Friday, January 29, 2010

Wagging the dog: Using collaboration to shorten time-to-traction

One of our partners at the world's largest management consultancy used to channel William Gibson to remind us that 'The future is here, it's just unevenly distributed'.

Now, Bill Buxton, a researcher at Microsoft, describes The Long Nose of Innovation as the path that the real world of innovation takes in its journey out into the world. The path is largely through an interative process of idea refinement over time...usually much more time than we might think. Here's the chart he uses:

What's obvious, even if the words 'Long Nose' hadn't been used, is that it's the mirror image of Chris Anderson's popularization of statistical power laws, the Long Tail :

And while it might be tempting to relate these graphs as handing off to one another (ideas that enter through the nose exit through the, um, other graph), I believe it would be erroneous to do so.

Why? Because while Buxton's Nose describes an idea's 'time to traction', Anderson's Tail describes a distribution of the markets for an idea...and many ideas will stand tall only under a very short ceiling: Tongue piercing for example.

So what: Letting the tail wag the dog

The two views can be joined in the context of collaboration.

In the Long Nose, the time that an idea spends in the refinement and augmentation phase can determine market potential. For those companies whose business strategy is built on large-scale adoption of innovative products or services, shortening the time to traction would seem to present an opportunity for competitive advantage.

And what better way for product developers, researchers and marketers to move quickly through the iterative refinement and augmentation phase of complex products and services than by engaging the long-tail interests of collaborators?


Something happening and something being made to happen are two different things. Aside from reading this rambling post (which might generously be characterized as part of the refinement and augmentation phase of Buxton's Long Nose idea!), marketers and their bosses can make reducing time-to-traction a planned process using cost-effective, long tail approaches to collaboration.

A post on creating  The Collaboratory back in May contains some details and further examples, but the gist is this:

1. Engage lead users first
These are the user scientists who have a need for something other than a homogenous service/product offering. They are recognizable because they already have adopted or modified a product/service to fit their needs. Most importantly, they have a bias for collaboration, experimentation and persistence...and they are already your customers.

2. Structure the participatory process:
Participatory design requires much or how little will depend on the expectations of the output and the size of the community. But in general the structure should focus on four stages...
  • Identifying issues/opportunitities (in other words, the questions to explore)
  • Prioritizing the issues/opportunities against criteria (what comes first--or last--based on what success criteria might look like. The hypotheses if you like)
  • Ideation/Solution building (the actual design/create activities)
  • Test-Modify-Retest (validating innovation against the outcome criteria)
3. Reward participation:
The reward can be monetary--or it can be the emotional notion of ownership and contribution to community. The expectations should be honest, transparent and upfront...which is to say, you'll have to work with a lawyer on issues of ownership and licensing, but tread lightly lest you trample the trust inherent in effective collaboration.

Personally, I find occasional comfort in the cultural myth of the lone visionary locked in the garage, only to emerge holding the revolutionary, next big new thing we all need. In the very complex real world, though, I know that a better mousetrap usually comes from refining the diverse collective experiences with the current mousetrap: the domicile in which it will be used, the disposal practices of the local environment, cultural beliefs about the sanctity of mouse life... 

Collaborating with niche groups of people who are highly engaged around the many contexts within which every product or service is used is one way to accelerate the learning required for real innovation to take hold ...and begin to embed itself in the collective imagination.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

What's in your inbox? 10 questions on the difference between email + efail marketing

I checked one of my email accounts on New Year's day...late in the morning. In the account I set up for all manner of automatic notifications, I noticed five retail email offers, sent in the wee hours of the morning of January 1. And these weren't mainstream spam promising enhanced verility, hot dates, or internet riches.

No, these were offers for clothes, household goods, electronics and books from name-brand retailers: The same ones who'd been 'engaging' my inbox every other day for the 10 months leading up to--and flying through--Black Friday, Cyber Monday and every other special day in between.

I've worked with some great people on email and direct marketing campaigns...the best solutions were, of course, always about asking the right questions first. So, in that spirit, I have a few questions:

1. Was I seriously considered a prospect to purchase a sweater...or a kitchen appliance...on New Year's day?

2. Did the daily deployers figure that 60% of the email offers that are clicked are clicked in the first 24 hours and that failure to click meant I needed more frequency?

3. Was I really a target or was this mass media mail in disguise? I hadn't bought anything from two of the five retailers in more than 2 years; my total lifetime value at one of the five was less than $100. What made them think I would purchase a $1500 TV?

4. How did the 5th get my email? Do they know they got the one designed to collect trash?

5. If retail emailers see 'everyday' increasingly as the most popular day to send retail email, when will they ask me what day is the most popular day for me to actually receive it?

6.  If the going rate for spam distribution is $0.08 per thousand  [here], why do these retailers also spend on direct mail, newspapers and other vehicles to reach me when the cost is orders of magnitude more in CPM terms?

7. Does a consumer survey by the Chief Marketing Officer Council that found 22% of respondents saying they had decided to stop purchasing from a company because of too many or irrelevant e-mails, and that another 41% would consider doing the same, speak to a hidden cost of email marketing? 

8. Does the fact that "...only six percent of consumers feel that the promotions received through loyalty club communications are based on preferences or past purchasing behavior [here]"  say anything about the current state of integrating marketing, data, and customer loyalty communications for a majority of consumers?

9. Does the fact that the typical email user receives 12 promotional emails a day mean that email marketing  risks a run down a rabbit hole to irrelevance or, worse, to relevance only as spam?

10. Can retailers do better with analytics to know what works, and what doesn't, for which customers and prospects? Do they want to? 

I'd like to believe that the answer to this last question is 'Yes'.  Sometimes failure is an option, though.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Celebrating celebrity endorsements: whose personality is it?

Pop celeb marketing quiz (answers at bottom):

  1. What was the make and model of the car Tiger Woods was driving when his wife-at-the-time smashed the back windows to 'save him'?
  2. What soda pop does aging soccer star David Beckam drink?
  3. What underwear brand does alleged domestic abuser Charlie Sheen wear?
  4. What brand does punk-pop icon Iggy Pop use to insure his, um, car?

What's your brand's TMZ personality?

Where's the logic in employing celebrity endorsers? If you're Accenture or Gillette commenting on the unfortunate implications of your paid relationship with Tiger Woods, you've stated something like 'the original intent was to align with a person who embodied the personality attributes associated with our brand.' And like Nike, who made a cultural meme out of 'Be like Mike', it all made sense...until it didn't. And it usually doesn't at the point when the celebrity is aligned with all manner of human behaviors the brand would rather not embody.


What does LeBron James know about lawn tractors?

I've participated in a number of brand personality exercises. They always start with good intentions...and a list of synonyms and adjectives. Inevitably, though, the question gets put to the group by the moderator: so, if you had to pick some famous fictional character that embodies these attributes, who would it be?

Inevitably, the client says Chuck Norris or some other kick a$$ persona. The account executive, who sees the brand as nuturing, picks, well, Martha Stewart. And then the creative director says Steve Jobs. I'm joking, of course. The creative director knows that Steve Jobs isn't a fictional character. She actually picks Larry the Cable Guy, because her team already has a hilarious NASCAR-related theme in mind for the campaign.

The point is that, often, the 'celebrity persona' reflects more of what the marketing team aspires to than what a customer would ever realistically research 'affinity' scores notwithstanding.

Does a celebrity endorser ever make sense?

I'm no expert (no wait, this is the Internet. We're all experts!). But from my admittedly narrow point of view, here's three prerequisites for celebrity endorser sense:

  1. The brand is aligned with what the endorser is known for: If you make soccer balls, get a soccer player. If you make razor blades, find a common man or woman...or find niche endorsers for those niche shaving fetishists audiences. 
  2. The brand can tolerate 'sin' risk: if you're Las Vegas, vice in an endorser might be a virtue. If you have a brand (or customer base or corporate culture) that is utterly paralyzed by the moral failings of people, then a potentially flawed human may be more risk than reward. Pick an animal instead.
  3. If you can't find a suitable celebrity, make one. The World's Most Interesting Man does exactly what Dos Equis wants him to...and only that.

But wait, there's more?

I actually think most celebrity endorsers are a good way. Peyton Manning makes me laugh. But entrusting a brand's equity, in part, to a celebrity endorser won't overcome a crappy customer experience. And celebrity endorsers can't magically create customers out of fictional customer segments.

An endorser  may buy a brand awareness or even an initial, fragile perception. Usually, the campaign ends up making the celebrity seem more human. For marketers who choose the celebrity route, the decision certainly needs to be aligned with a reasonable--and measurable--expectations and objectives. It probably also makes sense to have a crisis communication plan in place.

Is another definition of celebrity required?

The Real Celebrity Endorsers of Orange County, the ones worth entrusting a brand to, might just be the real people who have the attention and respect of much smaller audiences...primarily their families and friends.

These endorsers are the one's whose loyalty and passion--or disdain--for a brand are born out of the peer-to-peer relationship of buyer and seller in a free market. Engaging these microcelebrities as brand endorsers has always been part of the marketing's never been as easy as it is now using media in the networked, social way it enables.

Andy Warhol figured we each got 10 minutes...problem was, he figured our 600 seconds of celebrity required a mass audience. With an audience of a couple hundred Facebook friends, each of us has a lifetime of celebrity to celebrate.

For a look back at 10 historical oddities in celebrity endorsement, see here

Have examples of great celebrity endorsements? Feel free to share them in the comments...

Answers to pop quiz:

  1. What was the make and model of the car Tiger Woods was driving when his wife-at-the-time smashed the back windows to 'save him'? [Cadillac Escalade...not Buick...or Nike!]
  2. What soda pop does aging soccer star David Beckam drink? [I don't know. He endorsed Pepsi, but given his physique, I suspect he doesn't drink alot of soda.]
  3. What underwear brand does alleged domestic abuser Charlie Sheen wear? [I don't know, but he endorses Hanes...or is he endorsing Michael Jordan as endorser of Hanes?]
  4. What brand does punk-pop icon Iggy Pop use to insure his automobiles? [Swiftcover...hmm...weird]

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

2010: It was a new day yesterday

Now that 2010 is here, and everyone has their 2010 predictions out of the way, here's another 10 cents' worth of road ahead. Unlike predictions, which derive from gambler's instincts, forecasts are supposed to be based on probabilities. Probabilities are more formal versions of 'probably's', which in turn are closely related to the gambler's instinct.

Generally in scenario development, I try to assess the impacts of the probably's in four very human dimensions: technology, society, culture and government. And while big time, ongoing trends like privacy, dumb networks, cheap processors, and the singularity are covered ad nauseum elsewhere, here's a list of a few practical probablys from these dimensions.

Listed in no particular order then, with no particular certainty, I present a few of the probably's that, finally or surprisingly, will impact marketers for the next 359 sunrises...all in the form of questions I hope you will feel free to answer for yourself.

For a look at 2009 themes (and an assessment of their come-to-passedness), see here.

Location, location, location!
It still matters in real estate. Will it matter even more to marketers precisely because it matters less to customers and prospects, though? With the explosion in smart phone deployments, GPS-enabled and everything, people will expect--and have access to--rich information on product, pricing, promotion, and customer experiences wherever they are...including right your store. Combined with realtime search, that low price guarantee may mean competitors can outbid you one customer at a time. Customer service and sales staff will need to be empowered as many customers may know more about what's right or wrong with a product right now than the company does.

Have you or have you not?
And what is it that you have, exactly? Two decades of conspicuous consumption are ingrained in many levels of US society. In 2010, will debt destruction, unemployment and a general trend to be more austere impact the perception of brands that appeal to 'staying ahead of the joneses'...especially if the joneses are recipients of taxpayer money? Will anyone have sympathy for the homeless housewives of Orange County? How closely will marketers tie their brand's personality to flawed (but wealthy!) celebs in the hope consumers will want to 'be like Mike...or Tiger...or Charlie...or Khloe Kardashian?'

Social media as plumbing?
Will the features + functions that tools like The Twitter and The YouTubes enable disappear into the background as utilities? Will feeds + streams continue to migrate behind the scenes of aggregator interfaces like Facebook, MySpace, and LinkedIn? "Follow us on Twitter' might be replaced with will end up in a Google search right below a customer discussion of your company. The plethora of icons attached to every item of content to digg this or favorite that will be flushed out...or built in. Plumbing isn't sexy...unless you are a plumber.

Timeliness is next to godliness
As Google (and Bing) incorporate realtime data into search results (and give added prominence to timely content), will SEO consultants and corporate communications departments be forced to engage the feed? Whither goes the investment in the staid, static corporate brochure website? Does analysis of the news have more value than timely delivery of headlines? And if it does, is it news? And if it doesn't will anyone pay to wait for it?

Deep diving in a sea of ambient intimacy
With nearly 17 million people not working in the US, there is a lot of time on alot of people's hands. For many, this time will present an opportunity to play Mafia Wars or Farmville. For others, it may present an opportunity to redefine the meaning of what constitutes a relationship. Marketers and PR professionals may need to define influence in more nuanced ways. How meaningful and influential is a relationship with 20,000 people you've never met? How much revenue potential is there in a single person without an income that exceeds their debt?

Mac vs. PC
Who cares? We're all Googlers now. This year, it's Google versus everyone...Apple, Microsoft, AT+T, NewsCorp, the FTC. Curiously, it's also Google with everyone...especially the user base.

Making an impression
Will impression-based marketing continue its deflationary spiral? Experiments in paywalls and increased licensing fees will continue to demonstrate that the value of an action is worth more than the promise of one. Marketers may decide once and for all that the pricing of a CPM is commensurate only with the value of awareness. Content providers may find that their content is a priceless commodity...with revenues to match.

Welcome to the Jungle
Will tribalism continue its rise? We all certainly belong to multiple tribes that defy simplistic black and white, red-blue comparisons. "If you aren't with me, you're against me" might be replaced by "hey, I know you" as a basis for trust.  Long tails aren't just for animal interests. In 2010, they may become THE market segments of first resort.

FAB: What's in it for me?
In a noisy sea of brand sameness surrounding green, smart, innovative, inspired, aspirational notions of consumption, will real features and benefits become the only differentiators anyone pays attention to?

What do you think?
Will "what do you think?" replace "Let me tell you something". Can an entire industry of communications, advertising, marketing and PR professionals built around telling evolve to a viable business built on listening in 2010? Should it?