Brain Buster

Farewell Little Plastic Discs

I remember when it began, around 1987. I had saved enough money mowing lawns, and managed to talk my parents into driving me to the Lechmere (Best Buy before there was a Best Buy) an hour away in Albany, New York. For $400 I got the second model Discman that Sony made and two CDs – Wang Chung’s Mosiac and Van Halen 5150. I didn’t have enough to complete the 1987 holy trinity by adding Bobby Brown, Don’t be Cruel. Maybe not Sophie’s Choice, but a tough decision. After years of listening to worn out cassette tapes I was blown away. Through college I bought while I still had summer cash to burn, and sold in the spring to get the cash to make it to the next summer.

Fast forward to the same renaissance in video, I replaced my 40 or so favorite films with DVDs, loving that the wouldn’t get eaten by dirty play heads, and the soundtracks were pristine.

Now, 25 years later I’m at a tag sale one of the neighbors is having. They have a box of CDs that people are looking through and a six year old girl asks “Daddy, what are those?”. One of the men thumbing through the box says “Honey, these are CDs, this is how we used to buy music.”

And it struck me there that the transition was over. I’ve been walking around with my music on an Apple device of some kind for years, the last of the CDs in a box in the basement, but it wasn’t until the past two years that I started thinking “If I was going to take the time to watch The Matrix again, there’s no way I’d watch the DVD when I can get it on the Apple TV in HD.” Slowly the bookcase of DVDs is shrinking as they get replaced with their virtual twins. I’ve waited my whole life to be able to watch a movie while traveling on my iPad. My son is born into a world where Toy Story is the first movie he sees, and he can take it with him wherever he wants and watch it at any time.

Although it’s shaken up the media world, I’m enjoying this new thing.

Brain Buster

The Agency of 2012 (uh, how about 2015?)

Note: I first published this post in September of 2009. I’m reminded of a Bill Gates quote: “We overestimate the impact of new technologies over the next 2 years, and underestimate its impact in 10 years”. I went back to this post for another writing project I’m working on and decided to update it and clean it up. I’m still interested in any comments and feedback so I’ve decided to update the publish date to give it another shot at life:

The moderator for the session I wrote about yesterday pulled together some interesting comments from the session last night (even some of mine!). Some very good stuff from the person that stepped up to ask where the PR panelists were, including strong points on PRWeb for SEO.

There are some interesting academic arguments and defenses from PR specialists but I think people are losing sight of the fact that these are literally entrepreneurs working part time in their basements or other below C class office space, and Mike was dead on saying “I haven’t  seen a PR shop that would get out of bed for less than $4K/month”. Guys clipping coupons for a case of Ramen Pride between coding are not possible clients.

After a night’s sleep it came to me that while the writers/bloggers were saying you can get by without PR people, you have marketing gurus saying you don’t need the writers/bloggers. You’re the expert in the space, you can create your own content. Why work around some other pub’s schedule, or spend time bringing a journalist up to speed on your specific niche when you can publish your own stuff and own the content, track it, and do with it as you please?

Stepping beyond the academic arguments that could be debated ad nauseam, Mike asked the big questions:

Is the “junior staff leverage” model really dead, and if so, what business model will support the next generation of great marketing services firms? The truth is I don’t know. But it seems to me that’s the conversation worth having among the “PR” digerati… not the semantic argument about what PR is or isn’t, but how, in the end, the people delivering it will build a sustainable and productive business.

Before I get into my answers, it’s a good idea to expand the definition of PR beyond influencing writers. Some good stuff already written on that from last night.

…PR is about developing a broad communications program that includes:

  • Building a long-term strategy that establish lasting relationships with your core audiences;
  • Creating content and managing conversations that engage those audiences directly; and
  • Reaching industry influencers (media relations gets lumped in here).

Tactically this means that the communicator or agency you hire should have skill sets that include: writing ability; audio and video skills; creative thinking and the ability to connect with influencers.

That got me thinking about what the business model would look like. By 2012, most marketing, PR, and ad agency positions that revolve around tactics will be reinvented – a huge opportunity here. This is what I think it might look like (keep in mind that me writing this is a lot like all of the jackasses that start restaurants that go out of business because they think that eating out most of their lives is actual foodservice experience):

I have brought you back an Agency FROM THE FUTURE


I don’t see a scenario where the existing junior staff model can work. It has in the past because of communications friction (trying to call all relevant reporters about hot stories from all your clients every day, hard work but low skill level).

The big idea is the Embedded Agent. Someone who can go into an account a day a week or more to shoot video, record audio and create other relevant content. Ideally they would be paired with a subject matter expert (SME) at the client who will ultimately speak on behalf of the client. Think about building your own Robert Scobles (when he was still at Microsoft) or Scott Montys. This forces a schedule of content production that can be used in a number of scenarios and at the same time will serve as SEO activity.

The agent’s team should also include a Preditor (Producer/Editor) who assembles the raw footage from the Agent. Preditors have access to the best tools and a support network of their peers – no client would be able to reproduce the the effectiveness of the Agent/Preditor team so this is a huge value add. This team would need an admin to handle scheduling as the Agent will be moving around a lot (let’s say with a 3 client load), and the Preditor needs long stretches of uninterrupted time for work – somebody needs to field calls and emergencies.

Beyond the teams are infrastructure that the client has access to that cannot be reproduced without huge expense by the client – the remainder of the value add. Audio/Video production and Photography, specialists in a variety of disciplines including CRM, Lead Generation, whatever the agency can leverage that clients need.

Influencer is the last category, executives that have access to people with markets. You can get on the Today show? Clients will pay for that. Having a strong database here would allow this system to scale to multiple people instead of a the single performer limitation.

Ok, enough with the BS, let’s see if I can backsolve this to a profitable business…

Teams (with benefits, taxes, etc.) Fully loaded agent – $200k, Preditors $120k, Admin $50k = $370k per team/3 clients=$123k, charge $150k to cover fixed expenses etc.= $12,500 per month for the client. The client is getting more than 1/3 of an agent and Preditor (at bare minimum $9k per month). So for 30k per year they get all the value and don’t have the impossible task of finding 1/3 of an agent and Preditor. All the specialist stuff can be sold ala carte for big margin.

Any opinions out there? Is this real or candyland?

Brain Buster Great Marketing

The Paradox of Choice

Yesterday I saw two demonstrations of  Barry Schwartz’s Paradox of Choice in action. This is one of the most useful books about decision making that I have found, and is a must read for anyone in marketing.

Jeff Bussgang asked why everyone still uses 4 year vesting schedules at startups when, in the current economy, exits usually take longer. For those that don’t speak VC – employees at startups get shares of the company, usually granted in 25% chunks at the first four anniversary dates – to encourage them to stay four years and get all their shares. (Shameless plug – if you want to learn more about how to speak VC, check out the Marketing Over Coffee interview with Jeff that will be posted the first week in June)

It’s a good argument, but as you can see from the post it has generated many comments – and this goes right to the Paradox of Choice. The more alternatives someone faces when making a decision, the less likely they will make a decision.

This is most easily demonstrated at a store I go to during the summer in Northern Michigan. They sell different kinds of jam and jellies, and they have about a dozen of them out to taste test, and that’s a problem. If there were two out you would like one better than the other, and maybe buy it. An Economist can mathematically represent this, they use a unit called Utils (rhymes with noodles) to measure the benefit of making a purchase. Bob really likes Jelly A, buying it gives him +5 utils, he does not like Jelly B, buying it would not give him any utils. 5 utils beats the 4 util cost of giving up the $7 to buy it, so he does. His day is now 1 util up with his jelly, the store owner closed a sale, and there is much rejoicing.

Things get more complex when Jelly C is added to the table. Bob likes it, but not as much as Jelly A, he only thinks it’s about +3 utils. Here’s the problem – let’s also say that Bob will only buy one jelly because he knows that even one is really too much and it will sit in his fridge for a year and he will throw half of it out when it’s moldy.

With the third jelly on the table, now if Bob buys Jelly A he’s going to take a hit of -1 util for the regret of passing up Jelly C, which he also liked (but not enough to give up Jelly A). A buyer will be less satisfied with their purchase if they have to rule out alternatives. You can see where this goes, by the time the store owner puts Jelly K (the 11th jar of jelly) on the sample table, the psychological baggage of having to make a decision, including the negative impact of the foregone alternatives actually outweighs the pleasure of making a purchase.

So, changing a 4 year vesting schedule is an interesting idea, but is opens a world filled with alternatives. Unless any of these options are REALLY great (unintended VC pun), the odds are good that no decision will be made. This is the basis for all the stats you hear about having to be 10x better than a competitor to win customers away from them. If you only have one or two features that are better than the competition, odds are that’s not enough to get them to wade through all the work of making a decision (“switching costs” in Economese, which can be real dollars or just psychological labor).

At the other end of the spectrum, @cc_chapman generated some heat admitting that he’s never been to a Trader Joe’s. Many fans of the store cite the quality of the goods, the low cost, the selection. There’s one factor that’s consistently misunderestimated (yes, both): choice is often removed from the equation.  Schwartz gives the example in the book of 85 types of crackers at the local supermarket, again the weight of the decision making baggage. There are some items at Trader Joe’s that have only one option, from there the benefits pile up: smaller footprint for the store, more efficient use of space, more types of products, ability to cut the best deal by limiting suppliers.

And so, as my Friday begins I offer two pieces of unsolicited advice: read Paradox of Choice (and use that link so I get my affiliate kickback), and to C.C. (and everyone else), get the frozen Tuna Steak from Trader Joe’s, thaw it, throw a cast iron pan on to your grill on high to warm for 10 minutes, throw on half a stick of butter and blacken the steaks with a dry rub. Add your favorite beer and enjoy the long weekend.

Brain Buster

Ruled by Price

Seth Godin had a post today about Becoming the Bus Company, a list of common behaviors that are exhibited by organizations well on the road to trading commodities as opposed to providing a remarkable service. It makes me wonder if all companies that fail to innovate are doomed to walk this path after their glory begins to fade?

It seems like a vicious cycle – as competition gets fierce, customers use online tools or purchasing departments to always get the lowest price. As a result the companies focus on trimming every penny and things start to suffer. In turn, morale slowly fades as everyone gets crushed under the bureaucracy.

Companies like Southwest and Virgin, built around a vision (reminding me that they have their “Why” in order), remain above the fray while everyone else teeters on the verge of bankruptcy.

My big question is: Does anyone have an example of someone that pulled it back from the edge? The only thing I can think of is Apple with the return of Jobs. Even more interesting – has it ever happened from the bottom up, or is this limited to dynamic leaders?

Brain Buster Daily Life

Important Stuff – sort of

This is kind of a spring cleaning post – stuff that I have on my list to write about (which forces me to think about), but after review is cool but for whatever reason there’s not much to say beyond “check this out”.

Chrome OS – Google’s OS, the fact that you would log into any computer and if it was connected to the web it would be “your” machine. This makes you think differently, one thing I love is that it would choke out viruses quickly.

Chrome Extensions The one thing that kept me on Firefox was that Chrome didn’t have extensions (specifically my delicious tags). But now I’m thinking that if I install all the crap I have in firefox that suddenly chrome wouldn’t seem as blazingly fast anymore…

Sprint PremierOne of the most popular posts on this blog is Screw Your Customers where I bitched about strangers off the street getting better deals than loyal customers. Sprint Premier is great, if you are a heavy customer you get the new customer deals. You’d think everyone would do this, but they are the first people I’ve seen going the extra mile. Nice Job!

And with that I am back to paying bills and trying to get my tax stuff together… Have a good weekend!

Brain Buster

Sports Center Edition

I’ve talked a number of times about John Wall, who’s become the hottest thing going in college hoops. Although it’s killing my personal SEO, that would be worth the price if he can deliver a show like this:


Brain Buster

Really Important Stuff from Your Ghetto Analyst

Here’s some of the stuff that I ran across over the past couple of weeks during my self-inflicted blogging exile:

What will Sports Illustrated Look like? I am a huge fan of SI because of fantastic writing and incredible pictures, I follow sports in the papers but the magazine is in a league of it’s own. Mike Troiano had pointed this out in his blog:


What can film makers do with next generation DSLRs that shoot video? The evil mastermind behind Ask a Ninja shows what can be done with with a DSLR (regular camera) that can shoot video, hard to tell the difference between it an your average Rom-Com.

You really need to fail more. My Marketing Over Coffee co-host writes about the importance of failure. This was driven home for me listening to This American Life last week, it’s a fantastic audio program and one of the reasons why is that 8 stories get developed and the best 3 or 4 make it to the show

Will graphic novels transition to digital devices? Yes. I tried out the PSP comic reader a few weeks ago and it’s really good. It’s a comic store’s worst nightmare – easy to buy online and download wirelessly, and it actually is easy to read. Check out the demo here. As a DC fan I’m kind of disappointed that they are launching with Marvel – Dan DiDio, what’s the deal? I’d rather buy your stuff…

Ok, I need to finish my holiday cards and shopping, I hope your stress level is below the boiling point for December.

Brain Buster

Freedom from the Soundbite

Something underrated about impact of the web on how we communicate – the fact that you can now get just about any major news video on demand.

I had heard a few things about Michael Jordan’s Hall of Fame acceptance speech and decided to consult the wise and powerful Google. I found a number of articles that were critical of the speech, and thought that it was a letdown. Prior to the web that would be it, I would have to take the news at face value. Now I can go watch the entire 23 minutes myself and form my own opinions.

Michael Jordan has always inspired me, I was fortunate enough to see him play a couple of times and in a time where sports icons seem to have a hard time staying on the straight and narrow he managed to do very well. If you don’t care about basketball, the punch line is that I think it’s a good speech about motivation and competiton if you listen to the whole thing. If it weren’t for the fact that streaming doesn’t work very well, I’d say watch the last few minutes starting at the 21:00 mark, I don’t think it matches what the soundbites say.

Brain Buster

Nobody Likes A Critic on The Web

Sometimes my brain feels like my Grandfather’s workshop, overflowing with random stuff, ideas on projects all in varying states of completion. My daily dose of Seth Godin in Google Reader is like hurling a wrench into the workshop – it tends to knock some stuff around, wake me up, and perhaps think about something differently.

This week he did a piece on critics, please check it out before going further. No problem, I’ll wait…

So I start going through Robert Morris’ reviews and spot an interesting trend – the majority of them are positive, 4 or 5 stars. Based on adding his RSS feed to my reader I looked at over a hundred and didn’t see any 1 to 3 star ones.

This made me wonder about the Janet Maslin point he made – is there a place for negative criticism on the web?

I can see the mean spirited ivory tower stuff getting extinguished by two way communication and community voting, but what about legitimate negative criticism? For example, I recently bought a memory card adapter so that I could use a standard MicroSD memory card instead of the proprietary Sony card that’s 4x the price (big shocker, betamax-style baby!) . Of course the Sony device wouldn’t read it (shocker #2).

Posting a negative review would be very helpful as a “buyer beware”, more helpful than another 5-star review for a book on the NY Times bestseller list, but putting up a negative review has consequences – both the seller and the manufacturer have an interest in voting the review down. The buyer may consider the review but odds are, won’t vote because they don’t know for sure, and now they are less likely to try the product and find out.

As I’ve written this, another idea starts to gel – negative criticism has a tipping point and perhaps that’s the key. When you see something on Amazon with 20x the 1 star ratings over 5 star you avoid it. 80% of those are “pile on” 1 stars, and the 20% of 1 stars that came in were people so angry that they didn’t care about what anyone thought, they had to vent.

The end result – those who write negative reviews will always be always be at a disadvantage in scoring, and therefore visibility and level of trust (due to the automated nature of the system), compared to those who avoid writing any negative reviews.

This raises a bunch of interesting questions:

Will the job of the critic transform to that of referrer of quality stuff only?

What’s lost by having only positive reviews on the web?

Is it worth the risk to be a negative critic in a public forum?

Should negative criticism only to be done in private forums? Think about the waiter that will mention avoiding a certain dish, as opposed to reading a negative review on Yelp.

Web reviews could be considered SEO, content generation, social networking, branding, providing a good and valuable customer service, demonstrating thought leadership, perhaps even generate leads, or it could be just a hobby. With so many different motivations, what’s important?

I’d really like to hear your opinions on these items, and I’d really like to hear more from Seth Godin. Here’s my offer – if he’s willing to answer the questions above (in the comments, send them to me, whatever), I’ll give him $100 (or $100 to his favorite charity). Everybody else, you can get the latest Marketing Over Coffee audio program from iTunes for FREE! Ok, not as good as $100, I know, but this is a one man show…

Brain Buster

Inside Baseball for Everything

SugarCRM is an open source CRM system, kind of a David to’s Goliath. It’s been doing very well, but there was a surprise last week as the Co-Founder and CEO stepped down.

Check out this post: Never before has news been gathered and spread so fast. Is it any wonder that trade magazines are doomed to extinction?