Monday, September 8, 2014

Filling Open Spaces with Your Marketing Brand

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Maybe it's a sign of age, a growing reliance on technology, or just impatience, but when I'm introduced to someone now I forget their name literally the moment they mention it. But then there are things that people say that I wish I could forget but can't. I'm not talking about disturbing, unsettling, or insulting remarks - my mind does a good job of erasing those memories. No, I'm talking about random thoughts that are seemingly insignificant at the time, not good or bad, but somehow stay with me forever.

For instance, every time I wash a cooking pan, I think of an old co-worker named Chuck. When I was a newlywed, Chuck goadingly quipped to my new bride how he'd bet that I was so lazy that I didn't wash the handle when washing the pan. (It turns out he had been admonished by his wife for the same oversight.) "Yes," my then wife replied in a frustrated voice, "and it drives me crazy!"

Not only did Chuck's off-the-cuff remark land me a place on the couch that evening, it lodged in my memory forever. I can think of other instances when acquaintances and friends made random comments and observations that replay in my head like a bad infomercial. Not all of them were sarcastic, or critical. Sometimes they were funny and even sweet. They all had one thing in common. They all occurred when I was in the midst of performing menial tasks that I do everyday that do not require thought nor ones that I associate with any person or brand.

As a marketer, that stickiness is what we shoot for every time. If I was somehow able to do this cognitively and in a positive way, I'd be onto something. The challenge of course is finding these open spaces. And not just tasks, but sights and sounds: the windshield wipers on your car, your laser printer spitting out another page, etc. These open spaces are golden opportunities to associate products and services with targeted customers.

Who or what do you think of when you are washing a pan? I'm willing to bet no one and nothing. Who do your customers think of when they are using the products and services you market? Now we are zoning in the essence of branding. We are always striving to have our company/product top of mind. But unless it's new technology, there are a lot of competitors trying to do the same thing. Digital marketing has allowed us to better pinpoint more of those open spaces while social media provides a way to punctuate those points.

Open spaces should not be confused with the practice of selling benefits over features. I'm not talking about marketing the sizzle over the steak. I'm saying that these open spaces may have nothing at all to do with your product. What do polar bears really have to do with drinking Coca-Cola? So there's no reason why I can't think of your software went hiding my shoelaces, or remember your breakfast cereal when I hear the beep of my car alarm. Rather than shoot for the low hanging fruit of marketing and compete with an army of others, we should be searching out that Achilles' heel. So rather than the pan, look to the handle.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Face Palm: Monetizing Facebook and Other Websites Made Easy

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Facebook revealed this week that it will be tagging news items from "The Onion" as satire as it has received many complaints from members confused the style of humor. This announcement comes just days after Facebook's decision to begin charging a $9.99 monthly subscription fee for  membership beginning in September for its satire-challenged members. OK. The part about the social networking king charging was satire about satire. But Facebook, like many free websites are not joking about looking for innovative ways to monetize. And it's been a tough road to hoe and the road just installed toll booths. But I always know a short cut.
I make a large majority of purchases online, so I don't begrudge any website trying to monetize its efforts. But when you start off as free, it's difficult not to mention risky to start charging for your intangible services. Their remuneration is paid in data. Our information currency. But security issues and privacy acts have been catapulted to the forefront. Now though I commend Facebook on the wise decision of keeping membership free, I actually feel bad for its marketing team as any move it makes is highly criticized and often unfairly attacked. To the online community, what begins free must always remain free.  At least that's what they believe.

This is not to say that charging for something that was once free is doomed for failure. I can think of many sites, that offered it services for free initially and then began charging. But these sites most of them web apps and software services from the outset let it's free users know that the free ride was either limited by time or by functionality.

Many e-mail marketing web-based software services handle this quite well. They either limit the number of e-mails you can send for the contacts you can send to, but you know when you sign-up that if you like it you will pay for. Sort of like the free sample station at Trader Joe's. 

I'm a heavy Facebook user. I use it to correspond often with close friends and relatives, occasionally with old school chums and business associates, but most of my correspondence are with my Facebook-only Friends. These are people whom I never have and likely never will meet or even chat with over the phone. Losing contact with them to be a great loss but one I would accept begrudgingly if Facebook was to start charging. And most of the people I know on Facebook would follow suit. It comes down to perceive value. For example, many Netflix customers who rarely rent a movie, spend hours on Facebook each day. But if they could only justify paying for one, which one do you think it would be?
Actually, Facebook has started to charge its members in a roundabout way by limiting who sees your posts and status updates. Now for a fee, you can "promote" your post for everyone to see. Nice innovation, poor execution. There are better ways - like monetizing its brand and partner interfaces - to increase its profits.  They tried a phone that didn't fare well. I'm not saying it's easy with such a huge infrastructure but it's possible. My solution involves a hybrid between an AOL redux and a plug and play, build-your-own Interface similar to WordPress modules. I'm sure there are many others.

Google was in a similar situation several years back and reinvented advertising with keyword sponsorship and its AdWords. And after an initial struggle Facebook seems to be doing better with it sponsored ads but in a future article I will discuss how that world is about to see it's bubble burst. 

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Pride and Prejudice of LinkedIn Membership

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You've probably read a lot about it in the news this week, so let me finally address the event:  I am about to hit the 500+ connections milestone on LinkedIn, and frankly the business world is abuzz about it. At least that's what LinkedIn would have me to believe.

The business networking site has done a great job at making a name for itself as an Internet standard, mentioned routinely in the same breath with the likes of Facebook and Twitter. Now, any article you read usually offers the LinkedIn share button, but being an aggregated news source is just a caveat of the business professional powerhouse that it has become. But LinkedIn has achieved much more than being the online Rolodex replacement that it had set out to be when it was first founded.But it's done so by redefining its own rules. 

I don't remember when I joined LinkedIn, but it was early on, and earlier then most anybody I know. Being an early adopter is part of the job description for an Internet marketer. Back in "the good old days," you'd upload your contacts by exporting your email database and uploading it to theirs. The process has become easier but the idea was to have online access to all your contacts, and only your contacts.  LinkedIn notified those people by e-mail to confirm the business connection. Adding connections that you didn't know or hadn't worked with was always considered a LinkedIn no-no.

But all that has changed recently. The new LinkedIn not only condones connections with strangers, it strongly suggests to add them to increase your own visibility and network base. It has got around this by creating groups, interests, skills and expertise, in addition to work experience, as legitimate ways to connect. It also allows you to e-mail whomever you want to -- provided of course you upgrade to the "Business or Business Plus" professional edition. *rolls eyes*

I'm not sure how pleased I am with the new growth strategy that LinkedIn is promoting. Whereas Facebook and Twitter despite their popularity is still an option and social media, LinkedIn is virtually required for today's business professional. And the professional profile photo, has to be just that, professional, or you're considered in the business world to be less trustworthy and not to be taken seriously. Haven't been able to locate your old college buddy on Facebook? Want to know what Friday's date who you met on the Internet truly looks like? Check first on LinkedIn. Unable to view their photo? That's because you haven't joined LinkedIn. See where I'm going with all of this?     

I don't find any of this to be alarming or dishonest but rather curious how one website has been able to persuade even the most paranoid, privacy-conscious people I know to provide a recent head shot and road map to where they've lived and worked their entire lives. I credit in part the "profile completeness percentage" that is included next to your name. Good students become good  employees and we all strive to reach that 100% mark despite the fact that it means full disclosure. I can tell you this much, the site has been a boon for executive recruiters, HR departments, hiring managers, and background checkers for that matter across the world. Unfortunately, it's also allowed some of those offshore telemarketing companies a legitimate way to contact you. I used to let their voice mails linger forever but now they can find me easier than Waldo in front of a green screen.

Where as Facebook exploits our vanity, LinkedIn feeds our pride and that seems to preempt our desire for online privacy. As for the 500+ connection milestone, I actually would have reached it years ago. But the old LinkedIn warned me against doing so. So it this point, I'm likely to accept any connection that comes my way. Whether or not it furthers my career is yet to be seen, but I can honestly tell you that for me and most business professionals in sales, marketing, advertising and any other business that relies on the Internet as heavily, it's become the most important part of my daily routine. I now check the "who's viewed your profile" section on my LinkedIn profile more often than checking my e-mail. So powerful are they that I even feared writing this article. If Instagram suspends my account, you won't know what I had for my dinner. If LinkedIn revokes my perceived privileges, I soon won't have the money to buy it.