Get Your Butt Out of My Face

In a MediaPost article titled “The Importance of Online Social Networking”, Tom Hespos says: “…corporate America still thinks, by and large, that ads need to be interruptive in order to be effective. How long will it be before these companies figure out that one doesn’t need to plaster the Internet with pop-up ads to be perceived as interruptive?” I wonder when they will realize that in the online world, and increasingly elsewhere, interruptive marketing is largely perceived to be offensive? (I couldn’t resist the picture, with the perfect title and everything! I thought it was a perfect analogy – your cat jumps up in front of your browser window and sticks his butt in your face…)
Jim Meskauskas (I think) coined the term “Flow Experience Marketing” (which is a little flowery for me, but still…) to describe how marketing can ‘get in the flow’ instead of interrupting all the time.

“The idea is that instead of creating an arresting experience with advertising full of a product’s and brand’s value propositions, you let products be part of an experience already being had. You let the product play the role of Robin rather than constantly casting it in the roll (sic) of Batman. The product or service becomes part of an experience and, thus, part of a user’s ‘background of everydayness.'”

To me, this is a crucial concept for marketers to internalize: don’t leach value out of the context you’re in (like TV ads do) – always add value (like Levi’s antidote, or Coca-Cola’s sponsorship of Buzz-oven). If you’re not adding value, you’re sticking your butt in your customers’ faces. Unless you’re in the porn industry (although sometimes it’s hard to tell), this is usually a bad thing. I know I’ve said it before, but I feel so strongly about this, I’ll say it again: buy the drinks. Your customers will make you part of the conversation just as surely as if you barge up to the table and shout “have I got a deal for you!”, only they’ll be saying nice things.

Technorati tags: Marketing, Advertising, Sponsorship, Customers, SocialNetworking

Whoa – is that my business?

by t-squared.

I had a conversation today with Christian Cotichini, entrepreneur and founder of a company called Make Technologies, and somebody I’ve known for years. We spoke of many things, but one topic that I thought was worth a brief posting was our experience of how taking venture capital distorts a business. It’s easy to make the mistake of thinking of your new investor as a “customer” – and your business plan as the “product” they have purchased from you. Your business model can become a kind of artifact, describing a theoretical five-year exit strategy, instead of a living document, with day-to-day relevance.
Technorati Tags: Venture Capital, Entrepreneurship, Business

Ahhh… Those were the days

In honour of the fifth year since I founded Enfolding Systems (which was originally called Burning Tiger), I thought that I would repost a conversation we had in the early days about precision vs. expressiveness. This conversation was captured by my friend and colleague Stewart Butterfield (later of Flickr fame), who was working with us at the time.

“…we humans spend most of our time classifying and constraining: This is a fax number and not a cell phone; this is a press release and not an airplane manual. The free-form world is made up of primitives that we assemble together to construct more complex systems. The challenge, as I see it, is that these primitives are themselves made up of yet smaller things, and so forth, fractally. You could go to the nth degree of detail, but that’s not how humans work. We get to an acceptible level of detail for our purpose, and then approximate the rest. For any given actor in a particular context there is a level of detail that is acceptible, and it can be substantially different given a different actor or even subtle changes in context.”

Who’s watching whom?

Here’s something new and interesting…
“The TiVo Videoblog Project is currently experimenting with ways to make the new medium of videoblogs accessible on television. If you have a videoblog or are interested in participating, please fill out this form.”
So, here is Tivo asking for viewers to participate in the creation of content on their network. How about a version of the Tivo hardware that is for ‘casting as well as viewing? Camera and microphone built in, bundled with a hosting service, etc. I can think of a few people who would love it, including my parents, who are always interested in seeing more of their grandchildren.

A Medicine for Melancholy

A Medicine for Melancholy and Other Stories by Ray Bradbury

Levi’s has launched an interesting project in Europe called Antidote (my apologies to my readers for whom this is older news – I realized I hadn’t posted this article before). Levi’s will provide support for youth grassroots “self-publishing” projects. Poetry Slams, “collaborative fashion exhibitions”, small-scale local magazines, music/photography exhibitions – their intent is to support approximately forty such events across Europe in the first year.

Helene Venge, who is the Digital Marketing Manager for Levi’s in Europe, says:

“Youth reality today is defined by what you choose to believe, not what you are told to believe. This is one of the reasons indie or �amateur� publishing is at an all time high. Antidote�s content is driven by the views of cultural passion communities at a local level and shared across Europe in a way that only the Internet allows. It�s a dynamic, integrated program across three streams, ultimately coming together online. This means three different opportunities with which to reach our target audience where they are, in a way that is relevant for them.”

“Levi’s� Antidote is a living, growing snapshot of what people are thinking and doing across Europe.
It’s a collection of stories, images, sounds and movies in bite-sized chunks. With each chunk you can find out about the people behind it, and ways you can get involved in the program.
We collaborate with many contributors to share their work here on the site and in a free quarterly print magazine, which is distributed in Levi’s� stores across Europe.
We collaborate with many contributors to share their work here on the site and in a free quarterly print magazine, which is distributed in Levi’s� stores across Europe.”

As you know, I’m fascinated by how young people (like my own four children) effortlessly extend their senses and identities beyond the boundaries earlier generations take for granted. I think what Levi’s is doing here, supporting the exploration of these new spaces, is tremendously powerful. And pretty brave: they’re not entirely in control here. I wonder when this effort will make it to North America? Or maybe somebody else will beat them to the punch?

Nobody’s watching – they’re all in the studio working on the next episode

We Are the Web, by Kevin Kelly in Wired Magazine.

The electricity of participation nudges ordinary folks to invest huge hunks of energy and time into making free encyclopedias, creating public tutorials for changing a flat tire, or cataloging the votes in the Senate. More and more of the Web runs in this mode. One study found that only 40 percent of the Web is commercial. The rest runs on duty or passion.

Coming out of the industrial age, when mass-produced goods outclassed anything you could make yourself, this sudden tilt toward consumer involvement is a complete Lazarus move: “We thought that died long ago.” The deep enthusiasm for making things, for interacting more deeply than just choosing options, is the great force not reckoned 10 years ago. This impulse for participation has upended the economy and is steadily turning the sphere of social networking – smart mobs, hive minds, and collaborative action – into the main event.

I have a question for you: what happens when the quantity of content produced is greater than we can consume? What happens when it’s 10x? 100x? What then? It’s nearly there already. Think of all the content you create in a day, passively as well as actively. Five hundred channels seems conservative now, even quaint. How about five billion channels?

But this one goes up to eleven…

Kathy Sierra writes in Creating Passionate Users about using what she calls “EQ Modelling” to come up with Breakthrough Ideas. It’s reminiscent of the book Blue Ocean Strategy, which talks about defining an entirely new space for your product to compete in. If you make yourself uniquely valuable to your customers, you make the competition irrelevant, or at least give yourself some breathing room.

Coming up with breakthrough ideas using EQ modeling

  • Least effective way:

    Figure out what the existing sliders are for this product or service, and change the value of one or more sliders. This is how most companies compete, and it’s usually the most painful–the constant struggle to reduce price, add features, whatever it takes to stay one step ahead of the competition.

  • More effective:

    Tune one or more of the typical sliders in an extremely dramatic way. For example, instead of cutting the price, make the product free. But this usually means you end up creating one or more new sliders for whatever business model allows you to make this drastic change.

  • Much more effective:

    Add new sliders for things that competitors have taken for granted, and haven’t been competing on. In other words, dramatically change the weighting of things the competition had not considered changing. Example: our books.

  • Most effective (for breakthrough ideas, not always the best ideas ; )

    Add wildly new sliders for things nobody in that industry had considered. Note that what’s “wildly new” for one type of product or service might be standard/typical for another. A Customization slider, for example, would not be unusual for a wedding cake bakery, but was very unusual for athletic shoes.

This is great stuff. Sometimes it’s easy to forget the joy to be had in the unexpected; the gift you never would have thought to ask for, or the ingredients you never would have thought to mix together (Whisky in tomato sauce? Carrots in salsa?). It’s also easy to forget that sometimes you just need to trust your intuition and head out into the undiscovered country.

Time flies like an arrow, but fruit flies like a banana

It’s coming up on five years since I formed Enfolding Systems, now a subsidiary of Blast Radius more commonly known as XMetaL. I would like to take a moment and recognize a few people who have positively impacted my life in the last five years.

Dethe and Ron, who were the first two people I recruited to my crazy scheme. Michael Gannon and Paul Prescod, who were crazy enough to accept job offers for this strange startup, and who have been an unbelievable treat to work with. Most of all, Deborah (you know why).

..And to everyone who’s contributed to our progress so far: customers, employees, partners, investors, friends…

Thank you.

Caveat venditor

Let the vendor beware!

This is a new era of customer empowerment; we’ve probably all seen the cartoon with a small fish about to be eaten by a larger fish, who is in turn about to be eaten by a huge school of tiny fish. For this metaphor to hold true in the world of online retailing, all of the “little fish” (the customers) must choose to move together. One small indescretion is unlikely to make this happen. What careless or clueless vendors often overlook is that each small interaction you have with a “tiny fish” is a tiny bit of motivation – it may be positive, negative, or neutral – to act later. Each customer you have encountered is inclined to feel some way about your business, and in this new world of online flash crowds, reaching the tipping point can have some substantially deleterious effects. Is the balance in your account positive or negative?

Socrates, the original Blogger

I thought I would share with you all a great comment from Phil Jones I came a cross while wandering around Nicholas Carr’s weblog:

Socrates was just some guy (a stone-mason) who wandered around picking arguments with people in the market-place. He fisked his opponents with nit-picking fine-grained carping over details; made all sorts of outrageous anti-commonsensical claims – which an echo-chamber of dittoheads all dumbly agreed with; never respected any formal learning institutions or professionalism; and annoyed most people to the point of wanting to kill him.

How do you get more blog than that?


So, on that note, Nicholas Carr has some good (and controversial) things to say about “Web 2.0”, but I disagree totally with his position that the “cult of the amateur” is a dangerous force on the web. The reality is that we’re all amateurs – I don’t care how much specialized expertise you have in some area, one day in the future people will look back on your understanding as quaint and childish. The “cult of the dishonest” is a much more dangerous, and real, force on the web. Deliberately claiming to know more than you do, or citing facts you know to be false, is dangerous. Spouting off about something you’re not credentialed for is just human nature.