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Brandstorming is a team blog written by Jim and Franki Durbin. We like to think of it as our idea playground.
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Friday, June 30, 2006

Mindcomet Blog says linkbaiting is bad

One of Mindcomet's blogs (the marketing company behind PayPerPost.com) thinks that companies should avoid link-baiting because it ruins branding efforts.

If a company were to ignore the need for fresh creative ideas and use the link baiting method, it could drastically harm their branding effort. Worse than the lack of consumer’s interest, if consumers caught on to the fact they were being baited, the company would have an extremely difficult time ever building strong relationships with consumers in the future. Once a company has been caught baiting consumers, the branding campaign is essentially lost. (italics mine)
Link-baiting is a technique where you write posts that match the most-searched words of the day or pick terms and topics that are outside of your normal blog focus. It's also called writing for traffic.

What makes no sense is if Mindcomet the company has employees who think link-baiting is bad for a company brand, how could they possibly support PayPerPost.com, where bloggers are paid to write positive posts?

It stinks to high heaven it does.

Yet another post I was not paid to write.


PayPerPost.com should be renamed PaidShills.com

shill (n) One who poses as a satisfied customer or an enthusiastic gambler to dupe bystanders into participating in a swindle.

v. shilled, shill·ing, shills
v. intr. To act as a shill.v. tr.
  1. To act as a shill for (a deceitful enterprise).
  2. To lure (a person) into a swindle.
I keep warning clients and bloggers about things like this, but some people in the marketing and advertising business don't understand. From more sources than I can count comes a new service from a marketing firm in Tampa.

Pay-per-post is a new service that allows bloggers to be paid for posting about products without being required to disclose their financial relationship. The next time you read a blogger touting a restaurant, some food, a shoe brand, a car, a newspaper, or any other product, you now have to wonder if they are being paid, and if they are being honest.

Jeremiah knows Ted Murphy, the guy running the program, and Ted comments on Jeremiah's site. He's also on TechCrunch. Business Week asks if Ted is polluting the blogosphere.

Ted Murphy is not alone in this endeavor. There are a lot of marketing and advertising people pitching fake blogs, leaving fake comments, paying teenagers to act as Buzz Agents, and basically leaving all ethics at the door. PayPerPost says the act of disclosure is not required, as they're leaving it up to the individual blogger to make that choice.

I'm struggling to come up with the right analogy. Selling arms to third world countries? Selling drugs to children? Giving campaign finance contributions to politicians and not requiring them to craft laws to your advantage? That's probably the closest.

Paying money without disclosure leaves the door wide open to fraud. And I believe that Ted's program is going to backfire for his clients. The public doesn't mind being sold to, but being lied to is too much, and there's no way that Ted can honestly say that individuals (I won't call them bloggers) won't take advantage of his program.

Do I now need a disclosure on every post I write? The internet is already a place where you can't be trusted without building a reputation. Enter Ted Murphy who taints us all and pretends that the problem won't affect those who act in an ethical manner.

I'll make a prediction - this service will fail to catch on with premium brands when the bad press catches up to the companies advertising with PayPerPost.com. At the same time, it sets back the professional business blogosphere in our attempt to be taken seriously.

Blogs flatten hierarchies and focus sunlight on deceptive practices. They make no sense and have no value if they themselves are part of those deceptive practices.

-Jim Durbin, Director Corporate Communications, Durbin Media Group

Jim Durbin is not a paid shill for any company and objects strongly to those who are.

p.s. PaidShills.com is available as a domain name.

Cracked Coffee Cups and New Blog Designs

I was wrong and I admit it. I finally came around. I can admit that I, a man, was wrong, and I see the error of my ways. My wife was right, as she is on so many things, and I don't want comments rubbing it in.

See, we did need new coffee cups.

Our cabinet is full of coffee cups. It could be said that the man of the house has in fact never thrown a coffee cup away. It isn't planned. We're not saving up for a new coffee shop or planning a big caffeine party, and our house is already not big enough to hold a gathering to use all of the coffee cups we have now. I just don't throw cups away, because then I know we'll have to buy new ones.

"Our cups are chipped," says Franki. "So what", says I. "They still hold liquid, and unless they pose a physical danger, they're good enough. We've no need to buy more!" We were at an impasse, until a Pottery Barn gift certificate from my mother and father broke the tie. Off we marched to the mall to look for more dishes, and Franki convinced me to add four coffee cups to the order. Why not? We had money left on the gift certificate.

And thus we come to where I admit I was wrong. Wow. What a difference. Coffee tastes... better, because I'm not distracted by little breaks in the porcelain. The cups look better, all clean and chip free, and I swear I feel the house looks better. See, I didn't know that new cups would make such a difference, because the old cups were functional.

The new cups are functional and they look better, which improves your coffee-drinking experience. It seems so obvious in hindsight, and yet something stoppped me for 10 months from buying new cups. Pride? Fear of spending money on something we didn't need? Fear of wasting money when I had something that already worked?

Yes, Yes and Yes. Which is funny, because the feelings I have are often the same ones that our clients have when they see our prices for blog and website design.

  1. I already have a design, and it functions.
  2. Why design something new, when a template works just as well?
  3. No one has complained so far, what's the point of making changes?

All of these questions are based on a lack of understanding of the difference between professional design and something functional. I know, because I had the problem distinguishing between the two for years, even though I was a technical recruiter who placed web designers. I didn't consider design to be as important as development, just as I didn't consider the coffee cup to be part of the enjoyment of coffee. They're both important, and they're both necessary, and you can't tell what you're missing until you get a chance to compare.

Design matters. Who knew?

So why did I write? Are you reading a pitch in disguise, a plea to use our services cleverly masked behind orange cups and Trader Joes' Half Caf. Not at all, it's my mea culpa, both to my wife and to the design community in general.

I get it. I've come around. I respect what you do. And if you come over, I'll make you a nice cup of coffee.

Thursday, June 29, 2006

Identity Fraud Gone Wild

Identity Fraud is a scary thing. The statistics and the stories that are broadcast daily about stolen laptops are downplayed, if that's possible.

Credit has a huge impact on your ability to improve your monetary position. Good credit means cash flow, lower interest rates, and more flexibility. Bad Credit can prevent you from getting a job, getting an apartment, and can run you thousands of extra dollars a year.

In the last year, Franki and I have received three notices from companies stating portions of our identities were stolen. We get a letter in the mail telling us to check our credit reports, and then nothing. I checked with our State Farm Insurance, but they don't offer identity theft insurance yet, and I'm wary of paying large fees to credit card companies for what seems to be little protection if your identity is truly stolen.

Scared yet? We applied for a credit card this week - we did it online. With just a name and a social security number, we were able to get approval. Nothing else - which means someone could have stolen our mail, filled out the form online, and camped out near our mailbox waiting for the card. And we wouldn't know, as they could easily change the mailing address when they got the card, or spend free for a month until the bill came.

Money may be precious, but here's something worse. A story about a man murdered by a thief after his identity was stolen. Tracy Coenen of the aptly named Fraud Files reports a story about a identity theft victim who was murdered. Now granted, the story also has some ex-wife mischief and some Canadian drumming mixed in, but the headline was enough to send chills down my spine.

And maybe that's part of the story - Identity Theft is the new SUV scare, easy to publish, so this grisly story gets more attention because the victim, in addition to being killed, was also ripped off. It's similar to news reports on car crashes where the word SUV replaces the words "driver" or the "vehicle" (The SUV drove off from the bank robbery, the SUV rolled over the child...).

But Identity theft is supposedly the next big thing - three letters in a year scares me for sure. I wonder how much risk, and what the best preventative measures are?

It also might help if we stopped watching It Takes a Thief.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Business Blogging Best Practice: CBS News

That may seem like a strange title, considering the history of conservative bloggers and Dan Rather, but I received an e-mail from a CBS News blogger that I would identify as a best practice for corporate bloggers.

Melissa McNamara sent me a note that the CBS News Blog had linked my post giving advice to Comcast on how to handle the technician who fell asleep on the couch controversy.

It was a short e-mail, simply informing me that they had linked my blog. It came directly from Melissa's address. Why is this a big deal?

1) E-mails informing other bloggers of your links are a courtesy. Melissa didn't ask for a reciprocal link. She provided me her link so I didn't have to look it up. She spelled my name and that of our blog correctly. If you look at the number of daily links in the CBS post, that's a lot of e-mails. It's a major inconvenience, but she does it anyway. That's good blogging etiquette, and in short supply.

2) She promoted her blog and mine at the same time. I've created a link back to her post, to show my readers that I was linked. It's perfectly acceptable to do so, but I did it because she didn't ask for it. Too many companies (and too many bloggers) focus on the link, instead of on the gesture.

3) She changed my mind about CBS with one e-mail and set the stage for future questions. I don't know anyone at CBS, and my knowledge of them and blogs is relegated to Rathergate. I had heard that they started a blog operation, but haven't checked it out because of a negative review from another blogger over a year ago. Knowing that they have a blog in operation, and a person behind it, means in the future, I will check her blog for mentions of stories about CBS. I'm also adding them to my reading list, so she increased their traffic.

There's another issue that's important. If anything major happens to CBS, I would be looking for the viewpoint of CBS as a counterweight to any other source I read. With one simple e-mail, Melissa has ensured that I will at least check the CBS version of a story before writing. If it's information I am reporting, I would contact Melissa to verify the story, giving them valuable lead time ahead of the blogopshere.

Do you get it? I may be only one blogger, but multiply the numbers of e-mails she sends out notifying other bloggers of links, and CBS now has an ear to the ground. No big story will catch them unaware, and they have the opportunity to counter false stories with their own viewpoint. If someone falsely accuses them, they will at least get the benefit of the doubt.

That's a huge PR win, for a small effort.

Yes, I'm happy CBS News linked my post and sent traffic my way, but more important, I'm impressed that they are using a Business Blogging Best Practice. Kudos to them.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Message Buzz Interview

Over at StlRecruiting.com, I have an e-mail interview of MessageBuzz, a mobile messaging company from St Louis up.

There are some interesting insights into your phone is being added to the tool of marketing professionals. I wondered where the right place to put the interview might be - on this blog or a the StlRecruiting site. That site is more St Louis based, but it's also, um, about recruiting, ostensibly, as was pointed out by a commenter.

So I left the message pointing to the site, but will have to do a better job deciding what goes where in the future.

By the way, the important message you should take from this post is this:

The following is an interview with Steven Kelly, the president of MessageBuzz, a mobile messaging company based in St Louis. If you are a St Louis based technology company or a St Louis company that blogs, e-mail jdurbin@durbinmedia.com for an e-mail interview.

Monday, June 26, 2006

Burn, Baby Burn

We've switched our RSS feed from Atom to Feedburner. If you're a subscriber (and we hope you are ;) you'll want to grab the new feed.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Why I'm nutty for Southwest

Southwest has always been a fun-loving (or should I say 'luving') airline. Somehow they've always managed to make a cramped flight entertaining. There's nothing like the shock of landing in Miami after dark and having the pilot wish you a good time in Dallas. The staff has always had a penchant for timely humor and good fun. But lately I'm beginning to admire them for their bravery in terms of their online efforts.

By now most of you have seen the company blog. From the peanuts to the tone, the blog does a great job of reinforcing the brand and furthering the Southwest essence. It's fun, it's candid, it's fresh. But yesterday Gary Kelly, the CEO, made his first post on the blog to openly address the issue of assigned seating. Brave move for a topic as controversial as this one. The airline will begin testing assigned seating next month, and Gary wants to hear all about it. This attempt to change Southwest's open seating policy is likely to have travelers tossing peanuts across the aisles. Just the attempt at change is controversial, but Gary is opening the dialog and asking for input.

Not every officer would place him or herself in front of the firing squad - but more should. The truth is that your best customers have strong opinions one way or another. And few of them are quiet about their thoughts. But if you aren't listening to them you've lost an organic focus group. Offering them a place to engage in conversation with you is the best way to clearly understand the market you are serving.

Have an opinion? Be sure to weigh in.

Comcast Should Have Hired Bloggers

Corporate Lawyer: We can't afford to allow our employees to blog. What happens if someone posts negative information about our company?
Corporate Executive: Blogging is a waste of time. There's no ROI for a bunch of guys in their pajamas writing their opinions.
PR Firm to Corporate Executive: Blogs are for amateurs. Trust us to take care of your message for you.
Marketing Firm to Corporate Executive: We've looked at blogs and they just aren't worth the hassle.

blogger: This guy from Comcast just feel asleep on my couch because he was put on hold for over an hour with his own company. I'm going to take a video of it and post it on YouTube.

Watch the video as Brian Finkelstein, a blogger trying to get to the premiere of Snakes on a Plane, just created some great press for himself, and thoroughly embarasses Comcast.

I wonder what how much this is going to cost Comcast. I wonder how much press this is going to get. I wonder if that tech is going to lose his job. I wonder if Comcast even knows that this video has been posted and is making the rounds.

So rather than bashing Comcast for poor customer service, let's take a look at steps they could have taken to alleviate the problem if they had a blog.

1) Link to the video from the Comcast blog. Comcast screwed up, and admitting it is the first step to take. Link the video, admit how embarassing it is, and call up Brian to personally apologize. Give him six months worth of free service.
2) Work to correct the problem. The problem is not the poor tech. It's the fact that cable service is a mockery, and everyone from sitcoms to comedians to average customers make fun of the service of cable guys. They even made a movie about it!
3) Don't fire the tech. Make him into a commercial where he drinks a lot of coffee. Turn this around. Use the guy as an example of how they are improving.
4) Highlight your successes by tracking progress. Highlight your successes. Make your improvements public.
5) Focus on other positive ways you can use blog marketing.

Seriously, if you are a corporate customer wondering about the ROI of blogging, you ought to pick up the phone and call a blog consultant. CGM is moving so fast that you really need the experienced help. If you have questions, get in touch with us.

Hat Tip: Church of the Customer Blog

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Taming The RSS Beast: Or at least selling it.

Des Walsh is a business blogging evangelist who often finds himself fighting the tendency to throw jargon at questions.

RSS is just that kind of monster, especially as the very definition of RSS stands for about three things (Really Simple Syndication), (Real Simple Synchronization), and a host of other, less professional terms.

Wikipedia defines RSS. But Des needs a simple, non-technical way to explain what RSS is and how it affects businesses. He wants the benefits, not the features.

For one aspect in particular - the use and importance of syndication/RSS/newsfeeds - it was impossible not to use some jargon and also challenging to translate the jargon into plain English. But a basic understanding of the role of RSS and how to use it is crucial for having an effective business blog. So it was essential that I find a way to explain it so that it made sense to a business person who could well be totally uninterested in how it works, as distinct from what it does and what it can deliver.
There might be a problem with that. RSS, like blogs and other forms of CGM, suffer from a perception of difficulty. In explaining the features, users and potential users often get lost in the technical jargon like Des suggests. But pitching benefits is a problem as well. Just because a technology can accomplish a task doesn't mean it will accomplish a task.

An example:
RSS feeds from your company blog can be used to deliver content to the newsreaders of your clients. This allows your clients to read your message without having to make the effort to click to your website. RSS thus allows you to be the first person in front of your prospective clients.

The last line is the benefit. The problem is the steps one has to take to deliver that benefit are far more complex the just creating a feed. Claiming that RSS delivers messages to your clients is not true - your information has to be of a certain content, your customer has to have a newsreader, and they have to feel compelled to subscribe to your feed.

If you sell the benefit without describing how to generate that benefit, you're going to be stuck with a lot of dissatisfied customers. Don't get me wrong, I agree with Des that benefit selling has its advantages, but when it comes to blogs, I'm coming around to the principle that full projects with the right customers is the only way to deliver results.

A successful sale of a blog marketing campaign won't ever include the words RSS, precisely because it is a technical issue. RSS is useful only as part of a larger strategy, so why would you sell it as a feature or a benefit? It's like the people who sell the latest software language and pitch it as a reason to buy.

Most of all, RSS is really, truly simple. It has not been widely adopted (less than 2%), and many RSS fans have abandoned their feedreaders after a short infatuation. Rather than focusing on the nuts and bolts of blogging, we should be focused on the benefits or Consumer Generated Media as a whole.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Why are Blogs and Social Media so Popular at This Moment in Time?

One of the top questions we hear from non-bloggers interested in understanding the blogosphere is how a blog differs from a message board or a forum.

For old school Usenet experts and even modern yahoo groups or listserv devotees, blogs seem like lipstick on a pig - more flashy but no different than their software.

And yet, blogs in five short years have eclipsed forums and message boards in popularity, influence, and the ability to make money. Blogs aren't your father's BBS.

Luis Suarez, who writes a social networking blog called Elsua, got me thinking about this issue, when he asks why blogs and wikis are important now, when the technology has been around since at least 1995.

Yes, indeed, the key message towards the successful adoption of both wikis and weblogs, amongst other social software available out there, is not the tools themselves, although there have been huge improvements about usability, scalability and accessibility all along, but more the people themselves. That critical mass of knowledge workers that I have talked about in the past and which are the main responsible parties of this hyped social media tools all along.
The people do make the difference, but three other causes brought together the blogosphere and made it what is today - the ability to control a conversation, the tools that made blogs easy to use for non-techies, and 9-11.

Emergent communities, which form the basis of the growth of social media, work in the same way that gunpowder works. Each of the ingredients on their own do very little. Combining the ingredients incorrectly does very little. But the right ingredients, in the right proportions, lead to an explosion.

These three ingredients mixed in the right proportion, were the initial engine of blogging.

1) The difference in the software is its ease of use and its visual appeal.
Blogs look better than message forums, are easy to maintain, and can be controlled by the owner. This means that the owner has effective control over everything on their site, and the only way to ensure an alternative message is to start your own blog.

That's the social component to blogging - no one can shut you up. Over time, you form your community of like-minded people and you become self-sustaining.

A second key to the software is its short-attention span. UseNet groups require you to scroll through tons of messages that may or may not be relevant. Blogging entries, on the other hand, quickly and easily allow you to skip the subjects unimportant to you. It's a small difference, but as a reader, a blog is better organized and this easier to scour for information than a message forum.

2) Non-techies could use blogs
The ease of use is important because it allowed Subject matter Experts in areas other than technology the quick access to potentially large audiences. A few names come to mind - Glenn Reynolds, Jeff Jarvis, Daily Kos, Bill Whittle, Steven den Beste, VodkaPundit, Dean Esmay, Joanne Jacobs, Allahpundit, Winds of Change...Many of these blogs and bloggers have professional expertise in law, politics, education, even divine comedy. That changes the tenor and the quality of information in the blogs.

Techies can be bright, intelligent, and interesting, but there is also a subculture that is anti-social, immature, and focused a bit too much on video games and pr0n. wOOt! Mass appeal had to move from the tech-sector to professionals with other expertise. The ease of online publishing made that possible.

3) 9-11
The rise of the warbloggers, a center-right constituency of Americans shocked out of complacency and looking for ways to contribute to the national discussion was the single biggest push behind bringing blogs into national prominence. All of a sudden, housewives from Tennessee were discussing Islamofascism in a detailed manner with brokers in New York City. The shock of 9-11 brought a surge of people to the blogs to read, debate, and make a difference. As they joined and started their own blogs, they found new uses, and touched off the political left at places like Daily Kos, Atrios. Politics and Media got national attention, and this lifted the tide for all blogs, including social blogs, tech blogs, and eventually, business blogs.

These three ingredients were key to the success of blogs in 2003, but 2004 and the US presidential election put the final nails in the coffin. The humiliation of CBS news and Dan Rather by bloggers finally made bloggers a household name, and the phenomenon was born.

So the question of why blogs are big now is simple - a mixture of features designed to encourage debate at a time when the country desperately wanted alternatives to the main stream media.

Monday, June 12, 2006

Got a second?

One-second advertisements seem to be getting a lot of buzz, in spite of their (potentially) limited audience. Weeks ago we noticed GE's "One Second Theater" TV commercials which require a DVR to view. Now this concept is heading to a radio station near you. Clear Channel is hoping to sell advertisers one-second long spots in lieu of lengthier (read: pricier) formats.

In the case of the GE spot, the campaign is more of a PR effort than advertising. The buzz generated by the uniqueness of the idea far outweighs the benefit of reading cast bios discovered while replaying the commercial at an incredibly slow speed. It seems gimmicky rather than cool, and signals that BBDO and GE don't have a solid understanding of the TiVo-user mindset. In short: if you're going to hide something in a TV spot just for us, make it worth our while to find it.

A better example of "easter egg" hunting is Sprite's sublymonal.com push. The commercial opens with the copy "DVR Ready" at the bottom of the screen. Without your thumb on the pause button the spot is disturbing enough, but slowing it down reveals even grittier subject matter alongside access codes for the web site. To their credit, it did drive us to the site even if we found the online campaign lacked the necessary hook to keep us engaged. But we applaud the brand's willingness to try something new.

While split second TV spots might allow advertisers to gain the attention of new audiences, one-second radio commercials will require that consumers already "get" the brand. These micro-spots, called blinks, become brand reinforcers. Blinks would be used almost like bumpers between songs or before the news.

But will these be effective? Advertisers have to be savvy to pull it off. What would be the point of hearing the NBC chime between pop songs? On the other hand, hearing Southwest Airline's recognizable "bong" before a radio show about travel makes a lot of sense - as long as the brand is reinforced later in the show with a longer commercial.

Placement will be the key to success with these non-traditional formats. One-second radio spots hold little value without the support of traditional 15-30 second spots nearby. Likewise, we were puzzled when we saw Sprite's "DVR Ready" spot at our local megaplex theater just before the movie started. Note to advertisers: In marketing, as in real estate, location is everything.

BlogAds or AdSense or No Ads at All?

Selling adspace for your blog is not a light decision to make.

For both business and personal blogs, selling an ad changes the tone of your blog, and before you sign up or agree to a banner placement, seriously consider the message you are sending.

Business Blogs

If you have a business blog, the use of blog ads is almost assuredly a no-no. Yes, microbusinesses might benefit from $100 or even $500 a month - but chances are if your traffic is that good, your business is far more successful that an extra $6,000 a year.

With local search ads, the danger of competitors appearing on your blog will only grow. It's a simple calculation.

If you need the money from ads to blog, chances are your blog will be too small to bring in that money.

Paid ads are a little different story. Paid ads have the advantage of targeting, as in you get to choose what you're targeting to your readers. This works particularly well for community blogs and people who stick to one topic. Thus, if you were a retail store selling cartridge ink, a blog ad for cameras would make sense, bringing value to your customers without creating competition.

And that's what paid ads are for:

Paid Ads should be used When they Clearly Bring Value To Your Audience

Personal Blogging

When I first started blogging, making money was a no-no. That has changed, but there is still something different about blogs that have ads.

1) Ads take up valuable space: To make the best money, ads take up valuable space on your blog. Wouldn't you be better off using that space to build an audience?

2) Ads let people know that your blogging is for sale:
The bias of a blogger is a positive when it comes to establishing trust online. That's a positive in my view, because I don't know anyone who doesn't have some kind of bias, and I trust people who admit that right up front. Using ads on your side tells me the blogger has either a) made a conscious choice to make money with their writing, or b) hasn't put much thought at all into their blogging. Both of those situations affect my trust of any particular blog.

That may seem unfair, but I've seen too many people change when the money starts coming in. When a little comes in, they want more. When a lot comes in, they get nervous about losing it.

General Ad advice:

1) If you're going to run ads, check out Blog Ads. Henry Copeland is a blogger - go to the source for ideas and the best way to use ads on your blog
2) Control what goes on your blog. Adult content still has the highest click-through rate, but is that really want you want to be pitching? Even the ads with tee-shirts, or young girls selling hats can turn off your readership. Make sure you know what is going to appear on your blog before you authorize it.
3) Work out private deals to make more money. Speak to individuals to build private ads for more money. For small, targeted blogs, this is a way to maximize that space. Consider sponsorship if you feel strongly about the product.
4) Work towards ROI. Track statistics of your blog ads to see what made the most money for your advertisers. Selecting the right ads and pimping them yourself brings value to all three participants,: you, the advertiser, and the customer.
5) BE OPEN, HONEST, and NEVER LET SOMEONE CALL YOU A SHILL. Don't suck up to advertisers, and explain all of your relationships before writing about a product. You can destroy your credibility, and that of the advertiser if you don't fully disclose your relationship.

-Jim Durbin

Friday, June 09, 2006

Lately my ketchup has lost its kick

Ever try Kick'rs? It is a sublime blend of Tobasco and Heinz ketchup. Let's reveal that I'm not typically a fan of "plain old" burgers and fries, but this product set out to change that. Jim and I both like our food with a little kick. But as a kid growing up, my dad used jalapenos like most fathers used salt: with reckless abandon. No food was out of bounds when it came to adding a little extra heat. So when it came to traditional ketchup, I was never a huge fan. In came Kick'rs. It was a simple yet clever idea that really lived up to its name. For 18 months Jim and I enjoyed better burgers with just the right hit of spice. And then the unthinkable happened... the stores stopped carrying it.

Desperate, we began trying to make it ourselves. For two culinary pros, we never could master this seemingly basic task. There truly is an art to mixing the correct ratio of ketchup to Tobasco. Several mouth-burning meals later we began to dig around the far corners of the net to solve the mystery.

Although there was virtually no information about it in the blogosphere, we did find a replacement product on the Heinz web site. My beloved condiment is being reintroduced as a part of a line called Heinz Ketchup Kickers. The Tobasco-infused variety is still offered, as is a garlic-laced version. The name has changed as has the packaging, but at least it should be available in stores sometime soon. (Until then it appears to be available on Amazon from retailers still clinging to a few bottles.)

Why share this? Because ketchup isn't a product I ever imagined myself seeking out online. Yet I did. Because when you can get someone to love a product like this, people should know. Heinz should know. And because as Malcolm Gladwell would say, the maven in me wants to share this with you so that your life too can be improved. It's grilling season kids. So go out this weekend and grill yourself a few burgers packing a little punch. Your tastebuds (and my dad) will thank you.

Can Corporate Blogging and Fun Coexist?

I write several blogs. All-in-all, I've started about a dozen, and still write for three on a regular basis (Brandstorming being one of them).

For each blog, I have a "voice." It's something that happens when you do a lot of writing - you pick up a persona that becomes distinct from your off-line world and your other blogs. Franki and I now sign our posts because she didn't want my boring, "Corporate Jim" voice cluttering up her blogspace.

For her, blogging is a release - an attempt to write about things she likes. My "voice" for this blog was that of a professor slogging through material to make sure you are prepared for the exam. What's the point of that?

Business blogging is still brand new - no one quite knows the best way to go about it, but we know the world "authentic" is thrown around quite a bit. But what is authentic? Is it the character you take on when you're in front of your grandmother, or the one that you show to your friends at two in the morning at a dark club with loud music? Authenticity is not something that exists in a vaccuum, it exists in context. And the context of a busines blog, is, well, business.

And business is lethal to blogging. So rather than let Franki have all the fun, I'll be trying to blog more of my "authentic" personality. The reason is simple. No one wants to be lectured too, and a blog that only focuses on dry material, while good for search engines, won't capture people's attention the way a man in a red plaid shirt selling paper towels will.

In other news, you might have heard that Recruiting.com was purchased by Jobster. My take, and my part in it is recorded at www.stlrecruiting.com.

What were my initial reactions to the whole deal? I shared a family motto.
See - that's what the fun me is all about.

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Business Bloggers Flog Community Marketing

(Franki and I have split up our posts - prior to today, we both blogged under the same name.)

Two of my favorite business bloggers touched on one of my favorite topics today: community.

Specifically, Community Marketing.

John Jantsch of Duct Tape Marketing pitches the three "C's"
, and Jeremiah Owyang pitches the virtues of building a community around a product launch.

Let's see what these two web geniuses can tell us about why community matters in online marketing.

Jeremiah:

Launching a product with great user zeal requires more than being mentioned on the countless of company launches occurring. Look how many Web 2.0 companies are in existence, (countless list of everything web 2.0) a handful of companies in each category will make it difficult for users to select, and then use. The influencers of any community will guide users toward one or two categories but ultimately, there will only be enough room for 3-4.

John:

Community is taking a group that enjoys your content and contact and finding ways to bring them together to make the content and contact better, more useful, bigger for all. This can be as basic as holding group training or even group client lunches around a theme.


So Jeremiah says that communities allow you to market your product better, and John says Community allows you to improve your content and (connection) with your core audience. So why do companies fail to build community? Why do they build great products and fail to market them to the most likely customers?

1) They don't know who makes up their community of buyers:
Even the savviest marketing strategist can't always predict who will buy a product. Oftentimes the designer and the marketer have an ideal customer in mind, but some other group of customers is better suited for a product. Did you ever hear the story about Novocaine? It was sold as a general anesthetic for years because the owner refused to sell it to dentists. Dentists weren't his ideal customer, so he shunned them. I wonder how much money he lost? So the first lesson is don't be the Novocaine guy. Community marketing gives you real-world information on how your actual customers are using your product.

2) They don't want a community, they want blind, deaf, dumb and rich customers:
The control mechanisms that allow a corporation to function aren't built for a rich customer-corporation interaction. Allowing customer feedback to reach back to a company opens up the door for product changes. Product changes mean delay, cost, expense, and sometimes the head of the person making the big decisions. Far too often, corporate executives would prefer to move forward without customer feedback in order to get a product, any product out the door - even if the design flaws are so egregious that the product is doomed from the start.

3) Building a community is a nice phrase, but it's hard to measure:
Building a community sounds very soft and squishy. Metrics for benefits of community building are difficult to pitch to decision-makers until the community is already built and delivering results. That's not a winning strategy for a marketing pitch.

4) Timing is everything:
Working on a community is a lot like incorporating Usability into software design. To work, the concept of community has to be integrated into the entire workflow. Many companies like the idea of building a community of users, but wait until the product is launched before trying to connect to their audience. At that point, little can be done to correct the first batch of products. You'd better hope you didn't make any mistakes...

A final thought from Jeremiah,

This doesn't mean you have to only build your own community, but also discover and harness existing communities. For long term sustainability, each of these companies in the list needs to deploy a Community Marketing program --the goal of such as program is to cultivate a thriving, ongoing community around your product or company for the ongoing future.


By the way, if you read this post, it's probably the time to mention that community marketing campaigns are a service you might consider hiring Durbin Media Group to perform for you.

Contact us:

Monday, June 05, 2006

Women prefer men like their paper towels: big and strong.

Ahh... leave it to Brawny to bring me the first good laugh of the work week. They are certainly leveraging the appeal of the Brawny Man campaign for all it is worth. And we have to admit - it is effective.

Introducing the Brawny Academy. On June 12 reality TV viewers will be able to watch real husbands learn sensitivity from the Brawny Man himself. We were convinced it was a hoax, but after watching the trailer we are almost inspired to tune in. This integrated marketing approach is worth noticing - especially for a product as "unsexy" as a common paper towel.

The development of the Brawny Man has taken years to perfect. Georgia-Pacific relaunched the brand in '04 after considerable R&D and generous input from consumers. In late '03 thousands of women entered an essay contest to define the ideal rugged lumberjack icon we know today. After years in the #2 spot, the Brawny brand was rebuilt from the ground up with the intent of translating paper towel attributes into emotion - and therefore selling power. The improved product and packaging were reintroduced to the market in the hopes of pushing the paper towel into the #1 position.

If you missed the Innocent Escapes video campaign a few months back, you can still see it online. Aimed at women 25-34, the site and the collection of videos proved to be an incredibly innovative method of marketing a product to target consumers. The premade video clips are very tongue-in-cheek, but any honest woman must admit that the humor is spot on. Ensuring the viral campaign took off, the site allows you to customize your own video and send to a friend. (Imagine Hallmark.com's eCards with a lumberjack.) Clever. Fun. And we loved the brand's willingness to poke fun at themselves. Best of all, Georgia-Pacific only spent 1% of their ad budget on the effort

Competitors take note: Brawny's marketing strategy is creative and intrusive enough make the brand the first in the consumer's mind and the shopping cart. By being relevant and embracing new media integration they've not only slid into the top spot, they've become part of pop culture.

Friday, June 02, 2006

Conventions and Trade Shows

Jeremiah the Web Prophet strikes again - this time with a post on using bloggers for conferences. The idea is to create a kind of blogger press for conventions and tradeshows, providing a man-on-the-street perspective to complement traditional marketing.

One recommendation I gave to a conference organizers of a traditional Marketing conference, was to provide a discount to well known industry bloggers (or let them attend free).

The exposure and press that a blogger would bring to the event is well worth the cost of admission. They will document the speaker presentations, connect with the community, takes notes, provide PR, and be your ‘press’. It’s worth considering extending this type of program to one or two well known bloggers of releated subject matter.

The success of bloggers at the 2004 Democratic and Republican conventions is the benchmark for success - but there's a different angle that emerges with business blogging. Business blogging can be utilized as an additional marketing angle for your exhibitors. In addition to booths, flyers, and the occasional speaker, exhibitors can be interviewed by bloggers (video, audio, and text) to improve their online presence.

All for the cost of a blogger or two. And if anyone's asking, yes, Franki and I are available, and yes, we've already pitched doing exactly this.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

CSH Consulting: Third Party Recruiting Blog

CSH Consulting is a niche credit card farm in Phoenix, run by two former managers of mine.

We've got them started on a new credit card industry blog, and we'll see if we can't drum up some traffic for their business.

This is one of the strategies we have for blog evangelism. In addition to the BNI Westport blog, we'll be pimping and pushing other microbusiness blogs of people we know and like. If you support the small business blog, drop by their sites and maybe give them a boost, or a link?

Stl Web Developers Weblog

I spoke at the Stl Web Developers monthly May meeting, and this is the powerpoint presentation of the speech.

Download the powerpoint presentation.

There's also the beginning of a new Stl Web Developer's Blog.

We'll be working on different aspects of it, but if you have a St Louis blog, send us a note and we'll link it.