Are You Creative?

“Every child is an artist, the problem is staying an artist when you grow up”
– Pablo Picasso

I’ve been spending a lot of time learning about creative people lately, and it’s gotten me thinking about the idea of creativity. I find myself wondering how these individuals that we view as being great creative minds actually work. You might say that creativity as an inherent trait that some are born with and others without. And to some extent, you’d be right. However, I also believe that creativity is intrinsic to our humanity. We are born creative beings. We learn to problem solve, associate, and communicate in new ways at an incredibly rapid pace throughout our formative years. What’s more, our ancestors have been doing that and moving us collectively forward for generations. I think that creativity is baked into our DNA. It’s hard for me to believe, therefore, that only the chosen few are capable of true creativity. I think that it’s more likely that these individuals have somehow retained and honed the skills they had as children as they first learned how to navigate this world. And I think that those of us who have forgotten those skills can regain them. Do I believe that we can learn to be the next Steve Jobs? Not really. But I am saying that you can become the Steve Jobs of your own life. You can use the skills of creativity to revolutionize your profession, your relationships, and your ability to genuinely express yourself.

I’m learning how do to this by studying the lives of creatives that I admire and I’ll be sharing my thoughts on it over the next month or so. How do you find ways to be more creative?

It’s A New Year – 2013 Edition

It’s that time of year again – when I say that I’m going to start blogging again and lay out all my plans for doing so. But I’ve decided that there are very few people who enjoy reading all about what other people are planning. Sure, I understand the psychology of making your goals public so that others can help put peer pressure on you and hold you accountable. But still, not very fun to read.

So rather than giving you a big list of goals, let me leave you with a list of quotes that are inspiring me in pursuit of my goals.

“How many a man has dated a new era in his life from the reading of a book.”
-Henry David Thoreau

“Motivation is what gets you started. Habit is what keeps you going.”
-Jim Rohn

“There is nothing noble in being superior to your fellow man; true nobility is being superior to your former self.”
-Ernest Hemingway

“Everybody has talent, but ability takes hard work.”
-Michael Jordan

“How noble and good everyone could be if, every evening before falling asleep, they were to recall to their minds the events of the whole day and consider exactly what has been good and bad. Then without realizing it, you try to improve yourself at the start of each new day.”
-Anne Frank

What’s inspiring you to make a better year for yourself?

Perception vs. Reality

The longer I work in the inbound marketing/Internet community, the more and more I start to feel like the Internet world is the real world. Traditional news is irrelevant. Most young people get Twitter. Everybody at least reads blogs. And then I step into the REAL real world and realize that as large as my Internet world seems, it’s still dwarfed by the reality that surrounds it.

Hello World (2012 Edition)

It’s a new year, and I’m in a new city, a new state, a new job paradigm, and I’m really excited about it. This is going to be a year of discovery, a year of growth, and a year of success. It’s the year that I harness the power of positive thinking. It’s the year that I discover my passion. It’s the year I begin living the life I’ve always wanted. It’s the start of a brand-new journey, a brand new-opportunity, and a brand-new me. It’s a new world out there, and I’m in it. It’s also the start of a new blogging push from me. I’ll be chronicling my adventures here – mistakes made, lessons learned, habits formed,  and missions accomplished. I may throw in some book reviews (one of my goals is to read a couple of books a month), so watch out for that.

And to you readers who have hung in there during my long hiatus from blogging, this is the year that I come back, with a new, compassionate, informative, and hopefully entertaining blogging style. Let’s make 2012 a year of positive change – together.

What are you changing to make your life better this year?

Crossing The Chasm: Part 1

I chose “Crossing the Chasm” by Geoffrey A. Moore because it lays out some of the fundamental marketing problems I have and will encounter as a high tech marketer. It provides the context that I need to determine how to use the rest of the knowledge I’m about to absorb. Now let’s get to it:

Chapter 1 – High Tech Marketing Illusion

This is how the traditional high-tech marketing model progresses, theoretically:

 

Technology Life Cycle Bell Curve

The technology adoption life cycle for disruptive (discontinuous) technologies

It’s a continuous curve, and a company should move pretty smoothly from segment to segment.

Here’s a quick rundown about the people who make up each segment:

Innovators – They care about the tech, the elegance or creativity of a technology at solving the problem.

Early adopters – They care less about the actual tech and more about what it can do for them. Looking for a quantum leap forward.

The early majority – They are pragmatic. They’ll go with new(ish) tech, but only to keep up. They want tested, stable tech.

The late majority – They’ll change when they have to. Generally uncomfortable with most technology, they want easy-to-use, mature, widely adopted tech.

Laggards – They hate you, your technology, and the kids that get on their lawn. They not only hate your tech, they’ll try to convince others to stay away as well.

Here’s how the model actually unfolds:

Tech Lifecycle Bell Curve w/ Chasm

It’s not a continuous curve, there are gaps between each segment where a company can fall. You fall by not successfully moving from one segment to the next (e.g. getting stuck with the early adopter crowd but nobody in the early majority adopts). Most gaps are thin, but the chasm is huge, which brings us to…

Chapter 2 – High Tech Marketing Enlightenment

For discussion’s sake, a high tech market is defined as

  • a set of actual or potential customers
  • for a given set of products or services
  • who have a common set of needs or wants, and
  • who reference each other when making a buying decision.

My note: The last point gets emphasized by Moore, and at the time of writing, gaps like geography and discipline, were critical. As he puts it, a doctor in Zaire isn’t in the same market as a doctor in Boston. However, with the expansion of the Internet, those markets really are becoming global, because communication is a lot easier. It’s now a lot easier for the doctor in Zaire to read a review or get some feedback from the doctor in Boston than it used to be. So basically, your markets can be a lot bigger, even by Moore’s definition. However, I think that geography in particular is still useful in segmenting your markets.

Early Markets – Innovators and early adopters. Innovators find and explore new tech, early adopters check with innovators to find new technological solutions for problems.

Early Market Problems

  • Problem 1: Crappy segmentation and positioning – you bit off more than you can chew. To fix it? Go find a pond where you can be the biggest fish. Once you dominate that pond, go “pond-hopping” until you capture the market.

    My note: this has the feel of solid advice for any entrepreneur.

  • Problem 2: Vaporware – You promised that big-time C-level exec some crazy stuff and now you have to make it. As you try to produce, you find out that you overpromised and you can’t deliver. Now, everybody’s unhappy, and you’re dead in the water. There’s only one thing for it: try to find something useful in all the crap you just built and sell it to someone that likes it. Welcome to a much smaller pond.

    My note: This reminds me of the product validation tour story they told me when I started at Instructure. Basically, the founders went on a road trip and just dropped in on administrators at a dozen or so colleges and universities. However, rather than selling them a product that didn’t exist, they asked them what the ideal product would look like if they could build it. After taking copious notes, the founders came back, sat down, and figured out what they could actually build given their resources. However, they hadn’t promised anything, so there was nobody to upset or let down, and the founders were the only stakeholders (fewer cooks in the kitchen). This allowed them to build a product that the market wanted, without having to kowtow to particular early adopters to develop their product. If I ever launch a tech product, this is how I’m going to do it.

  • Problem 3: Marketing fails to define benefits – This time they don’t figure out how to get past the “this technology is so geeky/cool/revolutionary” message for innovators to the “this is how our tech can save you money/increase your sales” message for early adopters.

    My note: Let’s face it, if you can’t talk ROI with a potential client, you’re probably not going to be financially successful. There’s not a huge mainstream market for technology for technology’s sake.

Mainstream Markets – Early majority and late majority. These guys make up the vast bulk of any market. The early majority is the leader who adopts technology; the late majority tends to follow along behind.

Mainstream Market Problems

  • Problem 1: Stop improving your current product to fund new product development elsewhere – This has been the death of a lot of companies who were once mainstream market leaders.

    My note: This reminds me of a few companies: Novell, Blackboard, Inc., and one other that I’m pretty familiar with.

  • Problem 2: Shoot yourself in the flagship product – You updated your product and guess what? It blows and now nobody wants it. Some companies get smart and fix it. Some don’t and allow small startup companies to come in and start taking away marketshare. 🙂

A Note About Laggards

So at first blush, my thought was that you should just ignore these guys. After all, I believe in not feeding the trolls or wasting time with people who are determined to hate me. There are just too many other willing buyers and advocates. However, Moore made me think twice. He mentioned that while they’re not a great market to sell to, they’re a bit like the “canary in the coal mine.” They’ll be the very first to point out where your marketing and sales pitches don’t match up with the actual product. Pay attention and it’ll keep you honest and show you where to improve your product.

THE CHASM

And here we are at the point of all this (finally). The reason why there’s a chasm and not just a gap between early adopters and the early majority is because the early majority is scared and they need references from people like themselves to make a buying decision. This creates a “catch-22” where a company can’t get into the early majority segment unless it has references from the early majority and it can’t get references from the early majority unless it gets into the early majority segment. This is a problem. And why won’t the early majority refer to the early adopters for buying decisions? Turns out the early majority hates early adopters because:

  • Early adopters don’t respect their colleagues’ experiences – After all, this is what makes them innovative. Everyone else has been doing it wrong and they can see a waaaaaay better way.
  • Early adopters love technology more than they love their industry – They’d much rather be on Engadget than reading an industry blog. This makes them look unfocused and flighty to the pragmatists of the early majority.
  • Early adopters don’t account for existing infrastructure – They’d rather just build new, from the ground up. This is infuriating to the early majority, who worry about interoptability and care about best practices.
  • Early adopters are disruptive – Moore puts it best: “From a pragmatist’s point of view, visionaries are the people who come in and soak up all the budget for their pet projects. If the project is a success, they take all the credit, while the pragmatists get stuck trying to maintain a system that is so “state-of-the-art” no one is quite sure how to keep it working. If the project fails, visionaries always seem to be a step ahead of the disaster, getting out of town while they can, and leaving the pragmatists to clean up the mess.”

Next post >> Crossing the Chasm: Part 2 (or how to actually cross the chasm)

The Road To Marketing Enlightenment

So for a while I’ve been doing this thing where, when I read a great blog post or a cool business book, I’ll take notes in a black notebook that I keep specifically for that purpose. I’ve found that it helps me to remember what I read, and makes a handy reference when I want to go back and check something for more detail. Think of it as something of a swipe file.

At the same time, since I last wrote I’ve since taken a new job as The Marketing Department at Instructure, a small edu-oriented startup. This new job has shown me just how much my marketing education is lacking. To rectify the situation, I’ve come up with a list of influential advertising and marketing books, which I intend to read and take notes on. This brings me to my point: instead of keeping my notes in my black notebook, I think I’m going to try to keep them on this blog. That way, if you’ve read (or are reading) the same book, you can point out to me the obvious points that I have no doubt that I’ll miss. And maybe, if you haven’t read the book, you’ll still be able to glean some of the wisdom contained therein. At very least, you’ll get to see what happens when I try something I read about.

Also, I make no promises as to frequency of my posts, but I’m hoping for a post a week, at least.

As for my reading queue, here’s the list as it currently stands:

  • “CROSSING THE CHASM” – Geoffrey A. Moore
  • “THE E-MYTH REVISITED” – Michael E. Gerber
  • “ALL MARKETERS ARE LIARS TELL STORIES” – Seth Godin
  • “INFLUENCE: THE PSYCHOLOGY OF PERSUASION” – Robert B. Cialdini
  • “MADE TO STICK” – Chip and Dan Heath
  • “TRUST AGENTS” – Chris Brogan and Julien Smith
  • “POSITIONING: THE BATTLE FOR YOUR MIND” – Al Ries and Jack Trout
  • “CRUSH IT” – Gary Veynerchuck
  • “PURPLE COW” – Seth Godin
  • “HEY, WHIPPLE. SQUEEZE THIS: A GUIDE TO CREATING GREAT ADVERTISING” – Luke Sullivan
  • “OGILVY ON ADVERTISING” – David Ogilvy
  • “GOOD TO GREAT: WHY SOME COMPANIES MAKE THE LEAP AND OTHERS DON’T”  – Jim Collins
  • “THE 22 IMMUTABLE LAWS OF BRANDING” – Al Ries
  • “ADVERTISING, SECRETS OF THE WRITTEN WORD” – Joseph Sugarman
  • “THE 22 IMMUTABLE LAWS OF BRANDING” – Al Ries and Laura Ries
  • “WHERE THE SUCKERS MOON: THE LIFE AND DEATH OF AN ADVERTISING CAMPAIGN” – Randall Rothenberg
  • “THE BOOK OF GOSSAGE” – Howard Luck Gossage
  • “BLINK: THE POWER OF THINKING WITHOUT THINKING”  – Malcom Gladwell
  • “ICE TO THE ESKIMOS” – Jon Spoelstra

What do you think? Anything I’m missing in here?

(Thanks to AdAge.com and a few other sites and sources for the recommendations.)

Creating a Social Media Content Schedule

In my last post I discussed four kinds of social media content that are generally successful on social media. In this post, I want to take your social media content implementation to the next level.

One of the emerging buzzwords in corporate social media is “content schedule.” This isn’t a new concept, neither is it particularly complicated. However, as companies venture deeper and deeper into social media’s broad territory, it is becoming more and more critical to have some kind of overarching framework from which individual channels are managed.

After all, when you’re talking about managing multiple social media channels, each with its own set of unique needs, requirements, and content, things can get overwhelming quickly and pretty soon channels start to go unwatched and unloved. Creating a content schedule helps with this, because it allows you to see in a discrete and orderly fashion what content is needed where.

It also allows you to see relationships between channels, like when you need to follow up a killer blog post with an equally killer tweet. So here you go: this is my system for coming up with a social media content strategy. As with pretty much anything I post here, there are a million ways to go about it. However, these are the things I’ve found to be the most effective to think about when creating a social media content schedule:

  1. Channels – First of all, think about where you want to manage your brand’s presence. With hundreds of social media channels available, you can’t manage a presence on all of them, nor would you want to, since your customers (both present and future) are probably only congregating on a few sites. The obvious channels to talk about here are Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, and MAYBE MySpace or LinkedIn. However, there are so many smaller niche networks, that you might find a great little gathering of perfect prospects on some obscure site. So how do you find them? There are a few ways, some more expensive than others. First, you could pay for a social media listening tool like Radian6 or Techrigy SM2. Just punch in your brand terms and see what pops up. Another (free) option is to look at referring sites in your site analytics. Keep an eye out for good amounts of traffic coming from social media sites. Finally, do a search on Google for one of your main keywords and in the left-hand column, select the “latest” option to see the latest real-time search results. That can let you know where conversations are taking place. Browse a few pages, get a feel for volume, and look for surprises (like a niche social network).
  2. Frequency – Decide how often you’re reasonably able to post to each channel. Be realistic, and then set a goal slightly below. Believe me, it’s easier to start small and realize that you have enough content to bump your frequency up than it is to start too fast and then realize that you’ve run out of things to say. When starting a blog, for example, I think having the goal to post just once a week is a great idea. It’s easy to expand that number if necessary, and you don’t feel as much pressure in the meantime. Sooner than later, you’ll get the hang of the blog thing and get some company-wide help (hopefully) and then you can bump the frequency up a notch or two without causing yourself to burn out.
  3. Content – This is the magic part of the calendar where you get to decide what gets posted where. While I’ve already written about types of content to post, you have to tailor that content to the various channels you’re calendaring. Also, here’s a tip for populating a content schedule quickly – come up with themes (hopefully pulled from either your business goals and needs or your SEO keywords, or both!) and then turn them into recurring features. For example, if you sell snowboards, on the first Tuesday of every month, you might write about the board of the month. That way, every first Tuesday, you know what you have to write about. This has the added benefit of building expectations with your readership. So keep an eye on which recurring features get no  comments and shares. Drop them and keep trying to fill the space with new ones that are more engaging. A little trial and error later, and you’ll have a killer lineup of recurring content that your readers are anxiously waiting to consume and share.
  4. Help – Once you know what your content needs are, you can start looking around within your company for people to help you create said content. Believe me, your life will be easier and your content more engaging if you can vary the source from whence it comes. If you’ve got a series on shoe design, find the biggest clothes horse you know and ask them to create some stuff. If they’re passionate about it, they should have no problem coming up with some content that speaks to other enthusiasts in an authentic way, and that’s the kind of content that gets shared and reshared.
  5. Flex, Rinse and Repeat – As with anything scheduled, your content plans will be thrown awry. People will miss deadlines, emergencies will crop up, and new ideas will occur. Don’t be afraid to adjust the schedule to accommodate them. That’s one of the gifts of working with social media; you have the ability to be incredibly flexible. If you find yourself making the same adjustments repeatedly, make it permanent. Just make sure that the schedule works, or you’ll stop using it and it will have been a colossal waste of time.

So that’s it. That’s my magic advice. Do you use a publishing schedule, and if so, what do you do to create it?

Four Kinds of Successful Social Media Content

Back when I was getting started in SEO, I quickly learned the adage “content is king,” meaning that creating high-quality content is the first and most essential element to good SEO. But while this idea is still debated in SEO circles, it’s a virtual certainty in social media. If you want to hold on to the attention of your audience, you have to have compelling content. So what constitutes compelling content? Here are some proven content ideas that perform well on social media:

  • New information – This includes breaking news, original research, and unique conclusions or ideas.
    • Ideas – Create a whitepaper. Share interesting statistics from your business. Think about what your audience finds interesting and provide unique insight about it.
  • Infographics – Interesting facts centered around a specific topic and represented graphically so as to make them easier to digest.
  • Humor – This is fairly obvious to describe, but more difficult to execute. Some of the
    • Ideas – Really the best advice I can give you is to look inside your organization and think about the funny stuff that happens inside the office. What do you laugh about around the water cooler? Try to adapt those ideas to your business. Your other option? Find the funniest coworkers you know and ask them to brainstorm together.
  • Contests – This takes some investment in both time and money, but it’s worth it when properly executed. Contests can range from a sweepstakes (Twitter retweet contests, Facebook “Like” contests) to actual contests (like photo contests, email essay contests, or other judged events).
    • Ideas – Think about your goals. Do you want more followers/fans? Run a sweepstakes where following/”liking” is a requirement. Want  engagement from current fans (and some user-generated content)? Run a photo/essay/video contests.

This is in no way a complete list. There are countless other methods and ideas, and some of the biggest successes in social media have come from outside the box. That said, social media is a science, and these are some proven avenues of success. What kinds of content have you found to be successful with your corporate social media?

Creating a Social Media Content Schedule

5 Steps To Better Social Media ROI Measurement

One of the biggest issues corporate social media faces is the problem of explaining how much these channels are actually worth, in dollars. There are a lot of great resources when it comes to answering that question- this article from Mashable provides an excellent primer on how to get started with “the metric to end all metrics.” While much of ROI calculation is just straightforward math, it also requires a little creativity. Here are 5 steps to think about when you’re considering how to quantify your actual fiscal contribution.

  1. Make a list of which social media activities you regularly engage in. Do you answer product questions? Support requests? Recommend your product/service? Drop links to viral campaigns that drive visitors to your site? There are endless numbers of things you could be doing. You just need to catalog them.
  2. Think about how each of those items on the list impact the business. Do they result in sales? Positive press mentions? Lower churn? Make sure you have a positive business outcome for each action you take. If you can’t come up with a positive business result for some of your actions, consider not engaging in that activity.
  3. Take your activities and divide them into two categories- those that create new revenue, and those that create cost savings. For example, answering product questions instead of sending it to the sales team is a cost savings for the company, whereas driving traffic to a signup page via a blog article results in new revenue (hopefully).
  4. Figure out how to attach a dollar amount to each activity. When it comes to determining revenue generation, it’s fairly simple. First, use tracking links wherever possible (custom tracking links in conjunction with link shorteners, etc.). Second, keep a detailed timeline of your social media activities, so that you can measure increases in sales against the baseline. Coinciding increases can be connected with your campaigns (albeit somewhat circumstantially). When it comes to cost savings, things are a little bit more difficult. To better explain, I’ll demonstrate through my own experience. One of the activities I spend a lot of time doing is solving support issues via Twitter. To calculate the dollar savings of that activity, I talked to our support people and found out how long the average support call takes. Then I determined the median wage for a support tech. This gave me an approximate cost per call (a lot support managers will already know this number, you just have to ask). With that number, I could now demonstrate a cost savings for every request I took off of supports’ hands.
  5. Think outside the box. After examining the obvious ways that your activities generate revenue and cost-savings, look at other side benefits your activities generate. For example, if you’ve created some evangelists along the way and you observe one of them taking on support questions proactively, you could count each incident as additional cost savings (as per the last example). After all, if you hadn’t contacted that evangelist, odds are good that the customer would be talking to your support people instead. The same thing goes for purchase recommendations from evangelists.

So that’s my $.02 on the process that I go through when considering the financial impact of my corporate social media activities. What’s the process you use to determine the ROI for your your social media activities?