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Just Friggin' Peachy
Just Friggin' Peachy

business, digital strategy, & life in the #atl

My Life In Association Communications

When I joined Kellen, the leading management and communications company for industry trade groups, I knew my job wasn’t going to be a walk in the park. Working with trade groups (aka associations) is lot like herding cats. Well…it’s kind of like herding cats, if the cats had the added disincentive to cooperate of anti-regulatory scrutiny.

Associations, by their very nature, are meant to appeal to the consensus. The association doesn’t take action until a majority of the members finds it in their best interests to cooperate. This makes movement on anything from issue advocacy to picking the font for their logo painfully slow. For someone used to working “at the speed of digital” this can be…let’s just say slightly frustrating.

The fact of the matter, though is when an association takes action it has the potential to move an entire industry. Once you do get a consensus, all of the members – more or less – have a vested interest in supporting the decision. Having the backing of not just one but sometimes dozens of Fortune 500 corporations helps a great deal in executing an industry-level agenda.

Working for Kellen also has the benefit of sticking me in the middle of some of the most talented communications professionals on the planet. I’m not joking!

These guys are like the Army Rangers of public relations. They don’t just deal with one issue or one company, they have to speak and advocate for an entire industry. Achieving and articulating that kind of consensus and while facing down a highly organized issue-opposition takes mad skills, not to mention patience and confidence.

Sure, Kellen works with more than just associations. In fact, our communications team has quite a few “individual” clients. These clients are less complicated and usually move at a pace akin to a “normal” agency environment. READ: “OMG…I need it now!!!”

Ultimately, a lot of the work we do is thankless outside the rarefied air of the representatives of the companies we work with. When we win, it reflects on our members rather than our firm. You almost never hear of Kellen in the news.

For agency veterans this can sound like a dreary existence. I assure you, though the work never lacks a challenge. What’s more, there’s an element of accountability that Kellen’s work has to have on behalf of its clients. For me, whenever you talk about measurement or tracking, I am all about that!

Associations aren’t the most exiting clients. The work is intense and it’s largely a behind-the-scenes job. The fact of the matter, thought is that not everyone can do it. It takes skill, mastery of industry-level dynamics, and a lot of patience.

However, when you’re effective, there is no better feeling in the world than knowing you didn’t just impact one business but multiple businesses. That’s why I do it and that’s why I’m proud to work at Kellen.

Blatant Sales Pitch

Just so you know, Kellen does work with non-Association clients. In fact, most of them value our industry-level focus. If you’re interested in learning more, feel free to reach out to me.

The Flaw In Gallup’s Survey On Social Media Impact On Purchase Decisions

In the research equivalent to asking “did you eat the cookie?” Gallup makes a tenuous connection to real social media outcomes. The WSJ is happy to play along.

Why is it that businesses are still actively trying to disprove social media as a channel to reach consumers?

That’s the question I had to ask myself as I perused my digital copy of The Wall Street Journal, this morning.  Gallup, a noted consumer research firm, is releasing a survey today that says it speaks to the “real” impact of social media on consumer behavior.

Normally I am very enthusiastic about any hard data on consumer behavior – social media impacted or otherwise. There’s only one problem with this data: it’s self reported. In case you’re not a stat geek, self-reporting is the research equivalent of asking a little kid with chocolate smeared all over their face if they ate the cookie.

The gist of the research is that Gallup showed that consumer buying behaviors aren’t impacted by whether or not they follow or like particular brands.  The WSJ article then goes on to detail several major brands including Ritz-Carlton and how they are abandoning what was thought of as traditional social media marketing strategies.

In fairness, the Gallup survey is actually pretty solid. It doesn’t purport to represent heuristic research methods nor does it say that social media is a waste of money.  The WSJ does that job all on its own.

Here’s where my beef is: the headline of the WSJ article is Social Media Fail to Live Up to Early Marketing Hype. A closer examination of the article yields that someone originally titled the article by its sub-head: Companies Refine Strategies to Stress Quality Over Quantity of Fans. How do I know this? Check out the URL…http://online.wsj.com/articles/companies-alter-social-media-strategies-1403499658.

What this discrepancy tells me is that an editor found more utility in trying to convince readers that social media is “failing” than the real story which is that your customers don’t care about the number of fans you have. (Side note…we needed a national, census-adjusted survey to tell us this?)

The WSJ is not dumb. The editors know what they are doing and they know what their readers want. In this case, they know their readers are inherently skeptical of social media so they give them what they want in order to lure them into reading the article. This kind of bait and switch is all well-and-good but it actually obscures the actual story, which is quality over quantity.

Like I said, I’m all for research. However, we shouldn’t confuse self-reporting with actual impact on consumer behavior, which has been documented copiously in peer-reviewed journals.

The Importance Of Measuring Content Quality

At first, it might seem like content quality is subjective and not really quantitatively measurable. The fact is, though that content quality is quantitatively measurable and has a HUGE impact your success, online.

Before discuss what exactly those measures are are, let’s talk about exactly why they are important:

1. Content Quality Scores Both Measure AND Impact The Traffic To Your Page

Think of this as a “catch 22” that you can actually impact. Content Quality Scores measure how relevant your content is based on the interest and validation of your online audience.  Content Quality Scores are also used by search engines to determine what content gets what traffic with better quality content receiving the lion’s share of the search traffic.

2. Content Quality Scores Also Impact How Much You Spend On Paid Search

Robert Stephens, founder of Geek Squad once said “advertising is the tax you pay for being unremarkable.”  I’ll add onto that statement by saying the more unremarkable you are (e.g. the poorer your content quality) the more expensive your advertising will be. Sure, you can throw money at anything and make it work but because Google uses Content Quality Scores to determine search ad pricing, it might take 3 to 10 times more money to push the same volume of traffic to a page or site with poor Content Quality Scores vs. a site with high quality scores.

Now, we can talk about the scores themselves…

Domain & Page Authority

This is a score I use commonly in digital public relations because it gives me a measure, site to site or page to page, of what users think is useful.  If a user thinks a site or page will be useful, they link to it, share it or cite it in their own work.  Domain & Page Authority aggregate all of those factors into a single score of 1 to 100.  The important thing to note is that there is no single “great” number when you’re talking about authority measures.  They are a site-to-site, page-to-page, or even a measure of the same site/page over time.  Here’s an example:

A Domain Authority score of 40 might pale in comparison to a site like Wikipedia, which has a domain authority of 87. However, if your primary competitor is coming up with a Domain Authority score of 30, that means users are finding your content more useful and thus with more authority than your competitor’s site.

Quality Score

If this measure sounds rather generic its because it is.  Every search engine, comparison tool, and ad network has its own way of measuring quality. Though there are many, many sites that offer content quality scores but my favorite is the one provided by Raven. Raven tools aggregates several different data sources including Moz, WordStream, AdWords, MajesticSEO and CALAIS as well as meta-data from the site itself. By using multiple data scores, I’m able to get a pretty darn good idea of trustworthiness and a user-based measures of content quality.

Both of these scores will come up in conversation when I talk to my clients about how well the content on their site or page is doing.  My advice is to find a quality score you like and pull the current scores of your client’s web sits so you can proactively discuss how you can improve their content quality.

Of course, this is to be combined with ensuring that you eliminate technical barriers to search visibility but that’s for another time.

How To Make Social Media Conferences Not Suck

You can call me an occupational elitist, an intellectual snob or even just a plain old hatter but the fact is that today’s social media conferences are a waste of time, money and talent. Not only is the programming for these events woefully uninspired, the ones I have recently attended actually seem to make the problems of lack of innovation and accountability in social media worse.

As an example, let’s take last week’s Digital Summit here in Atlanta. The concept itself is fantastic; put on a nationally-relevant social media conference in a city that is fast becoming a hotbed for start-ups and corporate innovation. The only problem with that plan is that, of the speakers that actually showed up, most seemed to be more interested in patting themselves on the back than discussing the nuances of execution.

At one point, I even tried to follow-up with one of the speakers about the details of a “case study” they presented. I was curious about what he had done differently in his campaigns and began to try to discuss the particulars with him.  It turns out that he hadn’t actually achieved any results, yet. He said the chart was more “illustrating a theory” and that he didn’t deal with actual execution.

This pattern repeated over and over again throughout the two-day conference. Representatives of major social media sites or agencies would get up on stage, talk about their company and then tell grandiose but detail-absent stories about their “amazingly successful” campaigns.

I’m trying really hard not to hate here. I’ve been to plenty of great conferences where this isn’t the case but the fact is that it’s easy to present a case study about a popular brand backed by campaign funded by a truckload of money.  What about the challenges you faced getting there, though? What were the client objections you had to overcome? How did you track your results to an actual impact on their business?

Speakers at social media conferences aren’t going to talk about these things because that’s not what these conferences are set up to do. Instead of discussing how to make things better and setting up an event where social media professionals can help each other, these conferences have become exercises in vanity. In fact, many conferences like Digital Summit spend more time on sponsorships and stage decorations than they do vetting and arranging programming.

It’s ironic that social media conferences have turned into the exact thing social media hates most: tightly controlled, highly polished environments where speakers talk at, rather than with participants.  

Social media evolves so quickly. Time and financial resources for professional development is so scarce. Why wouldn’t we focus on setting up open exchanges of information?

To me, there are three very simple things conferences like Digital Summit can do to, for lack of a better term, not suck…

1. Encourage Presenters To Be Human

Instead of telling us how great you are, tell us what challenges you overcame that made your campaign great. If you don’t have a story to tell about innovation or dealing with the tough realities of client/brand relations then find another venue.

2. Fewer Lectures, More Interaction

One of the things I love about the un-conference model is that it encourages the attendees to participate, present and give active feedback in the sessions. Sure, I love listening to big, keynote speakers talk about what’s next in the industry but that should be desert, not the main course.

3. Create Separate Tracks For Paid Sponsors

I understand that sponsors play an important role in putting on events and there’s definitely value to their presentations. However, just like we do with sponsored content in social media, let’s call these sessions what they actually are: promotional content aimed at customer acquisition. After all, if you’re asking attendees to pay for the privilege of being sold to, at least do them the favor of being transparent about it.

When social media was first attracting real professionals, attending a conference was the most exciting thing you could do.  Not only were there great ideas and presentations, but there was a camaraderie among the attendees.  Even sponsors were humble enough to send their best teams to learn something new.

Maybe, just maybe if we talk about the realities, difficulties and aspirations of using social media to change minds and engage customers, we can rekindle some of that excitement. Until then, I am going to be very reticent to lay out any more of my money, or my company’s money on conferences that are more self-serving than anything else.

New Marketing Rule: Fight The Urge To Push The Button

Oftentimes, when marketers fail it’s not because of they got the message wrong. It’s because they were too damn lazy to do it right.

Take Sponsored Posts, for instance. Facebook has made them powerful, affordable and so, SO easy.  All you do is click that little “BOOST” button on the bottom right hand corner.  It’s just so tempting, isn’t it?! BOOST your post and all your organic reach problems will go away. BOOST and you never have to say “you’re sorry” in a KPI report.

Sure, there are reasons that Sponsored Posts work but here, elegantly in a single photo, Tom Fishburne illustrates why that kind of thinking is folly:


Tom has a little lighter touch than I do but then again, I’ve met these types of marketers in real life and its astounding to hear them talk about what they think works with audiences. The fact is that the above illustration demonstrates a critical gap in what marketers want to accomplish and how much energy and thought they are really willing to put in, in order to make that happen.

For instance, what if that Subway post accompanied a sponsored partnership with a weight loss message board.  Yeah, remember message boards? They were social media before media was social.  They still exist and tend to have some of the most on-point opportunities for marketers to engage with target audiences.  The problem is that its nearly impossible to engage as easily in message boards as it is on Facebook.

This is where footwork comes in.  If marketers think about where the conversations occur  and exactly what they can do to bring value to the conversation, they would realize that they can’t just phone it in when it comes to consumer engagement. Producing content, engaging with gatekeepers, crafting sponsorship opportunities in unconventional medium are all examples of things that are a major pain in the a$$.  The thing is that it works!

Time and again, I’ve seen the investment in knowing, understanding and crafting approaches specifically for your audience.  Yes, it takes more time, sometimes more money and definitely more brain power than throwing sponsored messaging at a wall and seeing if it sticks. You know what? So does anything worth having.

So I say to my fellow marketers its time to stop being so lazy. Put the time and effort in and see how that works out for you.

PS: Yes, that BOOST rant was also so I could feature the Ren & Stimpy reference. You’re welcome.

Two Perennial Truths About Online Influencers

Working with public relations professionals, I’m frequently asked about pitching online influencers and how that differs from traditional journalists.

Though my advice has evolved over the years based on the continual evolution of the blogosphere, there are some things that remain the same. In fact, there are two truths I come back to again and again that any online professional should know:

1. Not All Online Influencers Are Bloggers (And Not All Bloggers Are Online Influencers)

Particularly when dealing with issues rather than products, influencers can and should be defined as anyone that can sway the opinions of others.  When it comes to the online space, there are plenty of examples of influencers in non-blogging platforms like Twitter, Message Boards and even on Social Bookmarking sites.  The ways you can approach these influencers are VERY different than the way you would approach a journalist.

2. Not Every Online Influencer Wants To Get Paid

If you’ve been in the online PR space for any length of time you have heard tales of Mommy Bloggers and how much they command in terms of payment for their cooperation.  Though there are plenty of examples that prove this stereotype valid, there are plenty of other online influencers that don’t do what they do for money.

In most cases, they exist because of a higher cause which is GREAT news for certain clients.  As long as we can understand what motivates them and then create adequate content and pitches that speak to their needs, they are not only cost effective but also very much a valuable part of your public relations offense.

Perhaps these truths are more self-evident than they may seem.  Honestly though, if you’re a PR professional, these are two things you probably want to keep in mind, if only to remind you of going back to the basics.

Photo Courtesy of Flickr User Elvert Barnes

Why Search & Social Are Now (Pretty Much) The Same Thing

I’ve never been one of those guys that drank the “SEO Kool-Aid.”  To me, technical tweaks and keyword-loading were always, and continue to be, an excuse for crappy content.

Thanks to recent patents filed by Google regarding their search criteria/algorithms, the rest of digital humanity is slowly catching on. For a not-so-brief explanation of what I mean, Moz.com has done a brilliant job covering the news and detailing what these patents mean to digital marketers.

Since Moz does a lot better job explaining the technical implication of the patents, I’ll stick to what I do best – connect the dots to businesses’ bottom line.

What this means for business is that your website strategy and your social engagement strategy are now, pretty much, the same thing.

Even casual mentions of your brand without direct links are now being considered in the criteria of where your website comes up in search rankings.  Given the fact that 95% of all traffic on the web is driven by the top page of search, this is a big friggin’ deal.

Not only does your content have to compel consumption the websites with the most traffic are now going to be the ones that can compel the most conversation, as well. Even for B2B brands, the B2B brands that can get people talking are the ones that will get the traffic, not to mention the sales.

From a measurement perspective, this news underscores the importance of keeping tabs on how many mentions your brand has, online and finding ways to increase that total volume.

Sure, you can play around with Google Alerts but trust me when I tell you that you need detailed data to this effect. Personally, I swear by Netbase even though you really do need to know a little bit about brand research in order to make the most out of it.

I have no doubt that we’ll see more of this type of news in the future.  The implications however, will remain the same – don’t settle for temporary fixes, just create better content.  This advice appears to be relatively simple but, like I said, there are a ton of lazy-ass marketers out there that still love their SEO Kool-Aid.

To them I say “keep doing what you’re doing ’cause you keep me looking great!”

How I Learned To Give Up & Take MARTA

I will admit that as a native Atlantan, I have grown up with the kind of mass hysteria we’ve seen in the last 18 hours. However, enough is enough. As of 5:12 PM on Tuesday I was struck by a bolt of reason that has, now and forever, changed my view of Atlanta and the snow.

First, A Little Background

On Tuesday around 1 PM the snow was just beginning to fall and I headed out for a “farewell” lunch for a co-worker.

The roads weren’t that bad, neither was the traffic and so I proceeded to a restaurant right across from Perimeter Mall. I will admit, there is no good reason to be anywhere near Perimeter Mall at any time of the day or night but it was for a co-worker so I capitulated….BIG MISTAKE. If Perimeter Mall traffic is bad at rush hour, think about what happens during inclement weather.


It Was The Best Of Atlantans, It Was The Worst Of Atlantans

In just over 3.5 hours, I traveled approximately .25 Miles from my point of origination. In that time, I saw the best and worst of my fellow Atlantans. In general, people were level-headed but I saw a few motorists on the verge of hoping out of their cars to berate fellow motorists. Not a pretty sight and, I have to say, a little disheartening.


However, I did see some amazing compassion. Namely, people were helping each other in ways you would never expect. I saw one gentleman walking from a gas station to the parking lot that was the side-streets to get gas for a mother with kids in her SUV.  They didn’t know each other but he had a gas can in his car and she needed it help – it was as simple as that.

I even saw one motorist pull up beside a stranded car to offer a jumpstart.  At first, I was thinking they must be crazy – now two lanes were blocked! However, that motorist ended up not only helping out the stranded car but re-opened the lane that had been blocked by that stranded car.


My Moment Of Clarity

Somehow in that excruciating 3.5 hours I managed to make my way to Hammond Drive. Not the worst option to cut across and get to Mount Paran, I figured. It was then, right after I passed the Best Buy/Big Box strip on my left that I realized nothing was moving in any direction…except for MARTA.

Ah yes, MARTA. That transit option most of us make fun of or only use in case of football games and/or the Peachtree Road race. Despite the gridlock MARTA was still running. I looked at that train and suddenly I knew what to do!

After a couple quick couple of turns…some of which were probably illegal…and some nice motorists that let me cut across an intersection I was able to duck into the MARTA parking deck. I parked, grabbed my emergency walking mocks from the trunk and headed up to the train platform.

Not surprisingly, there were dozens of other motorists that had the same idea. When the train came roughly 6 minutes later, we hopped on, sat down and enjoyed the ride! It took 20 minutes to get from the Dunwoody MARTA Station to Midtown Atlanta. When I arrived this is what I saw:

It was a beautiful sight. Once I got back to my house, the total travel time was less than 40 minutes!


Lesson Learned

Though MARTA won’t be my primary mode of transportation, I have to say I am going to use it much more often. In certain weather, there’s just no downside to taking MARTA. Hopefully more people will come around to that idea and MARTA will get the support it needs to become a better system that can become a mainstay in many more Atlantans’ commutes.

Separating Who You Are From What You Do

When the agency I was working for hit rough financial waters and I was laid off, I decided to try a bold new experiment…getting a life.

Don’t get me wrong. Getting laid off with more than a half-dozen of your coworkers during the holidays is not something you build into your five-year plan. In fact, because the holidays are not the easiest time to find a job, I had to resolve myself to the reality that I might have six weeks of free time on my hands.

While searching for a job I wondered what would happen if I gave myself time to explore who I was? For the first time in my adult life would I be able to separate the idea who I am from what I do?

There are dozens of studies that show that we, as a society, are increasingly building our identifies and our sense of self-worth around our jobs. In fact, people who lose their jobs experience depression and identity-related crises at more than twice the rate as those of those still employed.

Finding a sense of self-worth that is more independent from what we do is not just a matter if short-term happiness, it’s a long-term requirement for happiness.

Based on my experience, here are a few potential ideas that proved out their usefulness in helping me find out what really mattered to me (click on any photo to start slide show):

In retrospect though being laid off wasn’t the best thing that ever happened to me it also wasn’t the worst. With nothing better to do, I had to take life day-by-day. Through putting things in perspective, I rediscovered the things that mean the most to me.

Ultimately, my period of unemployment only lasted two weeks. My new job offered me the chance to start right away and I had to think seriously about taking them up on it. However, I opted to give myself more time in the experiment and the results are pretty self-evident in the photos.

Though I am ready to get back work, I am doing so more mindful of what it is that means the most to me in life. By trying to separate who I am from what I do, not only I am going back to work happier but I am going back to work with more appreciation for my life as a whole.

If you find yourself laid off or with some time on your hands, I can’t recommend highly enough conducting your own experiment. Treat yourself like you would your job and invest in your own happiness. It’s worth every second.

Digital Tacticians & The Rise Of True Digital Strategy

Lately, I’ve come to find that many digital professionals fundamentally misunderstand the term “strategy” and what it means in crafting digital outreach. In particular, many of today’s “digital strategists” are actually digital tacticians.

Don’t get me wrong; tacticians are great.  If digital media is ever going to cement its place at the table with other marketing channels however, we have to understand why there’s a difference and why it matters.

What Strategy Is

To be clear, technical details like how you construct a digital asset and how the user interface should function falls into the bucket of tactics, not strategy. This is not my personal definition. This is the definition used by hundreds of thousands of businesses, worldwide and verified through careful study by business researchers such as Michael Porter:


The difference is that strategy moves businesses forward and makes smarter use of investments. For instance, digital strategy in its purest form takes into account market research, consumer behavior, business intelligence and financial foresight.

Unfortunately, this definition is often glossed over. I’m not sure if this oversight is due to the early nature of the medium or if so many self-titled “strategists” just do not know any better. Regardless, the fallacy of using digital tactics as digital strategy must be felled if companies are ever to truly harness the power of the digital medium.

Strategy’s Impact On Business Results

The rationale behind this distinction is simple. Tactics might, at best be able to generate additional returns that register in the single digits. When you’re dealing with multi-million dollar ad buys, of course every percentage counts. However, what most digital marketers deal with is niche audiences numbering in the hundreds of thousands. At that level, single digit gains are really nothing, particularly when you’re talking about moving awareness and engagement metrics enough to impact purchase decisions.

This is where strategy eats and breathes…instead of just asking “how?” strategy asks “why?” Why does a consumer want to spend their time and give you their attention? Why is what you’re doing actually going to shift their perception one way or another? Is what you’re doing positioned such that is draws a clear distinction between what you are doing and what your competition is doing?

The Danger In Mixing Up Strategy & Tactics

Most digital tacticians don’t know how to answer these questions not because they don’t care but because their focus is more technically oriented. Again, that’s not a bad thing! However, when a corporate manager asks for a recommendation on digital strategic direction, they are expecting more than a user flow.

When they don’t see the thought process brought to them in financial, product or marketing strategy they tend to write off digital as creative fluff. This is a major liability for a discipline that is trying to gain additional share of investment vs. other areas of a business.

The distinction between digital strategies and digital tactics is more than semantics. It’s about elevating digital execution to the point that it is as valuable and as thoughtful as any other part of the business. To claim tactics as strategy not only short-changes the client, it places digital outreach at a severe disadvantage vs. more mature marketing medium.

My advice to digital tacticians is simple. Be be proud of what you do but don’t confuse the process of ironing out technical details with true strategy.

Atlanta From The Sky

Every once in a while you get an idea for a gift that just blows away anything else you could have thought of. I had just such a moment for my grandmother’s 80th birthday.

Now, you have to understand three of things about my grandmother.  First, she’s a very spry 80-year old.  In fact, her idea of a good time is hopping around the Galapagos Islands or in the jump seat of a Russian MIG in a mock dog fight.  Second, she’s 2nd generation native Atlantan and she’s not shy about telling you, either.  She knows Atlanta and its history about as well as any other native you will meet.  Finally, she’s a cancer survivor.

As you can imagine, the stakes for a great gift that will mean as much as I wanted it to mean were high. After some googling, I figured it out…show her Atlanta in a way she’s never seen it before – by air!

The results were incredible! I booked with Prestige Helicopters (through Xperience Days) and the 40 minute flight with our pilot, Scott was nothing less than incredible.

I’ve laid out a video, below, and some of the best of the shots from the tour are in the gallery viewer at the top of this post:

For anyone looking for a similar experience, I highly recommend the tour and Prestige, in particular. For more details on the tour and our experience, I am glad to connect.  Just contact me through my web site.

The Power Of “Alpha Ideas” In Digital Marketing

Alexander Hamilton once said that if you don’t stand for something you will fall for anything. I have found that this truth has new meaning in, of all places, digital marketing.

Particularly with the continual evolution of contextual search such as Siri, Wolfram Alpha and Goggle’s Hummingbird – the question of what you stand for becomes more and more important. What you stand for eventually becomes something I like to call your “alpha idea” and it becomes central to how and why customers know your brand.

Take, for instance, my experience with Penguin Brand® Dry Ice. Of all of the products I’ve worked with, dry ice wasn’t exactly the one that engendered the most passion or, for that matter, consumer interest. In creating a digital strategy for the brand however, I found an amazing potential for not just engagement but actual sales by hooking everything in the campaign into a single, central idea.

The alpha idea for Penguin started by answering the question; “what do people want to know about dry ice?” Sure, there were plenty of questions about just how safe dry ice is and how long it lasts but one of the most frequent questions I found through online conversation was “where do I buy dry ice?”

At the time, there were a couple of sites that listed potential dry ice retailers but none of them was designed for consumers. Furthermore, none of them tried to form a relationship with the consumer once they had their question asked and answered.

Enter the alpha idea…Dry Ice Ideas, in particular. Dry Ice Ideas was a basic WordPress blog with weekly tips on how to use dry ice in new and interesting ways. It also answered the frequently asked questions like “how long does dry ice last?” and “how do I pack dry ice for shipping?”

Most importantly, we a took an off-the-shelf store location application, paid the developer to make some custom tweaks and turned it into the most powerful dry ice retail locator on the web. Now, when you ask the question “where do I buy dry ice?” on Twitter, on Google, or in message boards you will almost always bump into this site. This is the power of an alpha idea; it transcends platform and channel to be where the consumer needs it, when they need it.

The site was not sophisticated and, in fact, it’s been a few years since I’ve worked with the brand so don’t take any credit for the current state of the site. However, by building the entire digital footprint around a single, powerful idea…by making sure to clearly and descriptively answer a single important question…we established Penguin Brand® Dry Ice as a brand that stood for something.

Marketers need to learn that it’s not about being everything to everybody.

Success is about answering a very specific question so you become hyper-relevant to the right people at the right time. If you don’t become someone’s favorite digital brand, so what? If you can be there for the moment of purchase, the moment that the consumer actually needs you, they will repay you in spades.

Alexander Hamilton understood the power of alpha ideas. He knew that if they didn’t wrap his rallying cry around a single, understandable idea, no one would ever be influenced by his words. His alpha idea helped spark a revolution and so too can they with your brand, if you dive deep enough into what your customers want.

Making Agency Pitching More Effective With Kaizen Principles

There wasn’t a ton of creativity when Toyota coined its now famous system for ensuring quality and efficiency.  Case in point – they named it the Toyota Production Method (TPM).

Behind TPM was a principle called Kaizen, literally translated to GOOD CHANGE. Kaizen has been able to do a lot for industrial production.  It helps cut down errors and increase output exponentially.  It has been widely adopted across organizations from Sony to Amazon but the question is what could it do for the service industry in general and the agency world, specifically?

Certainly, in the agency world, process tends to run contrary to the free-flowing spirit of creativity. However, with the increased pressure to show return on investment for marketing spend, perhaps it’s time to see how Kaizen principles can apply?

Being a geek like that, here are two Kaizen principles in particular that I think could easily be rolled out in the agency world:

1) Simplify Pitches Into Two Categories

Agencies tend to thrive on mess in the pitching process.  It’s the continual input of creative inspiration that sometimes spawns the greatest innovation. However, all this mess tends to not only mire an agency in disorganization, it distracts from a central vision for the work product and the pitch. While digital files are easy to organize, experiential learning and feedback is not.

For instance, when an ideas is pitched and rejected agencies tend to discard it or file it away. Very infrequently is there a post-mortem on the creative process.  No one stops to ask why an idea failed to win client approval. Was it the idea itself or was it the way it was pitched? Is there sometime fundamentally wrong in the pitch process that can be identified and corrected to ultimately increase close rates and revenue?

Instead of organizing by client, often the preferred file structure, why not reduce the total number of folders you have to deal with? In fact, you really only need two categories of ideas – pitches that worked and pitches that didn’t.

2) Dive Deep Into The Layers Of “Why?” The Pitch Didn’t Work

This brings me to my second principle.  Now that you have two categories, what the hell do you do with them?

Well, how about going through them and asking why they are in one folder and not the other? In fact, Kaizen talks about asking the question “why?” five times.  It helps to determine the root cause of an issue beyond “it just didn’t work.”

For instance, take this process…a pitch was just turned down?

  1. Q: Why was the pitch turned down? A: Because the client didn’t like it.
  2. Q: Why didn’t the client like it? A: They thought it was too expensive.
  3. Q: Why did the client think the pitch was too expensive? A: They didn’t see how it connected to sales.
  4. Q: Why didn’t the client see how the pitch was connected to sales? A: It wasn’t in the pitch document.
  5. Q: Why wasn’t sales referenced in the pitch document? A: We don’t have data to support it.

Granted this is a simple example but the logical change is apparent – get the data or suggest the data to support a connection to sales.

Many times, agencies fail because they think they can only learn from what they did right. On the contrary, failure is a rich, rich library of insight. Agencies should be mining failed ideas as if they were gold.  Instead of just trying to “churn and burn” why not reduce costs, get smart and examine failures as much as successes?

The answer is pretty easy – agencies like what agencies like.  Kaizen principles are an outside production concept that tends to run contrary to the usually insular world of the agency mindset.  This isn’t a critique, per se. It’s stating a fact that navel-gazing is a favorite pastime of agency leadership.

Maybe if this ever changes the agency world could shed its stereotype of being aloof, averse to intelligence and unable to articulate its own return on investment.

Living La Vespa Vita!

Though I usually like client results to speak for themselves, I am exceedingly proud to share the news that one of my projects for Vespa USA has won a 2013 Communicator Award for Marketing Effectiveness.

The reason I am particularly proud of this project is because we conducted research into the customer base, unearthed a set of deep-rooted insights and built an activation that, in the words of Mashable, helped “channel that natural enthusiasm” for the brand into a powerhouse digital activation.

Congrats to Vespa (of course!), my former colleagues at Brandware Public Relations who worked with me on this and Invoke Media out of Canada who brought the concept to life, online!


If you haven’t already seen it….check out La Vespa Vita! at http://lavespavita.com/.

Great Content = Ordinary Products That Do Great Things

These days content and social media managers are a dime a dozen. The challenge is finding one that can not only do the job but bring a unique perspective that helps elevate the content from ordinary to extraordinary.

I’ll give you an example…the following is what I consider a fairly bland, ordinary, check-the-box Facebook update: {PRODUCT} is special. Learn more here about {FEATURE}: {LINK}

Sure, it communicates what the client wants it to communicate but does it really engage with the client/customer? Not really.

Great content, when it comes down to it, is a function of one thing: not just talking about a great product, but a product that does great things.

Take, for instance, my former client Porsche.

Screen Shot 2013-05-21 at 6.25.36 AM

The product is so sexy, such an amazing machine that the team essentially could just post photos all day with no text and beat out most other pages in engagement. As it stands, though, they have a great social team and I had to hunt long and hard to find a post that even resembled a basic one like that.

Your product might not be as sophisticated or as aspirational as a Porsche but damn, what if you thought it performed just as well? What if you talked about what the product could do rather than just its features?

Let’s take an appliance brand, shall we? There’s nothing blander than selling blenders, right? Well, apparently Frigidare proves us wrong:

Screen Shot 2013-05-21 at 6.30.13 AM

What did they do? They talked about the results, not the product itself. Getting the customer to imagine their life with a product or service has always been a staple of great salesman.

What we have to do, as content marketers, is pull our heads out of our asses and think about the great things our products can do. Sure, the examples I gave were quite basic Facebook posts but you can extrapolate that same concept to almost anything.

White Papers, Presentations, Tweets – they can all start down the road to amazing results by asking how does the product do great things.

Next time you’re asked to hire a community manager or even write content yourself ask what great things your product can do and then see what content comes of it.  I’ll guarantee you its going to be better than you think.

Try it and tell me how it goes.

What’s The Best Way To “Get Smart” About Paid Digital Media?

Paid media has always been a little bit of a puzzle to me.  Maybe it’s because I started out in one-to-one sales?

The idea of paying to get in front of a lead defeated the purpose of hiring a sales or marketing team. Then again, that’s when my audience ranged from a couple dozen to a couple thousand distinct, recognizable targets.

Flash forward a few years and when you play in an arena with millions of potential targets, all scattered about across thousands of potential touch-points and I think I’m starting to understand. In fact, after a year or two of playing B2B social media “whack-a-mole” with a couple clients with tiny budgets – I’m ready to branch out and see what Paid Media has in store.

I’ve already started exploring eConsultancy, MarketingProfs and reading the paid media news of TechCrunch and Mashable but would love to know – what are your favorite  resources to “Get Smart” about paid digital media?


The Battle Over The Accuracy Of Social Media-Based Consumer Insights Research

In grad school, my marketing research professor used to say “n=1” as her is very geeky way of qualifying her opinion. Professor Escales’ quant humor not withstanding, I guess I will caveat this blog with “n=1” but you’ll find my argument reinforced which quite a few “n’s” so take from it what you will.

Late last night Gareth Price, a UK-based social media researcher, basically used Pew’s latest social media demographics study to debunk the use of social media as a consumer research tool. Though I get what Gareth is saying and agree that you can’t use social media to answer a question that hasn’t been asked, and that social media is still very much a convenience sample – I fundamentally disagree that its not a valid research tool, particularly for brands.

First off, you need to know that I conduct research via social media for brands for a living.  Not that this makes me any more or less of an expert but I have seen the use of this type of research before. I’ll also say that Gareth’s focus on Twitter is important because, in my estimation, anywhere from 40 to 75 percent of any topic conversation is based on Twitter, arguably more than any other platform.

The key thing I believe Gareth left out was the fact that social media users, and Twitter users in particular, tend to skew heavily towards users that are more influential offline. Said another way, social media may be a convenience sample but its one that is remarkably powerful in identifying the tip of a much larger consumer insights iceberg.

Sure, Twitter demographics alone speak to the fact it is not a representative sample of the populous:


In fact, Gareth is never more right in his implication that Twitter reaction to large public events should not  be considered scientific – the 2012 election proved that.  However, Twitter has proven to be surprisingly accurate as a tool to predict stock-market fluctuations and outbreaks of the flu.

More importantly for brands, social media users are a proven barometer of potential purchase intent.  This means that despite its flaws, Twitter can and should be a goldmine for helping to pinpoint not only valuable and powerful consumer insights but as a self-selected representation of those who might indeed be most likely to both purchase your product and to tell others about it.

Gareth, I love your insights but let’s admit that there’s much more that goes on, on Twitter that meets the eye.  Yes, we need more tools and more geeky marketing research applied to the medium to bring it up to the rigor used in most research tools.  However, there are just to many “n’s” out there that speak to the power and impact social media research can have on brands.

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