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13 posts from February 2009

02/26/2009 The Brilliance of Simplicity

Simplicity might be the hardest thing in the world to achieve. It’s much easier to take something and make it overly complex. In the interactive space we struggle with this daily. The more we want to do, the greater the layers of complexity we lay on top of it. Planners, designers and developers all ad their complexities, one on top of the other.

Our challenge is to make the complex simple.

One of the reasons I read Seth Godin every day is because he’s able to take complex thinking and boil it down into short, well-written blog entries. Seth’s ability to simplify is part of his brilliance: we know his brain is moving at 200 MPH but we all understand his ideas. Profound thought, simply explained.

IStock_000007145932XSmall When I was younger I went to a lecture by former Dartmouth President John Kemeny. Kemeny started his career as Einstein’s lab assistant at Princeton. President Carter appointed him to lead the Three Mile Island commission. In a packed auditorium, Kemeny explained to all of us laymen exactly what had happened, and how the commission recommended solving the problems. None of us were nuclear physicists but Kemeny did such a great job of explaining a nuclear power plant failure to us, that we all left that lecture thinking “That wasn’t so hard.” The brilliance of simplicity.

That lecture reminded me of an old Star Trek episode “Spock's Brain.” It’s the one where McCoy puts on the helmet and all the secrets of medicine are revealed to him.

Complexity >>>>Simplicity = Brilliance

We don’t have the luxury of McCoy’s “teacher.” We have to do it on our own.

Try it. It’s a refreshing experience. And a critical one for everyone in marketing.

02/25/2009 IAB Stimulus Plan

The IAB is hard at work trying to solve the Online Advertising problem. The problem? Most of it is no good. The good people at the IAB will try to implement standards and inspire creativity.

In the spirit of collaboration, here’s my suggestion for on online advertising stimulus plan. Long on ideas, short on dollars.

  1. Start With an Engagement Plan – Remember this is a two-way medium. You can’t hide behind space requirements and sizes to excuse the creation of animated billboards. What do you want people to DO? And for this part of the exercise, remove the word “Click” from your vocabulary. There are lots of things you can do within the ad itself. Is your engagement plan browsing? Or is it creating? Or is it requesting or even buying? People on the other end aren’t robots. Watch and click is good for automatons. Map out an engagement plan before you start developing the creative.
  2. Stop Thinking “Ad” – Just because we call it an ad, and buy placement like an ad, it doesn’t have to be an “ad.” Think instead widget, microsite, or application. An online ad can be all of those things. And those are much more interesting than an ad. That’s the beauty of the online medium; that ad can be anything you imagine it to be. Remember, we’re interrupting people doing something else. If we’re going to ask them to engage with us, we should provide the most meaningful and robust engagement we can.
  3. Leverage the Technology – The online ad space can do pretty much anything these days. You can buy stuff right from an ad, you can connect databases to it, you can let people customize things it in, and you can figure out from where people are watching your ad. The technology allows us to make things more personal. It allows us to pull from content from different places online and feed content back to those places. The best part is, we don’t have to create a lot of this from scratch. Third party vendors like Eyeblaster, Adroit and Adgregate can help.
  4. Focus on Fewer Sizes – Size does matter in online advertising, especially for budgets. Online pubs try to sell as many different sizes as possible to get rid of inventory. Media buyers buy these sizes in packages to, presumably, keep costs lower. However, all that does is raise production costs. And it pushes sizes that usually don’t perform that well. So take a stand. If you’re going to do something engaging, something that will take time to craft and do right, don’t spread your budget on producing a gazillion different sizes. Pick two and go with them. Usually the pubs or the third parties can tell you which two sizes clearly outperform the others in any given category.
  5. Connect It  – Online advertising can’t exist in a vacuum. Make sure there are other robust contact points that connect with your online ad. It could be your Facebook page, a microsite, Twitter, or an iPhone app. Make sure that you connect all of these back to clear conversion paths, so when the person on the other end is ready, your company is ready too.

Yes, more money would help. I agree with Mike Shields at Mediaweek, a small shift in TV budgets to online budgets could help create something new. But it’s not only the money.

It’s not that difficult. It just means we have to stop looking at this online marketing opportunity as “ads” and start delivering the promise of the digital medium.

02/24/2009 How Do You Buy?

I’ve been thinking a lot about what is it that influences me to purchase something. Right away, I wouldn’t classify myself as typical anything or a model for a certain type of purchasing behavior. This is just one person’s experience. I am, though, interested in what others would say.

Consumer electronics and travel make up some of the latest major purposes for our household: new video camera, iPhone, and vacation plans. Thinking of what influenced me made me realize that I followed the same pattern for the last car we bought, new household appliances and even birthday presents.

Television and print have almost no impact on those decisions. In fact, with the exception of the iPhone, I can’t even remember seeing an ad for the items I’ve purchased.


My pattern is pretty standard and predictable: I go to Google and search. Then I read reviews, lots of them, from pros and consumers. Then I Google some more to find the best price. I mix that up with some consumer focused sites, like TripAdvisor.com or ConsumerReports.org.  I look for advice online and use Google to help me find that advice.

The iPhone experience was different. Mass media and TV played a much bigger role in creating the “want.” I didn’t need any reviews, I just needed to see it and then go try it. However, for iPhone apps, Twitter is the place where I find new apps through people recommending and linking to various sites.

There’s a huge exception to this in my household: My kids. When they watch Sponge Bob et al on Nick, they find the TV ads just as engaging as the shows. They never DVR through commercials. My six-year old son is constantly yelling to us “I want that!” when he sees a cool toy. Both kids memorize URLs from the ads and go to different sites, whether it’s HotWheels.com or ICarly.com. Once in a while they’ll see something that they think my wife and I should get and we’ll get a “yell.”

But back to my pattern: Is this typical? How do you shop? What communications influence your buying patterns? Does traditional media start your process and reinforce it? Or do you bypass it? Does it change depending on what your buying?

One thing seems clear, though: the quicker we can get people to share the experiences of others, the greater the chance for conversions.

02/20/2009 Is Twitter the new Usenet?

Sorry Twitter, that was probably the un-sexiest headline you’ve received in a while.The other day I was having lunch with my friend Jeff Rutenbeck, dean of Champlain College’s emerging media program. Jeff is as nice and smart as they come. As I was explaining to him about my Twitter obsession, he threw out the Usenet analogy and we both started waxing poetic.

I started using Usenet in my very early days online, before the Web gained speed. It was where I could find out about almost anything and, more importantly, connect with some great people. My cinematographer friend Anders decided he wanted to shoot his next film completely with a SteadyCam. In the early 90’s there were only two fairly good SteadyCam operators in Sweden and Anders didn’t like either one of them.

Rocky460“You do it,” he said. “We’ll pay for your training through the movie budget.”

Where did I start? Usenet. After getting some great recommendations there, Gordon Brown himself contacted me. This is the Gordon who invented the SteadyCam to run up the steps in Rocky to take one of the most famous movie shots of all time. Long story short: no movie financing, and no SteadyCam training.

The Web ultimately killed Usenet and replaced it with other things.

So why is Twitter like Usenet? The thing about Usenet was that it wasn’t really a place. You accessed it through a reader or e-mail. That’s what makes Twitter feel similar: it isn’t a Web site. MySpace, Facebook, and others are sites, destinations. You connect to Twitter but you’re never really there. Web, TweetDeck, Twhirl, Tweetie, Twittelator and others provide the “space.”

Twitter has that same flow as Usenet, the flow of a fast moving river. You jump in and out at different times; you can try paddling back, but usually not to far back. Where you jump in, and with whom, are up to you. That’s what Usenet felt like.

I guess that’s why I find Twitter to be so much fun. The feeling of movement and the ability to swim with sharks (whales, dolphins?).

What do you think?

02/19/2009 Are we Hybrids or Renaissance Men (and Women)?

I hear a lot, these days, that you have to “become an expert.” I also hear a lot of disdain for people who call themselves “social media experts” on the other hand. Expert says “specialized” to me.  An expert usually has a deep knowledge of one particular area.

Hendrix_jimi Maybe the question shouldn't be "Are you an Expert?" Maybe Jimi Hendrix had it right when he asked, “Are you Experienced?”  Experience has the connotations of a renaissance person as opposed to an expert who knows one thing extremely well.  In today’s fast moving marketing world, I think experience has more value than expertise. (Note: experience does not equal age or length of time doing something. It means passion and involvement. There were young renaissance men as well as old.)

In the broadcast era specialization and expertise was a necessary. But in the chaotic digital era how can you figure out what to do, if you don’t really what’s going on?

Specialization made people like Henry Ford and Frederick Taylor (he of Scientific Management fame a century ago) proud. The problem is that this model is breaking up everywhere, not only in our marketing industry.  Soon we’ll be outsourcing our need for lawyers to offshore SaaS’.  Yes, we need to have some expertise but we also have to be smart about a lot of different areas at the same time.

We’re moving into the Hybrid Era. And I don’t only mean cars. The best flash programmers I’ve worked with are amazing at both design and conceptual ideas. IAs need to know design, designers need to know public relations, PR people need to know search, and let’s not even talk about what an account person needs to know these days.

I love being a hybrid. It would get awfully boring otherwise. Here’s what I think constitutes a Hybrid:

  • Adaptability – Like the Prius, Hybrids know what they should be driving on and when. They have the ability to shift quickly, rather than staying stuck in one mode.
  • Curiosity – Hybrids are curious about what’s new in their area, and what new trends they see in other areas.
  • Sharing – Hybrids love to spread the news. It’s their way of trying to make everyone a hybrid.
  • Risk – Not being tied down to a specialty means Hybrids can’t be afraid of testing the waters, taking risks, and learning from failure and success.
  • Cultural Awareness – Great hybrids learn and borrow from things completely out of their field. One poetry-writing developer I knew ended up creating some amazing apps based on his writing.

Back when I was younger, I worked on feature films in Sweden. We were usually a crew of 25 people. We were all specialists in what we did, but we all occasionally jumped in as soundmen, focus pullers, extras, grips, gaffers and stunt people.  It was why some of those movies, with pretty low budgets, were able to win a number of Swedish Oscars (Golden Beetles).

So choose your title: Hybrid, renaissance person, or even polymath. The digital world around us demands it more and more.

Time to shift modes.

02/17/2009 And the winner is…

Congratulations to R/GA as Adweek’s Digital Agency of the Year.  R/GA is a great example of a company tapping into the power of digital by building platforms instead of focusing on attention.

And congratulations, too, to Adweek’s  U.S. Agency of the Year, Crispin Porter Bogusky. CPB does amazing work and is as good at getting attention for its clients as it is at getting attention for itself. It truly walks the walk.

Now, of course, there’s backlash at giving Digital its own AOY. Funny, anointing a media agency of the year somehow doesn’t elicit that much controversy. That itself says a lot. Brian Morrissey and Spyro Kourtis ask the question “Do we need a Digital AOY?”

I think we shouldn’t ask “Do we need fewer awards?” We should say “We need MORE awards.” Personally, I think Adweek should be more like Major League Baseball.

We need a Most Valuable Agency Award. We need an Agency Cy Young Award. We need Gold Glove winners, by specialty (PR, Direct, Search, Event, you name it). We need Agency Rookie of the Year Award and Agency Comeback Player of the Year. We need Best Manager for Planners.

Why be stingy? The big elephants will always get their due, we shouldn’t worry about hurting their feelings. Spread the wealth around and give credit where credit is due.

02/13/2009 TwitterCoke vs. TwitterPepsi

I’ve seen a couple of questions this week asking people what software they use to Tweet.. It’s the Coke vs. Pepsi test for Twitter. Robert Scoble posted a blog on the TweetDeck vs. Twhirl question, but he’s not the only one.

Personally, I  always favor observation over research questions. Every time I’ve done Web usability testing, half the people say they hate scrolling, while they scroll energetically up and down the pages.

TweetDeck vs. Twhirl? Let’s see what some top Twitterers actually use, at least this week.

TweetDeck users include:
Chris Brogan, Robert Scoble, Guy Kawasaki, Charlene Li, Gavon Heaton, David Armano, Matt Dickman, Liz Strauss and Julia Roy.
Brogan3 Scoble Guy2.0_normal CharleneLisquare_normal Yellow_Ribbon_normalArmano_beard2_normal  Mdickman LizstraussfromLK2_normal Juliaroy

A number of big Tweets use the Web instead of any extra software. This includes:
Valeria Maltoni, Jeremiah Owyang, Perry Belcher, Jim Long, Design Pepper and Pete Cashmore of Mashable.
ValeriaPhoto_normal Jowyang_normal Perrybelcher JimLong Designpeppar Petecahsmore_normal

A couple use Ping.fm including:
Chris Pirillo and Pete Cashmore.
Chrispirillo Petecahsmore_normal

Big Tweets using Twhirl?
Nada, zip, bubkes. At least, none that I saw.

TweetDeck and the Web seem to be the clear winners in what people use for Twitter.

Maybe Twhirl should start sponsoring some of these people, or create a team, like the Ferrari team in Formula One.

02/11/2009 Connect Everything

A friend of mine tweeted a link to an old article that ranted about microsites: they’re expensive, they’re ineffective, and they’re dead ends.  I’ve seen a number of similar articles over the past year. They declare that the microsite, like the online banner, is dead. While I won’t argue that all microsites work well, I think these types of posts miss the point. Rather than thinking microsites as Web sites, how about if we think of them as a guerrilla marketing tactic in an integrated strategy? 

What got me started was a post by Jonathan Salem Baskin about a great promotion by Charmin. Charmin opened a public bathroom in Times Square to get people to try its products. Jonathan points out the strength of contextual relevance and he’s right. But I look at this public bathroom and think: “microsite.”

The public bathroom is not a Charmin store. It’s a temporary experience in the right place to engage customers. That’s what microsites usually are: temporary. I’ve created microsites in online banners; we see microsites on YouTube, as Facebook groups and even as widgets.

It’s not that microsites are so wrong, what’s wrong is that the marketers aren’t connecting them to other marketing and even social microsites. Want some examples of good microsites that work because they’re integrated?

How about The Creative 30? A Volvo microsite, connected to a group of other microsites. Look at each piece as contextual, but leading back to an overall engagement on the main microsite. The ingredients are here: micrositese on YouTube, Flickr, Facebook. The central microsite isn’t supposed to replace Volvo.com. But it does its job, with support, of engagement and conversation.

How about Dell Re-Generation? Same inter-connectedness, same central microsite and social microsites. They’ve added Twitter into the mix, along with Facebook and Flickr, all in the name of connection, engagement and conversation. Again, the main microsite is the hub, but it’s not replacing Dell.com

Not enough? Look at Pepsi’s Refresh Everything. It's supported by microsites on YouTube, Facebook, Tumblr and a sub-microsite to send messages to President Obama.

Look at the Twitter buzz around Refresh Everything. Here’s the power of multiple, relevant microsites, connected to each other and real people.

Yes, these are big brands doing this. But the supporting microsites don’t cost that much. It’s all about strategy, commitment and connecting the dots.

Good marketing, like nature, hates a vacuum.

02/08/2009 The Noismakers

David Armano got me thinking the other day, as he usually does with his blog posts and diagrams, with a Tweet. Now on his blog, he was explaining the difference between paid media and unpaid media. I was fumbling to think of a response to that and I realized that the word “media” got in my way.

Maybe because I spent the last 9 years in an ad agency, in my head, media is something owned by someone else, like TV, newspapers and radio. Paid media meant buying a piece of that, usually advertising. Unpaid media usually meant public relations, where you get an article written without paying the journalist. Still, you have to pay the public relations specialist to get the article.

With Web and Digital, media has blown apart. Either everyone owns a piece of the media (such as blogs) or they own the content of the media (such as things like TripAdvisor.com reviews).

Instead of media, I thought, maybe, we should use the old term “voice.” But after reading Marcel Lebrun’s great post on share of voice vs. share of conversation, I think a better term would simply be:


There’s paid Noise (every time you pay someone to make Noise for you).
There’s unpaid Noise (every time someone you know or don’t know decides to make Noise about you).


I see Noise as value neutral, although dictionary.com might argue with me. A beautiful song is good Noise. Flatulence is bad Noise (unless you make the iPhone app iFart). Advertising is definitely Noise, some of it good Noise, most of it bad Noise. Customer reviews are Noise. We hope customers are noisy like a boisterous party and not noisy like a violent mob.

Paid Noise would include everything a company pays for marketing. Work like ads, PR, search engine marketing, event marketing, and guerilla marketing. Unpaid Noise is Noise that emanates from a customer experience. Reactions to products, customer services, physical locations, and services.

Where this breaks down is characterizing the response to paid Noise. If someone goes online and reacts to a Superbowl ad, is that paid Noise or unpaid Noise?  We’re not paying that person, but he or she responds to our paid Noise. In the very least, paid Noise gets an assist. Same with building a great microsite. When people pass on and talk about Elf Yourself, is that paid Noise or unpaid Noise?

I’m going to stick with this for a while and push on it. I like where Armano is going with earned vs. paid, though. It's also a great distinction between digital media strategy and social media strategy, something I'll have to try out on some clients.

We marketers are  Noisemakers. The question is: are we singing or farting?

02/06/2009 Listening to your Company

Chris Brogan wrote a great blog entry last week on listening. He had one of the easiest checklists ever for using the Web to listen and research. I agree with Chris, listening is one of my favorite things to do, especially in my work.

Right now I’m helping a Canadian company rebrand itself online. I’m in the best part of the process where I get to talk with and listen to (mostly listen to) key stakeholders and company employees. The account people listen in when I notice two things right away.

First, the account people seem blown away by the gold nuggets we’re picking up. Insights that will not only make our work better, but provide us with smart, long-range planning (which means more business for the agency). It’s amazing how hard it is sometimes to build this into a process when everyone just wants to jump to a Web site build.  Production always seems to take priority over listening.

Second, I hear how grateful some employees seem just to have someone listening to them. Funny because they’re the ones with most of the institutional knowledge and direct customer contact. For them, this isn’t an abstract exercise, they’re dealing with both the happy ones and the malcontents, both on the customer AND employee side, every day! To be fair, this isn’t unique to this company; it happens everywhere.


I’d love to have a Brogan checklist to use the Web to listen to employees but that probably doesn’t exist.

One problem is that employers don’t want their employees Tweeting or chatting when they have work to do.  We don’t build inter-employee communication into the workday. I think there’s a great opportunity for marketing and social media firms to set up internal listening processes for leadership to listen to their employees.

That’s why I hope more companies use things like Jive Software’s Clearspace as an Intranet solution. Since it has social networking tools built right into it, there should be more opportunities to listen.

Setting up internal Twitters for companies might be another interesting idea. Anything to turn our listening ears to the inside as well as the outside.

There are a number of marketing firms who say they do this, but they’re mostly focused on external marketing and production dollars at the end of the day.  But in a time when efficiencies will become crucial who can afford not to listen to employees?

Anyone out there with good examples of internal corporate listening?

UPDATE: Bad chatter is happening online by employees, and it's freaking out the CEOs.Question is, how much? And how do you know it's employees?

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