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3 posts from July 2011

07/25/2011 Who Sets Your Bar?

I just watched the documentary “Fire and Ice” on HBO’s amazing iPad app HBO Go. I’ll save reviewing that app for a later blog post. The documentary tracked the great tennis rivalry between Bjorn Borg and John McEnroe. What struck me most was the effect that Borg leaving tennis had on McEnroe. 

Yes, McEnroe continued to win, winning grand slams and retaining his number one spot after Borg retired. But that retirement also removed one of McEnroe’s greatest motivators: to play (and beat) the best. Without Borg to set the bar, McEnroe became more enraged and ultimately lost interest. 

In your business (and especially in the digital marketing business), who sets the bar for you? Which people or groups perform at such a high level that they motivate you to push yourself to a higher plane? Can you find inspiration through others’ work and success to make yourself work harder and more creatively? 

I’m asking the question after reading a number of comments by creatives on the lack of break through ideas, especially on the digital side. In the past we looked to CPB and the Barbarian Group, among others, to Wow us. Sites like the FWA and even the Macromedia Site of the Day used to inspire digital creative to push the work at every level. 

A friend of mine recently worked on a site that won the FWA award, and she remarked that she wished she had won it three years ago when it still meant something.

The examples these days seem to register a much smaller blip. Yes we’re not building as many intricate Flash sites with expectations of lots of interaction and time spent online. We know better now. We look at socially integrated campaigns that seem to have much more modest goals (perhaps even attainable ones). We’re looking to do more enabling of commerce or connections. That probably has greater value to customers but it’s not as sexy as Subservient Chicken or Come Clean.  

One example recently, which I noticed courtesy of Adam Cohen, was work for Tesco Homeplus. It sprang from an insight that people were just too darn busy in South Korea to go shopping. However, they all had mobile phones and lots of them commuted via subway. So they set up a virtual storefront in the subway, where people could shop through a mobile phone. Tesco then delivered the groceries to peoples’ homes.


How about that for a smart, digital and practical solution?

Like John McEnroe, I need my digital Bjorn Borgs. Who sets the bar for you to make you want to be the best? 


07/14/2011 Netflix: Another case of social cry-babies

Netflix just raised its prices. From the reactions of customers online you’d think Netflix had just decided to implement human sacrifice as a core business operation.

Screen shot 2011-07-14 at 7.41.33 AM

What Netflix did was to separate it’s streaming subscriptions from its DVD subscriptions. Previously, if you subscribed to DVDs, you received free, unlimited streaming. Or, if you only wanted streaming, you added another $2 to get a DVD by mail.

The latest online trends show, pretty clearly, the amount of streaming is increasing greatly. So Netflix decided to clearly separate its offering. The biggest increase is for people who subscribed to streaming, but still wanted a DVD now and then. It looks like their subscription just went up $6/month. For those of us, like me, who had a 2 DVD/month plan, my subscription went up about $2/month, but I get unlimited DVDs.

And yet…people greeted the announcement on Facebook with over 55,000 comments! Most of them were furious at the change. My favorite quote is from an AP article

“I can definitely afford it but I dropped them on principle," said Joe Turick, a technology engineer in Monroe, N.C., who has been with Netflix for about a decade, cancelled his subscription within an hour of learning of Tuesday's price changes and plans to try competitors.”

On principle? What’s the principle? That you shouldn’t pay a fair price for products and services? That prices should never go up (unless it’s the price of your house)?

I think this doesn’t have anything to do with prices or services. It has to do with the greatest benefit of social media: complaining. Social does a lot of things well, but nothing can compete with it on a complaining level. Complaining at work or muttering at home, not to mention the occasional angry letter to the editor all pale in comparison with complaining on Facebook, Twitter or, now, Google+.

Well good for you, Netflix crybabies. Take your laptop and go home. Good luck finding some other service that’s just as good. Maybe, instead you could think really hard about how to budget that extra $2 for Netflix.

There’s a new term for something like this. It’s called “Free Lunchism” and, unfortunately, it drives a lot of the budget talk in Washington.

Yes, there are a lot of problems with the economy right now. But directing that anger at Netflix, instead of the real culprits is just silly.

07/12/2011 Use Your Digital Strategy to Differentiate

If you’re in business of any kind, you have some idea of who your competition is. Whether you’re overly conscious of it or not, what you do in your business and marketing helps people choose you over someone else. Your marketing needs to show how you’re different, better or more appropriate to someone making a choice. The same applies to your digital strategy.

Rather than simply doing what everyone else does, how are you using your digital channels to differentiate who and what you are? 


For many, a digital strategy means deciding to have a blog, or putting up a Facebook page with the goal of gaining X number of followers. Most of the time, companies’ and organizations’ strategies comes down to copying: If some else has one, we better have one too so we don’t look bad.

So up goes the blog with an editorial calendar, and up goes the Facebook page with the goal of aggregating as many people as possible.

But if everyone else is doing this, how does this differentiate you? Answer: It doesn’t.

One of the problems we see in the digital space is too much focus on channels and aggregate numbers and too little focus on the customer, the person on the other side of that screen. That’s too bad, because there are huge opportunities for businesses that can shift their focus and strategy there.

Try this example: When was the last time you or a friend of yours spontaneously started talking about a blog post from a company you do business with? When was the last time you started a conversation at a party about the Facebook contest you entered at one of the brand pages you followed?

If you’re like most people, the answer is never.

On the other hand, you know when your digital strategy is working when people publicly praise the personal service they received on Twitter, or when they marvel at how you gave them critical information on Facebook they couldn’t have received elsewhere, or when they brag about how your mobile app or site helped them shop for a better product or deal.

Things like this don’t happen overnight. They’re a result of strategy decisions that focus on providing great service to customers through digital channels and tools. They take work. They require that parts of your real business integrate digitally. It’s harder than creating a corporate blog with an editorial calendar. 

In the end, though, this is what differentiates you from your competition. Your digital strategy should be less about the where and less about the aggregate numbers and more about enabling your business through digital and social channels. It should focus on your customers and not your internal process.

If you can’t do that, the question for your business is: why bother?

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