Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose

October 30th, 2010 by admin.

The notion (and practice) of community driven consumer activity is, as with so many other things, cyclical.

For years, people lived in small microsocietal enclaves, relying on one another for word-of-mouth news and shopping recommendations, and sharing health and nutrition tips as they were discovered. Local gossip spread locally, and all was well in the Middle Ages.

As the world expanded, so did communities, becoming less microsocial, and more macrosocial. Urbanization supported mass technological, scientific, and industrial evolution, but at the cost – arguably – of social health. Social dynamics experienced a metamorphosis, from one reliant on group dynamics, to more individualized and self-centered ones.

In the latter 20th and very early 21st centuries, this self-centered societal infrastructure reached its zenith and, in keeping with the aforementioned cyclical nature of things, began to reverse its arc, affected by both internal and external influences.

Recently, driven both by personal impulses and available tools, platforms, and supporting business-models, individuals have begun practicing an exponential degree of community-thinking and action. No longer do all people rely so heavily on corporations for their information, news, and activity choices – preferring instead to rely on their peers for suggestions, and themselves for determinations. Admittedly, some corporations and agencies are attempting to co-opt this trend, but the most successful brands are those that have engaged WITH these new paradigms in media engagement, as opposed to those that have attempted to dominate them for their own short-term ends. Good case in point, Ford just posted record profits, and is the automaker with the most successfully manifest social media strategy (kudos to Scott Monty)…

We are cycling back, as a society, to an almost medieval microsocietal infrastructure of consumerism, wherein we form smaller enclaves, or networks, and assign to those networks values, depending on the context thereof. What used to be the medieval “guild” is now our professional network; the erstwhile “pub” or “inn” or street corner now manifest as our social network; and a slew of other networks have risen up to mirror, to one degree or another, the sewing circles/ curanderos/ mother’s groups/ secret societies, et al.

No longer can large corporations confidently “push” their products or services into a population, en masse. The population has become too diversified. While it may not yet be firmly evident, I believe that the world has become less homogeneous, as individuals seek out smaller communities to match their interests and skills, and become empowered to act as participants in the establishment of market trends, rather than followers. It has been a long time since Main Street Michael was invited to share his opinion about a major brand. Average Joe is beginning to get the hang of letting companies know what he thinks via Twitter and other feedback channels, and these companies are responding! Plain Jane loves the idea that she can be discussing her love (or hatred) of a particular product on her blog one day, and have the creators or distributors of that same product invite her to speak to their product development team the next day.

The quality of any particular demographic is now going to be as crucial a measure of its value, as much as (if not more so than) the size. It’s not enough anymore to rely on Nielsen numbers. While a certain audience may be smaller than another, it may practice a more intense form of brand evangelism, creating a wider grassroots adoption than can be tracked through conventional means. We are currently experiencing a “shakeout” period, wherein marketers are evaluating, through experimentation, to what degree it is advisable to bow before the consumer and listen more than talk. It is clear, however, that “brainwash” product marketing can only manifest itself if the target consumer is willing to brainwash him/herself in the face of a supremely well-positioned enticement (see “iPad”). It will be the consumer network that drives adoption, not the seller. The local guild will share their preferred mobile business apps, and your friends on FB will parse the news for you. Expertise will percolate by mass vote on Quora, Founders Space, and elsewhere, and – in the short period we are currently entering, when the advertiser has not yet fully determined how to manipulate the landscape to their advantage – we will enjoy a dynamic and somewhat tumultuous period of social behavior not unlike the marketplaces of hundreds of years ago, when we developed a stronger sense of what we wanted and needed BEFORE we went to the market; and yet relied upon our fellow citizens to recommend the best vendors, and turned to the recognized experts for additional guidance.

Communities are helping to clarify the value of marketing as more than just a product pushing mechanism for increasing sales figures. Marketing should never have been relegated to the status of “sales support”, “collateral creation”, and “Press Release spewing” that it was in so many companies. Identifying the nature and need of the customer, and connecting it with impact to the identity and value of your offering is far more than just sales, advertising, PR, or branding. It is these things and a panoply of intangibles, sprinkled with a big handful of common sense, and served upon a bed of freshly grown business acumen. It’s no longer about making sure that the customer gets it, but rather reaching that moment when the customer understands that YOU get it. Enlightened marketing today must engage and activate specialist communities to become evangelists for your offering. Today’s customer is too busy sharing their views to adopt something about which they have not had the opportunity to establish an opinion. I want to believe that most companies and marketing agencies will embrace the notion of sharing the responsibility of developing awareness with their target customers, but I’m afraid – in time – some agencies will find a way to manipulate customers one again, and where companies used to tell people what to buy, unscrupulous brands will find ways to tell people what to think, and the cycle will continue, moving in and out of moments of rightness, as the poet Wallace Stevens once put it.

For now, we should revel in the short period surrounding us, when marketing is able to exercise its full range of capabilities, respectfully connecting the offering to the market in a manner that reveals a relationship between brand and consumer more fruitful than has been evident for a long time.

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The Inexorable Rise of Efficiency

October 26th, 2010 by admin.

Over the past 10 years or so, we have been subject to an escalating swath of socially suffocating technological wizardry. It seemed as if we had to “adopt” a new piece of hardware or software every day, and it has been boggling our minds on an ever-overwhelming basis. Many have opted to “opt-out”, and are happily ignorant of many or all the fantastic advances available to them: the mobile weather apps, Smartphones, advanced networks, streaming media, 3D TVs, ebooks, tablets, subcutaneous bar codes (ok, I made that last one up…maybe).

The point is, Moore’s law and its associate exponential trend markers are suffocating us with advances, to the point where the next generation is looking at us with bemusement, and wondering why we are swimming so hard upstream. They want the tools, plugins, add-ons, extensions, gadgets, gewgaws, and apps to serve them with utility, and not the other way around.

And I say “Hear! Hear!”

It has been a thrilling, albeit exhausting, ride: keeping up with the cyberjoneses, as I educated myself about all the latest multiplatform, multi-browser apps and extensions and add-ons; as I tested all the diversity of mobile devices, and patiently spent hours per week updating all my software applications. I marveled at my friends and associates who could not exercise any modicum of patience, and spent top dollar to add another hardware device to their growing arsenal, until they had a desktop computer with triple monitors, networked to their HDTV, augmented (but not replaced) by a laptop and Smartphone, and then accompanied by an e-book reader, Internet TV, and – most recently – tablet.

It is this latest device, however, that gives me the greatest cause for rejoicing (perhaps prematurely). I’m not just referring to the iPad, but to the imminent explosion of tablets that the iPad has facilitated, by dint of being the prettiest, although not the first (see my article from January 2010).

I believe that because of the very fact that we are simply overwhelmed by technology, the tablet has presented us with a new challenge: do we add yet another device to our asphyxiating arsenal of gadgets, or do we identify what current tools it effectively replaces, and dispose of a whole hardware subset or two? The decline of the Netbook is testament to the subconscious desire of consumers for a return to efficient and manageable technological lifestyles, and I predict (again) that – with the right marketing and product innovation – tablets will eventually replace laptops as well. This time, I have pretty pictures to back me up:

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Some Tips for Fiscally Responsible Green Marketing

October 15th, 2010 by admin.

I may disagree with one or two of the recommendations made here below by Derek Markham (for instance, promoting a website as the number one green marketing solution is somewhat “last year’s thinking”, when one considers that website-based interactive communications is experiencing a fast rate of decline, as application-based (mobile, desktop, TV, etc) interconnectivity ramps up exponentially), but the overall message and insights are impressive and worthy of sharing. As ever, your thoughts and comments are welcomed!

25 Ways to Go Green Marketing, Without Blowing Up Your Marketing Budget

Marketing might seem synonymous with advertising, leading some green business owners to run out and get print ads in industry magazines or local newspapers, print up a bunch of postcards or flyers for direct mailing by mail, or perhaps even lease a billboard. While some of those might work for some businesses in some markets, there are ways for businesses to use green marketing to increase their reach without investing large amounts of cash.

Don’t Blow Up Your Marketing Budget, Green It Up Instead With These 25 Green Marketing Tips:

  1. Take your marketing to the web with your own website: The internet has radically changed the landscape of marketing by enabling business owners to have a virtual home for their paperless advertising – their own website. For only a minimal investment of money, your green business can have its doors open 24 hours a day.
  2. Use geolocation apps to reach local customers: Reaching the right customers at the right time is a key component of any green marketing campaign. Use popular geolocation apps like Gowalla or FourSquare to boost the effectiveness of your paperless advertising programs.
  3. Pursue social media marketing: With the huge surge in social networking and bookmarking, your business can take advantage of the new media landscape as a part of your paperless advertising efforts. Set up social media profiles for your business and start making connections to customers, suppliers, clients, and your competitors.
  4. Choose a green web host for your site: All hosting companies are not created equal. Does your web host use renewable energy purchasing? Do they buy carbon offsets? It might mean paying a little more to know that your web host is as green as possible, but any extra above the normal rates can be considered part of your green efforts and used in your marketing messages.
  5. Offer a digital mailing list option: If you use direct mail to reach current customers, create a digital version and offer that option via email to all new and current subscribers.
  6. Clean up your mailing list: How often do you update and clean your mailing list? With so many people on the move each year, you’re bound to end up with duplicate or wrong addresses, which translates to wasted resources during mailings. Use a service or software to regularly clean your list, and make it easy for customers to update their contact information with you. The potential savings here for businesses with large lists is quite high, especially when considered in conjunction with having a digital mailing list.
  7. Offer digital downloads of marketing assets: Make digital versions of all of your marketing materials and be sure they’re easy to find and download. An electronic version of your catalog can be easily shared by customers, and can be updated much quicker and cheaper than a printed one. Plus, it’s virtually cost-free if you already have the files ready to upload.
  8. Upcycle your advertising materials: Look into upcycling or repurposing your advertising and marketing materials, such as having your old billboards turned into shopping or messenger bags. Use those products as great green swag for events or contests.
  9. Green your giveaways: What kinds of gimme items do you pass out? If they are meant to be disposable or only single use, it just creates more waste. Products such as cloth shopping bags with your logo are not only a useful item for customers, but they serve as mobile billboards for your business. Consider the environmental effects of your promotional items before committing to them, and instead of giving away four throwaway items each year, focus on one quality free item.
  10. Use a green printing service: Going truly paperless isn’t really an option for most businesses, so when you have printing jobs, choose an eco-friendly printing service. What kind of recycled paper do they offer? What kind of inks do they use? Are they powered by renewable energy?
  11. Choose 100% recycled content paper: When printing promotional flyers, mailers, business cards, brochures, or other paper products, opt for a paper stock made from 100% post-consumer content. Not only is the cost only a little more than other paper choices, but recycled paper only uses half as much energy to make as virgin pulp. To make up for any extra cost, consider printing only what you need, or print fewer than your usual amount and make it clear that a digital version is also available.
  12. Go with green clothing: Do you have company t-shirts or uniforms? Make the choice to have them produced from organic cotton or an alternate fiber such as hemp, bamboo, or even recycled PET bottles, and let people know why it’s better for the planet.
  13. Get green certification for product: Does your product qualify for a green label? Get it certified and add the certification logo to your marketing materials, along with an explanation of what it means to your customers. Do some research to find out which certifications would be best for you, instead of taking on the cost and paperwork for labels that your customer doesn’t recognize and understand.
  14. Set goals and document your green progress: Public accountability can add loads of credibility to your green marketing, so assess your business’ current “state of green” and set goals to further your sustainability efforts. Track your progress on your website and in mailings to share with your customers.
  15. Rethink your packaging: Does your product even need packaging? In general, the less packaging you need, the cheaper it is on a per-unit basis, so losing the packaging might be a savvy financial decision as well. If it does need a package of some sort, can you continue to make it greener? Packaging that can be repurposed or recycled adds to your green credibility, and if you can use 100% recycled materials, you’re doing even better. Make a point of informing your customers of these points.
  16. Green delivery: If your product gets delivered to customers, how can you lower the environmental impact of the transportation? Alternative fueled vehicles or bicycle delivery are two ways to address green delivery of products. This may not be a viable option in some areas due to availability or a big cost difference, but for those with the option, it can become another selling point for your products.
  17. Send electronic proofs or use bicycle courier: Does your business have a need for sending documents across town on a regular basis? Bicycle courier service is quick, green, and usually cost-competitive with other delivery services. Or consider using all electronic proofs instead of physical copies.
  18. Eco-friendly business cards: Even if you choose recycled content paper for your cards, what happens to it when someone no longer needs it? Print your business card info on seed packets or paper containing embedded seeds. Print something extremely useful on the back, like a reference chart for your industry or niche, so it gets kept and used. To offset any cost difference, don’t print thousands of cards that will get tossed away, but instead print fewer ones of higher quality and impact.
  19. Feature your green efforts prominently: Use your environmental efforts as a selling point in your advertising, packaging, and other promotional activities by featuring them along with any green certification you’ve qualified for.
  20. Join eco-organizations such as 1% for the Planet: Partnering with environmental stewardship organizations and pledging a percentage of your profits to support them can help to further your company’s commitment to preservation and conservation. Joining one of these instead of the usual industry associations or chamber of commerce might be a better use of your money, especially for your company’s green image.
  21. Follow the guidelines for environmental marketing claims: Are your green marketing claims valid? Make sure you’re not trying to greenwash, and that you’re within the FTC guidelines for environmental marketing claims.
  22. Make the green aspects of your product easy to understand: By being clear about the eco-friendliness of your product or service, you’ll give customers another reason to choose your business over a competitor.
  23. Join a local living economy group: Band together with other local independent businesses through organizations such as the Business Alliance for Local Living Economies (BALLE) to help build lasting, profitable, green partnerships. Local networking can pump up your green marketing at the cost of time, not money.
  24. Use digital coupons: With the trend toward going digital in many media outlets, digital coupons are an eco-friendly way to give discounts and promote your products without having to print and distribute any paper products. Mobile advertising is also rapidly expanding with the rise in smartphones, so mobile coupons can give potential customers a reason to shop with you, right from their phone. And as with most things digital, the easier it is to share with others, the farther your reach will be with these types of promotions.
  25. Ditch print advertising: Do you really want your business associated with media made from dead tree? It’s also much more expensive than digital advertising, so try banner ads, PPC, or Facebook ads. These options offer better demographic targeting, with near-instant campaign metrics at a fraction of the cost of print.  Split & multi-variate testing allows you to fine tune your ads and landing pages. Don’t forget directory listings as another form of online advertising. Be sure to get listed in green business directories, as well as local directories, like Yelp, Best of the Web Local, and local search listings. This will boost your local SEO for your green business website.

Going green with your marketing isn’t necessarily about a huge change in your current campaigns – taking your marketing efforts green doesn’t have to be a one-shot approach. By implementing just a few of these green tips on a regular basis, the budget for your marketing campaigns won’t get blown up, and the cumulative effects on the environment can further be used in your marketing messages. Coupled with the huge leverage available to businesses in the digital sphere, going green with your marketing just might be the key to jumpstarting your business’ sales, no matter what the economic forecasts might say.

Derek Markham is a writer, a father, a WordPress addict, and social media butterfly who loves to share what’s new and interesting in his world in under 140 characters.  To read similar articles, visit Green Marketing TV.

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Fortune Cookie Career Advice

October 14th, 2010 by admin.
Some interesting business aphorisms, culled from multiple sources, and aggregated by one Matt Wyndowe. Do you have any of your own, that you have found particularly helpful in your career?:
  • Successful people listen. You have two ears and one mouth. Use them in that ratio. You learn more when you listen than when you talk.
  • Pareto principle: Always look for the 80/20. 80 percent of the value is delivered by 20 percent of the product/service. Focus on that 20 percent.
  • The importance of passion. When Warren Buffet finds people to run his business, his key criteria is to find somebody who would do the job whether they would get paid or not.
  • Just when you think you’ve got it 100% right, you can be taken down.
  • People who are lucky make their own luck. And you only make your own luck by staying in the game.
  • Put on “the cloak” of leadership. A large part of your role is to inspire and motivate your employees, and people will look to you for confidence. If you were on a plane with engine problems, you don’t want the pilot to say “I am exploring a number of options and hope that…”, you want him to say, “I will do whatever it takes to land this plane.”
  • The outcome of a negotiation is largely a function of your alternatives. Know your next best option.
  • You will only be as good as the people you will recruit. Media & culture celebrate individuals, but teams succeed.
  • The best scientists can explain complex issues in simple terms.Pretty good scientists can explain complex issues in complex terms.
  • A’s hire A’s. B’s hire C’s. Always strive to hire people better than you are.
  • Be a clear, fair manager. For example, when speaking to a business unit leader that isn’t succeeding, say: “I want a strategy to win in 1-page and the objectives we need to hit each quarter to reach them.”
  • When considering a business opportunity, look for change.What inflection point are you taking advantage of? Without change, there is rarely opportunity.
  • When in doubt, just keep selling. Not a bad default strategy to communicate to your team.
  • Be humble. The markets are brutal to those who are arrogant.
  • Understand what you don’t do well. Surround yourself with people and resources that can do these things well.
  • Practice self-discipline. Set targets, have timetables, have clear unambiguous goals. Life passes quickly – days, weeks, months, years, a lifetime. “Regret for the things we did, can be tempered by time. It is regret for the things that we did not do that is inconsolable.”
  • Be yourself. In group settings, you usually serve the group best by thoughtfully expressing exactly what you are thinking. Not necessarily what the group wants to hear.
  • You’ve got to give trust to get trust. Treat people as you would want to be treated. Sometimes people take advantage of you. That’s fine, don’t do business with them again.
  • Shoot for the moon.To be successful, don’t follow the pack. If you want to win, don’t hedge.