David Meerman Scott Live!

January 12, 2010

Last week I attended a talk by David Meerman Scott, along with Tim Washer from IBM, at Harvard Business School.  David is the author of The New Rules of Marketing and PR , a book which many (including me) consider one of the bibles of Internet marketing.  He is as good a speaker as he is a writer. The fact that I spotted Benson Shapiro in the audience should serve as a testament of his stature.

The New Rules of Marketing & PR If you haven’t read the book, you should.  In his talk, in addition to some great engaging YouTube examples of successful campaigns, David made presented some great guideposts for Internet Marketing efforts.  Here is my summary of his points:

1:  Nobody cares about your product except you!  Market to buyer personnas.   The days of developing a product and then figuring out how to push it are over.  You need to identify your customer personas, and define your products or services in relation to their needs.

2: No coercion is required.  In today’s environment you need to earn attention.  In the old days you bought it, and perhaps this can still work, if you spend enough, beg the media enough, and chase them one at a time.  The new way is to earn recognition by publishing and engaging.  On the Web “You are what you publish”.

3:  Think of your viral marketing efforts like a venture capitalist.  A VC invests in multiple businesses, with the expectation that some small percentage of them will turn out to be winners.  You need to set the same expectations with your marketing efforts.

4: Hire Journalists for your marketing department!  You need the creativity.  And they aren’t getting jobs at the newspapers anymore.

5:  Put down roots.  Point the way to your virtual doorstep.  Get people’s attention, and then provide a secondary offer to drive the leads home.

6:  Be willing to lose control.  Gain the exposure, and manage fear.  If people learn about your product and buy for a reason other than what you originally designed it for… let it go.  This is good stuff!

David also borrowed my Grateful Dead analogy in his talk, discussing how they built their fan base by encouraging taping and giving away their music.  But I guess I’ve borrowed a lot of ideas from him as well, so that’s ok.

Overall, a great talk. I recommend his book, and certainly recommend seeing him speak if you have the chance.


Prioritizing Between Clicks and Brand-Building

January 3, 2010

There actually was a brief time in the early days of the Web when all you had to do was be there, you could buy a URL like “store.com”, and you would be found.  This made marketing decisions very easy, and resulted in both a great brand and tons of business. Those days are long gone. Unlike Kevin Costner in “Field of Dreams” we’ve all learned that the old adage “if you build it, they will come” just doesn’t work anymore for ecommerce.  In the bricks and mortar world, we can often leverage location, in addition to both offline and online efforts to drive people into our stores.  On the web, location, in the traditional sense doesn’t matter. Location in the search engines and media does, but there are too many search engines and media outlets to know which one counts.  So how do we drive customers and business to the site?

Brand vs. ClicksI like to view marketing and advertising efforts in a continuum between brand building investments and click generation initiatives.  It is interesting how they reinforce each other, but don’t be fooled into thinking that they are the same.   A known brand makes it easier to drive clicks, by providing credibility (or Whuffie!), thus making your lead gen ads much more likely to be clicked on, and conversely, clicks drive brand recognition.  Click generation is the priority for the short term, and should always be your core goal.  Over time though, investment in your brand makes it easier and cheaper to drive clicks.  The good news is that, if you’re just starting out, you can “borrow” a brand, by advertising a known product that you sell on your site, or a celebrity brand endorsement (Tiger Woods—NOT).  This may not get you the sale, since these popular brands will most likely be also promoted by your competitors, but will at least get you the credibility to encourage someone to click on your ads.  From there it’s up to you to convert the visitor to a buyer.

You can spend a fortune experimenting for results. So the challenge becomes, how do you find the time and expertise to effectively run and manage an online campaign to be in the right place at the right time?  What’s the mix between banners, contextual ads, Facebook, social media, paid placement on Google, Yahoo and other search engines, and how do you drive towards that elusive goal of organic optimization.  (And even more so, does your marketing organization understand all these terms?) The good news is that, unlike the offline world, we can measure our efforts, pay for performance, and, if we use our analytics well, maximize our return on our advertising and marketing efforts on the fly.

If you have the expertise, and the time to experiment, you can do this yourself, discovering your own keywords, managing a Google Adsense program, and tracking and optimizing around word choice, time, date, and competitive pressure.  You can also manage your own social network campaign, as long as you have the time to Tweet, Digg, and Blog.  Unfortunately, this effort requires constant attention for cost-effective results. You also need to keep a pulse on the latest trends for your particular audience:  Gen X’ers and older still search on Google, while many Gen Y’s find what they need through Facebook and Youtube.  Unless you can dedicate yourself or a knowledgeable staff to constant optimization, you probably are best off with external help to start.

Help comes in many forms.  You could hire a traditional ad agency.  Most of these firms can manage a web effort. But be careful!  Traditional agencies are modeled around brand building, not lead generation.  They also tend to bill based on time, not results.  Hopefully, you will eventually get to the point of needed their brand building expertise, but I don’t believe that’s the place to start.  The best way to drive traffic is with a firm that focuses strictly on lead generation and SEO optimization.  A firm such as Overdrive Interactive, who provides this service for a fee, is a viable option.  Ideally, you should consider a firm that that has already learned the competitive landscape in your niche, and provides lead generation service on a full pay-for-performance basis.   This may be a double-edge sword, as anyone who is already successful in your market runs the risk of competing with themselves to drive advertising costs up.  But if you can “steal” this service from your competitor, it minimizes your risk, and gives you a partner who is fully committed to the same goals as you:  If they can’t drive business they don’t get paid.  With aligned goals, and focused energy, your risk is minimized, and you are certain of successful growth.

Happy New YearBest wishes to all of my readers for a happy, healthy, and optimized 2010!


How Much Whuffie Do You Have In The Bank?

November 24, 2009

Whuffie is a concept that was developed by Corey Doctorow is his sci-fi book Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom.  Doctorow created a world where the economy has grown beyond cash currency as we know it today.  Instead of money, the currency of his world is Whuffie, a “reputation currency”, similar to what we sometimes call social capital.  You earn Whuffie by being nice, helping people, and adding value by providing access to ideas, talent, and resources. I believe that, in the world of ecommerce, Whuffie drives business.

Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom by Cory DoctorowCharles Andres introduced me to this book in a comment on my blog last week.  The book is available as a free download or free podcast, costing only Whuffie.  You can also buy it in the traditional form from Amazon if you aren’t quite there yet.

Tara Hunt has built a following by developing a guidebook of how Whuffie applies to the world of social media marketing, called the The Whuffie Factor.   Tara breaks down the process of earning Whuffie into 5 basic steps.

  1. Stop talking and start listening to your customers.  (I might add that you must also prove to them that you are listening by providing feedback and adding value to their thoughts).
  2. Become part of the community that you serve.
  3. Create amazing customer experiences
  4. Embrace the Chaos!  Entropy is growing, so you better learn how to ride the chaos wave!
  5. Find your higher purpose.  Figure out how to give to the community and still be profitable.

The more I read about the Whuffie economy, the more I recognize that embodies the raison d’être for web-based marketing for ecommerce success.  Historically, retailers were successful by becoming an integral part of the local economy.  Merchants were known and trusted as part of their neighborhood, and merchandising was done to accent the best features of products for sale.  Whuffie was transparent: We knew the seller, we touched the product, and buying was a great experience.   Alternatively, if none of the above was true, say the store was run by a grumpy sales person that we didn’t trust, the business never survived.

The Grateful Dead foreverFor successful marketing online, the challenge, as we know, is how to scale that hands-on reputation and value beyond the local neighborhood.  The concept of Whuffie embodies this goal. Cory Doctorow gives away access to his books, making profit on his higher purpose of explaining his philosophy in live talks and future book sales.  The Grateful Dead figured this out long ago by listening to the fans’ desire to tape and trade their concerts (an amazing customer experience), thus creating a aura and community that has transcended well past the death of Jerry, selling more tickets and albums along the way, and spawning an entire genre of music (a higher purpose) that rides on the chaos of musical improvisation.

Traditional marketing and advertising can drive great short term results.  Well developed TV and radio, or paid placement ads, can drive short term business, and are valuable to jumpstart awareness of your brand.  But once you gain this awareness, the only sustainable way to keep it is to rapidly move to a Whuffie currency.  You need to think about how to engage that customer, add value, and keep them involved with your product.  In other words, scale with Whuffie.  Thus, the challenge becomes:

  • How do you listen to your customers, and encourage them to listen to you?
  • How do you engage them in a community which serves both you and their purpose?
  • How do you engage them to make them enjoy visiting and buying on your site?
  • How do you move that relationship to serve a higher purpose while earning profit?

The good news is that today, with Twitter, Facebook, and other social media forums, we now finally have the tools to implement these efforts.  We can talk and share with our customers and community.  But these tools do not replace or embody the underlying Whuffie, they’re just the checkbooks and credit cards of this new economy.  The Whuffie itself has to be earned, and that can only happen with hard work and genuine focus on your business.

The formula is simple… 5 easy steps described above. The tools are available, Twitter, Facebook, and other forums.  All you need is the awareness of your business’s value, the passion to involve your customer community, the dedication to make it work for you, and some serious investment of Whuffie to drive great sales results.


Putting Twitter in Perspective: Evolutionary Steps to Success

November 16, 2009

Ok, ok, so everyone says “you need to use Twitter to drive your business”.  But is it true?   I would vote for a resounding YES!  While it did take time to mature, today Twitter is an extremely valuable channel, when properly used, to drive visibility of your brand, your site, and increase your web-based business among the 32 million active tweeters.

Twitter has finally grown up.  It’s true that in its infancy, many people tweeted about inane things, such as where they drank their most recent cup of Starbucks.  We now must recognize that these were baby steps that marketers were taking to develop their “Twitter voice”, kind of like HAL singing “Daisy, Daisy, give my your answer do…”.  Unfortunately, there are still thousands of social media marketers who are still at this early phase.  Why?  Because to successfully leverage the Twitter channel requires the dedication of time and effort to mature and become a part, and ultimately a pillar, of the community.

Twitter Cartoon by Tony Gigov

Cartoon by Tony Gigov

You may have already learned that  maintaining a meaningful blog requires an investment of time and continuous focus on your core proposition. Twitter, with its limit of 140 characters per tweet, requires an even more focused strategy.  Unless you, (or a designated employee or writer) are prepared to dedicate a portion of your time each day to Twitter, your messages will quickly become lost in the noise.

So how should you drive this?

I believe there are 3 major evolutionary phases for effective use of Twitter for social networking:

1:  Ensure that your own understanding of your message is crystal clear, and use it to drive thought leadership.

Twitter, more than any other channel, requires a clear, defined marketing message. With so few words in each message, you need to make every tweet count.  What this message looks like depends on your business mission. For companies with defined products, your goal may be to share new ways that customers use your products.  With dynamic market driven products, such as tickets, Twitter can be used constructively to broadcast out the latest deals, or ski areas can use tweets to broadcast slope conditions.  For companies with less concrete product or service offerings, social networking may be best used to develop or elevate the recognition of your brand, both online and offline, or improve your credibility.  With your goal in mind, start the conversation by generating your own content that is focused on your customers’ needs.  Exhibit thought leadership that makes you unique. Learn what works! If you are new to social media marketing, I suggest you start with a blog, which still provides you with some editorial control. Begin commenting in other communities, such as forums, Digg and Yahoo Answers to develop your “voice”.  Once you are comfortable with blogging and commenting, then expand to Twitter to build your own community and following. Eventually you will  graduate to posting YouTube videos and using other channels as well.

2:  Listen to your customers, competitors, fans and detractors.

You should already be listening to your customers with tools like Google Alerts and other monitoring services.  Twitter is another place to hear their comments. Remember, good news travels fast, and bad news travels even faster.  Set up an alert, using a tool like Tweetdeck, to watch for mentions of your brand, so you can react very quickly with your new-found voice and clarify any misunderstandings, or fix any perception issues.

3: Communicate and Participate!

You are now a member of the community.  In addition to messages that you generate for your customer, like new deals, you will now have customers creating topics for you.  Embrace them!  When that happens, you’ve reached an important plateau.  Respond to your community’s needs, their concerns, and help them use your product or service better. Build on the good news, and clarify the bad news by asking for elaboration or encouraging their participation in a solution to the problems.  You now have a one-to-one relationship with customers who demand attention, backed by a whole universe who can see how well you handle their issues.

4: Be honest and sincere, and watch your community grow.

Credibility is key in social networking.  While you must avoid being pushy, you still have a right to promote your products.  People understand that you are in business to sell your products and services, and might find it odd if you don’t.  The key to success is working that fine line between promotion and a sales pitch.  As long as you truly believe that your product brings value to your customer (which we take as an assumption), then this should not be difficult for you.  Just keep that message clear, and you’ll find that neither you nor your customers will be forced into the idle discussion of your latest cup of Starbucks, nor will you ever regress to singing “Daisy Daisy” again.

twitter-2


Just a Quick Comment On Minis!

October 27, 2009

After reading my blog entry, my friend Dan from ZebraTickets sent me the following YouTube video about Mini Drivers.  Although it is somewhat off-topic,  I include this for a couple of reasons:

1: It’s a great video, and a great example of using YouTube to create and reinforce a viral following ( A topic for a later blog entry)

2:  It’s actually interesting to contemplate the branding image of Minis. Even though the car has changed tremendously, to the point of having a different manufacturer, the brand image  has brilliantly evolved, not changed.   I actually had the experience of tooling around in a Mini a good part of the summer in Luxembourg in the early 1970s.  It was clearly a “cool” car back then too.


The Ecommerce Expertise Blog

October 24, 2009

Ecommerce Expertise Blog

Welcome to the Ecommerce Expertise Blog.

My professional focus is on helping companies improve their eCommerce presence and sales results.  I have expertise in the technical aspects of eCommerce implementation, site optimization to improve conversion, and the application of 20+ years of marketing experience to new social media tools and processes.  That said there are plenty of blogs and articles that talk about how to do this.  From time to time, I’ll post links to articles or write about tips to improve your site.  But I’d rather use this blog to discuss the more esoteric applications of life and business experience to improving web presence and results.  So here we go!

Steps to an Ecology of Ecommerce (with apologies to Gregory Bateson)

Throughout my career, I have been struck by the challenge how to embody proven experience to innovate into the future.   One of the most enlightening books I ever read during my teen-twenty self discovery years was Gregory Bateson’s Steps to an Ecology of the Mind.  It was there that I first internalized the concept of embracing entropy, or evolving disorder and change,  as the way of the world.  Bateson argues that probability favors disorder.  To me, success in business (and life for that matter) is the ability to find patterns to build on the growing disorder and complexity, view every change as an opportunity, and thrive on the edge of innovation.

This doesn’t mean that you can’t survive if you ignore the entropy and the exploding connections that surround you.  Here’s a simple analogy. Think about operating a car (and I am careful to use the word “operating” rather than “driving”).  At its most basic, operating a car today is the same as it was driving a  Model T Ford.  You push the gas to go, the brake to stop, and use the steering wheel to direct where you want to go.   I drive a Mini Cooper S.  The Mini is a retro design based on the original British Car first developed in 1959.  In its original incarnation, the Cooper was a British response to the Volkswagen, a basic box with minimal features, and one simple gauge in the middle of the dash to tell you how fast you are going.  Today’s Mini looks similar, and someone who drove a 1959 Cooper would have no problems acclimating to the new car.  BUT…think about what’s in this new car:

The Old and The New

The Old and The New

That one gauge in the middle now has a speedometer, gas gauge, indicators for the traction control, maintenance indicators, a thermometer, a readout of my fuel economy, and little lights to warn me that I haven’t paid attention to the gauge that tells me I’m out of gas.  It’s surrounded by buttons for the electric doors, electric windows, automatic air conditioning, 3 airbags (which we never want to use), even an “openometer” to tell me how long the convertible has been open.  So what’s the point?  I can drive without any of these features, but to fully operate the car and maximize the experience, I need to manage all of these instruments and features.  Only then can I gain full utilization of the machine.  Someone who drove a Cooper in 1959 would absolutely feel at home in the new car, with its familiar features.  But in many ways, that familiarity would blind him to the marvels of the new technology, and prevent him from recognizing the capabilities of the newer tools.  They would only realize half of the experience.

So how does this relate to eCommerce business?  As the operator of a store, all you really need are the basics that merchants have had forever:  merchandise to sell, a way to take money, and a way to deliver the goods.  Eventually, with the assistance of big brother Google, you will be found, and you will probably sell something.  But how do you truly optimize your efforts?  You need to become aware of all the instruments and tools which surround you, and how to use them.  You need to learn both the internal widgits, such as comparison features, add-ons etc., but also all of the tools that can extend your reach into the internet.  You need to grow beyond the familiar, and embrace the entropy of all the new tools that your competitors are using to be found!  But you also need to take a holistic approach, and build on your own skills.  The ultimate winner is the merchant who can leverage  the “best practices” of the new social media tools and eCommerce techniques to build on what their years of experience has taught them in their gut.  To do this successfully often requires some coaching, passionate debates on what might work, but ultimately taking calculated risks based on the expertise that you surround yourself with.  Often, you need a guide or coach to help you see what’s new around you.  Don’t be afraid of what they can show you.  Only by embracing these new capabilities, but still keeping your hand on the wheel, can you hope to explore new ways to grow your business, and become the best in your field.