Best of 2006

NOTICE: All the links in this post go to the old blogspot location. If you’d like to read these posts, please browse the best of 2006 tag. Thanks.
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Last year around this time, I posted the “Best of 2005” posts here on the Shotgun Marketing Blog. And once you start something like that…it never stops.

The rationale for what’s on the 2006 list? These are posts that got lots of feedback from readers…became mini-ideaviruses around the web…or are just posts that I like alot.

And as I said last year, thank you so much for being a reader, thinking that some of this stuff is worthwhile, and spreading the word….

And now, roll the year-end tribute reel….

Problems and Solutions
Figure out the marketing problem BEFORE the solution

Your Account is Currently Overdue
Spend millions on marketing…and then have it crushed with 39 cents.

Changing Words – Changing Brands and follow-up
To change a brand…change the experience…not just the words.

New Business Strategy
I spread knowledge to millions of Russians in three paragraphs.

Lies, Damned Lies, and Statistics and follow-up
When you publish numbers, they become real.

Who’s in Charge Here?
Sounds personal.

Marketing a Start-Up
Marketing is best built in…not slapped on.

Planetary Branding
Before you go “re-branding”, ask yourself if Pluto is a planet.

Published :: A Marketer’s Guide to HIPAA
The culmination of my “year of HIPAA. My name will forever be tied to ISBN# 1578398754

State of the “Un-Blogosphere
Surprise! There’s a whole world out there.

Users First
Your customers are what “monetize” a business. Stop developing short term strategies that kill long term gains.

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Users First

There’s been quite a bit of talk over the past few days about some remarks that Jim Buckmaster, an executive at Craigslist, made at a media conference in New York last Thursday.

It seems that Buckmaster stated that he has no intentions of “monetizing” his online classifieds service with any sort of advertising. The room full of ad and media folks apparently looked at him like he had a second head.

Why no ads? Get this….It seems that Craigslist’s users haven’t expressed an interest in seeing ads…..Mmmm.

First off, they ARE making money…( a few million a year). They just aren’t doing it with “ads”. Craigslist does a fabulous job of hitting the sweet spot on pricing. The rates they charge for job and for-rent ads in a few of the many cities they serve are high enough to pay the bills, keep other sections and cities free, and still make a very respectable profit…but the price is low enough that competitors can’t keep up.

And that may be one ulterior reason that Craigslist is still ad free. Their success is coming out of what used to be spent in newspaper and other print classifieds. Craigslist may be handing out the free classified smack to get people addicted. When the local newspapers decide that the classifieds aren’t worth the dead trees and ink, the papers will discontinue their classified business. At that point, Craigslist may suddenly decide to monetize their monopolistic position with ads or other items.

But there may be a more pure motive.

Maybe they understand that the user/consumer/reader is what “monetizes” the business. Maybe they see that the most effective long term marketing strategy is to grow a base of dedicated loyal users.

Maybe they realize that a clean uncluttered useful page invites people to return and build loyalty to a site. They see that the customer (the single most important element of a business)should not be harassed by pop-ups & pop-unders, irrelevant email, interstitial ads, floating & expanding ads, trick banners, and everything else that webmasters slap onto a website to make a dollar today…only to cost them $100 dollars tomorrow. They see that you can train a customer to mistrust ALL the content on your page because you’ve tricked them too many times into clicking.

Maybe Craigslist sees that simply because you CAN place an ad on a web property (or any place), doesn’t mean that you SHOULD.

It’s a lot like the story of the goose that laid the golden eggs. The biggest mistake that alot of today’s web (and brick&mortar) businesses are making is developing short term strategies that kill long term gains.

But why worry about tomorrow…when you can make 58 cents today off an AdSense sidebar?

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State of the UnBlogosphere

David Sifry recently posted the latest State of the Blogosphere.

As always, the medium looks strong and growth is explosive. And as always, the blogosphere is excited about the new numbers.

But, I have a slightly different take on “the state” of the blogosphere. Obviously, Technorati has a very good vantage point to see what’s happening in the blog world…but what about the state of blogs out in the overall real world?

I’ve always maintained that the blogosphere is a long way from being mainstream. But recent experiences have cemented that belief for me.

Recently, I started delivering a new speaking topic called Blogs: Marketing as Conversation. It’s somewhat of a blog101 and a how-to on using blogs to reach out and have conversations with customers. To date, I have delivered it twice and I’m booked to give it a few times in the coming months. The groups that I have already delivered it to include a marketing professionals group and a businesswomen’s group. Both were populated with intelligent informed businesspeople who are active marketers. But in both instances, I found a dichotomy in regards to the audience’s awareness of the blogosphere.

At the beginning of the presentation, I ask for a quick show of hands for…
1) People that have heard of blogs (Usually most of the room)
2) People who have ever read a blog (less than half the room)
3) People who have ever left a comment on a blog (5-10 people)
4) People who are bloggers themselves (2-3 people)

The amazing thing as I go through the presentation is that it’s all new to them. I observe that most take notes on “new” concepts such as Technorati, RSS, Scoble, the long tail, the cluetrain, and a thousand other things that you “inside the blogosphere” take for granted as common knowledge.

Now obviously, there are a few people in the room who “get” all of it. (The handraisers on questions 3&4) They come up afterwards with great questions and want more in-depth knowledge. As I’ve discovered this extreme two-toned group, I’m having to re-do the presentation before I present it again. Imagine giving a speech about the need for a U.S. Mission to Mars in a room made up of 50% rocket scientists and 50% average Joes. You get too technical and you’ll lose the Joes. And you bore/patronize the rocket scientists when you explain that Mars is the 4th planet.

In essence, this is what the blogosphere doesn’t understand. And it’s the biggest danger to the continued growth of the medium. Yes, it’s great that we can have a conversation among ourselves about blogs and bloggers and how it’s going to change the dynamics of communication and marketing. We can point to successes. But frankly, most people are not on the train.

“Well, Chris, you can’t base the entire state of the blogosphere on the reactions of two groups that you spoke to.” OK. Here’s what an attendee of the recent Blog Business Summit had to say about the acceptance…

I enjoyed the speakers at the conference and thought for the most part they were interesting and informative. At the same time, I felt like they are so keyed into the blogosphere that they don’t really know how to relate with people who aren’t. I contribute to 2 blogs right now, I use RSS and Bloglines, I know how to navigate Technorati, I’m somewhat comfortable with del.icio.us, and I know what the term Google Juice means, so I’m probably more familiar with the concept of Web 2.0 than a lot of folks out there. But, I didn’t relate to most of the “elite” bloggers (or bloggerati) at the conference who referred to themselves as tech geeks.
One of the things I would’ve liked to have learned is how to get people involved in blogging. There are many people out there who simply don’t get blogs. I have a handful of friends that contribute to blogs or read them; the rest of my friends think they are just online diaries full of inane ramblings. Sure, some of them read blogs without even knowing it, and I try to point that out, but for the most part they have no interest in the blogosphere. To them it has a negative connation, like MySpace has to me.

My current view of the “State of the Blogosphere” is that it’s like the Shakers. Bloggers are passionate about the blogosphere, but the belief will die out because you’re not creating new adherents.

Yes. Your blog is ranked 9,XXX on Technorati, but the only thing that really shows is your influence with other bloggers. What’s the reach of your blog to the non-blog community?

Right now the blogosphere, for all its power, is equivalent to a room full of people who each have a bullhorn and they’re all talking. Every now and then, they all point to one of the bullhorns and maybe repeat what that A-list bullhorn is saying. And every now and then, someone from outside the room stops and listens, but it’s mostly a closed system.

Here’s my challenge to you.

Get your head out of Dungeons & Dragons a/k/a Second Life and get out in the real world to start promoting this thing that you’re so passionate about. And I don’t mean at a conference full of tech people. Go to a local Chamber meeting, find a small business person, and ask them if they’re using blogs to talk to their customers. When you’re checking out at the grocery, ask the mother behind you if she reads Dooce. Ask a marketing director if she checks a blog search engine for mentions of the company.

I think you’ll be shocked.

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Published

One of my marketing areas of concentration is healthcare marketing. I have several healthcare clients and several of my keynotes are focused on healthcare markeitng. One of the big things that healthcare marketers are in the dark about right now is how to market under HIPAA, the federal privacy law that went into effect back in 2003.

Last spring, a national healthcare publisher hired me to co-author a book about the challenges and opportunities presented to healthcare marketers under the federal HIPAA regulations. And now, after months of work, my co-author, Kate Borten, and I are proud to announce the publication of: (drumroll)Healthcare marketing Hipaa book

A Marketer’s Guide to HIPAA
Resources for Creating Effective and Compliant Marketing

This book is a great resource for healthcare marketers and should be a part of the toolkit of all healthcare practices. Kate and I give a basic breakdown of the parts of the Privacy and Security Rule that are pertinent to healthcare marketers. We attempted to write the book in practical, easy-to-understand language and included lots of “real world” scenarios. We offer a breakdown of what HIPAA permits, and the conditions it imposes for using patient information in marketing initiatives. Overall, the book explains the parts of HIPAA a healthcare marketer needs to be aware of, and gives concrete examples of effective marketing practices that use valuable patient data, but that steer clear of HIPAA violations.

Obviously, I contributed most of the healthcare marketing content. As to the legal HIPAA side of the equation, my co-author, Kate Borten, is a nationally recognized expert and frequent speaker on the topics of HIPAA and health information privacy and security. During the writing of the book, I was continually impressed with the depth of Kate’s knowledge of HIPAA. I think you’ll be equally impressed.

To order the book, you can visit http://www.hcmarketplace.com/prod-4514.html

***ALSO*** I know that some of you participated in the “Marketing under HIPAA: Patient data and the law” webinar that Kate and I presented in August. This book is a great companion to that webcast. It gets much deeper into the material than we were able to with the seminar.

I have also added a version of the HIPAA webinar to my speaking topics. It’s a good addition to the other healthcare topics that I can present to your conference or meeting.

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Planetary Branding

Before I begin…let me just say this analogy is imperfect…but we’re working on it.

The planet Pluto got “demoted” this week. It’s now official. The International Astronomical Union (IAU) stripped Pluto of the planetary status it has held since its discovery in 1930. It’s now a “dwarf planet” or a “trans-Neptunian object”.

But, a lot of people aren’t buying that. Depending on which recent poll numbers you believe, 60 to 80% of people are saying they’ll still treat Pluto as a planet.

See, it’s been the common view that Pluto is a planet for the last 76 years. In fact, the astronomers even took what the public might think into account in the decision since we all kind of have an interest in “our” solar system. Some of the astronomers were even trying to “save Pluto”. That’s why the 12 (plus) planet model was proposed last week.

Now obviously, this is a science/astronomy issue and this isn’t the Shotgun Astronomy Blog. What’s the link with marketing?

If you’re a long time reader of this blog, you’ll know that my brand philosophy states that branding is one of the most important marketing tools, but I am adamantly opposed to the idea of “re-branding” As evidenced [here] [here] [here] [here] and [here]

Scientific classification needs aside….in essence, the IAU attempted to “re-brand” the solar system last week. Nothing has changed out in the cosmos. We’re just supposed to describe it and relate to it in a different way.

In the same way that you might be rolling your eyes at this IAU Pluto decision, consumers roll their eyes when you throw out a new logo and say “things are different, now!”.

Brands don’t change overnight. Brands are created by the consumer. They are NOT created by the company. Brands are a bottom-up proposition….not top-down. Yes, you can guide the way the brand is developed and place the necessary items in the marketing conversation to lead the development. But, a brand is truly developed with time in the consumers’ experiences with your organization.

And the longer a brand impression is in the consumers’ minds…the longer it will take to change it. The “solar system brand” will have 9 planets for as long as the public wants it to have 9. New textbooks and planetary models will slowly change the public’s perception of the brand.

The next time your company sits around a table and “votes” to change the brand…ask yourself if Pluto is a planet.

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Marketing a Startup

Last night, I flipped through the new June 2006 issue of Business2.0 which is usually a pretty good read. However, I got mad last night when I read this issue’s cover story about “the 16 steps to building a bulletproof startup”.

I became agitated about Phase 4 / Step 2 which is “Develop the Sales and Marketing Plan”.

It’s not the “how-to” I have an issue with here. It’s the placement within the process. When you list marketing as step #14 out of 16 steps, it’s no wonder so many startups fail.

Marketing should be thought of as early as possible in the process…nearer to steps #1 and #2. Of course, you’re not going to be able to hire salespeople, do advertising, etc at this stage, but you should be thinking of how marketing will interact with the product along each step of the start-up process.

As I’ve always said….Marketing is best built in…not slapped on.

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Who’s in Charge Here?

Two stories…see which one you recognize….

(Story #1)
So a guy walks into the doctor’s office to have some pre-operative tests and to sign the waiver before his brain surgery next week….

DOCTOR:
“I’ve gone over your MRI several times. I plan on making the incision here. We’ll be inside the cranium for about 30 minutes. We’ve had our entire staff of neurologists go over this case and we expect a great result.”

PATIENT:
“Well, I think you should make the incision under my chin. I can grow a beard to hide the scar that way.”

“I also want you cut the tumor out on the right side. I know the MRI says it’s on the left, but it’s my brain so I think I know.”

“30 minutes is too long to be inside my head. Can you do it in 20?”

“While you’re in there, I’d like you to take a little brain out on each side. My wife says she thinks my head’s getting too big for all my hats.”

DOCTOR:
“You’re the boss. Let’s do it that way.”

Crazy. Right? Never would happen. Try this story…

(Story #2)
Some owners and board members walk into the marketing department to “approve” the new ad campaign that’s rolling out next week…

MARKETING:
“This campaign tests great with the target market. These print ads will run in these papers. We’re planning to pulse TV along with a summer radio promotion on these top rated Nielsen and Arbitron stations in these markets. We’ve also added an online element. Here’s the website. Overall, it’s an airtight – highly effective campaign. What do you think?

BOARD MEMBERS AND OWNERS:
“Well, I like that weather guy on Channel 8’s news. He’s funny and I know everybody loves him…we need more commercials there.”

“Who’s that kid in the magazine ad? What are stock photos? Here, I’ve got a picture of my daughter in my wallet…just scan it in and stick her in it.”

“My wife and all her friends listen to LiteRock105…buy some commercials there.”

“Put some more words in the newspaper ad. It looks too empty”

“We need some pictures of the employees in the *adds.”
(*That’s how the person making this comment thinks it’s spelled.)

“I’ve been the owner of this company for 23 years so I know our customers. I don’t think we should run this ad. Customers won’t like it.”

“What’s a blog?”

“We’re spending how much on this? Can we do it for less?”

MARKETING:
“You’re the boss. Let’s do it that way.”

One of these stories sounds crazy and the other happens EVERYDAY. If you’ve got a marketing staff or a marketing consultant who knows what they’re doing…
Let. Them. Do. It.

Related post: Marketing by Committee

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The New Business Strategy Model

Dmitry Linkov is a consultant and entrepreneur in Moscow and has been a friend of the Shotgun Marketing Blog for several months as a reader and commenter. Dmitry is currently working on a project and is soliciting ideas and quotes on the topic of the current state / evolution of Business Strategy.

Of course, anytime I can contribute information that will be published in Russian, I’m in. Here are my thoughts to his query…

We are currently at the beginning of a dramatic shift in the way that business strategy will be crafted. In the past and to a large part today, businesses have developed strategies that relied upon controlling a one-way message that went out to the market.

Today, we find that the message is starting to become two-way and multi-dimensional. Many messages about a company don’t even include the business as a participant. As the 1st Thesis of the Cluetrain states, “Markets are Conversations”.

As a part of a sound business strategy, corporations must learn to guide (not dictate) how these conversations are developed. They must be observant and reactive (or proactive) to what marketing messages are generated about them through channels such as consumer generated content, blogs, and other aspects of the new social model of the Internet. The challenge in business strategy in the next 10 years will be the switch from the old guard to this new model.

That’s my 2 cents. Maybe you agree or have a different idea. Please visit Dmitry and contribute. He’s also going to organize all the info he collects and post it (in English!) on his blog.

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Blogs as a Marketing Research Tool

Alex asks the following question in the comments of my recent marketing research post….

“I know it’s not hugely scientific, but I’m sure with a little imagination a decent blog could provide businesses with very useful focus group style feedback.Comments from existing customers, passing traffic, a few people you direct to the site could all prove to be valuable.Is this plausible or is online research always a little dubious?”

I think it’s important to note the distinction between feedback and research. Feedback is fabulous. Businesses can gain a lot by just listening to customers. (But, you wonder why so many don’t.) I think feedback can come from anyone and everyone including your acquaintances, customers, and even your blog readers. Research, on the other hand, should be done with blind, random samples that take out most, if not all, of the factors that could taint the results – the essential feature in providing the custom assignment help. Feedback is something you can say and carry around in your head. Research is hard numbers on paper that you can use to prove points and make decisions.

Using online methods to do marketing research has a few problems….

1) You automatically have limited your sample to customers who not only have computer access, but are also computer literate/savvy enough to take part. If you’re reading this blog, you’re probably pretty savvy, but when I speak to groups, I still have to explain to intelligent successful businesspeople what a blog is. I have a friend who calls me all the time to explain to her how to insert a column in MS Excel. In many ways, we’re still on the left side of the adoption curve.

2) The audience you’re gathering feedback from is an important factor. For example. a software company developing a new program is likely to prompt more blog feedback than an auto manufacturer developing a new line of pickup trucks.

3) One of the problems with feedback from blogs is that a vocal minority could override the opinions of the majority. There are great masses of people scanning blogs everyday, but how many comments/trackbacks are there? Even the A-listers don’t have very many comments/trackbacks as a percentage of the actual traffic. When you rely on blog feedback, you’ve silenced a large majority of your readers.

In addition, the “blog as a focus group” model breaks some of the basic rules of focus groups. It’s not random…the participants are self-selecting themselves and already have a positive bias to you. And technically, you’re moderating the group by posting topics and leading them. It would be like the manager of a Pizza Hut grabbing customers as they walked in the restaurant to do a focus group about why people like pizza.

Is all online marketing research dubious? It depends. It depends both on the audience you’re trying to reach and what you’re trying to find out. If both those things fit into an online model, I think you’re fine. But the largest factor in any marketing research project, online or real world, is the methodology. Research HAS to be designed well with qualified random samples.

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Lies, Damned Lies, and Statistics

bad marketing research exampleI see alot of misplaced gusto for marketing. Some of it comes in the form of bad print or broadcast advertising. And while bad ads or bad media buys are not as effective as they could be, at least they’re reaching some audience. They’re not causing the business any harm.

But one of the biggest marketing mistakes that businesses make that CAN cause harm is doing marketing research incorrectly.

Now, marketing research is GOOD. It’s one of the best things you can do to make sure that you’re getting the most out of marketing. The problem happens when people assume that they can quickly throw together a survey or focus group and get some data to work with. There are many little things that can be missed when designing a marketing research project that will drastically change the results. You need to have some idea of what you’re doing or hire a reputable firm to do it for you.

I’ve personally seen some really bad practices….

There was the business owner who wanted to do a “focus group”. He invited his friend, his friend’s wife, and some other people he knew. And then, he personally moderated the group. Shockingly, he was very pleased with what the group had to say.

There was the doctor who mailed out a massive survey to find out the age distribution and other demographic data in his city. He was shocked when I told him that his tax dollars were already being used to pay Census workers to gather this exact information and much more for him and that he could fully access the data.

I’ve seen hundreds of comment cards that were either designed to prompt an incorrect response or too confusing/long to provide useful feedback. The big sin with comment cards is usually the return methodology. It’s either a box located in the midst of employees who you’re commenting on…or makes you put a stamp and your return address on it.

And I’m sure you’ve seen numerous examples of one of the worst mistakes now happening in marketing research…the web survey. You do NOT have a good sample of people who come to a website to conduct accurate research. Take results from a web survey with a grain of salt unless your business is completely online.

The big trouble is that when you “do research” and then publish the numbers, it becomes real. When people are shown statistics, very few question the methodology that was used to get the numbers. Bad decisions are made with bad information. Then there’s a backlash of not trusting research…which should not be the case.

The truth is that marketing research is quick and easy to do wrong. It’s expensive and/or time consuming to do right. And it’s too important to mess up.

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