Welcome to a Top 100 Marketing Blog Which is Not a Marketing Blog

Welcome to the many marketing and communications professionals who are visiting this site today. I was pleasantly surprised to find out that Invesp.com listed me as the #40 most influential marketing blogger of 2008.

To be clear, while I appreciate the designation, this blog is not about marketing. That said, the internet is a space where communications are changing radically. Folks like me are at the forefront of the digital revolution, and so what we do is in many ways the marketing of tomorrow (and in some cases, the marketing of today).

If the point of marketing is to disseminate a message, it is arguable that I am in fact a marketing blogger. However, I would take it a step farther to redefine marketing as the effective, and increasingly online mode of connecting people with people, businesses with businesses and people with businesses. It is less marketing and more community. It is less message, and more trust. It is less organizational, and more grassroots.

Welcome to Technosailor.com. I hope you’ll stick around and learn. Hopefully I will learn from you as well, so feel free to comment and contribute. If I can make you think and you can make me think, then our jobs are done. And of course, I am willing to bring consulting power to your online communications as well. Drop me a note.

5 Things I Learned from Nuclear Winter

Nuclear Winter. It’s the time period after a holocaust that can last for hundreds of years, making the surrounding landscape around ground zero uninhabitable due to radiation.

It is the death of life and the birth of a new holocaustic life. We’ve never actually had an actual nuclear winter on a global scale, though the threat is there as more and more nuclear weapons proliferate the globe. Many science fiction stories have been built around the concept of a nuclear holocaust and life after.

Although it’s a dark time, sometimes proverbial nuclear winters are necessary. They are the times when you throw away everything you know and begin from scratch. A chance at a new life. A rebirth. It’s a time to correct all that is wrong and hopefully get on the right path over the long haul. Economists call it “corrections”. Historians call it the “end of an era” or the “decline of an Empire” – depending on the context.

As someone who is not experienced in an actual nuclear winter, let me describe a few things that I’ve learned from proverbial “nuclear winter”

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Photo by nogoodreason

1. All Assumptions are False

In a nuclear winter, life is not as you expect. Landmarks are gone. People you know are no longer in your world. You can no longer go to the grocery store and instead have to live off the land.

If you’re in a business that is facing massive layoffs, you cannot assume that the way things always have been will still exist in the world post-layoffs. You cannot assume that, even if you retain your job, your “new” job will remain as it was. You will likely end up giving up responsibilities due to business strategy objective shifts and maybe doing some new work due to the need to backfill for laid off colleagues.

You cannot assume that, because we’ve lived in a world of thriving internet startups, that you the lay of that land will remain the same in an economic holocaust. You can’t. It’s just not a safe assumption. Ask Seesmic.

2. Live Off the Land

In a nuclear winter, as described earlier, you simply can’t go to your Whole Foods and buy your hipster organic food. The reality is is that even if you could go buy organic food, it’s likely tainted from the fallout in the water, ground and air. No, you live off the land. You find the bugs and plants that carry an innate immunity to radioactivity or that have evolved enough to live and thrive in a nuclear landscape. Because you have to survive, and that’s more important than getting your Venti Soy Chai at Starbucks (that don’t exist).

More and more companies that continue to emerge these days are bootstrapping. Companies like AwayFind, who launched the other day, are bootstrapping and not taking angel investing or venture capital to stay alive. They are not taking a devaluation just for the infusion of cash. They are succeeding the old-fashioned way – a method that might take a lot more runway, but that ensures that 100% of the value of the company is retained by the principals. If you can live off the land, do it. It might be awhile before you find yourself a Starbucks in the nuclear wasteland.

3. There is Always a Remnant

During any nuclear winter in any story, you’ll always find a remnant. It might just be a small village of survivors that are doing their best to build a community and survive. They may have built a wall of scrap metal around their community to keep raiders away, but they are surviving.

At critical times where the status quo is challenged, the companies that are the hardiest and most cost-efficient are the ones that survive. While companies like AIG require an infusion of cash (or, as I call it, a crutch) to stay afloat they continue to splurge on non-necessities. Companies like this are doomed to failure.

While the auto-industry, built around an inefficient union mentality that, at one end, limits innovation because it de-incentivizes that innovation, and at the other hand overpays under-qualified individuals to do jobs that are worth half of their paychecks, struggles to figure themselves out, they will eventually have to declare bankruptcy. During that bankruptcy, they will be forced to cut, by some estimates, 50% of their workforce while updating their approach to union labor to ensure survival. There will be a remnant, and that remnant will figure out what needs to happen to survive the wasteland.

4. That Bridge Used to be the 14th Street Bridge

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I’ve been playing Fallout 3 recently, which is set 200 years after a nuclear war between the United States and China. The setting is a region called “The Capital Wasteland” and is, in essence, the Washington, D.C. metropolitan region.

Throughout the game, you can find indications of what used to be. I recognized, in my wandering around the Capital Wasteland, a landmark that could only be the 14th Street Bridge. I would not have recognized it from anything other than geographical position. There were no distinguishing features and it was largely destroyed and falling into the isotope-filled Potomac River, but I knew it was the bridge.

Practices will change throughout life, but principles and patterns remain the same. It is the essence of the Chaos Theory which states that though the universe appears to be full of chaos and disorganization, it is entirely made up of fractals and patterns at an atomic and sub-atomic level. More simply, there are patterns and principles that remain true, though practice, execution and manifestation of those principles change.

In the communications, newspaper, and television industries, as well as many large businesses, people are wrestling with how to do business in a world that is dominated by the internet and then, only recently. They see chaos, where they should see patterns. The principles of public relations is to communicate effectively with the public. The practices of public relations, however, are shifting and the ones that adjust are the ones that will survive that nuclear winter.

5. Know Your Immune System

In a nuclear winter, there’s no one looking out for survivors except the survivors themselves. If there are doctors, they are few and far between. If there is a support community, you have to look hard and not trust anyone. It’s the nature of the new dog eat dog world that such a holocaust causes.

Companies right now are scrambling to figure out “what’s up”. They are looking at their profit margins, cash in hand and extending their runways as far as they can extend them. Investors are reassuring their portfolio companies that there should be a way to survive if they are smart and proactive, but the reality is that in a nuclear winter, no one really knows.

Even if a portfolio company manages to get that C-round and the $15M investment they need, it will be on a down valuation. In layman speak, that means it becomes, in essence, a high-interest loan where the company gets the cash they need but give up a larger stake in the company to make it happen.

The big banks are getting bailout money, but giving up controlling stakes in their companies in some cases. Rollups are likely with smaller companies needing an infusion of cash. People are being reassured that they will retain their jobs, and being laid off the week after. You can trust no one in a winter except yourself. I reiterate my recommendation from a few weeks ago, though. If you have a stable job, stay in it. If you are an entrepreneur, don’t seek shelter in a stable job. Survive, survive, survive…. then rebuild.

How Much Are People Talking About You? Part Deux

Last year I wrote a post titled, “How Much do People Talk About You?“. I could very well simply republish that post and be done with it, but I wanted to come back to the topic a year later and discuss it more because it’s important.

It’s important from a marketing perspective, and of course it’s important from a branding perspective. More importantly, though, it’s important because the answer to the question will either make or break you in a down economy.

If people know who you are, and you have a good reputation as a subject matter expert, as a brand leader or otherwise, you will never lack for work!

This is not a money grab. This is not a formula. You can’t simply do x, y and z and be talked about in closed circles. It takes time, perseverance and consistency. It takes presence marketing.

At two separate conferences, recently, my name was dropped by a panel member for different reasons. Twice, in fact, at Blog World Expo – and I was not even there to hear it happen! I heard from someone else.

The key here is that the consistent message I have put forward here has infiltrated the minds of other influencers. Without me writing yet another post, or speaking on yet another panel or directly influencing anyone face to face, my message reached to whole new audiences.

How much are people talking about you?

When you are cited, quoted or your name is passed to someone as a referral, you will never lack for work. People will come knocking on your door looking for your help and expertise.

If you don’t make a difference, however, you’re expendable. When management looks at the roster, your name will likely be checked off as someone who is eligible for a pink slip.

By being a known and significant entity in your organization or sphere of influence, and letting other people market you, you will never lack for work.

You Must Be Somewhere

It’s 2008 and with 2008 comes technology. It’s awkward, I realize, for some small businesses to justify the use of social networks, blogs etc. After all, how can a small business trying to remain profitable encourage employees to waste time on Facebook?

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We think of companies like Dell and JetBlue as examples of companies that “get it”. Even this weekend at WordCamp where I hammered the ideas of Marketing, Message and Brand, these companies came up as examples of companies engaging in the social space, including blogs.

But these broad examples are still the exception to the rules. Most companies still don’t realize that they need to be in the space, engaging with not only customers but possible customers.

I met one gentleman this weekend who owns a construction business but is an English major. He decided he would start writing DIY and home improvement stories in the form of a blog and is making big waves.

I’d say most home improvement companies don’t blog. They probably aren’t on Facebook. Probably not tweeting on Twitter.

There’s a company here in the Baltimore area that has a radio spot. In the radio spot, the owner says he personally goes to every job site every day until a job is done. When that’s the way most companies operate, it’s easy to think there is no time for social media.

Here’s the secret sauce, though, that many are missing. Your customers are behind the walls of social networks and on blogs talking about you somewhere. Trust me. You can’t afford not to be part of the conversation, and there’s no legitimate excuse not to participate.

With the economy the way it is, it is truly a cheap way to market, do public affairs and drum up business. Why wouldn’t you do it?

The Psychology of Gap Marketing

Gap Marketing. What. The. Heck.

Gap Marketing is the idea that, when you’ve done everything you can to cover the large target audiences, there are still small gaps to fill.

Gap marketing is laptop stickers, teeshirts, even designating wifi network IDs that push the brand.

Gap marketing is finding interesting applications for a product, service or brand outside of the norm.

Gap marketing targets those areas that aren’t covered by targetted advertising buys, radio and television spots, or sponsorship events.

It’s the understanding that not everyone really needs to do their own billing, but Freshbooks (aff) makes a nice tee-shirt.

Gap marketing is understanding that AOL might suck as a company, but Frank Gruber, Christina Warren and Grant Robertson are loads of fun to hang out with.

Gap marketing.

At senior levels of marketing departments, ROI and P&L are the buzzwords. How much Return on Investment will this initiative net. How does an event effect our Profit and Loss sheets.

While always important, gap marketing humanizes a company or a brand in a way that an ad buy cannot. It makes a brand more approachable.

When you’re running a business, the most surefire way to increase sales is to make your customers feel like they know you, your company and your brand. Sure, you might make a sale otherwise, but making the customer feel like they have something no one else has will ensure a brand loyalty. Hey, I know those guys.

Last week, I spent the day at Ford Motor Company. Going into the day, I was not a Ford fan. They were yet another big company with expensive products. Worse yet, they have a history of failure. Does Found on Road Dead ring a bell with anyone?

Spending the day on campus allowed me an insight into a brand that I felt like no one else had. Will I ever be bought and paid for? Not on your life. Do I have a personal identification with Ford now? Hell yes.

You see, Ford engaged in gap marketing. I’m sure no one in their marketing department realized it was called that. Heck, I didn’t before I began this post. Yet they did. Although the day was filled with many typical faces in the automotive press, they brought a gap audience in as well with various bloggers from all walks of life. We weren’t auto bloggers. We weren’t Ford connoisseurs. We were normal people given an opportunity to own something, though small, that made us feel special and important to the big company.

Gap marketing.

Viral Marketing”¦are you sick yet?

So often buzz words turn into marketing terms. Often enough, the strongest of the marketing terms become engrained into our everyday speech. Viral Marketing is one of the latest.

Marketingterms.com defines Viral Marketing as:

“œMarketing phenomenon that facilitates and encourages people to pass along a marketing message.”

Ironically, medterms.com defines something that is Viral as:

“œInfection caused by the presence of a virus in the body.”

What amazes me is that a word, such as viral, when it applies to our body is something we don’t want, but when it comes to marketing”¦ we can’t get enough of it. Businesses throw thousands spend thousands of dollars to try to catch lightning in a bottle. Some work while some fall flat and never see the light of day beyond the board room. Alternate Reality Games, YouTube videos, and a wide variety of other tactics have been created to leverage this powerful marketing “œexperience”.

Viral Marketing as a practice is not new. Giving it a new name is. The different tactics and tools you use to create Viral Marketing range, but not the intention of it. It’s been called rumors, gossip, Word of Mouth Marketing, Buzz Marketing, and a long list of names all for the same thing. The purpose is to spread awareness of and create interest for any product, service, or entity.

So what is Viral Marketing and how can you apply to you, your business and anything you have that you need to get out to the public. Think back to a band that you had, or know, that was just starting out. Think of a party or event you wanted to get people to. Hell, think of the yard, or garage, sale you had that you really wanted people to attend. A small level of “œViral Marketing” was used to generate interest in these things. You told friends and neighbors”¦who, if they liked the idea, told friends and neighbors, and so on, creating a “œviral” spread of information “œinfecting” people with interest and desire.

The key factor in creating something that is Viral is that whatever it is happens to be appealing enough for people want to tell people about it. The problem with this is that it is really subjective. People on YouTube are famous for something completely accidental. They never knew that thousands of people would get into “œChocolate Rain” or “œSneezing Panda”, but they were never created to leverage a product. YouTube has become a wide avenue for things, but to me it will always be the Millennium kids version of Earth’s Funniest Home Videos. When you try to take something like the unintentional power of Viral Videos and apply it to a product, service or business the outcome could be wondrously huge or an effort in futility. There are huge successes, like the Alternate Reality Game (ARG) for movies The Dark Knight, created by 42 Entertainment, or Hellboy 2: The Golden Army, created by Double Twenty, or wrapping a bus stop with bubble wrap, with each bubble having a PS2 controller icon, to promote the PS2 by Sony. Or the monstrous failure of Sony of America when they tried to create a fictitious person to sing the praises of their company via YouTube which seriously pissed off several of the Sony interested or faithful. VIRAL MARKETING FAIL.

If you want to apply some kind of Viral Marketing to whatever it is you want to promote you need to understand several things before you even get started.

You have to really know your target audience and demographic for this really to take flight. Just like Word of Mouth Marketing, Viral Marketing relies heavily on trust and faith of those participating. Find someone who believes in your idea, product or whatever and you’ve just created someone who help spread “œthe good word”. Give them a reason to distrust your efforts, intentions, or goal and you will have just created a Viral Marketing Campaign rallying against your Viral Marketing Campaign.

You need to have a strategy in place for the full duration of the campaign. Whether it’s something like the opening of a movie or night club, a presidential campaign, or a bands new CD (god I miss tapes) you have to have a fully realized strategy from start to finish of what you will do to help generate and maintain interest. That means fresh content to further your campaign along. Whether you’re creating a storyline for your interested to follow over a period of time, a one time stunt to gain media or personal attention, or just want people to pass your message along. You have to have it well thought out and be able to understand the potential consequences, because their may be some.

You have to keep the momentum going. It’s going to be more like a roller coaster than any other marketing tactic you’ve used before. You need to give it time to get over that first hill and get rolling. Then you need to watch it and make sure that when it picks up speed you don’t delay the next phase of it and have people loose interest, because when you bring that next piece out and you have lost them”¦they are gone. Unless you can do something wildly unexpected to bring them back.

Finally, you have to realize also that you can’t fully control it. It’s the proverbial snowball rolling down the hill. But even with that snowball, you don’t know if there’s something underneath the surface of the snow to cause it to stop or alter it’s course. You can nudge it along, give it suggestion, but one misstep and you could loose more than you gain. That is ultimately why you need to have your vision and goals firmly in place before you take step one.

Viral Marketing is going to see some pretty interesting trends as this marketing avenue is developed. As with all good marketing strategies, you’re going to see a lot of carbon copies, a lot of failures and lot of fresh ideas. One I’m personally following is the Chesapeake Bay Foundation’s Captain John Smith for President. I can personally suspend disbelief long enough to see that their message is strong enough for me to want to share it, spread it and help them get this message going. That is the ultimate goal and success of any Viral Marketing campaign. The participant believes in the campaign, feels a part of the campaign, can interact with the campaign and feels a sense that what they did, no matter how large or small, was a direct impact on the success of the campaigns awareness and overall success.

So what Viral Campaigns have sparked your interest or ire? What do you like or dislike about Viral Marketing? I want to know. Actually, I want to challenge you to participate in a little Viral Marketing with me. If you like this message, as I see a few of you are following this blog, I would love to see a comment from you on it. I also want you to share this blog and have several of your friends comment. For the person who has the most people comments mentioned they were sent by you, and subscribe, I will personally send the winner a prize.

I’ve reached out to my audience, I’ve announced my strategy and I know my goal. Now it’s up to you. The deadline for this little slice of potential Viral Failure is one week. So”¦in the immortal words of W.O.P.R. “œWould you like to play a game?”