The Blog Slave

When you started blogging, it was pretty liberating, wasn’t it? Finally, a format for expressing your ideas! No barriers of time or distance to an audience. And once you started mixing words with other bloggers (and eventually meeting those people at conferences and tweetups), the energy continued to flow.

slaveUntil you became a blog slave.

Blogging can be a delightful tyranny. As you build an audience, as you see more incoming links, as you check Technorati rankings or see your name for the first time on the Ad Age Power 7,545 list of marketing blogs (OK, they say 150, but it doesn’t seem to stop there…), you begin to feel the pressure. You don’t want to lose your standing. Your momentum. Your ranking. As they say in academia, publish or perish.

Dump that emotional ballast overboard as fast as you can, OK? Because you are not the sum total of your ability to produce. Your value is you, not your writing output.

I read today how blogging friend Beth Harte feels a need to suspend writing on her excellent blog, The Harte of Marketing, for a season. As part of her post, she says this:

As well, I know social media is quid pro quo and while I try my best to keep up with other blogs (reading and commenting), comments on my blog, etc. I am falling WAY short and for that I am terribly sorry. I would completely understand if people stopped commenting/tweeting my stuff.

Well, the fact is, other things really are more important than obeying Master Blog (as Beth discusses in her post), and Beth’s value to me is not tied to her “production.” She is a friend. She has nothing to prove. Her blogging production couldn’t possibly be top-notch anyway if she’s doing it out of a wearied sense of duty. Treadmills aren’t usually where we get into a creative zone.

Beth doesn’t strike me as the type who wants to live like that. She’s a community-builder. And I would like to hope that putting my keyboard aside for a time would not cause the wonderful people in my network to drift away or be less than the great people I know they are. Otherwise, I’ve failed to build and be part of a community. Or I’ve associated with a bunch of artful fakes! (which I don’t believe for a nanosecond).

If you’re strictly building an “audience” for your “production,” then it will be hard to avoid the slavery. Blogging will be a chore. At times, yes, all the creative and interaction work can be a bit of a slog now and again. But let’s never become slaves, trying to produce bricks without straw, and expect that of others. That’s when I quit for good!

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The Few. The Proud.

marinesIn less than 2 weeks, one of my sons begins boot camp with the Marines. Let me say right off that I’m as proud as I can be of him. He’s joining for the right reasons; it’s been his decision all along and it was not made lightly.

Gladly, and with a full heart, we let him go, into the service of his and our country. Did I mention that my wife and I are immensely proud of him? Oh, yeah, I did.

Eighteen years ago he was learning to walk. Now he’s going to take on one of the toughest challenges anyone willingly shoulders. Becoming a U.S. Marine.

Now, how did the Marines “sell” him on entering their branch of the service?

I got to watch the process up close and personal. And let there be no doubt – presenting an elite challenge is a strong message, especially to a young man.

For a certain slice of the population, striving to be the “cream of the crop” is an almost irresistible goal. The top. The elite. The first. The few. The proud.

We all know how companies (like Apple) succeed by getting people to possess and use a “cream of the crop” product. It’s borrowed status, and it’s an incredibly effective marketing strategy. But the Marines present people with the opportunity to become the elite (see this ad for their brand position – thanks for pointing it out, @TomMartin)

And for parents who want to see their children excel, yes, the idea of them taking on an elite challenge is also compelling. I’m sold. What parent doesn’t say to his/her child, in one form or another, “Be all that you can be!” (I know, that’s Army, but still…)

Of course, there are risks and dangers in the military, just as there are in any drive here in the battlefields highways of New Jersey. But there are no ads during football games in the fall extolling the elite status of urban commuters. I don’t see young men hungering to prove themselves as just one of many in a faceless crowd. Some people are driven to reach the top, and…putting on my marketing hat now…those may be the customers you should be pursuing most vigorously. If you have something elite to offer.

The Marines look for the ones with that glint in their eye, the ones who want to be the cream of the crop. Do you? Do your customers see themselves as the few, the proud? Or, perhaps even more importantly, do your employees?

Some people just want everything easy. Others want to excel. They’ll tend to be the faithful ones.

Semper Fi.

DaveNateDadsmThe Marine recruit, lined up with brother and Dad sporting “solidarity” military haircuts!

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Tivo Records – and Listens

As part of a major household digital upgrade late last year, we finally entered the 21st century and acquired a TiVo box. I love it – the user experience crosses the threshold of Easy, and we record a whole variety of programs that we can pull up when it’s convenient for us.

One thing bothered me, however, on the TiVo.com site – there was no immediate option on the home page for TiVo users to login (you can select programs you want to record right from the website, which is a great feature). An immediately visible home page login link, to me, was a no-brainer  – users of the service should not need to go one level deep before being presented with that option. Netflix, Amazon – all the cool kids do it that way. Yes, it’s a “mixed” destination (for users and for potential customers who are investigating the service), but it seemed like a design flaw to me, because users who are scheduling recordings should be the biggest source of traffic.

So I did what many of us increasingly do – just threw it out there on Twitter.

And I was surprised to get a rapid response from a TiVo customer service person (that would be you, Shanan) on Twitter who agreed with the input, and passed it along to the development team.

And there it sat, for months. Now I know a bit about web development, and while it may seem like a simple thing to move a link, when you’re dealing with a highly visible and functional site, you don’t make interface changes quickly. A month or two back, I was assured that the input wasn’t forgotten.

It wasn’t. Today, I saw this:

tivosmIt’s a subtle change, and many might not even notice it. But I, for one, appreciate it. And more than that, I appreciate the fact that TiVo was monitoring Twitter, responded promptly and enthusiastically, and eventually came through with a small but important fix.

Customer service lesson: Listen, respond, act. Bread-and-butter basics, I know. But even though it took a while to see this change, I have nothing but praise for the TiVo team for making it happen. Which I don’t mind sharing publicly here!

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The No Drone Zone at Netflix

Drone1I’d heard good things over the months about Netflix’s unique corporate culture, so my curiosity was piqued when someone linked to a Slideshare about it. I clicked on over.

Seeing that it was 128 slides, my interest in delving further wavered. I have a philosophical bias against mega-slide presentations! However, I started anyway, and soon found myself going through the entire thing. The idealist in me was astonished – here was a company actually adhering to (not just mouthing) many tremendous business principles that are the ingredients for long-term success. Count me impressed.

Here’s the bottom line: Netflix is determined to have only dedicated and talented employees. No drones.

Many companies tolerate sub-par performers as long as they don’t mess up too badly. In this way, companies end up with lots of deadwood – drones who muddle their way onward and upward, and serve as a source of discouragement and irritation for hard-working and creative employees who really want to make a difference.

Read it for yourself – yes, it’ll take a few minutes, but it’s well worth it for the inspiration given and example set: Freedom and Responsibility Culture

Is your company a No Drone Zone? Can it become one?

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The Power of Inertia

purplecowI wholeheartedly subscribe to the idea that businesses should strive to be remarkable – we should strive to be, in the classic words of Seth Godin, a Purple Cow in the midst of a herd of sameness.

But many companies drift along with some level of success even though, perhaps, they aren’t all that remarkable. Why?

One reason is the power of inertia. That is, we’ll often stick with a brand or company or service provider because they haven’t done anything bad enough to lose our business.

I am driving my third Mazda. My first, an older 323, was a pretty good car. Later, I bought a Mazda 626, which I had for a good number of years – and I was pretty pleased with it. It wasn’t spectacular, but it was perfectly adequate and reliable. And when it was time to get a new car for my business a couple years back, the winner was…a Mazda6.

I’d gotten used to the Mazda. I liked it. It was perfectly OK.

Surely there were other cars that would have been perfectly OK as well. But, you see, they were unknowns to me. I had a baseline level of trust in Mazda, and inertia argued that there was no compelling reason to change.

For the same reason, I’ve had a string of Dell computers. Again, none of them give me the same pride of ownership as when I whip out my iPhone, but they have worked reliably for me. Why change? (well, actually, I do plan to convert the family computer to a Mac – but that’s because of a desire for a whole new platform, not because of dissatisfaction with Dell).

Inertia. If it’s been OK, or pretty good, or really good in the past, it helps ease us into giving repeat business.

I would hope that no company will strive to live off of this reality. “Our mission – to be quite adequate!” But perhaps it explains why so many companies survive and even thrive (for a season) in the marketplace. Bleeding edge folks tend to be more daring in their purchases of the latest and greatest, less focused on straight-on reliability and adequacy. But there is a vast pool of consumers that buy on inertia. If you’re not going to be a purple cow, at least be a really good black and white one. But I still think you should strive to be purple.

What do you think? Can black & white cows still make it in the marketplace? And, how does inertia shape some of your decisions?

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Two Successful Calls to Action

tacoversmallToday, I did two things that I’d been putting off. However, good marketing – effective calls to action – put me over the edge in each case.

I’ve been intrigued by the new book just released by Chris Brogan and Julien Smith called “Trust Agents” – I figured, in the murky intentions of my mind, that I would buy it eventually. But then Chris put out this blog post, and it was the motivation I needed to finally take action. Why? Because it was Chris, and it was important to him, and I knew I wanted that book anyway (plus, it gave the the ‘Amazon Free Shipping’ excuse to make the long-overdue purchase of a David Meerman Scott book I’d been putting off). If you want to order a copy, here’s the place to go.

PastDueI also made a LONG-overdue visit to the dentist, where I endured gentle ribbing for my neglect of office-visit dental hygiene. Now I have very good teeth, and in fact there were no cavities (though a thorough cleaning was definitely in order) – but what motivated me to take action was the little personalization on the reminder postcard. I was successfully able to deflect all the other ones over the years, but his one both amused and shamed me, as it was intended to, so I finally made the appointment.

Which makes me wonder – what little tactics do you employ (or should you try!) to get people over the edge, and give them a reason to do what they know they ought/want to do? What are the most effective calls to action you’ve seen? Please share in the comments!

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ROI – Solved!

blanchardThe very thorny problem of Social Media ROI (Return on Investment) was finally solved this week by the brilliant research work of social media guru  Olivier Blanchard (aka The BrandBuilder).

Olivier, well-known throughout the blogging world as a marketing finance expert and bike-rider, dug deep into the world of virtual metrics and came up with a reliable, scalable, and reproducible method of calculating the financial impact of social media.

Eschewing traditional measures such as dollars invested vs. dollars realized, increased sales, and boring data points like that, Olivier applied his guru-like creative expertise to come up with a totally new and relevant series of measures – the “Blanchard Scale” (BS).

Since social media is relatively new and there is so much indirect impact on business, the Blanchard Scale bypasses hard numbers for new measures that take into account the subjectivity and wishful thinking of social networking efforts.

The Scale is summarized thusly, and works best if pronounced with a faint but distinct French accent:

- The Chihuahua (CH) – the smallest measure, a chihuahua of social media impact means that somebody saw something you did somewhere. If you get re-tweeted on Twitter, that’s an extra (or, venti) chihuahua.

- The Nutella (NU) – a Nutella of social media impact is when at least one comment on a blog or one Twitter dialogue ensues. A Nutella unit is often considered a measure of social media “sweetness”. If the dialogue is re-tweeted on Twitter, that’s a NU-CH.

- The Blanchard (BL) – also called a “glop”, this is a totally subjective impact measure which indicates that a bunch of really cool stuff is going on over several platforms, even if we can’t quantify it. Most social media campaigns are considered a success at a 5-Blanchard level post-launch.

- The Brogan (BR) – formerly labeled the Godin, this rarefied measure of impact is only achieved when you go viral, which means that there must be some money changing hands somewhere, and probably we’re going to get some. A 3-Brogan campaign is the gold standard in social media ROI. Occasionally augmented by a Vayner, which currently hasn’t been fully defined, but is definitely kinda loud.

- The Kaw (GUY) – only achieved once so far, all top bloggers want to be “that Guy”. Guess what – you’re not.

Prominent blogging gurus and experts were dumbfounded by the simplicity and utility of the new Blanchard Scale. “I give it 2 ‘heh’s up!” proclaimed social media expert influencer Jason Falls, who once had a post “go Blanchard” on his Social Media Explorer site. “I think all my clients will want to employ these targeted metrics, which are perfectly suited to describe whatever it is we’re trying to make happen. We’ll get people used to some CH-sized returns, then go straight for the big bucks with a double-Brogan campaign!”

Known for delivering consistent Nutella results for her many clients, social media guru Kris Colvin was ecstatic at the release of the new BS scale. “Olivier let me work with a beta version, and except for some spurious Kaws and a couple of transient Chihuahuas, I was able to provide some very soft calculations to my clients on the preliminary possible projected impact of their social media endeavors, right down to the nearest glop or two. Brilliant! I still think there should be a “Colvin“, however, tied to YouTube views…”

Doing BS calculations can begin immediately after downloading the Blanchard Scale from the BrandBuilderROI website. You simply make up your own price and get right to work, which is good practice for utilization of the tool. Those who use the Scale for a week receive a free “I’m a Full-of-BS Social Media Guru” certificate, suitable for scanning and posting on a blog sidebar.

Apart from a 975-work blog post on the subject, Olivier was reticent to share much about his next endeavor, the Nutella Channel, created to spread recipes using the new blanchard cooking scale. It is rumored, however, that a new micro-measure, the “Gill“, will be introduced when the upcoming Book of Blanchard and new on-line video channel are unveiled.

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Prior StickyFigure spoofs

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Creating a Welcoming Climate

Over my 23+ years of business travel, I’ve seen a lot of airports. Most of them are quite forgettable (at best).

CLTAirportBut yesterday I was once again passing through the Charlotte, NC hub. And once again, I was struck by what a mood difference a nice “climate” can make.

Somebody paid serious attention to the user experience when that terminal was designed. From the wide hallways, to the airy ceilings, to the coordinated color schemes, and even down to the strategically placed rocking chairs, the place exudes – if not homeiness – then at least pleasantness.

The (numerous!) restaurants and shops are well-placed, in a central area as well as in the various terminal “arms.” There are plenty of moving walkways, but lots of space for traditional walking, with good use of plants and other visual diversions. The color blue is tied in everywhere, from lighting to signage, in a nicely-coordinated design.

When I fly through O’Hare, I just want to get through and get out. When I go to my home airport of Newark, my stomach roils in anticipation of the hassle. But in Charlotte, I don’t mind just sitting down for a spell and watching the world go by. It’s peaceful instead of janglingly claustrophobic.

I’m always glad to get home. But if I have to wander around the Charlotte Airport for an extra hour some day, I really won’t mind all that much. I feel…at ease there. They even have a decent BBQ place!

Most of us don’t have entire airports to design. But in ways large and small, we do create a climate, through our words, our tone of voice, our cheer, maybe even our physical surroundings. Do people want to come back after interacting with you or your business?

Where are places, and who are people, that create that kind of welcoming climate for you?? Share your thoughts in the comments!

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(Image credit)

Product: Winner. Name: Loser.

(fade in to Toshiba’s boardroom, where a product management meeting is taking place)

“Looks like we’ve just come up with the best netbook out there! Power, features, great user design – now all we have to do is name it and sell it!”

“I know! – let’s call it the PU-875-0988b!”

“Nah, I’ve always been inclined toward the UmmWillatriBBle 876. It just rolls off the tongue!”

“Wait – let’s call in our engineers! They always come up with the most imaginative names…”

NetbookAnd now, introducing the Toshiba NB205-N310. As reviewed here by the WSJ, a nice entry into the Netbook marketplace. Yet once again, horribly named by the What, me Worry? school of product branding. Sexy. Memorable. Gotta go out and tell all my friends about the NB205-N… NB2o M16… AB365… never mind.

When will these people learn???

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Progressive Publishing

This idea’s been brewing for about 5 years, ever since I spilled out some proto-ideas on a train ride with a pharma training professional (who has urged me to “follow the light” on this one – thanks, Susan!)

We all see how the new on-line/social networking tools have radically changed publishing. Here’s where I think it COULD lead:

Context: The bits and pieces

We used to see published materials as somewhat static: a daily newspaper, a monthly magazine, a completed book. There were authors, there were bloggers, there were journalists, there were speakers (with some overlap among them). Media came to us in various formats and from various scattered sources. Often these publications had with a short shelf-life (expired relevance) or a long shelf-life with little ability to update (books with second or third editions).

Current: Multi-channel and Evolved communications

Now, with blogging (especially), we see that people can publish immediately, iteratively, collaboratively, and build an audience over time. Some authors are launching blogs in conjunction with books, or, increasingly, using their blog to build a platform and audience which makes publication of a traditional book more successful. We’re living in a transitional period where “fixed” published media is becoming “mixed” published media, and the mix is getting richer (printed words, blogs, micro-blogs, pictures, videos, etc.) Chris Brogan‘s blog, speaking engagements, and upcoming “Trust Agents” book is a prime example of this approach, as is Greg Verdino‘s upcoming book.

Ahead: Progressive Publishing and Personal Subscriptions?

SubYouWhere is this heading? Here’s what I think. We’ll no longer think of blogs and books and YouTube channels as distinct and discrete entities. Let’s say you have been writing on a specific topic on a blog for years and there is traction there. Your blog pre-builds your audience, which is enhanced by a YouTube channel with brief videos, Twitter blurbs, etc. Then you decide to write a book, but here’s the deal: for the ($22.95) price your customers not only get a copy of hard-back book, they have access to a private network where you progressively share new, updated, and enhanced content – the publication is now a progressive process. Yes, there is free stuff out there to continue to hook new customers, but people are no longer buying a fixed entity (this edition of this book) – they’re buying progressive thought over time. Including, perhaps, the thoughts of others in the community built around the publication.

Information is moving too rapidly to remain in fixed formats. That’s why I think progressive publishing is inevitable.

What does evolve into further? Personal Subscriptions. Let’s say I think Chris Brogan (or Ann Handley, or Valeria Maltoni, or David Meerman Scott, or…) is worthy of being “followed” as one of my inner circle of advisors. I now pay to subscribe to that person (not just buy their product), and with enough subscriptions, that person is now free to crank out, progressively, a ton of great content and advice in multiple formats to their own growing community. Keep up the good work, the subscriptions continue and grow. Falter, and people vote with their dollars annually. The music industry may very well head in this direction as well.

None of these concepts is particularly new or earth-shattering – a lot of this is happening in various ways already. It just seems to me that it’s moving inexorably toward a different publication model, one that is person-centric rather than product-centric, one that is progressive rather than fixed or staccato.

Your thoughts? Would you pay to “subscribe” to key thought leaders? What new models of publishing do you see developing?

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Taking Two Steps Back

2stepssmMany times over the years, I’ve taken one step back to look things over, re-evaluate, re-think, re-direct.

We all do that regularly, usually focusing on one or two things. Because we get in ruts, or find that something that was once working no longer seems to be effective. Maybe a tall or grande tweak is needed.

Of late, I’ve had a growing sense that it was time to take 2 steps back. Some venti-sized re-evaluation of lots of things.

The curse of being analytical and natively introspective. Oh, well…

I’ve been on my own as an entrepreneur for three years now, building a consulting business and getting increasingly immersed in social networking. I see these on-line approaches as a primary way to grow business opportunities in the future, for me, my clients, and others in my network.

But now it’s time to step back from it all and look at the whole landscape. How are the pieces fitting together? What is providing value on the blogs and on Twitter – what can be improved or re-directed? What is creating business, and what isn’t? What is helping me to grow better as a person – or, what is not?

eyechartBy and large, I think I’m on the right track, but sometimes, in the day-to-day rut, a clear vision gets blurred. Today, I have a long-overdue eye doctor appointment, a vision checkup. But this month will, hopefully, be a much larger “checkup” to try to sharpen the focus on more than just my physical sight!

Can you help? Actually, yes. One of the most valuable things I’ve ever done is connect up with so many of you, both on-line and (in many cases now) off-line. Some of you probably have a pretty darned good idea of where I’m adding value, and where perhaps I can be more effective. Feel free to give me your thoughts in the comments, or if you prefer, via e-mail (stevew at stickyfigure dot com). I’ve been around the block enough to know that I definitely don’t have all the answers, and that there is great wisdom in a broader community.

Yes, I’m still writing/working/networking during this process. But behind the scenes, I’m trying to get a better read on the eye chart. Any help you can provide is most appreciated!

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