Monthly Archives: January 2013

Content Worthy Of Your Brand

The biggest challenge I face producing the screed each and every weekday is not in the writing of it. Most of the time the words come pretty easily. The challenge is in finding topics that I think will both enlighten and entertain you guys. Some days it seems as if there’s plenty about which to write; other days I stare at the screen while sorting through hundreds of articles trying to think of something that meets my standard – hopefully yours as well.

Audience

(Photo credit: thinkmedialabs)

That challenge is shared by anyone who creates content: how to produce something that’s worthy of the audience‘s attention. How to produce something that satisfies the attention/value exchange on a fair basis. It’s a challenge that I think is met less and less often (and not just by me!) and let me explain how it might affect you on both ends of the equation.

I guess it’s obvious how it does on the consumer side.  None of us like to invest our time and attention and be served the content equivalent of one of the foams that have gone so out of style in the food world.  These foams are airy and sort of have a flavor but they fade quickly and are pretty unsatisfying.  My real concern is how it affects you on the other end – the business side.

Everyone had become a content-producer.  Companies that make remote controls or eyeglasses are suddenly making content as well.  Sometimes they hire people who once were copywriters but now are “branded content producers.”  Idiots who film their friends at parties are now “rich content generators”.  Kids who annoy their friends over social networks are hired as social media content specialists.  Everyone and every brand produces “content.”

The effect is that we’re all overwhelmed by a lot of crap that doesn’t serve the audience.  White papers that are just ads for a product.  PR releases disguised as microsites.  The answer to this is, I think, not to get caught up in it if you’re a brand.  If you are going to send something out into the world, make it as good as your product.  After all, you wouldn’t let something out of your door with your brand on it that was inferior.  Make it as smart as your audience and worthy not just of their attention but also of the audience with which you want them to share it.  Hire professionals to generate it on your behalf, not your nephew who can speak reasonably well.

Anyone can produce drivel (and no remarks about how this blog proves that point).  Great brands need to produce great content.  Right?

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The Death Of Honest Opinions?

Opinions are like certain body parts:  everybody has one.  What’s changed is that the option to express those opinions in a manner that makes them widely available is  now a routine part of business.  I was reminded of this the other day as I read a piece on the comment manipulation going on over the recent Michael Jackson biography.  It triggered a few thoughts about how those opinions can help or harm your business (pretty obvious, I know) but about the potential for something disturbing that seems to be happening more often.

Review By Galaxie Magazine

 (Photo credit: Q.Ce)

The book was not flattering to Mr. Jackson.  His fan base took umbrage and organized to destroy the book’s reputation on Amazon by leaving a lot of one-star reviews.  This, in turn, caused outrage among people who believe that the reviews ought to serve as honest unbiased guides for prospective buyers and not as forums for propaganda, either positive or negative.  They left a lot of five-star reviews to counterbalance the negative posts.  It’s fairly certain that most of the “reviewers” neither bought nor read the book.  One can suppose that in Amazon’s case they could do something to fix this by requiring anyone who leaves a review to have bought the book through Amazon.  They do, in fact, show “verified” purchasers within the review but you can’t screen them on that basis.  In any event, this raises a larger issue.

What is to prevent an organized gang from holding your brand hostage?  I can easily see a local business-owner getting a ransom note of sorts – pay us or we’ll destroy your reputation on Yelp and elsewhere.  I’m well aware that the reverse is also true – there are “reputation management” companies that will go online and post lots of nice things under fake names for a fee.  Maybe you’re not familiar with the term “astroturfing” but it’s the common practice in the political world of posting comments that are designed to hide the sponsor and appear as if they’re from a “civilian.”   Pretty deplorable but a fact of life at this point.

I don’t really have an answer here.  Comments on the screed are moderated so I can weed out the dozens of spam posts I get every week but that’s hard for big sites to do.  Forced identity verification can be circumvented as the aforementioned examples show.  If you’re using comments or reviews as a guide in your personal life you have to do the best you can to sniff out an agenda I guess.  As a business or brand I don’t know how you counteract an organized effort against you other than to be transparent when these things happen and to hope your voice can be heard.  Finally, if you’re a site that hosts this stuff, there is a certain amount of responsiblity on your shoulders to prevent the kind of organized activity we see in the Jackson case.  I’m a big believer in the first amendment and everyone’s right to voice an honest opinon.  However, what do we do when they’re neither honest nor an opinion but a scripted talking point advanced for money?

Thoughts?  Solutions?  Leave a comment (gulp).

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The Art Of Weaving

As I was on the treadmill this morning I listened to a great live show from the Rolling Stones. It was recorded in October of 1994 on their Voodoo Lounge tour and it reminded me about why The Stones are one of the greatest bands ever. It also reminded me of a few business points.

A big part of the band’s signature sound is the interplay between the two main guitar players.

The Rolling Stones live at BC Place in Vancouv...

Photo: Ryan W. Woodland. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Most bands have one player who is designated as the rhythm guitarist; the other one plays lead.  When you listen to The Dead or other bands with multiple guitar players you can usually name the lead guitarist.  While Bob Weir played the occasional solo, it’s pretty clear that Garcia was the lead.

Think about the Stones – who is the lead?  I don’t think there is one, because of what Keith Richards called “the fine art of weaving.”  That’s what he calls the blending of the two guitar parts into a seamless sound.  It’s hard to tell which is playing the lead part and which is carrying the rhythm, and the correct answer to that will often change throughout the song.  Which of course leads to the business points.

First, anyone who has ever heard the Stones’ sound can identify it immediately.  Isn’t that sort of solid identification something all brands seek?

Second – while each of the guitar players in the band – Ron Wood and Keith Richards – can handle lead guitar well enough to front a band (which each has done – Wood with The Faces, Richards with numerous other projects), they sublimate their skill into “lesser” roles to create something bigger.  How many co-workers, peers, and managers are willing to do be that selfless when the need is here?

Finally,  they’re LIVE!  No overdubs, no pre-recorded tracks.  The band plays every note we hear and they deliver.  This was 37 shows into a tour that would go on for almost another year yet they personified the old Joe DiMaggio quote.  When asked why he played so hard, he replied: “Because there is always some kid who may be seeing me for the first time. I owe him my best.”    How many of us can say the same each day?

The fine art of weaving and the work around it is becoming more rare these days.  What are you doing to preserve it?

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The Old Perfessor

I’ve been going through a bunch of old baseball cards, trying to figure out their values.  The exercise is generating a wave of nostalgia as old names, faces, and statistics surface.  There are an awful lot of cards here from the N.Y. Mets in particular, and of course no discussion of the Mutts (as I lovingly call them) would be complete without mentioning one Charles Dillon Stengel, their first manager.

English: New York Yankees manager Casey Stenge...

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Casey Stengel was a decent ballplayer himself (batting .284 over 14 major league seasons) but he was a Hall of Fame manager. We can argue about whether any idiot could have made it to Cooperstown managing the Yankees during the 1949-1960 dynasty era but one can’t deny the achievement of winning the World Series five times in a row.  After managing the best team in baseball, Casey did a 180 and went to manage the worst.  The 1962 Mets were just as world-class as the Yankees except they were a world-class comedy act.

It’s 50 years later and Casey probably isn’t the most-quoted Mets manager.  That would probably Yogi Berra, although most of his famous quotes come from his days as a player, not a manager.  Casey was renowned for his monologues on baseball history and tactics which became known as “Stengelese” to sportswriters. This was also why he was called  “The Old Professor”.

I think we in business can learn a lot from a few of Casey’s key quotes.  The first one is one of my favorites:

Finding good players is easy. Getting them to play as a team is another story.

This is probably the biggest challenges managers – baseball and otherwise – face.  In fact, I think this is the entire nature of the managerial job in a single phrase.  Next, a lesson on social media and customer service:

The key to being a good manager is keeping the people who hate me away from those who are still undecided.

In other words, reputation management is something we can’t ignore.  Today it’s almost impossible to keep those two segments apart so controlling the message and minimizing the first segment is critical.

You gotta lose ’em some of the time. When you do, lose ’em right.

The Yankees were always spoken of as a “classy”organization.  I’ve always felt that a big measure in business is your reputation among people who choose not to buy from you at a particular point but who come back and do business with you later.  If you “lose ’em right” there will be quite a few of those, probably more than you’re doing business with at any particular time.  It also speaks to group morale and how we as managers keep our team focused.

Finally, a reminder to any of us who have ever taken a paycheck for managing:

Managing is getting paid for home runs that someone else hits.

A big determinant of our success as managers is our ability to keep those home-run hitters happy and productive.  We need to appreciate that the folks who are actually doing the grunt work are the ones who make the organization hum, not the folks in the big offices.  I’ve never seen an owner win a pennant without players and I never saw a CEO make a dime without people to support him in some way.

The Old Perfessor’s lessons aren’t so old, are they?

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Garlic And Customers

Friday means time for our Foodie Fun screed.  Today, I want to talk about garlic.

An Ikea garlic press, with pressed garlic.

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

You’ve probably cooked with it and I’m dead certain you’ve eaten it.  One thing you’ve probably noticed as you’ve done either is that raw garlic can have an unpleasant, sharp, hotness about it.  If you turn up the heat and try to cook that out and aren’t careful you can burn it, which makes it incredibly bitter.  Even when you cook it carefully, if you do your prep work on the garlic too early and it sits, the flavor can be off.  Who thought something so small could be so difficult!

The root of the problem is something called allicin, which is a compound that forms when you cut into the cells and continues to build as it sits.  The way to handle the build-up is either not to let this happen in the first place, giving it immediate attention by cooking it or to put the chopped garlic into something acidic such as lemon juice to convert the allicin into a few more mellow compounds with long, hard to spell names that also form when the garlic is cooked (they’re sulfides for you chemists out there).  You’d do that for a salad dressing, for example, where you’re using raw garlic.

I realize this is a business blog so you’re probably wondering what the heck garlic has to do with your business.  What came to my mind was how we deal with other people – customers, clients, co-workers, and bosses.  Once something injures them – as when we cut garlic – the defense mechanisms spring into action – just as garlic forms allicin.  The longer we delay dealing with the situation, the more of what we don’t want builds up – allicin or anger, in the case of the humans.  We need to handle problems quickly, either by resolving them or by putting them into a context that allows us the time we need to formulate the solution.  Reacting with intense heat – burning the garlic – usually doesn’t work too well.  In the case of the aforementioned groups, letting them know you hear and understand their situation and that you are working to resolve it is the equivalent of the gentle heat needed to turn raw garlic into something fragrant and delicious.

I don’t advise mixing my metaphors here –  dealing with a teed-off person face to face after eating garlic isn’t going to help matters.  However, the lesson we can learn from the plant just might!

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Locking Your Door

There are many homes in the town where I live that aren’t locked up when nobody is home.

English: A candidate icon for Portal:Computer ...

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

While in some ways it’s a nice relic of a time and society long gone, I’ve always wondered how people were able to file insurance claims or police reports if they got robbed. After all, they did nothing to protect their privacy other than trusting in the good will of the surrounding community.
Unfortunately, the world out there contains a fair number of evil-doers, and that includes the digital world of the web. Most of us know that, I’m afraid, but I’ve never really been sure how many of us take action to prevent those bad guys from entering our digital homes. Oh sure, maybe we use the pre-installed anti-virus stuff (hopefully with up to the minute virus definitions) but how many people are being proactive about keeping their data doors locked?
The folks from Microsoft released a study yesterday and the answer was surprising, at least to me. You can read the executive summary of and view a slide show about the findings here.  The big ones:

  • Forty-five percent said they feel they have little or no control over the personal information companies gather about them while they are browsing the Web or using online services, such as photo- sharing, travel or gaming.
  • Forty percent said they feel they ”mostly” or “totally understand” how to protect their online privacy.
  • An equal number of people (39 percent) said they are turning to friends and family, as well as privacy statements, as their top source for privacy information.
  • Almost a third of those surveyed (32 percent) said they always consider a company’s privacy reputation, track records, and policies when choosing which websites to visit or services to use.

OK, a lot of people get that they’re being tracked and not always for benign purposes, so surprisingly (to me, at lesast) they’re taking action. When asked what, if any, actions respondents had taken to protect the privacy of their online data, the vast majority (85%) report that they had actively taken steps. The most common action reported was the deletion of cookies that may be used to record and track online behavior.

I think this is good news –  locked doors keep the crime rate in our little digital town down.  Of course, it also means that any of us who want to be invited in to consumers’ cookie caches need to play nice.  That means have a clear privacy policy, explain how and if we’re using the data, and make sure that users read and understand what we’re doing.  Otherwise, we’ll have to break in to steal that information, and I think we all know where that can land us.  Regulatory bodies worldwide are already considering harsh and cumbersome rules and we know that they’ll probably get something wrong.  It’s on the industry to get ahead of this and to behave, encouraging people to take charge – lock their doors – and make it simple to do so.

Are you locking your data door?  Who are you letting in and why?

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RTB Means Really Tough Business

The always reliable Digiday did a piece yesterday on Real Time Bidding (some folks say Buying) and the effect it’s having on web publishers. Entitled “Publishers Face RTB Pressures,” it’s an excellent though depressing overview of what’s happening in the digital publishing business due to the steady growth of programmatic ad buying. I can’t sum it up any better than this:

The drive for more efficient buys in RTB is putting pricing pressure on the entire display ad market. According to Magna Global, display advertising globally rose just 1.5 percent in 2013. That’s not very good in a market that expanded 14.4 percent overall for the year. In fact, the reason Magna identified: price drops.

That’s the situation today, when 17 percent of buying is through exchanges. In five years, Magna director of global forecasting Vincent Letang expects 43 percent of display advertising to be bought and sold via exchanges.

In other words, there’s too much inventory and these formulae don’t give the quality of your content enough consideration.  Heaven forbid that humans actually enter the equation!  Before all of my friends who sell non-digital media get too smug, one can rest assured that when the efficiencies of this buying protocol become evident that someone will push it on TV and print just as sure as the sun shines.  So is this a bad thing?

If you’re buying audiences for your marketing messages, no, it’s not.  It is, however, if you’re a content creator who tries to make money off your content by selling the audiences it attracts.  I suppose that means that if I were in the content business I’d get the hell out by selling off my audience monetization to someone else – a publisher or distributor.  I’d give up some of the upside in return for protecting the downside push to the bottom RTB is forcing.  As the article says “Efficiency is a great thing unless what you do is what is being made more efficient.”  It’s not going to be long (and it may be here already) before the quality of the content is impacted as the resources to produce consistently great stuff just aren’t there.

If I were back being a publisher, I’d be spending a lot of time having someone think about our syndication strategy and fast.  Let  someone else ride the ad wave down to the bottom.  My content – and yours – is worth more than that.

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