Wednesday, October 27, 2010

The Vision Thing - It's Not About Selling Content like Hamburgers

Franchised computer stores spread rapidly in the late '70's
"The Dawn of a New Age, Second Encounter” was the promoted theme of the Second Annual Personal Computer Show held in Chicago, around this time, thirty-two years ago. Your humble blogger was reminded of that show as I wrote about the Inbound Marketing Summit recently. The online/smart phone media business keeps reminding me of the PC business in its early days. But I was surprised to find that my memory was WRONG in key respects. And I realized I owed a personal debt.

Selling Computers like Hamburgers” was the editor’s title for the my account of that 1978 show. I was writing for a lowly rag but my writing caught the attention a recruiter and led to my first corporate job. The article’s title alluded to the franchise business model of Byte Industries, a young computer store dealer coop which had just been purchased and re-launched as a franchiser by Logical Machines Corporation. These names, like most of what I reported on then, are now in the footnotes of computer history but I still found lessons in the yellowed old piece, fished out of my memorabilia box.

The PC business was clearly red hot back in 1978 but very few knew just how to make money at it. I remembered that. The coming use of the personal computer as a business tool was the heart of my story. Hobbyists made up the bulk of the market at that time. I reported that swarms of small business owners were at the show, searching for ways to take advantage of the new technology, and were regarded by most vendors as the source of future growth in the market.

Few then seemed to appreciate how quickly the business use of computers was going to grow. I remembered that. Less than a year after incorporating, Apple Computer (now simply Apple) had the biggest and best display of the show. I interviewed Apple’s Director of Sales, Gene Carter, a computer industry veteran who went on to become a VP before leaving Apple in ’84 to join the team that developed Microsoft Works at Productivity Software. I remembered that contrary to others at the show Carter felt that there was little practical use for a PC. The PC, he felt, was a tool for learning “computer literacy,” That phrase became etched in my mind.

What I’d forgotten was the powerful vision behind the phrase “computer literacy.” Looking back, his vision far outweighs Carter’s timing error about business utility. “We are selling now to the leading edge of what will be a vast market for personal computers” Carter insisted. “These people are the innovators in their groups. What they are seeking is computer literacy. They will serve as advocates for the application of this technology.”

Something far more awesome than a business trend was evident. A new age was truly dawning. I’d forgotten the sense of awe I felt at that show. I’d forgotten about the significance of seeing ten year olds tickling terminal keys with ease or witnessing a boy remove the cover of a computer to explain to his father how it worked.

Today, there is too much talk about selling content like hamburgers, mass produced for online mass consumption. The concept is as appealing many of us as a Big Mac - satisfying in some ways, profitable perhaps, but not what we live for. However, providing people with vital information and tools to learn more is truly awesome.

A deep sense of wonder and the shared dream of a new mass literacy drive the dedication of many of us in the media business today. It is a great time to be in this business! And thanks, Gene Carter, for expressing your vision and for sitting through a cub-reporter interview, in Chicago, thirty-two years ago!

Labels: , , , ,

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

The Bad and the Ugly at the Inbound Marketing Summit

Last week your humble blogger shared some of the smartest things we heard and some of the fun we enjoyed at the Inbound Marketing Summit which we sponsored under our NewMeetia initiative. But I promised the Bad and the Ugly along with the Good.

It was weird to see so many attendees nose-down to their PC
screens. Like students in college lecture halls, many seemed
to be, as we charitably call it, "multi-tasking."
The dumbest thing I heard at the conference was “Scale and media buying power are no longer a decisive advantage.” The speaker was David Meerman Scott, Marketing Strategist, Freshspot Marketing, who, to his credit, was also the source of some smart commentary about "Real-Time Marketing" and some good fun, including the donning of a tie-dye t-shirt (under his sport coat) to flog a book he and Brian Halligan, CEO of Hubspot have put together about “Marketing Lessons of the Grateful Dead.” But the notion that new media negates scale is wishful thinking.

Size matters in media. The technology has changed but not the fundamental political economics of information. Scott’s illustration of how a David can slay Goliath with new media was the oft-repeated story of “United Breaks Guitars,” a video that went viral. What the story actually proves is that the secret to going viral is to get picked up by big media. Scale can fail but, everything else being equal, big is still a better bet. Venture firms have rushed money into selected low/no- revenue new media companies like Facebook and Twitter to gain the decisive advantages of scale. They fully expect a future payoff.

The second dumbest thing we heard is that one can “curate content” with an investment of only 20 minutes a day. The speaker was Pawan Deshpande, CEO of HiveFire. I may be misquoting because what he undoubtedly meant was 20 minutes a day with Curata, a HiveFire service designed to help organizations with content aggregation, production and distribution for marketing purposes (starting at around $1,500 a month).

No one can “curate” anything well without serious contemplation. While the Curata service is currently being used to produce surprisingly good looking online content, (sample here; testimonials on their home page) the implication that a reputation for content can be earned and sustained with a minimal time investment assumes that the “curator” doesn’t need to learn continuously but only needs to tweak search criteria once in a while. Its like bad journalism, automated.  And Deshpande’s concept of “curation” is based on the dubious assumption that people will keep originating and posting worthy content without some system of compensation from content marketers. Real thought leadership requires original thought and research. “Curation” may be the single subject of a future post.

The ugly part of the conference came from speakers who worked too hard to project an anti-establishment, spontaneous and outrageous persona. One’s material has to be good to make the pose work, especially in a business context. Scott Stratten, president of UnMarketing, carried it off most successfully with his harsh critique of conventional marketing. He garnered a lot of laughs and twitter traffic with comments such as “we suck at now, why worry about next?” At times however, some speakers seemed only course and tasteless. One speaker reported her mental reaction to a request for an honest appraisal of her product “I’m on salary, bitches!” Some thoughts are best left unsaid.  Another big name disappointed everyone sitting around me in one session with unprepared prattle and puerile humor from the podium.

The good news is that online social and content marketing are rapidly becoming main-stream. The flip side of becoming main-stream is a new level of accountability for clear thinking, respectful conduct and real results. So another piece of good news is that there is still room for improvement.

Labels: , , , , , , , ,

Thursday, October 14, 2010

The Good, the Bad and the Ugly at the Inbound Marketing Summit

We wanted to share the smartest and the dumbest things we heard at the Inbound Marketing Summit last week – fortunately there was stiff competition for the former. We were one of the sponsors of the event under our newMeetia initiative and we found plenty of value for marketers at the two day event along with a little malarkey and lots of stuff that was just plain fun.

Good Fun: Steve Garfield Helps Us Set a Simultaneous
Video World Record at the Inbound Marketing Summit 

Clearly, online social and content marketing is now main stream. While some speakers valiantly jousted against straw-man “old marketing” enemies the best presentations were about integrating new online marketing with the old, “inbound”(online-inquiry) with “outbound” and online media with offline. And the rants against self-discipline were more than offset by practical advice about how to measure and manage online marketing.

Mobile and online marketing fit naturally with marketing in other media according to Tim Hayden, Chief Strategy Officer and Partner, Blue Clover Studios. We should keep in mind that “ninety percent of Word of Mouth takes place offline,” he said, citing Keller Fay research based on continuous monitoring of the brand conversations of 36,000 survey participants. Experiences like live social events, tradeshows, sampling, stunts, tours, retail, and guerilla actions are highly influential according to Hayden. He also mentioned outdoor at least twice - your humble blogger noticed compelling outdoor while creeping through Boston on the way to the event (including a very distracting billboard flashing that IT IS NOW ILLEGAL TO TEXT WHILE DRIVING IN MASSACHUSETTS).

We’ve been seduced by the illusion of accountability” in online media asserted Tom Webster, Vice President, Strategy of Edison Research. “Any given metric is meaningless until you prove it isn't” he insisted. “If you're only measuring the effect of your tweets on twitter, then you're measuring if you're good at twitter.” It is time, he stated to “stop measuring tweets and start measuring people” before, during, and after online media actions. Webster concluded that the hard work of relating online marketing to marketplace results is far from finished.

Effective B-to-B content marketing should non-promotional in tone, relevant, solution-oriented, well written, supportive of your business objectives, and provide factual proof according to Maria Pergolino, Director of Marketing at Marketo. She defined content marketing as the “creation and sharing of content for the purpose of promoting a product or service.” Proof is key to credibility in such content, she explained, because content consumers are justifiably skeptical. Pergolino provided a live example of how to manage, reuse and adapt content to new opportunities by explaining how she put her presentation together and by distributing a two-sided laminated Marketing Cheat Sheet that summarized her key points. Two attendees told your humble blogger that her presentation was "the best of the show."

Social marketing ROI is easily calculated using formulas provided by Paul Gillin, Principal of Paul Gillin Communications. He closed the event with a surprisingly well-attended and straight-forward tutorial on the topic. His simple math was based on lifetime value of a customer and conversion rates which have long been essential metrics of subscription and catalogue marketing.  Gillin's underlying assumption is that social media leads are similar to leads from other sources which has to be proven in any given instance.  But other presenters provided evidence that social media-sourced leads are in many cases more likely to convert and remain loyal so his assumption may understate the ROI.

Stay tuned for the bad and the ugly. As always your comments are appreciated.

Labels: , , , , , , , ,