and can align their brand with the media network’s brand. But given the leveling of the communications playing field, nobody really NEEDS to advertise with a traditional media brand. “You can be the thought leader. You can be the trusted expert resource for your industry,” said Pulizzi, “The most important thing is how are you going to be that trusted expert resource?”
Custom publishing is not marketing. It’s not about your message points. It’s editorial. It’s storytelling
Pulizzi and I discussed that the “consulting” we do for custom publishing often falls into the trap of advising people on how to be a normal human being. Company people often get stuck in their marketing world and are incapable of having a conversation about their product or industry without hitting their product message points.
Pulizzi explains the dynamic of the traditional marketer trying to get into social media. They’re eager to get into it, so they ask, “How do we get our products and service information out there?” To which Pulizzi responds, “Social media is like having a one on one conversation with somebody. If you don’t have something valuable to say, how long does that conversation last?” If you just push product with poor content, you’re not going to have a good social media experience.
Pick up the phone and talk to your customers
Talk to your customers and ask them, “What is the information you need to do your job better?” When they give you that answer, use your wisdom of the industry and take it one step further. You can’t just give customers what they need because a lot of what they need they don’t know yet. Take what they think they need and then show them additional opportunities. This is where you can be seen as an industry leader. And don’t fall into the trap of thinking that if the traditional media covered an issue, you can’t. They’re not the only expert. You are too.
I told Joe the story of my days writing for eWEEK where companies would constantly pitch me stories to write for the magazine. Many of the pitches were very good, but I couldn’t accept them all. Either I couldn’t write another story or it wasn’t an appropriate fit for the editorial of the publication. Regardless, I always thought, if the story is that good, why don’t you just write it yourself? And no one ever did. The best you could ever hope for is a press release and who ever reads those, or reacts to them the same way they do to an article that tells a story?
The traditional media doesn’t have to be the only one who tells your story. “Why don’t you be the expert trusted resource on that content instead of somebody else? That means bringing in journalistic talent in your company,” said Pulizzi.
Learn the art of storytelling, or hire someone who knows it
Pulizzi said he’s starting to see companies hire marketing people with journalism backgrounds to be able to tell the company story. That surprised me that there would be any companies so hip to the trend of storytelling. It’s not happening on a widespread basis, but Pulizzi’s starting to see some movement.
More companies are creating their own media. According to an internal Junta42 study, close to one-third of all B2B marketing budgets are funding the creation and execution of content, said Pulizzi. This increased funding to content is not coming from a growing budget, its coming from a reallocation of moneys, Pulizzi continued.
Impressive content plays
After I asked Pulizzi to give me some examples of his own content success stories, I asked him to point to some other impressive “content instead of marketing” examples. Here are three of his favorites:
HomemadeSimple.com – A site from P&G that covers everything to do with making your home more appealing when it comes to cleaning and food. More than 1 million people have opted in for information and are in return offering feedback. As a result, this site has been one of the most popular research tools for P&G.
Beinggirl.com – Another P&G site geared towards 11-16 year old girls. Pulizzi said a Forrester Research report shows the site has been three times more effective than any marketing P&G has ever done towards this demographic.
Willitblend.com – Adopting a little humor from Letterman, the blender company Blendtec posts humorous videos showing what it looks like when you blend various objects like golf balls and iPhones. Blendtec launched the site for less than $1000 and the compellingly silly videos have drawn millions of views. Blendtec says year over year revenues have grown 500% and they attribute all of that success to the videos.
Before you launch a custom publishing project decide how you’re going to measure success
When I asked Pulizzi about mistakes he’s made in custom publishing, he admitted that back in the day he used to launch custom magazines with no idea on how he was going to measure it. In the end, he never had any indication of how successful or unsuccessful a project was. He went fully on qualitative feedback. Today, Pulizzi determines what the measures of success will be before he launches a content project.
In one case, Pulizzi measured the success of an e-newsletter with a follow up courtesy call. That can be a success indicator if many people read it and take action on it. But to actually determine ROI off of a content campaign is not easy because it’s difficult to determine the causality of it. Today, content campaigns are integrated into overall marketing efforts unlike years ago when custom publishing sat out on an island, said Pulizzi.
The formula for creating your own media network
Here’s some basic advice from Pulizzi on launching your own media network:
- Be prepared to create lots and lots of content. It’s an ongoing project that takes effort and money.
- Learn as much as you can about your customers. Can you talk to them and find out what their needs are outside of your products and services?
- Launch a blog. Commit to a consistent level of writing. You won’t get traffic initially, but it will grow over time.
- Look at other blogs that your customers are on and get active in those communities.
If you own an area in your industry and create good content, you’re going to become successful, said Pulizzi, there’s no doubt about it.
October 14th, 2008
Bill Ryan is the cofounder of Mandala, a branding and messaging services company. I sat down with Bill Ryan in his home in San Francisco to talk about how his business architects all the pieces of a company’s voice from branding to PR to messaging and to marketing.
- Companies poorly communicate their story to those that need to hear it (e.g. analysts, bloggers, journalists, and customers)
- Nobody wrote a check because they thought your company was “interesting.” You need to get them to the point where they say, “cool.”
- You need to sell the problem or the opportunity before you sell your solution.
- The lenses for which you and your audience look at your company are completely different.
- You need to be out in front telling your company’s story before your audience does it for you, which may not be to your advantage.
- If you have a situation where there’s no market, then you need to evangelize the space, bring interest to it, and own it.
- Increase discoverability by getting to every point on the influence chain. The further back you get, the more powerful it is.
- The biggest complement you can pay to a writer is to demonstrate that you’ve read what they’ve written.
From the individual up to the company level, we all tell stories. A company lives inside a story. The problem is there are many people who work in a company, and if you talk to five different employees, you’ll often get five different stories. That discontinuity within the organization is inevitably carried outside-to people who get pitched (e.g. press, bloggers) and everyone else.
Bill Ryan, cofounder of the branding and messaging services firm, Mandala, wanted to know how well companies communicated their “story.” Ryan talked to story recipients (e.g. analysts, VCs, and journalists) and asked them, “What percentage of companies have the ability to come in and tell you ‘what they do, why they’re different, and why you should care’ in a quick and efficient manner?” Sadly, the average response was 10% with the highest being 15%. Bad for the companies in question, great for Ryan who is in the corporate clarity business. Ryan is also a senior member of the marketing services company, Comunicano, where he leads their Words & Stories directorate.
Most people don’t have their story in place and just keep echoing their five message points, said Ryan. The most you can hope for is a long hour and a half discussion where they’ll inevitably get to the point and you’ll finally discover their story.
How fast can you get them to say, “cool”?
“Speed to cool” is Mandala’s own internal benchmark to determine how good someone’s company pitch is. During a pitch the listeners will often just nod their head and say, “Oh, interesting.” But as Ryan pointed out, “Nobody wrote a check because something was interesting.” What you’re going for is the moment in the presentation where it shifts from them saying, “interesting” to them saying, “cool.” That’s the moment they get it. Their body language changes, and they’re eager. It’s the point when the presenter can shift from just pitching, to closing. “Speed to cool is how fast can I get that audience to the point of saying, ‘cool.’ How can I get them beyond ‘interesting’ which is out of their heads and into ‘cool’ which is into their emotions and it’s all based of real value,” explained Ryan.
A solution without a problem or opportunity is irrelevant
“If you haven’t sold the problem, the fact that you have an elegant solution is irrelevant,” said Ryan, “It has to start with a sense of relevance.” There’s relevance in the sense of are you solving a business problem that they know they have. The flip side of relevance is opportunity. The Internet itself created all new opportunities. “You either have to sell the problem or you have to sell the vision of opportunity, first,” explained Ryan, “If you haven’t done that you will always stay in ‘interesting’ land.”
You have to give them a taste of the opportunities and you have to be willing to give a little bit of the secret sauce that is making you successful or as Ryan refers to it, “the gift of knowledge” marketing. Go so far as writing a book about what you know. For the person who fears giving away too much, Ryan reminds us that “management would rather bring in the consultant who wrote the book than have to actually read the book and try to implement it themselves.”
People look at your company differently than how you look at yourself, yet no one pays attention to those differences
People look at your company through five lenses. Companies look at themselves (from the inside out) through three different lenses. Bill Ryan summarizes the differences:
A company’s identity is defined by their:
- Vision – What’s the core belief that started the company and what continues to drive its innovation.
- Position – Where the company sees itself in the industry ecosphere as determined by who is the customer, how are we different, how are we pricing this thing, etc. The big vision is made practical around positioning.
- Brand voice – How you express your brand to the world. That’s not necessarily your vision because your vision may be a competitive advantage and you don’t want to share.
The world looks at your company through the following lenses:
- Relevance – Do you solve a business problem that people already have?
- Superiority – Is yours the best solution according to the criteria the customers use to make a buying decision? That can be very different as to why you think you’re the best.
- Ecosystem competency – Are you the company everyone wants to do business with? Are you a follower, or do people not know of your existence? Ryan points to Microsoft here, explaining that they score very high in this area, but not in innovation as version 1.0 of all their products IS usually poor. Later versions are where general adoption is at its highest. More importantly, Microsoft controls the environment. How savvy you are as an ecosystem player gives the perception of the strength of your company.
- The team – Who’s running this show? The strength of the company’s team plays a lot in how the company is perceived as a player in the world.
- Sustainability – Do you have what it takes to stay in business for the long haul to service your customers who will need you to be there for them?
Bridging this gap between how you define your company and how the public defines you requires you to be out in front telling your company’s story to the world. It’s a brand narrative, and you better be able to do it correctly before your audience does it for you, which might not be to your benefit. This isn’t like the old days where you just courted journalists and analysts. There are far more voices out there and it’s important that you’re out there telling your story, or as Ryan puts it “Be the shepherd of your story.” More specifically, he believes that your CEO needs to be the super shepherd telling the company story and why it’s relevant to customers.
There are two ways to tell you story, and it all depends on whether there’s a market or not. “You can either evangelize hygiene or you could sell soap,” said Ryan. If you have a situation where there’s no market, then you need to evangelize the space, bring interest to it, and own it. It’s a common mistake to only sell the product and not the market. It’s easier to just sell the product because it’s something you know. You don’t necessarily know the market. Or if you do, you definitely don’t know it as well as you know your own product.
A great example, Ryan pointed out, was McDonald’s “You deserve a break today” campaign. The campaign didn’t sell burgers. It sold the idea of eating out, specifically towards moms with kids. They were trying to grow that specific market, moms with kids eating out. Since McDonald’s already owns a percentage of the “eating out” category, they can grow their own business if they simply grow the entire category of people eating out.
Ryan is one of the earliest Internet PR players. One of his earliest clients was Yahoo! when they were still at the address www.yahoo.edu. In the early days of the Internet, nobody could see the Internet’s value. So one of Ryan’s first marketing strategies for Yahoo! was to evangelize the Internet and make the two words synonymous, Yahoo! and Internet. Jerry Yang’s early appearance on Terry Gross’ Fresh Air did not discuss the technical architecture of the Internet and search, but rather how the Internet was going to revolutionalize communications. And Yang told the story of how he got his grandmother up on email and how his relationship with his grandmother grew because of it. Ryan saw the value of that story, even if he’s not sure if Jerry had a living grandmother at the time. The net result of this positioning caused Jerry Yang and David Filo to become the poster children of the Internet. And any time anyone wanted to do a story about the Internet, they needed to get those two, or it wouldn’t be a complete story.
Be more discoverable by finding the connectors and influencers
If your company is not already on the consideration list when people are deciding to purchase a product or service in your category, you need to increase your discoverability. And doing so requires you to understand your audience and go where they live. More importantly, said Ryan, is to determine who are the people that influence them. “You want to get to every point on the influence chain. And the further back you can get, the more powerful it is,” explained Ryan.
Bill Ryan actually brought up Ken Rutkowski of KenRadio who I’ve mentioned multiple times as the ultimate connector in the tech and entertainment space. Rutkowski hosts meet ups and dinners where he brings people together. He is the connective tissue. In fact, Bill Ryan and I met during a Ken Rutkowski dinner just a few months ago. And then we were reintroduced virtually by Ken’s cohost, Andy Abramson of Comunicano, yet another connector.
“The trick is to find the Ken Rutkowski’s of the world in your particular marketplace that are creating those connections between the people who are influencing the market and the people who are actually creating the innovation. [You have to start] getting those connections made and gauging those people in thinking about your business,” Ryan said.
“You need to understand the chain of influence in your ecosystem.” While that may still involve taking a journalist out to lunch, it also involves understanding the influential bloggers and understanding how their connections fit into the sphere of influence.
“The biggest complement you can pay to a writer is to demonstrate that you’ve read what they’ve written,” said Ryan, “It has nothing to do with you agreeing with what they say. In fact, a good blogger or a good journalist will fall in love with you faster if you disagree with what them and you have a good heated argument and you talk about it, and you really go back and forth, and you listen to what they say…Let them talk, listen to what they say. They may teach you things about your business you never know about before. And if you do that, they will fall in love with you, and they will respect you,” Ryan said. The end result is you’ll learn more about your market and better be able to define the problem, the opportunity, and your story.
August 28th, 2008
Summary (Harry McCracken):
- Want comments on your blog? Lead off with an opinion than straight reporting.
- All websites need to be works in progress forever. Adjust to what people read and don’t read.
- PCWorld realization: Almost any story can be done as a list. And if it’s done as a list, people will read it.
- There’s an abundance of “news” out there. It’s a commodity. Get seen by offering your take on the story.
- Very few tech sites do really good reviews of Web services.
- Often if everyone is following a rule doing the opposite will do at least as well.
- Don’t assume if you build something people will come. You need to start the conversation, prod people, and invite people in.
Harry McCracken, former editor in chief of PCWorld, left the magazine to launch a brand new tech blog called Technologizer. Launching a brand new tech blog for money is a scary proposition given the abundance of competition in the tech blogging space and the audience you need to amass before you can start reaping a decent income.
But McCracken wasn’t starting from point zero. Having decades of tech journalism experience under his belt, thirteen of which were at PCWorld running the mothership, McCracken already knew his audience of tech enthusiasts. He also knew how to write compelling articles and eye-catching headlines. And he also knew what did and didn’t work online. Even though “Technologizer” is a new brand, “McCracken” isn’t. Thanks to his years at PCWorld, Harry McCracken is well known and well respected in tech circles.
When I spoke to McCracken, he was only seven weeks into production of Technologizer and already he was drawing thousands of readers a day and his posts are commonly featured on Techmeme, Gabe Rivera’s metablog that finds hotly discussed stories for the day.
Technologizer is more tightly focused than the editorial of PCWorld, said McCracken, concentrating more on personal technology. But as McCracken realizes, “All websites need to be works in progress forever…I will adjust what I do based on what people read. And I will do more of the stuff people care about and less of the stuff people don’t care about.”
When I asked what it took to get that much attention so quickly, the initial advice was obvious. You have to look at the news sites (e.g. Google News, Digg, Techmeme) and see what are the topics that are attracting people, said McCracken. He then picks hot stories that fall under his ever-evolving editorial mandate and adds his spin. There’s a lot of “McCracken-style” opinion on Technologizer and that’s what defines the brand. Technologizer is not a news site. That’s a commodity, believes McCracken.
“I never want to be generic. I always want to have my take on things. And by doing so I want to invite my readers to share their take on things,” said McCracken. “I’ve been pleasantly surprised to see that on a lot of my posts I’ll get dozens of people responding. And some of them will agree with me. And some of them will disagree with me. But I’m starting a conversation and that’s far easier to do when you lead people off with an opinion rather than straight reporting.”
Dealing with the competitive overabundance of tech blogs
McCracken’s goal is to reach out to a much broader audience of tech enthusiast. Even though sites like TechCrunch and Scobleizer are extremely well known with the tech elite, they don’t have that same general audience penetration as did computer magazines (e.g. PCWorld, PCMagazine, and PCComputing) did in the 80s and 90s. McCracken is hoping to achieve that kind of recognition with Technologizer’s opinion and writing. He knows he’s never going to compete with sites like Gizmodo and Engadget in sheer volume of content. Those sites can crank out 40 to 50 posts a day. Even more during CES.
Brewing the editorial for Technologizer
While McCracken doesn’t think he’s going to be developing year long investigative or reader survey articles like he did at PCWorld, he does spend time developing his posts taking as long as a day for a single post. Most successful tech blogs have a team of journalists and McCracken knows that Technologizer will need to extend just beyond himself. He does plan on bringing on more talented journalists to write in the style of the blog. In addition, McCracken plans to more tightly tie in his community section (powered by Ning) with his content.
Almost any story can be done as a list
McCracken and I got to talking stylistically about how he writes posts to draw traffic. McCracken admitted to the PCWorld tactic of always putting a number on the cover of the magazine when his editorial team realized that “almost any story can be done as a list,” said McCracken, “And if it’s done as a list, people will read it.”
Headlines and stories should be clear, quirky, funny, and/or a little off beat. “Because if Intel announces something, there will be fifty stories with a really boring straightforward headline, if yours is a little more fun, people will read on,” said McCracken as he wants the site to be less formal and he’s willing to be silly from time to time. I mentioned the blog Good Morning Silicon Valley for which I think is the model for funny tech headlines.
Very few tech sites do really good reviews of Web services
While there are many sites that will play with a new Web service for five minutes and write a “review” there are actually very few that will do an in depth analysis. It’s one of the editorial mandates at PCWorld that they had to do solid tech reviews for their audience. McCracken feels that reviews will be a differentiating factor that makes his site more successful because in a lot of tech categories you simply can’t find them.
From zero to thousands of readers a day in just seven weeks
Here’s Harry McCracken’s advice on how to grow your blog audience quickly:
- Start with content your audience would care about.
- Dive in and don’t stress out. Get over your fears about negative feedback. The Web is an informal medium and typos can be fixed unlike his days working in print.
- Don’t get entranced initially by search engine optimization. “If people don’t care about the content, none of that stuff matters,” said McCracken.
- Ping people who do other blogs that might care about the content. Often they will link to your content.
- Use social bookmarking tools and community sites like Digg, StumbleUpon, Yahoo! Buzz, and Slashdot
- Don’t assume if you build something people will come. You need to start the conversation, prod people, and invite people in. Robert Scoble with Scobleizer is very successful this way in that he’s always engaged in the comments. It’s an area McCracken knows he needs to spend more time.
- Don’t get hung up on the “rules” of success on the Web. It’s possible to break every single rule on the Web and still do well and you can follow every rule and be an abject failure. McCracken points to the “rule” of posting on Monday and Tuesday and only post in the morning. McCracken has actually had his greatest success on a Sunday and he’ll often post in the afternoon because that’s when people are often NOT posting so he’s not cluttered by all the other “noise” online. “Often if everyone is following a rule doing the opposite will do at least as well,” said McCracken.
- Add a lot of opinion, ask for feedback, and don’t require people to register to comment.
- Don’t be afraid to promote your own stuff, as long as you’re above board about it.
Technologizer set to launch
Technologizer is still in soft launch phase now, but McCracken plans on making a more public announcement in September where he’ll bring on more journalists plus offer a rating system for his reviews.
Your audience doesn’t care about you. They care about themselves. What are you going to give them? – podcast
August 27th, 2008
Episode nine of the “Be the Voice” podcast stars online media mogul Susan Bratton, co-founder and CEO of Personal Life Media.
Summary (Susan Bratton):
- Podcast production: deliver exactly the same format consistently gives listeners the comfort that you’re there for them.
- Have an individual in mind (ideally a thought leader) when you’re asking questions during your show.
- Personal Life Media’s network of 25 programs have taken off thanks to the network effect which we all know by the other name of social media.
- Don’t be afraid to approach someone yourself if you think you’re the ideal candidate.
- Ad agencies need to follow UGC, not try to control it, and encourage engagement.
- Your audience doesn’t care about you. They care about themselves. What are you going to give them?
- Bloggers are not journalists, but some are. Proceed with caution.
Susan Bratton is the co-founder and CEO of Personal Life Media, a podcast and blog publishing company that produces 25 weekly programs on the subjects of personal growth, relationships, longevity, and spirituality. One of those programs, DishyMix, hosted by Bratton herself, is a series of one-on-one interviews with leading members of the digerati. With each interview Bratton hopes to find out what these thought leaders are doing that makes them so special and what can her and her listeners do to copy their behavior?
DishyMix is just one of dozens of programs that make up the Personal Life Media brand. To build the brand’s editorial, Bratton sought out top notch voices that fit under her editorial umbrella of “personal life media,” and taught them how to podcast. Using a “MadLibs production format” as Bratton called it, she rattled off a “how to” list that was obvious she has said many times before. Bratton explained her production formula for a great Personal Life Media podcast.
- Introduce yourself, the show, and your guest
- Explain who your guest is and why they were invited to be on the show.
- Go over the top things you’re going to cover.
- Play the show intro with music bed.
- After the show is edited, put highlights of that show immediately after the intro with music, so the audience knows what they’re going to hear.
- Once again tell the audience what you’re going to talk about so they know what you’re going to deliver.
- Do the show.
- Have a break.
- Wrap it up and say thanks.
“I do that exact same format every single week so my listeners know what I’m going to deliver for them,” said Bratton, “I think that consistency of always delivering in exactly the same format gives the listeners the comfort that you’re there for them.”
If you’re not of interest to other thought leaders, then you can’t be a thought leader yourself
Those are just the mechanics of producing a show. To deliver great content you have to keep the individual listener in mind. Its best to think of a real person you know that would be the ideal audience for your podcast. For Bratton’s DishyMix show which is filled often with social media thought leaders, she speaks to Andy Sernovitz, author of “The Word of Mouth Marketing” book, and a leader in conversational media. Andy becomes the representative audience member that she thinks about when she does her show. It’s something she didn’t believe Andy knew…until now.
The reason she picks a person like Sernovitz is because he’s a though leader in the same space for which she’s interviewing others. As she’s preparing and interviewing a guest, she always thinks about Andy. Would Andy find this interesting? Is this the kind of information that would help Andy’s business? “It just gives me someone to talk to and think about so that my thoughts are collected at a pretty senior level when I’m doing my show which is my intent,” said Bratton.
Building an online media network allows you to take advantage of “the network effect.” Remember that? It’s also called social media.
Podcasting for Bratton is “The Global Microphone.” For Personal Life Media, “[It's] an ability to connect with an audience on a weekly basis and take them through a process of self empowerment in any given category. Whether it was your relationship or your weight or your body image or whatever it might be,” said Bratton.
Each host has their audio show, their blog, and their community. And they make money through advertising and given the similar nature of their media, sponsors will typically sponsor a minimum of five up to all of the shows across Personal Life Media. No one show makes or breaks the network, but each one helps each other grow because they actually like each other, enjoy being part of the Personal Life Media community, and cross-promote each other’s programming. As a result, in just a little over a year, Personal Life Media’s entire 25 program network has between 400,000 – 500,000 listeners, with each show having a listenership somewhere between 2,000 to 80,000, said Bratton.
Bratton understands how important it is to hold on to those listeners and nurture those relationships. That’s why the hosts of the shows also have blogs and contact information so they can engage with their listeners. Bratton is in the process of building out a community site for Personal Life Media and they just began offering a widget from Gigya that allows listeners who have blogs or profile pages on social networks to put the audio playing widget on their site so that they and their visitors can listen to the show in their own online space.
Susan Bratton isn’t scared of David Spark
I’m thrilled that Susan Bratton introduced herself to me for the Be the Voice podcast. She found my content online, realized that she would be an appropriate interview, and offered herself as a potential interview including a bio to show that she is in fact a leading voice for her market. I was so impressed by her approach and then I realized during our interview, this was far from the first time she’s introduced herself as being perfect for the job. In fact, that’s how she became a member of the board at Ad:tech.
Attending the Ad:tech conference back in 1996, Bratton was enthralled. She walked up to the founder and said, “I love this and I have ten ideas for you.” His response was, “You’re going to be on my board.” Since that first meeting Bratton’s programmed many worldwide events for Ad:tech and is still chair emeritus today.
How to deal with the ad agency question of “How many people am I going to reach and how much is it going to cost me?”
Given Bratton’s background in advertising, I asked her a question that always made pitching to ad agencies difficult for me. Ad agencies boil down everything to “How many people am I going to reach and how much is it going to cost me?” Because that’s how they buy media, in known quantities. When you’re dealing with an organization that knows its audience and its size, like a TV network or magazine, then you can answer that question. But the realm of social media doesn’t allow you to answer that question.
Bratton split her answer into two parts, first discussing user generated content where you don’t have control of the audience’s take on your brand, yet you still need to keep an ear to what people are saying. She recommended Andy Beal’s book, Radically Transparent and Pete Blackshaw’s book, Satisfied Customers Tell Three Friends, Angry Customers Tell 3,000 for an understanding of how to get a handle around your online reputation.
The second part, as Bratton sees it, is social media, which is not about how the public is going to trash your brand, but rather “What more can I do to play with my customers, to listen to my customers, to give them some experiences with my brand rather than buying media and looking at impression measurements,” explained Bratton. There’s so much more engagement that can happen as people take your content and forward it or discuss it with their friends. “You might have to widen the aperture of your lens on how you measure impressions, [but] impressions can still be very aptly measured in the social media space,” Bratton said.
Honey, I want you and I to go to the next level. I want us to begin a campaign
Bratton agreed with me that the term “campaign” is dying as a term to associate with social media. Because social media is about relationships, and you can’t put the kind of effort you put into a campaign (which is a lot) into a relationship with your audience. It’s too costly and too exhausting. Social media tools like Facebook and Flickr allow you to create ongoing and sustainable relationships. Something a traditional ad campaign simply can’t do.
The initial cost of a social media engagement doesn’t end with the creative push. You have to be prepared with staff and funds to manage the feedback. Because while you may predict everyone’s going to love what you put out there, people are still going to have questions and criticisms of what you’re doing. Think about what your end goal is and make sure you’re “leaving room in your budget to have the time and the energy to really work it all the way through to customer satisfaction with any program you do in the social media realm,” advised Bratton.
The problem that Bratton is still having with social media is how she scales while she manages individual relationships. It’s a problem she continues to face when she sends out a well intended message to two hundred and fifty hand picked friends from a database of 8,000, and still gets messages back telling her to “take me off this list.”
The other issue she’s having is trying to find the right balance of communications with bloggers who are “being really prickly right now,” said Bratton. It’s a response I’ve heard before, of which I remarked, bloggers come in all shapes, sizes, and levels of ethics. Many don’t have to adhere to an editorial mandate from someone else, and most don’t get paid for what they do, so often they feel they can do what they want to do.
Getting started the Susan Bratton way
Like her steps for producing a great podcast, Bratton advises wanna be online voices to begin developing in the following way:
STEP 1: “You have to understand what you represent to someone else,” explained Bratton, “Why they want you and why they care about you. They don’t actually care about you. They only care about themselves. What are you going to give them?”
STEP 2: With every blog post, podcast, or video, show that you can deliver on that objective.
STEP 3: There’s never such a thing as an overnight success. You have to keep plugging at it and build your audience. Realizing this, Bratton delivers consistently on the production of her shows.
STEP 4: Don’t try to do too much. Meaning, don’t try to do a podcast, Facebook, Twitter, blog, videos, etc. all at once. Pick one to start with and be really good at it.