Monthly Archives: April 2007

A Love Letter to the Thinkpad

It’s hard to believe, but I finally did it. I just pulled the trigger on a new notebook computer. This after almost 8 years–yes, you read that right–8 years on an IBM 600 Thinkpad. I don’t know of any product that lasts 8 years these days. It’s even older than my Subaru. But somehow, not only did it keep on running, it kept up with what I needed it to do, running Windows XP and Office 2003 with a removable wireless card that came out 3 years or so after I bought the machine.

Mar07In case your wondering, yes, I used the laptop almost every day. But no, I don’t watch movies or play games on it. I pretty much operate on email, browser, word and powerpoint, though I used to do a fair amount of development on the road with dreamweaver and photoshop. I just never found the need to replace it, especially when the warranty and repairs were so effective. I replaced the keyboard once. I replaced the batteries a few times. I cracked open the case once to fix an audio connection. That’s it. And that includes at least two or three hard drops, and countless "soft" drops in my laptop bag.

But finally the time came for an upgrade, and to honor my incredible experience with the Thinkpad, I stuck with the brand and bought a new Z61T. It looks pretty much the same, except it has a lot more bells and whistles, and a 14-inch screen. I flirted with a Dell, customizing a high-end Latitude before going back to the Lenovo site, but at the end of the day the savings of $250 didn’t make up for the promise of another laptop with proven longevity. I’ve done the cheap route before. I bought an Acer that literally started to fall apart after 8 months. Not much savings when you factor in frequent replacements. And even though Dells are more solid than Acer’s, they can’t hold a candle to the durability of a Thinkpad–you can feel it when you hold the case–and they can’t hold a candle to the customer support.

The last time I called Dell, I wound up on a tech support loop that lasted nearly two weeks, with techs in Bangalore reading through canned support scripts. The last time I called support for my Thinkpad, I had simply forgotten my power cord on a sales trip to St. Louis, and couldn’t find a cord to power up my machine for a major presentation. A service rep found me a repair shop in St Louis where I picked up a used replacement. That’s something you can’t buy with just an extended warranty plan. 

So here’s to my Thinkpad 600. I wish all products were made that well. And I hope Lenovo weathers the transition and maintains the level of quality and service we’ve all come to expect, so I can get 8 years out of my new laptop. And if you’re wondering what I’m going to do with old machine, no, I’m not planning on recycling it. I’m going to stick in the case alongside my dad’s old laptop, one that’s lasted almost 10 times as long as my Thinkpad. It’s a late 1930s Hermes Baby, which my dad lugged around Europe in WWII. God only knows what my son might add to the collection some day.Img_6215

On The Road with Social Media

It’s been a crazy busy week. I’ve been heads down working on the business plan for both MotiveLab and MarketingRev. I’ve had a number of inquiries over the past week by different VCs nominally interested in seeing where this is all going, and I’m negotiating partnerships in Europe and Asia to scale up rapidly.

I had a chance to check out the AdTech show, but other than running into Mark Carlson from SimpleFeed, I didn’t see a whole lot to get excited about. Way too many carbon copy companies trying to sustain a feeding frenzy mentality. Get Rich Quick on Internet Advertising and Affiliate Marketing, Now!. I’ve got a bag full of collateral I’ll be filtering through next week to see if anything pops out.

I finished up the week at Clickability’s VIP conference, which was fantastic. Some very interesting insights from people at the heart of the traditional media meltdown and migration to the Web. I think it’s an event with the potential to transcend the typical user conference and become something nuch more–something about navigating the accelerating (R)evolution of mass media. I served on a panel discussing the impact of User Generated Content on traditional media, and had the pleasure of listening to Ken Jones from Five Across talk about some of the progressive things happening at Cisco, where Five Across has joined the portfolio of recent Cisco acquisitions with WebEx and Linksys. It sounds like Cisco has had a sincere life-altering epiphany and is reshaping itself from a communications technology company into a social media platform. I’m planning to interview Ken in the near future to find out more.

Stowe Boyd keynoted yesterday about the Ecology of Participation, and has posted his slides online. I videotaped an interview with Stowe during the break that will be in the lineup of my new video blog, launching in a few weeks. Never one to shy away from the provocative, Stowe declares the Death of PR in the interview. Should drive some good dialog.

Chris Alden from Six Apart also keynoted, and had some interesting insights about the continuing evolution of blogging. He sees a lot of uptake for blogging among corporations using the platform for productivity and internal communications in a way that augments email. He points out that email is not an ideal communications tool for managing information about projects, since it’s hard to search and easily archive a complex thread of email communications in one place. Blogs are ideal for hosting a thread of group communications that can be easily archived and search. He also sees the eventual merging of blogs and wikis, maybe five years down the road. Chris is also on my video interview list. He’s one of the founders of the original Red Herring magazine, and the founder of Rojo, an RSS news reader that was acquired by Six Apart, where he’s now EVP of the blogging platform company’s Professional Division. Needless to say, he’s got a lot of valuable insights on the social media industry.

WalMart’s Mid-Life Crisis

BusinessWeek has a cover story in this week’s magazine about Wal-Mart’s slowing growth and "dimming prospects". Competitors are eating into WalMart’s business, and their various strategies for finding new momentum have apparently stalled. As auther Anthony Bianco puts it:

If Wal-Mart seems short of answers at the moment, it might well be because there aren’t any good ones. Increasingly, it appears that America’s largets corporation has steered itself into a slow-growth cul de sac from which there is no escape.

That sounds pretty severe. But maybe the problem is the expectation for continued aggressive growth, rather than optimization. Victor Cook has done an analysis of Wal-Mart’s challenge with the Enterprise Marketing Framework, and believes there is a solution–hacking off the Sam’s Club business and a whole lot of revenue. Could Wal-Mart actually maximize it’s potential by lopping off $41 Billion in revenue? It sounds crazy, until you do the numbers and the underlying market strategy becomes evident.

Victor is putting together a compelling set of case studies that demonstrate the value of viewing corporate strategy through the Enterprise Marketing lens. This one is well worth the read. 

Web 2.0 Fashion

I was at the Web2.0 Expo in San Francisco today checking out the exhibition floor, when I caught sight of this technology fashion plate. Pants

I tried to get a close up shot of this fanny pack turned into a hip pack with a leg strap. But an enlargement will have to do.


If you’re looking for a unique chotchke to give away at your next event, nothing says tech-savvy more than a strap-down thigh pack.

Corporate Strategy Through a Marketing Lens

I’ve been getting under way with Victor Cook on a new book about the Enterprise Marketing Framework (EMF)–a framework of strategic analysis through the lens of marketing financials, based on Victor’s book, Competing for Customers and Capital. Victor is putting together a series of case studies that review major corporate events through the EMF lens.  His latest analysis looks at Microsoft’s bid for DoubleClick, which has driven a lot of media attention ever since Google threw a $2 billion offer on the table.

If you want a quick background on the story, you can find a blurb that I wrote for MarketingRev. The long and the short of it is that DoubleClick is the Internet king of banner advertising, and Microsoft wants it to bolster their Internet business. Google, the Internet king of text advertising, is now threatening to win a bidding war over DoubleClick, and analysts are competing to make dire predictions over the outcome.

Victor’s analysis, using the principles laid out in Competing for Customers and Capital, (reviewed here) demonstrates the unique insights that can be gained when you analyze a company’s market performance in light of their enterprise marketing expenses, their market share, and their market value. In the case of Microsoft, using the EMF to compare Microsoft’s software, gaming and Internet business markets sheds clear light on why Microsoft is so compelled to go after DoubleClick. I believe this is truly new ground being staked out for strategic marketers. Read the analysis on Victor’s blog

Experiential Marketing: SeaWorld vs. Legoland

I need to get out more. After a day at SeaWorld and a day at Legoland, I’ve gained an entirely new perspective on marketing. I know. Some of you will say, “wow, you need to let go”, but I can’t help it. The only vacation where I can really tune out is backpacking, where there’s little sign of human intervention. Put me in a resort or an amusement park, and to me it’s like swimming in a Petri dish of marketing. I constantly absorb all the packaging and spin and reverse engineer the intended segmentation and positioning. It’s fun. My son’s getting good at it too. “Daddy,” he said to me in line for Shamu, “SeaWorld must be targeting the NASCAR demographic.” Okay, maybe that was the voice in my head.

So for all you parents making a trip to San Diego this summer, let me put it in terms your kids will understand. SeaWorld kind of sucks. Legoland rocks. Only now I’ve ruined it. Because the reason SeaWorld sucks and Legoland rocks, is because the experience is entirely the reverse of their reputations. I came to SeaWorld expecting Disney World in a giant fish tank, and although you can’t help but be impressed by a whale doing a back flip, the small moments of awe are like diamonds strung on a necklace made of cheap string. The expectation of a world class amusement park simply doesn’t match up with reality.

Legoland, on the other hand, has a reputation of being an amusement park for third-graders, an impression that grows when you first enter the park. My son was giddy with excitement at every sight of a Lego dinosaur or giraffe. And after a kiddy coaster and a storybook boat ride, I steeled myself for an entire day in It’s A Small World™ hell. But I turned out to be wrong. Legoland is like a bird trying to break out of a thick shell. The vestiges of a 1960s kiddy park are everywhere, but there also a lot of really cool hands-on activities, and some new rides diabolical enough to attract adrenaline junkies—including a row of huge manufacturing robots that twist and spin their hapless victims like parts on an assembly line. While the riders are flipped and dangled over a pond, spectators control small cannons that shoot water at the riders. Time it just right, and someone being flipped at three Gs over the pond gets a blast of water in the face before they’re whipped back around and flipped over the next cannon. Oh, and riders choose their own ride intensity. Can you handle Extreme?

As a marketer, seeing these two parks back to back—huge revenue generators stoked with millions of dollars in targeted packaging and spin—was its own amusement experience. They’ve both been around so long that you can clearly see how they’ve dealt over time with a changing culture and with the growing challenge of a massively over-stimulated video generation. And in this, they’re polar opposites. As two prime examples, let’s take their respective approaches to environmental consciousness and audience engagement.

At SeaWorld, you’re constantly reminded of their dedication to conservation and environmental protection. By big signs co-branded with corporate sponsor Anheuser Busch. But they seem to miss every opportunity to make it part of the experience. In the long meandering walkway that threads through the very cool Shark Experience, there is an endless opportunity to educate visitors with interactive displays and video—the kind of thing you’d expect at a real aquarium. The kind of thing that says, “this is what we’re all about”. Instead, the walls are completely empty, reminding you that you’re just waiting line, until you get to the big sign trumpeting SeaWorld’s conservation partnership with Anheuser Busch, reminding you that beer and funnel cakes are waiting for you just outside.

You get the same sense of window dressing with the performances. The animals are beautiful, but the trainers seem like Richard Simmons devotees on steroids, clapping and dancing with 1000-watt smiles. No one comes to SeaWorld to see synchronized wetsuit dancing, but that’s what you get. I suspect animal rights regulations have eliminated the triple-back-flip-gainer-through-a-ring-of-fire performances. Now you get a couple of high jumps and a lot of audience splashing, as if they went to the Gallagher school of comedic performance. Oh, and the constant sound tracks with syrupy voices. They sound like they were written by a real estate ad writer dabbling in new age religion. “…where those that swim the oceans touch those that walk on land…” It’s worse than getting seasick.

Legoland faces the same challenges in a completely different way. The park makes up for a lack of issue-driven window dressing, with creative ways to engage and interest the same audience. Instead of spouting off about environmentalism at every turn, Legoland engages socially conscious visitors by offering healthy food. When you walk into one of their markets, along with the cappuccinos and lattes, they have fresh fruit, yoghurt and cereal. They have salad bars and pasta. They have juices and lots of plain old water. Yes, they still have burgers and coke, but the alternative is equally available, and that realization carries a much more effective message than a self-congratulatory billboard.

The same ethic holds true in their approach to engaging visitors. They don’t have a ton of new rides, but the ones they have are exciting, and they’re doing some interesting things by making the rides interactive—a number of rides have features where spectators can shoot water at the riders. It’s subtle, but you get the sense that they’re starting to let the same excitement for engineering and imagination that drives their product innovation seep into their park. It’s not broadcast from overhead speakers while you’re waiting in line, but the impression comes through loud and clear.

In all, the back to back experience of Legoland and SeaWorld seems like a metaphor for companies dealing with the big changes in consumer expectations. Some companies throw a lot more money at plastering messages and packaging over their problems, while other companies focus on digging down to find and explore the real value they can offer that will engage their market. The experience speaks for itself.

Today we’re heading back north and stopping at the LeBrea Tar Pits. You know. Dinosaurs. Stuck in tar. Wonder what else we’ll find.

If It’s Tuesday, It Must Be Shamu

I’m a fish out of water this week. Instead of writing my blog from a local coffee shop listening to a Reggae cover of Dark Side of The Moon, I’m in a Baker’s Square in San Diego, listening to what sounds like a Yanni cover of Chicago’s greatest hits. The cover of USAToday features a story on the “mind-boggling” growth of morbid obesity in America; the Baker’s Square menu features a line-up of 5000-calorie entries. Oatmeal and fruit are side orders. When I order them, the waiter waits for a moment, then asks, is that all?

It’s spring break and my wife and I are taking my 5-year-old son on a road trip. Sea World, Legoland, the Mother-in-Law’s. It’s all a blur. I’m still on my daily clock, up early while the others sleep. Time enough to get a little writing done and get my thoughts about business out of the way for the day. T

his week is shaping up to be the clutch between first and second gears. I’ve got a partnership with Clickability that will move into high speed next week. I’ve got another partnership with Miner Productions moving into full swing with a Social Media bootcamp event that we’re planning for fall. I’m moving into a daily writing schedule on a book with Victor Cook, and I’ve just shot the first of a new video blog series that will go into production in a couple of weeks.

In the midst of all this activity, I’m starting to put the first pieces together to organize and grow. I hope to be able to announce the addition of an editor for MarketingRev before the end of the month as we work on the transition over to the new Clickability platform, as well as my first cycle of paid sponsorship.

But today is still Tuesday.Time for Shamu.

Marketing Needs Geeks, Not Gurus

Someone introduced me the other day as a marketing "guru". It was one of those moments where you drift off mentally and start watching the discussion like a detached observer. You could almost see the thought bubbles popping out my head. "Hmmmm. Guru…"  It was someone I respect, so I was kind of flattered. Guru. Someone with answers. A man with a plan. But the more I started to think about it, the more I started to suspect my sense of flattery was misguided. I mean, how many words do we have to describe someone who spends too much time thinking and then pontificates about the most grinding minutiae? Like, what "guru" really means. The only other title I can think of that’s equally vague on the professional value I provide to the world is "consultant". And who wants to introduce a consultant when you can introduce a guru?

A few hours after basking in the afterglow of misplaced flattery, I got schooled on how tenuous the domain of gurudom can be. I submitted an article to a friend’s newsletter on Marketing ROI, in which I took my usual stance of flogging marketers for flaunting buzzwords and failing to grasp deeper meanings. That’s kind of like an old baseball mitt for me. Fits nice, usually does the job. Except this time I got called on it. Jim Lenskold, who publishes mROI Insights, sent back my draft with some very diplomatic editorial comments. Translated into the vernacular, he said "Dude. You’re beating a straw man. Add some substance." That started the very beginnings of a useful conversation about the current state of Marketing ROI thought, and demonstrated how deeply many individual threads of marketing thought are being mined by people like Lenskold. How could I be a guru when there’s such a vast amount of knowledge I don’t know?

And that’s when a lightbulb went off. Why do marketers focus so much on elevating gurus? And why don’t we have more geeks? A guru is always supposed to have an answer, while a geek is just someone who’s really really interested in finding out how to make things work. The irony, of course, is that the single most ancient rule of Guruhood is that it’s not having the answers that matters, but getting the questions right.

But gurus don’t ask questions–at least not the kind they really want answers to. If I’m a guru, I can’t let Jim know that I may need to be brought up to speed on the latest in Marketing ROI. I Must Know All. On the other hand, if I’m a geek, I can just say "Cool. So how do you do that? What else do you know?" In a business world that is changing so blindingly fast, with a constant flood of new technologies, new ideas and new opportunities how long can any one guru conceivably last before they’re obsolete? And how long before we notice they’re obsolete and stop listening to their pointless babble? You don’t have that problem with geeks, because geeks are always focused on learning–well, at least as much as they like to show off–and are always interested in gathering with other geeks to learn. Everyone wins. Well, everyone except the marketer who thinks an answer from a guru will save him from getting his ass kicked at the next board meeting.

I know it will be really hard to shed this deeply engrained need for the certainty that comes with the spouting of pundits. But what marketing really needs today is more geeks, not gurus. Everyone can be a marketing geek, while marketing gurus, if there really are any, are bound to look stupid in the long run. Why run the risk of having them take you along for the ride?

Home Again, Home Again, Jiggety Jig

I’ve just wrapped up my guest blogging gig with Unica–two months writing about social media–and turned the reigns over to Rand Schulman and Steve O’Brien, who will be blogging about Internet Marketing. Guest blogging for someone else has it’s risks and rewards. On the one hand, it’s a good way to dilute your attention and lose some focus on your own blog, and maybe some traffic momentum. On the other hand, it can be a good way to gain some new perspective and reach a new audience.

For me, the guest blogging was a calculated risk. I’ve been interested in social media for a long time, but dabbling mostly on the periphery. I knew that guest blogging for Unica under a public banner, "The Power of Social Media", would challenge me to bring a lot more focus to the topic. And that paid off in spades. The biggest impact is that the experience moved me to refocus my agency squarely in the social media space, and led to the relaunch of MotiveLab last month. It also led to the development of a new blog that will parallel MarketingRev, called SocialPlug, which will be launching in a couple of weeks.

So now my gig with Unica is up, and coming home to Marketonomy is another shift in perspective. Instead of just stepping back into an old pair of comfortable shoes, I’m looking around and thinking about making some changes here too. Nothing certain yet, just looking. If you have any suggestions or ideas, please weigh in and challenge me. It’s nice to be back.