Archive for the 'Dour Marketer' Category

Jul 28 2014

The New Kingmakers — book review

Steven O’Grady is the co-founder of Redmonk, a developer-focused tech analyst firm, and a very smart analyst at that. I first got to know him in 2006 via my old boss at Lenovo, the  CMO Deepak Advani who had a deep interest in Open Source and developer relations from his days at IBM. O’Grady and his co-founding partner James Governor gave us invaluable insights into the Open Source market, something that was unexpectedly crucial to Lenovo’s digital marketing focus as unbeknownst to us, one of the iconic Thinkpad laptops had been embraced as a reference platform to simplify hardware driver development for new distros.

Steven is also a great fan of all things Red Sox (his blog “Wicked Clevah” is one of the few I read) and is a striper fisherman up on the coast of Maine where he works and lives. So our orbits have overlapped on a few vectors.

This past spring he published with O’Reilly Media a very compelling argument that developers are the “new kingmakers” in contemporary IT and corporate digital strategy because of their crucial role in building value, defending against disruption, and making the technology decisions formerly reserved for procurement teams and the CIO. The result is a complete over-turning of the way organizations select and deploy technology, putting the developers in charge of the tools and standards that govern IT-enabled innovation and operations. We intuitively figured that out at Lenovo under the premise that when anyone makes a technology decision — “what phone should I buy? what laptop? what software?” — they turn to the most technical and expert person in their network. For those of us trying to build an influencer model online to sell computers, that audience was comprised of developers. Make them happy, give them what they need in terms of information and content, and they in turn will be the ones who declare if your technology is crap or not.

O’Grady nails the impact that the developer community is having on tech — from standards to commercial software to the way companies hire and retain the best coding talent they can find. His point is going to be very bleak new to the marketing teams at B2B tech companies. All those white papers and conferences and drive to get to the CEO and the COO and the CMO and the CIO ….. guess what? Developers could care less and they are the ones who matter.

In the latter half of the 20th century, developers were effectively beholden to their employers. The tools they needed to be productive — hardware and software — just were not affordable on an individual basis. Developers wishing to build even something as trivial as a website were confronted by an unfortunate reality: most of the necessary building blocks were available only under commercial licenses. Operating systems, databases, web and application servers, and development tools all required money. To get anything done, developers needed someone to write checks for the tools they needed. That meant either raising the capital to buy the necessary pieces, or — more often — requesting that an employer or other third party purchase them on the developer’s behalf.

“The new century, however, has ushered in profound and permanent shifts in the relationship between developer and employer. No longer is the former at the mercy of the latter’s budget. With the cost of development down by an order of magnitude or mode, the throttle on developer creativity has been removed, setting the stage for a Cambrian explosion of projects.

“Four major disruptions drove this shift: open source, the cloud, the Internet, and seed-stage financing.”

Basically, the point is that the company may buy one set of technology but developers will be developers and build stuff with the tools they want to use, not the tools the CIO negotiated a good price for out on the golf course.  Rather than put up with “official” technology, developers just get stuff done with the right tools — generally free tools — that get the job done.

“….the balance of power began to tilt in favor of developers. Developers, not their bosses, became the kingmakers. Technology selection increasingly wasn’t determined by committee or bake offs or who played golf with the CIO, but by what developers decided, on their own, to use.

“MySQL salespeople used to walk into businesses, for example, only to be told that they were wasting their time because the business wasn’t using any MySQL. At which point the MySQL salesperson would reply, “That’s interesting, because your organization has downloaded the package 5,000 times in the last two years.” This was and is the new balance of power. Not for every technology sector, of course, but for more every year.”

This is a very concise and accessible book — aimed at the marketers and executive management of companies who rely on developers to build their success.  In my bookshelf of tech books that matter, this one will have a long shelf life. If you’re managing digital strategy,  evaluating tech vendors, or trying to market hardware and software, this book can be digested in less than two hours and will, trust me, have an impact on how you see the new world.

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Apr 24 2013

3 Ways to Write an Annoying “ListLine”™

The recently departed Al Neuharth — the man who gave the world McJournalism when he created USA Today in 1982 — was famous in my mind for two things (no, make that three, because this is a post in part about the magic powers of “three”):

  1. Always publish the tits above the fold
  2. Bulleted lists are better than paragraphs
  3. Infographics that twist statistics and invoke the Royal We into cartoons are engaging

People love lists. Decades ago there was a bestseller entitled “The Book of Lists,” a classic toilet-side tome in many a household. There are  management books about the power of to-do lists.  I must have at least three or four list apps on my phones and tablets and PC. Most horrible is the tendency of the lower life forms in online journalism and especially digital marketing/SEO/Content marketing bloggers to use lists as linkbait. There are so many headlines about “Three Ways to Increase ROI” and “Four Ways Content Marketing Can Engage and Delight Your Customers” that I have to wonder what’s driving this obsession with numerical sequence.  I know that if I click through to actually read the stuff I’m going to read some airhead social media/digital marketing “guru’s” rehashed airheaded jargon twisted bloviations.

Working off off my feeds this morning  I found this actual set of … oh hell, let’s just call them “ListLines™“, e.g. headlines promoting lists:

  • 13 Smart Podcasts That Will Feed Your Hunger for Knowledge and Ideas
  • The 45 Best Restaurants in America (BusinessInsider is a huge fan of  ListLines™, generally cutting up the content into slideshows to pump up the pageviews). They have a daily list which is semi-useful called …..
  • Ten Things You Need To Know
  • 10 Habits of Remarkably Charismatic People
  • We Try 4 New Electric Hot Water Kettles for Coffee and Tea

The king of the numbered ListLine has to be the Content Marketing Institute, which on its home page has the following headlines, and all save one has a numeral in it:

  • 4 Truths About Content Marketing Clients
  • 6 Tips to Start Creating Content on Tumblr
  • 3 Tips for More Effective Content Marketing Visuals
  • 9 Questions to Help You Prioritize Content Creation
  • 12 Roles Essential to the Future of Content Marketing
  • Thought Leadership Strategy: 3 Ways to Leverage Live Event Content
  • 3 Tips for Keeping Your Buyer Personas Fresh and Alive
  • How Enterprises Handle B2B Content: 6 Key Insights From Our Research

McKinsey, the organization that lives on PowerPoint, had an unofficial Rule of Threes during my short stint– as in no slide should have more than three bullet points on it because that was all the typical audience member could hold in their head during the time it took the expensive consultant to present the slide. McKinsey was into numerology in general and the place should have had the Pareto Principle inscribed over the door as its motto (the “80/20” rule). I admit I stick to the Rule of Threes to this day.

My theory about the abuse of the numbered list in online headlines is the corruption of editorial good sense by the scuzzy underworld of Search Engine Optimization and the Tyranny of Metrics. Let’s turn to the experts at the Content Marketing Institute, enter in the search term “lists” and what do you know? In a post entitled “Content Strategy: 9 Secrets for Awesome Blog Post Titles“, Tracy Gold writes in item number 5:

“We all groan about numbered lists in blog posts. But the truth is, they work. In our research, titles that began with a number performed 45 percent better than the average.

“Another approach is to start with a keyword and include a number later in the title. Take “Content Marketing Checklist: 22 To-dos for SlideShare Success,” for example. We tested both title types, and when the headline started with a keyword, it actually performed slightly better.

“While one approach to this method is to work more numbered lists into your blog content strategy up front, you can also use a numbered list in a post after it’s written. Is the post split up into sections? Can those sections be numbered? Boom. But again, don’t mislead your readers — make sure a numbered list format actually fits the content of your post.”

Now we know the secrets of the masters. My theory is by announcing ahead of time how many pieces of b.s. the reader will have to digest, they figure they aren’t in for a reading of Procopius History of the Early Church and can snack on the info before their Adderall buzzing brain clicks them away.

Before closing, let me digress back to USA Today and my indoctrination into the art of the list.

I worked at a newspaper — The Lawrence Eagle-Tribune — that rented its color presses to print the New England edition USA Today at night, receiving the pages via satellite and then churning out the colorful McPaper so familiar to residents of the Marriott Courtyard Suites. This close relationship unfortunately colored the judgment of Eagle-Tribune editor-in-chief Dan Warner, who decided that Al Neuharth was a visionary genius and that the Tribune’s staff  would learn to write lists instead of stories and develop “infographics” about Why We Love Ice Cream,” complete with a cartoon of a melting ice cream cone, a gushing thermometer and some made up statistic about what flavors “We” preferred.

This was strictly enforced to the point that every story opened with a classic lead (my favorite lead of all time, courtesy of Edna Buchanan, the legendary police reporter of the Miami Herald is cited below*), a standard second paragraph, and then an inevitable list of bulleted items before the jump to an inside page.  I would pile into the newsroom after a scintillating evening covering the Salem, New Hampshire board of selectmen and pound out some lifeless copy (“This ain’t a short story about your dead grandma bub, so get over it” my editor, Al White, told me after taking a machete to my first story about a sewer bond hearing) that always had a bullet list up high where Dan Warner would be sure to see it. Hence:

“In other actions, the board voted to:

  • Ban pit bulls from playgrounds
  • Postpone a hearing on bingo licenses
  • Authorize door-to-door cigarette sales by Brownie Troop 5
  • Commend Police Chief Nickerson for Sunday’s arrest of undercover Massachusetts State Policemen harassing Bay State liquor and fireworks customers

At first the mandate to use bullet lists offended my delicate Strunk & White sensibilities about prose composition.  One of the joys of great writing is a well-written list, contained in a single flowing sentence, ordered just so to delight the ear and paint a picture in the mind’s eye, but alas the world has become addicted to the staccato stack of one-liners preceded by the bold typographical dot and so I have given up all hope of resistance.

But I know in my heart of hearts that William Faulkner never wrote a bullet list in his life or worried about SEO.


*: Calvin Trillin, profiling Buchanan in the New Yorker: “In the newsroom of the Miami Herald, there is some disagreement about which of Edna Buchanan’s first paragraphs stands as the classic Edna lead. I line up with the fried-chicken faction. The fried-chicken story was about a rowdy ex-con named Gary Robinson, who late one Sunday night lurched drunkenly into a Church’s outlet, shoved his way to the front of the line, and ordered a three-piece box of fried chicken. Persuaded to wait his turn, he reached the counter again five or ten minutes later, only to be told that Church’s had run out of fried chicken. The young woman at the counter suggested that he might like chicken nuggets instead. Robinson responded to the suggestion by slugging her in the head. That set off a chain of events that ended with Robinson’s being shot dead by a security guard. Edna Buchanan covered the murder for the Herald—there are policemen in Miami who say that it wouldn’t be a murder without her—and her story began with what the fried-chicken faction still regards as the classic Edna lead: “Gary Robinson died hungry.”


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Apr 08 2013

Not your father’s advertorial

Every trend, fad and meme has its day and “branded content” is having its moment now that the New York Time’s Monday business section has discovered the phenomenon of publishers further blurring the lines between journalism and marketing in its piece on 4.8.13 by Tanzina Vega: “Sponsors Now Pay for Online Articles, Not Just Ads.” The usual publications are cited: and it’s “BrandVoice” (“Connecting marketers to the Forbes audience”), the Atlantic Monthly, Business Insider, Mashable just to name a few. I think a bigger trend is being ignored:  and that’s marketers going direct to readers and building their own audiences, cutting publishers out entirely except to rent their traffic and push clicks to their own media.
Forbes has taken its share of criticism for being one of the first old-school publishers to open up its digital pages to advertorial, but Chief Product Office Lewis D’Vorkin isn’t apologetic. His e-book on the editorial/advertising model is a convincing argument against the old church/state Chinese wall model of advertising-supported but segregated-independent-objctive journalism. In his treatise, D’Vorkin goes right after the old-school editorial purists and essentially wishes them good luck as they slowly starve to death while the old interruption model of advertising further withers under the impact of AdBlocker and Tivo-ad skipper technologies.

The Times article cites one dissenter, Andrew Sullivan, the former editor of the New Republic: “I am aghast at this…Your average reader isn’t interested in that. They don’t realize they are being fed corporate propaganda.”
Average reader? At least they’re reading and not rotting their brains with a diet of Bravo staged-reality shows about Real Wives and Hoarders. Getting into the sanctimonious mosh pit of editorial objectivity and journalism ethics is to enter into a surreal religious war on a pointless par with the dyophysite controversies of the fifth century: no one cared except the patriarchs and metropolitans but nevertheless wars were waged and people died.
The Internet Advertising Bureau and the Magazine Publishers Association have long been setting down the rules for making it clear to readers what is pure and impure. Putting tinted boxes around marketing content, sticking the word “Advertisement” atop the headline …. I ran into this issue as early as 1996 when sold daily content sponsorships and gave the advertisers a tall vertical unit we invented called the “Skyscraper.” The smarter sponsors used the space to run a story as opposed to an animated Punch-The-Monkey ad, and before long we had to revise our terms and conditions to ghettoize the more egregious offenders with the scarlet letter of “Advertising.”  Digital advertising models have long looked for the online equivalent of the little word “Advertorial” that magazines used to segregate special sections bought by the Economic Development Commission of Mississippi (“A State To Grow In!”) away from the serious, independent stuff. Now even Google News is trying to keep the sponsored stuff out of its pages.
I think the Times missed the bigger trend: marketers going direct to their prospective buyers by becoming their own publishers, producing their own media and using professional editorial placements only to rent names, just as marketers have been renting circulation lists for decades to drive their direct mail campaigns. Here’s some early manifestations and enablers of the Marketer-As-Publisher trend:
Corporate-in-house produced newsrooms: Ever since corporate websites became de rigeur in the 90s, corporate communications has always carved out a loney section of the brand’s main website to post press releases, executive bios, and the usual investor relations information. Now some are going right into the business of publishing stories – not the usual releases for the press, but content for the customers – under the rubric of corporate newsrooms. Best example I can think of is what Intel has been doing for years with its newsroom at Cisco also has a newsroom. These are being used as white paper libraries, curated collections of relevant industry news links, and original daily news and commentary, all backed up by some form of community/social participation function.
Branded partner produced content: these are sites produced in partnership with a media company. Intel is in a partnership with called The Creators Project. Red Bull is also into it this sort of advertainment.
Online “magazines”: these are the digital evolution of the type of print product that companies such as IBM or the Four Seasons Hotel chain would hire Forbes Custom Publishing to produce and distribute to their customers. Now the digital version  of “vanity” magazines live under their own domain identity (vs. being an extension of the core brand’s domain like the Intel newsroom) Now they produce them with their own editorial staff. A great example is Adobe/Omniture’s
Talent: A lot of inexpensive and talented business and B2B editorial talent displaced by the digital disruption in the their former newsrooms is available with some prominent tech talent crossing over to corporate gigs – and not in the usual PR/flak capacity but as corporate staff writers and editors. From the highest end of the mastheads with people like Fortune’s Rik Kirkland going to McKinsey a few years ago to edit the McKinsey Quarterly and oversee the firm’s editorial strategy to Steve Hamm, formerly of Businessweek, going to IBM to become a communications strategist, or Dan Lyons leaving Read, Write Web, Forbes, and the Daily Beast to join Cambridge digital marketing startup HubSpot…. the talent is out there looking for some relief from the churn and chaos of the traditional press and the sweatshop conditions of the blog networks.
Cheap tools: web development used to involve a lot of enterprise software licenses for content management, analytics, etc. Say goodbye to Vignette and Interwoven and hello to WordPress and Drupal. If the tools are good enough for AllThingsD and The Economist, then they are good enough to a corporate content marketing site. And they have the added appeal of being cloud/SAAS based so the more daring marketers can side-step the corporate web mafia and the CIO’s office with their brown-suited procurement standards and office of project management  and start publishing immediately.
Drivers: in closing, what’s driving chief marketing officers, heads of corporate communications, and digital marketers to launch their own editorial efforts?

First – developing an audience of loyal readers is no different that developing and attracting the attention of prospective customers and building loyalty among existing ones. Corporate content is about going direct to the right audience and cutting out the editorial middle-man.

Second – digital marketing is all about the content that a marketer pushes through the distribution channels available. YouTube for corporate video. Tweets, Facebook pages … this stuff demands a steady supply of fresh content and getting that content from an agency or third-party is like trying to perform surgery in a haz mat suit with robotic arms. Why depend on a third party when you can own the capability internally.

Third – agility. Corporate publishing is about reacting, not just to opportunities like tweeting about random blackouts during the Superbowl, but to crisis communications when every second counts. When your offshore oil platform catches on fire, the world isn’t going to the New York Times for your mea culpa and updates, it’s hammering on (I’ll get into “dark site” production in a future post.)

So what? I think the immediate impact of corporate content isn’t journalistic ethics but the challenge it places on the professional service firms that  feed clients with editorial services. Namely the PR firms writing releases, CEO speeches, white papers, etc. and the digital agencies that build custom microsites and other digital initiatives for marketers unstaffed to handle the challenge of staying technically adept. And finally– the traditional and not-so-traditional “objective” press. They will either produce the content as a service to the corporate advertiser or see their former editors and reporters get hired away to do it under the more stable umbrella of a big organization with deep pockets. That the press is now selling the opportunity to publish corporate content next to their own reporting is a foregone conclusion. Hand wringing and saying one is ethically “aghast” is the personification of the cliché, “pride goeth before the fall.”

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Apr 05 2013

The Flipboard 2.0 Vanity Press

I’ve been digging into the market for custom publishing services for digital marketers, and hence have been focused on content management systems, distribution models, and other production tools to rapidly build and nuture a custom “magazine.”

The Monthly MeconiumIntroducing my testbed for Flipboard’s new publishing tool: The Monthly Meconium (the name is a long story involving my penchant for weird words, one of which was turned back on me in 1981 when I was a bartender and given the nickname of “Mec” after sharing the definition of “meconium” with the day shift), a fitting title for a first effort at something that is destined to be flushed away.

The tool is a clipping service. One drags a “Flip It” applet into the Chrome toolbar and when you’re on some content worth sharing, you hit the little “+ flip it” button, add a little commentary, and it’s added to your personal FlipBoard magazine.

Flipboard, if you’ve been sleeping under a rock, is the amazing graphical, touch-friendly feed aggregator that takes all of your social feeds — Twitter, Facebook, Google +, YouTube, and Flipboard specific titles from publishers like GigaOm and AllThingsD — and brings them together in what has quickly become my favorite browsing app on my smartphone and my tablet.

There’s a bit of a Tumblr/Pinterest feeling to the whole experience. This isn’t a content creation tool as much as a curation took. Sort of a cooler updated version of a custom newspaper for a swiping, touch enabled experience.

I have no idea how to subscribe to The Monthly Meconium. I’ve been messing around with Flipboard trying to find my freshly launched effort, but nothing brings it up. I’m assuming it needs to be crawled, indexed, reviewed, and then listed by the Flipboard crew.

This should be standard fare for any reporter trying to build traffic to their stuff or for any digital marketing trying to build an audience to their brand’s content.

When I actually figure out how to subscribe I’ll up this post. In the meantime I’ll try to get more adept at the techniques and actually use it to share stuff of interest.

Update: Flipboard 2.0 is only available for Apple’s iOS – an Android version is coming, so I can’t even read my own creation. Nice to see Paid Content agrees with my opinion that this should cause a severe case of incontinence for publishers.

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Mar 09 2012

Shopping the Story: When eCommerce meets Editorial

There’s a scene in Fight Club when Edward Norton mocks his meaningless materialistic existence defined by his addiction to Ikea.  His apartment transforms into a movie version of a  catalogue — with every napkin, bookcase and rug identified, tagged, and described as he moves amongst it all. The scene expresses a lot of the stupidity expressed in the early 1990s when the “Interactive Television” geeks bubbled on about how you’d be able to click on Jennifer Aniston’s sweater during an episode of Friends and receive a package from the Gap a couple days later with that exact same color sweater inside(in your size of course) . Didn’t happen. None of it happened: pick your own alternative ending, find a different camera angle … couch potatoes are inert by nature and only move their hands to pop another Cheesy-poof into their mouths. If they want to shop through the TV they switch the channel to QVC and pick up the cordless phone to order some zirconium.

YouTube Preview Image

Shopping interactively against a television show, movie, even video game is far-fetched and a long walk off of the proverbial short pier.

Shopping off of a story is a different subject altogether. Let’s start with an early example of “story commerce” most are familiar with, the J. Peterman catalogue, perfectly mocked by Seinfeld.  J. Peterman was a brilliant mail order operation that delivered a tall non-glossy catalogue entitled “Owner’s Manual” with breezy sketches of Peterman’s travels around the world sourcing classic pieces of clothing and accessories from Australian dusters to a long-billed swordfishing cap just like “Papa” Hemingway wore.  There are no photos, no customer reviews, just artsy sketches and short little “English-Patient-Meets-Mark-Helprin” purple paragraphs written by a copywriting genius. To wit:

“He probably bought his in a gas station on  the road to Ketchum, next to the cash register, among the beef jerky wrapped in cellophane. Or maybe in a tackle shop in Key West. 

I had to go to some trouble to have this one made for you and me but it had to be done. The long bill, longer than I, at least, ever saw before, makes sense. The visor: leather; soft and glareless and unaffected by repeated rain squalls. The color: same as strong scalding espresso, lemon peel on the side, somewhere in the mountains in the north of Italy. Cotton blend canvas. 6 brass grommets for ventilation. Elastic at back to keep this treasure from blowing off your head and into the trees.

(He probably got change from a five when he bought the original.)”

I bought one. I admit it. I looked like a total assclown with a foot-long leather duck bill sticking out my forehead. I immediately went back to Red Sox caps to provide me with glare protection while fishing in the sun and that was that. But I bought it, because I was buying the story. Not the hat.

The late publishing genius Bill Ziff told me during a Forbes interview in the early 1990s, that Ziff-Davis move into speciality magazines was driven by the insight that everyone has their own personal “porn.” In his case it was sports “porn” (the man read baseball statistics), Civil War “porn” (he knew his Civil War history like Shelby Foote knew Civil War history) and gardening “porn” (he had amazing taste in gardens). As he put it, pornography is derived from the Greek words porni: prostitute and graphein: to write, hence the original porn was writing about the oldest profession in the world. Ziff applied that insight to speciality magazines like Skiing, Stereo Review, Modern Bride, with the realization that a magazine focused on a hyper-passion — a reader’s personal taste in “porn” — made the relationship between the advertising and the editorial very different than the interruption-based relationship found in a TV ad or a general interest magazine. If you were really into expensive high fidelity stereo equipment in the 1960s, you would probably be very interested in the content of the ads by the equipment manufacturers as you were in the objective reviews by the editorial staff. You trusted the reviews to be objective and untainted, but the ads, with their specifications and gorgeous beauty shots of glowing dials and vacuum tubes, well; that was stereo porn and there was a reader service “bingo” card at the back of the magazine where you could check off a page number and receive even more stereo porn directly from the advertiser.

Ziff extended the insight to computer magazines and found amazing success with the formula of combining advertising and editorial together in a “porn model” where he was broker between the advertiser/prostitutes, the writers, and the readers.

Now all his magazines are pretty much gone as he called the top of the market in the early 90s and unloaded his print assets with the foresight that the Internets were going to thoroughly change the broker relationship of publishers controlling audience access to advertisers.

There have been some magazine launches — in the 1990s — of print publications about …. shopping. Lucky comes to mind, a Conde Nast launch that touts itself as “The Magazine of Shopping and Style.” But put the magazines down and look at what’s happened to eCommerce, the money side of the digital revolution.

eCommerce was available right out of the gate following the commercialization of the Internet by the National Science Foundation back in 1994. Both Amazon and eBay are, in Internet-terms, ancient brands. Once security issues (SSL, HTTPS) and online credit card processing got worked through, it was off to the races for the first round of online stores.  eCommerce was difficult to implement in the early years, certainly a much bigger challenge than launching an online publication, but platforms started to be standardized, operational processes defined, and the entire order management/supply chain thing came together in fits and starts.

Skip a lot of well-known milestones like PayPal, and it is 2012. eCommerce is no longer a big boy game focused on behemoths like Target, JC Penny, Dell, and Amazon. From Etsy to Shopify to the WordPress of commerce — Magento —  there is essentially nothing standing between a very small business and an online storefront. The days of needing a $100 million in revenue to justify a big Sapient ATG or IBM Websphere deployment are long gone. Anyone with the gumption can build their own online store without sacrificing their brand to Amazon, eBay or Yahoo.

I believe the leading edge in online commerce is not the technology — but the content and strategic approach. J. Peterman meets Lucky meets Magento meets Blogs and the result is pretty compelling.

The first place I really discovered story-based ecommerce was in the fashion sector. My favorite example, hands down, is Mr. Porter, part of the NYC fashion etailer, Net-a-Porter.


The design gestalt is a hybrid between a catalogue and an online magazine. The navigation header even points to an editorial area, “The Journal.” Even the home page hero about belts, is identified as coming from a standard editorial element, “The Edit.” Every call to action — the copy on the purchase buttons — doesn’t say “Buy Now!” — but “Read & Shop Now”

I suggest if you want to experience the bullseye point of this blog post, then go to Mr. Porter, hit The Journal “This Week’s Issue” and click through the eight-slide history of khaki. The formula is brilliant. Illustrate the piece with vintage black and white photos of legendary style icons. Steve McQueen is the cliche in this model, but the khaki piece has photos of Alain Delon, James Mason, James Dean, etc.. Under the slideshow, a bylined “story” that leads off like any fashion magazine with the usual fashionesque prose:

“Endlessly versatile, casual yet elegant, hardwearing and laid-back – it’s easy to make the case for chinos. That’s why, this spring, we’re looking forward to reaching for them again. Their great appeal has always been that they can be, and are, worn with everything from T-shirts to tweed jackets, which is how we justify updating them on an annual basis. Click through the gallery above to see how to wear them this season – easy and relaxed are the watchwords here – and to read about the history that’s taken them from colonial military uniform to preppy classic via Hollywood and 1950s-era hipsters.”

It all comes down to "Shop the Story"

Throw in some historical nuggets (khaki is the Pakistani word for “dust”; British Red Coats were easy targets so they switched to khaki to better blend in with the dusty walls of the Khyber Pass, etc.), and make sure every page has a product that the reader can buy.

The call to action (what graphics people used to call “CHA” or “Click Here Asshole”) is brilliant: Shop the Story.

Shop the story and live the dream. Buy those $495 Loro Piano khakis and you are one step closer to becoming James Dean. It’s the next evolution in a long tradition of catalogue copywriting that began at Sears, was taken over the top by J. Peterman, and is now infesting the flash sale fashion sites with the new Catazine movement.

The transformation from the ugly catalogue pages of most online stores to a fully integrated editorial/catalogue model is, I think, going to revolutionize commerce operations in the near future. The challenge of the old eCommerce 1.0 model was order management and integrating one’s act with the Borg’s ERP and MWS and CRM and ….. No more care went into the presentation of the product than the upload of an err0r-prone spreadsheet containing SKU numbers, price, and specs.

This drove me crazy at Lenovo, where the complex configure-to-order world of selling laptops yielded product pages as interesting as the ingredients list on a bottle of shampoo. “We sell black rectangles,” I would bitch as I pointed to web pages filled with the same half-opened clamshell forms of black ThinkPads.  Other than price, prominent messaging around free shipping, the meat of the experience is either in the specifications — “speeds and feeds” — or catalogue-copy: “This slim, lightweight stunner, delivers the graphics impact you need to supercharge your gaming experience …” etc. No aspersions meant to my former colleagues — but the catalogue experience at 95% of most online stores is driven by a spreadsheet and a template with little to any editorial either trying to build some drool factor for the shopper, or a valuable experience worth revisiting. Commerce needs to move from demand generation, sloppy affiliate commission programs, attribution and optimization, and closer to an experience worth experiencing. Don’t do it and you might as well just publish the spreadsheet and hope your SEO efforts and the price comparison engines treat you well.

Shop the Story or Shop the Grid

The latest revolution for the old guard in ecommerce is toappend user generated content — reviews — to their product pages. Hanging a five star rating system with a paragraph of semi-literate user rave or rant (that I always suspect has been astroturfed and sock puppeted by the vendor)  to every SKU using a service such as the recently IPOd Bazaarvoice is by and large a semi-smart move doubtlessly justified by some analyst on the basis of cart conversions and attachment rates and other ecommerce drivers. I like customers reviews as much as the next guy. Amazon has transformed them into a literary genre of their own, the most famous being the first satirical review of the legendary “Three Wolves T-Shirt” :

“This item has wolves on it which makes it intrinsically sweet and worth 5 stars by itself, but once I tried it on, that’s when the magic happened. After checking to ensure that the shirt would properly cover my girth, I walked from my trailer to Wal-mart with the shirt on and was immediately approached by women. The women knew from the wolves on my shirt that I, like a wolf, am a mysterious loner who knows how to ‘howl at the moon’ from time to time (if you catch my drift!). The women that approached me wanted to know if I would be their boyfriend and/or give them money for something they called mehth. I told them no, because they didn’t have enough teeth, and frankly a man with a wolf-shirt shouldn’t settle for the first thing that comes to him.”


Can a publisher jump on the bandwagon and start to offer an integrated shopping function versus the current model of divorcing the sale from their carefully crafted “objective” words by segregating the “prostitution” into an adjacent banner ad or paid search link?  Hey, they tried to muck up their content by using the particularly horrible Vibrant in-text ad gimmick. You’ve been annoyed by it — the double-underlined word links that pops-up an unrelated come-on for some advertiser. Can I imagine Forbes selling mutual funds in its annual dreary Mutual Fund review? “Click here to invest in your future with Fidelity’s Magellan Fund” ….and then receive a bounty on the sale? No. The incumbent press seems boxed out of selling-the-story.  No way the New York Times is going to stick buy-it-now links in David Pogue’s latest review of a portable receipt scanner.

I sense the reason the editorial world isn’t getting into commerce comes down to confusion and ethics. The underlying transaction processing engine isn’t an issue. Getting a merchant payment account is pretty easy. Hiring some catalogue managers and fulfillment people to tend to the SKUs and answer the customer service calls is very doable. Where all ecommerce gets hard is integrating the fulfillment piece of actually holding inventory, pulling it off a shelf or out of a bin, boxing it and handing it off to DHL or UPS. Very few people do that well and there’s a reason Amazon is building depots that are so immense they can be seen from space.

I don’t see why a magazine couldn’t morph into a direct commerce operation. They better because the stores are turning into magazines and they aren’t using Facebook or Twitter to find their way forward. Get off the social commerce bandwagon (Fan pages for macaroni just confuse me) and hire an editor with an attitude  if you want to increase your conversions.

Some other “Shop The Story” sites I like:

  • Dealuxe — women’s fashion, Canada
  • The tale of Clive Nutting’s POW Stalag III Rolex: Antiquorum (fascinating slice of history about Rolex selling watches to Allied POWs in German prison camps with a pay-after-the-war offer)
  • Lotuff Leather’s American Craftsman blog: I lust for one of these briefcases.

If you have any favorite examples, please send them along.

No responses yet

Dec 06 2010

Do Not Track: The Death of Metrics or Catalyst for Innovation?

It was a matter of time before the winds of regulation blew over the mysterious world of digital advertising and behavioral targeting, just as they blew out the telemarketing-junk call industry in the 1980s, email spammers in the 1990s, and pay-per-post blogola two years ago. I think it’s inevitable that the government will regulate online tracking and I believe the result — counter to fears it will decimate digital advertising — will be a much needed catalyst for innovation in online advertising.

From the 12.6.10 New York Times: “If the vast majority of online users chose not to have their Internet activity tracked, the proposed “do not track” system could have a severe effect on the industry, some experts say. It would cause major harm to the companies like online advertising networks, small and midsize publishers and technology companies like Yahoo that earn a large percentage of their revenue from advertising that is tailored to users based on the sites they have visited.”

Nothing gets the public’s libertarian hackles up like a threat to their privacy, even though 99% of them have no clue what constitutes identity and personal privacy in the digital age. The declared intentions of the Federal Trade Commission to crack down on online advertising use of tracking beacons, pixels or cookies is inevitable and has been brewing since 1995 when Mark Andreesen and  Netscape first introduced the cookie to great consternation and misunderstanding.

This is an old issue, one that tracks back to the mid-1990s and was embodied by the famous comment by Sun Microsystem’s CEO, Scott McNeally: “You have zero privacy. Get over it.” McNeally uttered those words at a time when the technology and media industries were trying to head off government regulation by forming the Online Privacy Alliance (OPA). Evidently self-regulation hasn’t been enough, and now the industry is on the brink of having some new regulations to conform to.

Let’s look at what the issue is and how things got to the point that the issue officially was blessed as the most significant story of the day in early December by the front page of the New York Times. The Wall Street Journal’s Julie Angwin gets the most credit for raking the privacy muck in a shrill series that is encapsulated on this page on the Journal’s site which is actually a very comprehensive and chilling catalogue of news about the state of digital privacy in modern America. While some critics like Jeff Jarvis have accused the Journal of being breathlessly alarmist and turning the practice of cookie-based advertising into the modern equivalent of Reefer Madness, the Journal has persisted, making it an inevitable outcome that sooner or later some bureaucrats and Congressmen would take up the  call and file a bill.

Let me attempt to simplify the issue in lurid terms: Web publishers and digital advertising companies are colluding to sneak  invisible tracking devices onto your computer which report back personal information about you so they can deliver targeted advertisements to you and share your personal information with marketers, and other interested parties.

The issue comes down to whether or not a web user has the right, by default, to ban the placement of  cookies or “invisible tracking pixels” on their PC when they visit a website or click on an ad. These cookies are  the digital equivalent of a tracking device snuck under the bumper of your car so your whereabouts can be tracked by the cops or enemy spies.

One of the most prevalent digital bugs or tracking cookies is the Adobe-Omniture tracker.  Omniture is a very powerful web metrics tool that web publishers and corporate web sites use to analyze traffic patterns and user behaviors.  Most major e-commerce sites use the tool and I’ve spent a lot of time in its dashboards analyzing metrics at and This is an expensive tool, not something a typical Internet scam artist would use to hatch some evil plan, and it never reports back any personal information about site visitors. Your name, your address, your phone number, your social security number …. none of its transferred back to the analyst.

Yet the 2o7 tracking cookie it classified as spyware and a threat by most spyware scanners. Why?

Privacy is becoming a matter of degrees. While your name may not be passed without your knowledge, your IP address is. And someone with a subpoena and some diligence can, in theory, track you down to a specific geographical address. Your personal information — from your online medical records to your bank account numbers — all of it exposed and can be stolen by a criminal clever enough to trick you into parting with that information on a fake site or through so-called “social” engineering.  Identity theft is a very real threat online, and tends to trick the nontechnical, unsophisticated users the most.

But what does a ban on tracking cookies do to online advertising?

First, it will have an impact on re-targeting. This is where a site like or (two online retails I happen to visit occasionally) plant a tracker into your browser and then use it to trigger ads for their products when you visit other sites. So, if I go to Lenovo’s ThinkPad store and check out a T410S, I can usually expect to see a lot of Lenovo ads as I surf around to CNET, PC Magazine, and any other sites that Lenovo’s advertising agency deems appropriate to display the client’s ads on. Do these ads greet me by name? No. Are they intelligent enough to distinguish my interest in one product over another? No. Do they get progressively more aggressive in offering me a better price as time goes by? No.

In some regards, re-targeting is somewhat pathetic. It sounds semi-intelligent to follow a visitor around and throw more ads at them, but in reality you have to keep in mind one very real fact: online advertising is, for the most part, completely ignored by most users. Click through rates have been declining on most display (graphical) ads since they were introduced in the mid-1990s, and only so-called rich media ads featuring video or some form of dynamic multimedia are getting higher CTRs. We’re talking click rates under 1%.  Digital ads remain noise for the most part, and the only stuff that seems to have legs — witness the phenomenal one-trick pony known as Google — is contextual search advertising (which does not use tracking cookies).

As tracking and re-targeting comes under fire a few things will happen. First, advertisers will lose insight into the buying patterns or behaviors of customers, and selecting media for their advertising will become more difficult. Will advertisers regress to what is known as last-click attribution, where credit for a sale, registration or other “success event” be credited to the last ad or link the user  clicked before arriving in a store to make a purchase? Perhaps, but I think what will happen is the 2011 equivalent of New York City’s solution to the threat of being buried under too much horse manure in the late 19th century — technology (in NYC’s case the automobile) will simply cause the problem to become moot. Advertisers and agencies have been lazy and deceiving themselves that they have some semblance of intelligence in their metrics — which they laud as “behavioral targeting” – when in fact it’s ad insertion based on cookie triggers, nothing more. Take away the cookie and I guarantee some motivated entrepreneur will rush to the table with a new ad format that performs without them.

So, bottom line, bring on the era of regulation, punish the most egregious offenders, and stay tuned for the online advertising industry to evolve into a more intelligent form of advertising which has been overdue since the invention of contextual search ads by Bill Gross.


4 responses so far

Mar 20 2010

When PR Meets the Mob

And now for today’s Cluetrain moment:

Who owns the social media mission in your company? The public relations team most likely. Sorry, make that the press relations team — as the modern PR professional doesn’t talk to the public directly, but to them through the press. Handling the unwashed masses and mobs with their pitchforks and torches was usually the lot in life of the 1-800 telecenter drones and the hapless ticket agents in the terminal. Social changed all that. Now that neat blog you built to talk about your chili contest and good works with the local Walk For Hunger, the one the PR team uses to ghost expressions of empathy and good cheer from the CEO?; well now the comments are stuffed with a lot of people with dirty faces and tattered hems calling bullshit and pointing out your lack of clothes and complicity in the death of the orangutans and polar bears.

You can’t measure ROI from your Facebook pony when its stable is full of poop. Consider Nestle and be warned. When flaks and spinmeisters meet the mob, the result is predictable. There Will Be Blood. From Slate:

“Enter Facebook. Nestle has a Facebook page, and until this week it was a quiet backwater. But on Wednesday, defenders of the rainforest and its orangutans began to visit, illustrating their profile pictures with various clever permutations of the Nestle logo — “Nestle Killer” — and making a series of mean comments about the company. The powers that be weren’t pleased. At 11:26 p.m. Thursday night, the moderator of the page posted on the Nestle Wall:

To repeat: we welcome your comments, but please don’t post using an altered version of any of our logos as your profile pic — they will be deleted.”

(and a disclaimer, my PR colleagues get this stuff, and we don’t hang them out to dry in our various outposts, they get support from people who know the Golden Rule)

via Nestle’s brave Facebook flop – How the World Works –

3 responses so far

Jun 23 2009

Why I Hate Social Media – Advertising Age – DigitalNext

Matt Jones at Jack Morton says what need to be said — it’s not the plumbing, but the water in the pipes when it comes to social marketing.

“At the risk of being branded a heretic or perhaps just being shown the door by my agency HR director, I have to say it: I hate social media. Why? Because it’s just media. And since when was media ever interesting?”

via Why I Hate Social Media – Advertising Age – DigitalNext.

No responses yet

Jun 04 2009

Marketing Suggestion to Delta on GoGo WiFi

Published by under Dour Marketer

Give every passenger a one time freebie in exchange for setting up an account for crying out loud. First session is on us. Try it. We hope you like it.

I flew home on Delta from NYC on Tuesday night and the plane happened to have the new GoGo Wifi service. I’ve tried them all in the past, and in the interest of testing I went through a 15 minute sign up on my BlackBerry bold, paid about $7.95 for privilege, used it for 15 successful minutes, and wondered the entire time why there is a seperate $9.95 rate of laptop users.

Bad marketing though. Give me a freebie on first use, a taste to get me addicted, and subsequent flights should see the dollars flow. I know the service costs like $100,000 per plane to install, but asking me to pay for the proverbial pig in a poke? Get me to log in, create an account, give you an email address, then spam the snot out of me. Sloppy acquisition marketing drives me nuts.

Wifi didn’t work for Boeing and its Connexion service.  It was too expensive and too early. Paying for connectivity just pisses me off to no end, but squandering a sign up opportunity drives me even nuttier.

4 responses so far

Apr 02 2009

Out of the box empathy in marketing

At some point last fall, some smart and brave person at Hyundai made the brilliant decision to look ahead into the future a few months and realize that consumers would place a new car nearly last on their list of life’s necessities come January. By being the first automaker to promise a money-back guarantee should the buyer lose their job, Hyundai accomplished several brilliant marketing moves.

1. They established empathy with their customers.

2. They beat their competition who thought “employee pricing” — letting consumers buy at the same price as insiders — represented empathy. The competition has followed suit and looks like followers.

3. They tapped into the zeitgeist without resorting to the unimaginative marketing message most brands follow these days which is lower total cost of ownership — the aftersale expense which few consumers want to depress themselves with in the elation of acquiring something new. Do you want to talk about depreciation, mean-time-between-failure, and service costs? Meet my accountant.

Marketers have diminished options in a down economy if they cling to their old campaign playbooks. Those playbooks are what I call megaphone tactics. Yell a lot in the right places with the right people by your side and good things will happen.  This is good for selling cigarettes, booze, and hairspray circa the Mad Men Era of the 1960s.

First to go overboard — sports sponsorships. Read Bill Simmons’ great obituary on the NBA “The No Benjamins Association” on ESPN and look at the NASCAR cars rolling around the ovals with white hoods where the sponsor’s logo used to go.

“Here’s a little game to play during your next NBA outing: Look around for how many suites are dark. (You’ll notice them specifically in the corners or behind the baskets.) A dark suite means either that nobody bought it or that somebody did buy it for the season, then made the decision, “Screw it, let’s save the $1,200 [or whatever the number is] on food and drink and not give tonight’s suite tickets to anyone.”

Sports marketing has been whacked. Corporate home rentals for the Masters in Augusta is off 20% this year and woe to the recipient of government bailout money who buys a hospitality box in a baseball stadium this spring.

Second to go overboard: feel-good branding. Those “eagles-on-proud-wings-standing-on-a-rock-spire-in-Utah” ads are done.  If it doesn’t have a solid call to action (please buy our crap now, please), then it’s not running. Just for grins, next time you’re on the mid-town tunnel approach to Manhattan or on any prime billboard region, count up how many are paid and how many are public service announcements.

Third to die: print ads. Sorry, read the remaining headlines while you can, this is the season when dead-tree publishing gets slammed. Business rags are seeing ad counts down 33% year on year. I won’t echo-chamber the terrible news of newspaper bankruptcies in Seattle, Denver, etc. …. The print puppy died and daddy isn’t bringing home a new one.

So, I could wring my hands and be all dour, but no. Instead I want to point out that for those marketers who still have money to put in market, they seem to cling to last year’s playbook, just tuning the message around the advertising equivalent of a slasher flick to say everything must go, go, go at prices too insane to believe. I see it in the airline spam: Lufthansa offering off the wall fares to Paris —  $200 roundtrips to Europe.

What is happening at places like Hyundai is a realization that the rules have changed. Consumers are sitting on their wallets and will continue to. The question marketing needs to consider is not how to align to a corporate strategy built around volumes and market share — cascading strategy based on sales yields little more than direct marketing and demand generation tactics which do nothing to distinguish the company from its competition.

Standing apart from the competition is the heart of the whole branding thing. Differentiating on price is a fool’s game and leads to the whole slasher flick thing. Tossing the brand overboard in a down market strikes me as the equivalent of eating next season’s seed corn.

My modest proposal? If your marketing budget has tanked, and is down 50 percent from last year, the last thing you want to do is spread yourself thin trying to cover last year’s tactics.  This is the time to take a flyer, to do something innovative, to take a risk and consider the high risk tactic that was dreamed about in good times. This is not the time to fall back on classic Four-P marketing. Of those four p’s — Product, Price, Place, Promotion — I recommend.

Product: not the time to roll out a premium luxe model. Nor is it time to start reducing features around the product.  Example — this is not the time to reduce warranty terms, replace stainless steel screws with plastic screws, or cut any corners. The customers are more vigilant than ever. I saw an amazing presentation by the marketing reporter at Businessweek at Google last week and he showed how peanut butter makers are screwing us out of an ounce not by making the jar smaller. Oh no. They use a concave dent on the bottom of the jar (called a “punt” for you oenophiles) to reduce the volume. This is dickheaded and will come back to bite people.

Price: See my screed on taking the marketing message down to the gutter. Anyone can cut a price.  Smart brands like Hyundai go a step further and say “we feel your pain and fear and will do something about it.”

Place: I would not recommend buying the naming rights to a baseball stadium. I would slam the brakes on all traditional media and go 101% online.  Call me digital, but there it is. The traditional media has lost its mass audience effect big time. Media has exploded and fragmented into a million niches. The only way to accurately chase the audience is with a ninja digital team.  I am serious about this. This  Deprecession is the catalyst that is killing the generational gulf between digital immigrants and digital natives. You stand up and wave a traditional campaign, media plan and I guarantee your days are numbered.

Promotion: This is where the opportunity to put on the thinking caps is. No, no viral. No UGC on YouTube. I’m talking killing the notion of the campaign — as Charlene Li said yesterday on a panel, “campaigns are designed to end” — and move to an organic, ongoing, pervasive conversational model with the crowd. This is not social media marketing hand wringing — 99% of the self-annointed gurus couldn’t run a valid social plan if they were paid to do it. This is 180 degree flip from one-way blah-blah message marketing, expensive research and focus groups, and dumb people saying “I know half my advertising works, just not ….”

Promotions need to die and be replaced with full marketing empathy. This is the time to design a product with the customers, the time to listen to their feedback, give them something in a novel way, and break the model being chased by the competition. This is the time to break out with no questions asked service, with golden-rule customer service, with beyond the pale actions that will define the organization and make it beloved, not loathed. This isn’t about freebies, giveaways and concessions. It’s about constant listening and response. ComCast, JetBlue, these are the listeners and doers.

Anyway, enough dour ranting. Bottom line — this recession is the opportunity to kill off the tried and true and invent something new. Even if you decide to only risk a small portion of your seed corn this year, do it, and do it with every expectation of failing, but do it knowing that the customers will notice and maybe even like you for it.

I recommend a re-reading of Doc Searls’ seminal definition of conversational marketing, it’s worth the time.

7 responses so far

Mar 19 2009

Think Ahead While Cutting Back: Marketing Priorities in a Recession : MarketingProfs

Published by under Dour Marketer

via Think Ahead While Cutting Back: Marketing Priorities in a Recession : MarketingProfs Articles.

The Dour Marketer just caught a tweet from MarketingProfs’ Ann Handley pointing to this free piece by some smart people at MarketingNPV (disclosure, which has quoted me in a white paper penned by former colleague Rob O’Regan on marketing ROI in the past).

This is really good, n0-nonsense advice on how to cut when the mandate comes down from on high, and what not to cut during our current Depressionary pothole. There’s been a lot of this advice slung around recently, with rainbows-and-unicorns advice about “don’t stop the authentic conversation,” this sounds more like the real deal:

First, get your head out of the emotional sand. You’ve lost the battle over the power of Marketing to drive the business in the near term. Don’t let disappointment cloud your future. Suck it up, look ahead, and don’t take it personally.

Second, take a step back and define the objectives for making smart cuts:

  • Achieve the target reductions the CEO is asking for (most people stop right here).
  • Support the company strategy for competing successfully.
  • Conduct a thorough and unbiased analysis of all options.
  • Preserve your credibility. Live to fight again another day.”

No responses yet

Mar 02 2009

“Sponsored conversations” are a dumb idea …

… even if the august analysts at Forrester have convinced themselves that as long as the bloggers disclose the payment and are permitted to say whatever they feel, that pay-per-post sounds better redubbed as a “sponsored conversation.”

I still think it is one of the dumber marketing manuevers in the social marketing bag of tricks.

Call me a purist but I like my critics to be objective and my reviewers to be uncomped. Product changes hands to be reviewed, not as gifts. Cash is spent on advertising, not on payola.

As long as bloggers don’t hide who’s paying them and have the freedom to write whatever they want, we think sponsored conversation will fit in well with the other forms of marketing through blogs,” writes Forrester analyst Sean Corcoran. The report – written in conjunction with Forrester analysts Jeremiah Owyang and Josh Bernoff – also includes advice for interactive marketers considering using sponsored conversations in their marketing arsenal, much of it centered on the critical issues of authenticity and transparency.

Whether you agree with Forrester or not, we’d love to have you (and your readers) engage in this dialogue with us. Please let me know if you would like a copy of the new Forrester report, “Add Sponsored Conversations To Your Toolbox.”

There are so many more intelligent ways to get a blogger or group of bloggers to talk about your brand without resorting to cash payments. And I don’t buy this re-tweet/give away for charity dodge either.

I will continue to unsub from “posties” and have long given up following analysts and experts who condone these tactics. The world is slipping into the Idiocracy quickly enough without the “experts” undoing all semblance of objectivity and honesty in the higest potential communications channel ever invented.

Links withheld in protest.

update: Owyang is determined to bait me into a pissing match on this one, now by citing Lenovo’s Voice of the Olympic Games program as an example of a “sponsored conversation.”  I am not going to get semantic with him on “sponsored” and “conversation” definitions. Lenovo did not pay any athlete to blog nor once suggested, demanded, hinted or discussed that the athlete mention the word Lenovo. We gave them free laptops and FlipCams with no strings attached. The point that just won’t sink in with him — no matter who huffs and puffs, is payola is wrong, cash-for-blogging sucks, and Forrester is on the wrong side of the whole pay-per-post debate. I revert to Mark Cahill’s pointer to the concept of journalistic ethics. I suggest every blogger with a shred of dignity read it. And yeah, yeah, I know. Bloggers aren’t journalists. I’m suggesting they may want to avail themselves of some journalistic best practices and take the high road.

5 responses so far

Feb 22 2009

Curriculum Blogtae – your blog as your resume

Published by under Dour Marketer

No fewer than five former colleagues and friends have lit up blogs since the New Year, starting down a road that is remarkably rewarding if you have an affinity for it, but can also be frightening if it’s a forced march being taken on because someone suggested a blog is a smart career move (it is, done right). Thankfully for me spreadsheets haven’t migrated into the social domain – I’d be tongue tied if I had to communicate in cells and formulae, and I expect some new bloggers are more accustomed to communication through a Powerpoint slide than they are through a paragraph. I guess ex-journalists will have the easiest time in this medium, with quants and more analytical types a little more tongue-tied.

I sense a lot of these efforts are being launched because of the rising need to market their skills in an uncertain job market, to establish new ventures, and to put their expertise on public display. All, I might add as an aside, were launched on (and that is good). I wish the best to all, and regard their first posts with the same nervousness I felt when I started blogging. If I have any advice from those years, it’s this: it is all worthwhile when someone comes up to you and says those ego-stroking words: “I read your blog ….”

A blog is (to borrow a phrase from Walt Whitman) a song of yourself, a constant give and take between privacy and exposure, sharing and guarding, safety and risk. It’s not a printing press for cash, but there are those out there who feel compelled to launch blogs as businesses, and to that subculture there is a bleakness of affiliate marketing, PPC, linkbaiting, and SEO gaming techniques ripe for the picking but which never seem to yield much in the way of honor or cash. I understand when people in tough financial straits need to do what needs to be done to make a living. If blogging is your best idea of an at-home business plan, let me refer you to Dan Lyons – The Fake Steve Jobs — and his recent column in Newsweek on the futility of chasing $$$ from a blog.

For those who manage to stick with it, a blog can be an interesting ego exercise – a public diary and soapbox that needs some weekly tending before it withers. The following big issues will emerge.

  1. Your “about page” is your new bio. If you optimize anything, try make sure the about page encapsulates your bio as succinctly and accurately as possible. This is the new resume. This is a freeform space for you to paint the picture of you. Add LinkedIn ties, Facebook, twitter accounts, photos, and a link to your actual resume.
  2. Focused: there are highly focused blogs that mine one specific vein of expertise. This is a tried and true tactic to establish one’s self as a subject matter expert. For some, particularly those with a technical skill, a highly focused blog can work wonders in building reputation. Particularly if the blogger is actually smart. These blogs thrive in their niche by being social with other experts in the same niche. Web analytics is a perfect example.
  3. Unfocused: there are blogs, like this one, that cover the gamut from professional to personal issues. I have wrestled with the idea of launching a separate blog or two, but in the end have decided to stay consolidated and veer from one area of interest to another.

Courage is the toughest issue. I get the most traffic and comments when I go out on the limb and say something provocative. Sometimes I regret going too far and not moderating my opinions. I launched my first blog in 2002 and gave up because it felt too weird writing polemics and highly opinionated pieces in public after a career as an objective journalist. It still feels weird. I won’t ever feel comfortable stating a political or religious opinion in public out of an old habit of trying to remain as neutral as possible. This is a curse, not a virtue. Then again, I know a novice blogger who was just shown the door because of some ill-considered blog posts.

Drafting and knowing when to just hit the publish button is an art. I am a sloppy grammarian, punctuater, and copyeditor. Some people are picky about those errors, I just go back and correct them as I find them. Blogs are not nuclear fission. The world won’t end if you publish a mess.

And one final note: you will look and look for some verification that the blog is worth the time it takes. If you start collecting scalps and measuring your net worth in terms of followers, subscribers, readers or page views, I feel sorry for you. It’s not about the numbers. For the Dour Marketer, a blog is a reward unto itself. Do it for the experience, not the followers, and certainly not the cash.

5 responses so far

Feb 14 2009

Advice for Those New to New Media – Specialize | All Things Cahill

Published by under Dour Marketer

Advice for Those New to New Media – Specialize | All Things Cahill.

Good post by Cahill on the need to specialize in social media, indeed all things.

It’s not good enough anymore to be a “new media specialist”, or even a “web video specialist.”  It’s heading to the direction where each of the general video tasks will become their own separate areas of specialization.  Such as editing, or compression, etc.

So now would be the time, especially if you are looking to retrain, or are already working in new media, to think about becoming more specialized.  In the long term I believe you’ll see more job opportunity, and better job security.  You’ll still compete in the general market, and you’ll have that one area of expertise where you’ll be the superstar.

No responses yet

Feb 02 2009

Riddle me this … TweetJacking or Citizen Branding?

I use TweetDeck to follow mentions of ThinkPad and Lenovo on Twitter.  For the past few weeks a new phenomenon has popped up, one that confuses me to no end.

So we have a user @moon, who tweets, fairly frequently, variations on the following message:

On Monday Groundhog Day I’m giving away a Lenovo IdeaPad S10 RT @moon 3 times and be the first to RT a selected Tweet on GHD”

Then he posts variations of that promotion by inserting the name of a well known “A-list” blogger or Twitterer — like @chrisbrogan or @scoble.

1. I don’t know what GHD is. [duh: GHD=Ground Hog Day]

2. I have no clue who Paul Mooney is. He has a website but I can’t figure out what the business is. There are tons of affiliate marketing links on the right sidebar.

3. Why would he give away a $400 netbook? Is this an example of a grassroots promotion and by running his own contest he hopes to get more attention to his twitter ID and hence more followers?

4. Why is he inserting the names of @twitter celebrities?

It is very effective — @moon has dominated the Lenovo brand name in Twitter for a month, has induced tons of people to “RT” his giveaway, and in the end, got my attention, for I am writing this blog post, and sent him a direct ping asking “what is compelling you to give away the S10” and observing:  “moon: Why do you retweet your giveaway to every social media person like chrisheuer, jowyang, etc? Seems like spam at this point”

He replied: “I know chrisheuer and jowyang so I was hoping they would reTweet the giveaway.”

And I said:  “moon: just concerned because of Dec. KMART incident with XXXXXX and Izea/Payperpost people. Don’t want lenovo associated with that”

To which he replied he wanted to do the promo with Lenovo.

So here’s the observation. If you manage a brand online, get ready for people to leverage it — both professional and personal — for their own gain.The big question is whether to grease the skids and enable it, stand by and watch it happen, or send in the clowns and get all legal.

The question is this: should I be giving product to bloggers and twitter users to activate this sort of self-managed promotion/contest or am I on shaky legal/ethical ground? I did rip into the “Blog Slut” phenomenon and don’t want to demean the Lenovo brand name by getting into any kind of payola arrangements. That aside, @moon has pounded the word Lenovo and gotten other people to Tweet it far more than the usual organic flow of the conversation would have. So should I shut up and be happy for the free branding?

Brands run into this with affiliate marketing programs all the time. If you give people an incentive to market on your behalf you may not be happy with their techniques they use to do it. This one just has me perplexed.

As one twitter user just said to my ardeht Lenovo promoter: “@moon This is a very clever promotion you’re running. Bet you’ll get lots of new followers and interest in what you do.”

10 responses so far

Jan 16 2009

The Dour Marketer’s Reading List

As part of the occasional series of how to survive this evil, ugly economy with digital marketing, let me acknowledge the need of a lot of experienced marketers, to get smart — and fast — on all this Digital Stuff. Because a colleague just asked me for a bibliography to help teach himself digital, I figured a blog post and an invitation to you dear reader to suggest some additions would kill several birds with the same post.

Let’s start by saying I am not a fan of  “business” books. Sure, I’ve read Tipping Point and Execution and Blue Ocean/Red Ocean … I was even  involved in the writing of a business book when I was associated with Gartner’s editorial board in 2004.  (Multisourcing) I tend to order and read a so-called “business book” only when I need to, and then only if I need to get smart fast on a specific function.

There is no omnibus guide to digital marketing. Maybe I should write one, but it would be out of date before it was even outlined: for the future is here, it’s just unevenly distributed.*

Later on I will try to compile a blog roll of essential digital marketing blogs, but the genre of digital marketing blogs is a mess, and I’d say I personally only can read three or four on an ongoing basis.

This is a only a bibliography. Here is an “aStore” in Amazon if you want to buy them.


Where to begin? Let’s begin at the center of digital, the very hub of where it all begins, and that is search. If you don’t understand search and how it works, then digital marketing in all of its forms and variants is going to be lost on you.

The best explanation of the history, the process, and the impact of search was written several years ago, but still is valid, and that’s John Battelle’s The Search. Trust me, but if you want to understand digital marketing you must understand search. Everything digital starts with a search.

Battelle gives you the history and theory, Moran and Hunt give you the nuts and bolts of how to run a search campaign from both the paid (SEM) and the organic (SEO) side. Search Engine Marketing, Inc. is out in a revised edition and gives a strong step-by-step cookbook for running a paid search campaign and developing a website that will rank high in any search engine’s organic rankings.


The heart of digital marketing, the reason we care about it, is its accountability through metrics. One strong recommendation here is Avinash Kaushik’s Web Analytics: An Hour a Day. There are also some specific titles around Google Analytics, which isn’t a bad idea for some trying to master that environment specificially. Avinash is where you start.

Landing Pages

Tim Ash has a decent book on landing pages and the art/science of optimization.  Landing pages make the world go round in terms of improving “cse” or customer success events, so take some time and read Tim’s Landing Page Optimization

Display and banner media

I don’t know of a single book in this genre, but I would say that there is lot of good stuff at the Internet Advertising Bureau’s site. Especially on standards and practices.

If you are trying to make a case to stop doing dumb-ass traditional advertising and move it online, then read Joseph Jaffe’s Life After the 30-Second Spot.

Online branding

There a few good books out there on this topic. Allen Adamson quotes me in BrandDigital. Andy Beal quotes me in Radically Transparent, a good book on reputation monitoring and management. Rohit Bhargava’s Personality Not Included is a good read. Charlene Li and Josh Bernoff’s Groundswell. Scoble and Israel’s Naked Conversations is worth mentioning in the context of corporate blogging … so many books, so little time. Seth Godin is an industry unto himself. Meatball Sundae is a good change-agent manifesto, but the granddaddy of all manifestos is Cluetrain.

I’ll tackle blogs later. This is just a quick lunchtime post for a colleague. I’ll revise this as time goes by — please give me some recommendations in the comments and be sure to only suggest books that you’ve actually read and would force me to read.


This is a weird suggestion, but it did have an impact on me back in 1995 when I was developing and designing my first two sites: Reel-Time and That is A Pattern Language, by Christopher Alexander. Richard Duffy, a friend from PC Week and the early early days of Forbes Digital Media recommended that book and it had more of an effect on how I think about functionality and usability than anything that followed.

*: William Gibson

8 responses so far

Dec 15 2008

Triage for tough times — The Dour Marketer

Here’s a list of tactics I think should be attended to before new monies are invested in digital marketing. Let’s call these three macro  tactics the Thrifty Trinity, and they are what I would tackle before making excuses that you can’t build the business without an investment. CFOs aren’t making investments these days, indeed, that 2009 budget you’re waiting to kick in next month? Assume it is going to shrink.

1.  SEO: I am not a fan of agency/consultant based SEO and ascribe to the Calacanis heretical view that if you need to perform SEO as an overt tactic then you’re doing something wrong. But SEO is the other side of the paid search coin — proof of the cliche that a penny saved through a higher organic ranking is a penny that can be spent elsewhere in the SEM portfolio of search terms. With paid search over 25% – to as high as 50% — of many digital media plans, SEO is cost effective tactic — strike that, SEO is like breathing, do it right and you thrive —  that requires general greater attention from production and content, good technical implementation, and an overall awareness from PR to blogs that clear, concise writing, credible links, and a manic desire to elevate one’s rank.  Just keep in mind — everything starts with a search. So start your dour marketing there. Just think like a customer, start searching like one, and see where your organization returns. Read Hunt and Moran. Avoid consultants.

2. Social: Get Google Reader, figure out how to subscribe to RSS feeds of searches on your primary brand terms (e.g. “Chevrolet” “Chevy” “Impala” etc.), a couple C-level executive names, and start reading what people say about you. Avail yourself of the torrent of free advice on how to engage an angry customer and make it your mission to make one happy. Repeat over and over. Don’t advertise on Facebook because you think it is au courant. Don’t pay a blogger for coverage. Open your own blog. Make it your blog. Talk about your dinner. What you are reading. Get comfortable with it.  It’s a good career move and when the time comes to get involved with corporate blogging, you’ll know what you’re talking about. Don’t let your external PR agency dictate the terms to you. Don’t pay attention to social media monitoring services. You can’t afford either.

3. Plan: if you have a media budget then sit down, take a hard look at a single dollar. Let’s call this “your next marketing dollar.” Now take a hard look at your media plan, your operation budget, and ask yourself — how can I make this dollar sing for its supper? What portion of it needs to go into paid search? What portion in display/banners? Should I be playing in affiliate marketing programs? What is my goal? What is the success event I want that dollar to drive and how am I going to make every penny in that dollar prove its contribution to that goal?

Next: a quick reading list

2 responses so far

Dec 05 2008

Dour Marketer — what’s first? Get your ruler.

One has to start somewhere in getting one’s act together in a down economy, so I suggest the first thing to get in order is online metrics. You must measure the heck out of what you do. Hunches are for people who can afford to be sloppy.

If you are a dour marketer in a small or medium business, online metrics means Google Analytics because it is free. Deal with it, learn it, read the book, become a disciple of Avinash. Sure, when your moving $50 million in ad spend a year though an ecommerce engine generating $500 million in revenue, then you can worry yourself with industrial strength measurement systems like Omniture (which in full disclosure we use). But before you get all revved up to go do something because action is better than inaction, get yourself to Amazon and buy these two books:

  • Web Analytics: An Hour A Day, Avinash Kaushik. Avinash is the best analytics blogger out there. He works at Google. His blog, Occam’s Razor has been in my blogroll since, well, since it started.
  • Advanced Web Metrics With Google Analytics: Brian Clifton. I don’t know Brian, but I do known enough about Google Analytics to know it can be a very powerful tool in the right hands.

Good buddy and thrifty marketer Mark Cahill turned me onto Google Analytics and it runs in the background of this blog. I want to underscore – I am a retarded web analytics person; the true practitioners I know like Jim Hazen, Ranjit Kulkarni, Esteban Panzeri, are extremely insightful, well trained and inspired in their mastery of the tools and the strange world of first party cookies, EVARs, tags and conjoint analysis.

There are a ton of good metrics resources — if, as I suspect, you are a protean dour marketer and wearing several hats — or, at the very least, interested in learning all aspects of digital from SEM to SEO to WOM to SMM, then you won’t have the time to become a metrics ninja. But it is the first step on the road to enlightenment as everything needs to get “tagged” at some point.

Next post, I’ll expand the reading list to include more titles.

One response so far

Nov 26 2008

The Dour Marketer

The Scots have a word for the mood I’ve been in lately — heck the mood the entire world has been in the past couple months — and that is “dour” – which I’ve heard pronounced “dow-er” but think is more accurately spoken as “dew-ar” which is appropriate since a Dewars on the rocks with a twist is about the best recourse I can recommend for someone feeling battered these days by the dour news coming from the world’s markets.

With those markets off 40% from their highs in the fall of 2007, marketers are also feeling very dour right now, and despite feeble exhortations that now is the time to double down and crush the competition, all signs are in place for a major flattening and decline in global marketing programs from advertising to PR. It is an article of faith that one of the first expense items to get whacked in a downturn is marketing and other corporate services perceived as “soft” and nice-to-have versus essential to make payroll and keep the lights on.

Some marketing activities will survive and continue through these hard times, and I believe it will be the newest techniques and tactics which endure thanks to the simple fact that they can be measured so well. These are the days when every dollar or Euro spent on marketing has to defend itself from that king tyrant Le ROI.

I was talking to my friend John Bell yesterday. We were talking about how far the world has shifted since August when his firm, OgilvyPR’s Digital Influence Project helped my team run the Olympic athlete blogging program. That was the high water mark for Lenovo’s online brand efforts in 2008, and now, a mere three months later, I listened to myself declare to John that the next 12 months are going to be a dour test for this new wave of conversational/social/engaged/word-of-mouth/collaborative marketing that me and a gazillion other optimistic theorists have been blogging and tweeting and opining at one conference or council meeting for the past three years.

Fast forward to February 2009 and imagine yourself telling a CFO or someone in finance that you need cash to improve “brand reputation” through a “conversational marketing program” involving blogs, wikis, vlogs, photo sharing, tagging, twittering, and crowdsourcing. I guarantee the response will be something on the lines of “how many buggy whips will it sell?” I don’t think Social Media Marketing is ever going to go away – I am a huge fan – indeed I think it could be the tactic that actually thrives through this shitty economy, but only if practiced at extremely low cost and with some evidence that it can drive revenue.

So, henceforth, let me commit to a mini-series here on on how to market online through a downturn. There are three groups who will be pissed off by what I have to say. I will say “sorry in advance:

  1. Agencies: Sorry, but these are the times when you better learn how to do-it-yourself. It’s like when I was 28 and bought my first house. I did the sheet rock, not Ned the Nailbanger.
  2. Vendors: Sorry. That $150,000 a year “reputation monitoring” system you want me to buy? Nevermind, time for DIY. That social media technical platform that offer single-sign on seamless interoperability between the company’s forums, blogs, and wiki? No license fees for me, it’s all got to be open sourced, in the cloud, and as close to free as possible.
  3. Consultants: Sorry. Consultants won’t be hosed – CFOs prefer contractors to full time employees during hard times – but theorists and strategists are a dime-a-dozen right now and these are the days when actions and direct revenue improvement are going to speak louder than the torrent of theory and drivel that has been skipping like a broken record or a scratched CD for the past year or more.

I will go out on a limb here and say this: any organization can extend its marketing reach for an initial investment of $0 by doing two basic things. The only cost will be time. The only risk will be reputation. I’ve complained about “101” level marketing advice being parroted over and over again by the analysts and consultants, well, here’s my contribution in the form of a simple action plan to do two essential things in the new marketing environment that won’t require a visit to your finance department.

  1. Open a blog. Stop. Go no further. Go there. Open a blog. Go battle with your PR and legal teams and before you visit them do a quick Google search for “corporate blog policy” and print out one of the many policies held up as classics by the experts. Do a search and replace and put your organization’s name in the appropriate places. Get permission. Start blogging. Cost: zero.
  2. Monitor what other blogs say about your organization. Google Blog Search. Technorati. An RSS reader. Google Reader. Bloglines. Whatever. Learn them. Set up RSS search feeds on your brand names and start reading. “Engaging” with bloggers? Google search on the topic. There’s more advice out there than a herd of consultants could impart for a fee in a year. Cost: zero.

That’s enough dourness for the Wednesday before Thanksgiving. Next post – how to turn this stuff into sales and look really smart.

9 responses so far