Marketing IT Dept.

I’m on the Internet!

For the past 4 months or so I’ve been digging through a bunch of server logs to try and figure out why my site was getting hammered 6,000 times a day driving my hosting prices up to $299 a month. I still don’t understand exactly what the problem is beyond that it’s some kind of podcasting client looking for a podcast. I haven’t done an episode of The M Show in what feels like 10 years so this is very bizarre.

Regardless, I finally scuttled as a web address which is fine, I still use it for mail but has been the URL I pass around when needed.

So, aside from that incredibly exciting story the big news is that Trust Insights and Marketing Over Coffee have been very busy and ski season is back upon us. I was not overly impressed with the sound quality of my Sony 7506 Ski Helmet but that all changed when I added the EarStudio ES100. It’s a Bluetooth DAC, you can plug in any wired headphones and now they are Bluetooth. Also great for adding any Bluetooth to your car or home stereo. The big win is that you also get a full equalizer app so I was able to boost the sound (surprise, the preset I have to make earbuds sound better makes the helmet sound fantastic!)

One other thing on this setup, Chubby Buttons 2 have been released. The only difference is you can access your Smart Assistant with them now. When they came out I said “I can get by without that” and then after the first day skiing when I got 15 test messages and had to pull out my glasses to read them I went home and ordered it that night. Review to follow.

That’s it for now, just wanted to check in now that I’m finally back on the internet!

The Marketeer

Regarding Disrupted

Dan Lyons’ scathing tell all “Disrupted: My Misadventure in the Start-Up Bubble” came out last month and I’d been eagerly awaiting the book as have many in the Boston and marketing software communities. He tells of his time at Hubspot, the Cambridge-based startup that went all the way to IPO and took the lead as champion of Inbound Marketing.

I’m always looking for interesting books to profile for Marketing Over Coffee but decided to pass on Disrupted. I thought it would be just a bunch of stories of startup lifestyle, parties with career limiting consequences, bad ideas and burn rate. The goal of the podcast is to educate and entertain. I try to avoid the negative slants of industry gossip or making fun of failed marketing campaigns. We do cover that stuff, but failing a lot, often spectacularly, is what happens at startups. Most of them fail – Hubspot is one of the exceptions. I’ve been at more than one place that was a lot crazier, that also crashed and burned.

I used my monthly Audible credit to get the book (I said I would refuse to buy it, so this was me going half-truth on that so I didn’t have to wait for a library copy to finally get around to me) and tore through it. Even if you are not going to read all the “Inside Baseball” that follows, the TL;DR is: This is not just a book comparing a startup to a cult, it presents a lot of big issues: the nature of the workplace, the place in our society for the rapidly growing over 40 demographic, our financial system and how it perpetuates disparity of wealth, the death of journalism, and the trade off between privacy and being a member of the online world. If you are interested in any of these topics you should get this book.

I’d also recommend the audiobook because many of the key plot points are meetings and discussions between Lyons and his fellow employees. Hearing him do the voices paints a more vivid picture of when somebody is giving a crazy answer, laying out some wild idea, or the subtle sarcasm in his answers that you would miss if read off the page.

Ok, so if you’ve made it this far I’m presuming you’re in and want all the details. Even though I decided to pass on this for the podcast, so many things about this book were banging around in my mind because I’ve lived through a bunch of these situations, everything from bringing a company from near zero to a successful acquisition, to having my “position eliminated”, i.e. “we promised higher ups that hiring you would create explosive growth this quarter and it didn’t and now I have to fire you so that it’s not me.” Even after many years you can’t help but look back on the turning points and think about how it could have been better or worse. I’m writing this to get it all out of my head, but at the same time my wife listened to much of the book and had questions about how and why this could happen, so if you’re interested in this, my therapy might also give you some insight.

Rules and a boatload of disclaimers: This post is for people who have read the book. There’s been a lot of social media rambling from people who haven’t. I’ll run this by a friend to make sure it can be read if you haven’t read the book, but if you haven’t and you make a stupid comment I’ll probably delete it.

Mike Volpe was brave enough to have Hubspot take a chance as an early sponsor of Marketing Over Coffee, years before the laggards got hooked on Serial. Chris Penn and I were also guests when Hubspot did a video show and we met many team members during our visit there. I met Dan Lyons at his book signing for “Options – The Secret Life of Steve Jobs“, part of his Fake Steve Jobs writing, which is the funniest and most entertaining writing that has ever been done on the tech industry. It’s been 8 years since I read Options and I still laugh out loud when I think of the part where Hillary Clinton goes to meet the Tech Titans of Silicon Valley (pg. 140 in my copy). I’ve known Scott Kirsner for many years and have been to one of his events on Nantucket, he’s brave enough to try and figure out where he fits in the post-newspaper age and he’s painted as a gun for hire but he is the first choice if you have a question about what’s going on in the Boston tech scene.

And this is where you get your first taste of crazy. I’ve worked with all these people and I like them. When I first heard of Dan going to Hubspot I thought it was fantastic, I couldn’t wait to read what he was going to write with access to those resources and audience. Like all startups, it sounds like an exciting idea, and yet somehow it ended up with an FBI investigation.

Where does all this crazy come from? For any startup you are trying to do something never done before, and many may think that what you are trying is not possible, so that’s the crazy seed. The founders may be visionaries seeing the future, or f#$%ing lunatics. Taking money from venture capital investors (VCs) is like alcohol in an the old Bill Cosby standup routine: “Alcohol magnifies your personality”… “but what if you’re an a-hole?” (Sorry about the recursive mess of a Bill Cosby alcohol joke.)

Once you have VC you are pledging to rapid growth. Usually the founders have pitched this but have no real idea if/how it will happen, and the VC’s also live with the conflict of believing in the startup enough to invest in them, while also believing more of their investments will fail than succeed. Finally, the crazy tree is at full height when preparing an IPO, a massive amount of work that does not really have anything to do with directly serving customers (besides making sure you have the money to stay in business).

Dysfunction of demanding quarterly growth from what used to be an organic process – I could belabor this but it’s enough to say if you gather 9 women and think you are going to get a baby in one month it’s not going to be what you’re expecting, it’s going to be crazy stuff.

When I heard about the book I immediately thought “wow, this is going to get messy” and yee-haw, another successful prognostication for me. I was conflicted because I hated the idea of someone taking a shot at a successful Boston startup, yet knew I would laugh at anything Lyons wrote. I said I wanted nothing to do with it, while my curiosity was killing me. Yes, there are the tales of drunken hook-ups, standing desks, crazy outings but at the heart of it is “What happens when your career has been blown to bits and you’re thrown into a startup.”

He writes about his first day, showing up nervous and ready for amazing things. Instead of getting welcomed at the door, nobody knows he was showing up today. It takes more than a day to work things out.

When I started it I’m laughing and already hooked at this point. Rewind about a year – I’m at the Hubspot receptionist desk, excited out of my mind, I’ve set up a time to talk with Dan Lyons, the funniest tech writer ever, and going to guest on their new podcast. I’m also getting an interview with Mike Volpe for Marketing Over Coffee, it’s been a couple of years since he was last on and we’re due for an update on what’s going on with Inbound Marketing. I’m stuck at the receptionist desk, the woman there has no idea who Dan Lyons is. After about a half hour she finds out that he’s no longer with the company. The interviews are still on though and somebody that works with Mike sets me up with a desk so I can get some stuff done as things come together. I’m on the top floor in a space that has just been worked on so most of the desks in the open layout are empty. There’s a big mural of a dinosaur walking through the city and I laugh for a second thinking about myself as approaching dinosaur territory. About 20 minutes later my cube neighbor shows up, it’s Brian Halligan. We’ve met a couple times before so we say hello and catch up, he makes a joke about being the dinosaur in the building and that’s why he’s under the mural and I have some line about it being good to have at least one person in the building that has experience running a business. The interviews go well, everyone says Lyons went over to the HBO show which makes perfect sense to me, so I’m disappointed that my imaginary lunch with Dan never happened and figure that’s the last I’ll hear about it.

Nope. I can’t remember the order, but I heard that the guys were gone and then I heard about the book. I even connected the dots and said “I bet they were trying to get the book!” I wish I could remember who I talked to about that to confirm prognostication #2 but it’s not that important. Then there was the press release, talk of an FBI investigation, but really no new info until the book came out. On to some points to clarify:

All startups tend to be more like cults than jobs. The founders are giving up a normal life of paycheck and health insurance to do something crazy. You can have angels that put money in and work for free to get things off the ground. Teams taking on this insane level of risk create bonds far beyond anything that happens in a standard 9-5 shop.

Comparing any startup to a Fortune 100 company will make it look poorly managed. At a well managed business your list for the day might have 8 things on it. The employee can usually get 6-10 things done. If the employee can’t get the 6-10 they hire another person, if they are constantly sitting around doing nothing they get more work to do or are laid off.

At a startup your list for the day has 25 things on it. 12 of them really needed to be done last week, 10 of them need to be done today. There’s no time travel though,  people still chip the same 6-10 things off the list per day. As a result there are always projects behind or abandoned, this is how things like the receptionist not knowing you happen.

This high risk, low management environment is part of why startups can be innovative. Clayton Christensen has done brilliant work explaining why “well managed” ends up meaning “unable to innovate” and “soon to be crushed by a more agile competitor.” The Innovator’s Dilemma is one of my favorite books (and yes, I realize that having a favorite business book, by definition, makes me old).

Founders not being hands on or in the office every day is not surprising. The problem with the startup is that it is both a sprint and a marathon. I once had to work about 30 hours straight when we had updated our software and needed to get a working demo machine set up to bring to an event the next day. This was just before “The Cloud” arrived so any major project involved building servers. Installing an Oracle database at 2am is a pain, but on the upside there were long breaks in the install process so I could go ride one of the company scooters around in gigantic empty parking lot when I got sick of being alone inside.

Of course you can only do this kind of insanity in short bursts, after 2 or 3 years straight you would lose your mind or drop dead. If the company starts to have some success they get enough resources for more employees. At this point a cultural shift begins from crazy entrepreneurs to more normal employees. As everything gets bigger you are able to find employees who are specialists and if you are doing it right, they are smarter in their area of expertise than the previous round of people. To give you an example, Volpe came on as marketer at something like employee #5. I don’t know exactly where work was divided but odds are he was doing content, running the website, email, advertising… everything. Fast forward 6 or 7 years and now the marketing team is bigger than the whole company was when he started and there’s a whole team doing what he used to do by himself.

Now the founders want to do something different because they’ve been running like maniacs for years so they focus down to the things they want to work on and delegate the rest. And, if they’ve done it right the new hires don’t want the founders getting involved that much anyway, they have more specialized knowledge and are doing the day to day so they have no interest in a founder as Seagull Manager (flying over now and then to crap on everything). In “normal” jobs the manager is working with his employees managing, in startups it’s not uncommon to have founders who just have an office they sit in and work on crazy projects, or they are always on the road doing speaking gigs, or actively working on their next startup project. They are not going to leave because there may be a huge payday in the near future, but they are in no way your classic employee. This is where you see a lot of great startup drama when investors keep coming in and start to gain board seats, and may put the crosshairs on a founder that’s not delivering the growth they originally promised the VCs.

Employee vs. Entrepreneur vs. Internet Celebrity – I’ve always said that building a startup is like creating a recipe for a killer dish by randomly adding ingredients. You may have everything in order for that chocolate chip cookie but if you’re using salt instead of sugar you’re stuck with something inedible. Each employee is a new ingredient and even though each ingredient on its own may be a favorite, you’re not going to sell a ton of Meatball Sundaes.

As positions and culture are built on the fly there’s a lot of opportunity for confusion. Anyone from a normal job might go into a startup expecting a manager that explains what needs to be done, spends time training them, and has clear goals as to what the employee needs to do to be successful. Far more likely, when the employee is hired the entrepreneur is thinking “Whew, that was a ton of work there, I’m glad I’ve got an expert so I never have to do that again.” Now both parties are expecting the other to figure it out. I’m not saying this is right but from what I’ve seen, the burden to clearly define things and get them done falls to the employee, not the supervisor. Yes, it would be great if there was a mentoring and leadership culture but often there isn’t.

I’ve also seen companies hiring people that have their own following, thinking that the employee’s celebrity is a magic wand that’s going to bring thousands of fans and prospects. In reality, internet celebrity is like building a waterfall, it’s powerful and impressive but you don’t drag it around with you. If you’re famous for posting cat pictures and you go work for a plumbing company none of you cat fans is going to give a damn. Or if they do it’s going to be one confused visit to the home page and then gone for eternity.

And of course if you hire a guy who got famous making wise remarks, don’t be surprised when his co-workers get pissed at him for making wise remarks.

Tough questions, no answers. This was the most interesting part of the book for me, it takes on some big questions that we don’t really have good answers for. Disrupted makes light of young people with little experience being hired but at least Hubspot is hiring many college graduate employees at a time when skilled entry level jobs are not plentiful with college graduates facing unemployment rates around 30%. Most startups I know don’t bother with intern programs or first time employees, the infrastructure to train people is not there, you’re expected to show up knowing what to do and how to do it. It also touches on ageism. The simple out is to call it discrimination – old people are not wanted anymore, but it’s more complicated. Old people are not stupid enough to take crappy jobs for 30k. Old people see the disconnect between “We are a team, not a family” and “building a company we love.” And on the other side there are old people not interested in learning new software, or being more than happy to exploit a situation where a company is moving to fast to really see how much work is getting done. This is not a Hubspot thing, this is everywhere.

There’s the hot issue of inequality of wealth, with a small group making a ton of money while everyone else gets shuffled off to the next thing. And a nod to privacy, that anybody can spy on us, through any of the online services we use, but nobody is going to back out of them.  If we want to be at the party, giving your privacy up is the ticket at the door. We’re not using a product, we are the product.

What really happened? We’ll probably never find out, the problem with publicly traded cloud companies is that, at their core, they are responsible for data integrity so there’s no upside to them ever talking about any kind of security breach unless they have to. The reports of a possible FBI investigation would make me think someone ratted to their board of directors. The thought of it being someone on the outside for justice or PR, or someone inside as some kind of coup both seem absurd to me, but I’ve got no other theories that make sense.

There was an official response, and I have to give big time kudos to the fake cover they did, they get the symbolism award for changing the unicorn head to racehorse horse/horse’s ass.

Hubspot Customers don’t care, they want to make more money, they want good tools. They could not give a damn about some internal executive politics, especially if the software is making them money.  You could look at this thing as the new Dean Martin Tech Celebrity Roast. If Dean Martin was still alive, and people still did roasts, and you were young enough to get this joke…. never mind.

I don’t think this book is going to slow Hubspot down, if people are as engaged with this book as I was it will sell lot of copies. The bad news there is that the books I love tend not to be best sellers. As I wrap up I’m the guy at the poker table looking around for the idiot who’s losing money on this deal and realizing it’s me wasting my time talking about it when I could be working. So, after all that, I’m glad this is out of my head so I can get back to making my own mistakes. Thanks for listening.

Great Marketing

Jay Baer on Youtility

Jay Baer is an acclaimed keynote speaker, New York Times best selling author, entrepreneur, technology investor, and social media and digital marketing consultant. His latest book is Youtility, and I had a chance to chat with him on Marketing Over Coffee (click if you prefer audio).

John:  Today, we have a special episode. We have the author of Youtility, Jay Baer, with us. Jay, Welcome to the show.

Jay:  Thanks very much. Time will tell whether I am a special guest or not.

John:  We’ll be watching the numbers, and I think given the Jay Bayer freight train that has been accelerating over the past couple of months, I’d put money on you.

Jay:  Thanks.

John:  So, you’ve written NOW Revolution with Amber Naslund a while back. Your latest book is Youtility. It’s made the New York Times Best Seller List. Congratulations. Tell me a little bit about the book. Let’s give everybody the elevator pitch. What is Youtility about?

Jay:  The difference between helping and selling is just two letters. But those two letters make all the difference. If you sell something, you could make a customer today. But if you help someone, you can make a customer for life. And the way you do that is by creating something that is so useful, people will pay for. It’s marketing that is truly and inherently valuable. It has intrinsic value. If you do that, you will win in the end.

John:  Right. You’ve got a bunch of great case studies in there, too. It’s a perfect example of a strong business book. You’ve got a big idea, and then you’ve got a bunch of great examples. I have to give you credit for that because so many of these books, I can only hear so many times about Zappos before I’m all set. You definitely rocked a bunch of case studies here.

Getting to the bigger part of this, at the core of it, you’re doing something helpful. You’re doing some marketing activities that are not directly related to the product. You talked about the psychological front here, where the people in the company expect an immediate return. How do you address that? How do you tell people to take this leap of faith?

Jay:  No doubt, it is a leap of faith because what Youtility really requires is for you to take a longer approach to the marketing success horizon. I will paraphrase Gary Vaynerchuck who says, “One of the problems with marketing today is that everybody wants to be a hunter and nobody wants to be a farmer.” And that’s exactly right.

Youtility is almost a playbook for becoming a marketing farmer. For building lifetime customer value through useful information and useful things that will yield attention and sales, and loyalty and advocacy, but over a longer period of time than what we customarily have been trained to think about.

Marketing has for 5,000 years, since the caveman tried to sell a rock to another caveman, has always been about buy now, not buy eventually. But since consumers are in control now, both with the messages they receive and how they receive them. You have to do something different, and I think that the thing that you need to do different is Youtility.

John:  I love that hunter-farmer analogy because that fits perfectly. You talk about frame of mind awareness where like you said, it’s hunting. It’s hoping that the day you show up that somebody there is ready and willing to buy – and that’s really getting to be more and more challenging.

There’s the classic study about saying that 60% of the buying decision is made before the trigger gets pulled, which is just basically the death of enterprise software as far as Oracle yachts and all that kind of stuff.

You had Phoenix Children’s Hospital, Warby Parker, a few other case studies. Give us one case study of somebody that’s doing something on the Youtility front that is working well and fits your mold.

Jay:  You bet. And thanks very much for mentioning earlier the variety of case studies that are in the book. That was very much curated and calculated in that I have read a lot of business books that had case studies, but they are of a particular type. I wanted to make sure that whether you’re B2B or B2C, small business, big business, anything in between, that you can see yourself in the stories that are contained in Youtility. So far the feedback has been that is the case, and I’m really very delighted about that. I’ll give you a couple of examples, just because I think that they epitomize what we are talking about a moment ago quite well with the psychological redirection.

One of my favorite examples in the book is from Columbia Sportswear. Columbia, of course, makes outdoor gear and jackets and pants and hats and stuff. They have a mobile application called What Knot to Do in the Greater Outdoors, and it actually shows you how to tie knots. It’s like “Hey, here’s how you tie a whatever, a fisherman’s knot, or a half hitch.” There’s dozens and dozens of knots. If you’re camping or hanging off the side of a cliff, that is massively useful information. If you’re recording a podcast, less so. I’m not tying any knots right now but maybe in a bit.

What’s interesting, though, is that Columbia Sportswear doesn’t sell rope. They’re not in the rope business. So the obvious marketing place – the old school marketing mentality for them – would have been, “We need a mobile app. Let’s create a jacket finder or a jacket configurator, where you decide are you fishing, or are you skiing? We’ll recommend a jacket to you.” That’s modestly interesting, and you’re going to use that one time, at best.

But instead, Columbia went the extra mile. They surveyed their customers and determined that, indeed, the vast majority of outdoors enthusiasts have their smartphones with them when they’re outdoors, both for safety and GPS purposes, and they said, “Oh, well let’s try and give them information that has greater value and over a longer period of time.” So, they created the knot app, which allows them to market sideways instead of marketing head-on, and now introduces their brand in their customers’ lives in ways that transcend the transactional.

In many cases with Youtility, that’s a really key concept, providing value in ways that transcend the transactional. Sometimes your products and services don’t have to be the star of the show. Sometimes information can be the star, and the products and services follow. We’re so eager to both lead customers to water and to make them drink. Maybe we should just lead them to water and they can figure out whether to drink themselves.

John:  Right. You’ve got an interesting concept there: superior knowledge of your customer. Because as I said,  basically anybody that’s really interested in knots, that’s probably somebody that could be buying Columbia stuff. Someone who’s not an Avid Indoorsman.

Jay:  Right. Actually, I have the Avid Indoorsman domain name. Someday I’m going to do something with that.

John:  That sounds like a merit badge. It would just have a picture of a couch on it.

Jay:  I love it.

John:  There’s a related point to this too, which is because this is not head-on marketing like you were talking about, you do have to market your marketing, which is a phrase that you use. Tell us about that.

Jay:  Many companies are starting to embrace content marketing, which is fantastic. And one of the reasons that I wrote Youtility is that you see all of these companies starting to make content, but most of them don’t really know why they’re making content. They’re just making it to make it. It’s like making sandwiches. Youtility really is a strategic scaffolding for why to do content marketing.

But what I find – and I’m sure you’ve seen this, John – is that a lot of times companies, even good companies, smart companies, good marketers, put together some sort of a thing. It’s a blog, it’s a podcast, it’s an e-book, it’s an infographic, it’s a series of videos, it’s a new vine campaign or whatever, and it goes nowhere. It just falls flat. It’s not always – in fact, not often –because of the quality of the thing. It’s because the thing got no support. You have to create a marketing plan for your marketing assets.

You mentioned the Phoenix Children’s Hospital application, another mobile app. It’s a hospital in Phoenix obviously. They’ve got this app that’s very simple, that shows you how to pick out the best possible car seat. They have a two-person marketing team. For that introduction of just that very simple app, they had a 60-day launch plan with all kinds of different facets to it.

If you’re going to go through the trouble of using Youtility, use your corporate voice to actually promote that. Not only does that make sure that your utility will actually get more attention, it’s actually what people want.

This is why I say “content is fire, and social media is gasoline”. All companies would be better off using their social media to promote their very useful utilities than they are to promote themselves one 140-character press release at a time.

John:  Yeah. I have to give you a shout out for pointing out Tom Fishburne’s cartoons. He’s got some marketing cartoons and there’s a great one talking about social media strategy. Basically the light grab, or the broadcast – these one-shot wasted campaigns that litter the corporate social media landscape. It’s everywhere.

Jay:  Tom is so fantastic. Have you ever had him on the show?

John:  No. This is like the classic new reality of business. Here’s somebody who is ridiculously awesome and has been doing their thing for five years and I’ve just never run across them because they’re in a total other world.

Jay:  You’ve got to go through his archives. The hardest thing I had to do with Tom Fishburne is figure out which of his cartoons I wanted to license for the book. I started with 15 that I pulled up. I can’t have 15 of the same guy’s cartoons in the book. That’s going to look a little weird. It would be a graphic novel at that point, so I had to narrow it down to a couple. But he is just terrific. He’s so spot-on.

John:  Are you going to be at the Profs B2B in October? Is that on your list, normally, of shows to head to?

Jay:  Normally, yes. Unfortunately, I am otherwise detained this year. It is a little fast and furious with the book release and the unofficial book tour, if you will. I think I have 30 conferences between now and Thanksgiving. So unfortunately, I couldn’t get that one done this time.

John:  You’re definitely in the burning a lot of fuel section of the book.

Jay:  I fly on every airline, but because there’s no hub in Indianapolis, none with any concentration – and this is a true story, ladies and gents: I am Silver on 10 different American airlines.

John:  I was going to say, this is one of my favorite stock travel tips for people that don’t know. Once you crack that nut with a single airline, you can just go to the other airlines and say “Hey, I’ve got status here. Give it to me. Otherwise, they’ll never fly you”. Most of the time they will say, “Okay. Just fax us your paperwork to prove it, and we’ll let you in.”

Jay:  Interesting. I’m going to take you up on that because that could change my life considerably. I can’t even get TSA Pre because I’m not Gold on anybody, even though I’m at the airport almost every day, because nobody will let me in the program.

John:  No kidding, to crack through security. Keep going back to Fishburne – he has that great article of the guy being by TSA and then over on the sign they’ve got the poster “Like us on Facebook.”

Jay:  And that’s true. They actually do have those posters in some airports. I actually did a blog post once. They had a QR code in the TSA line that you could shoot to download a video of what to put in your carry-on. I’m thinking, “All right. This is a little bit technology for technology sake”.

John:  Right. Where to find a quart-size bags.

Jay:  I prefer the guy randomly screaming. You know how they do that? Every once in a while, you get the screamer guy at the front of the line like, “Make sure you take your laptops out, and take off your shoes.” But not all of them do it. It’s almost like at the ballpark where you’ve got some guys who sell popcorn who sell one way, and other guys have the red licorice and they’re like, “Red licorice!” It’s the same thing with TSA. You get some guys who are the screamers who have to go through every single regulation in case nobody’s ever flown before.

John:  Right. And then there’s still 30% of the folks in line who will get to the front and they will have no clue of what the hell the guy was talking about.

Jay:  No idea.

John:  Shoes still tied, and a bushel of food that they’re wheeling through.

Jay:  Five jackets. I feel bad for people who clearly don’t travel much, who have to dump something of value, and it happens all the time. Yeah, you should read instructions and you should pay attention and have some situational awareness, but it does make me sad to see somebody like, “Well, I can’t take this back to check it, so I’m going to have to leave my expensive wine,” or whatever the deal is.

John:  Grandpa’s pocket knife and they have a 55-gallon drum of pocket knives in the back there.

Jay:  Actually, there’s a blog about that I’ve seen, and it’s unreal. They get some crazy number just in loose change that’s left in the bins, they use it to partially fund TSA. No joke, John. It’s like $200,000 a year or something just of loose change. It’s great.

John:  Yeah, I know. You just don’t respect the volume of the thousands of flights out of every single airport every day. It’s insane. So yes, GoToMeeting, why the hell are you not sponsoring this podcast? I guess that’s the question I have to ask about that.

Getting back to the book, you had another neat stat in there that I had never seen talking about IBM training their employees at social media, and the fact that in the classroom setting, one in eleven would succeed whereas employees trained one-on-one would hit three out of four. That blew me away. Have you got logic behind that?

Jay:  Yeah. We weren’t involved in that program, but that kind of employee activation in social and training is some of the work that we do at Convince and Convert for corporate clients. We see those same kind of results all the time. It’s not so much about knowledge of social and understanding. It’s having that support group – somebody who is in the company who can give advice in the moment, who can cajole, who can advise.

This idea that what companies need to do is train their employees in social is not really true. They have to train, activate them, and support. It’s really a day to day hand-holding exercise. And when you do that, when you staff that, when you put the effort into that, the results are fantastic. But if you just say, “Well, you went through the webinar, good luck to you,” which is how most people do it, your results are mitigated.

John:  Jumping over to mobile, too. There’s a section of the book where you talk about customer location-based stuff as far as being useful in location, their situation, and then taking advantage of seasonality or external factors. Talk a little bit more about that. How does that fit into Youtility?

Jay:  Well, because the premise of Youtility is to provide things that are fantastically useful, one of the easiest and best ways to do that is to do so in a mobile environment because mobile, by definition, gives you information about what people are doing. Therefore, you can more easily add relevance that becomes useful. There’s lots of examples in the book on not only mobile apps, but sort of the mobile future that allows you to say, “Look, we know where you are from a location perspective, or we know what you’re doing, or we know what context you’re currently operating in, and we can deliver value to you in the moment.”

One of the things that I like as a mobile data opportunity is Cloth. Cloth is an application that formerly allowed you to organize your closet. You would get dressed, and then take pictures of what you were wearing and store those in a mobile app so that you could know what it is that you own and also what combination of outfits you particularly like, etc. (A) I’m a dude and (B) I’m middle-aged, so that use case didn’t resonate with me. It kind of seems like first-world problems, like “I’ve got to organize my closet on my iPhone.”

But then, what Cloth did was they added some additional data that is location aware. They have a real-time weather feed, and it knows where you are because your phone has got location services turned on. Using that real-time weather feed, Cloth now recommends to you based what’s in your closet, what you should wear that day based on the weather forecast. So now, it went from something I’m kind of like “eh” to something that is actually terrifically useful based on the fact that they can tap in to location data via mobile.

John:  That’s great. It’s funny. As I was reading, I thought the same thing. Middle-aged guy, two kids under five years old. I really need a vomit detector. That would be the only thing that I could use for my wardrobe.

Jay:  Which t-shirt could I wear unless I’m in a video webinar?

John:  Right. You got the white collared shirt to pull down when the camera’s on. But otherwise, I’m pulling a Chris Berman in my Hawaiian shorts here. The joy of podcasting – theatre of the mind.

You had a part in the book here that flipped a light for me. We talked about showrooming a number of times on Marketing Over Coffee, and the death of the big stores, people price-comparing on site and all of that. But you had a great point with these big box stores. If you’re just a vending machine, that’s it. You’re out of luck. The vending machine thing kind of hit me. That’s exactly what’s going on. You literally put in your money and walk away and there’s no other value. Do you see this as the death of big box stores? Are they basically on the path to extinction, or is there a way around that for them?

Jay:  There is a way around it, but it’s very difficult. Is there a way around it that will work economically? I’m uncertain. What you have to do is compete on something other than price. You have to make the experience of being in a store, being in a physical environment demonstrably better than buying something from your phone. If it’s not, you will eventually be gone. I think book stores are perhaps a better case than electronics stores, at least at this point.

I went to Barnes and Noble recently. I’m not picking on those guys. It’s just the reality. I went to Barnes and Nobles to find my own book, and it took me a long time to find the business section, and then is this organized by author’s last name? Is it organized by topic? If so, what topic would I be in? Social media or marketing or something else? There’s nobody there to help you and there’s all this other craziness going on. I’m thinking, unless I’m just browsing around and I want to be inspired by what books are available and I’m just sort of hoping for lightening to strike me in the book sense, I just couldn’t fathom a reason why that would be an easier way to shop, because it’s not.

But if you actually created an environment in an electronics circumstance or a book circumstance where it really was a better place to shop, and where you see that is in your independent book retailers who purposely have very much curated their offering. They’re like, “Look, we don’t have every book, but every book we have, we know is awesome. And we have a very high staff-to-customer ratio so we will proactively see if you need anything, and we will recommend books to you, and we’re going to have author signings, and we’re going to have readings, and we’re going to have free coffee, and we’re going to have comfy chairs, and we encourage you to browse instead of scolding you for browsing.”

If you create a better customer experience, you can win. But so far, very few of these big chains have been able to or willing to create a better experience because they’ve always won on price and now they can’t. There are some examples in the book of retailers that are trying to do that. They’re trying to make the shopping experience an experience.

John:  Before we wind down, I did notice from your bio that you are a tequila and barbeque fan. Is that correct?

Jay:  That is true. Sometimes simultaneously, but not always. I live in Indiana now, but I grew up in and was in Arizona forever. Subsequently, tequila is certainly a terrific beverage of choice and a maligned cocktail in most places because everybody has their bad college tequila story. But it is one of my goals to educate the public about the wonders of tequila. I have a party every year where we do a whole tasting and things like that to bring people into the fold.

I’m actually a certified barbeque judge at the Kansas City Barbeque Society and do that on occasion, go to competitions and judge. I’m actually having about 20 people over on Sunday, and doing a bunch of pork shoulder and six racks of ribs and all kinds of stuff.

John:  You’re going to town. That’s great. As far as tequila, I always counsel, much like any alcohol, if your college stories involve a version that comes in a plastic bottle, don’t hold that against us. You get what you pay for.

Jay:  Right. Don’t hold that against the spirit. You got what you deserved. That’s why I don’t drink gin. I have that college story about gin, and so it’s just not on my radar.

John:  Now and then, we’ll go for a Bombay Sapphire or something like that. I was going to ask you, my friend, Chris Hart, a former co-worker of mine, has done a book, “Wicked Good Barbeque”. Have you checked that out? Have you seen it?

Jay:  No, I have not. I will do that right now.

John:  I’ll hook you up.

Jay:  I will go down to Barnes and Nobles and I will look for it.

John:  Yeah right – and not find it. I’ll talk to him, and I’ll get you a copy. When we get off, I’ll get your snail mail.

Jay:  I’d appreciate that. That’d be great.

John:  So the book is Youtility on It’s climbing the charts over there, so you should have no trouble. Instead of just wandering aimlessly around your big box bookstore, you can just search for Jay Baer or Youtility.

Jay:  The best place to buy it, if somebody wants to buy it, buy it at an airport because I can get some more airport copies sold this month, they will keep it in the airports. So, if you’re traveling, buy it at an airport.

John:  It’s all about airport frontage, isn’t it? Just like the spare change, those copies just fly away of their own accord. That’s the place to be.

Jay:  That’s right.

John:  Good deal. That will do it for this week. Jay, thanks for stopping by.

Jay:  Thanks for having me. I really appreciate it.

Great Marketing

David Spark on Brand Journalism

David Spark is an 18 year veteran of tech marketing and journalism. He’s been in over 40 media outlets in print, radio, TV, and online, has been involved in podcasting, video, and came on to talk about Brand Journalism.

John:  Give us your elevator pitch. What do you do and how do you do it?

David: I own a company called Spark Media Solutions. We are brand journalists, which means we create media for companies to increase their thought leadership in this space. The angle that we’ve been really successful with is building influencer relations through content. That is, I think, the best way to make a friend with somebody: to create content or interview them. If you want to be their best bud, that’s probably the best way to do it. I don’t think I’ve failed at that yet.

John: You were just quoted recently in Forbes. They had a whole article about content marketing. There are a lot of ways to fail at content marketing. You can’t just jump into this and assume that because you are doing what everybody is doing it’s going to be right.  Talk a little bit more about that. Where do people screw this up and what do we have to look at?

David: I should say I despise the term “content marketing” because I think it’s insidious. I think to say to someone, “Here is some content.” But it’s also marketing. It’s like someone would want to drop it like a hot potato: “Ah! I don’t want this! Who wants this crap?”

The industry uses content marketing for their own selves and understands, “We’re generating this content to ultimately sell product.” But if it’s delivered to someone as marketing material, even though it’s “subtle,” as this writer described in the Forbes article, it’s still not good.

This is the big thing, especially if you have a very complicated product: Most people are not morons, although I get a lot of arguments like, “Everybody is an idiot. You can easily sell them to whatever.” Most people are not morons, and if you are trying to soft sell something or sell something insidiously, they’re going to pick that up. They’re going to sniff that out. If you can sniff it out, they can sniff it out as well.

We have a big thing about doing everything above board, like it’s really clear what we’re doing. We’re just generating content with these people and we’re trying to build our brand and build our thought leadership through this. But if you try to do something weasily, it’s going to slap you in the face. It may work short term, but it’s not going to work long term.

John:  I definitely agree with that. That whole duplicitous nature, that kind of like “baiting the trap”, is the feel that I get with some of this stuff.

David:  It’s all how you approach it. If you make it clear what you’re doing, then everyone’s above board. They had this whole thing about, “Oh, never do a fake blog. Don’t do a fake blog.” If you’re trying to pull a fast one on your audience, don’t do a fake blog. But there have been fake blogs like the fake Steve Jobs thing that have been hugely successful because they are above board on what they’re doing.

When Wal-Mart – the very famous case – hired someone to blog for them and try to do it all clandestine, now you are not being above board. They refer to this as transparency. But I like to stay above board, saying “Hey, we’re all on the same page here on what’s going on.” That’s really what I’m trying to get through. As long as you are doing that and you are true to your nature, then you’ll be fine. It all depends on if the audience wants this kind of stuff. That gets into a deeper discussion of building your editorial voice.

John:  I agree with you. One thing that’s been oversold is the idea of transparency – the fact that you should show customers and prospects everything that’s going on in your business. That’s not it at all. It’s about remaining above board, being honest with what’s going on – not telling them everything that’s going on.

David:  Right. But again, you can create something fake as long as it’s clear, “This is a joke. This is fake,” and say who is in on the joke. There are examples of this that work really well. You can create fiction, too, and that can work really well as well.

John:  I know you have some stand-up comedy experience. I’ve noticed a recurring theme in a lot of stuff. You have an article I’ve linked to about getting Twitter hashtags to run. All that stuff is built around humor and kind of being clever. Talk a little bit more about that. How does that fit into the mix? How do you make it work?

David:  If you look at the top trending hashtags at any given time – and I’ll start with the Twitter thing – you will notice half of them are memes, and they’re usually issues that people want to talk about or people come up with.

Coming up with a great punch line is not the trick. It’s coming up with a great setup.  I’ll give you a perfect example. There’s the classic “Why did the chicken cross the road?” There are actually about a thousand punch lines to that joke or saying. I used to have a whole bit in my routine. There’s an old joke of, “You like your women like you like your coffee: hot and black.” That’s an old, old line. It’s an old joke. I used to do a whole series of variations on it. I think the brilliance was, “I like my women like I like my coffee,” and then I came up with 100 punch lines to it. They would be like “sitting in a mug that says: I love Mondays,” or “pounded into a brick, or concealing the smell of smuggled heroine”. These are variations on that.

Similar to these Twitter hashtags, I think the brilliance comes from – and maybe brilliance is overselling it – but the success of the viral nature of them comes from how can I come up with that “Why did the chicken cross the road” or the “I like my women like I like my coffee” setup that people want to write 100 punch lines to?

You’ll notice that’s essentially what those meme hashtags are. They’re just great setups for other people to write punch lines for. That’s kind of the trick to succeeding in a meme-generated trending hashtag. Not all of them have to be that. The meat of that article about how to trend on Twitter is all based on live events, actually. I think that’s really where you can actually get a lot of success – in live events.

Going back to comedy in general, we do a lot of this in video stuff. Again, it all depends on what the client wants and if it’s appropriate to their brand to put in comedy. Some don’t want it and some do. It just all depends on what they want.

John: Let’s talk a little bit more about brand journalism. One of the big problems I see everywhere is classic marketing people – advertising people – have viewed social media and all these things as another channel to force the same garbage down. “Check out our product and buy it.” Brand journalism is a different approach. I feel it’s the way that these channels are actually meant to be used. Talk more about what you do on that front and contrast that to the garbage that’s gone before.

David:  People have been hyper complicating this and I’m going to make it really simple. Forget about brand journalism all together. Just think about how any 

media outlet becomes successful. They become successful by writing content, creating videos, producing radio shows and whatnot. The more they produce of good quality content that the audience wants and gets the interviews with the key people in the industry, the higher their stature raises in the industry. Therefore, the editorial outlet becomes very, very popular. By also maintaining their editorial integrity, they become very popular and they gain an audience through that.

Take that same exact concept on how any editorial media outlet operates and just apply it to your brand. Do nothing different. Do that exact same thing, because that’s exactly what you are shooting for.

Think about it. Wouldn’t you love to have the brand equity of a Time Magazine, of an ABC, of any media outlet that’s out there? Wouldn’t that be awesome? Well, start behaving like them.

True, it’s not as easy to all of a sudden amass a whole editorial team as big as that, but you can do something small, especially if you are in a very niche market. It’s very possible to do. Just speak to what your audience cares about.

John:  How do you combat the idea that these brand journalists are just marketers in disguise?

David:  Here’s my whole saying about that. There are good doctors and bad doctors. There are good lawyers and bad lawyers. There are good journalists and bad journalists. There are good brand journalists and bad brand journalists. I can’t speak for all the brand journalists out there. I can only speak for what we do.

If someone else is going to do crap, which it happens, and unfortunately, it hurts my reputation as well, because whenever that happens it puts a mark on the industry and puts a mark on me. Ask any other professional anytime bad news comes out about another lawyer or about another doctor. It hurts them as well. They don’t like seeing it either. For those who choose to keep doing the marketing, you’re just hurting the industry and you are hurting yourselves. That’s really all I can say on that.

As I said before, we try to stay above board. We have in our contracts that myself and my whole company is completely transparent about what we do and what we create. We refuse to do ghostwriting because we know it would damage our brand and inevitably damage our client’s brand as well. It’s very important to maintain your editorial integrity.

While other people are doing their thing, I can’t control it. It’s not going to help you if you keep doing it. If you want to be a pure marketer, go be a pure marketer. That’s fine. But don’t be a marketer that claims you are also a brand journalist and you’re not actually keeping the ethos of brand journalism.

John:  Right. Talk a little bit more about the ghostwriting thing you just mentioned. That was interesting. I haven’t heard somebody lay that out.


David:  The only way that we will agree to do “ghostwriting” (and it’s not really ghostwriting) is we’ll create content and not put anybody’s name on it. Therefore, no one labeling in it at all. We’ve had situations where clients come to us and ask, “Will you ghostwrite and put our CEO’s name on the thing?”

We know that’s going to be damaging because it will somehow come out that the CEO didn’t write this and find out that Spark Media Solutions wrote it or something. That hurts our brand and it hurts our client’s brand. It’s going to do nobody any good.

What we suggest in a situation like that where they say, “Well, the CEO doesn’t have time to write,” I say, “That’s fine. Let me interview the CEO and I will publish an interview with the CEO.” I’ve got no problem with that. That’s fine. Then the CEO gets his voice out there.

There are ways to do what you want to do without ghostwriting and trying to pull a fast one on the audience. This just goes back to if you do that, you’re not being above board. You’re trying to pull a fast one on your audience. It’s a slippery slope to even worse behavior. I will say that.

John:  That kind of begs the question: You’re talking with somebody about ghostwriting on behalf of the CEO. You say, “No. We can’t do that.” So what happens at that point? Does every company have to have somebody that can do this role and be the spokesman in blogs, or videos, or whatever? Somebody’s got to step up then?

David:  I always think it’s critical that the people within the company can speak for themselves, their own voice. We would love to take on all the responsibility and create all the content for all clients we work with. We’d be crazy, crazy busy. It would be fantastic, but that’s not going to do you good in building your own thought leadership.

One of the things we do know and the reason we’re hired is creating content can be super-duper expensive if you don’t know what you are doing. You can also waste a ton of time and money doing this as well. That’s why we’re hired. We streamline the editorial and production process for our clients, for that matter.

But if people are not on board on creating content within the company themselves, if you’re not a good writer, there are other ways to do this. Are you good on camera? Are you good just talking in an interview? Maybe you’re not good overall, so we’ll have to heavily edit the interview. Maybe you don’t have a good speaking voice and we’ll just have written content. There are still ways to do this and get that out and get it from your voice.

Look, if nobody in the company can speak intelligently about the company and about the industry, I’m surprised you are still in business. Someone there has to be able to do it. If you don’t think it’s valuable, that’s what I find really foolish. You’re communicating with people anyway, so why not do it in a more public way so you’re not spinning your wheels having 100 of the same conversation with people?

This is one of the arguments I hear constantly: “I have no time to blog.” But my whole attitude is you should blog because it’s going to ease up all your other communications as well.

John: Getting back to timeframe, this is another thing that is a big deal. You talked about how people always underestimate how much time it takes to create content. What do you prescribe when you start working with a client? Unfortunately, we’ve got people that are hooked on AdWords, where, in six hours they’re going to know whether stuff is working or not. What kind of time do they need to get a brand journalism program going?

David:  There are both short-term and long-term goals that you can set up. We actually focus a lot of our efforts around conferences and trade shows. Getting back to the time and cost situation, it the cheapest, most cost-efficient way to create a ton of content in a very brief period of time. That’s step number one.

Also, if you go through a live event, you can get a lot of attention in just a period of a week or two weeks – or a day or two as well.

But if you don’t commit to it, that’s the other thing. You’re committing to everything else. You’re committing to your advertising. You’re committing to your business. You’re committing to your products. This is just something you need to commit to. But you can create little short-term plays and measure it. You can do traditional things like measuring traffic and measuring shares and stuff like that.

Many of our clients are in the B2B space. That’s the place that we roll the best. They have long-term goals. They have sales cycles that take six months to two years sometimes. What’s really, really key in those issues is relationship building, especially with the influencers in the space.

If you start branding your company as having relationships with these influencers and creating content through these influencers and the influencers know you, anytime you have a little fun content project they’re happy and eager to participate in it and they love your content projects – if you’re really selling to the influencers in terms of their participants and they like your content – then everything else trickles into place, because they end up  sharing it with their audience and you get access to the entire audience you want to get access to. We have learned that’s been the most successful. I try to measure success with my clients on how many relationships with influencers we’re getting.

John:  Obviously, leverage is a big part of this. The fact that you guys create content all the time and you’re doing audio, video, blogging and all that stuff, you’ve learned all the hard lessons. Just ballpark: if you were looking at trying to do this from scratch yourself versus the content that you guys can create, how much more could you get done in the same time? How much is a lift there between having to spend time?

David:  I’ll just give you an idea. Here’s a perfect example. One of our old clients is a company called The CMO Club. They bring 50-100 CMOs into a single room to engage and talk about marketing issues. It’s a great event. I am physically arm’s reach away from all these CMOs. In a single event, I can produce 20 videos and articles with these key CMOs.

If I was not at that event, here’s what would have to happen. “David, I need you to get 20 interviews with CMOs of various companies.” I have to call the companies. I have to then go to the media relations department. I have to then fly to all these places, probably with a crew or book a crew in the location. I have to clear all the questions with the media relations department, and they’re going to probably want to see the end product as well. Now we’re getting into crazy six figures. It’s going to be super crazy expensive.

Alternatively, for a lot, lot less money, you just go to an event and I’m physically there, I’ve got camera equipment, and I’m standing two feet away from you and I say, “Hey, I’m shooting this video for The CMO Club (or for this other blog, or for this other event). Can I ask you a question about what you just talked about on stage or what we’re all taking about at this event?” My success rate is in the 90th percentile and higher using that technique. We just go with the technique that works the best and is the most successful, and costs less for the client, too.

It’s a really powerful, powerful statement when you go to an event and you put 15-20 influencers’ faces and names on your blog with your branding around them as well. I’ll have a microphone that has the company’s logo on the mic flag. That’s hugely powerful. It’s a series of implied endorsements even though they’re not talking about your company.

John: That’s a great point, the fact that it extends beyond the event. You’ve done all this work to build a great event and get all these great speakers. To be able to stretch that into content that you can use the rest of the year is a huge plus.

David: I should also mention that’s if you’re producing the event. A lot of times – almost always – we go to events that our clients aren’t producing, sometimes not even sponsoring for that matter. We just go purely as press and create a ton of content. The event producers love us as well because we’re creating a ton of content and recognition for their event as well.

John: Yeah. Even just having a video crew on the floor attracts attention as the kind of hype people want.

David:  The number of times people take photos of me holding the microphone interviewing somebody with the camera equipment or the mic flag, which has the logo of the company on it, gets tweeted out, Instagrammed out, or Facebooked. That’s a nice little side benefit I never really expected.

John:  How about virtual events and things like that then? Obviously, that doesn’t kind of play into this model. Do you have clients that try and do stuff around those events? The bigger question is we’ve heard a lot over the past couple years about live events kind of declining and dying off, do you just say that that’s wrong that people need these personal connections or can we work in the virtual world?

David:  I’m in the San Francisco Bay area. I was just at an event that was packed to the gills last night. There may be industries where they’re falling apart, but I mostly roll in the tech industries and I have not seen a slide at all. I know running an event and producing an event and trying to get people to your event is extraordinarily hard. I wouldn’t want to do it full-time. We actually do produce some events. That can be extraordinarily stressful. But, man, I keep going to events and they’re packed – tons and tons of events. People still come out to it. They still see the value in it.

I should also mention I think the reason for that is I think the quality presentations have gone up dramatically. I used to go to events and think all the presentations were horrible. I think now since we have TED Talks and SlideShare where people can put presentations, they’ve jumped dramatically. I was at this one conference just a few weeks ago – Velocity Conference – and I thought all the presenters were phenomenal. You’ve probably seen this at conferences, too. You go to a conference and the person presenting is horrible – just God awful. What happens to the Twitter stream? People are just slamming this person left and right. You want that?

It used to be before Twitter, if you had a horrible presentation, you had a horrible presentation and that was the end of it. Nobody knew about it, except the people in the room. But now if you do a horrible presentation, everyone around the world knows it.

John:  The back channel is a fierce judge. That’s for sure. Anything else you want to tell us about as far as what you guys do or is there anything we missed here?

David:  We create tons of great content. We build thought leadership. The focus of content building to influence relations has been hugely successful for us. Check out all our fun videos on our site. The ones that I’m most proud of lately were we went to the RSA conference. If you don’t know, it’s a big information security conference. It’s a huge, huge conference. Tons of security professionals. For the last two years I’ve been roaming around the floor asking all these security pros to just tell me what their password is. As you might imagine, I get some rather funny reactions out of that. The first year I did it I actually got some people telling me their password on camera, which I thought was really strange.  But they did.

John:  We’ve been tracking over the past couple shows people using Google Glass wearable technology. I wanted you to check in on that. What’s your opinion on Google Glass? Are you pro, con, or looking forward to getting a set or never buy a set?

David: I love the idea. I think it’s really cool. It is a little unnerving, a lot of people think. But you know what? Facebook is a little unnerving as well. The thing is we’ve seen all these demos of virtual reality type things and being layered on top of our real world. But it requires one to hold up a cell phone in front of their face and walk around, which people just don’t do, so they’ve been more kind of demo type things.

But the Google Glass thing is kind of amazing. I think where it’s going to be monstrously powerful is in facial recognition. I can go to an event and I can literally scan the room, and if you can identify you are John Wall, then immediately I can get access to things like your Facebook profile, your LinkedIn, etc. and have all this info. I can scan the room and also do searches, like “Who in this room is doing this kind of work?” I can immediately pinpoint those people and go directly to them. That, I think, is powerful. It’s also going to be powerful I think in dating. Who is available? Who is single in this room?  I think that’s going to be pretty powerful as well.

You constantly hear people complaining, “Well, what about privacy and what about security?” But every time they complain about it, when they start to see what this can do, they’re like, “Well, I’ll give up my privacy and security for that because that’s damn cool!” I think this is just going to be a continuation of that.

The EFF and the ACLU are going to fight it tooth and nail because they see what’s happening to it, but people give up personal and privacy information for more capabilities than they have before. And it will just continue to happen. That’s why I see Google Glass will just continue on. But I think that will be the big power, is once you get facial recognition. That will be huge.

John: That sounds good. David Spark, thanks for joining us today. We appreciate having you on.

David: Thanks for having me.

The Marketeer

Always More Complicated

Lying with statistics is a topic that comes up all the time on Marketing Over Coffee and you’d think it would get old, but the latest crazes of dashboards, infographics and the like just continue to fuel the fire.

Point #1: Statistics that show you a pie chart to make you feel better are misleading you and hiding a bunch of thorny questions. For better or worse, every time I’ve dug into the numbers I’ve found questions that are difficult to answer and force you to ask even more difficult questions.

Over the 4th I found an interesting article on the fact that many flags and patriotic clothes are not made in the United States. That article claims only 2% of the apparel sold in the US is made here. Wearing clothing that celebrates America that wasn’t made here is an interesting issue, it then gets pushed much farther by talking about U.S. flags being used on caskets for our military and proposed legislation to require that they be made in the United States (the majority are made in China). This is the “digging deep gets complicated” phenomenon, clothes being made outside the U.S. seems like not a big deal on the surface, 4th of July items being imported feels strange, our tax dollars for flags for those who made the ultimate sacrifice paid to a nation that’s not that big on freedom feels like a crime.

The article then cites research from Consumer Reports (a favorite publication of mine): “Given a choice between a product made in the U.S. and an identical one made abroad, 78 percent of Americans would rather buy the American product”. This brings to light three more important points:

Point #2: Creating a survey question that is not biased takes a lot of work.

Biased questions gets right to the point of why we joke on Marketing Over Coffee about most surveys sucking. A question like “Are you an ungrateful non-patriot that wouldn’t want to buy clothes made in the US?” will probably cause some problems with your survey.

Point #3: People lie in surveys.

Saying people lie is just me being sensationalist (after all, this is a blog). People don’t intentionally deceive, but they answer with their hearts and often don’t want to disappoint the person asking the questions in the survey for any number of reasons. Proving point #1 in action – if 78% of Americans really want American products you’ve got a hard time explaining the 2% apparel stat.

Point #4: Apathy rules.

In the 2% apparel case we might explain the gap with apathy: Maybe 8 out of 10 people really do want to buy American first, but it’s not high enough on their priority list to check a label every time they buy clothes. As a parent with 2 young children I have first hand knowledge of shopping and getting home with no real clue or understanding what’s in the bags I’ve brought home.complicated

That leads us to the real lesson:

Point #5: It’s About Seeing the Complications.

It’s not about stats to create graphs, it’s about digging in to ask more questions to understand what forces are at work. Are you losing business because of the economy or because a better product has come along? Are people not buying American because of price or a lack of knowledge about the economic impact of where products come from? Are prospects not smart enough for your product, or is it that your product is so boring that nobody cares?

I’m sorry to say that many times I’ve dug in and not been satisfied with the answers I’ve found. I can say that I’ve almost always come out with  a better understanding of what’s really happening.


P.S. If you’re tired of shaky statistics that are generating worthless discussion and not having any impact on the bottom line you might want to read more from Avinash Kaushik. Tom Webster also knows something about surveys.  They both write clearly about avoiding bias and getting actionable information out of the questions you are asking.

The Marketeer

The Next Thing

For those not chronically addicted to LinkedIn, I’m no longer with Glance Networks. I’ve been spending a lot of time thinking about what’s next and as it usually happens, things have been coming up on their own. Thanks to all of the listeners of Marketing Over Coffee I’ve been able to talk to many people, and I’IMG_5578m so thankful for having a great network of friends keeping an eye out for me.

While catching up with everyone that I haven’t had time to talk to over the past year I’ve had a number of people ask if I’d be interested in doing some contract projects. Some consulting, some all the way through to execution, and all with companies I’m very interested in. Although I’m not thrilled about figuring out my own healthcare and payroll (at least the M Show Productions LLC that was set up for Marketing Over Coffee is already in place), I’m very excited to have a chance to work with different organizations rather than just parachuting into a single project. The big question will be if I will eventually turn all the time towards a single company if things work out, or if I find out that I can make an agency of some kind work.

I’m very excited for this next step, it’s a big leap!

The Marketeer

More on Marketing Ethics: Persuasion vs. Manipulation

I saw a link to an article about Persuasion vs. Manipulation and had to click through. This has been a topic we’ve discussed often on Marketing Over Coffee and Dr. Pete has some interesting observations. I was trying to get them to fit with some discussions and ground rules we’ve already laid down. My intent was not to criticize him, but rather to see if I could align what he’s said with some of what we’ve covered to see if we can’t get further out on the frontier.

What I’ve written below won’t make much sense unless you’ve checked out his article first:

My first point is that Persuasion vs. Manipulation is only a shade of gray and usually not at the core of the ethical questions around a transaction. Persuasion is making an argument. Manipulation does not have to be sinister, it can simply mean that one is an expert persuader, especially when they are using that advantage against someone that is not as skilled in making arguments. It does also include being able to coerce someone into a situation that they may not desire to be in (which could be for good or bad, but often to the manipulator’s advantage).

Questioning the ethics of the Sales/Marketer’s behavior is not a matter of what information the buyer is lacking (basically situations 1,2,3 and 5 are just varying degrees of lacking information, situation 4 is lacking all the information), but whether the intent of the persuader or manipulator is for “Good” or “Evil”. These are Philosophy 101 arguments. Taking a 50,000 foot view you can divide this into three buckets:

  1. Ethics depend on if you followed the rules (Deontology) but this tends to be inflexible and has logic problems (killing is bad until someone wants to kill you, HAL won’t open the pod bay doors…)
  2. Every situation is different, it just matters if the outcome is “Good” or “Bad” (I had been taught that this was Utilitarianism, but have since learned that this is a branch of Consequentialism), can work but can get weird when you realize that killing half the population might make the world a lot better for the survivors. Lots of humanity’s darkest hours come from these corners.
  3. For discussion (and my personal life, I) find it useful to use a mashup of both –  rules that most people agree are “Right” – like don’t steal or kill people, but every rule has exceptions and outcomes need to be considered. We don’t kill, except for the people that we send Jack Bauer after, they need to die NOW (Jack always requires a lot of yelling too).

Scenario 1: This is order taking – marketing needs to make sure that they can find your website and place an order. This is can be abused as much as any of the other scenarios. My website “Send me a buck and I’ll send you 20” can take orders and then I can run with the money.

Scenario 2: The key here is “the customer hasn’t made up their mind” and seller usually doesn’t know either the ethical implications of why they haven’t made up their mind, or if their decision process is even rational. Are they buying a gun and ammo to settle an argument at work? Are they buying a car that they can’t afford that will take food off the family’s table? If the car dealer manipulates them into a car they can afford is that wrong?

Scenario 3: Actually this is a very simple situation to evaluate but there are two separate issues: 1. The ethics of the parties – is either lying or manipulating? 2. The ethics of the choice – is the transaction right or wrong? Does either party care? This is just a check list, vendor A or B will be closer to what the buyer wants and there may be lying on all sides.

Scenario 4: Again I argue that the previous 3 and number 5 are just varying degrees of lack of information in the decision making process. This Scenario is unique and requires education more than order taking. There’s tons of stuff written on this, many people talk about “Missionary Sales” and Geoffrey Moore’s “Crossing the Chasm” explains why it takes so long for these types of sales to cross over to the mass market. You are almost there saying that Scenario 4 may not be cost effective – in fact, it’s never cost effective, but if your product is revolutionary you will make the money back. The key is it’s not about whether or not you choose to take that path, it’s if your product is great enough to pull you through to the other side where the mass market sits

Scenario 5: Very common, the buyer decides to change the priority of their decision making criteria. I thought the Chevy was better, but now that I can get the Ford for $1,000 less…

These Scenarios are all great for analysis but the question of ethics usually just boils down to: Who stands to gain? (Follow the money). Or, “Who’s lying?”. Soooo, basically this is the world’s longest blog comment. Thanks Dr. Pete for giving me something to think about!

Graphic Design

Purpose of the Receipt

With Amazon Prime free shipping, and the savings you can get from subscribing to products (e.g. baby stuff just shows up at our house on a regular schedule and we get a price break for having a standing order), the UPS guy knows us well. The only problem is that the receipts that come with the order often don’t show the total.

It’s not like there’s a shortage of white space here.

Great Marketing

The Marketing Over Coffee Awards

Three years ago, around the end of 4th quarter I was talking with Christopher S. Penn about the shortage of interesting things going on in the industry at the end of the year. Everyone is trying to close business for the end of the year, retailers are flat out with the holiday crush, and the back to back dietary threat of Thanksgiving and Christmas eliminate the chance of much excitement in marketing headlines.

We had talked about awards many times on Marketing Over Coffee and Chris joked that we should do our own awards. To get the full impact of the joke you need to know that in Marketing and PR circles awards are often given little respect. There are many that aren’t much more than “pay your application fee and get a trophy” (and half ass agencies hope to dupe green clients into believing that they really are “award winning”) and then there are others that large organizations shoot for, and at these companies there’s often a person that has applying for awards as one of their major job functions.

I do have to say that when recording some audio with David Meerman Scott a few years ago, he did get me to see an angle I had missed. There are certain awards that you should pay attention to because of who the judges are. In many industries there are awards judged by influential people that you might already be trying to reach through your normal marketing channels. Paying a couple hundred bucks to get some guaranteed time with the right people is a no brainer if there’s a fit.

Our joke was, we would give the awards to who we liked. If you were doing something cool, and you were a fan of the show, you could win. No “Yes! You’ve won, please send us $295 for your trophy”, no automatic winners by paying the fee, in fact – no entry fee at all. To demonstrate our uncanny marketing prowess, in 2009 we rolled out  the first “23rd Annual Marketing Over Coffee Awards”

By the second year though, it was less of a joke. By giving the awards to people who were doing exceptional things, it took on a life of its own very quickly. Despite our best efforts to make it a counter-culture joke, people started taking it seriously.

You can check out the list of winners (and the latest show) over at the MoC blog, but I wanted to give my director’s commentary.

So far, every year there are one or two people that I come in contact with that change my outlook completely. Of course when nomination time rolls around, I nominate these, and their odds tend to be pretty good.

In 2010 Simon Sinek’s book had that impact on me. Anyone in Marketing must read this book. As we talked about it, he said that he had noticed at the agency he was at, that one team could do amazing work for a client, and the have mediocre results for another. His quest do figure out why that happens resulted in “Start With Why“.

Simon tweeted about winning and he has a loyal following that re-tweeted his message, and I have to give a hat tip to the group from Gainsville that tweeted about their offer to see Simon, the award winning author at their next event. Awesome job with the magnetic grappling hook!

The other winner from day one was Alure. I was very busy with work when the Inbound Marketing Summit rolled around and couldn’t attend the event, but Foxboro is a short drive from my home and I wanted to meet Ben Strong, one of last year’s winners in person. As we were having drinks I saw this guy come in and I recognized him but couldn’t place him. It was killing me because I knew that I recognized him from TV or the movies, not business networking. After about 5 minutes it finally hit me that it was Sal, who I had seen many times on Extreme Makeover Home Edition. I won’t get into the full story, but besides the fact that I think it’s the best show on TV, it has also been a tremendous motivator for my family. Sal introduced me to some of his guys, including John Doyle, who has been covering a lot of ground, and that’s where the MoC holiday interview came from this year.

This year I realized we should have been doing an Entrepreneur of the Year award, as risk-taking is a critical part of testing new marketing waters (and Chris also mentioned that next year we need a “Boring” award for those who execute perfectly on things like emailing their customer base every month – things that make a huge difference t the bottom line but are pretty light on sex appeal). C.C. Chapman and Ann Handley had been nominated for their book “Content Rules” but I’ve known them both long enough to see the book as only the latest in a long string of “Next Big Things”. Having worked over at ClickZ Ann been part of MarketingProfs rising to the top of the Marketing Publication heap, and I’ve known C.C. since the days when being a podcaster would get you on Network TV and a feature Article in the Globe (unlike now, buried deep in the trough of disillusionment), and he was an easy choice for Entrepreneur of the Year.

On products, the  Toll Free Freedom Virtual Phone System won on votes (so we didn’t have to do our first sell out award since they are a sponsor of the podcast), and deserves it, taking the risk to sponsor a rebel marketing audio program.

I met Saul at Blogger Social 2008, he was one of the followers of the now defunct M Show, and is a contemporary, so we get each other’s absurd 70’s references. He has also done an acceptance speech – where else can you see Erik Estrada covering Kool and the Gang?

Finally, it has taken on a life of its own – every year there are a couple of winners that I meet for the first time through the awards. These people usually take the awards more seriously than the organizers, but I’m thankful to meet new people doing exciting projects:

This year Ryan Holota worked hard to get the votes, and has even done a Press Release on his win.

Ryan and Brian blew away all other vote getters, and their book on Social Media is “Still Awesome, and Still Free”. A sense of humor is greatly appreciated in this space, and I welcome them aboard, Gavin MacLeod style.

Congratulations to this year’s winners, thanks for making 2010 a great year.

Direct Mail

The Problem with Direct Mail

Many moons ago I worked on direct mail pieces. It’s an arcane practice requiring many of the things you hear about at Halloween – eye of newt and the like, and it is far more difficult than it would seem. Sadly, during the primaries here in Massachusetts I had some examples of the challenge. Guy is a fellow UMass grad and I received two portfolio pieces from him (8 1/2 x 17 so it folds into a 4 page brochure). Here’s the first one: Bonus points to you if you can catch the problem here. Look for a second to see if you get it. I ran this by a number of marketing people and few caught the error.

Reign has a homophone – rein (homophones sound alike but have different meaning whether they are spelled the same or not, in this case not). To make things even more confusing I thought this was a homonym, but while fact checking found than homonyms are also spelled the same (e.g. bear – the animal, vs. bear – to carry). After even further review I found that some use homophone and homonym interchangeably, perhaps because I am one of the 4 people left on earth that care.

But alas, if you do know the difference, it’s a huge one: Rein, the word that should have been used, comes from leading a horse and means to control – in this case stop the waste – a great message. Reign refers to the rule of a leader, most commonly referring to a monarch’s rule – so instead of eliminating wasteful spending this says he will be King  Wasteful the Great. Again, I ran this by a number of marketing professionals and they didn’t catch it – the point is: copy writing is challenging stuff and good editors are rare diamonds.

Here’s the second one:

This is the one that broke my heart completely. A cynic would say “Yes, that’s what I expect the auditor to do, that’s their job.”, but I love this ad. They look bad ass. Joe Schlump sleeping at his desk in some no show job at the State House would get run out of town by these guys. The other 3 pages were strong too, comparing him to his opponent, and doing a great job of it.

The problem here is that trying hit targets in the postal system is Jedi Master Level only. There are SCFs (Sectional Center Facilities) and a bunch of other crap I don’t even remember anymore that the mail moves through that affect delivery. Plus, every postmaster has to put all the rules and regulations in practice just like a Chief of Police – so every town is different. The postal system got the best of this one – when it arrived in my mailbox I had voted on election day, the day before.