Archive for March, 2008

What’s the Right Name for Non-Cyberspace?

March 31, 2008

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I hear two terms consistently for non-cyberspace: ‘real life’ and ‘meatspace’.

The first (often abbreviated as IRL or ‘in real life’) elevates the non-cybersphere. I’m not sure that’s the right way to think of it. All we’re talking about here is electronic communication, whether by text, voice, video or animated avatar. No one would say “I talked to my sister in Houston the other day but that was on the phone, not in real life.” Stephen Hawking has no communication that doesn’t go through a computer, but he’s had a huge impact on real life.

Two friends advocated for IRL the other day. They’re both in the technology industry but neither of them interact much online with people they don’t know offline. To be fair, the conversation was started by news about a mutual acquaintance whose marriage broke up over a sordid Second Life tryst. But Twitter/blogging/Web 2.0 are nothing like Second Life and don’t seem to involve nearly as much misrepresentation (other than the blogstar delusion). I know the people involved and gently suggest that they get a first life.

I think ‘meatspace’ is a reaction to the elevation of the offline sphere implied by IRL. I find it a bit funny. Enough people find it offensive that I’ll stop using it. Interestingly, the friends with whom I was talking with interpreted it as ‘meetspace’, as in ‘the space where you meet the people you’ve been flirting with online’.

Both spaces have much to recommend them. So what should we call this place where we interact meaningfully in bodies of flesh and blood? And what should we call this other place where we interact meaningfully unbounded by geography?

Thanks to http://www.futureofthebook.org for the cartoon

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Is There a Local Web?

March 31, 2008

I was intrigued by CenterNetworks’ reference to a Telegraph article on The UK’s Top 101 Most Useful Websites. A cursory non-scientific scan shows that maybe 17 of the 101 are UK-specific. The rest are equally useful on this side of the pond and elsewhere in the world (those Brits are fond of a site named ‘Google’, for example).

It’s not just a matter of the domain being a .com vs a .co.uk. Babycenter.co.uk differs very little from Babycenter.com, for example. And there are many US consumers of BBC content.

Sometimes location matters on the Web (craigslist), often it doesn’t (imdb.com).  Many sites live in-between those poles. If I’m using Google to find information about neck pain, location matters little. When I search for a physician to treat my neck pain, it becomes very important. I long for a search engine smart enough to know the difference.

Many have noted the difficulty of finding good local information on the Web. (Angie’s List has found a sweet niche filling that gap). As a bricks-and-mortar small business you can use this as competitive advantage. I know a veterinarian who has completely ditched his Yellow Pages listing in favor of search advertising.

The Secret Sandwich Order Handshake

March 25, 2008

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Which Wich
has become the place to go for the Hoover’s lunch crowd. I finally ‘got it’ when I went in person the other day.

The secret is the order process. (Which Wich aficionados can skip this paragraph.) You pick a bag with one of ten sandwich categories on it (chicken, seafood, classic, etc) and mark checkboxes on the bag to customize your order. You then hand that bag to the cashier, where it’s put up on a wire that’s used to steer your order through the sandwich process. Experienced patrons write their name on the back of the bag to track their order through the workstream to completion.

I’ve already taken a ‘newbie’ back to show off my mastery of the Secret Sandwich Order Handshake. There’s something compelling about having to know a little secret in order to use a product.

The secret handshake creates Participation, the 5th P of Marketing (not a new thing, and not restricted to online arenas). Like software Easter eggs, a poorly kept secret is a great technique to take a sandwich shop from good to viral.

Partner Marketing Partner

March 24, 2008

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I’m declaring a moratorium on the word ‘partner.’

It was a useful word in the Old West, I’m told. But these days it requires immediate clarification. My wife referred to her accountant’s ‘partner’ today. I had to ask: life partner? Business partner?

That makes the word ‘partner’ as useful as referring to someone’s ‘animal’. “What kind of animal? Why not just say ‘dog’ from the start?

In business it’s common to get cold-called by someone who wants to partner with your company. There are affiliate deals, revshares, all kinds of things that add up to a few possible scenarios:

  • I want to distribute your product to customers you might not otherwise reach
  • I want you to distribute my product to customers I might not otherwise reach
  • I want to share or trade leads with you
  • I want to sell you stuff
  • I want to buy your stuff but want a discount or special terms

I’m fine with any of those. What I’m not fine with is the conversational inefficiency of having to ask “what kind of animal?” or “partner in what fashion?”

The highest-value partners I’ve been involved with have been able to explain the business model and the benefits succinctly. (Perhaps a Twitter Business Partnership Contest is in order). There’s a good taxonomy of possible partnership types in this book.

When someone says they want to ‘partner’ but can’t quickly explain what they mean…it’s a safe bet that the ‘animal’ is a dog.

The Marketing Blog Ouroboros and JetBlue

March 21, 2008

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An entry in the Ouroboros world of blogging: Tim and I have an over-the-cube conversation. He blogs about it, I comment on it, I have another thought and blog it. Postmodern communication swallows its own tail and spins at an ever-increasing rate.

  • Pre-history: 15 people are famous
  • Past: everyone is famous for 15 minutes
  • Yesterday: everyone is famous to 15 people
  • As I start this post: Tim and I are famous to each other
  • Before the end of this post: I will link to myself

Is it any wonder Rohit calls out something called The Blogstar Delusion? Great post, pretty humble for a guy whose blog is called the ‘Influential Marketing Blog.’ (‘The Non-Influential Uninteresting Marketing Blog Which Nobody Reads‘ isn’t as snappy a title. And for what it’s worth I’m not punking Rohit out here; he’s well worth reading, genuinely influential, and genuinely humble).

Side thought: it’s funny that we call a high achiever in any arena a ‘star.’ There are billions of stars and the majority are very dim.

The thought that started this, what I wish I’d said over the cube:

  • Use ‘Best Practices Imitation’ when the competition has set a benchmark in a commodity element of your product or service (turning planes as fast as possible)
  • Use ‘New Practices Innovation’ when you can deliver a better non-commodity element of your product or service then your competition (customer experience in coach)

Marketing Data vs Real Numbers

March 18, 2008

Kee Hinckley’s recent Technosocial post on the Zuckerberg/Lacy interview drew a comment that I found interesting – essentially that the analysis doesn’t fully explain what happened. That immediately hyperlinked in my mind to a recent LinkedIn question on the difference between marketing research and scientific research. There seems be confusion about when one knows something conclusively vs when one knows something well enough to take an action.

At Dell we had high transactional sales volume. We could put something up on the site in the morning and have enough units sold by noon that we’d have an analysis completed by 2pm. At Sabre we had millions of booking and ticketing transactions per month to analyze. With such a wealth of data, decision-making should be easy.

A funny thing happened to that Dell analysis by 3pm, though. Between the analysis and the decision, someone would start second-guessing. “OK, we have LOTS of transactions there…but it’s Tuesday. Aren’t Tuesdays different? And we only have morning numbers, evening behavior might be different. How many sigmas are we significant to? Nice job, guys, but do we really know enough to make a decision? Maybe we should wait.”

Your question, Mr. Middle Manager, needs rephrasing: “Do we really know enough to make a decision without risking a mistake that might make me look bad?” If you don’t act, you can’t be blamed for making the wrong decision.

For the record Dell didn’t suffer from analysis paralysis while I was there. Decisions got made quickly and reversed quickly when wrong. We understood Jeffrey Fox’s point from How to Become CEO about revocable vs irrevocable decisions. At Sabre we weren’t so good with the quick decisions, leading me to hypothesize that willingness to risk a decision was not tied to transaction volume but rather to 1) length of sales cycle, 2) size of customer base, and 3) transactional vs relationship sales model.  (No, I don’t have enough data to prove that assertion, nor do I care).

Business isn’t rocket science, and most business decisions aren’t like launching nuclear missiles. Make decisions boldly and adjust quickly. You’ll be making money and winning customers while competitors delay launching products to ensure that no one can be blamed for leaving money on the table.

Two Cents Worth Ten Years Later

March 14, 2008

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Ten years ago there was a $0.02 postage hike. It happens. You go to the post office for $0.02 stamps so you can use up the rest of your pre-hike stamp inventory. It’s a small pain.

Ten years ago Amazon.com sent me a sheet of $0.02 stamps. There was a note saying “we wanted to do something nice for you, we didn’t know what you needed or wanted, but we thought these would come in handy.”

Ten years ago and I still talk about it. I start to tell the story. People say “There he goes with the stamps again.”

Ten years of word of mouth. Two-cent stamps. It wouldn’t have worked if it weren’t a surprise. Ambush your customers with love.

Right Pitch, Wrong Customer

March 13, 2008

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We stopped into a new coffeeshop in Pflugerville with the kids over the weekend. Tables were full, we sat at a counter. Electrical sockets were built into the countertops. We had two entirely different experiences.

The wi-fi warrior thought: “Thank you for making it easy to work here! I will be back!”

The mom thought: “Why would you put an electrical socket right in the spill zone of my four-year-old and my baby? Are you crazy? I will NOT be back!”

The exact same stimulus becomes a different experience for each customer. If you don’t know your customer, you can’t grok their experience.

Update: I deleted a paragraph including a recommendation on a child-safe outlet cover for the coffeeshop because I wanted to keep the focus on the principle. Reviewing blog traffic, I found someone had clicked on that link.

You’re the customer. If the practical advice on the outlet cover is important to you, it’s here.

David Vinjamuri’s ‘Accidental Branding’ Profiles Purposeful Entrepreneurs

March 11, 2008

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I’ve been mulling over a few chapters of David Vinjamuri‘s upcoming book ‘Accidental Branding‘. Very worth reading. What jumps out is a common lesson: so much of what they taught me in business school is wrong or incomplete. There’s not a business listed that wouldn’t get shot down by the peanut gallery in an entrepreneurship class.

Vinjamuri covers entrepreneurs ranging from J. Peterman to Craig Newmark (yep, the Craig with the List). ‘Be your own customer’ is one of the key common threads identified. Each entrepreneur profiled created a product based on a focus group of one: What product would I use? What would provide value to me as a customer?

As marketers we struggle with questions of what our customers really want. By being your own customer you handily avoid that problem. I recall a b-school entrepreneurship class that roundly ridiculed an entrepreneur named David Thibodeaux for creating a line of gourmet peanut butter based on his own taste. No market research, no market sizing, just a vision that there was something better than Jif out there.

Of course, another characteristic of accidental brands is that they take a long time (10-20 years to hit $20MM) to build. If you’re looking for a quick cashout, that could be a deterrent. But if you really love peanut butter, 10-20 years can fly by.

What do you love enough to do for 10-20 years? The brands may have been built accidentally, but the choices these entrepreneurs make are both personal and purposeful.

Vicarious SXSWi

March 11, 2008

It’s been great following SXSWi via Twitter this year. I feel like I was there.

Why wasn’t I there?

Work commitments and a sick 8-month-old. I know it’s worth going – in a past musical incarnation I participated as a showcase artist several years and found the networking priceless. (Yes, the Egghead has a checkered past, and no, I won’t post links – that was long enough ago that not much of it is Googleable. MP3s on request).

If you went I hope you enjoyed your time in the small suburb south of Pflugerville, TX. I’d love to know your impressions, feel free to comment. Thank you for Twittering, I got a great deal out of it. The blow-by-blow of the Zuckerberg/Lacy rumble was priceless. And TWalk makes me want to be employee #11 at 37signals.