Monthly Archives : July 2008

The underbelly of marketing

I didn’t know how bad my life – and so much marketing – was until I came up to my remote cabin and started to pick up the phone – to telemarketers. In fact it rings so much that I’m astounded. (We forgot to register the phone line on Do Not Call List.)

I’ve got debt over $6,000 and am paying 29% interest. (No). I – or one of my family members – have diabetes. (No) I could be saving  by subscribing to Direct TV (I have no television). My auto warranty has expired. (No again). I could finally qualify for a medical insurance discount program. (I already have insurance). I’m the victim of debt collector predators/ (Yes, if you count your company.)

All these calls tell me that it’s urgent and critical that I talk with them today.

Most of these pre-recorded messages are sent out with voice blaster technology that blasts messages to everyone who hasn’t signed up for Do Not Call. (In fact two of the telemarketers explained this to me.) If you dial 1 to get to a person, most of the people you end up talking to are some of the most unprofessional people I’ve ever had the displeasure of dealing with.

What’s most disturbing is that a lot of the good folks in this rural area are elderly or don’t have a lot of education; I fear that these fear-mongering marketers are taking advantage of them. Or maybe everyone can see through these predatory tactics?

Does anyone know whether there’s a central place on the Web to report these companies? Kind of like a global Better Business Bureau that we can contribute to? Seems like using Web 2.0 for better consumer protection is order….

8 sins of the stupid smart person


Why is it that many of us who are fairly smart do stupid things? While doing research on why CMOs fail, I came across a book that has some relevancy, Why Smart People Can Be So Stupid, by Robert J. Sternberg, IBM professor of psychology and education at Yale. The most interesting chapter is by Harvard researcher David N. Perkins, who believes that you can be really smart but not know when to engage your smartness, and the extent to which this happens is “stupidity.”

Perkins highlights eight deadly sins of the stupid smart person:

  1. impulsiveness (doing something rash)
  2. neglect (ignoring something important)
  3. procrastination (actively avoiding something important)
  4. vacillation (dithering)
  5. backsliding (capitulating to habit)
  6. indulgence (allowing oneself to fall into excess)
  7. overdoing (like indulgence, but with positive things)
  8. walking the edge (tempting fate)

While I’m early into the research, my hypothesis is that CMOs fall into stupid territory most often by engaging in #s 1, 5 and 8.

Your thoughts?

Citizens Bank customer service: 2 days to answer email?

One way companies can keep customers happy — maybe not loyal, but reasonably content — is responsive customer service, especially in small ways that matter. Here’s an example. This morning I sent my bank a simple question and here’s the response.


Two days to reply to a simple email question? Now there’s an area marketing should tackle.

What is the frustration telling us?

Frustration is a good thing.  Really? During a conversation this morning with my wise friend Lissa Bergin-Boles over at TrueCallings, Lisa explained that being frustrated can be hugely constructive as it’s a recognition that we know something is wrong and needs to be fixed. If you put the frustration on the table and tease out what’s going on, you can usually figure out how to fix things. (Although there are those who use frustration to just whine.)

Having been with many different companies this week I heard a lot of marketing frustrations, and on this Friday afternoon I’m reflecting on what might be behind the frustration:

  • “We’re just not getting any value from our public relations agency.” Is it the agency — or is the real issue that traditional publicity-driven public relations isn’t as valuable as it was five or 10 years ago?
  • “I’m blogging for my company but am not sure it’s valuable. Just how do you measure this social media stuff?” My question to this gentleman was, “Why are you blogging?” If you have a purpose or goal, you’ll more easily be able to assess the value. Turns out there was no real goal, hence the frustration.
  • “We’re not generating enough sales leads.” Is it the lead generation strategy — or is market interest waning in the overall category? Or is it that your product has a reputation for being hard to use? Or is it that you’re not making it interesting enough for people to want to know more? And just what is considered a lead — registration information from a podcast — or someone who wants to talk with a sales rep?
  • It’s hard to get people to contribute to our online community.” Is there a good reason for them to contribute? What do they get from it? Or is it that your tools make it too hard for people to contribute?
  • “I really have to find another job.”  Is it the job? The company? Or something else? During one particularly frustrating point in my career I thought the answer was to get out or marketing.  On closer inspection I just hated commuting three hours a day. I got rid of the commute, stayed in marketing, and glad I did.
  • “I’m so frustrated that it’s Friday and I can’t stay focused on getting this project done.”  Admit that you hate this type of work and stop taking it on.  Focus on those projects that give energy vs. take it away.

Thanks again Lissa — and if I missed any other advice, please share!

New online community study: what's working, what's in the way, advice from trenches

Today my firm, Beeline Labs, Deloitte, and the Society for New Communications Research released highlights of an online communities study among 140 organizations which create and maintain communities. Some of the highlights, more of which can be found here:

Greatest value of communities:

  • increasing word of mouth (35%)
  • increasing brand awareness (28%)
  • bringing new ideas into the organization faster (24%)
  • increasing customer loyalty (24%)

Greatest obstacles

  • getting people involved in the community (51%)
  • finding enough time to manage the community (45%)
  • attracting people to the community (34%)

What contributes most to effectiveness:

• ability for community members to connect with other like-minded people: 54%
• ability for members to help others: 43%
• focusing community  around a hot topic or issue: 41%
• quality of the community manager/community management team: 33%

Advice for others

When asked what their most important piece of advice is for others creating communities, survey participants’ advice focused around these eight areas:

1.    Start with the end in mind: “Start with a business strategy, defining carefully what you want to accomplish through the community.”

2.    Focus on the value to the members:  “Make sure you deliver real, special, unique, obvious value to the core group you’re hoping to attract.”

3.    Don’t start with the technology: “Too often people get drunk with Web 2.0 tool excitement and then try to push their business and customer goals into the wrong tool.”

4.    Keep it simple and intuitive:  “Focus on the least common denominator first. Keep it easy to navigate with simple tools to use.”

5.    Keep it fresh and active:  “Keep activity levels up, constantly add new content.”

6.    Have dynamic community leaders: “Make sure you devote enough time to managing the community; letting it fester is worse than not having it in the first place.”

7.    Think through who to involve – or not. “Get Legal and PR to buy-in and help on design, but keep them out of active management.”

8.    Get a passionate core of participants active before launching:  “Make sure you have a committed core of passionate users before you launch.”
Many thanks to everyone who took the time to take the survey and talk to us as part of the qualitative surveys. The complete results are on their way to you this morning.

Tony Snow: communicator extraordinaire


Tony Snow, former White House press secretary who died Saturday, was a true communications professional, devoted to helping people understand even the most complex issues. I will always remember what I learned from him:

  • Communications is about making meaning and helping people understand. People may come to a different conclusion and not agree with you, but they will never see your view or agree if they don’t understand the context and relevance of the issue in the first place. Tony was first and foremost a meaning maker, not a political spin doctor.
  • Be helpful and open. Tony wanted to be helpful to the press — more so than any other press secretary in recent years. Most others have been defensive and annoyed with the media questions. Not Tony. He answered questions vs. dancing around and throwing empty answers back. He was positive, optimistic, and seemed to genuinely like and respect the media — despite differing points of view. I think he knew that that democracy is based on debating and discussing, not issuing statements and refusing to engage in dialog.
  • Living in a world of optimism and possibilities is a good life. Though ill for many years, Tony’s optimism and energy was a constant reminder of how rich life can be. University of Chicago educator Robert Hutchins once said, ‘The death of democracy is not likely to be an assassination from ambush. It will be a slow extinction from apathy, indifference, and undernourishment.” Tony was the antithesis — engaged, passionate and constantly nourishing.

Who are the up and coming Tony Snows and Tim Russerts? We need them now….

Here Comes Everybody — Maybe

[photopress:Here_Comes_Everybody.jpg,full,pp_image] If you want to really understand how social media/tools are changing how we work, play, activate change and live, pick up Clay Shirky’s Here Comes Everybody: The Power of Organizing Without Organizations. And if you are seriously considering communities as part of your marketing strategy, Do Not Pass Go without reading this.

Here are some of my takeaways:

There are three essential pieces of a community, starting with purpose:

1. Why: what’s the the promise of the group/community? Why would anyone want to join or contribute? “Creating a promise that enough people believe in is the basic requirement. The promise creates the basic desire to participate. ” Note: in my experience this is where marketers usually spend too little time. Or, rarely challenge their own. assumptions.

2. How: this is where you figure out which tools will help people do what the community is all about. Note: too many companies are buying tools and then trying to make a community fit the tools. A recipe for disaster — or, at a minimum, enormous frustration.

3. Rules of the road: this the what Shirky calls the bargain: “If you are interested in the promise and adopt the tools, what can you expect and what will be expected of you?”

People have always wanted to share and help one another. Pervasive, easy-to-use communications tools and ” the collapse of transaction costs makes it easier for people to get together — so much easier, in fact, that is changing the world.” “Social tools don’t create collective action — they merely remove the obstacles to it. This is why many of the significant changes are based not on the fanciest, newest bits of technology but on simple easy-to-use tools like email, mobile phones and websites, because those are the tools most people have access to and, critically, are comfortable using in their dauly lives.”

Incentives for participating are not financial: Attention, the desire to see your work spread, the desire to help others and be helped.

Why some communities grow and others don’t: “They grow if enough people care about them, and die if they don’t.” (This goes back to getting the promise right.)

How did you do that?: communities where a group of people help one another get better at some share task or interest — called communities of practice — are especially pervasive and appealing. The basic question that can trigger a community of practice: “How did you do that?”

Not everyone needs to be passionate, participate a lot: in the old model we had to work hard to get people passionate enough to act, because acting was a lot of work. Today you can have a handful of highly-motivated people participating a lot — and “people who care a little participate a little, while being effective in the aggregate.”

A small number needed to get things started: “The number of people who are willing to start something is smaller, much smaller, than the number of people who are willing to contribute once someone else starts something.” Tap into a small core of passionate people; don’t expect a lot of people to contribute at the get-go. Many are more comfortable adding to what someone else has started.

Forrester: disappointment in corporate blogs

A recent Forrester survey of 189 companies found that 38% rated blogging marginal to marketing and 15 % said blogs were irrelevant. My experience is that many who get into blogs have unrealistic expectations, set irrelevant measures and “ROI” goals, and view blogs as a campaign tactic, which they most definitely are not. (Another observation: many quickly run out of things to blog about, often a sign that they’re not passionate or knowledgeable about their field.)

The bigger point is that people today expect a more social, casual style of business communications. In writing style. And in being able to post a comment or talk back.

The value of blogging done right is that it breaks the old corporate speak iceberg. Soon there will no longer be a corporate Web site and separate blogs. Good business Web sites will be blog-like in style and the ability for people to comment.

However, this means that businesses need to be more interesting, provide more valuable content and ideas to people who take the time to go to their site/blogs, have a point of view on trends in their industries, and thoughtfully respond to comments.

It also means that many, many communications and marketing people have to relearn communications skills.

But if all this change helps customers more quickly get to know your company — making it easier for them to make a decision and buy — it’s well worth the change. And that’s where the  real marketing payoff comes in.

PS – Thanks to my friend and Israeli management consultant Dov Gordon for the heads up on the Forrester study. Check out his new article, “Spitting in the Wind: A Single Obvious Insight to Sharpen and Focus Your Strategy.”

Events! Word of Mouth, Innovation, Web 2.0

I don’t know about you but I feel overwhelmed by the number of events and conferences out there. So here’s some editing: here are three where you’ll learn a lot, meet some interesting people, and feel that it was well worth your time and money.

  • Word of Mouth Crash Course: My friend and WOM expert Andy Sernovitz is hosting a small-group word of mouth marketing seminar on July 30 and Sept. 4 in Chicago. Usually he only does private training for companies at a very large price, so this is a rare chance for 50 people to get a good overview of WOM. (If you use this code when you register you’ll get a $250 discount: “welovebeelinelabs.” For more:
  • BIF-4 Collaborative Innovation Summit: Oct. 15-16 in Providence, RI. This is an amazing two-day conference that I think is better than TED. Hosted this year by Bruce Nussbaum, editor of Business Week and author Bill Taylor, speakers are fascinating innovators from business, science, education, the arts, non-profits. It will open your head up in a big way.
  • Web 2.0 Expo is coming to New York for the first time, Sept. 16-19. We at Beeline Labs are running a three-hour experiential workshop on the morning Sept. 16 on how to create and run thriving online communities. Based on private community-building workshops we’ve recently done you’ll come away with a blueprint for creating a community for your organization. Hope you can join us! Drop me a line,, if you want to know more.

Business psychics


I predict that marketers will have great fun but lose even more credibility with this new strategy: tuning in to business psychics. That’s right. All kinds of businesses seem to be turning to psychics, otherwise known as “intuitionists,” to make important decisions, according to a Newsweek article, “The 10,000-a-Month Psychic.”

Kevin Clancy, author of Your Gut is Still Not Smarter Than Your Head, has a good post on what this trend means to marketers over at The Marketing Fray.

“Aside from the utter lunacy of a business hiring a psychic for anything other than entertainment at the company Halloween party, we’re concerned that when business folk want to make sense of uncertainty in the present, they get completely preoccupied with the future as if they have no control over it. It’s understandable, but it can be dangerous if they forget that the past and future are not mutually exclusive. “

All that said I am looking forward to tuning into a webinar on July 11 over at Learn From My Life with psychic Ainslie MacLeod, author of The Instruction: Living the Life Your Soul Intended. Why? Maybe it’s summer and I just need a fresh point of view that has nothing to do with marketing, the recession, or presidential politics. :)