Here’s what’s been going on and why I haven’t been posting here.
We are still barrelling along at EventHero. It is not easy, but we’ve had some big wins recently and this is the best team I’ve ever worked with. If we continue on our present course life could get a bit easier, like just “software startup difficult” not “flat out alchemy”. So if you have anything to do with events and need badges, lead retrieval, session tracking, or integration between event technology systems, please remember me.
Marketing Over Coffee continues to be a great project, even since Serial brought in a fresh wave of listeners things have been growing faster than ever before. Even if you are not into listening to podcasts, you might want to sign up for the MoC newsletter. The biggest topics from every show are sent out a couple times a month, all the goodness without having to listen. To be honest, that’s been the biggest killer of this blog, the newsletter gets 10x the readers and is backed by sponsors so that’s where my free time goes first.
On the audio gear front I decided back in the spring that I wanted some over the ear headphones for the office. My favorite Shure 530s died after many years of service and the new Bose QC20i is amazing for travel so I looked around for something new while at the desk. I was very impressed with the Sony 7506 as a huge value when you look and price and sound quality. Then I went a little further down the lunatic path – I’ve been modifying them, adding a removable cord so you can use them with your phone, or with a high quality boom mic. I’ve tested dozens of aftermarket ear pads. I’ve even set up an online store, if you’re interested in learning more about headphones that sound incredible because the money goes to the parts instead of to celebrity sponsorship check out Johnny Headphones!
That’s about it, that and two kids under 6, and my wife working the family business. The last big thing that has nothing to do with marketing was that we went to Frontier Days in Wyoming this summer. If you’ve never seen a grown man jump off a horse galloping at full speed to tackle a 700 lb. cow you really need to do that. Carin and I also went to three shows, catching Big & Rich, Toby Keith, and Keith Urban, basically a Country Music Super Bowl.
I am getting the year end wrap up in order, and if you are a marketer the nominations for the Marketing Over Coffee Awards will be open soon, and I’ll also be giving out some Johnny Headphones there too! I hope you have a great holiday season!
I’m just posting this because I listened to a Tim Ferris interview with Tony Robbins this week and it doesn’t do well in the car or while running because of the mix. Tim has a page where you can submit comments and I wanted to post a sample to show what I’m talking about.
For anyone podcasting here are two simple things that can significantly improve your audio. Here’s a screenshot of an audio wave:
You can listen to this audio file here:
If you cut the picture above in half, the left side is the “Before” and the right side is the “After”. On the left side the recording is not taking advantage of the power available to it. In other words, you are going to have to turn the volume up twice as much compared to the average song, or audio cues on your phone. These are the situations where you turn up a podcast and then when you get a text message, or your running app cuts in to tell you how many miles you are at, it blows your ears out.
Now there’s an entire profession dedicated to mastering audio – making it sound great and taking into account the devices it will be played on. I am by no means an expert in this area, but I can give you two simple things to at least get from annoying to sounding closer to an NPR podcast:
The Levelator is a free tool that will adjust the entire file so that it uses most of the dynamic range. This includes fixing where one person is louder than the other. All you do is drag and drop your file on to the window and it spits out a second file that sounds better.
Soundsoap is not free but does a great job at reducing background noise and can also add some Barry White to your sound. If you realize that the air conditioner or other stray noise in the background is annoying this can make a huge difference.
Jason Keath posted about building a home studio on Facebook and asked if I would throw in my two cents. Jason is a mensch and I realized that my comment would be one of those annoying five page Facebook comments so it was much easier to write an entire manifesto here.
I probably know about 5% of what you need to know to build a studio, but that doesn’t matter because there are two easy options. Either call Parsons Audio and spend the money or talk to some podcasters who are always experimenting with cheap stuff, which is often pretty good thanks to the current level of technology.
First things that come to mind:
Do you really want to build a studio in your house and lose a room? Renting allows you to not have weirdos in your home, will sound fantastic, and means that you won’t have the UPS guy ringing the doorbell or the General Lee driving by honking the dixie horn. It’s also just like the gym, when you go you will get the job done, if the equipment is in the house it will probably end up as a clothing rack. On the other hand, the big upside is setting up a bunch of stuff and then never having to take it down. Let’s say you’re sold on that. Most people I know have an office and create a studioffice. Or maybe an officudio. Or something.
Noise kill: John Federico makes a great point about Dynamic vs. Condenser mics – I’ve found it easier to use dynamic mics in a room with carpet and some stuff on the walls than trying to make sure everyone is out of the house and gluing up foam egg crates. Capturing the room noise before and after recording and then using Soundsoap hides a huge array of sins.
Who’s doing the talking? If you have four people around the table with some microphone technique, then nice mics and headphones are great. These Sony headphones are good enough that if someone doesn’t like them you can yell “BRING YOUR OWN DAMN CANS.” Shure SM58 is a workhorse for a microphone, but if you want similar guts but a lot cooler looking, the Elvis Mic fits the bill.
The thing here though is if they are not broadcasters it may change things – for podcast guests sometimes a lavaliere mic is great because public speakers who move around a lot may not always be in front of the mic (off axis), or worse yet tap or kick the table (why you see the 10,000 pound tables in the studio). An old NPR trick is to have a lav mic on the brim of a baseball hat, the placement works and you don’t have to mess with people’s clothes.
Also on furniture – finding chairs that don’t creak is important. Metal submarine style chairs are an option, although standing up or having a barstool can improve vocal projection for the group.
I like to keep a computer out of the equation for panel discussions (although the fanless Macbook may change that). I run a Mackie mixer into a Marantz digital recorder, it’s been solid for years.
Of course then you’ll start thinking that you might video some of it so that requires cameras and light….
Longtime readers know that I usually check in every six months or so with a sound update. Between loving music and producing the Marketing Over Coffee podcast I keep an eye on what’s happening in audio (and tend to spend more money than I should).
I got a push this time from the folks at Headroom, I mention them every time we talk audio because of their great shared testing results. Since I’m writing anyway I can also enter this in their #MyHeadRoom campaign which is giving away 2 sets of Shure SE846 earphones (if you’ve ever wondered what it would be like to drop $1,000 on earbuds), and a set of SHR1540 headphones (which I would love to take for a test drive). Listening to music is the only peace and quiet that happens in my house full of kids, and I have worn my Shure’s for a full day as part of work so thanks Headroom!
Last time we were talking about getting better sound out of your iPhone. Since then: Bose replaced the QC15 with the QC25 and all reports say they are even better, so if noise reduction is your thing (hello road warriors), that’s the way to go.
I also found an interesting app called Dirac. It optimizes the sound for Apple Earphones and EarPods (the freebies that come with your phone and most sound fans laugh at and throw away). For $3 it is no joke, it makes the EarPods sound much better, as in better than some earphones costing $100 or more. The catch is you have to use their music player, it doesn’t work for all apps (i.e. no movies, games, etc.) If you want to nerd out on it some more check out their site and how they optimize for Rolls Royce and others.
I’ve been digging into DACs as part of the quest for better sound and have found that some call the Pono snake oil, there are some interesting things (or maybe more snake oil) on the horizon, and some results that show the iPhone 6 actually has fantastic sound. An interesting tip from that last link – the volume slider on the screen gives you more granular control of the volume than the buttons on the side.
As far as phones… a moment of silence for my Shure 535s that have gone to the great listening room in the sky. For now I’m using my Bose QC20i as they are the easiest to travel with. I’m also interested in checking out what lands from the guys that make the Dragonfly.
On the recording front, Shure has some things in the pipeline that look interesting. Also Soundsoap released version 4, that’s my secret weapon for making the podcast sound a bit better than the other guys out there. I’ve also been kicking around a condenser mic in the studio and have been checking out Apogee gear for that.
That’s what I’ve been listening to, if you’ve found anything interesting lately I’d love to hear from you @johnjwall
With year end it’s time to look back and see how things went, and to figure out what the plan is for 2015. In the past I would review and report every quarter. By the time we had two kids, my goals could be boiled down to “Survive”.
We’re starting to make it past survival mode, and occasionally I even have an hour to myself, or a chance to use the bathroom uninterrupted. The funny part here is that it’s been so long since I have had anything like free time I usually sit there in a stupor absorbing the silence and trying to remember what it was I used to do when I would have free time.
Here’s the map as it stands for 2014:
The funny thing is that the goals are only the milestones. Even though I only accomplished about half of what I wanted to, I would rate this year as a huge success. Our family is doing well, and there have been some flashes of brightness that could be the beginning of great things in 2015.
Family – Everybody did well this year in spite of health troubles, my brother came out early in the year for the first ever Wall Ski Trip: The Next Generation. We visited my family in Michigan that I haven’t been out to see in a couple of years. With the exception of the college funds being under funded, all went well. Everyone is doing pretty well, score this a win.
Personal – Getting a cold/flu for the Falmouth Road Race was a backbreaker for me last year. I wasn’t in great shape but I was on track to finish well (for me), and this would have been my 10th. Instead I was sick for the end of the summer. Add to that another cold in December, and the winner, all four of us spending 7 of our 9 day vacation in Florida with the flu, made it kind of tough. On the other hand, nobody was REALLY sick, no hospital visits, so we’re ok. Losing Florida was a bastard though.
Financial – Well, working at a young company is not for the fiscally squeamish. Burning a lot of the war chest and we scaled back big time this year. On the other hand, that’s why we built the war chest. Here’s hoping the right cards come up in the next 6 months.
Professional – A busy and exciting year professionally, EventHero is moving along nicely. Given last year’s growth, signs are promising for 2015. Marketing Over Coffee stumbled in Q4 a bit but it was still a record year. The audiobook version of B2B Marketing Confessions did well and writing is progressing nicely on the next book (finally)! Overall I’m very proud of all the work that’s been done, and most of it has been placing a wager that it will come through eventually.
I hope your holiday went well and you’re prepared for 2015, here’s to having a huge, safe and happy year!
John: Tom Webster is here. He’s going to be talking about his brand-new book, The Mobile Commerce Revolution, written with Tim Hayden.
If you don’t know Tom, if you haven’t run across him in all the major social channels, he is VP of strategy and marketing at Edison Research, the folks that do the exit polls for the major political races. But he covers a lot of stuff, and most notable for us is his Infinite Dial report that talks about the state of online music and audio. We’ll have him tell us about that. Also the author of the BrandSavant blog, talking about what’s going on in his neck of the woods.
He has the Marketing Companion with Mark Schaefer, a podcast that he does — a two-man long format marketing discussion. Most importantly, he’s the producer of award-winning Friday Five podcast, and “Discovering the music DNA of interesting people” is the tagline on that.
Tom, welcome to the show.
Tom: Thank you. The Friday Five is coming back. I have three in the can now. I wanted to get four or five in the can before I launched, because, as you know, scheduling a podcast is awful.
John: That is the number one thing that people don’t think about that just takes so much time. It’s so great because I’m a huge music fan, so I love to hear that. It’s amazing to hear the stories people have behind the music they choose. Before we jump into the book and all that, tell us about your background. Obviously, you’re huge into media and podcasting, and you have a background in music, so tell us how this all came together.
Tom: I’ve largely been doing the same thing for about 20 years. I’m a consumer behavior guy, a researcher. I’ve done a lot of work in media research. In the first half of my career, I did a lot of work in media, measuring for the music and entertainment and radio industries audience measures and things. Then the last ten years were really a lot more focused on consumer behavior around technology, and both traditional and digital media, and marketing and advertising effectiveness. But at the heart of everything I’ve done for the past couple of decades has been studying the humans.
John: And how people move and decide.
Now, the book, The Mobile Commerce Revolution: where did this come from? Have you seen the signs and decided it was time for a book? Where did this all come from?
Tom: All credit to that has to go to my co-author and very good friend, Tim Hayden. Tim started this book originally. Tim is the most knowledgeable person about mobile who I know. My domain of authority is really about the mobile human, and Tim has a much more holistic and expansive knowledge of all things mobile. He started the book. He wrote it in the original Texan, and then I was hired to translate it.
No. He had a lot of great material, and I collaborated with him on mostly consumer behavior and how humans have changed, and I think really the biggest story of the book is that mobile has rewired human behavior as fast as anything that I’m aware of in the history of industry. We’re doing things now with our mobile phones by rote, out of habit, that we didn’t even imagine we would do five years ago.
John: Yeah. As you said, that’s right at the key of this book. It comes across quickly that mobile is a behavior; it’s not technology. We have all this tech that makes it happen, but there are literally these behaviors that change everything.
Two things that were interesting I’d love to hear you talk more about. One is going all the way to addiction. You guys address that, that some people are literally addicted to these phones. And then the other part of it is a narrowing of focus, too, in that most of people’s time is actually spent on a very small number of sites or content. So talk about all those behaviors, and how that comes together.
Tom: The interesting thing that’s happened with the smartphone now — and about two-thirds of Americans own a smartphone at this point — it’s not just that we own a smartphone; it’s that many of us are on our second, third, fourth smartphone. We’re now very, very comfortable with them.
When we buy a new smartphone, we load the same apps that we had before. There’s a suite of about 15 apps that I can’t live without, and they’re the first things that go on a new phone. I just got the iPhone 6, and that’s what I put on it.
It’s very hard, I think, to break a new app, because we do settle down with a smaller number of apps, just as we settle down with a smaller number of websites. The research that we quote in the book said 80% of people’s Internet time is spent on about 15 sites, and breaking into that 15 is a very difficult thing to do.
But that’s really just a function of the fact the mobile technology is mainstream technology, because that’s how mainstream humans act. Early adopters will load up on apps, and try and experiment new things, but as you get into the middle of the bell curve, there are just certain things people want and need to do, and that’s what they rely on their phones for. But what they’re relying on their phones for, again, are things that they wouldn’t even have dreamed of a few years ago.
Look at the Starbucks mobile app. The Starbucks mobile app is a phenomenally successful mobile strategy, and it’s essentially changing people’s behavior. It changes people’s behavior to stop into a Starbucks just to use the app.
John: They’re at the top. They are definitely the marquee mobile app. They have some gamification in there, it’s location-based. From what you see in that, then, how can other companies get on this bandwagon? What do they need to do? Obviously, they won’t get that level of success, but how can they get a better mobile strategy?
Tom: Well, I think they could get that level of success. I think that level of success at whatever scale you’re at is attainable. I’ll tell you the big key to what Starbucks did. When Starbucks brought out the app, there were some who ridiculed it, because it is a pretty low-tech solution. There’s no RFID. There’s no Bluetooth. There’s not an app that pays for it necessarily. It’s an app that prints a barcode, and they scan it with a barcode scanner.
But the genius about that is, first of all, it’s future-proof. If you were to write a story about this five years ago, if you had a smartphone, chances are you would read it on a Blackberry, which are few and far between now. Starting your mobile strategy with technology first is a long hiding to nowhere, but the thing that Starbucks realized — again, they started with the mobile human, and they watched the mobile human in line – is when the mobile human at Starbucks is waiting in line, what are they doing?
They are on their phone, and so when they get to the counter, they have to put their phone away and take out their wallet, or they have to have a phone in one hand and a wallet in the other and magically transport their drink. So Starbucks basically said, “Keep your wallet in your pocket.” That’s a human behavior that they researched, and it made the experience better for the humans in line.
Again, if you start with trying to remove a pain point, remove a step, make the experience of the mobile human a little bit better. That’s the basis for any mobile strategy.
John: You’re talking about the mobile human and what they’re doing, the experience at that one point. There’s another big idea in the book that I love. You talk about integration and little data. It’s really about how that one individual user is using the device and where they go with that. Talk about that, and how it seems contrary to the whole big data thing we’re being sold now. Where did that idea come from, and where do you go with it?
Tom: I think the exciting thing about mobile technology… First of all, ask yourself if this is true. (a) Do you have a smartphone? I bet you do. (b) If you change your smartphone, will you keep your number? My guess is that you will.
Your mobile phone number is now just like your social security number. I still have a North Carolina one. I live in Boston. I’m not going to change that number. I get text alerts to that number from travel services. So many people have that number. That’s my social security number.
The thing about that number is if you’re reaching me at that number, you are reaching me. You are not reaching a desktop that other people can use. You are not watching a TV screen that many people can view. It is truly the key to an actual one-to-one relationship.
The exciting thing about mobile technology – because the mobile device really is the key to that direct, personal relationship – is I hope marketing becomes what it used to be in the 1890s, when the people who ran your local store, your local butcher, they knew your name. They knew what products you liked. They ran a tab for you. I think the exciting thing about mobile is we can go back to that at scale.
John: That’s the real challenge. We’ve been promised one-to-one for decades really, and it seems like we have a lot more of the technology. Talk more about that. There are so many problems when you try to get to scale. You always see the examples of a frequent flyer member, and they’re getting an email, and they’re saying, “I don’t need more miles. I’ve got millions of miles.” How can we get closer to that one-to-one experience? What other ways do you see being able to drill down like that?
Tom: You have to provide value in the relationship. We’re so used to being marketed as a segment. In order to market to you as a human, I need to have a little more profile data, and I need to have your permission to do that on a mobile basis. And in order for me to do that, you have to provide some serious value above and beyond the value of your product or the value of your service.
It’s a courtship. It is a courtship as much as e-mail marketing was 15 years ago. If you provide something that is truly a value to me, then I’m going to give you permission to contact me. I’m going to give you permission to continue to provide value to me, because I’m a selfish person. I’m going to give you that opportunity to have that one-to-one relationship. Essentially, it’s just replacing the profile data of a segment with the profile data of an individual human who you know you’re going to be able to reach.
I’ll give you a great example of this, and this is why mobile is holistic and so not just about marketing. One of my favorite companies is Hilton. I am unobtainium mithril level with Hilton, and their mobile app is fantastic. You can do all the things that you would expect you could do with it, but what Hilton is going to start rolling out is a smart door technology.
You’re going to be able to check into a Hilton directly from your phone — and this will be true for many hotel chains, I suspect. You will never again have to go to a desk to be told that your room isn’t ready. You can look on the app, and you can see, “This room is ready. I’ll pick this one.” Then you just simply go to the room, and the app will unlock the door for you.
Now, if Hilton does that, I’m going to love Hilton a little bit more – actually, maybe a lot bit more – and as I continue to develop that deeper relationship, and they go from top-of-mind awareness to what my friend Tom Martin would call top-of-mind preference, I will more and more actively exclude other brands from my consideration set for those brands that deepen that relationship by removing pain points, steps, and friction from my journey.
John: You mentioned in your book the behavioral strategist and their role in coming up with marketing programs and rolling out mobile. Does that tie into that, then? Am I right on that track?
Tom: Yes. One of the points that we make in the book – and this is really one of Tim’s great points – is that if you’re going to tackle a mobile strategy, then your first hire should be a genuine strategist who knows something about consumer behavior, and not a technologist per se, because I think if you start with the technology, you are excluding the possibilities.
Some of the best mobile strategies I know of don’t even use a smartphone. They certainly didn’t start with a smartphone. The cashless RFID wristbands that Lollapalooza used this year were a great idea. They enabled people to not even have to take their phone out when the weather was not very good. It was soggy and rainy. People didn’t have to take their phone even to pay for things.
I haven’t seen any hard evidence on how that impacted sales. There’s some anecdotal evidence that it boosted sales, but it certainly reduced friction, and there’s not even a phone involved there.
I think what some people call a mobile strategy, in my business – because we’ve done this kind of research for two decades at Edison – we call them out-of-home humans. We do a lot of work in the out-of-home media space: how people respond, interact with, and get the sense of a brand from their out-of-home encounters with it.
One of my clients is the AMC theater chain, and one of the things that AMC does is, and you can see this any time you go into one… Anybody can sit in a chair and watch a movie. I can sit in a chair and watch a movie at home. I can sit in a chair and watch a movie at the theater.
But what AMC does, and you’ll see this any time you go to see a movie there, is they really take into account the out-of-home human, and provide the things that you don’t have at home. Yes, people have bigger and bigger screens, and certainly they may not compete with a movie theater screen, but if you’re close enough to it, it does.
But they try to blow you away with things that you don’t have at home, and in a sense, that is a mobile strategy. I just recently went to an AMC Prime theater with these incredible seats that had bass kickers built into them and reclines, and all that stuff. I don’t have that at home.
All you have to really do is think about the mobile human, and sometimes those things will involve the phone, sometimes they won’t involve the phone, but they will always involve a customer in transition, and if you can come up with ways to remove roadblocks and ease their passage, that’s the key to a mobile strategy.
John: When you want to attack this, then, and build this, is it a matter of you creating the flows? Can you actually create these flows, or do you have to discover it? Do you have to go and see where they’re already at, and work around what’s happening?
Tom: I think your first step is a qualitative step always, and by that I mean you actually have to observe the flows. It is far, far easier to work with the stream than to try to divert it. I think the great thing about so many successful mobile strategies is that they’re not creating a brand-new behavior; they are simply creating a way to do something you already wanted to do, or maybe you didn’t know could be done for you, but you certainly want to do it, but not a completely new behavior.
That’s one of the things I think why Apple Pay is going to be so successful. Apple Pay is going to be so successful because so many millions of us already trust Apple with our credit cards. They’ve had them for years. They probably have more credit cards than anybody, because we’ve been buying things from the iTunes music store. That’s going to be a natural extension of something that we frankly already wanted to do and that we’re already comfortable with, which is why I think it’s going to be quite successful.
You have to observe the humans first. Some of my favorite stories and research are really qualitative research stories, and so much of that is talking to people. It’s doing ethnographic research, which involves actually observing them.
Proctor & Gamble has done tons of ethnographic research. They’re really one of the leaders as far as the brand goes. That’s why things like the spill-proof cap for laundry detergent were invented, not because somebody took a survey about it, but because the first thing they did was go into homes and watch people use their products, and see the sticky ring left on the machine.
If you solve those problems that people don’t even express, you can observe them, observe their flow, and that’s really the key to starting your mobile strategy.
John: That’s an interesting point you brought up, the Apple Pay going on here. We’ve seen in other parts of the world, especially the Far East, that this type of payment system works and is already adopted. In fact, in the book, you go into that in-depth, talking about the developing world. Especially I was interested with the unbanked, people who had no access to financial institutions and now do.
Then another thing that was interesting and got me thinking was the trust, security, and optimism of China in that it’s a newer economy. They don’t have the distrust of the government or business that actually we in the States have, which is almost a liability. Tell us more about the global side of things.
Tom: I think you’ve hit on a couple of really key things. First of all, yes, there is that stronger optimism with the Chinese people about the companies and institutions serving them. The kinds of things they want to do on their mobile phone are things that maybe some of them are more comfortable with than we are, but that’s all going to change. That’s all going to change over time. We’re getting more and more comfortable with it.
But I think the key is if you aren’t already a company that people trust and have that relationship with, then you’re not going to magically get that when you build an app. Part of your mobile strategy is absolutely a trust strategy. I don’t know about you, but I have four or five new debit cards re-issued this year from skimmers at gas stations and all kinds of different fraud items.
I think that one of the ways that a company is going to set itself apart, a differentiation strategy, is to start taking our security seriously. Make it the core tenet of their belief. Make it the theory of the firm, to quote Peter Drucker. Make that a selling point that you are going to be a zealot, relentless about guarding our personal data. It’s happening so much to so many companies that not only could it hold the industry back, but it is in fact the selling point.
John: Yeah, you’re right. When I was reading about Apple Pay for the first time, the thing that got me was second-factor authentication. You get a code that only gets used once for that transaction, and then the person doing the transaction doesn’t even get your name. It’s not like you’re handing over the card.
I can see that stuff catching on and catching fire. Doing one fewer credit card replacement for Bank of America is a huge undertaking, so obviously we’ll see a lot more of that as time goes on.
The book is The Mobile Commerce Revolution. You can get it wherever fine books are sold. It’s published by Que, as a matter of fact. If you know tech books, they are one of, if not the most, venerable publishers.
Tom, thanks for taking time to talk to us today.
Tom: Absolutely. Thank you so much for having me on, John.
John: If people want to follow up with you, what’s the best way to get in touch with you?
Ok, this post is huge and may be painful if you’re not a huge fan of the Gartner Hype Cycle, Crossing the Chasm, Marketing Automation Tools, Inbound Marketing and marketing campaign analytics. To spare you a headache, here’s the bullets you need to know and you can decide if you want to read on.
- Tom Webster asked “Is Inbound Marketing Actually Profitable or Just a Slogan.” over at Jay Baer’s blog
- The time is ripe to ask with new data available as part of Hubspot’s IPO, which confirms they are burning a lot of cash (like everyone else from startup to Amazon)
- If the Gartner Hype Cycle holds, Inbound and Social Media are overdue for a beating from the press
- Don’t believe the hype, effective inbound campaigns trump everything
- Inbound is the right message for the mass market, and will continue to be even if the press beats on it. If it gets really bad they can easily switch the message to “Best of Breed Marketing Automation”
- 2nd Generation Marketing Automation will be about improving campaign performance based on the data vendors have aggregated. Easy to use automation of email and social media is just the price of entry for the market
- Questioning inbound’s effectiveness is the 1st elephant in the room. Why so many marketing automation programs fail is the 2nd.
- Hubspot’s competitors won’t bash inbound because the same arguments undermine marketing automation in general. This scores an amazing combo – unique story and unbreakable defensive position
Tom’s post is an excellent read with a lot of great comments, but to boil it down for you: Does a $34 million loss on $77 million of revenue after 8 years make you think that inbound marketing is not the cure-all that it’s advertised as?
Inbound Marketing has run the normal hype cycle, lots of press, books and events, all while Hubspot, a hometown hero for Boston, has kept this story at the core of their value proposition. Unfortunately I think both inbound and social media are overdue for some bad press, once you learn about Gartner’s Hype Cycle you can’t unsee it. A topic starts with a small group of innovators (for inbound I say the family tree starts at Seth Godin’s Permission Marketing), and the press hypes it up as the cure for everything for a couple of years. Eventually those stories stop attracting attention, then negative stories start getting published because they are controversial. Usually the size of the plunge is equal to the rise the topic enjoyed and as the tomato-tossing articles stop pulling clicks it’s reached the “Trough of Disillusionment.” At this point the press doesn’t care to write about it anymore and the market determines if it survives or not. Finally, at this point, press has nothing to do with it, if it sells and customers deem it fit to survive, it does. This is just how the press works, it’s independent of whether or not “Inbound Works.”
Aside: It wouldn’t surprise me if some variation of one-to-one marketing is the “post-inbound” marketing to get hyped. “Imagine tailoring your marketing campaigns to every individual prospect and customer based on the big data in your grasp.” That makes a good story, even if it’s not possible.
The story of Inbound Marketing is critical to the mass market of people that buy marketing automation. These are the marketers that only move in fear, their primary motivation is “Don’t screw up this gig” and they are not going to experiment unless someone else has already proven it works (this is the group under the big part of the bell curve, where the money is made, and if you want to learn more about the difference between the early adopters and the mass market check out Moore’s Crossing the Chasm). These are people that loved buying ads and knowing that they would get 1% of the audience back as prospects or customers. This group needs all the stories of companies that spent significantly less money by blogging, creating videos and white papers and were able to generate all kinds of business. These people are the ones that have been crushed by the information that buyers now have at their fingertips thanks to the internet. By giving these prospects some marketing campaign options that are less expensive by an order of magnitude at the same time as old sales and advertising campaigns are becoming less effective by an order of magnitude it’s no wonder everyone is excited to talk about Inbound.
As a company that both sells and practices Inbound, Hubspot has a picture of the world that anyone who follows marketing would love to get their hands on. They have the data on how well campaigns work and where the breaking points are. They no longer produce their weekly video show, but they are advertising on Facebook so at some point the return on some kinds of inbound isn’t there compared to outbound advertising. Oh, and they have similar data for all their customers too.
So, does Inbound work? Based only on my personal observation of around 100 companies, I have no doubt whatsoever that “Inbound Works”, but the funny thing is I don’t ever think in terms of “Inbound/Outbound”. You just pick some campaigns to work on, do the work and see if they grow the business. Anything that helps you do more, or better measure what you have done will be a valuable tool.
Another reason the effectiveness of inbound is questioned is that not all marketing automation customers are equal. All the marketing campaign tools on earth won’t fix a product customers don’t want. My gut is that this is why you hear churn come up as an issue for marketing automation, there are too many customers that think marketing automation will be a silver bullet for their crummy product rather than a tool to automate already successful programs.
Yes, entrepreneurs have burned a huge pile of money on email and social media monitoring software. They don’t care. The usual model is: get to $100M to please The Street for The IPO. The Street knows that companies do “Grow At All Costs” to get to the IPO, they bet on the business model being sound so that if they want to scale back on the new customer acquisition and do some layoffs the profits will magically appear.
The savvy investors here are looking forward to the next generation of software that can determine if your marketing is doing as well or better than the industry standard, and if it’s not, prescribe how to fix it. It will be able to say “Well, the average campaign like yours that sells to IT professionals in banking normally does 5x better so obviously your product must suck or your messaging is garbage.” Marketing automation companies will be the first companies ever to have this kind of data and that’s what this space is all about for investors. If you have enough data, eventually you can build a map of all the inbound/outbound marketing campaign types and rank them in order of possible effectiveness and return. A lot of today’s marketing campaign choice is rummaging around in a dark room. The future of marketing automation is a flashlight to see how well certain types of campaigns do on average rather than having to trip over them.
One question I had after reading the original article was “Why doesn’t a Hubspot competitor take shots at Inbound?” it would be easy for someone like Adobe to say “How’s your blog doing? Yeah, we thought so. Let us tell you about outbound stuff that’s better than ‘The Top 5 blog lists nobody wants’.” In the comments of the Convince and Convert post my discussion with Lee Dalton led me to see the second elephant in the room: Tom’s original question isn’t just for Inbound, it’s for all marketing automation vendors. Do these tools make you more money? Unfortunately many times the answer is no. Many customers focus more on the tools than doing great marketing programs. Customers can go one of two ways – they buy a marketing automation tool, have a great product, do a bunch of great marketing and all is good. The other way, either the product stinks and no amount of marketing will get people to buy, or they thought that buying a marketing automation tool would write all those great blog posts and email for them and they end up only using 25% of the system’s functionality then dropping the tool or losing their job over the next 18 months. UPDATE: Kathryn Korostoff published a wonderful courageous post about a $30k marketing automation failure that’s a common testimonial in the vein of “Marketing Automation is like giving someone’s kid an espresso and a free puppy.”
Inbound is why Hubspot does a better job of marketing than the other marketing automation vendors out there. They have a unique story with Inbound, yet no other vendor is willing to challenge it. The arguments that could be made against inbound also challenge outbound activity and would destroy the stories used to sell these tools – in other words, nuke the entire market.
What does Hubspot do? If Inbound gets to a point where it’s no longer an advantage they can change the message to “Marketing Automation” with no difficulty. I would guess that’s the real roadmap and the reason behind the IPO is to provide the funds so that they can make acquisitions to create the ultimate marketing automation suite.
The next step for marketing automation is clear: it’s not about providing the tools, it’s adding expertise so that their customers run better campaigns. They know when the messages should drop, what subject lines work, what offers pull. The first marketing automation vendor to leverage their data and generate a decent 12 month calendar and mail schedule for any vertical will be the first steps in second generation marketing automation. Last generation’s marketing automation systems made great marketers more effective. Next generation marketing automation will make all marketers more effective.
I first interviewed Simon Sinek for Marketing Over Coffee back in 2010 (transcript here). His sophomore effort was published at the end of last year and is another exceptional book. You can listen to the original audio here, or read this transcript. Transcription service by rev.com.
John:We can wind back to 2010. I got “Start With Why” sent to me from a PR person behind the book. I clearly remember the pitch said, “Look, check out this TEDx video that talks about it.” I looked, and thought, “Wow, a TEDx video that has over 1,000 views. There’s got to be some meat here. This is a big deal.” Here we are, four years later, 16 million views on that TEDx video.
Simon: Thanks for having me. It’s good to see you again.
John: Pretty much our audience are all huge TED fans. Tell us about that. How was TED? How did that all go?
Simon: It was my first time at the big event, speaking and attending. It was overwhelming in every proportion. It is exactly what you would expect it to be: surreal, brilliantly choreographed – I mean, it was one of the most buttoned-up, if not the most buttoned-up, event I’ve ever been to, and I’ve been to a lot – and just the people that show up, it’s astounding. They don’t just come in for an hour, they come in for a week.
Really humbling to be a part of, and there are various times where I thought, “What am I doing here?” Really excited to be a part of it and join the community.
John: You literally forced your way on stage by the power of that video, because it runs so well. Were there people at TED that were saying, “Hey, we saw your video”? Were you kind of a celebrity there? Were people already aware of your work?
Simon: I didn’t think that people knew who I was. And then, one person would say hello, and then another person would say hello, and then another person would say hello. I think there were more people who recognized me than I think. It was a strange experience. These are people that we know – the Ken Robinsons, the Amy Cuddys, the Susan Cains – these are amazing human beings, and they said hello to me. It was really flattering, really humbling.
John: That’s excellent. Let’s dig into the new book here. It’s been four years, so you’ve obviously taken some time with it – you didn’t just crank another one out. Of course, the concern was, “Is this going to be a sophomore slump?” You wrote such a great book the first one out, that you set the bar high for yourself. I’m happy to report this book hits just as hard. In fact, I think for me, it wasn’t as revolutionary, but it’s more practical. It goes right to the core of a bunch of problems we have in business.
Talking about leadership, a big thing is primal response. A core message you’re talking about is we need workers to feel safe in the workplace for them to be effective. Talk about that, the primal response and what we’re doing there.
Simon: We are social animals at our core. Our success hinges on our ability to cooperate with others. The problem with things like trust and cooperation is they’re not instructions. I can’t simply tell you, “Trust me,” and you will. I can’t simply tell two people, “I need you guys to cooperate,” and they will. Trust and cooperation are feelings.
At the end of the day, like I said, we’re tribal animals, we’re social animals, and we respond to the environment we’re in. Good people put in a bad, toxic environment are capable of doing bad things. But equally so, human beings that society may have given up on, if put in positive, good environments, are capable of remarkable things.
We spend so much time hiring the right person. We spend all this time getting the right people on the bus and we completely ignore the bus. What bus are they stepping into? What I’ve learned is it’s really the environment that matters so much more. If you create the right environment, the people are fine. They will respond to the environment they’re in.
When we feel that an environment has been created – what I call a “circle of safety” – when we feel that leadership would sooner sacrifice the numbers to save the people and would never sacrifice the people to save the numbers, the natural human biological response is trust and cooperation. However, if we believe that the company would sooner sacrifice us to save the numbers, the natural human biological response is mistrust, cynicism, paranoia, and self-interest.
We shouldn’t be surprised at some of the environments and personalities that we create in our organizations, because it’s the leaders who created them.
John: This book takes the blinders off. As someone who follows the press all the time, you see all these articles about “What do we do to get more enthusiasm in the work place or to get people more dedicated and to create more of a service environment.” Your book says, “Look, step back. If you did a layoff last December and still gave the executive team a bonus, maybe there’s your motivation problem.”
Simon: Forget about the executive team. Layoffs are so destructive to an environment, because basically what we’re saying is we will ask you to go home, even though you’ve done nothing wrong and your performance has been fine, if not exemplary. We will ask you to go home, open the door, and tell your spouse and tell your children that you can’t afford the mortgage, and you cannot afford food anymore, and we’re going to have to tighten the belt, because my career has been ended so that they could make the numbers for one year.
Forget about the people who got laid off, let’s just put them aside. Let’s think about the people who didn’t get laid off. How loyal do you think they feel to an organization if the next time the company misses its numbers that guy got laid off and that guy got laid off?
How do you think that makes me feel when I show up to work every day, with the absolute confidence that I am expendable? You think I’m going to take risks? You think I’m going to try? You think I’m going to stick my neck out? You think I’m going to volunteer my best ideas? In fact, you think I’m going to risk anything that I’ve achieved, for someone else, or do you think I’m going to be protective of anything I have, so that I can at least guarantee – or try – to create some sense of value for myself, that I’m not in the next line of fire?
Forget about the people that were sacked. Think about the people that weren’t sacked. This is what we’re doing to our companies year after year after year. We are systematically destroying the level of innovation, inspiration, and motivation for people to offer their best and to trust leadership. Why should they?
John: You made a neat correlation that I hadn’t thought of. We’ve got the Fortune 1000, and by applying Milgram’s research – we won’t go into that now; you can Google that if you want to know about it. You should know about it, because it’s key to human behavior and inflicting suffering – we know that 670 of the Fortune 1000 CEOs are more than willing to harm others to –
Simon: Not willing, capable.
John: Capable. True. The thing that I was thinking about with that is, based on my only empirical evidence, the Fortune 1000 are a lot higher degree of psychosis and anger than the general public, so I would put that number even higher.
Simon: I go into it in some depth in the book. In Milgram’s research, very quickly, the conclusion was if we cannot see or hear the people who are affected by the decisions we make, 66% of us have the capacity to kill them. This is Milgram’s research.
Which means that if the CEOS or any of the C-level executives of the Fortune 1000 do not spend any time and get to know the people whose decisions they make affect – it could be their employees or their customers – 66% of them, at least, have the capacity to change the ingredients of the product, to put chemicals rather than natural ingredients in. They’re cheaper, why not? We don’t see the impact. We don’t know the long lasting effects, if they produce cancer or destroy our health.
And yet, we have an entire health community that says the single biggest thing that hurts our health? Not fat. Not cholesterol. Overly processed food. The New York Times Magazine ran an article of how the people who make chips, like Doritos, freely admit that it’s not food. It’s not food. They can tweak the recipes to add the right number of salt and sugar, to literally make us crave more.
How were these decisions made? In other words, we can just look at the products that are produced. We can look at decisions that are made.
GM is going through it right now. This scandal that they’re having with the ignition issue with a lot of their cars, where there have been multiple deaths. There was a problem with the car where the car would shut off while it was driving and disable the airbags. So, if the shut off car crashed, no airbags would release.
They knew about it four or five years ago, and nobody did anything. How do you think that decision was made? Do you think when they got around the table and discussed, “Should we do the thing for the people who are driving our cars?” or were they concerned about how much it would cost? You start to see that Milgram’s research seems to play out in the real world.
John: I get stuck on that. Where do you come up with the optimism? What do you prescribe, as far as how can we get out of this? At least we have the 300 CEOs who are willing to stand up and do what’s right, how can we improve this?
Simon: There are multiple factors. One, we must demand it. If the free market says that we have to respond to market demands, then if we’re demanding that we are provided for and feel safe when we come to work every day, shouldn’t they respond? Isn’t that what capitalism is all about?
It’s not about simply appealing to the demands of a disinterested, external constituency, I have to believe. In other words, the mantras of the free market, we’re not actually obeying them. If we obey the free market, then we should be responding to the demands. We have to demand that our companies look after us. If they do, we will reward them with love and loyalty and hard work and innovation and blood and sweat and tears to see their visions come to life. That’s just the biological response when we feel protected by our leaders.
The other thing that we have to do is rise up ourselves. In other words, we can’t sit there, folded-armed, and say, “Well, until they do something about it…” Every single one of us has the responsibility to be the leader we wish we had.
What have we done for the person who sits next to us? If they’re in need, do we ignore them? If someone falls over, do we help them up? If someone’s panicking, do we go and spend the night and work until 3:00 in the morning to see that they get their presentation complete, even though we’re not even working with them on the project? Do we risk our bonus, do we risk our promotion, do we risk our credit, do we give up our sleep, because someone else needs us? Are we doing that?
We can’t complain unless we’re doing it ourselves. We have no right to complain about the leadership above us, if we refuse to be the leaders that we wish we had.
John: Talking about human response, a huge chunk of the book is talking about EDSOs – endorphins, dopamine, serotonin, oxytocin – how did you get pulled down this track of human biology and chemistry? How did that come into your research?
Simon: At the end of the day, I’m a little kid. I like to ask, “Why?” “Because that’s the way it works” is not a satisfactory answer. “It’s the law of attraction,” “It’s the law of the universe,” those answers are very unappealing to me.
When you ask, “Where does trust come from?” I could have done the case study model, where I go look at a bunch of companies with highly trusting environments and ask, “What are they doing?” But that still doesn’t answer the fundamental question of, “Why is it working? Why do they trust each other? Why did that work?”
When you ask that question enough, it forces you backwards. It forces you backwards until you get to the birth of Homo sapiens. When you start to understand the conditions that existed when our species was born, when our species was created, and you understand the things that evolved and the way that we were designed to cope with the environments that we were in, you start to realize that it all makes perfect sense.
If you look at the best organizations today, their environments eerily replicate the environments for which we were actually designed, for which we actually evolved. These things aren’t modern wonders. This is a very old machine. Our bodies are 50,000 years old. We are legacy machines, and really, we haven’t had a software update in 50,000 years, but the hardware’s changed around us. The work we’re being asked to do has changed, but the machine is old. Until we understand how the machine works, we won’t fully understand how to get the best out of the machine.
John: Performance at work, our bodies, our diets, all this stuff. I guess we just have to say we’re due for an upgrade. I don’t know if there’s any way around that.
Simon: There’s no way to upgrade it. What we have to do is protect it and look after it. We know exercise matters. That’s because it gives us our healthy dose of endorphins. In other words, we have to keep those chemicals in balance. No one chemical is more important than the other. They’re all highly necessary. The importance is balance. The argument I attempted to make in this new book is that we’ve created environments that have literally put our bodies out of balance, where the chemical balances inside our bodies have made us all more stressed out, and more tense. It exposes us to greater dangers of heart disease, cancer, and diabetes. Not because of partially hydrogenated oils. It’s because the chemicals inside our bodies are literally out of balance because of the environments in which we work. If we can restore those environments to the manner for which we were designed, then life gets healthier and we live longer. It’s really basic, and a basic equation.
John: In the past four years since the first book, you’ve done a bunch of stuff with the military – the most noted one, Captain Marquet, his book, “Turn The Ship Around.” That’s a great book, how to be a leader at the frontline. There’s a concept that you hit on there, as far as giving authority to those closest to the information. Talk about that and how that works.
Simon: I really recommend that your viewers get his book, it’s called “Turn The Ship Around.” One of the things he came to realize in an organization is that those at the top have all the authority, but those at the bottom have all the information.
The CEO of the Ritz-Carlton famously said, “My lowest paid employees have all the contact with my customers.” In other words, if you want to know what’s going on, on a daily basis, it’s the people at the frontlines.
The problem is, they have all the information and none of the authority. The opportunity is not to push the information up, the information is to push the authority down. When we give the people at the frontline more authority, good things happen. When we force them to push information up, it just creates more bureaucracy, is all it does.
Marquet’s realization of this fundamental component of leadership significantly changed his own results. He was the captain of a Los Angeles-class nuclear-powered fast attack sub, and he had the lowest rated crew in the entire United States submarine fleet. This realization and some of the things he did to employ it, at the end, he walked away from that submarine with the same crew and the same equipment, and it became the highest rated submarine fleet in naval history. Not just that year, naval history. And it’s the exact same people who were the lowest rated crew. In other words: it’s not the people, it’s the environment. The people are fine.
John: You have an interesting statement: “Unlike money, time has absolute value.” Talk about that and how it fits in specifically to leadership.
Simon: Money is a redeemable commodity. You spend it, you waste it, you make some more. Time has an absolute value. You cannot redeem it. Once it’s spent it’s gone. Every single one of us has an equal amount of it. We all have 24 hours in one day. It doesn’t matter where you’re born. It doesn’t matter where you’re from. It doesn’t matter what you do, if you’re rich or poor, it doesn’t matter. 24 hours is all you get.
As human beings, we put in much higher regard for those who give us the time over those who give us their money. I’ll give you an example. What if I told you that, before our conversation, I logged on and gave $1,000 to charity? What would you think of me? You’d think, “Uh, good for you.” But what if I told you that last Saturday I went and spent half a day and I painted schools in the inner city? You’d think, “Nice, cool. I should do more.” Yet, the value of my labor was worth a lot less than $1,000. $1,000 could pay many more people to paint many more schools.
But, as human beings, you naturally thought higher of me because of my giving of my time, than the giving of my money. In other words, that’s how we react. When people give us their time and their energy, we reward them with love and loyalty. When they give us their money, the loyalty we may give, I wouldn’t call it loyalty. I’d say it’s temporary until somebody gives us more, or you have to give me more to get more out of me. These are transactions.
A key component of leadership is the person who’s willing to give up their time and energy for the good of others.
John: You’ve been on this rollercoaster ride with the new book and TED. This has just been crazy. Where are you going next? What’s on the docket for you? What are you excited about?
Simon: We’re working to build an MBA program from the ground up. There’s a couple of us who have had the discussion that one of the reasons why we see a decline of leadership in our country and in our companies is because the bench is pretty thin. We’re leaving it up to luck that the leaders will emerge.
Many of the business schools we have today, they may have a leadership class here and there, but fundamentally they teach management, and people are very often viewed as an asset or a line item and not something to be loved and protected and cared for. We can rail against the machine, we can complain, or we can do something about it.
We’re now in the early stages of actually building an MBA program from the ground up, where we will teach leadership based on the biological, anthropological principles of what leadership is. We hope to produce leaders, not managers, and start filling the bench.
John: That’s excellent. Of course, your roots are in advertising and marketing. What do you see in the future there? All this stuff with social now, the way the market is moving to everything mobile, and smaller screens – are you more optimistic or is it a more challenging environment?
Simon: If you’re going to ask me about the advertising and marketing world, it’d be hard to be an optimist. The closest thing I can equate that industry to is prostitution. If you’re willing to pay them, they’ll do it. These are not organizations that generally act with morality in mind. In other words, they’ll report on the trend that more young people are using social media to interact today, so what should we do? Encourage it.
Yet, if you look at the data and look at the research, we know that people who spend more time on Facebook suffer higher rates of depression than people who spend less time on Facebook. We know that dopamine is released every time we get a ping or a buzz or a flash or a beep from our cell phones when a text message comes in. We know we can get addicted to social media. We know that more baby boomers now die from suicide than from car accidents. We know that rates of depression and loneliness are on the increase, and it’s only going to go up because our young people are finding themselves more addicted to social media than they ever were before. That’s the trend.
If they were responsible, the marketing and advertising world would be working hard not to encourage people to use social media, but to encourage people to actually get together and spend time with each other, that brands can become the place for people to coalesce in person to spend time with each other.
This is why we don’t trust advertisers and marketers to set the course of our society. They will simply respond and follow the trend and do what the money tells them to do.
It is, unfortunately, up to the rest of us, where we have to take it upon ourselves to put down our devices and spend time with each other. Turning your phone upside down when you’re at lunch or dinner is not more polite. What it says, subconsciously, is whoever is sitting across from me, you’re not the most important thing to me right now. There’s something else as important, or more important. Put the phone away.
Like an alcoholic who doesn’t rely on their willpower to stop their drinking, they get rid of all the alcohol in their home. We do not have the willpower to ignore the dopamine-releasing power of social media. So, when we go out with somebody we love, leave our phones at home. Or, just bring one phone in case there’s an emergency. Everybody says, “What if there’s an emergency?” We don’t need four phones. We need one. Bring one. Turn it off, leave it in a bag. We don’t need it anymore. If we go with a group of friends, let’s all pass our phones one to the left.
Especially if you go out with one person, think about it: they go to the bathroom, and what’s the first thing we do? We pull out our phones. God forbid we should have nothing to do for two minutes. I’m guilty of it as well. There’s something magical when they take our phone with them to the bathroom and we don’t have access to it. We actually sit back and we actually see people, and we watch the world interacting.
You know where ideas come from? You know where innovation comes from? Observation. It is not for us to rely on the whorish style of marketers, but to take it upon ourselves to change the way we will live our lives to enhance the lives we live.
John: That’s excellent. Simon, obviously things are going very well for you and you’re in high demand. We appreciate you giving us some of your time to talk to everybody here.
Simon: Have I just insulted all of your viewers?
John: Our viewers need insulting on a regular basis.
Simon: Let me just continue down that path. Let me just alienate thousands more people.
I watch Hulu. When an ad comes on, I can’t skip it, but there’s now a progress bar that tells me when it’s going to end. You know why they put progress bars on things? We put progress bars on things we find torturous, like software updates. If you have to put progress bar on your product, maybe you have a bad product.
The way to fix this is not to force people, to get rid of the ability to push fast-forward and to take it off the web video, so every time I want to watch a news clip, I’m forced to watch a 30 second ad that I watch like this, and 12 times in a row. Maybe it’s to produce something that’s entertaining, that’s enjoyable, that’s provocative, and that makes me want to lean in and watch.
GEICO commercials, I like them, I watch them, I enjoy them. There are some old commercials – Saturn had a commercial called “Sheet Metal.” I loved it. It’s ten years old and I still pull it up on YouTube and watch it because it’s so good. 1984 was an amazing commercial. It aired once, and yet we all know it, because it was good.
They weren’t thinking about the product, they were thinking about the person who’s watching – in other words, the consumer. They were actually making something for the person who will be consuming the product, which is the advertising. If we just improve the quality of our marketing, we wouldn’t need to force people, like that scene in Clockwork Orange.
John: Right, the eyes open.
Simon: If you have to put a progress bar in your advertising, maybe you should let people skip it. How often people skip is something we should be measuring, and our objective should be to produce marketing so good, that the skip numbers go down. We should be counting the skips and using it as a metric of something to improve.
John: It’s amazing that they even have throttling like that, where it’s like, “You can skip in ten seconds or 15 seconds,” and they’re literally parting it.
Simon: We should be counting how often people skip our commercials with the hope and objective that we make something so good that they won’t. That would produce better marketing.
John: Truly entertaining content, yes. That’s at the heart of it.
Simon: Or compelling, or inspirational, or provocative, or sexy. Everybody knows sex sells. Put something sexy out. I promise you we’ll rewind.
John: This is interesting though, too, you have all of those different routes to go down – compelling, interesting, provocative, even the brands that go offensive and don’t care about it – but you have to align that with what you do, because it is entirely possible to have some video that runs crazy, but you don’t sell anything because of it.
Simon: That’s the magic of good marketing, isn’t it? I remember from my advertising days, the best creative directors were the ones who took their creatives aside and said, “Listen, you’re not making art here.”
There’s a balance between the creative side and the business side. What that balance is, is a myth to anyone. It’s mystical. But when you strike the balance, people want to consume the advertising and they want to buy the product.
“The Most Interesting Man in the World” commercials, my friend Dave Arnold came up with those. They’re amazing, because they’re funny, and we like them and we like him. It was brilliantly cast, brilliantly written, and brilliantly produced. We can’t wait for them. That’s great marketing.
I think that the only reason we have all of these other tricks and techniques is not because people are more impatient, it’s because the quality of the product is mediocre.
John: The whole business side, just finding numbers.
Simon: The data shows that people have shorter attention spans today. Really? Because you give me a good movie, I’ll sit there for three hours. Shorter attention spans, really? Because when I’m fast-forwarding on my DVR and I see a “Most Interesting Man in the World” commercial, how come I rewind? Am I that impatient, really? “Well, that’s what the trend data says, so we have to make things short.” No, we have to make things better.
John: Good message for us to wrap on with that. On a high note.
Simon: Hopefully, still one of your viewers likes me.
John: As long as it’s thought provoking. We’re talking to the harlots. They’re not easily offended by anything, that’s for sure.
Simon: I come from the industry. I’m not just blabbering. I have firsthand experience.
John: “Leaders Eat Last,” available on Amazon.com and wherever fine books and e-books are sold. Check it out, get a copy of it today. I highly recommend it. Simon, thanks for spending time with us.
Simon: John, thanks very much. It’s good to see you again, and I hope to see you soon.
In September it will be two years since the release of B2B Marketing Confessions. I spent the year after it was published on promotion and working on the audio version of the book, and then it was time to start the next big thing.
After writing about one of the most boring business topics of all time I was excited to get working on a concept that came to me before Confessions was done – the intersection of business and humor. The big ideas were clear – the question of why things are funny is a fertile topic, and the mirage of the “viral video” that every marketing department chases at at least once (if not dozens of times) is often ridden towards on the camel of humor.
After over a year of research I bring you… nothing.
Or, maybe this is a true gift, a blog post with a few good points as opposed to a 200 page book with 195 pages of filler. What I have learned that is important, but not enough for a book:
- There is no formula for funny.
- Like chess, there are some proven openings, but you have to do the hard work of filling in the details and there’s no guarantee you’ll get it right (in fact you won’t most of the time as you start). And get this – comedy case studies are useless, once the joke is out copycats are viewed with disdain.
- At the heart of comedy is the irony of us being woefully unable to deal with everyday life. For more on this, Steve Kaplan’s “The Hidden Tools of Comedy” is worth reading.
- Brute force does work. As a young person I thought Johnny Carson was just an amazingly funny guy, then I learned there are teams of people that drive the late night shows. I don’t know why this was so surprising to me, I was also amazed to hear about the same thing about This American Life, only about half of the segments that get made make it to the airwaves.
- Committees never work, it may be funny, but not funny enough to go viral. This is the bane of corporate humor. Pretty good for 10 people is not even in the same country, never mind neighborhood of awesome to 1. Even great to 4 people will probably be ignored.
- Humor never works when there is power disparity – making jokes when you are laying someone off is a bad idea. If you are the big boss you may be in for a rude awakening when you tell the same jokes and stories to people not on your payroll.
- Humor runs the risk of being offensive. As mentioned earlier, a lot of humor is about our inability to deal with life. That’s why there are a lot of victims in comedy and that doesn’t always mesh with political correctness or the PR position of your brand.
- Much of business is improvisation. I thought there would be a lot of material here. There are a bunch of books on improvisational comedy. 99% of it boils down to working well with your partners and some generally agreed to frameworks (again back to the chess openings). The other theme here that keeps showing up is: do a ton of writing.
- “Be funny” is like saying, “be charming, be empathic, be service oriented, be a great product designer”. Good advice at first listen, until you realize that there aren’t any detailed instructions besides “Listen well, and act appropriately”.
- To do one great video, create 10 maybe you’ll be lucky and get one hit. Doing projects one at a time guarantees failure.
Although there’s no getting the year back, I did learn a lot and it may have led me to the next idea. I keep coming back to the art and science of marketing. The big idea there highlights the weakness of comedy: comedy is an art and without the science of connecting it in some way to your product, it’s entirely possible to create something successful (even viral baby!) that drives ZERO sales. I get that zero sales feeling from Comedy & Business, so it’s time to apply some science.