best of 2008

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 2008 tag. Thanks.
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It’s the end of my fourth year of blogging. It’s also the year with the least amount of posts as I find myself blogging less here and spending more time connecting on sites.

In what has become an annual tradition on this blog (2007, 2006, 2005), here are the best posts from the past year.

What makes these posts the best? Some got lots of traffic or lots of commentary. And some are just ones that I feel hit the mark well.

Stories
The best marketing strategy is to tell people stories they want to hear.

Muscle Shoals has got the Swampers
The answer is right in front of you. You just haven’t noticed it yet.

Mass media will never win on the web
The long tail does not fit the mass media model.

The Tuned-in Minority (and related post – embedded and right)
You may be surprised at how out-of-touch you are by being so in-touch.

— Instead of flying my standard Southwest this year, I found myself on American quite a bit in 2008, and I talked about their troubles several times.

Is he dead or did he invent the Turducken?
Build a small group of dedicated followers for marketing success.
(Mmmm. Sounds alot like the premise of Tribes, just 7 months before the book. Shouda gotten a publisher. btw-did you see my picture on the inside cover of the Tribes book?)

Tweet Checks
This was the most trafficked post of the entire year as a result of the link from this article.

Customer Misservice
We’re only seeing the tip of the iceberg of disgruntled customers on the web.

Print Publishing and Online
The painful transition for traditional media.

Sweet Sassy Mo Lassy
A marketing lesson found in Molasses in January.

stories

So over the past two years gas prices rose about $2/gallon from what they were. Supply and demand? That can’t be causing it. The oil companies were sticking it to us. Let’s start a chain email to not buy gas on a certain day. That will show them. If gas prices change that dramatically in only two years, the outrage in the streets showed that something must be horribly wrong.

Meanwhile, gas prices have fallen back down the same $2/gallon in only about two months. Where’s the congressional inquiry this time?

In 2004, Bush won 50.7% of the popular vote. We were told this meant the country was divided. Last week, Obama won 52.6%. We’re being told this means the country is united.

Prior to big news the next day, the main news story on Sept 10, 2001 (and for many weeks before) was about an FBI intern who might have been murdered by a US congressman. Can you remember either of their names?

In the end, marketing is nothing more than telling a story to people who want to hear it. And even though they are not viewed as marketers, the media and government are some of the best marketers on the planet. While your marketing budget struggles to achieve proper reach and frequency, those who have constituencies or who own printing presses, transmitters, and online attention have a constant captive audience who don’t filter information the way they might from other sources.

An unfortunate side effect of the 24 hour news cycle is that there’s a lot of filler. And sometimes the filler becomes important just because there’s nothing else to take the place. All the really smart people I know keep their mouths shut 99% of the time. When they do speak, what they say carries some weight and you know it’s important. When you used to read a single newspaper and watch one of three nightly newscasts, the important stuff was distilled out for you. People are still consuming it that way, even though it’s no longer produced that way.

And throughout history, politicians and governments have steered the masses. Everyone knows this. But other than a few who are well-informed, everyone usually goes along with the propaganda.

Here’s the marketing lesson for you: People are irrational and will ignore facts, common sense, and their own memories if you can manipulate their worldview.

But how to manipulate that worldview? Tell them a story they want to believe.

I think this coffee is better because of how the company selects the beans. Every one knows that this computer OS is better than the other one because of the kinds of people who use it. Everyone is wearing these jeans. This car is superior because of how the company produces it.

With all the facts and common sense, we’d see that many current consumer decisions would be different. But marketing is not about the facts. It’s about the perception. And perception is reality.

muscle shoals has got the swampers

Back in my radio career, in addition to managing operations for the stations in the group, I also held down several airshifts as a “radio personality”.

DJs get sick of songs way before you do. On the CHR formatted station, I played the same 9 current pop hits every 2 hours and 15 minutes until my ears bled. And while the burnout on songs on the classic rock, oldies, etc stations wasn’t as immediate, I got tired of them over the long term.

I played the same stuff so much that years later I can still remember that Sweet Home Alabama by Lynyrd Skynyrd was on GoldDisc 536 – cut 5. Werewolves of London by Warren Zevon was toward the bottom of the rack on the left on the “digital heart of rock” collection. I don’t remember the CD, but it was cut 17.

Needless to say, you can see I have played these songs numerous times. (and listened to them in other settings even more.) But until Kid Rock came out with All Summer Long this year, I had never noticed that Werewolves and Alabama had the same chord progression and sound the same in several spots.

I deal with a lot of people daily who have been doing the same thing for years. I speak to groups who are entrenched in the way things have always been. I consult with a lot of “experts” who know everything about something because they deal with it everyday.

When I get an inquiry for either a speaking engagement or a consulting gig, one of the first questions from the meeting planner or client usually is: Do you have any experience with our industry? Often, I answer that I don’t have experience with their industry, but I do know marketing and I can bring a fresh perspective. Sometimes that excites the person and sometimes the person is scared of going forward. Some of my best feedback has been from groups that I had never heard of before I spoke to them. I brought up things that they had never thought of.

Sometimes when you deal with the same thing everyday, you don’t notice the nuances and the opportunities. Things that should stand out clearly become wallpaper that blends in. I encourage you to start at square one with your marketing, your business, or anything. See if there’s a new way you can look at it. Or better yet, ask someone who has no clue about what you do if there’s something they can notice that you’ve missed for years.

embedded and right

A NYU journalism student has written an “embedded report” about Quarter lifers / GenY’s outlook on journalism and online media for the PBS Mediashift blog.

In the online journalism class that I teach, I find the exact same results as Alana at NYU. Turns out most of this demographic that media and marketers think are totally saturated in online engagement — just aren’t. In fact, I made the same point back in July 2007.

Every semester, I introduce members of this “online” generation to things that you (as an assumed engaged online user) think are basic knowledge. Flickr. Digg. Twitter. They’ve never heard of them. Most of them are on Facebook and watch (not upload) video on YouTube, but that’s about it.

As companies develop marketing plans or the media develops media strategies, it needs to be remembered that most people (not just this demo) are NOT actively participating in online activities. Building the entire campaign and platform to focus on online users will make you lose in the short term. You need to be online, but you can’t expect it to pull all the weight at this point in time. Online growth is phenomenal, but we’re not ready to throw away other parts of the mix for younger demographics. And it goes the other way, too. I know of many marketers making the opposite mistake and just focusing online to younger demographics, when older demos (especially boomers) are going online and participating.

When I do posts like this, the online community thinks it’s heresy and I usually get a few disbelieving comments/emails. But YOU are online and if you’re reading a blog like this one, then it’s likely that your worldview is skewed. I’ve made the challenge before….

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.

You may be surprised at how out-of-touch you are by being so in-touch. If you’re wondering what other journalism students think about Alana’s embed, I’ve assigned my students to react to her post on thier blogs by next Monday.

mass media will never win on the web

Or at least they won’t think they’re winning because they’re still using the same yardstick for success that they’ve used for decades.

With broadcast and print media, success is measured in numbers with lots of zeroes on the end — both in terms of audience and cash.

Meanwhile, true success on the web is measured in (sometimes small) dedicated audiences.

The long tail does not fit the mass media model — in terms of audience or revenue. And yet, newspapers, magazines, TV, radio, and every other form of mass media have been trying to cram their square hole mass media model into a round online hole ever since the mid-90’s.

And they’ve been sitting in sackcloth and ashes since the start — lamenting that the web is taking over and they can’t replace the shrinking offline audience with a new online audience. And they worry that the old fistful of advertising dollars won’t follow that audience.

And they’re right. That audience and those ad dollars are gone. And the faster that mass media outlets stop trying to make those old models work, the faster they will find success.

It’s not new. We’ve seen it before on a lesser scale. Some huge radio stars couldn’t translate into being big TV stars. The Andy Griffith Show was better in black and white. No one wanted to hear what silent movie actors sounded like. But there was huge success and massive revenue to be found in the new worlds of television and talkies — when people stopped trying to cram the old model into the new.

Mass media needs to stop thinking about how to make people “read newspapers online” or “watch the evening news online”. They need to take a fresh look at what they’re doing. What does an online audience look like and how do they want to consume your product online? They need to “stop broadcasting and start narrowcasting“.

tuned in minority

It has struck me in the last few days how “in-tune” an internet reader is as opposed to the masses that get fed by the 24 hour news cycle.

I started noticing the Killer Tomato scare in the mainstream media and on hastily written signs at restaurants on Sunday. However, I already knew about it from a Nashville veggie lover on the Wednesday before.

Articles of impeachment were introduced in the House against President Bush on Monday night. Have you seen it on your cable news channel or in the newspaper yet? (caveat: there’s a tad bit of hype to it)

I read about the US strike in Pakistan this morning on the web. I consumed several types of traditional media today before I heard about it on the radio coming home this afternoon.

And I notice this happens over and over. People get in a tizz over something and I’m wondering why because I read about it a few days ago. Or I have started to notice that memes on the web will get picked up by the yucksters on the cable and network news shows a few days after they’ve fizzled online.

Here’s the thing — I am in the minority. (and if you’re reading this, you probably are too). The great sages who are saying the time is NOW that EVERYONE is getting news/info off the web apparently haven’t been talking to people in the real world. Everyone is not uploading videos and commenting on blogs. There’s a time gap (and sometimes a plain lack) of knowledge as it’s disseminated on the web and then through traditionally media.

Because of this, even though it’s egalitarian, the knowledge on the web comes with a heavy bias. It’s leaning toward those tuned-in consumers who are generating the some of the content and who are in the minority. The results don’t pan out in the real world. Don’t believe me? Ask Ron Paul.

Of course, the traditional media comes with its own long standing biases and the need to perpetuate its business model. But traditional media is not dead. It’s just slow and bloated. And the masses are even slower consumers of it.

So there’s opportunity for all here. The traditional media can start working to feed the hummingbird minority consumers. And the web can start bringing more of the lumbering hippos into the fold. They’ll either meet in the middle or one will crush the other.

is he dead or did he invent the turducken?

It was just the other day I was having a conversation with someone about Paul Prudhomme. I don’t remember the specifics of the conversation (or even who I was having it with), but at one point the question came up whether Prudhomme was even still alive.

Actually, Prudhomme is still kicking and extremely successful (when he’s not dodging bullets). You just don’t hear from him that often (except when he’s dodging bullets).

Sidenote: Most interesting line in Prudhomme’s wikipedia entry is:
Dom DeLuise is sometimes confused for Prudhomme. Both have a similar body shape and enjoy cooking. They both often wear “newsboy”-style cloth caps and beards.
Look that up in your Funk & Wagnalls.

But I do remember my conversation involved the over-saturation of another Nola celebrity chef – Emeril Lagasse. There’s really no doubt that Emeril is still alive. He’s everywhere. Cooking on a morning show. Bam! On a talk show. Bam! On a grocery shelf. Bam! In Vegas. Bam! Etc. Bam! Etc. Bam! Bam! Bam!

It’s easy to think that mass attention and mass exposure means marketing success. And in many cases, it does.

But true long term success does not involve 24/7 exposure. It involves dedicated followers.

The great unwashed masses will latch onto anything for awhile if it has sufficient exposure in the culture. And they’ll forget it just as quickly as the next thing comes along. Long term successes are built on the following of a dedicated few that truly believe in the product/person and spread the word.

To use a cooking analogy — While Emeril is sprinkling Essence™ on the entire surface, Prudhomme has been deep injecting a marinade into certain areas of the carcass.

Stop trying to get everybody. You can’t. There’s not enough time, money or attention.
Find a group of dedicated followers and be a huge success with them. Who cares if the rest of the world thinks you’re dead?

tweet checks

You’ve probably already heard about the Zuckerberg interview fiasco at SXSW. If not, here’s a good overview and Jarvis has some insight.

After spending years in marketing and media, I’ve learned a few things that are showcased in this particular incident:
1) Every interviewer has an agenda. And every interviewee needs a plan. Sure, they’re going to ask you questions. You just give the answers that you want to get across. Politicians do this too well.
2) In most interviews, journalists already have most of the story written and just need some quotes to fill in the holes. You may have to slap them around (figuratively, of course) –but make sure that they’re getting your story right.
3) Most interviewers don’t listen to what you’re saying.
4) Don’t ever tweet in anger.
5) The audience has always controlled the conversation. If you insulted them in the old days, they canceled their subscription or changed the channel. Now they bite back.

I don’t think people realize how much communication has changed. We’ve all been in a conference where someone was doing something stupid on stage. Everyone winced individually and went on to the next session. Maybe later in the exhibit hall or somewhere else did the WOM occur that negated the presentation. It now happens in real time. You can have an angry mob on your hands and not realize it. Presenters often have a person in the audience who watches their time or body language. You now need a plant to give you cues on the meta-conversation and how the natives are feeling.

People get freaked out when this social conversation happens in a microcosm like a conference so you can actually see it. But this is happening everyday. Not everyone is in the same room. But when your company, you’re media outlet, your celebrity, your politician, or your product messes up, everyone is out there talking about it to each other.

And 99.999% of companies are doing what this interviewer did. They say I’m giving you what I think you need instead of what you’re telling me you want.

customer misservice

After years of building customer service infrastructure (like outsourced support numbers, online service chats with robots, on-hold purgatory, etc) that distances a company from their biggest asset (their customers), the customers are now catching up and biting back with their own technology rush.

Here’s a very nice overview article from Jena McGregor at Business Week via MSNBC about the customer backlash against bad service with technology.

As anyone who is on the web knows, angry and disgruntled customers with an internet connection can easily wreak havoc on a company’s brand. Got a problem that the company won’t fix? Upload something to YouTube, start a blog, leave feedback on a shopping site, or flat out email the CEO and someone will pay attention (either the company or other customers).

This new age of the “customer service conversation” has been swelling for years. I don’t think we’ve even seen the tip of the iceberg. There are lots of companies who are doing a good job reacting to the community and providing great customer service. But even more are not.

The online marketing community is well aware of the dam bursts like DellHell, ComcastMustDie, and iPhone rebates. And while those make great examples for case studies, I really think they are in the head of the long tail of disgruntled customers on the web. There is a great unwashed mass of negative customer experiences stretching out in the long tail that I don’t think anyone has picked up on. In other words, while companies may have been talking for the past few years about this new rise of the customer, no one has any idea how big it really is.

Here’s the question. After years of trying to distance themselves from the customer, how will those companies react to the new realities of customer service that are just now starting to go mainstream? And will they be too late before they realize that the mass collective has grown to a point that they can’t respond?

print publishing and online

Mitch Joel has some insight from this NAA report about the print publishing business. The report focuses on the positive numbers that newspaper websites are racking up. While at the same time, newspapers are covered in sackcloth and ashes about their print products. Mitch makes an excellent point here:

Print publications need to embrace the new reality that they have become Multimedia Publications. The big wins are not going to happen by putting their print materials online. The big wins are going to happen when stories are extended leveraging the true power of the online channel – that would be by adding more images, video, audio and interaction into the fray. And, if they’re smart, extending the ability to create content as well.

This seems obvious. But even at this very moment, the offices of newspapers, magazines, radio/TV stations, and other traditional media are full of people who:
1) don’t understand this
2) don’t want to understand this
3) are afraid of this
4) feel that they are already on the cutting edge just by replicating their content online
5) are so caught up in a traditional stylebook of the “way things ought to be” that they are actively fighting online ventures

But, with all things, moderation. While I wholeheartedly agree that a media outlet needs to develop and nurture an online presence that goes beyond the abilities of their traditional counterparts, there also needs to be a master plan for both. Both the online and print editions of a newspaper or magazine need to work on a SINGLE brand strategy and need to push readers from the print to online and vice versa.

And then, there’s a vast silent majority of media outlets when it comes to online. Too many times the analysis of media focuses on a few major national media examples (who SHOULD be on the cutting edge online). The true tipping point for online media will be the vast number of regional and local outlets — many that have little or no web presence.

While national media (major magazines & newspapers, broadcast networks, etc) are just now starting to really fully embrace the online product, there are thousands of local media outlets who are drastically behind the times. I was interviewed on Friday for a publishing company’s newsletter. The interviewer actually asked me if I thought it was important for a newspaper to have a website. My response was: if a newspaper didn’t have a website in 2008, they had already missed the boat.

And let’s also remember one of the major points of the relationship between a traditional print audience and an online product. Column inches bring in more money than pixels. If the traditional print product is providing content and subsidizing the operation of the online edition, there has to be a point where the financial model changes to meet the readership and content distribution model. And for many media properties, that will be a painful transition.