felixleong + marketing   33

When You Should Ignore Your “Customers”
I do a lot of sales through email marketing — to folks who specifically requested that I email ‘em.

I don’t email all that much; most months, I don’t email at all.

For the past month, I’ve been sending 1-2 emails a week. Not just “buy my shit” emails, but free samples from the class, free advice, true life stories of the lessons I’ve learned. (Plus fat discounts for my 30×500 Product Launch Class.)

In other words: good shit. Good news. Stuff people want.

OMG! A European Is Angry on the Internet!

And yesterday this email appeared in my inbox:

Amy, I really like you and your blog. Really, I mean it. However
you’re getting in touch more often than my mum. I’m not sure if it’s
how it works in the US, but in Europe people rather get pissed off. I
have plenty of e-mails already. I like to read some of your stuff if
it’s time to time. I will unsubscribe if you’ll be sending so many
e-mails.No hard feelings, just saying.

Action Required!! …Or is it?

What would you do, if you got this email?

Probably try to stop annoying people, right? After all, you don’t to piss off a bunch of Europeans, do you?

Well… yes. You really, really do.

Pissing people off is actually great for your business. Not just great — but required.

Why I’m Happy to Piss People Off

Here’s what I wrote back:

And that, my friend, is why so many Europeans fail at their businesses.They think that some imaginary social boundaries are more important than doing what’s necessary — and more important than doing what helps the most people.The folks who stay on my list are the ones who want to hear from me… and they buy. The folks who unsubscribe are the ones who don’t buy. Why would I waste my effort & potential income & dilute my message in order to please people who won’t buy? Being successful means doing what works over & over & over again. And that’s just what I’m doing.

Overly didactic? Snarky? Maybe. But truth.

The folks who are invested are staying on my list — overwhelmingly. Over 90% of them stick around.

You know, I almost don’t even care if those people buy what I’m selling. The invested people who stick around are infinitely more likely to be people I can help. Who’ll take my free advice and put it to use.

Which furthers my mission to create more happy, healthy, thriving indie biz.

Irritated people don’t invest. They don’t listen — even when it’s free. And if they don’t listen, what’s the chance that they’ll implement it?

I can’t help them.

So I’m happy when they get fed up and leave.

The Bottom Line: Aphorisms Edition

The empty can rattles the most. And our immediate, instinctive urge is to try to please them. We want to please people.

The squeaky wheel gets the grease. But it shouldn’t — not when that wheel’s never gonna roll the direction you want.

But we’ve gotta save up our precious energy & focus for our customers who are already pretty happy.

There’s no reward in listening to people who want to change everything about you, your business, or your products.

What do you do?

Do you have a great pissed-off-non-customer story? Have you caved to the loud minority before? (I have — it’s an almost irresistible urge.) Do you have an “action plan” for handling emails like that?

And if you want to get free advice, free goodies, free lessons from my always-sold-out 30×500 Product Launch Class… click here and sign up for the email list

Related posts:When Customers Bitch About Your Price (Biz Book Friday)
Writing the Charm Sales Letter: Backwards Time Lapse Video
“I Half-Expect a Kitten with a Top Hat…” – Why I Do What I Do
Customers  Marketing  from google
october 2011 by felixleong
The Forehead Slap Test for Sexy Sales
Afraid your idea’s too much sizzle and not enough steak?

The Forehead Slap Test is an awesome copywriter’s trick,
originally by a famous, wildly successful old school copywriter named Clayton

(Old school here means direct response marketing — aka mail you receive in your real, physical mailbox. Crayzee!)

The Forehead Slap Test tells you if your product is too anemic and under-endowed to score sales… or if it’ll be the product your customers swoon for.

With the Forehead Slap Test, you’re testing the punch of your
pitch. You’re testing for URGENCY and DESIRE, immediacy and obviousness.

Applying the Forehead Slap Test for Fun & Profit

Here’s how you do it:

Imagine your potential customer, leaping out of bed one morning
because of an epiphany — the kind that solves itself in your

She leaps up, slaps herself resoundingly on the forehead, and

“Holy shit, I …………”

You fill in the blank with what your product does for that customer.

That’s the awesome revelation that your product should be creating, or delivering, for the suddenly awakened customer.

Positive Examples: Yes!

“Holy shit… I gotta stop wasting my time hunting down this damn bug! I can get help!”

“Holy shit… I gotta stop chasing after more traffic, and squeeze more money from the traffic I already have. Cuz I already HAVE it!”

“Holy shit… I can sell something new to my EXISTING customers, cuz I already know where they are!”

“Holy shit… if I could just negotiate a 20% pay raise, I’d pay down all my debt!”

“Holy shit… I should master the crap out of Rails so I can take advantage of all those poor bastards tweeting how they can’t find anyone to hire.”

“Holy shit… I might get more play if my breath wasn’t so funky.”

“Holy shit… I’m sitting on a gold mine of material. I could sell this to other people just like it is!”

The Anti-Slaps that Get No Play

“Holy shit… I should learn proven strategies for hunting down bugs.”

“Holy shit… I could read everything about how to do split-testing
on web sites.”

“Holy shit… I could read a book on negotiation and learn how to increase my value to my employer.”

“Holy shit… I should evaluate customer retention strategies.”

“Holy shit… I can learn how to build simple CRUD apps in Rails.”

“Holy shit… I gotta brush with twice the flouride.”

“Holy shit… I could learn to monetize pre-existing content.”


As we say on the mideastern seaboard:

Yeah… no.

Can’t you just feel how badly this second set falls flat?

Successful Slap == Killer Sales

No slap == slow or no sales. It’s that simple.

Without the forehead slap, it’s soooo much harder to motivate people to get off their butts and buy. Not impossible – not always. But much, much harder.

The anti-slaps above are snooze-worthy because they’re riddled with faux benefit-speke.

Theoretically, it’s a benefit that your toothpaste has twice the flouride, or that your screencasts cover EVERYTHING to do with Rails.

But factually? Nobody cares.

There’s no urgency. There’s no burning need. There’s no desire. There’s no clear end result.

Nobody’s going to pop out of bed one morning and slap themselves over it.

The Forehead Slap uncovers weak central pitches… and gives you a mechanism to improve them.

Slap Some Foreheads Today

Try the Forehead Slap today. You can apply it to:

the way you sell an existing product
concepts you’re working on for future products
your blog posts, tweets, & other freebie content

It works on everything.

Holy shit… I could kiss clients goodbye for good!

Yup, that’s right. There’s a slap in here for my 30×500 Launch Class workshop. The workshop that’ll help you learn how to create forehead-slap-approved product concepts, as many as you want, whenever you want.

And the class that’ll teach you how to spec ‘em out, break ‘em down, price ‘em up, and get ‘em shipped and selling. Without giving up your day job.

This blog post is an excerpt from one of the lessons. There’s sooo much more where this came from.

Want more awesome, actionable, slap-worthy biz advice delivered straight to your inbox, for free?

Drop your name and email address in the box riiiiight here:


Email address:

Funmail Guarantee: Obv there’s no obligation whatsoever. You can unsubscribe at any time. And I promise to send you nothing but free goodies and samples and discounts and awesome stuff like that!

Killer forehead photo cc maureen lunn.

Related posts:The 5-part 30×500 Taste Test (Early Bird Ends Today!)
Writing the Charm Sales Letter: Backwards Time Lapse Video
Pricing Your Product: The D&D Test
Marketing  from google
september 2011 by felixleong
How Better Writing Gets You Better Treatment
Today’s guest contributor is professional writer, blogger and digital entrepreneur, Men With Pens‘ James Chartrand.


The words were out of my mouth before I could stop them:

“When you dress properly and look clean, people treat you better. They’ll think you’re smart. And that you come from a good family with money. They’ll be nicer and pay attention and help you more. Don’t you want that?”

After I’d spoken, I fell silent and felt guilty. What an awful, biased, discriminating thing to say – and worse, I’d said it to my six-year-old daughter.

Some role model I was, right?

But I hadn’t been thinking when blurted that out. I’d been frustrated and irritated because I needed to take my daughter to the hospital, and she’d been (loudly) refusing to brush her long, curly hair.

I don’t blame her. She’d been sick, it was tangled, and it hurt.

Here’s the problem: No matter how much we wish the world to be a fair place that judges people for their inner worth and not their outer appearance… it just doesn’t work that way.

Sad, but true. Clean, well-dressed people are perceived to be more educated, skilled or experienced. And they get better treatment because of it. Disagree with me? Go stand next to a beggar and ask the first person to pass by for some help or a few dollars.

In business, things are much the same – and we know this. We dress well, have nice websites, and put our best foot forward for our clients. We realize (sometimes intuitively) that our appearance directly influences our reputation, our potential, and our chances of making the sale.

We want to look capable. We want to create a good impression. We want prospects to think, “This could be the guy we’re looking for.”

Let’s take things online, shall we?

Online, there aren’t any face-to-face interviews. It’s all websites and blogs and newsletters and emails. Sure, you have some Skype calls and videos thrown into the mix, but for the most part, people learn more about you and your business through written communication.

And how you present yourself in words means everything to your success.

It starts with design. People land on your website and in seconds, decide whether it looks appealing enough for them to stick around. If they like what they see, they start to read.

And they start making all sorts of judgements about you.

They decide whether you’re smart. Whether you’re sassy or friendly. Whether you’re professionally skilled or specialized in your field. Whether you’re experienced enough for what they need. And whether you’re nice.

They haven’t met you yet. They have no clue who you are. But they make decisions and assumptions about you and your business based on how you present yourself… in writing.

That means that what you write and the way you write it directly influences people’s perceptions – and in turn, how they treat you and whether they should buy from you based on those perceptions.

If they think your home copy sounds expert, they’ll assume you’re a good choice for their project. If your About page sounds personable, they’ll assume you’re a nice guy. If your Services page is clear and concise, they’ll assume you’re on the ball.

And if your sales copy speaks to them… they’ll trust you with their money.

They don’t even know who you are. Or whether you can do what you say you can do. Or whether your product is going to work or break.

But if you write compelling, engaging words… they’ll believe you’re everything your writing conveys.

The problem is that most business owners don’t know how to write in a way that reflects the image they want to present to readers. They might write well enough, sure, but does their writing create trust, build a bond and convey the right image to pull in sales?

Very often, no.

And if you’re writing your own business content, you’ll want to think about learning better techniques. Why? The answer is simple: If your copy is awkward, if your blog post is clunky, if your newsletter is boring… you’ve lost a sale. Probably several.

You’re leaving money on the table.

That’s not something you want to do, so here are 3 tips (and a bonus!) on how can improve your copy to instantly improve your business credibility – and of course, get better results.

Focus on “you”, not “I”

When businesspeople write about their company, what it does, and why it’s a good choice, it’s tough to write using a “you” focus. But the alternative is writing “we” all over the place. “We do this, we do that, we, we, we.” That gives readers the impression your business is arrogant and doesn’t care about them much. Go through your copy now. Rewrite every “we” so that it reads “you” instead – and see the difference yourself!

Cut the fluff

Most business people are long winded, especially when it comes to writing their own web copy. They think longer sentences sound more professional. But short, easy-to-read, easy-to-understand words create a better impression – yes, even if your visitors are high-level executives. Why use 20 words when 5 will do? Cut out all the fluffy words and trim your content down so that even a teenager could read it – your bottom line will thank you, and so will your readers.

Add some spunk

Some people think that “professional writing” means informative, bland and devoid of personality – but people (and customers) much prefer seeing a more human side, even in business. So go ahead and add personality to your web copy, with little phrases that make people smile or a bit of witty prose. Not too much, though: Personality is a seasoning best used with gentle moderation.

Cut back on the catchwords

Some people use so many catchwords and trendy phrases that it’s nearly impossible to figure out what they’re talking about. (Normstorming? Sounds cool, but what the…??) Trying to be too cool with your copy ends up losing you customers who think you’re just crazy. Be clear, never clever, and make sure you use simple phrases that site visitors understand at first glance – without having to think about it for 10 minutes.
Your online success directly hinges on your content and copy. So learn the techniques. Improve your writing skills. Put every chance on your side.

Because just like my daughter’s brushed hair and clean clothes got her better treatment, your polished words and well-written content bring you better sales and business results.


Men with Pens’ famous writer James Chartrand recently launched Damn Fine Words, the game-changing writing course for business owners.
Blogging  Branding  Business_Strategy  Marketing  Writing  from google
september 2011 by felixleong
Will Internet Fame Help You Sell Shit?
Why, hello there. Do you plan to subscribe to Unicorn Free? If so, you might be the one that tips me over the ginormously important 2,000 subscriber mark.

I’m so excited to crest that magical number. Soon I will be awash in riches and cabana boys!

Because it’s nothing at all to sell shit when you’re famous, right? All you have to do is crook your little finger and your 2,000 True Fans come a-runnin’, wallets outstretched.

Ahhh, Not Quite…

Reality, as it turns out, is a little bit more nuanced.

Is it easier to sell things when you have an audience of tens thousands, rather than an audience of tens? Yes. No. Maybe. It depends.

The Weblebrity Litmus Test

As Professor Cosmo has taught us, wherever there is nuance, there are hackneyed quizzes to stamp it out.

Here’s one for you to help you analyze the value of your audience (or potential audience):

What Type of Internet Famewhore are You?

Is your audience a coherent group audience…
…or a group of unique & beautiful snowflakes — the only thing they hold in common is you?
Do they trust you?
Do they follow you for humor value, old-style celebrity (you’re just… famous)…
… or out of interest in your work/skills/thoughts/involvement in things/hobbies?
Are you selling them something they want?
Do they buy things like the thing you’re selling?
Do you have any clue how to sell effectively?
Do you annoy them with your commerciality…
… or do they view your marketing activities as a lovely value-add?

If Your Fame Passes Muster…

Then it’s possible that your internet fame might actually help you sell shit! Hooray!

On the other hand, it might not. Fame is a fickle beast. It’s not pixie dust.

You can’t just sprinkle a thousand followers on your product and expect success.

True story: I’ve known Gary Vee for years now. A few times, he’s done me the favor of pimping one of my products to his audience… of nearly a million followers. And each time, it had no measurable effect whatsoever.

What to Do Instead of Seeking Fame

Fame can help — but only if it’s high quality fame, and under specific circumstances, and used properly. That’s an awful lot of conditionals.

The facts are in: A lack of fame is not the barrier you think it is.

Remember: It’s taken me over nearly 18 months to get to 1,900 subscribers. Folks may call me “internet famous,” but the facts are not quite so expansive. Thing is, even with <2,000 subscribers, I’m still having a grand old time living off income from my products. I’m not Richie Rich, but I’m doing just fine.

So take it from me: stop worrying about fame. Stop fetishizing numbers.

Don’t wait for your 15 minutes. Act now. Get out there and write, teach, share, make and sell awesome stuff.

Related posts:Don’t bite the shit sandwich
How to Sell Your Digital Goods
Trying to sell Nourishing Gruel?
Marketing  from google
august 2011 by felixleong
Bonfire of the Vanities
When I was in my 20’s, I was taught the relationship between marketing and sales over a bonfire.

Over thirty years ago, before the arrival of the personal computer, there were desktop computers called office workstations. Designed around the first generation of microprocessors, these computers ran business applications like word processing, spreadsheets, and accounting. They were an improvement over the dumb terminals hanging off of mainframes and minicomputers, but ran proprietary operating systems and software. My third startup, Convergent Technologies (extra credit for identifying the photo on page 2) was in the business of making these workstations.

The OEM Business
Convergent’s computers were bought and then resold by other computer manufacturers – all of them long gone: Burroughs, Prime, Monroe Data Systems, ADP, Mohawk, Gould, NCR, 4-Phase, AT&T. Convergent had assembled a stellar team with founders from Digital Equipment Corporation and Intel and engineers from Xerox PARC.  And once we went public, we hired a veteran VP of Sales from Honeywell.

As the company’s revenues skyrocketed, Convergent started a new division to make a multi-processor Unix-based mini-computer. I had joined the company as the product marketing manager and now found myself as the VP of marketing for this new division. We were a startup inside a $200 million company. A marketer for 5 years, I thought I knew everything and proceeded to write the data sheets for our new computer.

Since this new computer was very complicated – it was a pioneer in multi-processing– I concluded it needed an equally detailed data sheet. In fact, when I was done, the datasheet describing our new computer, proudly called the MegaFrame, was 16 pages long. I fact-checked the datasheet with my boss (who would be my co-founder at Epiphany) and the rest of the engineering team.  We all agreed it was perfect. We’d left no stone unturned in answering every possible question anyone could ever have about our system. As we typically did, I printed up several thousand to send out to the sales force.

The day the datasheets came back from the printers, I sent the boxes to the sales department in Convergent’s corporate headquarters, a separate building across the highway, and sent a copy to our CEO and the new VP of Sales.  (I was thinking it was such a masterpiece I might get an “attaboy” or at least a “wow, thanks for doing all the hard work for our sales organization.”)

So when I got a call from the VP of Sales who said, “Steve, just read your new datasheet. Why don’t you come over to corporate.  We have a surprise for you,” I smugly thought, “They probably thought it was so good, I’m going to get a thank you or an award or maybe even a bonus.”

Fahrenheit 451
I got in my car to make the five minute drive over the freeway. Turning into the parking lot, I noticed smoke coming from the far end of the lawn. As I parked and walked closer I noticed a crowd of people around what seemed to be an impromptu campfire.  “What the heck??” As an ex Sales and Marketing VP, our CEO had a Silicon Valley reputation for outrageous stunts so I wondered what it was this time -  a spur-of-the-moment BBQ? A marshmallow roast?

Heading to a meeting with the VP of Sales, I almost walked past the crowd into the building  until I heard the VP of Sales call me over to the fire. He was there with our CEO feeding things into the fire.  In fact as I got closer, it looked like the campfire was being entirely fed by paper.  “Here, toss these in,” they said as they handed me a stack of…

Oh, my g-d they’re burning my datasheets!!!

The Bonfire of the Vanities
I stood there stunned as I realized that my 16-page carefully constructed, brilliantly written, technically accurate datasheets were being destroyed en masse. I guess I was speechless for so long that the VP of Sales took pity on me and asked, “Steve, do you know we have a sales force?” I managed to stammer out, “Yes, of course.”  He asked, “Do you know how much we pay them?”  Again, I managed to answer, “A lot.” Then he got serious and started to explain what was going on. (In the meantime our CEO watched my reaction with a big grin on his face.) He said, “Steve, I’ve never seen such a perfect datasheet. It answers every possible question a prospective customer could have about our product. The problem is that our computer sells for $150,000. No one is going to buy it from the datasheet. In fact, reading these, the only thing your datasheet will do is give a prospective customer a reason for saying “no” before our salespeople ever get to talk to them.

“Do you mean you want a datasheet with less information?!”  I asked, not at all sure that I was hearing him correctly. “Yes, exactly. Your job in marketing is to get customers interested enough to engage our sales force, to ask for more information or better, to set up a meeting.  No one is going to buy our computer from a datasheet, but they will from a salesman.”

Marketing to Match the Channel
It took me a few weeks to get over the lesson, but it stuck.  When selling a physical product through direct sales, Marketing’s job is to drive end user demand into the sales channel.  Marketing creates a series of marketing activities at each stage of the sales funnel to generate awareness, then interest, then consideration and finally purchase. 

Ironically, over the last decade, I’ve seen web startups have the opposite problem. For web sites with an ecommerce component, the site itself is supposed to both create demand and close the sale. Web designers have to do the work of both the marketing and the sales departments.

Lessons Learned

Marketing materials need to match the channel
Marketings job in direct sales channels with consultative sales need to drive demand to the salesforce
Indirect channels require marketing material with more information than a direct channel
Web sites that sell products combine sales and marketing
Confusing these can get you your own bonfire

Filed under: Convergent Technologies, Marketing
Convergent_Technologies  Marketing  from google
august 2011 by felixleong
What you should NOT learn about Marketing from HBR Campaigns?
I love Harvard Business Review. I really do. I have learned a number of things and got exposed to a number of thought leaders via the magazine.

However, I couldn’t help smiling when I watched some of their own marketing campaigns. For a company that is in the business of showcasing thought leadership, it was a bit of an irony.

Here is the scoop.

Today, both Kavitha (my wife) and I both received (via snail mail) offers to subscribe to HBR at a special rate. In fact, both the mailings said that this was the “lowest rate they allow”

The problem?

One mailing with the “lowest rate they allow” was priced at $89

Another mailing with the “lowest rate they allow” was priced at $79

Just did a Google search and there are were three advertisements – all for HBR. One of them said the price was $79 and the other one said, the price was $99. I wonder if someone would actually click the $99 offer link when there is a competing $79 offer link.

A few things that you should NOT learn from HBR campaigns

1. How to do split tests
There are many ways to do a pricing split test but this is NOT one of them. At least use a database that will ensure that the same household is not the target of split test mailings.

2. Marketing Integrity
There was no need to stamp “lowest we will allow” on the mailings. It just does not leave a good taste if you are exposed.

3. Keyword Campaigns
There are far better ways to organize a keyword campaign then showing two ads with inconsistent messages for the same keyword.

4. Being Green
The amount of paper wasted is unbelievable.

Anything else shows up for you?

Related Posts:One more way to make Google rich!Google Adwords and a Blonde jokeWhat you say and what you mean…Can you take a guess?What can we learn from Google?
Compelling_Offers  Main_Page  campaigns  Harvard_Business_Review  HBR  irony  marketing  from google
july 2011 by felixleong
Paws Up, Little Monsters
A couple of weekends ago, as I was watching Lady Gaga's appearance on Saturday Night Live, I found myself wondering whether her rise to stardom might mark a shift. Are we looking at the return of something more reckless and radical in popular culture?

These are only a few stray signals, but they are provocative. Consider The Hangover, the $467 million success at the box office (The Hangover 2, the sequel, just opened). If these movies are about anything, it's reckless, playful, joyful, risk seeking. Alcohol, drugs, gambling, and stealing Mike Tyson's tiger are played for pathos but mostly for laughs. Excess is made glamorous; a certain lawlessness, charming.

Take the renewed stardom of Steven Tyler, lead vocalist for Aerosmith, and more recently a judge on American Idol. Tyler is famous for being appetitive and for taking risks. And if we're waiting for an apology, we can forget about it. He's just published a "greatest hits" of his self-indulgence called Does The Noise in My Head Bother You?

Lady Gaga was on SNL to celebrate her latest album. And she was, as she always is, an exercise in the sublime. She is theater. No gesture is too grand. No outfit too exaggerated. No song theme or video treatment too hyperbolic. Just when you think she's gone too far, that she must now tip into the ridiculous, she manages to redeem herself.

Lady Gaga is fashioning a contract with her fans (and our culture). This was made plain by the Google Chrome ad that played during SNL broadcast. In part, the ad is a compilation of clips placed on YouTube by fans in imitation and adoration of their "mother monster." My favorite clip is a teen dancing like a mad thing in what looks like the family kitchen. Some guy (her dad?) wanders into frame and out again, narrowly escaping lethal contact.

In part, the Chrome ad is a message from Lady Gaga to her fans. It begins "Listen up, little monsters," offering approval and encouragement. "Unleash your inner monster," she urges and "Stay strong, little monsters." This is an explicit call to arms, asking fans to embrace their otherness, their eccentricity, their most exuberant, expressive selves.

Call to arms? Make that a pause for paws. The Chrome ad shows several fans doing the "claw" gesture that has become Lady Gaga's nonverbal signature. (Try it on your son or daughter this evening. Just hold your hand up in the sign of the claw.) No one quite knows what this gesture means, apparently, but it is now being embraced as a sign of the revolution.

Kids dancing like maniacs in the kitchen. People find their way out of conventional selves into more vivid ones. Life as a reckless pursuit of the sublime. That is what America is for. Or to use the more solemn language of Daniel Bell, the great American sociologist, this is our expressive individualism, the right of every American to be whoever they want to be. This is one of the faces of American liberty.

That it is not always the soberest face of this liberty may be what makes it indispensable as a test. No one wants to be Charlie Sheen these days but most Americans believe that Charlie Sheen should be allowed to be Charlie Sheen. We believe that, America isn't America unless you can be Charlie Sheen (minus the anti-Semitism) without undue penalty. We may not want to be Charlie Sheen but most Americans defend his right to be Charlie Sheen.

These days America can be a dour place that frowns on eccentricity and even simplest expressions of individualism. (I recently wore red Nikes to a family picnic and an in-law said, "You must be losing it.") We are "contents under pressure." We are more and more about conformity and less about dancing in the kitchen. Of course there are good reasons for this. We are a nation at war. We are still in the grips of an economic downturn. Some parts of the economy are closed for business, now that all those jobs have been moved off shore. The exuberant cultural experiments of the 1960s have abandoned us.

The heroes of self-expression, we might call them, people like David Bowie, Brian Eno, Ozzie Osbourn, Kurt Cobain, Frank Black, have been supplanted by TV shows like American Idol and Glee, the object of which sometimes seems to be to force kids to sing the music of their parents. Music as an experimental zone fell silent. But in a culture that prizes individual liberty, it was only a matter of time before a champion of self-expression would rise again.

I know some readers believe that Lady Gaga is bad news. I was giving a talk to a roomful of managers about contemporary culture the other day, and someone asked darkly what I thought of the "dissoluteness." I got what he was saying. If you are a CFO for a large company, Lady Gaga's videos and that Chrome ad looks like an affront to civic virtue and private decency. The gender bending, the embrace of the other, the extravagant makeup, it all looks like trouble, an end to civilization as we know it.

I understand the alarm. (If nothing else, I'm a Canadian and we scare easily.) The good news, anthropologically speaking, is that there is no danger. Lady Gaga and her fans are "monsters" only in the sense that they depart from the soft rules of social life, the ones that govern self-expression. They are not threatening to break the hard rules of social life, to commit crimes against the person or the state. We may treat the liberty Lady Gaga urges on her fans as a "thing indifferent." It does not remove people from goodness or decency. It does not put the body politic at risk. It does not signal immorality, or the collapse of public order.

Lady Gaga is inevitable. And, having just supplanted Oprah on the Forbes celebrity list, she is powerful. If she represents the return of the "monster" as an object of admiration, something is changing . . . even as it remains the same.


Hats off to Google Creative Lab and BBH New York for creating the Chrome ad. Thanks to Debbie Millman, my Lady Gaga expert.

Grant McCracken is a research affiliate at MIT and the author of Chief Culture Officer.
Advertising  Branding  Marketing  from google
may 2011 by felixleong
What Competition?
The email came from a friend in the fitness world who was about to strike out on his own after building his personal training business in space rented within a gym. The scenario’s not all that uncommon. It’s how many personal trainers get started. Gym owners get rent and trainers get an as-needed space to train in. Everyone’s happy.
My friend’s success had proven to the club the viability (and income potential) of a personal training program. So, as he headed out the door, they decided to ramp their own in-house program…and they had much deeper pockets. My friend was a little freaked about the prospect of now having to compete with them.
So he asked me what to do. And with his permission, I’m sharing my advice to him with you…
First, step back. Stop looking so tactically. Look big picture. Why do people come to you in the first place? Pretty sure its’ not because you suck. It’s because of (1) who YOU are, (2) the experience YOU create for them, (3) the family YOU build to deliver that experience, and (4) the way YOU AND THAT FAMILY make them feel.
F@#k the other guys. Let them do whatever it is they need to do. THEY ARE NOT YOU!!! Own that. Take who you are and how what you create is special and do it better than you’ve ever done it before. You’re not competing against them unless you give up what you do best and let them drag you into playing on their field and by their rules.
You are the place 85% of people who wanted to workout would never have gone before BECAUSE you were housed in a gym that scares the crap out of them. You are everything a gym is not. Own that. Relish it. Amplify it. Build your brand around it. Treat people like gods, blow their minds, know their names, make them feel welcome coming in and amazing walking out.
The next few weeks will pass. Whatever happens, doesn’t really matter in the scheme of what you are building. Market, first and foremost by realizing and revealing how you will be different. Blow peoples’ minds on a consistent basis. And that includes your employees, give them every reason in the world to fall in love with you. Lead them, treat them with respect and compassion, like family. Then encourage everyone at every level to evangelize what you’ve created.
Yes, let the press know, run promotions, launch [top secret pre-launch strategy]. Get crazy creative.
But DO NOT FORGET THE CORE…you are not competing against the gyms, you are everything they are not. Own it, amplify it, feature it.
Reading that, it may sound like I’m anti-gym, but I’m not. The current model works for a certain percentage of the population, the 15% of U.S. adults who dig how big box facilities are run and what they offer. And there are enough of those people to keep most facilities in business (though it’s getting harder and harder to compete).
Sadly, though, this same model also alienates about 85% of U.S. adults who refuse to join or stay members. That number has stayed pretty consistent for decades, no matter how many bells, whistles, machines or marketing campaigns are added. Because, as I’ve discussed in an earlier article, the the problem runs core and culture deep.
And that has created a massive opportunity for niche newcomers and outliers who solve problems, offer lifestyle experiences and solutions and do business in a radically different way from day one. This is exactly what I did when I launched and grew two companies in the health and fitness world.
I didn’t care about the giant facilities that surrounded me on all sides or the established players. They had their place and they served their 15%. I wasn’t competing with them, my market was the other 85%. I was creating my own new solution tailored specifically to those who’d never do the big gym thing. My own blue fitness ocean. I turned the very fact that I didn’t have rows of machine, tons of TVs, busy locker-rooms, entertainment systems, key tag sign-in and loud music into an asset. I was there to serve those the rest of the industry had stepped around.
“Not being a gym,” though, isn’t a business model. Nor is “not being an XXX” in any industry. It’s an opportunity and a point of differentiation. But the business model is about what opportunities to serve, solve and delight this counter-mainstream positioning affords you.
It’s often about doing things in a way others either don’t yet understand are aren’t willing to explore because there’s too much uncertainty in contrast to a business model that’s relatively proven, but operating at a fraction of its potential.
Understand this…
Uncertainty, properly harnessed, is manna for innovation.
Lean into it. Dance with it.
The challenge is to focus not on how to be incrementally better, but how to change the game.
It ain’t easy, but if you can pull it off, it’s worth it.
Curious, how might this apply to your current career, business or life?
Branding  Business_Strategy  Entrepreneurship  Health_&_fitness  Marketing  Motivation_&_Success  Small_Business  from google
april 2011 by felixleong
The Moment You Speak To The World, You Speak to No One
Why would you target a microcosm, when the world is your market?
Oy, I’ve heard this so many times from small-business owners and bloggers. Folks who want to cast their nets as wide as humanly possible, so that they can reach the greatest number of people, solve their problems and turn them into readers, customers and evangelists.
Only problem with that is, its a recipe for disaster!
For you to succeed in business…
You’ve got to be be able to solve a very specific problem for a very specific person.
You may pile on more problems, more solutions and more types of people after the first one, but you never do it all at once.
And, you need to be able to communicate your solution in the most compelling possible way.
The best way to do that is to create an avatar, a detailed persona of the person who’s problem you can solve. What do they look like, where do they live, how old are they, what sex are they, are they having sex, what are their hopes, fears, desires, challenges, daily experiences, dramas, elations, yadda, yadda, yadda?
Start with their psyche, then build out their world.
Give that person a name. Reginald sounds good to me. Maybe even a telephone number and an address. Then, and only then, are you ready to begin trying to figure out how to communicate to Reginald how seriously you get his life. How much you know his struggles, his quirks, his hobbies and secret desires. How insanely better you can make his life.
And, when you create your message, you speak only to Reginald.
Because, in doing so, you can get so specific, go so deep into his specific mindset, life and emotions that you become monumentally more effective at making him your customer, client or reader. And maybe even turning him into one big, bad basket of evangelical goo!
But, and yes, here’s the big BUT…in making such a targeted bee-line into Reginald’s psyche, you’ve got to accept another fact.
You’re NOT going to be talking to a boatload of other people.
Folks who might be potential clients, but aren’t nearly as well qualified for your help or in nearly as much pain as Reginald is. Hell, to really hit a homerun, you’re going to have to get so specific with Reg that you may even end up alienating a whole lot of non-Reggies.
And, that freaks people out a bit.
Because we all want everyone to love us all the time. We want everyone to buy our stuff. We don’t want to lose a single potential customer, no matter how poorly qualified, tangentially interested or barely in-need that potential client might be.
So, instead of writing to Reginald, and ONLY Reginald, we attempt to speak to every conceivable person who might in some way be interested on even the remotest level. Every conceivable persona, world-view, pain-point and emotional trigger, no matter how weak the connection might be.
And, the problem with that is…
The moment you speak to the world, you speak to no one.
Because, when you try to make EVERYONE happy, you give up your laser focus on Reginald. You water down your rapport, your promises and your level of engagement with the one person who’s most in need. You build a sea of noise around the previously laser-targeted signal, then transmit the whole morass to the single most qualified, single most pained, single most in-need person…and expect your message to still resonate.
But, in doing so, you lose the person you’re most there to help…and most likely to sell.
So, when you’re looking to solve problems. When you’re looking to build a business around a remarkable solution. Don’t make the mistake of trying to speak to, engage, tantalize, solve for and sell to the world. Identify that one dream person. The one most in need. The one who’s already out there looking desperately for what you’ve created.
Go deep into that person’s world.
Understand the conversation that’s already going on in her head.
Then, enter that conversation.
Speak to that one exquisite seeker and nobody else.
Put on blinders.
But, before you do that, do one more thing…
Do not EVER launch or build a business UNTIL you’ve done the work needed to make sure there are enough Reginalds out there to keep you in business for years to come.
So, what about you?
Who’s the dream persona for your business?
Who are you writing to in your marketing, blogging and beyond?
The world…or them?
Business_Strategy  Entrepreneurship  Marketing  Persuasion  copywriting  from google
september 2010 by felixleong
From Made in China to Made For China
Foreign companies are finally wooing Chinese consumers either by designing products for them or by unveiling global brands first in the country. In September 2010, France's Hermes will open its first Shang Xia — which translates roughly as "from top to bottom" — store in Shanghai to mark the launch of a line of ready-to-wear clothing and crafts inspired by traditional Chinese motifs. Last month, America's Levi Strauss launched, with much fanfare, a global jeans brand, dENiZEN, in the same city. Earlier in the summer, General Motors and SAIC announced their plans to introduce a new automobile, Bao Jun ("prized horse"), for about RMB 50,000 ($7,400), which is lower than the price at which the Chevrolet sells in China.

Although welcome, the trend has started when confusion among Chinese consumers about brand origins is at its peak. On the one hand, Chinese companies have created the impression that they are foreign. For instance, 90% of respondents believe that Metersbonwe, a Chinese fast fashion company, is foreign, according to our most recent consumer survey. On the other hand, multinational companies have marketed brands cleverly so they can pass as Chinese. Seventy percent of consumers think that Danone is a local company, we found.

The value that Chinese consumers place on foreign brands depends on incomes as well as the nature of products. Affluent Chinese consumers prefer foreign brands. Fifty-two percent of consumers whose annual income exceeds RMB 250,000 ($36,765) told us they trust foreign brands more than Chinese ones while just 37% said they prefer the latter. Mainstream consumers used to prefer local brands; 57% of them told us in 2007 that they would buy local brands that matched the quality and price of foreign ones. However, by 2010, the figure had dropped to 45%. That's partly because Chinese consumers have developed more favorable attitudes to foreign brands when buying big-ticket items such as automobiles and consumer appliances.

Despite China's growing appetite for foreign brands, most multinational companies find it tough to develop and market products tailored to the needs of consumers there. The center of gravity for critical decisions remains outside the country even in the case of companies that have operated in China for a long time. Those who wield responsibility for brand stewardship and product development are not Chinese; have had limited exposure to the market; and maintain a strong bias towards their primary markets in the US and Europe.

Launching a China brand, which could later be sold in other emerging markets, will require giving executives in China a mandate that encompasses local research and development as well as localized marketing approaches. It will also require a deeper level of customization than most Western executives are either comfortable with or capable of. For example, China's best-selling luxury sedans, the Audi A6 and BMW 5-series, have tweaked their designs considerably to appeal to affluent Chinese customers who are driven by chauffeurs. The amenities include a longer wheelbase for extra legroom, back-seat entertainment systems, and extendable tray tables.

Many executives don't reailze that developing local products and brands lets newcomers bypass the long and cumbersome process of introducing existing products from home markets and then, incrementally tailoring them to the needs of Chinese consumers. It also has a positive rub-off on a foreign brand, signaling to the Chinese the multinational company's commitment to serving their needs. Indeed, that's what localization must be if foreign companies are to succeed in China.

Would you agree?

Max Magni is the head of McKinsey & Company's consumer practice in Greater China, and Yuval Atsmon is an associate principal in the firm's Shanghai office.
Branding  China  Marketing  from google
september 2010 by felixleong
How To Box And Sell Air
Have you noticed anything about extended warranties at electronics stores lately?
They come in boxes.
There’s nothing in the box, grant you, except maybe a few pieces of paper that make you feel good about buying the box.
The warranties exist only in the ether. Promises of future support that may never be needed. And, very often, you don’t even need to open the box that comes with whatever it was that you bought. The service is activated automatically at the point of purchase.
So, what’s with the boxes then?
Why would you box a promise and sell it?
Simple reason, because it sells a lot more promises for a lot more money.
Giving a service or digital product a tangible representation makes it more concrete to buyers. More concrete translates not only to a higher perceived value than a purely digital product or service, but also greater proof of value (we believe more in what we can see, touch and feel).
The boxes also serve as a visual prompt, a reminder that the digital product or service is there to buy.
That’s what’s up with the boxes and the “product shots” with Photoshopped images of boxes, manuals and CDs on websites for digital products.
When you make the intangible tangible, people pay more…and buy more.
This has become especially important in the context of commodity businesses (like electronics), where competition is based largely on price. Very often, the actual product yields very little margin, while most extended service warranties expire unused or under-used, leaving a ton of pure profit in the sale of the promise alone.
And, it’s also become important in the digital product realm, where people have trouble getting their heads around value when they can’t touch and feel the product. A visual representation of a physical product, even one that’s purely screen-based, makes a digital product “real-er” and bumps sales…a lot.
So, how might that apply to your business or idea?
Branding  Business_Strategy  Entrepreneurship  Marketing  Small_Business  from google
september 2010 by felixleong
Disclose This!
Last year, the blogosphere lit up when the FTC issued new disclosure guideliness.
“OMG,” everyone said, “This is soooo unfair! Now everyone’s going to know when we’re pimping other peoples’ stuff. And, we’ll have to tell them we don’t actually pay for any of the books we review.” Bloggers were running around trying to figure out the best way to make their disclosures without being too “in your face” or blatant.
And, I guess it’s not surprising to you guys, by now, that I decided to take a different approach.
Maybe it’s because I’ve pretty much always disclosed this stuff anyway. Maybe it’s because I’ve always been very vocal about the fact that I believe any blogger who offers value to a community over time is entitled to find creative ways to generate income.
Whatever the reason, instead of being offended or mortified, I decided to take the new disclosure guidelines as an opportunity to have some fun and create some provocative, funny content while doing right by the regs.
Instead of burying or tap-dancing around my disclosures, I decided to “Onion-ize” and feature them.
And, in doing so, the disclosures themselves have generated nearly as much commentary and sharing as the “real” content.
Here are 3 examples from recent posts…
From Delivering Happiness: Inside the Mind of Zappos’ Tony Hsieh:
[FTC Disclosure - In case you didn't get it from the fact that I said I was given both copies of the book...I was given both copies of the book. Didn't pay a dime. Nothing. Zippo. Nada. And, I was asked to share my honest opinion about it. I should also probably disclose that Tony's company sells shoes...and I wear shoes. But, I'm not looking for shoes in exchange for this review (size 11), nor would I ever sell my opinion (Teva Itunda) simply as a means to try to get (2-day air) something I'm not entitled to. Just wanted that (a card would be nice too) to be clear.]
From Drive By Book Review: UnMarketing by Scott Stratten
[Disclaimer - Scott gave me a review copy of UnMarketing. I didn't pay for it, even though he also said I was sexy, while simultaneously emailing me the PDF and I would've paid him the price of the book just to have him call me sexy. But that really doesn't matter because it's over now, the moment has passed. And, he has a lot more hair than me, too, which I'm kind of jealous about, but that'd make me more likely to give his book a bad review, unless of course I was still under the influence of the sexy comment, which may have influenced my review, though I don't think it did. And, btw, the links are all affiliate links, which means if you buy through them, I'll be rich, rich, rich! Oh look, a squirrel...]
From Can You Really Make A Serious Living Freelancing?
[FTC disclosure: Ed is a friend of mine. He's got more hair left than me, so I may be a little jealous and that might affect my feelings about him and his book. Speaking of which, his book totally doesn't suck, but I should probably let you know he sent me a copy for free, which is almost as good as paying my mortgage. Well, it would be, except I rent. I guess I'm also feeling a little guilty now about asking Ed to pay my kid's private school tuition in exchange for this post, specially since she goes to public school. Ed may or may not also make great pizza. I don't know. But, if he sends me a free one chances are I'll eat it, and if I write a review, I'm hoping it won't be biased.]
So, how might YOU turn your disclaimer lemons into lemonade?
Anyone else have fun ones to share?
Blogging  Marketing  Social_Media  Writing  from google
september 2010 by felixleong
How Do You Measure Delight?
Last week, I bought a jar of almond butter at Trader Joe’s for about $5.
Then, my sister came over and when I told her about it, she said she’d been paying $15 a jar for a different brand.
“Really,” I said. “Here, try this and tell me if your brand is worth 3 times the price.”
With that a spoon was scooped and sampled.
A moment passed, she pondered then said, “not convinced.”
“What,” I said, “are you seriously telling me your almond butter is 3 times better?”
And, that’s precisely where I lost the argument, and where so many marketers lose the prospect and the sale.
Because I was using a metric that made sense to me, but not to her.
In her mind, it wasn’t about being 300% better, it was about being $10 better. And, not just $10, but $10 in the context of a monthly household budget that made that $10 only marginally significant. Ten bucks in the context of how much more delightful her brand would be as she savored it every day over the monthlong period it would take to consume the jar.
In her mind, it didn’t need to be 3X better, it needed to be $10 a month more delightful…and that it was.
At least for her (I still love my Trader Joe’s).
So, the question is…
When launching a new product, service or solution or reworking an old one and the messaging around it, who’s metric are you using?
One that’s relevant to you?
Or, one that’s relevant to the person you’d most like to delight?
Branding  Business_Strategy  Entrepreneurship  Marketing  Persuasion  Small_Business  from google
september 2010 by felixleong
7 Words That Can Transform Your Business And Life
The other day, I had the pleasure of hanging out with a new friend, Ramit Sethi, the author of New York Times bestselling book, I Will Teach You To Be Rich and founder of the wildly popular blog, IWillTeachYouToBeRich.com.

We were spinning on all sorts of topics, from personal finance to behavioral change, the psychology of persuasion, marketing, strategy, media, publishing. All common interests we’re both passionate about. It was a bit like a Vulcan mind meld.

As we wrapped up our convo, I was about to open my mouth to ask Ramit a very specific question. One I try to end every conversation with. And, mean it.

But, I was too slow.

He beat me to the punch and asked me the very same question first. It was seven simple words, but those words have been responsible for so much serendipity, good will, impact, connection and, yes, business and money in both my pocket and the pocket of many who’ve been on the other side of the question.

The 7 words Ramit asked me were…

“What can I do to help you?”

And, here’s the thing. when he asked it, he meant it.

If you’re in business, you’ve probably gotten into the habit of asking this question or some variation to customers or prospects. That’s cool.

But, what’s not so obvious is that you should be asking this question to everyone, all the time.

Not just the people who might buy from you, but the people around you. The people you’re in a position to do something nice for, even if they’ve got no ability to reciprocate. Today, tomorrow, ever.


Because, it’s a way of planting Karmic seeds. Because, maybe one day your kindness will come back to you. And, because even if it doesn’t it makes you feel great for having helped. And…it’s just the right thing to do.

I don’t start every day on twitter asking, “who can I help today?” because I’m looking for something in return. I do it because it feels good to ask and to help. What better way is there to start your day than by helping someone, often a total stranger, with some small deed?

So, as you explore building your own professional path, think about ending as many conversations as possible not asking for a favor, but with those 7 simple words…

What can I do to help you?

Then, do one more thing…stand behind your offer.
Business_Strategy  Career_advice  Conscious_living  Entrepreneurship  Leadership  Marketing  Motivation_&_Success  Small_Business  from google
september 2010 by felixleong
Blogging by Numbers: How to Create Headlines That Get Retweeted
There is an art and science to getting blog posts to travel like wildfire.

This post will look at both, based on number crunching with 281 posts, 39,000+ comments, and almost 2,000,000 click-throughs via my Twitter profile and Facebook fan page in the last six months.

Here’s what I’ve found to work well…

The Art
In this context, more than anything else, the “art” is coming up with good headlines.

I presented the above slide to a Fortune 100 company that wanted to encourage employees to blog. The problem? Their employees (mostly high-end engineers), as brilliant as they were, had no idea what to write about. My suggestion was (and always is): focus on an obsession that makes you a bit weird. Then tie it to something that interests more people.

Just invite a few friends to dinner, look at the graphic, and follow the instructions. It’s fun.

Into trapeze or German techno? Our starting headlines might be “How to Perform 5 Tricks on the Flying Trapeze” or “German Techno 101.” That’s just a starting point. Then we expand to what your wider circle of friends or co-workers might be interested in. For example:

“How German Techno Can Make You a Better Agile Programmer”
“5 Principles of Flying Trapeze for Better Hiring Decisions”

See how that works? This recipe works, and it’s a plug-and-play format for getting started, and getting traffic.

Once you’ve had a bit of practice, it’s oftentimes easier — and more scalable — to imitate what works elsewhere.

The Science
The “science” is borrowing headlines or testing them. Determining pass-along-value by the numbers.

How do you know if you have a good headline?

There are several simple ways. One indication: a tweet gets retweeted hundreds of times in less time than it would take to read what you linked to. People retweet without reading where the link leads?!? All the time. Plan accordingly.

My last five posts have been retweeted 931, 508, 343, 683, and 813 times, for an average of 655.6 times.

For clicks, the pay-off can be handsome. In my case, these retweets can often drive 10,000+ unique visitors to a post. Here are a few popular blog post titles, tracked using SU.PR from StumbleUpon:

Click here for large, more readable size.

How do you learn what works? Headlines are as old as writing itself.

There are many sources, but rankings and data sets (often prolific bloggers) are what you want. The simple version is: study Digg (look at “7 Days” or longer) and Seth Godin (look at the most retweeted).

Seth is a brilliant copywriter and outstanding headline craftsman. I notice one of his repeating headline patterns appeared to be “The Difference Between [A] and [B]“, which I tested successfully with “The Difference: Living Well vs. Doing Well.”

What the hell does my post title mean, exactly?


Never tell the whole story in the headline if you want optimal click-through. “Home Prices Drop 47%, Largest Single-Quarter Drop in 50 Years” isn’t nearly as good as “Largest Drop in Home Prices Since 1960: The Reasons, Numbers, and What You Can Do.” There’s another element in the latter that makes it superior: it’s prescriptive instead of merely descriptive. People don’t want more information about their problems; they want solutions to their problems.

Piquing curiosity can be done with questions instead of statements, and my question-based post titles are some of the best performing (such as “Why Are You Single? Perhaps It’s The Choice Effect“), unless used more than 20% of the time, at which point, it appears that readers suffer “question burnout” and click-through plummets. This is a common problem with (over)use of lists (“17 Things You Can Do For…” etc.).

Would “Why Are You Single?” have worked well by itself? I don’t think so. But what the hell is “The Choice Effect”? Once again, this is exactly the point. I want that question to bother you enough that you click on the link and, most important, read the piece.

Which of these two posts from Seth’s blog do you think did best, as measured by retweets?

How long before you run out of talking points?
How big is your red zone?

Which has a WTF?

The red zone, of course, which got 685 retweets vs. 392 retweets for talking points. WTF FTW! (Yes, I just judo chopped your brain with a palindrome)

But, is the headline the only factor contributing to retweets? Of course not. I’ve purposefully written bare bones posts on other experimental blogs of mine, but crafted headlines by the numbers, to prove (to my satisfaction, at least) that headlines rule in online word-of-mouth.

You can test it yourself: split test on Twitter. But… um, you can’t split test on Twitter, as much as it’d be cool to send version A to half of your followers and version B to the rest.

Or can you? Kind of — you can test headlines with time-zone cohorts who are unlikely to overlap. Huh? In simple terms, this means that I like to publish blog posts at around, say, 2am PST and tweet out the working title at the same time. I did this with “The Rebirth of Seth Godin and Death of Traditional Publishing: How Authors Really Make Money” to hit the US-based night owls.

I then like to tweet out a new version B at around 8am PST the following morning (not yet changing the blog post title itself, and I never change the permalink once published), when the night owls will be mostly asleep. I schedule this tweet in advance using SU.PR, as I’m also a night owl. Last, I compare results and stick with the winner.

This is how “The Rebirth of Seth Godin and Death of Traditional Publishing: How Authors Really Make Money” was switched around and became “How Authors Really Make Money: The Rebirth of Seth Godin and Death of Traditional Publishing.” You’ll notice the latter version is in the “most popular” screen shot above for the last 30 days.

It’s an imperfect process, but I’ve found the results replicable.

The exact timing of publication is less important than ensuring that most A cohorts are sleeping when you test the B version, or vice-versa. In my case, non-US/Canadian readers (Brits in particular) can throw the numbers a little, but more than 60% of my readers are from the US and disproportionately located on the east or west coast, based on Facebook Insights.

The Hail Mary Solution
Last but not least, you can always do a Hail Mary blog title. What, pray tell, is that? It’s a title that pays homage to Twitter and becomes recursive.

A good example would be “How to Create Headlines That Get Retweeted.”


Odds and Ends:

1) Is this helpful? Please let me know in the comments what you’d like to read more of.
2) Here’s a sneak peek of a goodie from the “Becoming Superhuman” book: Athletic Greens, which I’ve been using for the last year. I have no financial interest in the company or product.
Marketing  from google
august 2010 by felixleong
The right way to position against competition
This is Part 4 of the series: 5 lessons from 150 startup pitches.

After seeing hundreds of startup pitches for this year's Capital Factory program, I can tell you that the two most common errors in positioning a company against competition are, strangely, opposites:

Claiming you have no competition.
Defining your company's offering and positioning by combining "the best" traits of 6 competitors.

This isn't just a problem when pitching — it's a problem with you defining who your customers are, what they want, and your role in the marketplace.

Let's break down the ways these fallacies manifest and what you can do instead.

There is no competition
Here's what this sounds like in the wild, and my reaction when I hear it:

"I have no competitors."
Either you're ignorant of direct competition, or your not considering alternate solutions like "build it yourself."
"No one is doing it like we are."
Of course you're going to position your company with a unique offering: exclusive features, a distinctive culture, a refreshing pricing plan, an innovative sales strategy, etc.. But uniqueness doesn't imply lack of competition!
"There's no competition because this is an industry that has never used software to solve this problem."
I know that sounds like a good thing, but what this also implies is that you'll have to convince computer-phobic people to trust software, and that's a disadvantage. You're competing against the status quo.
"There's no competition because people haven't realized it's a problem."
If they don't already know they have the pain, the sales process is going to be excruciating. There's a word for that — evangelism — which conjures other words: Expensive, difficult, time-consuming.

If you're tempted to argue that you're the exception, here's how to elucidate the advantages you're seeing, but in a way that actually makes sense as a business strategy:

We've carved out a niche specific enough that no one else is actively targeting it. There are similar competitors A, B, and C, but they're not targeting this niche because of X, and would be hard for them to switch into this niche because of Y. In fact, it's quite possible that we'd end up partnering with or being bought by A, B, or C exactly because our idea is similar but out of their reach.
We've identified a market too small for the large, established players to address, but big enough to build a company. For example, because an 800-pound gorilla like Microsoft is so inefficient at building new software, it can't go after a market unless there's a billion dollars at stake. We think there's a solid business to be made in this hundred-million-dollar market. However, whereas Microsoft can't afford to build this from scratch, if we show good growth and profits it would be an obvious acquisition target for them.
We've created technology so different from the incumbents that we're changing the conversation about how people solve this pain.  Though it's different, our solution is very easy to describe and to use. (Example: Netflix)
Our target customer has traditionally solved this pain themselves or just lived with the pain rather than paying for relief. However, a combination of newly-available technology and modern mindset makes this the right time for a new software play.For example, my company Smart Bear created the first commercial peer code review tool. Before us, there was no software competition but there were plenty of alternative processes — looking over someone's shoulder, sending emails with diffs, code review meetings, even "Formal Inspections." By tackling a few specific annoyances with peer code review and leveraging newer technology (like the advent of ubiquitous version control), we completely changed what a "code review" could be.
It's true that this industry hasn't yet seen a software solution, but that's not because they hate computers, but rather that it hasn't been possible to address that market with software. Now it is because (pick one):

We've built an improbable team that spans geeks and industry insiders.
New hardware/networks have just appeared which makes this possible.
New attitudes towards the Internet (e.g. ubiquity of Facebook even among traditional technophobes) enables new workflows.
This industry is commoditized so giving a player the slightest edge is a big deal.
This industry is just now starting to show tangible signs of embracing technology.
We have three lead customers signed up for alpha testers; if we make them successful the case studies will be all the evangelism we'll need.

Defining your company by the competition
Your company is defined by its own strengths, values, customers, and products, not by how it compares with other companies. You need a strong position, something that would be equally clear and compelling even if competitors didn't exist.

Here's some ways this mistake manifests:

"We combine the best traits of our competitors, letting them show the way to our success."
I like the idea that you can learn from the mistakes and successes of similar companies, but "combining the best" misses the point. There are specific tradeoffs each of those companies are making; things you see as "not best" might in fact be best for their target market. Why are you sure that your notion of "best" will result in enough customers who not only agree with you, but is so convinced that they're willing to switch to you?
The rubric.
A chart with one row for each "feature" and one column for each of six "competitors." There's checks and X's everywhere, except of course a glowing, highlighted column representing your company which just happens to be full of checks. C'mon, everyone knows this is bullshit; it's insulting.
"We're just like competitor X, only we're Y."
In that case you're betting your future on the fact that Y is overwhelmingly compelling to a large market segment. X automatically has advantages over you (brand, customers, revenue, inside knowledge, a team, momentum), so Y had better be brain-explodingly awesome.
Oh, and it'd better be impossible for X to implement Y — or even 1/3 of Y — themselves. Talk about putting your fate in others' hands!
"We're the same as X, only cheaper."
Being cheaper is a strategy, but it can't be your only strategy. It's too easy for competitors to change price or offer deals. Typically the best customers aren't as price-sensitive anyway, so you're actually biting off a less desirable segment of the market. Often this claim is paired with "We'll do 70% of the features for 50% of the price," but supplying less for less is not inspirational.

So how do you look inward to establish your company, contrasting with the competition but not letting the competition dictate your identity?

We're targeting the market segment defined by X, Y, and Z.  We've spoken with 20 potential customers who match at least two of those criteria, and they agree our product is exactly what they need and that none of our competitors are doing an acceptable job addressing their issues.
Our company has core value X that we exude everywhere from our AdWords to our tech support to our product. (Example value: Simplicity. A simple product with few features, low-cost, pain-point obvious, not tackling complex problems, focussed on making life easier rather than on saving money.) We own this value because we're completely committed; this is the one point on which we will never compromise. Our customers know it and value this too, which is why it doesn't matter what features, prices, or advertisement our competitors have.
This is the competitive matrix. Note that each player in this space is targeting a different market segment, as is clear from feature selection, pricing, and advertising/messaging. We, too, are targeting a niche; as you can see our offering is consistent with owning that niche, and doesn't overlap significantly with competitors. It would be difficult for any of them to "switch" into our niche, because as you can see they'd have to change the product, pricing, and their company's persona; that's a risk we're willing to take.
We're going after competitor X. We know they already have a ton of advantages over us — well-known, well understood, and a deep feature list. However they haven't done anything new in 3 years and we have evidence that their customer base is pissed off. Not only that, they're famous for annoying attributes A, B, and C (Examples: buggy, slow, confusing, must install, expensive, crap tech support). We see a huge opportunity in their wake of destruction, vacuuming up their customers with our overwhelming advantage. They can't do this themselves because they're too big to turn the ship, and anyway the past 3 years shows they're not able to change.

What else?
How do you cope with competition, incorporating it into your strategy while not letting it consume you? Leave a comment and join the conversation.
How-To  branding  competition  marketing  positioning  strategy  from google
august 2010 by felixleong
China's In-Store Wars
In China, the battle for the consumer is often won — and lost — not in factories or on television screens, but on store floors. As many as 45% of Chinese consumers make purchase decisions in real time, inside shops, according to surveys we have conducted, compared to just 24% in the US. Moreover, 56% of Chinese consumers told us that the information they get at retail outlets is essential to make up their minds while only 41% feel the same way about TV advertising.

Ad spots, online campaigns, and off-line promotions may all be necessary, but to get Chinese shoppers to fork over their hard-earned money, companies must master the lost art of in-store marketing. Successful marketers, we find, do four things to sway consumers at the point of sale.

1. Smart companies prioritize. Many multinational companies, seeking to grow rapidly in the Chinese market, stretch budgets (and supply chains) to cover the large and fragmented retail landscape quickly, and, consequently, distribution costs soon get out of hand. In fact, three years ago, Unilever decided to re-focus its attention and resources on key outlets such as hypermarkets, supermarkets, and smaller stores in high-traffic neighborhoods where it could sell large volumes or high-margin products. Only after it attained scale did Unilever expand aggressively into smaller outlets This tactic allowed the multinational giant to compete better with its well-established archrival in China, Procter & Gamble.

2. They offer numerous incentives for shelf space. In most Chinese retail outlets, products jostle for shoppers' attention with competing displays and fixtures such as coolers. To tackle this problem, the instant noodles and beverages giant Kangshifu offers incentives that enable it to lock in prime shelf space everywhere. For every month that a shop uses the company's branded displays, it gets up to two free cases of bottled water. The company also offers retailers better financial terms if they display only its coolers and umbrellas. These incentives have allowed Kangshifu to become a highly visible brand in China's smaller cities.

3. They offer consistent retail experiences. This allows even large sales forces to delight consumers and strengthen the brand's image. Moreover, Chinese consumers say they greatly trust brands that have standard in-store displays. Cadbury's "Purple Wall", a 2- to 3-meter wide display inside a store, is one reason why consumers in China immediately recognize the brand. Likewise, Coca-Cola has developed and implemented rigorous standards for the sizes and shapes of coolers; in-store fixtures; and promotional displays, and tailors all of them to the type of outlet selling its products.

4. Winning companies use a large number of in-store promoters. Almost a quarter of the Chinese consumers we studied say that in-store promoters or salespeople greatly influence their decisions. One supermarket chain's manager told us that in-store promoters boost sales by as much as 40% because of the propensity of Chinese consumers to make up their minds just before making purchases. Since labor is still relatively cheap in China, the use of in-store promoters is also cost-effective. For instance, the Chinese cosmetics, personal hygiene, and hairdressing products marketer, C-Bons, fights foreign brands with an army of part-time salespeople. Equipped with a toolbox of beauty tips, they urge consumers to "check, listen, and try" the brand before making a choice. By deploying around 15,000 in-store helpers, C-Bons simply overwhelms rivals' salespeople 2 to 1 in some categories, and keeps boosting its share of wallet and mind.

What's the most innovative retailing tactic you've seen or heard of in China?

Max Magni is the head of McKinsey & Company's consumer practice in Greater China, and Yuval Atsmon is an associate principal in the firm's Shanghai office.
China  Marketing  Retail  from google
august 2010 by felixleong
How Negative of a Freelancer Are You?
I was reading an email that offered me an opportunity to partner up on a joint venture and I was thinking I should jump on board the opportunity–until I read a crucial little phrase that swerved me in the other direction. It was right in the wrap-up:

“Don’t hesitate to contact me.”

Suddenly something in my mind shifted. My relaxed expression shifted to a mild frown.

“Mmm. This isn’t a good fit for me,” I decided. I didn’t really know why it wasn’t a good opportunity any more. I just closed the email. I didn’t get in touch with the sender.

I didn’t think much of my reaction until I was skimming through comments on my blog one day. “I couldn’t agree more,” a commentator had written.

I hit the reading brakes. What?! How could you not agree? That was a perfectly good post! How the…

When I reread the comment, I got my bearings. The commentator had been agreeing with me (in a very nice way, too). So why my reaction? He’d simply tripped up my brain. How?

By using negative language. In this post, I’ll explain how using negative language can cause clients to take you less seriously and hurt your freelancing business.

Don’t Be Negative When You Want a Positive
In both cases, the two people writing to me had positive intentions. They’d wanted me to have a good reaction to their words. But, innocently, unknowingly, they’d actually influenced a negative reaction that got them exactly what they didn’t want.

Let’s be clear: Negative language doesn’t mean flaming or nasty comments. It means using words and phrases that have negative mental associations. A simple word like don’t, for example, flicks on our brains in ways that make us think of words like stop, halt, warning, be careful. They’re just words, but they carry meaning.

And how we perceive meaning influences our emotional reaction. Choose the wrong words and you can stop action in its tracks.

Years ago, negative language was pretty common. Someone, somewhere, thought it was very good manners to use “I can’t agree more,” and “Don’t hesitate to call” in business. Executives, assistants and managers were trained that this was the proper way to communicate to convey a credible image.

That was just the way things were back then. But, it didn’t work.

See, when you notice words like “don’t,” and “hesitate”, your brain slows down and focuses on the meaning they carry. This attention is hard-wired into our brains, providing a warning system–we certainly don’t want to do anything bad or dangerous. So, we pay attention to words we associate with caution.

It’s worth paying attention to the words we use, especially when it comes to getting people to take action or helping them think of you favourably. We love our negativity. In fact, a 2005 study revealed that 20% of the words we use are neutral and only 30% are positive.

Half the words we produce express negative emotion.

Our tendency to focus on the negative can affect sales results, and not always for better. “Don’t wait to buy,” might kill a marketing campaign, because readers focus on “don’t” and “wait”. Sales fizzle. “You won’t regret it,” might influence a reader to think they might actually regret it, so they hire somewhere else. A fast “no problem” might water down a lucrative contract into a lesser one.

Yeah. The right words are pretty important.

How to Turn Negative Into Positive
So how can you turn this negative language situation around? Easy. Avoid words and phrases like “can’t”, “won’t”, “don’t”, “wait,” “won’t regret,” “don’t hesitate,” and “no doubt.” These are all words that potentially carry bad feelings, a sense of “stop” or a cautionary association.

Replace negative language with words that encourage action and good feelings. Choose ones with positive associations, like “can”, “will”, “do,” “feel free,” “go ahead,” and “for sure.”

Take a simple “don’t hesitate”, for example. Replace it with “buy now.” See the difference? More importantly, can you feel the difference? There’s definite action-oriented positive emotion rolling off the second option, and “buy now” conveys a lot more confidence, too.

Here’s a fun exercise you can try. Go back to an old email and read it carefully to see how many negative words you can find. Think about how you perceive each word and the type of emotional impact it creates in your mind. Watch for any phrases that might cause hesitation in the reader’s mind.

Now think about how you could replace those words to create positive impact. Warm feelings. Action. Because when readers take action you want them to take–without hesitation, without a doubt in their mind…

Well. Only good can come of it, right?

What About You
Do you use negative language when you communicate with your freelancing clients? Do you think it could be impacting your business?

Share your thoughts in the comments.

Related posts:How To Be The Freelancer That Everyone Wants To Work With
Dealing With Negative Criticism
Is the Title “Freelancer” a Turn-Off?
Inspiration  Marketing  communicating_clearly  giving_the_right_impression  james_chartrand  negative_thinking  positive_thinking  from google
august 2010 by felixleong
What the crazy name "Smart Bear" taught me about branding
Every founder struggles to find a great name for her company. Often it's the first source of good-natured strife between co-founders. It's an exhilarating, scary combination of having to decide who you are — what you do, the persona you expose — combined with the technical issues of being memorable, spell-able, and available as a domain name.

My name started as a whim, was almost changed for the wrong reasons, and ended up with a punch-line I would never have dreamed of.

Storytime! (Lessons at the end.)

An inauspicious birth

The origin of "Smart Bear" is John Irving's Hotel New Hampshire, a surreal novel in which a "smart bear" plays an important role; near the end we are told repeatedly that "a smart bear makes all the difference." I chose it because at the time my (then new) wife and I were into John Irving and it was whimsical, fun, and meaningful, albeit just to us.

In other words: I picked the name with utter disregard to marketing or business sensibility. I'm not saying that's right or wrong; maybe all it means is that some branding principles, while interesting, aren't as vital as they first seem.

"It sounds like shareware."

A few years into Smart Bear I was still toiling away at the compiler when I was approached by an ex-VP of Sales from a company that had IPO'ed. He wanted to partner up — I'm the young geek, he's the silver-haired, golf-bag-toting, sports-metaphor-slinging salesman.

The full story of that ill-fated misadventure is related here; the relevant detail is that this guy insisted that we change the name of the company:

"Our potential customers — IBM, Intuit, Adobe, Qualcomm — aren't going to take us seriously with a silly name like 'Smart Bear.' It sounds like shareware, not enterprise software.

"Big companies buy from companies with formal names like IBM, CA, BEA, CSC, HP, stuff like that."

His suggestion? Software Test and Deployment Systems, Inc, which shortens to the unfortunate "STDS."

Yeah, an acronym already taken by gonorrhea.

(The jokes, though, were almost worth it. Viral marketing! Our invoices flare up every year!)

I got lucky, though. I was all set to pair up with this guy and change the name, but in another example of serendipity being more influential on business success than purposeful action, I happened to receive a hugeamongous purchase order from Intuit, a whopping $50,000.

You know, exactly the kind of order from exactly the kind of company who would never do business with silly old "Smart Bear" run by non-salesy, geeky Jason. Today, as you can see from our customer list, all the companies he listed are, in fact, customers, and many more besides.

All with a silly name and informal sales.

The VP of Sales' rationale made sense though, and of course Smart Bear might have been equally successful if named STDS. But once again I learned that maybe the name isn't as important as either of us thought.

"Let's just ask the customers."

Fast-forward six years to present day. I sold Smart Bear a few years ago to AutomatedQA — a great company with a compatible culture and similar goals where Smart Bear (now as a division) continued to thrive (meaning: more revenue, more profits, bigger-and-badder software, and happy customers).

After making a few other acquisitions and continuing to grow, AutomatedQA is now a large company which in the next few years is on a path to be successful even by a VC's standards. If you thought "Smart Bear" was too informal before, now it's even more out of place. (If you subscribe to that theory.)

But having all these departments with different names (AutomatedQA, Smart Bear, Pragmatic Software) sucks when you're trying to build a company which is starting to capitalize by making already-best-of-breed tools work together, especially with customers who we all share. So they decided to rebrand everything under a single name.

But which name? AutomatedQA (the one which was biggest to begin with and clearly a great name)? Smart Bear? Something new? STDS?

So they decided to poll everyone they could find in the software industry — customers and otherwise. They asked positioning questions like:

Do you have a good or bad immediate impression of this brand?
Have you heard this name before, and if yes what have you heard?
If you have experience with this brand, what was that like?

The result? See for yourself: As of July 19th 2010, the entire company has been rebranded Smart Bear. Come see the new website — it's neat to see something start out so ugly and terrible and end up as the banner of what is already a massively successful, many-million-dollar business.

So what's in a name?

What's in a name? Not as much as some folks say, it appears.

The lessons I took from this are:

It's what you do, not what you call it.
It's more effective to do/say something important/valuable than to hope a logo or name will say it for you.
Being memorable is more important than what they remember.
First impressions are important, but so are all the other impressions, and the latter can trump the former.
Your time isn't well-spent fretting about brand (early on).
You can change your brand later.

Continued in the comments...

What are your experiences with naming and branding? Am I being too harsh in dismissing the value of branding? Let's continue the discussion in the comments.
Essays  branding  design  marketing  positioning  from google
august 2010 by felixleong
From CEOs to Opera Singers – How to Harness the “Superstar Effect”
Sumo stable in Tokyo, Japan: you don’t need to be a superstar to use the Superstar Effect.

The following is a guest post by Cal Newport, MIT Ph.D and all-around whiz on competing against the odds.

His discussion — and suggested uses — of the “superstar effect” and corollary are mirrored in what I tell first-time start-up founders:

Most of the time, it’s not enough to be better. You need to be different.

Enter Cal Newport…


Earlier this year, just 2,300 of 32,000 applicants to Stanford University were accepted — a rate of 7.2%, the lowest in the school's history.

The students who survived this screening are phenomenally accomplished. A quarter had SAT math scores higher than 780, and over 90% had high school G.P.A.'s above 3.75, which works out, more or less, to straight A's over four years of schooling. And these weren't easy A's: the average applicant to a top-tier university takes an overwhelming volume of demanding AP or IB-level courses. (Not surprising, considering that the Stanford admissions departments ranks the "rigor of secondary school record" as "very important" in their decision.)

If you eliminate recruited athletes and the children of the rich and famous from this pool — categories that receive special consideration — these numbers become even starker. In short, for the average, middle-class American high school senior, applying to Stanford is like playing the lottery.

Which is why Michael Silverman proves baffling.

When Michael, a student from Paradise Valley, Arizona, applied to Stanford, his G.P.A. put him in the bottom 10% of accepted students. His SAT scores fell similarly short. "Standardized testing isn't my strong point," he told me. Perhaps more surprising, Michael avoided the crushing course load that diminishes the will of so many college hopefuls, instead taking only a single AP course during the dreaded junior year. He kept his extracurricular schedule equally clean — joining no clubs or sports and dedicating his attention to no more than one outside project at any given time.

Michael's rejection of the no pain, no gain ethos surrounding American college admissions is perhaps best summarized by his habit of ending each school day with a 1 – 2 hour hike to the summit of nearby Camelback Mountain. While his peers worked slavishly at their killer schedules, Michael took in the view, using his ritual as a time to "chill out and relax."

Despite this heretical behavior, Michael was still accepted at Stanford. To understand why, I will turn your attention to a little-known economics theory that changes the way we think about impressiveness. To get there, however, we'll start at an unlikely location: the competitive world of professional opera singers.

The Opera Singer and the Valedictorian

Juan Diego Florez cemented his reputation as a top operatic tenor during a 2008 performance of Gaetano Donizetti's La Fille du Regiment. Among professional singers, Donizetti's masterpiece is known as "the Mount Everest of opera"; a reputation due, almost entirely, to a devilishly tricky aria, "Ah! Mes amis, quel jour de fete," that arrives early in the first act. The aria demands the tenor to hit nine high C's in a row — a supremely difficult feat.

In his 2008 performance of Donizetti, at the Metropolitan Opera House, Florez hit all nine notes. The acclaim was so overwhelming that he was summoned back to the stage for an encore, overturning the Met's long-standing ban on the practice.

As a top opera singer, we can assume that Florez does well for himself financially (likely on the order of 5-digit paydays per performance), but not lavishly well. Put another way: he's well-off but not wealthy.

Then there are the superstars.

In 1972, a young tenor by the name of Luciano Pavarotti also made a name for himself performing Donizetti at the Met. Like Florez, he too hit the high C's. But there was something extra in Pavarotti's voice. The audience at the Met in 1972 did more than demand an encore from Pavarotti, they weren't content until he had returned to the stage seventeen times! In writing about Florez's 2008 performance, the New York Times noted: "If truth be told, it's not as hard as it sounds for a tenor with a light lyric voice like Mr. Florez to toss off those high C's…[I]n the early 1970's, when Luciano Pavarotti…let those high Cs ring out, that was truly astonishing."

In other words, both Florez and Pavarotti are exceptional tenors, but Pavarotti was slightly better — the best among an elite class. The impact of this small difference, however, was huge. Whereas we estimated that Florez was well off but not wealthy, when Pavarotti died in 2007, sources estimated his estate to be worth $275 to 475 million.

In a 1981 paper published in the American Economics Review, the economist Sherwin Rosen worked through the mathematics that explains why superstars, like Pavarotti, reap so many more rewards than peers who are only slightly less talented. He called the phenomenon, “The Superstar Effect.”

Though the details of Rosen's formulas are complex, the intuition is simple: Imagine a million opera fans who each have $10 to spend on an opera album. They're trying to decide whether to buy an album by Florez or Pavarotti. Rosen's theory predicts that the bulk of the consumers will purchase the Pavarotti album, thinking, roughly: "although both singers are great, Pavarotti is the best, and if I can only get one album I might as well get the best one available." The result is that the vast majority of the $10 million goes to Pavarotti, even though his talent advantage over Florez is small.

Once identified, The Superstar Effect turned up in a variety of unexpected settings, from the sales of books to CEO salaries. It was found to apply even in settings that have nothing to do with financial transactions. In a particularly compelling example, a researcher named Paul Atwell, publishing in the journal Sociology of Education in 2001, studied the Superstar Effect for high school valedictorians.

Atwell imagined two students both with 700s on their various SAT tests. The first student was the valedictorian and the second student was ranked number five in the class. Rationally speaking, these two students are near identical — the difference in G.P.A. between the number one and number five rank is vanishingly small. But using statistics from Dartmouth College, Atwell showed that the valedictorian has a 75% of acceptance at this Ivy League institution while the near identical fifth-ranked student has only a 25% chance.

In other words, in many fields, it pays disproportionately well to be not just very good, but the best.

Hacking the Superstar Effect

Taking a step back, we likely agree that it's an interesting finding that being the best has a hidden advantage. If reaping this advantage, however, requires becoming class valedictorian or honing a brilliant singing voice — both staggeringly difficult feats — it doesn't seem all that applicable.

This is where Michael Silverman reenters the picture.

The details of his story reveal a crucial addendum that makes the power of the Superstar Effect available to most people. I call this addendum The Superstar Corollary, and it's here I turn your attention next.

I discovered The Superstar Corollary in an unlikely setting: the extracurricular lives of high school students. I was researching a book on students, like Michael, who get accepted to outstanding colleges while still living low-stress and interesting lives. During this research, I kept noticing the same trait in these teen-aged lifehackers: they had accomplishments that triggered The Superstar Effect, but which revealed on closer examination to not require a rare natural talent or years and years of grinding work.

For example, consider the details Michael's story. Starting as a freshman, he focused all of his extracurricular energies on a serial string of environmental sustainability projects. He started by submitting a model of a green house to a competition. This led him to discover that a local energy company offered a grant program for local high school students. He won a modest grant, and used it, with the help of a retired engineer from his hometown, to retrofit a golf cart to run on biofuels. Leveraging this success, he earned another grant which he used to install solar panels on his school's maintenance shed. This earned him press coverage, and the resulting Superstar Effect helped wow the Stanford admissions department into overlooking his borderline scores.

Notice that nothing about Michael's rise to stardom required a rare natural talent or overwhelming work load. His projects required, on average, less daily time investment than participating in a varsity sport. Yet, he was the best at what he did among all applicants to Stanford, and the resulting Superstar Effect earned him a disproportionate reward.

Michael wasn't alone in his success at hacking The Superstar Effect. Consider, for example, Maneesh Sethi (featured recently inTim's lifestyle design case study competition), who got into Stanford on the strength of having written a popular computer programming book, or Steve Schwartz, who got into Columbia by taking on the role of press officer for a student-run environment advocacy group. Both found uncontested niches that required only a reasonable amount of effort investment to conquer, but still triggered the full impact of The Superstar Effect.

I formalize this idea with the following corollary:

The Superstar Corollary
Being the best in a field makes you disproportionately impressive to the outside world. This effect holds even if the field is not crowded, competitive, or well-known.

In other words, becoming valedictorian or a sustainability guru both generate the same Superstar Effect, but the former is much harder than the latter.

[Post publication addition from Tim] From the comments following this post, here is a comment from former Ivy League admissions officer, Peggy … [more]
Marketing  calvin_newport  the_superstar_effect  from google
july 2010 by felixleong
Real Unfair Advantages
This is Part 2 of the series: 5 lessons from 150 startup pitches.

What if someone copies your awesome business idea?
About twenty people on Answers OnStartups have asked this question in one form or another:

When I meet an angel investor, he may ask: "What if a big company copies your idea and develops the same website as yours after your website goes public?"

How can I answer this question?

No, the question is: What are you doing now knowing that a big company will copy your idea?

No, wait, the real question is: What are you going to do when another smart, scrappy startup copies it, and gets $10m in funding, and is thrice featured on TechCrunch?

No, wait, I'm sorry, the real question is: What are you going to do when there are four totally free, open-source competitors?

No wait, I forgot, actually the question is: What happens when employee #2 makes off with your code and roadmap and marketing data and customer list, moves to Bolivia, and starts selling your stuff world-wide at one-tenth the price?

The good news: There are good answers to these questions!

The bad news: Almost no one I talk to has good answers, but they think they do. And that's fatal, because it means they're not working towards remedying that situation. Which means when one of the above scenarios happens, it will be too late.

The first step is admitting you have a problem.
Last week I detailed the most common misconceptions about competitive advantages, so go read that if you haven't already.

To summarize: Anything that can be copied will be copied, including features, marketing copy, and pricing. Anything you read on popular blogs is also read by everyone else. You don't have an "edge" just because you're passionate, hard-working, or "lean."

The only real competitive advantage is that which cannot be copied and cannot be bought.

Like what?

Insider information
They say the only way to consistently make money on Wall Street is to have insider information. Unfortunately it's not a joke, and although it's illegal (and people occasionally go to jail for it), those in the know will tell you it's the norm.

Fortunately, using intimate knowledge of an industry and the specific pain points within an industry is a perfectly legal unfair advantage for a startup.

Here's a real-world example of how this advantage manifests. Adriana has been a psychiatrist for 10 years; she understands the ins and outs of that business. During a lull in her practice she got a serendipitous opportunity to shift gears completely and ended up leading software product development teams.  (Turns out that for big-business project management it's more valuable to be a sensible thinker and counselor than to be an expert in debugging legacy C++ code.)

Now Adriana has an epiphany: Traditional practice-management software for psychiatrists totally sucks; she knows both the pain points and the existing software first-hand. But now she has the vision and ability to design her own software, capitalizing on modern trends (e.g. a web application instead of cumbersome installed applications) and new interpretations of HIPPA regulation (which allows web-based applications to store medical records like patient histories).

Adriana holds a unique position: Expert in the industry, able to "geek out" with her target customer, yet capable of leading a product team. Even if someone else saw Adriana's product after the fact, it's almost impossible to find a person — or even assemble a team — who has more integrated knowledge. At best, they could copy. Of course by then Adriana has moved on to version two.

Single-minded, uncompromising obsession with One Thing
A popular comment on the previous post was that a "Unique Feature" could be a competitive advantage in some circumstances. Some examples of a feature being a company's primary advantage are:

Apple compromises everything in the name of design. Their products are over-priced (magically being profitable at half the price 12 months after release), buggy (how many iOS debacles have there been?), and every experience I've had with their tech support has been atrocious, but man their stuff looks and feels nice! (I'm typing this on an Air and there's an iPhone in my pocket, so no Apple fan-boy mail please.)
Google's search algorithm was just better, therefore they won the eyeballs, therefore they were able to monetize. Sure Bing and Yahoo are good now, but the advantage lasted long enough.
Photodex is a little company you've never heard of I worked for in Austin in the 90's. We made an image browser with thumbnail previews so you didn't have to open each file individually to see what it was. (In the 90's, y'all, before that was built into all the operating systems!) Our advantage was speed. Not the best, not the most stable, didn't read the most formats, didn't have the most features, just "fastest." For many users of that product, speed wins; Photodex now makes tens of millions of dollars a year, and "speed" is still the only point on which they will not compromise.

However it's not enough for a feature to merely be unique (like my mini-browser) because it's still easily duplicated. Indeed, most of the innovations we've made at Smart Bear in the art of code review have already been duplicated by both commercial and open-source competitors.

Rather, this requires unwavering devotion to the One Thing that is (a) hard, and (b) you refuse to lose, no matter what.

Google has spent hundreds of millions of dollars on their search algorithm, the single biggest focus of the company even today, a decade after they decided that was their One Thing. They refuse to be beaten by competitors or black-hat hackers, whatever it takes.

37signals can build simple — almost trivial — software and earn three million customers because they absolutely will not compromise on their philosophy of simplicity, transparency, and owning their own company, and that's something millions of people respect and support. Competitors could build trivial web applications too (as Joel Spolsky is fond of saying, "Their software is just a bunch of text fields!"), but without the single-minded obsession it's just software with no features.

To remain un-copyable, your One Thing needs to be not just central to your existence, but also difficult to achieve. Google's algorithm, combined with the hardware and software to implement a search of trillions of websites in 0.2 seconds, is hard to replicate; it took hundreds (thousands?) of really smart people at Microsoft and Yahoo years to catch up. 37signals' ranting platform — a blog with 131k followers and a best-selling book — is nearly impossible to build even with a full-time army of insightful writers.

"Being hard to do" is still a true advantage, particularly when you devote your primary energy to it.

P.S. For more, here are detailed examples of how this mindset also sets up your sales pitch.

Personal authority
Chris Brogan commands $22,000 for a single day of consulting in an industry (social media marketing) where all the information you need is already online and free. Joel Spolsky makes millions of dollars off bug tracking — an industry with hundreds of competitors and little innovation. My company Smart Bear sells the most expensive tool of its kind. How did we earn this powerful authority, and how can you earn this overwhelming advantage?

I'm a great example of someone who wasn't an authority on anything, but built that authority over time to the point where now my company (Smart Bear) is untouchable as the leader in both revenue and ideas in the area of peer code review.

Not only was I not an expert on code review prior to building a code review tool, I wasn't even an expert on software development processes generally! I didn't give lectures, I didn't have a blog, I didn't have a column in Dr. Dobbs magazine, and most interesting of all, I didn't even know "code review" was going to be what made the company successful!

Unfortunately all this "authority" crap takes years of expensive effort, and even then success is probably due as much to luck as anything else, so is it worthwhile? Yes, exactly because it takes years of effort and a little luck.

Authority cannot be purchased. You can't raise VC money and then "have authority" in a year. A big company cannot just decide they want to be the thought-leaders in their field. Even a pack of hyper-intelligent geeks cannot automatically become authorities because it's not about how well you can code.

But how does authority convert to revenue? Here's one tiny example:

I give talks on peer code review at conferences. My competition pays thousands of dollars for a booth, then spends thousands advertising to attendees begging them to come to that booth, then gives sales pitches at the booth to uninterested passersby who are also being bombarded by other pitches and distracted by the general hubbub.

Whereas, because I'm a known authority on code review and software development, I get to talk for an entire hour to a captive, undistracted group of 100 people, self-selected as interested in code review. After the talk typically 5-20 people want to chat one-on-one. Some head straight to the booth to get a demo; for many I give a private demo of the product on sofas in the hallway. It's not unusual to get $10,000-$50,000 in sales over the next three months from people who saw me at that talk.

That's just one example!  Now add to that: What's the effect of a blog that tens of thousands of people read? What's the effect on sales of my writing the book that's the modern authority of code review?

Authority is expensive and time-consuming to earn, no doubt. But it's also an overwhelming, untouchable competitive advantage.

(P.S. I'm hoping that the authority I'm slowly earning from this blog will help when I launch my next venture. That's not why I blog, but I certainly will leverage it when the time comes!)

(P.P.S. I apologize for blatantly abusing the word "authority," considering I just lambasted everyone … [more]
How-To  competition  inspiration  marketing  positioning  strategy  from google
july 2010 by felixleong
Cocktail Lines and True Presence: the Power of Not Relying on Your Past
Today’s post is the second in our summer guest post extravaganza. It’s from my friend and contract limitation-killer, Danielle LaPorte, the creator of WhiteHotTruth.com and The Fire Starter Sessions. You can also find her on Twitter @daniellelaporte


“You can’t change the world from the rear-view mirror.” – Anita Roddick, founder of The Body Shop

When I get a group of entrepreneurs together in a room we kick off with introductions, and here’s what I request of people:

When you introduce yourself, please give us:

Your cocktail line. Describe what you do in just a sentence or two.
One word that might describe your “brand”—don’t worry if nothing comes to mind, or if you’re compelled to throw out some strange word like velvet or spicy. Just go with it.
Your current business challenge. It could be cash flow, life balance, writer’s block, or staffing—whatever.
And here’s the catch: You can’t talk about your past. It doesn’t matter how many Masters Degrees you’ve earned, or how the economy walloped your sales last year. Focus on what you’re doing now, on who you are today.

Here’s why. (WARNING: instructive, but unsympathetic cynicism ahead.)

When I hear a business introduction that starts like this, I can predict that cash flow is stuck, or that work-life balance is way outta whack:

“I’m Jane. I have a widget company that I started eleven and a half years ago (fails to mention name of the actual company). Shortly after I started the business, which I used all of my savings to do (that’s what entrepreneurs do—you won’t get much sympathy from this crowd), I got divorced (sad, but irrelevant). That really affected my debt load.

I started with six staff and then cut back to two, and now I work more than I really want to (your choice). My widgets are the best on the market (this is quite possible, but it’s getting harder to believe), but I haven’t had time to get a great distributor (you haven’t made time)—it’s so hard to find good help, you know? (if you believe it is, then it is) I’ve worked with a number of distributors, but had to fire them because they didn’t really believe in the product.

So my challenge, I guess…is…distribution, which of course affects cash flow. So I guess my challenge is really cash flow.” (No kiddin’.)

No, sweet Jane, your challenge is that you’re stuck in the past and you’re chronically complaining about your present. It’s a drag.

Face forward. We want to look ahead with you. Look backwards, and you lose us.
Try this, love:

“I’m Jane Smith, the founder and CEO of Wild Widgets. Industrial Magazine named us Top Widget Maker of the Midwest, which was a huge honor in our business. I’ve scaled back from six to two staff and am looking to build back a really strong team so I can live more of my life.

I’ve struggled to find really crackerjack distributors—they are critical to going from a $1 million dollar company to my vision, which is $10 million within the next 2 years. So my challenge is identifying the winners—the right people to get on board. And if you need widgets, you can find us at WildWidgets.com. Thanks.”

Jane! Baby! I’m so impressed with your clarity and stamina that I want to help you find a legion of those magic distributor elves, right now.

The past is never as relevant as we might think it is.
Stand in your present power. Not relying on your glory days or curriculum vitae forces you to draw power from who you are — now. It’s cleaner fuel. It’s less about proving (which burns energy), and more about trusting in all that you are, today.
I was once late to a swanky advisory meeting for a board that I sat on. I rushed into the dining room and pulled up my chair. “Perfect timing Danielle,” said the CEO. “It’s your turn to introduce yourself.” Sure thing.

“I’m Danielle LaPorte. You can find me at WhiteHotTruth.com where I write about self-realization and entrepreneurship. I’ve got a weekly commentator gig on CBC TV, and I advise entrepreneurs how to rock their careers in what I call ‘Fire Starter Sessions’, and I’m working on my next book.”

Concise, right? Just the way I like it. I clocked in at about 30 seconds. Good finish. I presumed everyone else was eager to get into the Brie and champagne.

Then, each of the six women who introduced themselves after me proceeded to list their very impressive accomplishments, from Harvard degrees, to millions of dollars raised for start-ups and charities, to how many children they had. It was a power tour of who done what. Though, it wasn’t as obnoxious as I may be making it sound. It was proud and thorough and appropriate in that context. It’s just that I’d missed the memo and I felt like a total unaccomplished loser by comparison.

Ohhh…we’re doing those kind of intros. I thought. Humph. If I’d only known, I would have pulled out my most sophisticated ammo:

“I ran a future-studies think tank in Washington, DC, had my own communication agency for years promoting Nobel Peace Prize Laureates and some old pop stars. I raised a bunch of money for my high-profile lifestyle company. I wrote a book—it was an Amazon bestseller, Oprah producers called, lotsa photographers took my picture. I went seriously renegade from my last lil’ empire, and now I’m like, a power blogger with awesome clients. And BTW, I gave birth to my son in our living room, and can run ten city blocks in heels.”

The ego loves a good resume. I took a breath and decided to be sophonsified with who I was in that moment. Easy. They could like me, or not. Or they could inquire for more. And besides, my past pales in comparison to my future, this I know. So does yours, I bet.


Think about your past career failures, mistakes, bombs. Write out your 3 favourite screw-ups. What did you learn? Can you see a pattern in the lessons? How did they make you a better person? Then, burn the list or write HAHAHA! in big letters across the page. It’s done. You’re free. Next…

Write out your victories and accomplishments. What have you inspired, founded, launched, published, shipped, directed, earned? Let it roll. Blow your horn. And then – you guessed it, burn the list. You’re free – free to innovate.

A Buddhist would advise that power comes when you detach from your past. An exec would say you’re only as good as your last Pn’L. They’re both right. When it comes to your genius, there’s always more where that came from.


Excerpted in part from The Fire Starter Sessions: A Digital Experience for Entrepreneurs.


Danielle LaPorte is the creator of WhiteHotTruth.com, which has been called “the best place on-line for kick-ass spirituality.” A motivational speaker, former think tank exec, publicist, and news show commentator, her latest online book is The Fire Starter Sessions. You can find her on Twitter @daniellelaporte
Branding  Career_advice  Conscious_living  Creativity  Marketing  Storytelling  from google
july 2010 by felixleong
Opportunities Might Be Your Enemies
There are so many sayings we say—most of the time without thinking about it—that make absolutely no sense. Yet we say them out of habit and routine, not realizing just how silly we sound.

For example: “Harv, you can’t have your cake and eat it, too.” Well, what the hell’s the point in having the cake then?

Or how about this one: “Don’t look a gift horse in the mouth.” Well, isn’t that exactly what the Trojans should’ve done?

The point here is that success building requires a lot of deprogramming from so many common beliefs and assumptions we’ve come to take for granted as true, even though a lot of the time it’s the exact opposite. We learned last week that a viable way to jumpstart an enterprise is to buy your product by selling it first.

Let’s take a look at another Rule of Opposites: Put all your eggs in one basket.

Most people will tell you otherwise. Why? Because if you put all of your eggs in one basket and something happens—like dropping it—you’ll lose everything. But I have a solution for that; take bloody good care of that basket!

We already know that no one’s reaching the next level without taking risks, yes? But the way we’ve come to think about our eggs and baskets is fear-based; fear of losing.

This truth is already established—if you want to be rich, you’ve got to be great at something. And to be great at something, you’ve got to focus on that something. For goodness sakes that’s where you put all of your eggs!

Rich people are focused. Poor people scatter their energies. Everything is one thing. It’s hard enough to make it in one business let alone divvying it up into dozens of different places!

‘But Harv—I’m constantly coming across great opportunities!’ This brings me to another Rule of Opposites:

Opportunities can be obstacles!

Opportunities can be obstacles if they take your focus away from what’s in front of you right now. That takes your time because you entertain them, maybe do some research and find out a bit more, and there you go again.

If you’ve got something semi-decent growing, put the blinders on and go for it. Not one person ever got wealthy to begin with in more than one business at a time. One business. One basket.

So you’ll have to choose, but then the next question is, ‘How do I choose?’ Look, pick one. It doesn’t matter because it’s the habit that’s the problem. Pick one to focus on. Worse comes to worse, even if you do mediocre with it, you can always let that one go when it’s finally done and get something going that does work—eventually without you. Then you can diversify and add more.

Choose one and get freaking good at it. Got it? I’m not saying you can’t buy real estate on the side. I’m just saying watch out. Every minute you do the other one you are losing time and energy that could have gone into your one basket.

There’re a lot of opportunities within your business. Make sure you’re doing well with one thing. First get rich and then you have the opportunity to go into other things. Get rich first!

Now it’s your turn! Can you identify one new opportunity within your business right now?  Will you take action and explore it ASAP?  Share your thoughts below and let me know if putting “all your eggs in one basket” just might be a lucrative opportunity for you.
Financial_Freedom  Millionaire_Mind  Mindset  Success  Take_Action  marketing  accepted  boundaries  business  clarity  common_beliefs  communication  deprogramming  effective_marketing  Fear  focus  Fulfillment  high_level  Master  millionaire  money_machines  obstacles  opportunity  prepare  profitable_business  Rule_of_Opposites  Time  training  from google
july 2010 by felixleong
Features and Benefits Are So 2009. Sell To Driving Emotion
A famous marketer once said said, “sell the hole, not the drill.”

Translation—for the most part, people don’t care a whole lot about the vehicle that gets them the benefit they want…they’re simply looking for the faster, easier, most enjoyable way to their desired end.

So, if you were selling drills, you could focus in on the features of the drill or you could focus on the fact that this bad-boy will let you bore a monster hole through concrete in 8.2 seconds. If you were a golfer, it’s not so much the graphite shaft, carborundum head and Corinthian leather grip you’re selling, it’s the 300 yard drive.

Except…that it’s not…in either case.

The hole and the drive are the benefits. They sell better than the features.

But there’s something that sells 10 times better than both…driving emotions.

If you can ferret out, then sell to the driving emotions, you make a beeline to the part of the brain that says, “OMFG, if I don’t have that NOW, I just might die!”

In the drill example, the driving emotion isn’t the hole, that the benefit. The driving emotions might be the pride or ego fulfillment that comes from all your other workers and supervisors seeing you banging out massive amounts of work in less time. It might be the sense of empowerment that comes from a bigger, badder tool. Maybe it’s the fact that it lets you get home to your family faster and be less wiped out at the end of the day. Or, oddly enough, it might even be a proxy for a lack of power in other parts of your life.

In the golf example, the driving emotion isn’t the 300 yard drive, it’s the feeling of glory you get when you stand at the tee on the first hole, the one right in front of the clubhouse where everyone’s watching, and bang the ball straight to the green while everyone around you says, “whoaaaahhhh!!!” It’s the respect that comes from being known as the guy with the 300 yard drive. And, yes, just like the drill, it may even be a proxy for a lack of respect and connection in other parts of your life.

So, if you really want to sell, don’t sell the feature, don’t even sell the benefit…sell the driving emotion.

BUT, there’s a big caveat…you’d also better be able to deliver on your promise.

Because if you don’t, you’ll end up with a whole lot of clients and customers with buyers remorse, anger, returns and bad will.

Sell to the soul, then deliver…
Business_Strategy  Entrepreneurship  Marketing  Small_Business  from google
june 2010 by felixleong
Three Tips for Curating Your Audience
Recently, I was having some tea and lemonade in New York City with a dear friend who is a senior publishing executive. When our conversation turned to exploring the future of publishing, she said, "Our folks say our core value is to curate content."

I suggested that the real challenge for any publisher today is not just to curate content but to manage audiences for the authors. She said, "In other words we need to curate audiences."

As I thought about her brilliant turn of phrase, it occurred to me that all great authors and companies curate their audiences. For example, marketing writer Seth Godin, whose work I greatly admire, curates his audience. His very functional web site has daily blog posts. He has published a highly popular business eBook. He created a Vook, a video book you can download to your iPhone. In short, he keeps in touch, and he provides ongoing intellectual sustenance to his followers.

Online retailer Zappos also curates its audience. In each interaction, it treats you like someone precious. It has crafted its interfaces and databases and call centers to create a seamless, painless, anytime, anywhere, any way experience.

More broadly, all firms need to curate their audiences. This is more than networking and direct-mail spamming or putting in a CRM system. Curation is a process of overseeing the preservation and use of something precious. Audience is the most precious thing in the world to any company. And by "audience," I don't just mean your current customers. Audience is anyone who knows about your firm, your brand, and has bought something from you in the past or may do so in the future. It is all the people who have an opinion about your organization.

When I taught marketing I used to say, "Your brand is nothing more than the sum total of the memory traces which everyone who has touched your company have in their heads — good and bad." A curator thinks about how precious those memory traces are and how important it is to be prepared to create new positive memories. Tactically, this means that a firm must at least do the following:

1. Have full information about all the interactions your customer has had with your firm. My health insurance company should heed this advice. I have been fighting with it to pay a health claim. Each time I call, I have to educate a different customer service rep on the status of everything. This type of experience is so depressingly common, I'm sure you can fill in your own examples.

2. Be ready to do business anytime, anywhere and any way. We're in the middle of some work for a large insurance company, and many of their customers don't want to go to the web to check the status of their claim. A simple mobile alert would improve service — and lower costs in the call centers.

3. Treat your audience like it is precious. Think of how carefully curators treat each and every artifact in a collection. The heart of the curator is imbued with care.

Do you think your organization is curating its audience or only warehousing it? I'd love to hear your stories.

John Sviokla is vice chairman of Diamond Management & Technology Consultants, Inc. He is a former professor at Harvard Business School in marketing, MIS, and decision sciences. Click here to read his previous blogs.
Customers  Marketing  Online_marketing  from google
june 2010 by felixleong
Telling the 800-lb Gorilla to Shove it up his Ass
Every founder frets about competition from a big company, me included.

We scoff at their inability to innovate and for prioritizing shareholders over customers, but still we quiver in fear.

Dozens of people on Answers.OnStartups ask about it so I know I'm not alone. It always goes like this:

I'm just a two-person operation with no budget. What if a huge company with a hundred software developers and a million dollars in marketing budget decides to copy my idea?

Answer: You're dead! Give up! No small company has ever survived competition with a large one!

Oh wait, that's not true. But poking fun doesn't help; maybe this article will.

First, take a deep breath and remember that every little software company on Earth in under this threat. This fact alone means competition — or threat of competition — isn't fatal, and possibly not even important.

Don't fear the dinosaur, fear the quivering warm-blooded tree-shrew
65 million years ago an iridium-enfused extra-terrestrial meatball o' death caused what we would nowadays call a "disruptive market event," and the cold-blooded dinosaurs couldn't weather the shitstorm. It was the little cenozoic warm-blooded agile (oh sorry, now we're saying "lean") rodents who adapted by getting "outside the nest" to discover how to eat cockroaches, because we all know that cockroaches are the one form of life that can survive anything.

Like unadaptable dinosaurs, whatever your large competitor is doing now is probably what they'll be doing two years from now, possibly four. Same message, same product, same pricing, and still taking a dump on Facebook instead of playing by the new rules. By then where will you be?

That kind of competition isn't scary. What is scary is another scrappy, smart startup like yours — another tree-shrew. The one who silently observes you from afar, then drives down the road you paved, skipping the mistakes you made and copying the good parts.

Take all your angst about big competitors and refocus it on the little ones. (I'll talk about this sort of competition in future post.)

You're scratching out a living, not "beating Google."
If your only conception of "success" is to utterly destroy large companies, then I guess you should stop reading now.

But if you want to build a solid company, something you're proud of, something that pays handsomely but doesn't have to be worth $1B, then the game isn't "us or them." The question is: How can you own your little piece of the world; Not: How can you wrest $100m of revenue from a big guy.

It's not your purpose to "beat" another company. It's your purpose to define yourself on your own terms, not in terms of how you're like or unlike someone else.

Sure it's constructive to "set your sights" on a competitor, actively trying to beat them in the marketplace or even steal their customers (e.g. give a discount if someone switches to you). But ultimately the only thing that matters is that you earn more and more customers, whether or not anyone else does too.

Using a gorilla to increase your own prospects
It can actually be an advantage to have a big player in your market, especially if they enter your market after you're established.

At Smart Bear we make a peer review tool for software programmers; you don't have to be a geek to know that any software development tool company shares the following fear: "What if Microsoft copies us?" But we know that any code review tool from Microsoft would work only with their own version control system and only inside Visual Studio. (Can you imagine a tool from Microsoft that supported ClearCase, ran inside Eclipse, and had excellent support for Java?)

So what if they did copy us, and what if as a result they owned 100% of the Visual Studio market? Well that still leaves every other market on Earth. And then all of Microsoft's competitors would also need a code review tool so they don't fall behind on the hallowed competitive analysis chart, so suddenly IBM, CA, Oracle, Serena, CompuWare, and HP would need a code review tool right away. What better way to accomplish that than to buy the #1 (or maybe now #2) code review tool company — hey that's us! — which by the way is profitable at a time when any company is happy to have a department that's generating cash.

In short, Microsoft copying the idea would only validate the market, causing the value of Smart Bear to increase.

What actually happened is instructive too: Microsoft added the concept of "shelving" and put the absolute least amount of effort into supporting code review (it's literally a check-box that indicates that, somehow, somewhere, a code review happened), so the result is that we sell a ton of Code Collaborator to Visual Studio shops.

In other words, they validated the market by entering it, but exactly because they're a huge company they couldn't make it good enough to stop us.

Go where they can't follow
Big companies play only in big markets.

It's logical: With all the expensive machinery and bureaucracy it takes a dump truck of money and dozens of man-years to build something new, so the opportunity has to be enormous. Even if they were successful in a small market there wouldn't be enough profits to move the big needle at the top.

So Microsoft can't attack a market unless there's a potential to earn at least $1B. But wouldn't you be happy playing in a market where you'd be able to rake in "only" $100M? Of course you would.

I'm not talking about carving out micro-niches where only seven people on Earth are potential customers. Just don't go after massive, general markets like "everyone with a digital camera" or "anyone with a smart phone" or "all software developers."

Do what they cannot
Big companies have significant advantages like money, a brand, a team, and a large customer base, many of whom will never switch even when presented with a clearly-better alternative.

Their brand alone is a powerful force you probably cannot overcome, e.g. "eBay is trustable" or "Apple is cool" or "IBM is safe."

But the same attributes which deliver those advantages are also restrictive:

They can't release a completely-revamped, brand-new version because they can't retrain 200,000 users.
They can't take a risk because protecting the existing revenue stream is more important than anything else, even if it means their ultimate demise.
They can't quickly convert new ideas to released code because there's requirements and documents and designers and approvals and schedules and testing and vetting.
They can't change their image because there's too much momentum with the old one. For example if they have a reputation for bad tech support, even if it gets remedied most people will still think of them has having bad support.
They can't observe and react quickly to changing market demands because there's too many layers of people and process, and too many people whose careers depend on maintaining the status quo.

For example, Intuit needs to look solid and timeless, their developers know C++ and desktop applications, and they can't retrain the computer-phobic home users of Quicken... so they cannot create Mint.

As another example, IBM requires expensive infrastructure, development teams, and sales channels to command multi-million dollar consulting deals, but that also means it's not profitable to do a small deal, which means small consulting shops never worry about competing with IBM.

They can't change their product, so you can innovate without competition. They can't change their image, so you can fill the gap. They can't listen to a customer and make an impact one week later; you can.

Do what they can't do, be what they're not, and you won't have to worry about competing on those points.

What else?
What are more tips for defending, defeating, or just avoiding big companies? What are your experiences with meeting dinosaurs on the sales floor? Leave a comment and extend this discussion.
Essays  branding  competition  marketing  positioning  from google
may 2010 by felixleong
Tim Ferriss Scam! Practical Tactics for Dealing with Haters
Brute force seldom works with haters. Redirection does. (Photo: Deadstar 2.0)

I recently spent a week in Amsterdam enjoying bicycles, canals, Queensday, and… ahem… coffee shops. For real. Honest. The best coffee I’ve had in Europe has to be De Koffie Salon.

I also gave a short keynote at The NextWeb about how to deal with haters, protect yourself from (some) media, respond to FlipCams, and other personal branding self-defense 101.

Think you have crazy people contacting you or commenting on your blog? Me too. I share some of my favorite hater e-mails, Amazon reviews, and voicemails. It’ll make you feel better to hear the stories.

It is possible to learn to love haters. But it does take some know-how and tactical planning…

I elaborated on a few points in an interview in the Netherlands with Amy-Mae Elliot, who originally posted them on Mashable in her piece Tim Ferriss: 7 Great Principles for Dealing with Haters:

1. It doesn’t matter how many people don’t get it. What matters is how many people do.

“It’s critical in social media, as in life, to have a clear objective and not to lose sight of that,” Ferriss says. He argues that if your objective is to do the greatest good for the greatest number of people or to change the world in some small way (be it through a product or service), you only need to pick your first 1,000 fans — and carefully. “As long as you’re accomplishing your objectives, that 1,000 will lead to a cascading effect,” Ferriss explains. “The 10 million that don’t get it don’t matter.”

2. 10% of people will find a way to take anything personally. Expect it.

“People are least productive in reactive mode,” Ferriss states, before explaining that if you are expecting resistance and attackers, you can choose your response in advance, as opposed to reacting inappropriately. This, Ferriss says, will only multiply the problem. “Online, I see people committing ’social media suicide’ all the time by one of two ways. Firstly by responding to all criticism, meaning you’re never going to find time to complete important milestones of your own, and by responding to things that don’t warrant a response.” This, says Ferriss, lends more credibility by driving traffic.

3. “Trying to get everyone to like you is a sign of mediocrity.” (Colin Powell)

“If you treat everyone the same and respond to everyone by apologizing or agreeing, you’re not going to be recognizing the best performers, and you’re not going to be improving the worst performers,” Ferriss says. “That guarantees you’ll get more behavior you don’t want and less you do.” That doesn’t mean never respond, Ferriss goes on to say, but be “tactical and strategic” when you do.

4. “If you are really effective at what you do, 95% of the things said about you will be negative.” (Scott Boras)

“This principle goes hand-in-hand with number two,” Ferriss says. “I actually keep this quote in my wallet because it is a reminder that the best people in almost any field are almost always the people who get the most criticism.” The bigger your impact, explains Ferriss (whose book is a New York Times, WSJ and BusinessWeek bestseller), and the larger the ambition and scale of your project, the more negativity you’ll encounter. Ferriss jokes he has haters “in about 35 languages.”

5. “If you want to improve, be content to be thought foolish and stupid.” (Epictetus)

“Another way to phrase this is through a more recent quote from Elbert Hubbard,” Ferriss says. “‘To avoid criticism, do nothing, say nothing, and be nothing.” Ferriss, who holds a Guinness World Record for the most consecutive tango spins, says he has learned to enjoy criticism over the years. Ferriss, using Roman philosophy to expand on his point, says: “Cato, who Seneca believed to be the perfect stoic, practiced this by wearing darker robes than was customary and by wearing no tunic. He expected to be ridiculed and he was, he did this to train himself to only be ashamed of those things that are truly worth being ashamed of. To do anything remotely interesting you need to train yourself to be effective at dealing with, responding to, even enjoying criticism… In fact, I would take the quote a step further and encourage people to actively pursue being thought foolish and stupid.”

6. “Living well is the best revenge.” (George Herbert)

“The best way to counter-attack a hater is to make it blatantly obvious that their attack has had no impact on you,” Ferriss advises. “That, and [show] how much fun you’re having!” Ferriss goes on to say that the best revenge is letting haters continue to live with their own resentment and anger, which most of the time has nothing to do with you in particular. “If a vessel contains acid and you pour some on an object, it’s still the vessel that sustains the most damage,” Ferriss says. “Don’t get angry, don’t get even — focus on living well and that will eat at them more than anything you can do.”

7. Keep calm and carry on.

The slogan “Keep Calm and Carry On” was originally produced by the British government during the Second World War as a propaganda message to comfort people in the face of Nazi invasion. Ferriss takes the message and applies it to today’s world. “Focus on impact, not approval. If you believe you can change the world, which I hope you do, do what you believe is right and expect resistance and expect attackers,” Ferriss concludes. “Keep calm and carry on!”

One of my favorite authors, Nassim N. Taleb of Black Swan fame, e-mailed me the following aphorism today, which was perfect timing and perfectly put:

Robustness is when you care more about the few who like your work than the multitude who hates it (artists); fragility is when you care more about the few who hate your work than the multitude who loves it (politicians).

Choose to be robust.
Marketing  Mental_Performance  how_to_deal_with_haters  tim_ferriss_scam  from google
may 2010 by felixleong
"Authentic" is dead
It's time to retire the following phrases. They should no longer be used, ever, in any context except derisive mocking:

Fast and easy
Putting customers first
The Holy Grail of
The leading provider of
Legendary customer support

Also eschew these words, as devoid of meaning as a yogi's mantra and as useless as a simile that doesn't contribute new information:


These words have been corrupted by those who claim to honor their meaning but do not act accordingly.

When a company claims to "put customers first" but then uses "Level 1 support" as a shield to prevent customers from intruding on profits, we realize talk is cheap.

When a company claims to have "secure" payments but then 100,000 credit card numbers are stolen, we realize you don't need a permit to claim security.

When a company claims to be "innovative and disruptive" but then pitches an idea you've heard ten times in the past month, it reminds us that if you have to say it, it's probably untrue.

When 78% of "About Us" web pages claim "the leading provider" of something, we are no longer impressed.

Like a song over-played on the radio, like a restaurant over-hyped in the magazines, repetition of even powerful, wonderful phrases can kill them.

Oh I know 21% of you stopped reading as soon as you saw that "authentic" made the list, and shot down to the comments section to unleash a scathing missive explaining how "authenticity" is the prime mover of modern marketing, honorable salesmanship, and meaningful relationships.

I agree! In fact all these words and phrases should theoretically carry meaning, but theory is for people who don't need to sell $2,600 more software by next Friday so they can make rent.

If I had enough hubris to run around christening years, I would declare 2009 The Year of "Authentic." Enough! We get it! I respect the work of all those bloggers and Twitter-ers and lecturers and consultants who drove this word deep into our psyches. Indeed it's a tremendous gift: bringing concepts like authenticity, genuineness, and give-first-sell-later to the traditionally aggressive, non-engaging, selfish world of marketing. The more people honor this new code, the better for us all.

Nevertheless, it's time to retire words like "authentic." The misuse is to too widespread, the abuse too deep.

So what should you do instead?
Be specific.
Many of the dead words weren't especially illustrative to begin with. As far as I know, a "solution" just means product and/or service, so the word doesn't add information anyway. Instead, be specific and inspire me.

Instead of "easy" say "so straightforward, you won't need a manual."
Instead of "inexpensive" say "just a dollar a day."
Instead of "powerful" say "processes 6,253,427 requests daily."
Instead of "disruptive" say "72% of our customers say they'll never go back to a normal email client."

Show, don't tell.
Some dead words are descriptive, but they don't paint a picture. "Powerful" sounds nice I suppose, but how does that change my life? Showing something in action is more evocative than describing it.

Instead of saying it's fast, show a speed test (especially against competitors).
Instead of saying it's easy, have a video demonstrating your tool solving someone's problem in 60 seconds flat.
Instead of saying you have eager, responsive, intelligent tech support, put a "chat now" bar on every page of your website.
Instead of a bullet-list of benefits, quote actual customers describing your impact on their lives.

Face it.
My favorite way to start a sales pitch is to make fun of typical sales pitches. For example:

I know you were hoping for a 22-slide PowerPoint deck with our mission statement and company history. I'm really sorry to disappoint! 'Cause I'm just going to start the demo and let you interrupt me with questions.


People claim that peer code review tools will do magic things like make your developers smarter or fix existing social problems with the team. Actually, if anything code review can magnify social issues! However, I do believe our tool will save you time and aggravation in these 4 specific ways .... so as we go through the demo, see if you agree.

Because you're willing to say what others won't, especially when we all know it's the truth, you've earned credibility. Now folks are more open to your claims — even those that are well-worn.

Own it.
You can still use an abused word if you totally, 100% own the concept.

You can claim "legendary customer service" if you back that with first-ring, human phone service, online chat from your home page, quick-response Twitter monitoring, and 15-minute turn-around time on tech support emails even at 3am on a Sunday. Be sure to communicate all that too, because if you lead with the dead phrase I'll leave before you get the chance to prove it.

Be the change you wish to see in the world.   —Gandhi
When old ideas become cliché, that's an implicit call for new ideas. This time around, can you lead instead of follow?

Of course this is a bit unfair. Quick: Come up with a compelling new philosophy for human interaction and global communication, marketing, sales, and relationships!

Yeah it's an unreasonable expectation, and not certainly required, but remember the best ideas often aren't (excuse the clichés) ground-breaking, innovative, out-of-the-box, Earth-shattering epiphanies. Often great ideas are a synthesis of other ideas with just a smidge of novel insight, or just putting into words what others sense but cannot articulate.

This is the hardest and most time-consuming way to break out of the mundane, but also the most rewarding. And if you do come up with something, there's a lot of people who will love to help you spread the word.

What else?
What other phrases should be avoided? What are good alternatives? Leave a comment and join the conversation!
Essays  How-To  advertising  design  marketing  persona  writing  from google
may 2010 by felixleong
Permission Follow-Up
This is a guest post by Jarie Bolander, author of Frustration Free Technical Management and a moderator at Answers OnStartups.

It'd be wonderful if you could run a business without interacting with anyone else — never relying on others to deliver quality work on time and never having to "be salesy" on the phone.
Yeah, but unfortunately you do have to rely on others to respond to emails and phone calls. This reliance can be a constant source of heartburn. So you can either take some Tagamet or learn how to get permission to follow-up with people.

Or both.

You Are Not Alone
Most people dread following up with customers, vendors and even employees. It sounds weird to extroverts, but many of us have performance anxiety that prevents us from following-up even when it’s in our own best interest. You would think that, as social creatures, we would love to interact with our fellow humans, but alas no.

[Editor's Note: I have an irrational fear of the phone. When it rings I'm overcome with a sense of dread. I have to work myself up to placing an out-bound call. It's not anti-social — I love personal and electronic interactions equally — it's something specific and bizarre and, I've since learned, fairly common.]

Our irrational dread stems from the following fears:

Fear of rejection: The real reason people don’t follow-up. It’s hard to get rejected by a customer or partner, or even a stranger. If you get permission to follow-up, this rejection is less likely.
Don’t want to be annoying: This is the most common excuse people give for not following up. This is why it’s important to set natural follow-up points so you can get permission to call, email or meet.
Conflict avoidance: A reason that people don’t call you back. If you set up the interactions so that any potential conflict is reduced, then they will want to talk to you.
Awkwardness in asking for something: Asking for the sale or clarification produces a lot of anxiety. The trick to asking for something is to make it the natural next step to your series of follow-ups. That way, it builds up gradually.
Trust that what you say will happen: A common problem when someone works with you. No matter who you interact with, you need to follow-up with them if they committed to get something done for you. They might have forgotten or gotten busy.
Too busy to worry about it: This is common for the overworked entrepreneur. You should never be too busy to follow-up on things you want done. Think about it. If it’s important, then you need to ensure it gets done. Otherwise why did you start it?

Permission Follow-Up
The most powerful technique to get others to help you achieve your objectives is to create natural follow-up points that make it easy for you to contact someone. Think of this as permission marketing applied to following-up. Permission Follow-up allows you to contact your customer, vendor or employee because you have a pre-established agreement on when it's appropriate for you to communicate with them. The power of this technique is that you make them want to receive your email, call or meeting.

Or at least expect it. When the other person expects you to contact them, and you do, none of the excuses above are applicable.

Natural Ways to Follow-Up
Okay, I am sure most of you are feeling that Italian veggie sub you had for lunch starting to bubble up in your throat. Relax. There are tons of ways to create natural follow-up points that will make getting that customer meeting, dealing with that difficult vendor or making sure your team releases it’s products on time.

Here's a bunch of specific methods. Next we'll apply them in a scenario.

Take responsibility to do the follow-up: This is most direct way to get permission to follow-up since you actively took responsibility to contact them. When they agree, then you are set. It's on your calendar, not theirs.
Set mutual deadlines: Deadlines are a great way to set expectations and points of reengagement. This will make whomever you are interacting with expect your next communications especially if the deadline is to give them something.
Additional information: Committing to and delivering additional information will setup a natural way for you to interact. When you do follow-up, your contact will expect your call.
Specific actions you are responsible for: When you take and complete actions it shows that you value follow-up and that makes others expect this from you.
Status updates: Anytime your situation changes or you release a new revision, is a perfect time to give a quick reminder or update.
Relevant books and articles: A good way to reengage with people is to send them relevant posts or articles. When you do this, it reminds people who you are and allows you to dialog about other opportunities.
In town: Face to face meetings are the most effective ways to follow-up on cold leads or to accelerate a deal. Just being in town makes it easier for your contact to meet you and that might be the one thing that pushes your interactions to the next level.

[Editor's Note: I have found this to be an especially effective tool. My technique: Whenever you're going to be in a city, call everyone and say "I'm going to be in town anyway, could I just swing by for 15 minutes? Or longer if you want to go over something?" Almost everyone will agree, and there is nothing like real face-to-face interactions, especially in the age of digital arms-length relationships.]
Mutual friends: An introduction (or reintroduction) by a mutual friend can be a powerful follow-up method if your interactions have stalled. Your mutual friend can also be an excuse to reconnect.
Ask for clarification: When you ask for clarification, it shows that you are striving for understanding and if done after an interaction, reminds your contact of what you talked about.
Time has passed: Sometimes the passage of time can be used to your advantage as long as you have another entry point (like a status update or a mutual friend). In some cases, just sending a “checking in” email or note, can be all that is needed to follow up with other interactions.

These natural follow-up points must be injected into an interaction at the appropriate time — when the interaction needs an inflection point or as a way to tie up some loose ends. Sometimes, it may take several different methods since people respond differently to following-up. (Most have the same anxieties as you do!)

Scenario: A Customer Interaction
Let's put this into action.

Perhaps the most important customer interaction is your first meeting. It sets the tone for everything to come and is ripe for planting those follow-up seeds. Here's how it might go:

You: Beth, thanks for meeting with us. We were introduced to you via Matt over at KoolTech. Matt uses our Wizbang SaaS client and thought you guys might find it useful too.

Beth: Yeah, Matt told me about you guys. It sounds like you might have something that will work for us.

You: Excellent. Matt’s a great guy and we were excited to have Matt recommend we get together. Did you get the information I sent you about Wizbang?

Beth: Actually, no I didn’t. However, I did read you site and think I have a good idea what you do.

You: Why don’t I reconfirm your email and send it on to you?

Beth: Sure, it's ....

You: I will send this out when I get back to the office. Does that work for you?

Beth: Yeah.

You: Excellent. How about we show you our demo?

Beth: Thought you'd never ask.

Demo Ensues. Ooo’s, ahh’s

Beth: Great demo. It looks like just what we need. Can you send me a quote? Budgets are tight.

You: Sure. We can also set up a guest account for you and your team to try it out.

Beth: That will work.

You: Why don’t you give me their contact info and I will set them up


You: Beth, thanks for your time. We really enjoyed meeting you.

Beth: As did I.

You: I captured a couple of next-actions for me. They are .... Do you agree?

Beth: That's great, just so long as I don't have to do anything else.

You: Wonderful. I will get back to you in a week with that quote. Will that work for you?

Beth: Yeah, that works.

You: In the mean time, I will setup some guest accounts and follow-up with you to see how it’s going.

Beth: Sounds good. Talk to you soon.

The above interaction had several follow-up seeds planted (in bold) that are ready to be harvested. All of the responsibilities are on your shoulders, and your customer gave you permission to follow-up. This means that they will be expecting your call or email.

So what happens when they don’t return your calls or email? Permission follow-up handles this as well. Not only are you planting follow-up actions with your direct contact, but with others they work with, like what happened above (setting up a guest account for other team members). Doing this allows you to have several entry points. Taken in combination, these entry points give you a better shot at getting your call or email returned.

Go Ahead, Give it a Shot
Practicing permission follow-up does feel awkward. Just stick with it. Over time, permission follow-up will produce results and you will get more comfortable with it. The simple fact is that other people usually don't place as high a priority on these things as you do, and you have to lean on them to get things done.

It's not about leaning hard or being an asshole. It's just about getting permission to follow up.

What tips do you have for following up with customers or vendors? Would any of the techniques here bother you? Leave a comment and join the conversation.
Guest_Posts  customers  feedback  marketing  relationships  sales  from google
april 2010 by felixleong
Eureka! Finding your Unique Selling Point
As discussed in what’s a unique selling point, your unique selling point is your differentiator which separates you from your competition. Now we know how important this differentiator is to your small business, it’s now time to get to work and determine your unique selling point.

A Unique Selling Point Helps Your Small Business Stand Out From the Crowd

What Isn’t a Unique Selling Point
Before you start putting your small business under the microscope, it’s important to understand the attributes which are not unique selling points. Many businesses focus their promotional efforts on these factors. Don’t make the same mistake:

Great service: You claim to offer great service? Guess what: So does everyone else. Offering great service is fundamental to any business, it’s not a unique selling point. However, if you can promise and demonstrate a unique method of providing great service, such as free weekend delivery, 24/7 free phone support or reply paid postage, your service levels can be used as a unique selling point.

Low prices: You may have dozens of competitors. The reality is, only one business can offer the lowest price. And for this privilege, this business has their margin squeezed. But even worse – another competitor can enter the market at anytime with an even lower price. Enter the price war, which leads to balance sheet nightmares and endless dinners of baked beans on toast. It is dangerous to focus on being the lowest price. It’s better to focus on offering exceptional value.

Location: You may be contemplating opening a business in an area without competition. Sounds like a good opportunity. Perhaps. May be in the short term. However, competition could soon come knocking, either in the form of another bricks and mortar business or an online business. Don’t feel that your small business location provides a sustainable competitive advantage. It’s not a moat against competition.

How to Determine Your Unique Selling Point
You know your business better than anyone. To determine your unique selling point take a moment to assess the following:

1. What do your customers love about your business?

Ask them personally. Send your customers an anonymous online survey. Watch their behaviour both in your store and on your website.

2. What can you do that your competition can’t?

Look at the product and service range of your competitors. Compare it to your range. Are there any gaps that you can exploit? If so, capitalize on the gaps, make customers aware of your superior offering and stay one step  ahead of your competition.

3. Is there an area that no competitors currently satisfy?

Do you have a competitive advantage that your competitor simply can’t match? Perhaps it is your size, number of employees, opening hours, onsite installation, product hiring, a guarantee or returns policy?

4. Can you bundle regularly used products/services together and offer a value pack?

Think about the total solution that your customers are trying to achieve. This solution can rarely be met with just one product. Is there anything else you can naturally bundle to help solve their problem and create value? Could you offer a free first service with your product, free installation, a free book or 50% off a complementary product?

If two small businesses are selling an identical product, the customer will make a selection based on price. You need to transfer the customers comparison from price to value by supplying an offering that provides more at an acceptable price point.

5. Can you pair up with another business to create a unique product offering?

Think of the purchasing patterns of your customers. Do they need to purchase complementary items before or after visiting your small business? If so, there may be an opportunity to directly offer these products or services or establish a referral relationship with another trusted provider.

6. Can you bundle your product with a service, or vice versa?

Think outside the square. Can you bundle your product with a service? Or a service with a product? This could be a key point of difference for your small business, demonstrating real value to your customers.

7. Can you improve your trial period, guarantee or servicing levels?

Take the risk away from your customers. Make them feel that it’s you that’s taking the risk – not them. Offer an extraordinary guarantee that will blow your customers away and leave the competition trembling.

“If everyone is thinking alike, then somebody isn’t thinking.” -George Patton

Implementing Your Unique Selling Point
Your unique selling point doesn’t just stay an abstract objective, filed in a dusty report. You need to bring your unique selling point to life with a simple, short statement. Your unique selling point must be actively threaded through all your business communication. Yes, this includes advertising, brochures, business cards and receipts. It can never be over communicated. As a rule of thumb, if you’re getting sick of seeing your unique selling point, you’re doing a good job.

“If you have an important point to make, don’t try to be subtle or clever. Use a pile driver. Hit the point once. Then come back and hit it again. Then hit it a third time-a tremendous whack.” -Winston Churchill

It is critical that your entire business can consistently deliver on this promise at every opportunity, year in and year out. This will help cement your selling point in the minds of customers and increase their trust in your small business.

What factors have influenced you in choosing one business over another?
Marketing  from google
april 2010 by felixleong
Seven consumer trends worth embracing
Dianna Mella’s video response to the Budweiser Lyric spot. Everyone wants to participate.
Trying to figure out how to approach your next marketing plan? Where to invest? What media to embrace? How much to move from traditional digital to social? Whether to put more money into search? Welcome to the club. Unfortunately no one can answer all those questions for you in a generic blog post, but here’s the next best thing. Maybe. Some observations about consumers that might help you figure it out.

1.    Consumers want more participation and even control
Look no further than video uploads, comments on blogs and the hijacking of brands (MadMen, CocaCola).  Consumers want a say and they want to play. They don’t even care if they get paid.  (That’s the good news and bad news.) Anyway, what does it suggest? A. Embrace crowdsourcing as a way to engage them. B. Release control of your brand (you can do this). Let consumers run with it. Hey, they might take it somewhere good. C. Seriously consider building more memes into your content.

2.    No one wants to do business with a company.
Do you? I don’t. People want to do business with people. Real live honest to goodness people. So what’s a corporation to do? First, learn social media and all of its protocols. It’s not that hard. Second, put a face, not a logo, at the front of the company. Third, give more employees the opportunity to represent your brand. They might do a really good job.

3.    Consumers’ relationships with media are more complex than ever
We watch, comment, criticize, socialize and share.

Your customers and prospects are content creators, critics, sharers, and spreaders as well as viewers.  Ramifications? Understand how your customers and prospects alike use and interact with media not just a brand. Learn to be as engaging in social media and community as you are on TV. Finally, take your content to your community. They don’t always want to come to your place. Plus it will save you money building another flash heavy website.

4.    Everyone’s attention span is shorter
Ready for this? One 15-second pre-roll ad causes 8% of the audience to abandon the clip before it starts.  A 30-second pre-roll sends 22% of the audience packing. I read Bob Garfield so I know.  Perhaps it’s a good time to focus on relationships not just messages. Messages disappear; relationships last. Also, try standing for something memorable that can be expressed in many different ways. And finally, master search. Organic search especially. You need to be found.

5.    Expectations are higher
The power of the Internet gave us control and introduced us to on demand. That resulted in our high expectations for satisfaction and problem resolution offline, too. The brands we engage with better get it.  Remember the United guitar story?  Even if United was in the right, it didn’t have to happen. Avoid a similar PR fiasco. Give your service people flexibility; let them apply their own judgment.  Build better UX into everything, not just websites, everything. And finally, surprise and delight in unexpected ways, particularly when people least expect it.

6.    There’s no such thing as perfect. Only perfects.
Nothing you do, say, or create will satisfy everyone. More importantly, the consumer doesn’t know what she wants. Ragu and Prego learned that years ago and the lesson remains relevant. (Watch the video; it’s brilliant.) So, think about enabling customization. Works for Nike. Create content that allows for multiple versions; there are services to help. And constantly invent to see what sticks.

7.    The MP3 is good enough
Put another way, there’s a new definition of quality for everything and it’s not about production value, polish, fine-tuning or dropped shadows. Look at YouTube versus television, blogs versus the NY Times, the MP3 versus real audio. The new definition of quality is about content that’s easy, accessible, and portable. You now have the freedom to make things fast. And also inexpensively.  Go for it.

Those are the trends (some obvious, hopefully some not) that I see.  Got any to add?
Advertising  Marketing  Media  Social_Media  attention_span  consumer_behavior  consumer_trends  customer_service  nike  prego  ragu  from google
september 2009 by felixleong
Marketing Rules and Principles for Freelancers

Freelancers have it hard. I mean, really hard. In theory, the idea of working for yourself, of being able to choose who you work with and what you work on, sounds like the perfect job. In practice though, it’s a lot more than just working on amazing projects for amazing clients from the comfort of your own home.

There is a tremendous amount of competition out there, and a lot of it is willing to play dirty, cut-throat and underhanded to beat you to the clients. How are you supposed to get ahead of those guys? Is it even possible to earn an honest buck? Thankfully, it is possible and can be a lot easier than you think.

Marketing is a brand game
Marketing and its in-your-face division Advertising are all about one thing. Building brand equity. If you take away only one concept from this article, please let it be this one! In this internet fueled economy, brand strength is everything! But brand and brand equity are often misunderstood concepts, the easiest way to think about brand equity is that it’s the sum total of feelings people get when they think about your business or service. And it’s important to remember that brand equity can be positive or negative.

A company like Kiva has copious amounts of positive brand equity – their business impacts the world in a positive way and they are nearly universally liked because they are fair and pleasant to work with.

On the other hand, negative brand equity (like Mr. Madoff), is that horrible, sinking feeling that people get when any mention of your name is raised, which, as you can imagine, makes doing business very difficult.

Brand equity is one of the most monumentally important parts of running a successful business. If people associate your business with nice feelings and positive images – they will want to work with you. If they associate nothing but let downs and suffering with your brand, it doesn’t matter how good your work is, no one will ever come knocking.

Let’s take it from the top
From the very first step setting out as a freelancer, you’re giving up the security of a consistent paycheck for the freedom to work with who you want and when you want. There are a lot of risks, but there are also plenty of rewards for those who succeed. First time freelancers and those just starting out often ask about finding those initial clients. A reasonable request: but one that is, unfortunately, very hard to answer. Starting a business, especially a one man shop (in the way that most freelancers operate) is a very individual process. Everyone has their own story and their own path. However; after conversations with many freelancers and my own experiences, I’ve come to learn that there are a few common themes that can go a long way towards helping rookie freelancers get up and running.

It pays to have a plan
In the beginning, it’s tempting to try and take every job that comes your way. But taking every job is a mistake. You will end up over-stretched on vastly different projects, trying to work with clients in industries that you know nothing about. Instead, take some time before you even start trying to recruit clients to formulate a plan. Ask yourself what type of work you want to do, with what types of clients? Knowing your audience and knowing your focus from the outset will help you to qualify prospects and qualify their projects.

For example, imagine that, after much reflection and research, you decide that you want to focus solely on designing and building webpages for Broadway actors. You live in New York City and many of your friends are actors, plus you just love the theatre. From that decision, you now have a clearly defined market and a clearly defined product for that market. Finding prospects and explaining your business becomes easier for you, and easier for those prospects to understand.

Tip: The Elevator Pitch: An elevator pitch is a one and a half to two minute summation of what your business is and how it benefits your prospective clients. If you can’t concisely explain what it is that you do and how it helps your clients in that short amount of time it’s a pretty good indication that you need to focus your business goals a little more.

Having a clearly defined plan also simplifies the process of qualifying clients and potential projects: If it doesn’t fit into your plan – don’t take the work, it’s that simple. It may feel counter-productive at the start to be turning prospective clients away but, remember, you’re in this for the long haul and building a brand around your work takes time, commitment and focus. You can’t build a brand by working for everyone doing whatever project they happen to have.

Every person you know is your audience
When you’re constructing your plan, it’s important to think about what you want to work on and where you want to be in the future but don’t forget to include the groups that you are already a part of and the people you already know. Your hobbies can be a great source of business and a great way to get your freelancing business off the ground. If you have a lot of friends that are actors, and you love the theatre – that might be a good industry to focus on.

If you really love photography – you can focus on serving galleries or photographers. If you already know you’re passionate about the subject material, doing the work becomes that much easier! And you’ve already won half the battle with the people that know (and trust) you, so don’t be afraid to ask. Family, friends, old coworkers; they are all potential clients. A word of warning though; mixing business with pleasure can be dangerous territory and certainly not the area for hard selling tactics. Here are a few guidelines to make sure your sales pitch remains respectful of your current relationships:

Make sure you’re clear about your intentions. If you’re starting a new business – it should be clear that you are going to be charging for your services. Be certain, from the start, that your potential client (and friend) knows that you’re not giving work away for free.
Only offer help where you can make an honest, positive difference. These people trust you, don’t abuse that trust just to build your portfolio. In the long run, your friendship (and your reputation) is more important than your portfolio.
Start small and over-deliver. Don’t promise the moon in order to sell your services. It’s always better to start with a small project and execute it perfectly. If you have an idea on how to expand the project, discuss it after you’ve proven you’re a genius.

Buy local, Be local
Another good place to start is by focusing locally. While it’s certainly more intimidating to walk into a local business and try to sell you services face to face, it can also be a lot more powerful. It is important to remember that not everyone is as comfortable with doing business over the internet as us web professionals; for many clients, it’s easier to put trust in another local business because they can see and touch the person with whom they are doing business. Physical meetings settle fears about fly-by-night internet operations that might just be trying to get their check and deliver something sub-standard.

Original image by Darin Barry

But face to face selling is a lot more difficult than sending out a few hundred emails and waiting for the responses to come pouring in. Here are a few tips for successful face to face selling:

Be Prepared: It’s not just for the Boy Scouts! Make sure you understand your client’s business before you walk through the door. It’s an instant credibility booster when you can show that you clearly understand the problems that your prospective client is facing.
Show your past successes: Have a few anecdotes and a few samples of your work ready to show. Not an entire tome of every site you’ve ever had a hand in – just a few of the best will suffice.
Don’t be afraid to ask: When you’ve shown that you understand your prospective clients issues and challenges and you’ve established the quality of your work, it’s time to ask for what you want. Don’t beat around the bush, just tell the prospective client what benefit you can provide them and how much it will cost them. Be forthcoming and honest about what you charge and, above all, don’t be embarrassed about the number you give them; this is business after all.

Working locally is also a great way to build a community around your brand. A community that you can touch and feel and talk to on a regular basis can be a gold mine for freelancers because smaller, local-run businesses are generally well connected with each other and are quick to offer recommendations (when deserved) to other local businesses. I’ve heard of freelancers that have built websites for, quite literally, every small to medium sized business in their town. They started with one and, based on glowing recommendations and personal connections, were comfortably in work for years to come.

Expanding your reach
So you’ve established yourself, you’ve got a steady flow of business and you’re relatively comfortable, but how do you take your business to the next level? How can you earn more while maintaing the same hours?

Hitting an earnings plateau is a common problem for small businesses, especially one-person operations. Sure, you could bring in employees or sub-contract out some of your work to other freelancers but your underlying problem still remains. You are doing work for other small to medium sized businesses that can only afford to pay a certain amount. To make the jump into a higher tax bracket the name of the game is brand recognition and differentiation. People far and wide need to know your brand and they need to have an acute understanding of why they know your brand. In essence, you need to set your business apart from, and above, the competition.

Cast a wide net
Moving from a client base of small fish to one of big fish takes time and, unless you live in one of the major corporate centers of the world… [more]
How-To  freelancing  marketing  from google
august 2009 by felixleong
Google Website Optimizer Case Study: Daily Burn, 20%+ Improvement
This post will show exactly how one start-up improved their homepage conversion rate (visitor to sign-up flow) more than 20%, then 16% again, with a few simple changes and Google Website Optimizer.

Once reading this, you will know more about split-testing than 90%+ of the consultants who get paid to do it…

There are a few advanced concepts, but don’t be intimidated; just use what you can and ignore the rest.

Along with Founders Fund (Dave McClure), Garrett Camp (CEO, StumbleUpon), and others, I am an investor in Daily Burn, one of the premier diet and exercise tracking sites.

Following investing, first priorities included introducing them to Jamie Siminoff, who taught them how to purchase the domain name for DailyBurn (Jamie’s method is described here), and look at their conversion rates for the homepage and sign-up process (sign-up flow to completion of sign-up). This post will look at the former, since the latter cannot happen without the former.

The first step was simple: remove paradox of choice issues.

Below is the homepage prior to tweaking. The bottom of the screen–the “fold”–was right around the second user under the running calorie counter.

Click here for larger version.

Offering two options instead of six, for example, can increase sales 300% or more, as seen in the print advertising example of Joe Sugarman from The 4-Hour Workweek. Joe was, at one time, the highest-paid copywriter in the world, and one of his tenets was: fewer options for the consumer.

DailyBurn (DB) was two founders at that point in our conversation, so instead of suggesting time-consuming redesigns, I proposed a few cuts of HTML, temporarily eliminating as much as possible that distracted from the most valuable click: the sign-up button.

Here is the homepage after reducing from 25 above-the-fold options to 5 options and raising the media credibility indicators. Note the removal of a horizontal navigation bar. The “fold” now ends just under the “Featured On”:

The results?

Test 1 Conversion Rates: Original (24.4%), Simplified (29.6%), Observed Improvement (21.1%)
Test 2 Conversion Rates: Original (18.9%), Simplified (22.7%), Observed Improvement (19.8%)

Conclusion: Simplified design improved conversion by an average of 20.45%.

To further optimize the homepage, I then introduced them to Trevor Claiborne on the Google Website Optimizer (GWO) team, as I felt DB would make a compelling before-and-after example for the product. Trevor then introduced DB and me to David Booth at one of GWO’s top integration and testing firms, WebShare Design.

Why not just use Google Analytics?

David will address this in some detail at the end of this post, but here are the three benefits that Google Website Optimizer (GWO) offers over Google Analytics (GA):

- GWO offers integrated statistics – is new version B better by chance or better because it’s better?
- GWO splits traffic – half traffic runs to A, half of traffic runs to B (if A/B test); it also ensures, using cookies, that a returning visitor will see same the same variation
- GWO really tracks visitors – GA works on idea of a session (a person bounces around on the site for a bit and leaves, which is considered a “session”); if they return, that is generally a new session); GWO uses unique visitors (no matter how many visits, they’re counted as one visitor, assuming they don’t delete cookies). On a fundamental level, it’s the difference between visits and visitors. This is critically important for determining if your result in statistically valid, as ten people and ten visits by one person are not the same.

GA can do a lot of what GWO does, but you need to do a lot of custom work and intricate number crunching to make it work.

Enter Google Website Optimizer
The following is a report of the WebShare / Gyminee Website Optimizer landing page test, and includes a description of the test that was run as well as analysis of the test results. This report was authored by David Booth, to whom, and to whose team, DB and I owe a debt of gratitude. I’ve included my (Tim’s) notes in brackets [ ]. Don’t be concerned if some of the graphics are hard to read, as the text explains the findings.

1. Test Description

The landing page identified for this test was identified as:

This A/B/C test included three distinct page versions, including the original (control) homepage as well as two variations designed with conversion marketing best practices in mind:

Original (control)

[same as simplified version above]

Variation B

Variation C

2. Test Results and Analysis

During the first run of the experiment the test saw ~7500 unique visitors and just under 2,000 conversions over the course of about 2 weeks. When the experiment was concluded, both variations B and C had outperformed the original version, and specifically Version B left little statistical doubt that it had substantially increased the likelihood that a visitor would convert, or sign up for the Gyminee service.

Larger version here.

We can see from the analysis of the data that Variation B had a large and significant effect on improving conversion rate. The winning version outperformed by the original by 12.7%, with a statistical confidence level of better than 98%. [This means there is less than a 2% likelihood that you would duplicate these results by chance, which can also be called a p-value of <0.02]

Interesting to note is that the B version, which does not have a “take a tour” button, nor horizontal navigation bar, performed a few percentage points better than their current, more polished design which does offer both.

A follow up experiment was then launched in order to provide more data and ensure that these results were repeatable. The follow up experiment was conducted as an A/B experiment between the original and Variation B, and ran for approximately 1 week, over which time almost 6,000 unique visitors and ~1,400 conversions were recorded.

The results of this follow up experiment showed that Variation B outperformed the original by 16.2%, with a statistical confidence level of better than 99%.

Further analysis concludes the following:

* The absolute difference in conversion rates between Variation B and the original during the test was 3.7%.
* During the test, Variation B’s conversion rate was 16.17% greater than that of the Original design.
* The p-value used in these calculations was <0.01, corresponding to a confidence level of >99%.

The Bottom Line: The results of this experiment were extremely successful.

Putting these test results into plain terms in another way, there is a 98% chance that the true difference between the conversion rates of these versions is between 7.8% (1.8% raw) and 24.5% (5.6% raw).

3. Supporting Analysis (A/B/C Test Only)

A Pearson Chi Square test answers the question: “Out of all the combinations, is any one combination better than another?”

The values here tell us that with >95% confidence, at least one variation was statistically better than another. This further validates the conclusions drawn by Google Website Optimizer.

Was Version C statistically better than the Original?

At an acceptable level of statistical confidence, it was not. However, had we continued to run this test for a longer time period, it is very likely that we would have eventually proven that it was indeed better than the original with >95% statistical confidence. The estimated sample size needed to prove this would have been an additional ~21,000 unique visitors (~7,000 for each variation).

The table below shows you the various sample sizes you would need at different confidence levels to show different relative improvements [Tim: this is my favorite table in this analysis]:

Was Version B statistically better than Version C?

We can be approximately 94.1% certain that Version B is also better than Version C. After applying a Bonferroni correction for the test set, we would still be >90% confident that Version B is better than Version C. The p-value for these calculations is 0.059.


As Version C did test well, and we believe would have eventually proven itself better than the Original, it is very likely that certain elements of Version C resonated well with visitors to the Gyminee website.

To continue down this path of testing, we would recommend using the winning Version B as a test page for a multivariate experiment. In this experiment, we would suggest testing certain page elements from Version C in the framework of Version B.

Additionally, as testing only covered the homepage, we would highly suggest performing testing on the form found at:

Many concepts such as calls to action, layout, design, contrast, point of action assurances, forms & error handling, and more could be used to increase the likelihood that a user enters information and submits the form.

Lastly, it may be beneficial to begin running tests where the conversion is measured as the paid upgrade. As this conversion rate is much lower than the free sign-up, it should be understood that all other things held equal these tests could take significantly longer to run to completion.

Google Website Optimizer vs. Google Analytics – Parting Thoughts
From David Booth, whose team performed and compiled the above:

1) GA doesn’t have any capability of doing statistical analysis to compare two groups (and it’s not meant to), but it can collect all the data you would need with the best of them. GWO records data very differently and is not meant as (and should never be used as) an analytics package. It runs the stats for you and tells you when you have a statistically significant difference between variations/combinations, but is limited to a single goal or test.

2) The real beauty is to integrate GWO with GA – this gives you the best of both worlds by letting each tool do what they were built to do. You can use GWO to create the test, split traffic, and … [more]
Marketing  daily_burn  google_analytics  google_website_optimizer  gyminee  trevor_claiborne  from google
august 2009 by felixleong

related tags

accepted  advertising  attention_span  Blogging  boundaries  branding  business  Business_Strategy  calvin_newport  campaigns  Career_advice  China  clarity  common_beliefs  communicating_clearly  communication  Compelling_Offers  competition  Conscious_living  consumer_behavior  consumer_trends  Convergent_Technologies  copywriting  Creativity  customers  customer_service  daily_burn  deprogramming  design  effective_marketing  Entrepreneurship  Essays  Fear  feedback  Financial_Freedom  focus  freelancing  Fulfillment  giving_the_right_impression  google_analytics  google_website_optimizer  Guest_Posts  gyminee  Harvard_Business_Review  HBR  Health_&_fitness  high_level  How-To  how_to_deal_with_haters  inspiration  irony  james_chartrand  Leadership  Main_Page  marketing  Master  Media  Mental_Performance  millionaire  Millionaire_Mind  Mindset  money_machines  Motivation_&_Success  negative_thinking  nike  obstacles  Online_marketing  opportunity  persona  Persuasion  positioning  positive_thinking  prego  prepare  profitable_business  ragu  relationships  Retail  Rule_of_Opposites  sales  Small_Business  Social_Media  Storytelling  strategy  Success  Take_Action  the_superstar_effect  Time  tim_ferriss_scam  training  trevor_claiborne  writing 

Copy this bookmark: