Archive for the ‘Commerce’ Category

The Wisdom of Clients

Tuesday, January 22nd, 2013
The Wisdom of Clients

I’ve developed some of my best ideas about social marketing after talking with clients who think they don’t know much about the discipline. These self-described novices are not only modest; they’re plugged into their company in ways no agency can replicate. So when they talk, it pays to listen.

This week, while writing a social media strategy and guidelines for a financial services firm, I decided to listen to the real experts. With some additions of my own, this is what they recommend. When taking a leap into social marketing, consider these key areas as part of your organization’s social marketing strategy:

  1. Goals. Link social media strategy (as well as the overall marketing strategy) to the organization’s business goals. That move will provide alignment, consistent messaging and the opportunity to demonstrate ROI to senior management.
  2. Content. Use social media for expert-source positioning and customer engagement rather than product promotion.
  3. Distribution. Assign content to the appropriate network. Channel industry trends to Twitter and LinkedIn, community and social items to Facebook.
  4. Measurement. Apply the Pareto principle to measurement. Devote 80% of your resources to content creation and curation, 20% to measurement and reporting.

Clients new to online networks are the first to admit they don’t have the resources or expertise to develop social media plans. All the more reason to use the same process of engagement with them that we use with their audiences.

crowdsourcing X

Flattening the Learning Curve

Tuesday, January 15th, 2013
Flattening the Learning Curve

If your New Year’s resolution includes learning something new, Sal Khan has a lesson for you. And it’s free.

An indefatigable educator with three degrees from MIT and a Harvard MBA, Khan has built an online learning library of 3,600 videos on topics ranging from medieval history to hypertension to mortgage rates. He narrates and illustrates many of the 10-to-15-minute clips in an easy-going but passionate manner. The Khan Academy offers interactive knowledge maps and dynamic exercises as well.

Khan says the success of the program hinges on the way the lessons are taught. “The lectures are coming from me, an actual human being who is fascinated by the world around him.”

The world has noticed. More than 41 million people learned from Khan Academy video tutorials last year. One of them was Bill Gates, whose Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, along with Google, has donated a combined $7.5 million to the nonprofit.

Khan’s resolution for the New Year? “We’re reaching over five million students now a month, and our big push is to find ways to make the video lessons more interactive,” Khan told The Rotarian magazine.” That includes having questions show up during the course of the video, like ‘How would you add fractions?’ to get the students really invested, or ‘What would you do as the next step?’ before showing them the right answer. Then there’s our community push – we’re developing software to get the students to help one another, quickly and effectively.”

Now there’s a resolution worth keeping.

Ghosts in the Machine

Wednesday, December 26th, 2012
Ghosts in the Machine

This holiday season, get ready for the blitz. We’re not talking football. We’re talking tech.

The National Retail Federation is projecting 2012 holiday sales will rise 4.1% from 2011 levels. A good portion of that will go to consumer electronics. Researchers at Booz & Co. expect a 4% rise in consumer purchases of downloadable gifts such as digital music, movies and books.

The shopping season is already off to a fast start. Amazon reported Thanksgiving holiday sales of its Kindle e-reader products doubled over the same time last year. And Apple alone may soak up a lot of holiday spending. Writing at forbes.com, Chuck Jones predicts sales of updated iPads and iPad minis should boost the company’s December quarter revenues by 19% year over year.

Sales enabled by technology continue to rise. Online retailers predict a record $43.4 billion in holiday sales this season as shoppers increasingly rely on social networks and mobile devices, according to Bloomberg. It estimates Internet sales will grow 17 percent over last year, or more than 10 percent of U.S. retail spending, excluding gas, food and cars.

What does that mean for those of us looking for gifts this Hanukkah and Christmas? Besides the usual smartphones, video games and big-screen TVs, expect to see a lot of so-called labor-saving devices.

Amazon is selling a wireless child locator shaped like a Teddy bear for $28.99. For the man cave, Sharper Image is promoting a Pac Man Arcade Machine for $2,999, with free shipping. And for people who like to drink, Bed Bath & Beyond offers a carbonator that turns water into soda for $129.99 and a cordless wine bottle opener for $29.99. Too bad they can’t turn water into wine. It would fit with the birthday celebration.

If all this strikes you as commercialized corruption of the holiday, you’re not alone. Charles Schultz expressed the sentiment 47 years ago with “A Charlie Brown Christmas.” As for the rest of us, some will light candles. Some will assemble the crèche and head to church. Others will give quiet thanks for good friends, family and health, realizing that in this holiday season, gratitude is one of the greatest gifts of all.

The Pause that Refreshes

Wednesday, December 12th, 2012
The Pause that Refreshes

My uncle and I were visiting the restroom during a showing at the old Eric Theater in Allentown, Pennsylvania. I didn’t want to miss the good parts of the movie but Uncle Max had other priorities. Leaning into the urinal, he heaved a huge sigh and exclaimed, “Ah, the pause that refreshes.”

As a kid I didn’t get the reference to the Coca-Cola slogan but I could tell he felt relieved. His point has become all the more poignant as age has inflated everything in our lives, from prices to prostates. Sometimes it makes liquids and films incompatible.

That’s why I was intrigued to discover RunPee.com, a website and app that suggest the optimum time to pause for a bio break during a movie. Take the most recent James Bond film, “Skyfall.” At minute 63 Bond raises his drink in a salute to the bodyguards. Here’s what RunPee advises: “You will have five minutes to pee while . . . cut to Bond and the three bodyguards fighting. It’s a really poor fight scene. Bond and one of the bodyguards end up in the Komodo Dragon pit.”

There’s more plot summary so you don’t feel left out of Monday morning water cooler conversation, after visiting the pit, slit trench, latrine or (if you’re Canadian) kaibo of your choice.

Here’s how it works. Download the app to your smartphone. Select the movie you are about to watch. After the credits end, start the timer. Your phone will vibrate before each suggested break in the movie. You can then run to the bathroom while reading what’s happening back in the theater.

The app is available for Android, Apple and Windows 7 operating systems. Or you can see runtimes and read reviews on the website.

Here’s why the app was invented. Dan Florio was watching the remake of “King Kong” around Christmas of 2005. The movie was about 3 hours long. “By the end of the movie I desperately needed to pee,” he said. “Like so badly I couldn’t enjoy the movie. But I wasn’t about to leave the theater before it was over.”

Those of you who’ve seen the movie know Dan could have sneaked out for dinner and another film and not missed much. But diligent movie buff that he is, he devised a cutting-edge solution with low-tech research. His family views each “wide release” movie on opening day. They watch for 3-5-minute spans where “nothing really exciting, or funny, or important happens” and leak the plot results.

You’re now free to roam about the water closet. Just don’t drop the phone.

Take Five, Dave

Thursday, December 6th, 2012

A tribute to nostalgia

Wednesday, December 5th, 2012
A tribute to nostalgia

My boss and I saw the Dark Star Orchestra channel the Grateful Dead the other night. He’d seen a Pink Floyd tribute band earlier in the year with his brother-in-law, who racks up 20 or 30 such concerts a year.

My wife and I had just attended a concert by the three remaining members of the Moody Blues. In the summer we’d watched Ringo wow the audience at Woodstock and, before that, seen a smattering of old-timers try to resurrect icons of the 1960s—the Yardbirds, Zombies and the Spencer Davis Group.

Now we’re looking forward to the upcoming season. Several legends of pop are scheduled to appear this winter at the Van Wezel Center, including Paul Anka, the Fifth Dimension, the Beach Boys, the Temptations with the Four Tops and Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons. And across the country, the Rolling Stones will have no sympathy for the devil or aging critics as they hit the road to commemorate 50 years in show business.

Once upon a time, white-haired musicians were the province of symphony orchestras. No longer. Watching 60- and 70-year-olds bounce across the stage is both jarring and inspiring. Questions like “How did we get so old?” mix with statements like “I can’t believe he can still hit the high notes,” let alone spend an eternity on a tour bus, bring energy to songs older than most audience members and stay up past 11 on a weeknight.

Sometimes there are so few original musicians in the bands of that era that the reincarnations seem like the original tribute bands. At times the copycats sound better than the originals. But most of the time we rejoice in the music and give thanks to the musicians who brave the road to bring us a glimpse of a time when we were young and moderately hip. They keep on truckin’ so we can keep on hoping. It’s an example all of us can appreciate.

Jerry Garcia’s dead. Long live Jerry Garcia.

Zig Ziglar will now see you at the top

Thursday, November 29th, 2012
Zig Ziglar will now see you at the top

After Garrison Keillor, he was America’s storyteller.

Zig Ziglar died yesterday at the age of 86. Over a bowl of spaghetti in his hotel room, the dean of motivational speakers shared his wisdom with me in this interview.

Jumping off the fiscal cliff

Tuesday, November 27th, 2012
Jumping off the fiscal cliff

What’s the best way to position your portfolio so it doesn’t fall off the fiscal cliff? Try doing nothing.

That’s not what you’ll hear in the media, or from some securities firms. Fidelity recommends real estate investment trusts that specialize in healthcare. Seeking Alpha says investors should reduce exposure to U.S. industrials while overweighting global technology. Bond manager PIMCO sees “fiscal contraction without fiscal catastrophe” and an opportunity to sell long-term Treasuries in preparation for inevitable inflation.

Our friends in Venice, Kelly Caldwell and company of Caldwell Trust, say they are creating a defensive posture in client accounts by emphasizing less cyclical investments while keeping equity exposure at current levels. And one writer for the Wall Street Journal cautions about harvesting profits ahead of an almost-certain rise in the capital gains tax rate, advocating a focus on prepaying expenses such as tuition and state taxes.

At Vanguard, the cost-sensitive mutual fund company believes investors should take a wait-and-see approach to portfolio allocation. Rather than anticipating tax rates, you might:

  • Make sure any tax-related decisions are truly in line with your long-term financial goals. A question to ask: are you choosing to recognize capital gains this year because it’s a good move for your portfolio or because you’re speculating that rates are headed higher?
  • Keep taxes in mind throughout the year, not just at the end. That gives you plenty of time to evaluate your situation and make necessary changes.

To that advice I would add a third point, one that Vanguard has championed for years and is echoed by several writers at the Journal: when it comes to your portfolio, think about strategic rather than tactical asset allocation. Year-end shuffling in anticipation of possible rate hikes is a form of short-term trading, one that’s subject to the views and emotions of the moment. Those will change. Your long-term goals probably won’t. Allocate for that.

Then turn off the news.

Getting smart about smartphone safety

Wednesday, November 21st, 2012
Getting smart about smartphone safety

Four in 10 smartphone users in the United States will click on an unsafe link on a mobile device this year, according to a new report by Lookout, a smartphone security firm. That figure will only continue to grow as the number of smartphone and tablet owners in the world hits a billion over the next few years, according to Forrester Research.

Unsafe links include those that download viruses, malware and spyware onto a user’s mobile device—the usual culprits most people have heard about. Lookout flags several more insidious methods used by hackers that are spreading from Eastern Europe and Russia, including attempts to tamper with legitimate mobile tools and advertising systems. “Five percent of free Android mobile applications contain one or more aggressive ad networks, which can access personal information or display confusing ads,” it says in the State of Mobile Security 2012. “In addition, a number of high-profile iOS applications raised red flags about privacy issues this year.”

Aggressive ad networks often push out-of-app ads, change browser settings and accessing personally identifiable information without suitable notification or transparency.

What can mobile users do to protect themselves? Several things, some physical, some virtual.

  • Set a password on your mobile device so that if it is lost or stolen, your data is more difficult to access.
  • Only download apps from trusted sources.
  • Beware of pirated apps that were once sold and now appear to be free.
  • Once you’ve clicked a link, pay attention to the address to ensure it matches the website it claims to be.
  • Check your phone for unexpected activity such as unusual text messages or suddenly decreased battery life.
  • Check your phone bill for unexpected charges.
  • Download and install firmware updates as soon as they are available.

The cause that refreshes

Tuesday, November 13th, 2012
The cause that refreshes

Has branded journalism come of age?

Long considered promotional by traditional journalists, branded journalism is gaining credence as consumers looking for news that reflects their personal interests.

The discipline scored a big victory last month when the New York Times covered the reinvention of Coca-Cola’s website as an online magazine. The site offers articles on entertainment and the environment as well as company-centric news and features on corporate social responsibility. While content comes with a point of view, Coke says it wants to serve as a credible source of information. As with any of these sites, the key for journalists and consumers alike will be full disclosure of those commercial and political relationships.

Given the greater credibility readers grant editorial over advertising, marketers have promoted branded journalism for years. Several agencies, such as VSA Partners in Chicago, not only provide the service for clients but coach others in best practices.

I have long advocated for content marketing as a way to engage audiences in a compelling way, going back a decade to my first book, The Spirit of Swiftwater, a history of not only the corporation that has become Sanofi Pasteur but the vaccine pioneers who made it a success. I’ve continued working in that discipline for the past eight years as principal writer for Mack Trucks’ Bulldog magazine, one of the oldest corporate publications in the nation.

There are two things I like about corporate journalism. It allows us to reach the essence of all news by creating a story about the people who benefit from the brand, whether that’s a commercial of philanthropic interest. And when done properly, the discipline requires the transparency of traditional journalism, with its bedrock insistence on accuracy of fact and tone.

That doesn’t always fly with senior management but it’s something practitioners owe to readers. By meeting that mandate, we can help organizations tell their stories in ways that even journalists can accept.

For marketers, that’s refreshing news, indeed.