Archive for October, 2009


Words of wisdom

cover[1]sn7926[1]Two of my favorite business books are Blue Ocean Strategy and Groundswell. The first is my recommendation for best book on opening up new markets and the second is the definitive primer on how social media and online communities work to build business.

Taken together, they are a roadmap for brand vitality where the highway is a well crafted business strategy.

In Blue Ocean Strategy, W. Chan Kim and Renee Mauborgne advise companies to stop competing in the bloody, market share stealing “red ocean” and find uncontested market space in the “blue ocean.”  Like Cirque du Soleil.  They eliminated  costly to maintain circus animals, marque names and expensive arena rentals and created their own portable show; one that was fun, family entertainment in the consideration set with dinner and a movie or a night out; instead of a once a year major event.

Recently, I gave a friend a copy to help him rise above his red ocean.  He owned a bike store in town.  For over 20 years, his shop was known for superior service and customer involvement.  This year bike sales slowed, competitors cut prices and his landlord raised his rent forcing him to close up shop.

He saw uncontested space going direct to customers with two well-branded vans.  This took advantage of the reputation he built for personal service.  He generated more awareness from referrals and vans travelling around towns than a stationery store and his operating cost dropped.  Now, he’s back in the black with a reinvented business.

Groundswell by Forrester analysts Charlene Li and Josh Bernoff explains the effectiveness of everything social from wikis, blogs, social networks to brand communities.  They present compelling case studies; all beginning with a company’s unmet business need, social media tactics that meet the business objective and return on investment is well detailed.

Take Blendtec blenders.  They’ve sold exclusively to the commercial market since 1978.  Starbucks uses them.  In 2007, they decided to sell to consumers directly with videos from owner, Tom Dickson.  With an investment of less than $1,000 for videos that ran on YouTube, company sales increased +500%…plus the cost of an iPhone.


Men are from Mars and women are all over social media

200334500-001If the differences between men and women are widely acknowledged in best selling books, why do social networks still talk with a unisex voice?

It’s already well known that women make 85% of the buying decisions in this country but did you know:

  • 65% of people using social media are women
  • 60% are boomer women
  • 55+ is the fastest growing segment on Facebook
  • 52% of searches women do are for someone else
  • 85% are looking for an independent review by another woman

The numbers get even higher on the subject of health care where virtually all health care buying decisions are made by women, not just for themselves and their families but as caregivers to parents, relatives and extended family.

I work with a woman named Kelley Connors who is doing something about it.  Kelley started an online community called Real Women on Health (on my blogroll), a place for Baby Boomer women featuring candid conversations and expert commentary about health and wellness.  Kelley has shown me study after study where women who talk with other women about the same health interests or conditions actually have better health outcomes.

As a testament to women sharing their collective wisdom in social media, in just a couple of months, Kelley has built a multi-channel social network of over 5000 members on her community web-site, blog-talk radio show, Facebook Fan Page, Twitter and LinkedIn accounts and received a content sponsorship grant from the National Women’s Health Resource Center, the largest clearing house for women’s health care information.  When linked to her content partners, Kelley’s reach is in the 100,000’s.

Kelley is using Real Women on Health for moderated conversations with health advocates and the messaging, sampling and sales of health and wellness products and services that can benefit this high value group and the network they influence.  What I like most about  Kelley’s approach is her ability to listen to her constituents and ask questions like “what are the health topics you’re most passionate about?”  These serve as a roadmap for future development more than a business plan and keep new and existing users coming back to hear what she has to say.

Kelley’s listening skills are important because women don’t feel listened to by:

  • 59% of food marketers
  • 66% in health care
  • 77% in automotive
  • 84% in investing

According to the Harvard Business Review, their primary sentiment with health care marketers is frustration.

If you don’t believe me,  just ask the woman up top.



83408236[2]On our property in Connecticut, I build cairns; one is on the right.

Cairns is a Gaelic word that means what it is – mound of rocks.  As long as man has been on the planet, people have put up cairns for aesthetic or religious reasons or as landmarks and guide posts.  The first time I saw one, I didn’t know the term or any of the history.

It made me stop and wonder.  How could someone put something as heavy and irregular as rocks in balance so they stand like a sentry doing a yoga pose? 

Since there was no shortage of rocks in Connecticut, I saw no reason not to try this for myself.  We have eight cairns on our property now.  At first, they didn’t stay up long.  Then, it was a couple of weeks before they toppled over.  Now, they’ve stood for years even through heavy wind and ice storms that brought down sizable tree limbs.

I don’t know anymore about the physics of cairns today than the day I started.  And no matter how many I build, there is always that moment of truth when the hope of a connection between the stones competes with the fear and frustration that the rocks won’t balance and it will all fall to the ground.  But I know now even if a heavy wind or a storm knocks them down, I’ll be able to put them back together so they stand stronger than before.

Maybe that’s a reason people have been building them for so long.


What came first, strategy or technology?

82770182[1]Imagine your product or service was the first chicken and you were bringing it to market using social media.  What would you pursue first, strategy or technology?

I only ask this question because my partner, Mike Rogers, and I spoke at the University of Connecticut last night on the topic, “Social Media and Your Business Strategy.”  It was a sell-out crowd due obviously to the timeliness of the topic, not the presenters.  It turned out to be a great event, but, right before beginning, we had our doubts.

For one thing, one of our sponsors said just before introducing us, “guys, I briefly looked at your presentation and didn’t see a slide on LinkedIn.  This audience is going to want to know about LinkedIn.”  As people were taking their seats, a women came to us with a concern, “I have too many people following me on Twitter.  I hope you’re going to tell me what to do about it.”  Another said, “I’m launching a new product in a month but I can’t get anyone from Yahoo and Facebook to call me back.  Will your talk tell me how to get through?”

I do understand these are important concerns and our talk discussed all these social technologies.  But it was with a point of view.  It was with case studies and examples, some our clients, who began the social journey with a clear business strategy and performance goals where the role and expectations of social media was defined.  With this foundation, the most relevant social networks naturally surfaced, strong tactical executions were created and business results often exceeding expectations occurred.

After the presentation, one business owner told us, “I’ve been to a number of these ‘how to’ social media seminar but, for the first time, I know how to monetize it.”

Seth Godin, who is my partner’s old boss, says “any sufficiently overheated industry will eventually resemble high school. High school is filled with insecurity, social-climbing, backbiting, high drama and not much content.  As in high school, the winners are the ones who don’t take it too seriously and understand what they’re trying to accomplish. ”

Below is our presentation.  Hope it’s of help with what you’re trying to accomplish.


A world famous Dinosaur

I visited my son at college in Rochester NY this weekend.  It was parents weekend.  The fall foliage through the Catskills and the Finger Lakes was at its peak and it was a great time.88764912[1]

We thought BBQ on Saturday night would be a good idea and fun.  So we asked some people who lived in the area, where should be go?  Over a half dozen people gave their opinion.  It was the same opinion, almost verbatim, every time. 

“The Dinosaur downtown.  It’s world famous.” 

The Dinosaur isn’t just the name of a restaurant with great barbeque.  It’s bigger than that.  Their product is in every Wegmans’ in town.  If there’s a community event where BBQ is the attraction, it will undoubtedly be put on by the Dinosaur.   When you go to the Dinosaur, the atmosphere is as much fun as the food.  There’s music, usually blues, and a great vibe.

Now I know Rochester NY isn’t Memphis and doesn’t offer the selection of a bigger city.  But I have to hand it to the Dinosaur.  Whether it is intentional or not, they proved to me that barbeque isn’t just a meal, it’s a customer experience.  And they own it at every touch point making it so no one else in town even comes close.

The reason I know is the Dinosaur isn’t cheap for BBQ and on Saturday night, when they don’t take reservations, the wait is two and a half hours if you’re lucky.

But when I asked the same six people if there was another place in town for BBQ, they all had the same answer, verbatim.



Demo what you do

200023762-001[2]You may know this story about a vacuum cleaner salesman.

A doorbell rings.  A woman goes to answer the door.  Before she can say, “What the hell is going on,” a man with a vacuum cleaner enters the house, throws dirt all over the floor, proudly announces “now, let me show you what the SPX375 from (manufacturer’s name) can do,” and proceeds to vacuum the floor leaving it spotless.

I’m not encouraging (or discouraging) this type of sales call but, if the story is familiar and you’ve read it through to the end, you’ve just proven the value of “demo what you do.”

My business is marketing solutions for companies using social media and proven relationship marketing principles.  Not as easy to demo as a vacuum cleaner but, fortunately, our programs are “proven” and there’s never a shortage of companies in need of solutions.  It’s the marketing part where, in this economy, budgets have been reduced, depleted or are “on hold” that is challenging.  So I’ve learned to demo what I do.

I give real life demonstrations on the internet (where most of our programs occur).  If I use power point, it’s always with an interactive component, video, or pictures instead of words to show rather than tell the audience what is going on.

For example, one of our more recent offerings is a Facebook Video App where a company uses an existing video like  a consumer testimonial, an interesting brand event or relevant news.  Through our proprietary technology, we close it at the end with up to three direct actions like learn more, sign up or buy now. 

Consumers can now share video (which generate +30% viewer involvement) with friends who share with their friends and take a direct action, including product purchase.  This puts word of mouth and content on the web, the 2 biggest purchase drivers, to work without having to pay a dime for advertising (which only 14% of people trust anyway).  And you get measurements in a dashboard to show it’s working.

People seem to like the idea and we have several demos from clients who find it is working.  We’ve find seeing is believing. 

It’s something I learned from my vacuum cleaner friend.


Think like a Hip-Hop producer

76006854[1]Yesterday, the New Music Seminar took place in Chicago.  It might not have come up on your radar screen but it came up on mine.  The seminar’s creator and producer, Tom Silverman, founder of Tommy Boy Records, is a friend from college.

The purpose of the event, which began in 1981, is to give new artists the knowledge and tools to succeed in the music business which, according to Tom, is in a period of profound change.  No longer do new artists need to focus their time, attention and energy on getting signed by a record label and the slim chance they will be funded and made into a star.  Today, record labels rarely take chances and digital technology, the internet and social media make it possible, sometimes even free, for artists to do it themselves.

This isn’t exactly a secret in music circles because the number of records from new artists has risen from 79,000 in 2007, to over 110,000 in 2008, to an estimated 145,000 in 2009 – almost 2X in 2 years.  Nevertheless, because tools are more readily available, if someone has 1000 loyal fans and tours throughout the year, they can now make a living doing what they love.  But Tom says the key to standing out and making it work is you got to know your fans.

Anyone who owns or manages a business, or is thinking of starting one, can benefit from what Tom has to say; especially if you thought you needed to focus time and attention on traditional media channels to get the word out on what you do better than anyone else.

How well do you know your 1000 most loyal fans?

October 2009
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