Monthly Archives: May 2009

Content is Still King

83I‘m participating in a Webinar this afternoon hosted by my long-time friends and partners at Clickability. The Webinar is all about storytelling in the age of social media, or to be more pithy, how content is still king. This is hallowed ground for me. I got my degree in Creative Writing as an aspiring starving poet, but then became a journalist when I didn’t enjoy starving. My first startup was in Web-based publishing, and as a marketer I’ve leveraged my passion for writing to better understand the power of positioning and messaging. Today, SocialRep is all about gathering and making sense of consumer stories.

My perspective on content today is shaped by what’s happening to the structure of media. I’ve been hammering this concept of the media bubble and how it’s bursting, and content is one of the main issues at play. Think about the media structure we’ve grown up with: a monolithic media edifice in which a cohesive story–whether news, PR or advertising–is researched, baked and transmitted like a surging tide over the accepting audience. All of our business infrastructure is built around this edifice, rather than the customers who buy our products. Advertising isn’t about relationships with customers, it’s about relationships with media buyers and media channels. PR is about relationships with analysts and reporters. To the extent that we incorporate customers into the story, it’s either petri-dish research into demographics and psychographics, or convenient case studies that exemplify our storyline.

All of that is changing, for reasons I won’t rehash, but you can read about in the media bubble post. The point for businesses today is twofold: 1) barriers to business are reduced by technology and increasing global competition, which means more competition for customer attention, 2) big media is faltering, which means the channels for telling the story the way we’re all used to are narrowing.

The simple fact is that companies can no longer rely on getting their story out to consumers effectively through the old media channels. Getting your story out through social media is rapidly growing alternative, but it doesn’t function the way businesses are organized to operate. You can’t just bake a story and hit “send” and expect that consumers will digest it. They’re more likely to challenge it, and call BS on every little point of convenient spin you’ve so carefully crafted. Instead, companies need to live their stories, and they need to take ownership of their own storytelling.

I won’t take the wind out of the Webinar. We’ll be talking about content in the context of social media, including marketing and selling processes and of course, technology. Robert Carroll, VP of MarketingĀ  from Clickability is hosting, and I’ll be joined by Sandy Carter, VP from IBM, and Eloqua’s CTO, Steven Woods. You can find a link to the Webinar, including on-demand viewing after today, at Clickability’s site.

Photo Credit:goldsardine

Vado HD Pocket Video Camera

Over the past couple of months, I’ve been heads down and out of sight–even off Twitter, gasp!–working on SocialRep and working for our customers. I’ve finally got a few moments to come up for air, and I want to write a few posts about some of the cool projects our customers are developing. You can take this as a disclaimer: I’m honored by the customers we’re working with and I’m excited about what they’re doing. I’m not wearing the hat of a reporter, but of a marketing exec, so take any comments I make about products and services in that light.

For today’s post, I want to highlight Creative Labs, one of the most prolifically innovative consumer electronic companies out there. In the early days of the desktop revolution, Creative developed the SoundBlaster, bringing high fidelity sound to what otherwise would be just computing machines with video. What’s multimedia without sound? Years later, before anyone heard of the iPod, Creative began developing MP3 players, like the Nomad and the Nomad Jukebox, which later evolved into the Zen that Creative still produces today. They have an incredibly broad product line of computer sound cards, headphones, MP3 players, pro audio equipment, video conferencing equipment, home audio devices to wirelessly join your computer and stereo, and the Vado line of pocket video cameras, the smallest HD cameras on the market. I’ve joked they should market themselves as the Willy Wonka of consumer electronics.

Creative is working incredibly hard to redefine the way they develop and market products, and I’ve had the great fortune of working them on some projects. One of the benefits, of course, is scoring some sample products, and I took home an armload of Creative products to play with. One product, which I’ve become addicted to is a high-end gaming headset with a noise canceling microphone. I can do Skype calls from the coffee roasters and no one can tell I’m not in my office. But the product I wanted to shamelessly shill today is their Vado HD, a tiny hi-def video camera that’s smaller than your wallet, but shoots an hour of high quality video. The uses for a blogger like me are obvious, promising the ability to shoot interviews and customer case studies with a device I can fit in a jacket pocket. (Now if only I could fit my production and editing partners in a pocket too…)

So I shot my first ready-for-YouTube video this weekend. Peter Byck, the CEO of Winery Exchange invited me up to his family’s ranch and winery at Paradise Ridge for his annual holiday campout. Up near the winery, they’ve partnered with local artists to provide a place to install large sculptures. There are some truly amazing pieces of art, many of which incorporate sound and interaction. One of those pieces I captured on hi-def video using the Vado HD.

I still have a lot to learn about using such a small camera correctly. Ideally, you want to capture a short piece in one take with no need to edit. When you do, you can literally just plug the camera into a USB port, use the popup video browser to find your clip, press the YouTube button and fill out your video data, and the next step is watching your uploaded video on the Web. Check out the clip in HD if you have a good connection.

As I mentioned, Creative is doing a lot of work on redefiining their marketing approach. Keep an eye out for some of their new programs and campaigns. I’ll post more about what Ican, when I can.

Embracing the Tortoise

bunnybonesI‘m doing a Webinar today on Surviving and Thriving in the Economic Downturn, along with Thor Muller from Get Satisfaction and Scott Wilder from Intuit, moderated by Bill Johnston from Forum One, who also manages the fantastic Online Community Unconference. Working on my thoughts around this topic has been a great opportunity to reflect on why SocialRep is still plugging along quite well, in the midst of all the economic doom and gloom.

There are a lot of factors at play. But when I stand back and think about the meta frame for why SocialRep is still tooling along instead of flaming out or getting pummeled, there’s a pattern that interests me. In Startup World, especially in the valley, the dominant imperative is speed. Organize quickly. Raise money. Get to market fast. Grow fast. Run, baby, run. But for us, the focus palpably shifted last August when we stopped chasing money to focus instead on customers and product quality. Sure, we’ve grown much slower, but today we have a much more solid product and a base of revenue, which is perfect for a slow economic environment.

In short, we’ve embraced the Tortoise. We’ve taken a long view of the market, and marshaled our resources to move deliberately and steadily, holding ourselves in check when hares seem to pop up and speed away in front of us. It’s nerve racking sometimes to see a new competitor jump up and sprint away, but by now we’ve seen a couple of those hares further down the road, flattened like roadkill.

What does it mean to Embrace the Tortoise? It means to find and focus on your vision, and find your own pace in the market by being true to your customers and your product. A long term vision is not just stringing short-term results together–if you’re always sprinting, you eventually run out of steam. You need a solid sense of direction you believe in enough to plod toward, without being driven to waste your energy every time a competitor makes a move. It’s a marathon, not a sprint.

It also means to take a long-term view in understanding your market–and this is especially important in marketing and social media. If you want to make it further than the next turn in the road, you need some strategy to anticipate what’s beyond it. The best way to do that is to be a student of history, which is something in short supply in the marketing profession. I talk frequently about the historical context of the social media phenomenon and the bursting media bubble. If you want a synopsis, I wrote about here.

It’s been a busy few weeks, but I’m happy to say I’m finally circling back with Jonathan Knowles to continue the discussion on Social Media and Marketing ROI, and we’re launching a survey together to measure marketer’s experiences with social media metrics. If you’re a marketing professional, please join us and take the survey. We’ll provide the results to everyone who participates.