Friday, April 17, 2009

Opposites Most Definitely Attract

Social Media creates focal points- sometimes around topics that simply attract attention and sometimes around topics that provoke reactions. This past week we had both going on, in parallel. Plenty of attention was paid to the race to 1 million Twitter followers between Ashton Kutcher (@aplusk), CNN and Brittany Spears, as well as Oprah's impending first tweet. Aside from the potential benefits to charity, which became part of the "ante" as the contest continued, the rest was, well, Ho Hum. Update: While it doesn't really change my point of view, some interesting perspective on Ashton's venture into Social Media - from Harvard, no less.

What really captured my attention, as well as millions of others, was two parallel incidents that couldn't have been more opposite, yet shared a common thread - their exposure and the vocal reactions elicited via Social media.

Cheering for the Underdog
The first is Susan Boyle - if you haven't seen the video by now (and there are a number of versions, watched by millions), you're in the minority. Not only did this striking performance gather interest and online steam, it touched people in very personal ways. Anyone who has ever felt like the "underdog" in a given situation can immediately identify and feel a connection. My friend Tim Dempsey provided a poignant perspective on his blog yesterday:

For me, this one is a lesson in humility. Susan Boyle carried out a simple act of courage and faith notwithstanding her circumstances. From the opening note, she had utterly transformed the environment around her. Those who sneered were agape in wonder. Those who judged, reversed their verdicts. Those who were seated, stood, applauded, cheered

The Twitter Streamgraph for Susan Boyle also displays the activity and emotion in the ongoing conversations:

Everything we never wanted to know about Fast Food
The second topic is the Dominos pizza "booger" incident - the kind of thing we've all thought about in the back of our minds when we partake of fast-food, but never wanted to have confirmed. Where Susan Boyle clearly demonstrated something that evoked strong emotions - ranging from pride to guilt - this bunch of miscreants elicited a more singular emotion, disgust. The bigger story here is not about the stupidity of these few employees, but rather the incident-to-damage ratio - how a few people, in one of literally thousands of Dominos outlets, and a single video, can inflict serious damage on a multi-billion dollar brand. Aside from the circulation of the video and the conversations it spawned among consumers, social media circles conversed about the initial lack of response from Dominos, as reported in this Adweek article.

That response eventually did come, in the form of a video from Domino's President. While generally praised as a decent response, conversations on Twitter as of this morning show the damage continuing...

In short, this has been a very interesting week for Social media. Despite a number of "firsts" that attracted even more mainstream attention for Twitter and related Social Networks, what I found most interesting were the immediate, emotional, insightful and most-definitely viral, polarized reactions to two completely different incidents. Despite their vast differences, they shared a common thread- rather than simply passing them along as another "interesting" news story or a silly bandwagon to jump on, people began engaging in conversations that will likely have more lasting effect and outcome than @aplusk's 1 millionth follower.

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Sunday, April 5, 2009

Old School Marketing, New School Philosophy

Jurassic Park (film)Image via Wikipedia

Back in the early '90's I was responsible for Product Marketing for SOFTIMAGE, the software behind some of the most cutting-edge 3D animations being used in film, video and commercials. As we were preparing for our most important trade show of the year, Siggraph, a major motion picture release would forever change what the industry thought was possible with computer animation - Jurassic Park. I was recently thinking back to some of the marketing I did back then, and trying to imagine how I'd go about the same thing today. It brought to mind these stories...

Siggraph '93

It was the era of "doing it big" at trade shows, and for SOFTIMAGE this was no exception - a 40'x40' double-decker booth with all the trimmings. Despite that, what generated the most buzz for us at ths show was a low-cost, high-impact marketing effort. Given SOFTIMAGE's role in the 3D effects in Jurassic Park, I was able to secure usage of the logo on a limited run of SOFTIMAGE/Siggraph t-shirts that were the hit of the show, so hot that attending computer graphics geeks were even willing to buy them off our backs when we ran out. All that attention for just a few hundred dollars- a pittance compared to the overall investment in the show.

Siggraph '94

While it was going to be hard to top the success of the previous year, I decided to try a different approach. The use of 3D graphics in arcade games was on the rise. SOFTIMAGE customer, SEGA, had a big hit on their hands with the Virtua Racing game. Through SEGA USA, I managed to secure two Virtua Racing Deluxe arcade games, complete with seats that inflated as you negotiated curves, at no charge. During the entire show, we had lineups down the aisles as attendees waited to try out the games - using tokens provided after they sat through our product demo.

Fast forward to 2009

In marketing circles today new-school approaches such as Word-of-Mouth Marketing and Surprise Marketing are all the rage. WOMMA offers up the following definition:

Word of mouth marketing: Giving people a reason to talk about your products and services, and making it easier for that conversation to take place

Is this definition or the "tactics" that serve as the basis for these new philosophies really all that different from what we did 15 years ago? I don't think so - they share the same basic premise of coming up with an idea that attracts positive attention for your brand and gets people talking.

Where the big differences lie are in the medium, reach and cost. In the '90's we spent lots of money to attend trade shows and reach out to an audience that would number in the hundreds, or perhaps a few thousand- limited by the number of attendees. We also relied on print advertising to reach a broader audience, but with greater expense. Today's campaigns can rely on the nearly limitless reach of the Internet, leverage the power of Social Media networks and technologies and are executed (in some cases) for a fraction of what we invested in trade shows.

The lesson here for Product Marketers is - it's not really about a drastic change in approach or tactics, but rather adapting to the medium and using that to your advantage to maximize your reach, impact and ROI.

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Monday, March 16, 2009

A Picture is Worth a Thousand Words - sometimes

I love to read. You might say I have a pretty voracious appetite for books, and my bookshelves at home are testament to that. I also love movies. More often than not, however, I avoid movies based upon books I've really enjoyed. I find these movies, despite how well they may stand on their own, lack the depth- of character, plot, locale- that you experience through the book.

That said, under different circumstances, I believe that pictures and visualizations are extremely powerful in replacing words (and numbers, for that matter) - complex data, calculations, and correlations can often be simplified and better understood through visualization.

Many of us are visual learners. We also like to be entertained. No doubt a well-prepared presentation balancing text and visualization will keep our focus, attention and improve retention vs endless streams of raw text.

I've come across some very interesting visualizations recently, spanning a broad range of topics - from our current credit crisis, to a keynote at the recent SXSW conference, to Twitter analytics - they speak for themselves.

How did we get in this mess?
Our economy has affected almost all of us, or people we know, in profound ways. How many of us really understand the details of how we got in this hot water to begin with? I came across a great reference list of visualizations. My favorite, however, is the following animation illustrating the credit crisis:

The Crisis of Credit Visualized from Jonathan Jarvis on Vimeo.

Did you see what they said?
During the SXSW conference in Austin a few weeks ago, Pepsi introduced a great visualization that showed key twitter trends for the day.

Did you see what he said?
Also during SXSW, Sunni Brown did this fantastic graphical recording of Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh's keynote.

I told two friends, then they told two friends....
As Twitter continues to grow as a social network, so do the analytics tools that help better visualize conversations and relationships:

These are just a few brief examples of the power that visualization can provide. It's no surprise that Web Analytics has become so popular in helping marketers understand user behaviors. Giving busy managers and executives critical, decision-making data in easily understood, readily-consumable visualizations is a winning combination.

How do you use visualizations to improve your work?

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Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Breaking out of your Comfort Zone

Your comfort zone is like an easy chair full of cockroaches. It may feel good now, but there’s something disturbing squirming underneath - Tony D. Clark

We're all different, yet in some ways alike - when we find something that works for us, in both personal and professional scenarios, we'll keep doing it. Like a good comedy routine, if it gets laughs, we keep telling the jokes. Following the "if it ain't broke, don't fix it" mantra, there's tendency to stick to the repeatable, comfortable routines. Perhaps we've become a bit complacent- sort of operating on autopilot- and the relative heyday of the last few years allowed us to get away with it. To succeed, and perhaps even stand out in these trying times, you've got to ditch the same old, same old- you've got to break out of your comfort zone.

Wikipedia defines your comfort zone as "the set of environments and behaviors with which one is comfortable, without creating a sense of risk". This brings to mind a whole set of risk/reward mantras that ring true - truth is, if you want to capitalize on the more limited set of rewards available in our current downturn, you need to take more risks. Not stupid, spontaneous risk - rather calculated, qualified risk. Set desired outcomes, with a risk/reward balance that makes sense. Sure, there may be some disappointment, but you can use that to your advantage to learn and adapt.

While it certainly seems more timely to apply in a business context, it was actually a more personal one that brought it to mind for me. I enjoy fishing - in fact, I'm quite passionate about it. I'm also very routine, and have been sticking to familiar methods for years. While recently in Florida with my family, we were having very limited success vs past visits. That all changed on our last day, however, when my son decided to try something different - he switched lures, with the expressed intention of catching smaller, more plentiful fish.

Needless to say, this change in routine yielded rewards that far exceeded expectations.

Strangely enough (in a karmic sort-of way), as I was putting this post together, I came across a tweet from a fellow Montrealer Julien Smith, that truly summed up what I was thinking.

So, while you may not be fishing in the literal sense, change something about how you approach a challenge - despite some discomfort, you may reel in a whole lot more than you bargained for.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

I want my hour back!

I've been mulling over a post on Analytics - not Web Analytics specifically, but in a more general sense - how pictures and images help us simplify and absorb more complex ideas.

I was gaining some "thought traction" last night when, BAM, it happened - DST. I lost an hour, and along with it, all those sage thoughts and ideas. I could do without the loss, but then it is Federal law. Guess I'll just have to start over again. Unfortunately, the Time Machine on my new Macbook was of no use - that hour's gone.

Not only that, think of all those twitter conversations that are lost in some space-time continuum...

It figures that I'd have to be in Florida, rather than Arizona or Hawaii, where I certainly would've been more productive. On the bright side - this is my shortest post ever.

I want my hour back! Maybe I'll find it tomorrow, on my flight home :)

Image Copyright © 2009

Friday, February 27, 2009

The Recession-Proof Networks

In 2009, there are more ways to connect to the Internet than one might've thought possible, even a scant decade ago. At the office, there's the LAN, WAN and wireless. At home, you've got cable, DSL or dialup (gasp) and wireless networks. On-the-go you've got GPRS, EDGE or the newer, faster 3G network to speed your mobile connectivity. Maybe even a 3G USB dongle for the mobile laptop (and to stop spending $$ on Starbucks lattes). Amidst this environment of economic doom & gloom, connectivity has become ubiquitous, even forgettable - we take it for granted, like the dial tone when you pick up the phone. Major interest and attention are focused elsewhere -on the "networks" that run atop all this connectivity- our Social Networks.

Everywhere you turn, it's impossible to escape news of the recession, with negative headlines abounding:

Bank failures
Corporate bankruptcy
Auto-industry bailout
Scandalous fund managers

It is often cited that with adversity comes opportunity. I happen to agree with this - in fact, history has shown that some of our biggest, most successful companies started during tough times. Despite all the negativity and downward trends, Social networks are most definitely bucking it. Users are flocking to Facebook, twitter, LinkedIn, ... in record numbers - according to, twitter had a 2008 growth rate of 752%. If people aren't buying less these days, they're certainly buying "smarter." They're sharing a stream of thoughts & opinions- chances are high (and getting continuously higher) that when they research, discuss, or even complain about issues, they're doing it on social networks.

Some cases in point:

  • The post-Superbowl commercial hype created a large scale twitter backlash from those that don't like the sexist style of the commercials. People complained and threatened to leave the domain registrar, competitors listened and responded with offers to lure them away. GoDaddy adopted their usual approach of "no press is bad press." The point is not the effect on the bottom line for GoDaddy, but once again the use of twitter as a vehicle for discussing and building a wave of sentiment.
  • When the recent Belkin product review scandal broke on a blog , it then in turn spread like wildfire through the social networks, to the point where Belkin had to officially respond and acknowledge their faux pas.
  • On a slightly different note, twitter continues its trend as the source of breaking news, consistently beating out major news outlets in reporting the latest in a series of plane crashes, natural disasters and terrorist acts. The same holds true for real-time reporting about major events like the TED conference, Grammys and Oscars.

Many business trends require complex modeling and analytics to evaluate and understand their value- this one seems DEAD SIMPLE. While most things in our world are trending in a singularly downward spiral, social networks are like a rocket ride to the moon - going straight up! If you're in a position to sell something, service something, or simply want to make the most out of existing relationships with customers or partners, it seems like you're being offered a social media silver platter.

So let's see - tough economic times, opportunity amidst adversity, a positive trend amidst a sea of negativity. If you're not picking up the virtual phone and dialing into the sentiments of your prospects, customers, partners, you're likely missing out on an opportunity that you can be sure someone else is taking advantage of.
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Friday, February 13, 2009

Twestival Experiment - Social Media "in the Flesh"

Last night I attended the Montreal Twestival - part of a worldwide, one-night social event, organized via Twitter to support the charity: water organization. In typical Montreal fashion, plenty of chic-geek folks were there amidst the DJ's beats and the flowing drinks- as my friend Alistair Croll tweeted ironically - "Why am I drinking beer at a charity event for water?" This was a great opportunity to try out some thoughts I'd gotten earlier in the day via Chris Brogan and Justin Kownacki. I was going to break the comfortable social setting mold of hanging with my friends. My goal - random conversations and meeting new people, Twitter-style, only in-the-flesh.

In his blog post, Justin asked:
Why do so many of us attend "face to face" events and then spend the bulk of the event talking to the same people we knew yesterday? Isn't the entire point of a social event to meet people you wouldn't otherwise have the opportunity to talk with?

This question resonated with me, solidifying an alternate approach to my socializing at Twestival. I'm happy to report, at least from my perspective, this anthropological diversion was a success. Although it started out in typical fashion, safely and comfortably ensconced amongst friends, the rest of the evening proceeded outside of my usual comfort zone.

I met, enjoyed the company of, and have now socially connected (literally and figuratively) with new, diverse, interesting people including:
  • The connected guy - He runs a Montreal tech-startup accelerator that has provided funding and strategic services to startups across North America. In this "do more, with less" economy, startups surely need the bootstrapping. Hopefully we'll be having a coffee soon.
  • The other connected guy - I'd met him virtually, and lived vicariously through his tweets from TED last week, but had never met this local entrepreneur/angel investor in-person before. It was nice to finally chat.
  • The out-of-town-gal - This Las Vegas Technical Documentalist was in Montreal for business and we enjoyed her company at Twestival. Had a nice chat with her on our walk to an after-party dinner. Wonder when I'll make it to Vegas next?
  • The new-in-town guy - Having relocated from Saskatchewan to join his wife, who completed her studies at McGill and is now a Genetic Counselor, he's a Senior developer who's tinkling around with iPhone Apps in his spare time. Really nice guy.
  • The twitter app guy - He quit his job and now spends his time developing cool twitter apps and organizing some great monthly get-togethers for the Montreal Tech Community. I look forward to trying his apps and attending his next event.
  • The acquired entrepreneur - He was the CEO of a Montreal Cloud Computing company recently acquired by Joyent, who run over 25% of the Facebook application traffic on their platform. Very interesting space, more conversations to come.
All in all, a pretty satisfying evening. Spent some time with friends, made some new (and hopefully lasting) ones, and best of all, helped out a great cause. Despite going against the normal social tendencies for many people, it does seem to make a lot of sense to adjust the way we socialize. We do it online, after all, why not in-the-flesh?

And, oh yeah, thanks to Chris and Justin for the ideas - I'm glad I listened.