Archive for the 'Career' Category

Free Ice Cream and Five Other Truly Evil Marketing Tricks

January 12, 2011

Spoke at Refresh Austin last night about the evils of free ice cream, among other things. Great group of folks and spirited discussion on fighter brands, where marketers should draw the ethical line, and more. The presentation’s here. Thanks Refresh for the warm welcome and great conversations!

Yes, the presentation’s linked in a kludgey way instead of being elegantly embedded. Seems to be one of the drawbacks to being hosted on WordPress instead of on my own domain. So this is a fine time to announce that, as time permits, I’m migrating this blog over to http://www.russsomers.com. I’m doing so in part for technical reasons – the ability to embed video or slides, for example. I’m doing so in part for business reasons, as the migration makes for a better SEO and visibility play. And I’ll also make changes for thematic reasons. I’m a marketer, so marketing will continue to be a dominant theme. But I’d like the freedom to be a little more personal than ‘egghead marketing’ allows me to be. So look for a few changes in how the blog looks, what I call it, and the range of content.

Transparency is a Thimbleful of Water

October 30, 2010

When Jeffrey Eisenberg gave an inspiring and thought-provoking talk last Thursday at Innotech Austin, he talked about how transparency is no longer a choice for companies. Your information will be out there whether you like it or not due to the number of employees, customers and competitors using social media. Your choice, he said, is authenticity.

I agree with Jeffrey that the debate on transparency is over, but for different reasons and with a different conclusion. In my view transparency is not enough. It comes from a group of executives agreeing that transparency, in this modern world, is a good thing. They then decide what to be transparent about and set a timeline to disclose it. The marketing person (you or me) “crafts messaging.” Transparency is implemented as translucency – selective disclosure. It’s a wall of glass bricks where you can see that someone’s in the shower but can’t see what Monty Python calls “the naughty bits.”

Is transparency good? Sure. A man dying of thirst in the desert won’t turn down a thimbleful of water. But it’s nowhere near enough. Companies that talk about transparency are simply disclosing marginally more information than is required by law. Calling a thimbleful of water a sea change is asinine.

OK, what about Jeffrey’s concept of authenticity? Authenticity is about being who you are. That’s good, right?

Before we got busy with kiddos my wife and I indulged a passion for traveling in rural Mexico. I’m not talking about Cancun or Baja. Every single time we got as far off the beaten track as possible, visiting towns that were only accessible by train or on foot. We slept on rooftops and in homes in towns where there was no hotel because no one visited. I remember a conversation with a family about domestic animals. After we revealed that we had only a cat to our names, our hosts looked at us with pity, the way a social media addict looks at a person without a smartphone. They thought we were beyond dirt poor. So they welcomed us into the three-room house in which they, as people of means (with two pigs, many chickens, a goat and two cows) lived. I’m not mocking these generous people. On the contrary, they were fantastic hosts and taught us a lot. And the food was authentic.

At the grocery store I can buy Old El Paso salsa with the word “authentic” on the label. It does not taste the same. Sorry Jeffrey, but the word authenticity is too easily abused. Just like transparency. The more syllables a word has, the more easily it is twisted – that’s why MBAs and lawyers love their polysyllables. So where does that leave us?

It leaves us in search of a word so direct and real that to abuse it would be unthinkable. I suggest “honesty.” Be honest with your employees, customers, prospects and even competitors. Honesty doesn’t mean disclosing earnings and salaries when the SEC doesn’t require it (although some companies do).  Honesty means telling people the facts unless there’s a good reason you can’t tell them. And when you can’t, honesty demands that you don’t waffle. Instead, you say “I can’t tell you that and here’s why.” You can choose to keep information private in an honest way.

Admit to not being transparent and you admit to failing in the implementation of your communications strategy. Admit to being inauthentic and you admit to wearing a tie and sport coat when you’re more comfortable in jeans. Admit to not being honest and you acknowledge a major failing in your character. See the difference? You’ve moved up from the nickel slots of corporate communications to the high stakes poker game of integrity. Are you ready?

This is a huge challenge to marketers when our three favorite words are Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt. Are you ready to leave that behind? Can you?

After all, marketing has shifted from advertising to conversation. Want to end a conversation? Try not being honest. As soon as the other party figures it out, the conversation ends. Want to end a conversation with your spouse? Try “crafting messaging”, setting a timeline, and selectively disclosing information about something important, like what you’re spending money on. But be careful. You may end more than just a conversation that way.

Transparency is a timid step in the right direction. It’s pointing at the moon, not launching a rocket to go there. Authenticity is better but it’s too easily co-opted, messaged and massaged. Try honesty.

And if the three syllables in honesty give enough wiggle room to “craft messaging” rather than simply saying what is, then we’ll have to settle on one syllable. (I know you’re thinking by now that it’s “rant”, but it’s not.)

True.

Just be true.

Photo by michael.dreves

I’ve Been Giving You Bad Advice

July 12, 2010

After a conversation with a friend who’s recently made a great career move, I realized I’ve been giving bad advice for some time now. Not terrible advice,  just not as good as it could be. Based on a couple of career learnings (read “missteps”), I’ve always counseled people to “only get involved in a business where you can be passionate about the product.”

Seems reasonable enough, and seems to fit with my career learnings. But there’s something deeper that I figured out over coffee with my friend.

Whatever industry you’re in, products come and go. It’s hard to remain passionate about every version of every product you’re ever involved in marketing. And yet, the best marketers seem to do it. What’s their trick?

Turns out they give almost the same advice I do. Only, instead of “be passionate about the product”, they say “be passionate about the customer.” Big difference. Most businesses serve only a few types of customers. Think of a toy manufacturer – thousands of products, hard to care deeply about each one. But if you’re passionate about making children happy, taking each one of those products to market will be a delight.

Apologies if the advice I gave formerly damaged your career and landed you on skid row. But it still wasn’t bad advice. It’s just that my friend’s advice is better.

Photo by Bob Formal

Precision Words

March 7, 2010

Sometimes you’re asked to contribute marketing copy to a non-marketing deliverable. Maybe a login page.

Here are the fields to fill in, here’s the ‘submit’ button…over here on the right, let’s fill it out with a little marketing copy. You know, just something that makes the customer feel good about logging in. Fluffy, feel-good marketing stuff. That’s what you do, right?

You’re the only expert in that meeting who understands this: marketing copy is a tool. Not a filler. Words either deliver or dilute the message.

So don’t let yourself be sent off with that blank template to fill out until you’ve answered the key questions. What is the goal of this login page? Who’s logging into what? Why would they want to? Why do we want them to?

Then go craft the language as a precision tool that accomplishes the goal as surely as a Phillips screwdriver slides into the crossed grooves. Edit ruthlessly. Suddenly marketing goes from being the fluffiest part of the business to the most disciplined and demanding team in the house. Pretty cool, huh?

Thanks to @chilkari for pointing out that this applies to ALL writing, not just marketing copy

photo by saebaryo

Do you know who @I am?

September 9, 2009

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Everybody loves a good “social media lets @everyperson take down a corporate Goliath” story. I enjoyed seeing Dave Carroll take an indifferent United Airlines to task for breaking his guitar and quickly soar to over 5MM views and major media coverage. There are plenty of stories validating that a complaint aired on Twitter gets quick attention, and it was funny to see Horizon Realty’s cluelessness in attempting to respond to a ‘libelous’ tweet.

But there’s a dark side to social media’s ability to break down barriers. I was delighted that Heather B. Armstrong finally got her Maytag washing machine fixed. I don’t begrudge her tweeting about it, or even asking the customer service rep “do you know what Twitter is.” Because it sounds like she had a terrible experience and an awful day, and I’d probably have tweeted it too. So where’s the dark side?

Well, Heather (a.k.a. @Dooce)  has over a million followers on Twitter. As great as it is that anyone can tweet their dissatisfaction, “some animals are more equal than others”, to quote Orwell. With about 1K followers, I might or might not get as quick or satisfactory a response as she did. And I know plenty of folks with less than a hundred Twitter followers because they’re in it for reasons other than amassing followers. I’m not sure that this new stratification – based on social media-enabled connections rather than family connections, political clout, or good old-fashioned wealth – is better than old styles of stratification.

Recently a customer had an issue signing up for service at the company where I work, and he contacted us about it. When I saw that his title was “social media strategist”, I picked up the phone just a little more quickly than I might have otherwise. I felt exactly as I felt about giving extra attentive service to the local millionaire or celebrity back in my bartending days.

Anyone at the top of the new stratification may disagree and claim that they’ve earned their clout through hard work – and you can do the same, if you’re willing to work for it. There’s some truth to that nouveau riche-sounding claim, but I’m pretty sure most of us won’t equal Ashton Kutcher or even Heather Armstrong with any amount of effort. And so, quicker than we might like, social capital is in the hands of the social capitalists, and we get back to that old question “Do you know who I am?”

Anyone who’s ever felt privilege – even the temporary privilege of drinking for free because your band is hot at the moment – believes that they’ve earned it through their hard work, natural talent or smarts. Should I accept that the invisible hand is allocating whuffie as fairly as Adam Smith believed it allocated wealth? Am I just having an uncharacteristically negative evening? Am I  searching for the cloud in the social media silver lining? Am I simply envious? I’m not sure I’ll like the answers to those questions. But I’m hitting ‘Publish’ regardless.

Photo by irLordy

New Coat of Paint

June 15, 2009

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It struck me this morning how faded some retail businesses look right now. On a drive through South Austin I passed a Hollywood Video. The bright blue had faded beyond pastel. Like all the other businesses in the strip mall. Like the other strip malls I passed. They all blended together. Is this how we feel as a business community? Faded, battered and weathered?

In a down economy, improvements can wait. It makes financial sense.

But whoever bucks that trend will stand out. If I had a store in that strip mall right now I’d give it a fresh coat of paint. Bright and cheery. Everyone who drove past would notice my store and know that I don’t plan on closing my doors anytime soon. At the cost of a new coat of paint. There’s your ROI.

You make impressions on customers, prospects and bystanders every day. What message are you sending? Are you telling them that you’re white-knuckling it through the recession, hoping to be lifted by a rising tide before you hit the rocks? Or are you telling them that you’re optimistic and in it for the long haul?

You probably don’t run a Hollywood Video in a strip mall. But you’re in some kind of business. Tell me – what’s your version of a new coat of paint?

Photo by Mess of Pottage

Use Your Superpowers

April 11, 2009

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Are you using your superpowers wisely?

You could be gifted with numbers, or words, or both. You could be a natural at building deep relationships with people or able to charm a roomful immediately. Maybe you have a talent for breaking a problem into its components to find a logical solution. I have a friend who can look at a machine and instantly visualize its inner workings in 3-D.

You have superpowers. Maybe you have more than one. If you’re lucky, you’ve found a place in the working world that uses those talents.

But it’s not enough to simply use them. A gift for quick mental math is useful because most people lack it. It helps the minimum-wage worker at the hot dog stand make change. But (combined with a few other talents) it’s also useful for negotiating mergers & acquisitions in the millions or billions of dollars.

I’m not dissing the idea of using your superpowers to serve customers hot dogs. With 13 years of bartending experience (which was vital to financing my college education and subsequent MBA) I can’t afford to cop an attitude. And I believe that all work is inherently noble and inherently ennobling.  I’m just pointing out that the guidance counselor at high school might have advised Spiderman that his skills were perfect for window washing.

As you assess your career from time to time, I suggest that you ask two questions:

  • Does my current role use my superpowers? If not, are you consciously making a choice to play against strength for a time to learn new skills or offset weaknesses?
  • Does your role use your superpowers for their highest and best purposes? If not, is this role a step towards a role that makes better use of those superpowers?

Photo courtesy of Dulce Pinzon

No Guru, No Method, No Teacher

March 28, 2009

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My all-time favorite album title is ‘No Guru, No Method, No Teacher’ by Van Morrison. Forget that it’s brilliant music by a world-class artist. The title alone rocks.

I’ve been thinking about it lately as I’ve considered discussion around the title ‘social media guru.’ Brand Dialogue suggests that you view anyone bearing this title skeptically. Jeremiah Owyang thinks that the tide of the recession will sweep the beach clear of many self-proclaimed gurus -and that this will be a good thing.

Others clearly view it differently. I just ran across yet another Craigslist job listing where a company was looking for a ‘social media guru’. I see the title used frequently without irony on Twitter and in profiles, and I hear it used as a compliment. And many people have deep expertise in the field – I’m lucky enough to have worked with a few and know a few more.

My own take is that I don’t like the term for a couple reasons. From a Geoffrey Moore perspective, we’re nowhere near all the way through the adoption curve on social media. Everything that you know today will change very shortly as the late adopters and laggards from Moore’s classic model start showing up. (Yes, the book was written in 1991 – peg me as a dinosaur if you like, but it’s the best model of technology adoption I know). I’m seeing this more and more on Facebook. The changes they’ve made to their interface are minor compared to the changes happening in the community as more aunts, grandpas and non-technophiles start SuperPoking each other – and me.

More than that, though, I don’t like the term ‘guru’ – for any field of endeavor. Okay, maybe Jesus and Buddha and a few others have truly earned it. But I don’t like the term applied to me. Really. And it’s more than just my Midwestern modesty.

I’ve been called ‘guru’ in several roles – sometimes around data analysis, sometimes around pricing and packaging, sometimes around product launch. All areas in which I’m proud to have some expertise. But the folks that called me ‘guru’ in any of those roles were rarely the greatest collaborators on the team. More often than not they wanted transactional discipleship – to get my expertise applied to their project or deal and to move on. Which is fine. We all have roles on the team, and I behave no differently when I need signoff from Legal or Finance on something. Except I don’t call them ‘gurus’, because I’m not there to learn from them – I’m there, openly, to get their expertise applied and move on.

I’ve spent the past half hour rewriting the paragraph above and trying to make it not sound cranky. I may have failed at that. But Van Morrison is famous for his crankiness. And he urged us to accept no guru, no method, no teacher. Some of us know more than others. We can and should learn from them whenever possible. But there’s more unknown than known, and we all have a lot to learn from each other.

“You can’t stay the same. If you’re a musician and a singer, you have to change, that’s the way it works.” – Van Morrison

Photo by oddsock

When Common Sense is a Startling Revelation

March 14, 2009

This afternoon I took in Tony Hsieh’s keynote at the South by Southwest Interactive festival. The room was packed and expectations were high. Marketing and social media heavy hitters – CEOs, CMOs, and execs from other companies – faithfully tweeted each bit of wisdom Tony passed out. Not bad for a guy who started selling pizza and, these days, sells shoes. (Maybe you’ve heard of Zappos.com).

In all seriousness it was a great speech and one that I expect will send out ripples of change for a long time. Tony came across as genuine and likeable – and, more importantly, both wicked smart and strongly principled. I took away three very wise points:

  • Company culture and brand are flip sides of the same thing. They’re so serious about this they’ll pay new employees to quit – if a $1,000 bonus is motivation to quit, you’re probably not committed enough to be part of that great culture
  • Every customer interaction is a marketing opportunity. Don’t try to reduce cost by outsourcing telephone support; recognize that one-to-one interaction as the priceless marketing (NOT upselling) opportunity to delight a customer that it is. A simple corollary to this: a dollar spent delighting a customer is FAR more effective than a dollar spent promising to delight a customer
  • Happiness matters. Happy employees create happy customers. “People may not remember what you said or did, but they will always remember how you made them feel.”

He left me with a lot to think about. If you were there, you probably had the same reaction – if you weren’t, email tony@zappos.com and he’ll send you a copy of the presentation.

What’s happened to our business climate that any of this comes across as a startling revelation? Zappos has used some ingenious approaches. But the principles are things we should already know. They sound like wisdom from a small-town merchant who recognizes that he’ll be dealing with the same town for a lifetime, instead a a P.T. Barnum ready to pull up the stakes and move on to the next town full of suckers.

We know these things. Then we go on accepting a goal of reducing average call time by 10%.  Instead of surprising customers with free fast shipping, we surprise them with hidden shipping charges. Years ago, the person inside Dell who championed going down to 90-day phone support as the base level with any other level of support an upsell was treated as a hero. (This is not speculation, I was there).

None of this is intended to take anything away from Tony’s speech – it was what we needed to hear. But as you think about some of the takeways, ask yourself: didn’t we already know these principles? And why aren’t our businesses built to practice them? Do we lack knowledge of the right thing to do? Or do we simply lack the courage and empowerment to do the right thing?

Googleprint

March 4, 2009

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Googleprint: the tail of  information that anyone with Google can easily see about you. It’s a concept Seth and others often discuss.

Is it fair that it follows you through life? Probably not. As a parallel, more attractive people earn more money. That’s not fair, either. But it’s true. So I deal with it. I dress nicely for work and job interviews. And I keep a blog, a nice LinkedIn profile, and some other stuff to dress up my Googleprint. You can call it “personal branding” or you can just file it under common sense.

None of which are new ideas. But the word is.

Googleprint. I claim coinage.

Photo by Mrs Magic