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Know Your Audience: John Oliver Schools Edward Snowden


Know Your Audience: John Oliver Schools Edward Snowden

Spotted Dick Pic by slgckgc on Flickr In a recent Last Week Tonight, John Oliver flies all the way to Russia to meet with Edward Snowden, whistleblower, for an exclusive interview. Only...the interview turns into a poignant lesson about audience development.

First off, I should reveal that I have a bias. I think that Snowden was heroic for exposing the truth. He took a huge risk and threw away his career and freedom to reveal the truth to the world. I was a fan when the news first came out and I became even a bigger fan after watching CitizenFour.

So, unlike the people who LWT interviewed during the segment, I DO know who Edward Snowden is and what he did.  But even though I know respect what Snowden did, I am in the audience of people who do nothing to change it. I don't even change my own behaviour!

That is why I found Oliver's advice to reframe the argument so incredibly brilliant. And one that Snowden should definitely heed.

Reframing is one of the most elegant tools in the Audience Development box. Your message not getting through? It's probably how you are framing it.

Global warming? That sounds too nice. Try climate change. Want to scare people away from public health care? Reframe the bureaucracy as a death panel. It's not a diet. That sounds awful. It's a lifestyle change. That sounds way more do-able. Need to sell some old stuff? Label it as retro.

You may think reframing is a fancy word for spin - and some of my examples toe the line - but the difference is that this isn't about tricking someone, it's about intentionally put the audience at the center of the argument.  John Oliver's suggestion that Edward Snowden reframe his arguments to focus in on something everyone can understand - in this case Dick Pics - is about simplifying and personalizing something very complex and foreign to the audience.

The more complex your message is, the more important it is to ground it with something your audience is familiar with. Don't lie. Don't spin. Just empathize. Put yourself in the shoes of the recipients and find common ground.

The next time you find your important message falling on deaf ears, reframe it in relation to something your audience cares about.


How to be Creative


How to be Creative


My work is fundamentally creative. There are loads of analytical pieces, but at the end of the day, marketing is about making a connection with human beings who are not as predictable as marketers would like to think. Yes, there are lots of studies on consumer behavior and human drive and we can move the needle by tapping into those things that motivate buying behavior, but so is everyone else and the companies that 'win' the loyalty and sales are the ones that are more creative.

Content marketing, which is the focus of my current consulting, is all about being creative. There is a good amount of noise out there: companies writing blog posts, producing video series and posting regularly to social media channels, and most of it really doesn't matter. It follows formulas and delivers the same old same old that we've read a million times before. There is nothing to distinguish one inspirational quote from another. There is no point of view.

So I am to dig deeper. Provide something different. Something valuable. Something thought provoking. I shoot for remarkable.

But thought provoking, valuable and remarkable take time. They take long hours of thought. And, frankly, most brands don't want to pay for that. We just got them to the point that (many of) them are realizing that content is important and some of them are willing to pay something for it, but that's only a small piece of it. Stopping there would be like giving someone a bathing suit and expecting them to swim across the Atlantic.

Francis Moran, a colleague of mine, recently likened the current state of content marketing to the early state of radio. Anyone with access to the tools could claim expertise in radio, but as it evolved, it was apparent that there were very few examples of radio shows that could hold an audience. And you need an audience to pay the electric bills.

One of the shows that stands out to me is This American Life with Ira Glass on Public Radio. There are very few radio shows that I can listen to for a full hour each week and even fewer that I will go back to listen to multiple times, but this is one of them. There is just something so incredibly entertaining and thought provoking about it.

And then this weekend, another colleague of mine, Mitch Joel, pointed out aGoogle Talk with Ira Glass in which the interviewer asks where he comes up with the programming week after week (for >18 years!) and Glass' answer is amazing:

Somebody will pitch a story that we all feel very excited about and that doesn’t go with any of the themes we have going on at the time, so we’ll just say “Let’s use that story as an anchor for some show” and then we’ll concoct a theme that could plausibly contain it. And sometimes we’ll come up with 2 or 3 different themes that could plausibly contain it and we’ll have other stories left over from other shows that we couldn’t use and see if we can glue anything to it and then we’ll start on a search. And that search could take up to 3 or 4 months often and sometimes even more. Finding ideas for stories is very inefficient.

One of the things when you start to do creative work that nobody ever asks is, “Where are ideas going to come from?” And you have this idea that they are just going to be sprinkled on your head like fairy dust…but you just have to surround yourself with a lot of stuff and a lot of ideas, because ideas lead to other ideas. So at one point, we’ll just go on a massive search…

Then he goes on to describe a very complex process with all sorts of questions and nuances that are unique to every story and every episode, including having to kill about 1/3-1/2 of every thing they start. And he adds:

You really can’t tell what’s going to work until you start to make that thing. It’s like you want lightening to strike as an industrial product (in the same spot) every week, and to do that, you just need to wander around in the rain...a lot. 

This is the key to creativity. It's not a linear process and it's not predictable. You need to give it space and lots of encouragement. If you are held to pumping it out like a factory, you are probably not going to nail it. And it doesn't come to you at the most opportune times.

In one of my favorite TED Talks ever, Elizabeth Gilbert describes a fantastic story where poet Ruth Stone would hear a poem thundering over the hills while she was working and have to "run like hell" to find paper and pen to capture it in the moment.

Creativity requires:

  1. Surrounding yourself with inspiration, stories and ideas. I'd say that most of those ideas should be on-topic (if you are trying to come up with a great story on wearable tech, surround yourself with conversations, articles and experiences on wearable tech), but you should also step outside of the narrow topic to get inspiration (think about it from the perspective of parenting or fashion or education, for instance).
  2. Space to breathe and  grow. You'll go down a million paths that will lead you nowhere. There is no fairy dust.
  3. A purpose. You need a direction. A point of view. A raison d'etre. For Ira Glass, it's the constant search for stories that will change people's perspective. Having an end goal or a point of view will help focus you enough on what you want to convey. Then you just have to deal with the how.

As you are probably already thinking, this process is far too free-flowing and unpredictable for most companies out there. It's why most artists are starving and why the world is full of mundanity.

The good news is that there is a happy medium to be struck between completely unleashed creative, interesting content - that is "inefficient" as Glass puts it - and completely lifeless outputs of formulaic, mundane content. But the current pendulum favors the efficient (while complaining that the ROI is less than desirable on this particular output). What we need to work on is the message that it isn't just any content that works. It's content that actually adds value (a term that is understandable to organizations). And adding value takes more thought than a 2 week RFP or a couple of brainstorms.

(The last creative agency I worked with operated on last minute series of brainstorms to come up with ideas for clients. I added some sanity to this by bringing market research to the meetings and presenting insights, but the output was still horrifying enough for me to back away from the whole circus. In an ideal world, agencies would work as partners with clients and evolve ideas over time rather than be given a creative brief, then expected to go into their creative cave and come out with brilliant ideas.)

And brilliantly out of the blue, Jeff Bezos' wildly popular appearance on 60 Minutes provides a fantastic example of a company that is winning and will continue winning by having a purpose, taking time and surrounding itself with inspiration (they spend a good deal on R&D, a dying department). Bezos asserts of their crazy sci-fi drone idea that it'll be 4-5 years before it is reality. But their incredible commitment to customer-centricity helps them get creative in their approach. It's how they became the market leader and how they will stay there.


No, Social Media Doesn't Drive Sales...but that's not the point


No, Social Media Doesn't Drive Sales...but that's not the point


Okay, maybe I'm overstating it. Some sales are driven through social media channels. I know I've bought books and songs and contributed to Kickstarter campaigns many times because a friend shared a link and I thought, "Hey! That's awesome! I should buy that!" I've even tipped a bigger purchase in favor of a friendly recommendation on a social network. But I can count on one hand the number of times  I've bought something pushed to me by a brand I follow on Twitter/Facebook or the like.

But that's not the point.

The point is that social media is a teeny tiny reflection of what happens in day-to-day life. In Jonah Berger's Contagious, he makes the salient point that only 7% of word of mouth happens online (other studies say 5%). I'm not sure if all of that even belongs to social media channels, either. I'd guess a bunch of it happens over email and private chat.

There are hundreds of ways that your customer will find you (or not find you) online and offline. However, when it comes to spreading a message, word of mouth has always been the most effective way of marketing messages spreading. But these messages become ineffective when they aren't authentic. But the most salient point here is:

You cannot force word of mouth.

It doesn't matter the media or the amount you spend on it...some stuff just doesn't spread. And though marketing impressions make a brand awareness difference - whether it's a billboard or a paid tweet - it's never guaranteed to work.

So I'm continually bowled over when I hear people complain about how their social media marketing doesn't work. Usually a few questions helps me realize what's really going on:


What's really going on here is that companies think that paying for marketing is some sort of silver bullet. It's not. It never was and it never will be. Hell, some super bowl ads go unnoticed - and that audience is one of the biggest captive audiences in the universe!

You are probably asking yourself, "Okay then, why would anybody in their right mind pay for marketing?"

Good question. I sometimes wonder myself because not everyone is ready for it...and sometimes they are too late for it.

But why pay for marketing when the results aren't guaranteed? Because, like I said before, there are hundreds of ways your future customers will find you (or not find you) and it's better to be findable than not. And good marketing means that you will be more findable AND have more credibility (if the branding is done right) when people do find you. And all of that helps with what you want: sales.

There are all sorts of wonderful things built into social media marketing that you won't have built into traditional one-way channels. There are:

  1. analytics - you can't really tell who paid attention to that television ad, but you can tell who watched your YouTube ad all the way through...and who liked it...and who shared it...etc etc. The data available on how people interact with your content is AMAZING.
  2. feedback - it's right there in the comments. It's also there on Twitter. Oh...and you can find out what people are saying on Reddit and their blogs and in forums and...well...that is invaluable. Read it. Report it back to your team. Improve your product with it. Respond to it with thanks. Hell, you pay hundreds of thousands of dollars to get this feedback from focus groups each year and here it is for you for free. Completely raw.
  3. relationships - you aren't going to strike up a conversation through the TV or radio. But that two-way conversation is built into social media platforms. It's really awesome. You can find out so much about your customers and start to really build a bond.

What really baffles me is the demands that brands make of social media marketing when they pay a fraction of the price to use it. They'll hire interns and junior staff to run it, they'll lowball agencies and consultants ("I pay you whatfor a couple of FB posts?! I can get my kid to do that!"), they get impatient and want instant results without being willing to invest the thought needed or take risks, they'll tack on a social media strategy (which has no strategy) to a made-for-television and magazine ad campaign thinking that it's yet another direct marketing channel (which is a limited medium, too).

All of this and the brands ask for stellar results. They look past the amazing insights and feedback and potential for relationships that no other traditional marketing medium every had and they say, "Meh. Social media doesn't work for me."

And completely miss the point.

You want to know the ROI of social media?

Number one. It's the ability to listen. It's priceless. Not with some damned tool that measures sentiment or finds influencers, either. Really listen.

Number two. Serendipity. It's opening yourself up to constant and amazing opportunities to participate and by participating, you will find numerous opportunities to lead the conversation and make a great impression. Oreo's dunk in the dark tweet is a great example of this. They are doing a really great job of being a relevant brand again by seizing opportunities like that. Do they do it every single day? Nope. But when they do, they nail it.

Number three. Community instead of merely customers. The difference is incredible. If you have patience and build a community instead of just a customer database, you will have finally tapped into that magical word of mouth network you wanted to buy a few months ago. But this time, it's real and authentic and it spreads.

(and there are dozens more...but you get the point, right?)

So PLEASE FOR THE LOVE OF DOG stop thinking of social media as a direct marketing tool or some sort of silver bullet that will drive sales through the roof. Stop reading those case studies where Snapchat drove millions of dollars in sales from a viral campaign.

That's not the point.


5 Things Customers Don't Want to Hear...EVER


5 Things Customers Don't Want to Hear...EVER


Oh companies. Relationships are SO much easier than you make them. In fact, there are only a few things that you need to do in order to make your customers significantly happier. Or rather, there are a few things you must stop doing and saying that will change your customers' experiences drastically.

I've compiled a short list for you (though there are more). Here are some things you need to stop doing and saying:

1. "It's our policy."

Now, you may use this and think: "Why is this wrong? It enables a fair way to treat customers across the board."

The problem with trying to treat customers the same across the board is that not every situation is cut and dried. And, frankly, some policies are antiquated and outdated. The moment you have to let a customer down by saying "it's our policy," you are failing that customer.

And yes, I know that you don't want your customer service staff running all amok with bleeding hearts and breaking your bank, but that is why you need to train them properly and empower them to help your customers. A good customer service policy is to:

a. train your agents on multiple scenarios and then;

b. give them a buffer allowance each month and;

c. give them all sorts of ways to help the customer instead of shutting down the conversation.

If they have a certain budget to play with each month where they can make a decision on whether to give a customer a break or take a return marked "no refunds", they can use their training to decipher a reasonable response and then be empowered to make it. Here is an example:

A customer calls their cell phone company and says, "My bill is outrageous! I didn't realize that going over my data would cost me an extra $200! I can't afford this!" The agent then can walk through a customer's bill and figure out if the mistake was made in earnest and then either undo the $200 OR adjust the bill a smaller amount (maybe cut it in half), but talk the customer into a more robust ongoing data plan (which can help the company make the money up in the long run).

Of course, if a customer doesn't know what to expect, this is an issue in itself. Which leads me to #2.

2. "It was in your contract."

Newsflash: nobody actually reads contracts. I'm not sure why anyone uses a big long legalese document to give customers upfront information about a service. It's the worst way to present information in the universe. You may as well write it in Sanskrit on a stone tablet.

I'm not saying your customers have no responsibility to read what they sign, but when you are excitedly signing up for a new service or website or whatever, the last thing you do is to sit and read a long document. And the salesperson moving the sale through doesn't really give you much of a chance either.

Why not present limitations and terms and conditions in a readable, fun manner? A great example of turning boring, mandated information into something people will engage in is Virgin America's awesome in-flight safety video. Everyone knows that when those safety videos come on, our eyes glaze over and we focus on the book or magazine or anything else. But not when you are on a Virgin Flight:


Right? You don't have to go to that level of production, but why not make it readable and enjoyable? This way, you will never have to say, "It's in your contract." Your customers will know. In fact, they may even be able to sing it back to you.

3. "See our answer here [with link]."

Why not just talk to me? Seriously. If I ask something that is too long for a tweet, answer me with a few tweets. That's cool.


@myhandle: Hey cable company! Why am I on hold for over 45 minutes today? WTH?

@cablecompany: @myhandle Sorry for your inconvenience. Go check our outage schedule here: [link to website]

Grrrrrrrrrr. A wee bit of effort would help a whole lot here. I have probably already gone to your website to find your really hard to find number to call to be put on hold. I'm trying to use Twitter to get some answers and be more efficient. Don't make me click something else!

This would be better:

@myhandle: Hey cable company! Why am I on hold for over 45 minutes today? WTH?

@cablecompany: @myhandle Sorry for your inconvenience. I see you are calling from Toronto where there are lots of outages. Can I help?

@myhandle: @cablecompany Yeah. Do you happen to know what's wrong? When the cable service is expected to be fixed?

@cablecompany: @myhandle I just checked internally. It's a weather issue. :( It may take more than a few hours. Sorry! Time for a good book? :/

@myhandle: @cablecompany LOL. Okay. Maybe it's the universe telling me to hit the gym. LOL.

@cablecompany: @myhandle Hit the gym for me, too! Oy! ;) Sorry again!

Even if it doesn't go as smoothly as above, it's a MUCH better interaction. I can hang up the phone with a bit more information and reset my expectations. I also feel taken care of even if the representative couldn't give me a definitive answer.

4. [Insert Lame Company Excuse Here]

Just recently, we had a ISP tell us that their service was bad because one of their partners (the people who owned the fibre) were playing dirty.

Really? I couldn't give a damn. Fix our service. I don't need to get involved in your business drama. I've just paid you $300 to get my internet installed. I'm not your mediator. Guess what happened? We canceled, asked for a refund, then went to the partner in question. They seemed to have the upper hand and get things done. We wish we knew that in the beginning.

Your company woes are YOUR company woes...and quite often they are the result of bad decisions/deals you've made (short-term thinking). Your customers don't care, nor should they. They just want to get the stuff they paid for. Don't make excuses. Fix it. If you can't fix it, own up to it and refund your customers. Apologize and hope that they will forgive you and come back when you've fixed your stuff.

The customer experience should be seamless and simple. The mess and duct tape and hoops behind the scenes? Invisible to the customer's eye.

5. [Silence]

It's late 2013 and 72% of customers expect a response within the hour on Twitter from your brand after they complain. And it doesn't really matter if it's during business hours or not.

I, personally, have a black list of companies I will no longer buy from after getting radio silence to a concern or complaint. I'm sure I'm not alone.

Even the most angry complaints can be handled. People are just upset and need to be heard. One of the best pieces of advice I ever heard was to respond to an angry complaint like this:

A. Identify B. Apologize C. Assist

@myhandle: @restaurant FU! I will never eat at your awful overpriced restaurant again! 

@restaurant: @myhandle Oh no! What happened?

@myhandle: @restaurant After waiting for a table FOREVER, your server treated us like crap and the food was cold by the time it was served. Grrrr.

@restaurant: @myhandle Oh man, it sounds like you had the WORST experience. It's not what we aim for. Is there any way we can make it up to you?

@myhandle: @restaurant I don't know. I don't want to feel that way again. But I appreciate your response. Maybe it was just a bad night.

@restaurant: @myhandle I know you don't want to take my word for it, but it sounds like it may have been. Let us know if you want to try again. We'll set you up. :)

@myhandle: @restaurant Okay...well...I'll consider it. Thanks again. I feel kind of bad for being so angry now.

@restaurant: @myhandle I would have probably felt the same. Glad I could help.

Identifying completely diffuses a situation. Trust me on this one. Even if you can't help someone, just identifying and apologizing will help. And that customer will feel a bit bad for blowing up at you online. If they don't come back, they'll certainly tell the story differently. This time, you'll be cool...not a jerk that doesn't listen.


So there you go. Simple ways to respond to customers in a way that will help you build bonds and loyalty and probably a few more sales rather than letting angry customers fall through the cracks (and tell everyone they know about their awful experience).  In fact, take some of that billboard and other outbound advertising spend and put it into your inbound/customer service channels so you can totally empower them. It doesn't have to be a lot, but I guarantee you that these interactions will benefit you far more than that extra month on the billboard.


If you don't stand for something, you'll fall for anything.


If you don't stand for something, you'll fall for anything.


[title quote attributed to Alexander Hamilton as well as Malcolm X in various forms, image bought from Shutterstock]

I've been trying to put my finger on the problem with so much of the social content brands put out into the world. Why does it seem so damned flat and soulless? Sure, they post the occasional uplifting quote I can get behind, but mostly I just skip over the rest. And it isn't just that it's too self-promotional (though much of it is "me me me"), it's something more.

And then today it occurred to me:


The un-engaging stuff (pretty much everything else) just follows formulas and schedules and feels as alive as a silk plant. They get so close, but when you lean in to take a sniff, something is off.

But the stuff that we connect with, the stuff that makes us cheer and like and share and remember the brand, that stuff has a point of view. And that point of view is something WAY bigger than the brand.

Oreo's audience was merely humming along with their 'cookies as a character' campaign until one day, they posted this:


...and all hell broke lose. They chose a point of view that was both unpopular AND wildly popular.  They may have lost a few of their homophobic customers that day, but they gained a LOT of new (and renewed) customers who had long forgotten the brand.

And Coke, one of the most 'liked' brands on Facebook (baffling to me) has a dismally small amount of interactions with this type of post (which they do all too frequently):

Screen Shot 2013-10-19 at 10.43.33 PM
Screen Shot 2013-10-19 at 10.43.33 PM

But when it comes to this type of post...their engagement blows through the roof:

Screen Shot 2013-10-19 at 10.45.10 PM
Screen Shot 2013-10-19 at 10.45.10 PM

441 likes/53 shares (small from an audience of nearly 75 MILLION) compared to 5,081 likes and 274 shares. (though still lower engagement than I Fucking Love Science, whose most popular posts get tens of thousands of shares and hundreds of thousands of likes)

And though they aren't my cup of tea (so to speak), Red Bull has a VERY strong point of view and has built an incredibly loyal audience (and business) from it. And it isn't just about having a strong voice/tone. It's about knowing who you are and not being afraid to stand up for something you believe in. Standing for something.

Because if you don't stand for something, you'll fall for anything.

And I see this happens to lost brands all of the time. You can smell a brand who is following a formula or just follows advice and 'best practice' guidelines. Their voice is forced and weak. They won't take a position. They are afraid of what others think. They define themselves by what they ARE NOT, but refuse to own who they ARE.

One of my favorite people in the world, Nilofer Merchant, describes this in her concept of Onlyness. She describes it like this:

Each of us is standing in a spot no one else occupies. That unique viewpoint is born of our accumulated experience and perspective and our vision. This is your onlyness—the thing that only you can bring into a situation.

When you own that unique viewpoint, nobody can take it away from you. They can disagree. They can dislike it. But they can't deny that you own that space. And what will surprise you is that you will find new allies when you own your onlyness.

But how do you figure it out? Is there an exercise? A set of steps? A workbook? A tool you can pay $24.95/month to figure out your onlyness? Can you hire a creative agency to craft it for you?

Nope. You have to do this work yourself. It's your accumulated experience. It's YOUR point of view. You can hire someone to help coach you towards it, but you can't pay someone else to do it.

This is why, while social media gurus are a dime a dozen, social media is still so damned hard to do well. It's not something you can outsource, automate, hire an intern to do for you or even get your marketing team to create a plan for.  If you are the founder or a senior team member, you need to be involved.

Screen Shot 2013-10-20 at 12.30.16 AM
Screen Shot 2013-10-20 at 12.30.16 AM

And for those of you who think this is lightweight and a waste of time? Keep trying all of that other stuff that isn't working while you lose market share and talent to that other company whose success you can't quite understand because your product is superior. I'll bet if you look real close, you'll smell something different. That's the scent of onlyness. They stand for something. They know who they are. They haven't read a best practices article in their lives because they don't have to. They inherently know what to post and come up with great ways to connect beyond pushing out messages. They probably even like to hang out with one another on the weekends. And they don't worry about who talks to the press, because everyone can articulate passionately what their brand stands for, who their customer is and why they love what they do. Nobody needs a laminated poster to remember the company's core values.

If you want to keep copying companies with mediocre results to keep achieving mediocre-er results, go ahead. And by all means, read more articles by 'social media gurus' who haven't ever built a community or a product. Continue to spend the time you need to figure out your onlyness on random useless noise making.

Screen Shot 2013-10-20 at 12.31.36 AM
Screen Shot 2013-10-20 at 12.31.36 AM

But you have a choice and it's right there in front of you. You can stand for something. You can lead and be the example everyone wants to decode.

Be the case study, not the company that reads it.


Switching Costs: A Person's #1 Reason for Not Trying Your Service

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Switching Costs: A Person's #1 Reason for Not Trying Your Service

Shutterstock photo
Shutterstock photo

People get comfortable with routines...even if they aren't the most efficient. Sticking with a familiar inefficiency is often less daunting than switching to an unknown.

Many companies try to sell their products and services as an 'easier' or 'time saving' or 'better' way to do something, but even if your potential customers will save time and effort in the long-run, there are often huge switching costs that prevent them from making the leap.

Here is a personal example:

I was banking with an institution I had been unsatisfied with for years. Their fees were high, their customer service was awful and their practices were not very friendly. I was constantly complaining about them, but it took me forever to switch. Why? Because my whole life was tied to that bank. Even though I was miserable and there were much better banks for my needs, I was avoiding the time and pain it would take to switch my bills, PayPal account, credit cards and day-to-day routine. Besides, what if I took the time to switch and things didn't improve? I felt like I'd be happier being unhappy with what I already know.

I finally switched when things got unbearable and another bank gave me the tools (and sat with me) to switch everything over effortlessly, but even then, it was a bit of a pain. I'm happier now, but it took a few years and being acutely dissatisfied for me to switch and I'm just an individual.

If you are selling to larger businesses, the switching costs are even higher. New processes, even if they are simpler, take new training. And for a large organization, this takes a big swath of time and money. People get used to the irritating workarounds for their inefficient systems. They learn shortcuts and tricks to beating the odds that become part of a daily routine.

Just the other day, I encountered a business that used Photoshop for their invoicing because they understood the tool and didn't want to learn a new one! I even demonstrated how simple it was to use something like Freshbooks (I have no affiliation, but I use it and love it), but the business owner explained that this worked just fine and switching would mean he'd have to relearn and do a bunch of work to transfer all of his clients to the new platform. Even if this only took a few days, he didn't see the advantage over the switching costs.

Sure, you may offer webinars, instructional videos and a support network that help with the training, but that could make switching seem even more complicated for your potential clients. Don't fret, though, there ARE better approaches to helping people get over their fear of switching. Here are a few:

  1. Figure out a way to reduce or eliminate switching time automagically. Wordpress does this incredibly well. In most cases, you can just point it at your old blog or upload a file and it will 'suck in' your posts, tags, comments, etc. so that you are up and running in no time.
  2. Acknowledge the switching costs up front. Don't just say, "We'll save you time". That's too vague. Your homepage is for new arrivals with doubts, so alleviate those doubts. Know the pain points of your potential customers and speak to them. Give time estimates.
  3. Give them an incentive. I've seen banks offer iPads to open a new account, but it doesn't have to be that drastic. Free trials work, too. However, many people don't get the chance to really try your product unless they switch completely (and many won't switch until they try it - catch 22!), so give them test content or offer a one-on-one demo with their data.
  4. If you can't eliminate time to switch, give clear, simple instructions step by step through the sign up process. Use screenshots and clear, short instructions to help your customers through the process so they aren't left hanging at any point. It's not talking down to them, it's doing the legwork for them.
  5. Create a switching officer program...for free. Many people will give up privacy for convenience. Offer the ability to switch for them. "We'll set you up so you are ready to go!" The upfront cost will pay off in the long run.

Of course, this only eliminates a few of the switching costs involved. Some more switching costs are:

  1. legacy systems (you can make sure your product is backwards compatible)
  2. training of staff (offering free training or creating a product that has incredibly intuitive UX helps)
  3. trust (this one is very complicated in today's world of false-promises - it takes time and perseverance)
  4. costs (in the Photoshop invoice case, the business owner didn't want to pay a monthly fee to merely invoice - you need to show how your cost can make your clients money)
  5. competition (when faced with the paradox of choice, a customer won't switch at all. The choice should be crystal clear.)

But whether a potential customer needs to switch from something they hacked together or a competitor, you need to recognize that "we're better" or "we save you time and/or money" isn't enough to get over the ultimate barrier of switching. Recognizing this will help you see things from your customer's point of view more clearly so you can help them faster.

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Tomato Tomato: Content Curation Is The New King, so What Happens to Creators?


Tomato Tomato: Content Curation Is The New King, so What Happens to Creators?


In 2007, I sat on the patio at the Driskill Hotel with a reporter for the SF Chron. He was writing a story on what print could learn from the scrappy 'web 2.0' world filled with amateur writers, film makers and personalities. I told him straight up, "Want to save newspapers? Become the world's best curators. Stop creating original content - you can't compete. Start finding the best original content and amplifying it. Your power is distribution. Use it before you lose it."

Little did I know I'd grow to hate that advice. Years later sites like Buzzfeed and Reddit dominate the way people are getting their news - most making a killing on advertising revenue - and newspapers are still struggling with their business models. Unfortunately, this struggle is shared with the creators: the writers, photographers, videographers and artists who make the original content.

When Content was King

I became a creator on the web when curation was still largely unheard of. Today when you read an article you agree with, you share it to Twitter, Facebook, Reddit, LinkedIN...wherever you have an audience that may appreciate it. You may append that article with a short, pithy explanation or highlight an essential quote, but you are merely spotlighting it. You weren't the one who took the time to sit down, research and write the article. You just enjoyed it and spread it.

Back in the day, however, that wasn't really what you did. If you read a great article, you would sit down and craft your own great article with your own words and research and link back to the original one. You couldn't just spread it, you needed to add value to it. That was how early bloggers grew their audience.

There are still content creators today and I am incredibly grateful for them. Creating consistent, interesting, engaging content takes a boatload of time and talent. One minute of video takes hours of planning, shooting and editing (though some concepts are simpler than others). One 500-word blog post takes a day of research and writing (not to mention the inspiration). One amazing photograph requires great timing and über patience to capture that perfect moment. Even an original tweet that people gravitate towards has years of experience, the right moment and the ability to capture that idea in less than 140 characters behind it.

The Shift to Curation as King

Screen Shot 2013-07-20 at 12.38.36 PM
Screen Shot 2013-07-20 at 12.38.36 PM

But while creators are necessary and amazing, curators are the ones raking in the dough. I was alerted today by a friend that a video that Carlos and I made for Vine that had become super popular (over 118,000 likes + 77,000 Re-vines) was featured on a Facebook page called Best Vines and making its way around (with over 230,000 likes + 46,000 shares). The page owner lifted the content off of Vine and reposted it on his own page (no credit back to the original). This page has over 6.2M likes. At first I didn't think much of it until Carlos informed me there is an underground market for selling of popular fan pages like this.

Now, this video of Ridley took us all of 30 seconds to make and we had no idea it would 'go viral', but for people like Will Sasso who appears to make it his full-time gig to make entertaining, engaging content on Vine and other places, this would probably be a bit of a violation. The curator is getting more cred for recognizing good content than the creator is for making good content.

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Screen Shot 2013-07-20 at 12.34.15 PM

Don't get me wrong, being a great curator takes time and talent, too. There is so much content on the web that it's a full-time job to sift through it and pull out the gems. If you aren't ahead of it, your Uncle Bob will have already posted the good stuff to his Facebook timeline and your efforts will be useless. But I do think we need to create a balance where the Will Sassos of this world get compensated properly for their time and talent as much if not more than the Best Vines. (My favorites are still his lemon ones)

YouTube and Creators

YouTube is still the best bet for creators getting compensated for their efforts and it was a great decision for YouTube to go down the path of revenue sharing years ago. While money is rarely the core incentive for creativity, it certainly helps the artist focus on their creations. The estimate is that for every 1 Million video views, the YouTube artist makes $2500-3000. So Will's Lemon video which is now at just over 4 Million views could have made him over $10,000. Judging from the composition, he made a tidy profit off of it (which makes me happy).


Another amazing feature that YouTube has for creators is the ability to claim content that is yours. In this way, curators can upload other people's content to their heart's content, but the original creators get to monetize it. This allows curators to build their audience while the creators get their due from the content. It was a super smart move on YouTube's part. It allows for curators, mashup artists and other value adding members of the ecosystem without taking away from original artists.

But saying that YouTube is one of the best of breed for creators to make money from their content efforts online doesn't say much for the opportunities for creators online. At the end of the day, the worst offenders of all are the big networks who are making the lion's share of money 'crowd-curating' our creative efforts. Of course they require compensation for providing the networks and bandwidth for us to reach larger audiences, but anywhere we are posting original content that drives more traffic to increase their ad revenue, we should be getting compensated.

After all of these years, we still haven't solved the "How to make a living as a full-time blogger" question (for great insight into the enormous struggle even the most popular bloggers face, NPR On the Media covered this in May - talk about great original content). The fact is that the decline of print is a direct reflection of a changing consumer attitude to content. Unless you are a creator and trying to make a living at it, you just don't think about the mechanics (time and talent) that go into it. And as much as I'd love to change that attitude, it's just not going to happen overnight.

So What is a Creator To Do?

Good question. If I knew the answer to this, I would be creating original content full-time (instead of getting paid to create content for others) - I think many would. The web does allow more opportunities for the Will Sassos of this world, so there is that. And platforms like YouTube (for photography there is iStockPhoto, Photodune, 123RF, etc - for music iTunes...from what I know SoundCloud is working on it - and there are oodles of opportunities for creators of goods like Etsy, StoreEnvy, etc) provide a great way for creators to get compensated so they can create more content. Perhaps newer platforms like Medium will step up for the writers. Any others?

Until then I hope that I can just help people think about the mechanics that go into the creation of original content and how valuable it is to have people who keep us entertained for little to no compensation.


Why Content?


Why Content?

Screen Shot 2013-06-25 at 10.12.57 AM
Screen Shot 2013-06-25 at 10.12.57 AM

...because all roads lead back to content.

Without content on Facebook, you have this:

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Screen Shot 2013-06-25 at 10.17.06 AM

Exciting, eh?

Without content on Twitter, you have this:

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Screen Shot 2013-06-25 at 10.26.54 AM


Blogs, Pinterest, Instagram, Slideshare, Tumblr, etc all are merely content holders. Without content, you have tools. Without content, nobody has a compelling reason to click the follow/like button, let alone get interested in your product. Yes, you can listen and have conversations, but when someone decides to check you out...there is no reason for them to engage.

In my favorite analogy, the sad, empty wineglass at the top of this post represents a container without content and the happy, full wineglass represents content. In the same analogy, you want to fill that wineglass with something great, because bad wine will not bring anyone coming back for a refill.

What about PR? Advertising? Search marketing? Influencer marketing?

All of these roads lead back to an even stronger case for great, engaging content. You get good press? Great! What makes the person reading the article want to engage? You just paid for lots of advertising? What is that compelling thing that drives them to click? Where do they go? What do they see? Are you engaging anyone? And any good SEO expert will tell you that content that appeals to human beings will help you with your search results.

Truthfully, "content" is such a dry, bad word for such an essential, fantastic, nuanced thing. And it's often bundled together with the social media tools as something that just happens. Companies outsource it like it doesn't matter. It's an afterthought. An annoyance.

"But good content takes time! And it's expensive!" they might cry.

Yes, but not more expensive than the ads companies buy to try and capture attention. Think about it this way:

Company A hires amazing content people at a rate of $10,000 month. This content, underscored with a small amount of advertising (sponsored posts, etc) starts to gather attention. A small increase in followers at first, but then it fans out. Soon the company has 10x the followers and can cut back on their advertising altogether and continues to get traction from the great content it's produced over time.

Here is a real-life example: Just For Laughs Gags on YouTube. Disclosure: my boyfriend runs their YouTube channel. They've actually never bought advertising, but they have amazing content. All day, Carlos picks the best of their content and makes sure it responds to the needs of their audience. They have over 3 million followers and get an average of around 1 million views per video. This didn't happen overnight, but it was the focus on great content and making sure that content gets in front of the right audience that makes them THE most popular comedy channel on YouTube. In the world.

A more attainable example is one of their content partners, Roman Atwood Pranks who I've written about before. This small team (Roman and his buddy Dennis) work hard to please their audience and have built it from zero with a very low-budget. No advertising, just plain content that people love. They have over 1 million followers and get an average of 750,000 views per episode. Some of their episodes are seen by nearly 14 million people!

So what happens when you don't focus on content?

Company B doesn't really have the time or patience to build an audience, but wants to get their new fancy video in front of as many people as possible. So they purchase $100,000 worth of ads (which guarantees around 1 Million views). Of those views, a teensy percentage sign up to follow their channel because they haven't created anything really worth following. Their content is sporadic and self-promotional. So six months later, when they need to run another campaign, they have to throw another $100,000 worth of ads to get it seen.

You recognize the companies who do this when you see this (low subscribers with high views):

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Screen Shot 2013-06-25 at 1.43.49 PM
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Screen Shot 2013-06-25 at 1.42.43 PM

(IF each person saw a video only once, Garnier Canada gets a 0.07% conversion on their ads, L'Oreal Paris gets 0.03% conversion)

Instead of:

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Screen Shot 2013-06-25 at 1.45.21 PM

Just For Laughs

Roman Atwood

Screen Shot 2013-06-25 at 1.45.07 PM
Screen Shot 2013-06-25 at 1.45.07 PM

...on a zero dollar ad spend (those subscribers are watching multiple videos as videos are posted daily at JFLgags and weekly for Roman, so the conversion is probably pretty high). Every time the channels with high subscribers upload a video, they get access to millions of people who have subscribed to their updates. Thousands of those people share the videos so they have access to even more.

So what is more expensive then? Great content, which may cost a premium to make (but doesn't always have to, but it does take many hours to get it right), but saves you lots of money in the long run? Or big ad buys that you have to purchase over and over again. Take a look at Garnier Canada's videos that don't have advertising behind them (hint for those who don't want to click. Less than 300 views.) to understand how little engagement they get from ad buys.

Great content can build relationships and real engagement that is lasting and is way more likely to get your potential customer from AWARE to ENGAGED to even EVANGELIZED (see the social engagement ladder here). It's worth the investment. In fact, you can't ignore it. All roads lead you there.


Marketing's REAL Beef with Facebook


Marketing's REAL Beef with Facebook

EDGERANK CONCEPT handwritten with chalk  on a blackboard
EDGERANK CONCEPT handwritten with chalk on a blackboard

Yet another article has come out yesterday on how Facebook is a waste of time for marketers because posts only show up for 8-16% of their followers. As someone who has been in marketing for over 15 years (online marketing for 14 of those), these posts irk me. To me, they show a low understanding of how human beings engage with media and demonstrate that old perceptions of customer ownership persist, even through the Social Era.

General Facebook Stats

First off, here are some basic statistics on how people use Facebook. The average Facebook user has 229 friends and likes 40 brands. They spend an average of 1.5 hours/week on Facebook, accessing it from 7,000 different devices. 58% of Facebook users return daily. And 65% of people who like brands on Facebook do so for the coupons/savings they can access. (source + Facebook Insights 2012) There are 50 million Facebook pages that post 36 times per month - 2.5 million of those that are promoted through Facebook ads. (source) And 40% of people's time spent on Facebook is on their newsfeed, while only 12% of their time is spent on profile and brand pages. (source)

image from PhotoDune
image from PhotoDune

If you haven't figured it out mathematically, Facebook is NOISY for most users. I'm a super user (outlier), so I'm not the best example, but I have 3,233 friends (I try to weed them out to only people I've met from time to time, but it keeps growing), like 898 pages (don't know when THAT happened, oy), am part of 49 Facebook groups (some are SUPER active) and have a public page where I've grown 64,864 followers (who can comment, like and otherwise engage with my profile unless I limit visibility on a post). Facebook's Edgerank helps me a great deal. Sure, I don't see everything and I'm sure I'm missing all sorts of uber important life events and sales and launches, but it makes my experience on Facebook a little more sane.

My Mom, who defines herself as a luddite, has 174 friends on Facebook, 6 likes and is part of 1 group. She doesn't have a public profile, so doesn't have 'followers'. She still finds the amount of posts and news on Facebook to be overwhelming at times, so she created her favorites so she would always see what's happening with her family as we post items. She has created a filter ON TOP OF the Edgerank that Facebook provides to help her manage the posts from all of her friends.

I can understand that a brand who thinks that every like is an undivided attention endorsement would think that 8-16% of their followers seeing their posts means that Facebook is ripping them off. But anyone who thinks a little bit and understands how this works should get that Edgerank IS FOR THE USERS not for the marketers.

How Edgerank Works


Edgerank isn't some plot against brands who don't pay for advertising on Facebook. All it does is favor posts that are popular and relevant, whether it is a personal profile post or a brand page post. It also understands what users have engaged with previously, so if you spend a lot of time liking and commenting on certain friends' posts, those friends (and brands) will show up more often.

Here is a frequently passed around definition of how Edgerank works:

"EdgeRank is an algorithm used by Facebook to determine where and what posts appear on each individual user’s news feed in order to give users relevant and wanted content.

The three variables that make up this algorithm are:

  • Affinity Score - Facebook calculates affinity score by looking at explicit actions that users take, and factoring in, the strength of the action,  how close the person who took the action was to you, and how long ago they took the action.
  • Edge Weight - Facebook changes the edge weights to reflect which type of stories they think user will find most engaging.
  • Time Decay – The determines the time passed, if they’re old they probably don’t appear."


And, yes, a brand page can use advertising to improve their Edgerank. That's how advertising works. You pay for the ability to cheat the system. As the saying goes, "Advertising is the price you pay for having an unremarkable product," but I would also add that advertising is the price you pay for an unfair advantage. It's the way of balancing the universe. You can pay to be at the center of it. ;)

Why Marketers Really Hate Edgerank

There are several reasons why marketers* hate Edgerank:

  1. There is no instant gratification - even if you are a content maestro, it takes time to build an audience without advertising. For my clients, I use advertising to underscore great content instead of in place of it.
  2. Retro TV Commercial
  3. They think a 'Like' means the Facebook user is endorsing undivided attention - the truth is, there are all sorts of reasons why people like brands on Facebook and, since the average user likes 40 brands and has 229 friends, there is no such thing as undivided attention (or if there is, it's rare...and a bit odd). The reason your posts aren't showing up on their newsfeeds is because they aren't engaging with them.
  4. Marketing people aren't generally content people and vice versa - I sat down with a journalist friend of mine who has been hired by a big fashion retailer to do their content. She's really brilliant at it, but had very little knowledge as to how to use the tools and how to promote the great content she was producing. They wanted her to do both content AND marketing and didn't understand that those two talents are very different and usually require two roles. People conflate them all too often and though you may find the rare individual that can do both well, it's best that you split the role for maximum oomph.
  5. Most marketers are still stuck in the old one-way paradigm - helloooo! It's the social era! This means that even old one-way mediums (billboards, television, radio, magazines, etc) need to get more multi-way in order to survive. So stop treating the social tools as bullhorns. Seriously. This is why you are failing at them. Facebook should be 50% listening, 25% responding and 25% talking (more or less).
  6. Campaigns should be part of content, not the other way around - content done in brief spurts and ebbs and flows just doesn't work (see #1). It takes time to build an audience, engage them enough to keep them coming back and delight them to the point of wanting to share to their own friends (they have their own audiences and goals). I've talked about how content bursts with long silences between hurt your audience on YouTube, but it works the same way in many social mediums and Facebook's Edgerank is one of them.

Marketers have to learn to work with content people (photographers, videographers, writers, journalists, graphic designers, artists, etc) on their strategy. Creativity and strategy are intertwined. In fact, the strategic process should look something like this:

Screen Shot 2013-06-02 at 3.28.26 PM
Screen Shot 2013-06-02 at 3.28.26 PM

...and you should enter this loop at learning. (note: I usually remove the launching/promoting part until a few cycles of learning, planning, implementing, learning, planning, implementing...)

The beauty of Facebook is that it is inexpensive and content rich and sky is the limit when it comes to creating engaging content AND everybody is there, hanging out, looking for great distractions. In addition, I don't believe there are many brands that do it right, so you have every opportunity in the world to raise the bar. Don't blame the tool, especially when it's implemented features that benefit the users you are trying to reach. Take a closer look at your own content. Are you engaging? Are you creating content your fans would be excited to share? Are you creating value? Improving knowledge? Lives? Are you making your customers' lives simpler, less confusing, less alienating, more efficient, more meaningful and just plain better? Or are you just adding to the noise?

Abandoning Facebook would be like cutting off your nose to spite your face. It's a great tool if you understand that it isn't a billboard. And remember, it's much less expensive and gives you all sorts of ways to hear from your audience and understand who you are hearing from (which is very difficult with a billboard).

So stop writing 'woe is me' posts and start respecting the medium and your audience. Trust me, you'll change your tune.


* I really shouldn't lump all of us in the same boat. I love Edgerank and think it's a beautiful and user-centric feature for Facebook. It just makes me work harder to create engaging content and I love a good challenge. I know there are great marketers out there who get this, too.