Something Like a Pinomenon – How Pinterest Drives Real Business

You’ve probably read just about enough about Pinterest. There are plenty of articles on how it’s the next, big thing for brands and marketers, yadda, yadda. But what does it really mean for businesses? In short, depending on the business, it’s a phenomenon. I have the opportunity to consult on the product and marketing at DesignPublic.com, and my fiancee, Erika, runs social marketing and PR for the company. Design Public sells modern furniture and accessories, and we’ve seen first-hand the power of the Pinterest effect. So let’s look at the numbers, shall we?

Pinterest is Design Public’s No. 1 Referring Site

While it’s not the biggest traffic driver for Design Public (organic search and direct visits are the lead dogs), Pinterest has quickly become the number one referring site for traffic. And it’s charged up the list in a hurry.

In October, Pinterest sent 634 visits, putting it 10x behind the number one referring site that month, uncrate.com.

pinterest traffic in october

In January? It’s was first, and by a long shot. It grew nearly 5x in total traffic to the site. It was 30.4% higher than the number two referrer, ApartmentTherapy.com. And for some background, Apartment Therapy has been our top referrer for a very, very long time.

pinterest traffic in january

Pinterest is No. 3 in Revenue from Referring Sites

For the month of January Pinterest was number three in terms of revenue from referring sites (excluding the weird mail referrer here). So while people are browsing and pinning, they’re definitely buying too. We see bounce rates that are higher than other traffic sources, but 25-40% lower than paid advertising sources. People get sucked in and keep browsing our site – eventually buying.

 

What’d Design Public Do to Drive Pinterest Traffic?

1) Erika began curating boards. The Design Public Pinterest account has a collection of boards across a wide range of design-minded topics. And it’s not just all products. Erika is actively participating in the community and re-pinning and sharing other finds. While she does pin Design Public items it is just a part of her efforts to build brand awareness for Design Public on Pinterest. Pinterest has been a great outlet for reintroducing the brand.

2) Add the Pin It button early to product pages, which gives us a two-fold benefit. One, it lets people pin products from the site with a good-looking product shot and description that includes the Design Public name/URL. Two, it provides social proof to shoppers, helping them make decisions about items on the site.

3)  The entire team is involved in pinning. Design Public has amazing merchandisers and people who have a great design eye. They’re just as addicted as everyone else, and as a company we all try to pin our favorite stuff as it comes in. Then we share what gets repinned and look for ways to leverage that information for how we can come back and promote those popular items on the site, via email, etc.

4) Run a Pinterest Contest. Erika is currently running a Pinterest contest asking people to create pinboards of their dream home and incude at least a few Design Public products. The winner will pick up a $250 gift card to the site. The contest is a great way to get users discovering the products that are on Design Public and sharing them back with the Pinterest audience. Surfacing this content in ways other than just through the main Design Public Pinterest account is critical to reaching new users and potential customers.

Never Add the ‘no-pin’ Meta Tag

We can’t imagine why any site would not want free traffic and sales from people who love design and beautiful things. This audience is a dream audience – and for all of the traffic that comes through, people actually buy. There’s a very real benefit to letting your content circulate on Pinterest.
Take for example this light up cube. It’s been pinned more than 1,000 times at this point. There hasn’t been a single sale. But we do know that we’ve sold other products to people who have visited Design Public via that pin. It’s definitely validation for the model.

What’s Next for Design Public and Pinterest?

We’ve got a few ideas up our sleeve that we’re not quite ready to share; but there are a bunch of really interesting ideas and things that we can do from both a marketing and product perspective to continue to integrate Pinterest into our site. And a lot of it will be driven by the new features, API and other tools that Pinterest releases for brands and stores like Design Public.

Is Pinterest for Everyone?

Doubtful. If you’re pinning auto-insurance policy quotes or mortgage rates, you’re probably not going to have the success we do. But if you make or sell things that are unique, beautiful or inspirational, Pinterest is a no brainer. If you want to keep an eye on Design Public on Pinterest, you can follow Design Public on Pinterest here

Why Blogging Still Matters

People love to claim stuff “dead” on the Internet.  It seems everyday something is dying or already dead.  Frankly, the pace of extinction around these parts is exhausting.  And, of course, the rhetoric is usually completely overblown and, well, wrong.  So it is with the death of blogging.  As Twitter user growth soars (1928% YOY to be precise) and people flock to Facebook in droves, pundits love proclaiming that the statusphere is the new, new blogging.  And with equal joy it’s corollary blogging obituary.

I’m here to humbly say that blogging is indeed not dead, and in fact now, unlike any time in the last 4 years, represents the single best opportunity for professionals and organizations to stand out from the competition and river of noise that is the statusphere.  In this post I look at why it’s still important to professionals.  In a future post we’ll look at why it matters for organizations.

Reasons why blogging is still important to professionals

The case for blogging for professionals has never been stronger.  As more people jump on the Twitter bandwagon and engage in the cocktail party that is the statusphere there are fewer hours and fewer people dedicating time to producing longer-form content that demonstrates their expertise and value to prospective customers, potential employers and others in the community.  While interacting with people online is critical and an important way of building relationships and your network, the effectiveness of  that effort is greatly reduced without some home base that represents who you are, what you stand for and what you know.  Having a well-developed blog gives the people you engage with a true sense of who they’re talking with and can be an important relationship builder in its own right.

Demonstrate Expertise

There is still no better way on the Web today to create and curate a body of work that demonstrates your expertise and insight than a blog.  While engaging quickly and responding to questions and engaging in conversations online is an excellent way to demonstrate your expertise they have a definite shelf life and limited utility shortly after the exchange.  Go ahead, try to dig up a Tweet from 5 days ago.  You’ll quickly find that your conversations are washed away by the onslaught of new information added to the statusphere.  You face a similar problem with discussions on LinkedIn, comments on YouTube, Facebook status updates and Wall posts, forum posts and more.     By simply participating in online conversations in these social platforms you’re making your expertise a perishable commodity.  If you maintain a blog and curate your thoughts there you maximize the value of your expertise by giving it a longer shelf life and making it infinitely easier to find.

Why throw away your expertise by using a social conversation only strategy when you can easily create a valuable library of insight and expertise with a blog?

Create a Google-able Home Base

For better or worse you are who Google says you are. And while your profiles on the various social media sites like Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn may appear higher than your personal blog in a vanity search (where you search your own name in Google) Google can reward you heavily with searches that include your name and important industry and career topics.  For example, my previous blog, blownmortgage.com ranked exceptionally high for terms such as subprime mortgage, FHA home loans, loan modification and other key mortgage terms that drove traffic and business to my company.   More importantly, because of the body of work I created at the site (if you can’t tell by the name it was a site intent on blowing up the malfeasance in the mortgage industry) people instantly bonded and trusted me.  I hired a Hawaii SEO guy to optimize my website and it was awesome, the results speak for themselves and I showed up all over the place in Google on terms that people were searching while looking for information related to my expertise.

While Twitter and Facebook may come up higher in vanity searches, Google will reward you with rankings in areas of your expertise when you create a body of work on a blog dedicated to the exploration of those subjects.  Twitter will never rank for loan modification for me, but my blog (which I recently sold, more below) did. And it created additional (dare I say ‘long tail’) referrals to my home base on the Web resulting in additional business, contacts, and more.

Build an Online Resume

You can either have a resume and say what you know or you can have a blog and show what you know.  What do you think is more powerful to a prospective client or employer?  Exactly.  Particularly in a devestrating job market creating differentiation among your peers is critical to getting out of the deluge of resumes and on to the short list for the interview.  And while your blog can’t help you in the interview, it can certainly help you get in front of the decision maker.   It can often jump you several steps through the interview process in the first place.  Any professional can benefit from a solid body of work that is easily found and referencable on the Web.  When employers look for quality individuals a blog can be an invaluable advantage to you.  It creates the ideal forum to demonstrate your thinking and analysis of issues critical to your industry.  Same thinking applies in demonstrating your expertise and thinking to a potential client.

While you can build a resume online with LinkedIn and other online services it’s impossible to curate a living body of work that speaks to your unique skills and viewpoint like you can with a blog.

Opening Yourself to Other Opportunities

By having a blog you begin to build a body of work to position you as an expert.  While this can lead to direct business gain and advantages in winning business, employment and more; there are other benefits as well.  With a Google-friendly home base pushing your name to the top of results in terms critical to your industry you’ll find inquiries from journalists looking for front-line insight into breaking stories.  You’ll get random interview and speaking requests.  You’ll receive product review requests and feedback on business samples.  And you’ll find more people looking to engage and connect with you than ever before.  These benefits can often lead to new experiences and opportunities that were never visible to you previously.  And while journalists search and monitor Twitter for breaking news you can create more press opportunities by creating a body of work that positions you as a credible source for stories that they may be working on.

My old blog resulted in mentions for me in The Wall Street Journal, The LA Times, The Orange County Register, Better Homes and Gardens, The Village Voice, Inman News and many, many more.  Those mentions would never have come from my LinkedIn profile, Twitter or Facebook conversations alone.  I also received several speaking opportunities and won awards based on my work with my blog.  It was the body of work and the easily-found nature of my blog that led to those opportunities.

Crafting Your Personal Brand

Your blog is your home.  You get to decorate it and furnish it in any manner you see fit.  It’s your personal self-expression online and the single best, most consistent opportunity to build and curate the personal brand that you want to project online.  On any number of other social sites you’re dealing with the vagaries of the shifting conversation, newest shiny objects and limitations of the platform.  There is rarely the perfect opportunity to express the ideal position for you as it relates to your personal brand.  Your blog represents that safe harbor in the malestrom where you can talk about the things that are important to you, you can demonstrate your personal brand, and you can work at, improve and refine your voice and brand online.

While your blog can be your online resume it can also be your online batting cage (or putting green if you don’t like the baseball analogy).  It can be a place where you can find your voice and refine it.  Where you can test out hypotheses and construct arguments.  You can analyze problems that are interesting to you and work through your thinking on issues that are important to you.  This is often difficult to do in social conversation platforms.  The flow of the conversation rarely affords that type of introspective learning.  A blogging platform can open up that opportunity like no other platform.

Making Your Blog Matter to You

In an age of 140 characters blogging is hard.  Creating content that people want to read, engage with and share is difficult and the payoff is often not seen immediately.  You can spend hours creating content that is barely read when it is initially published.  But it’s important to remember that social media is a marathon, not a sprint (and the same goes for blogging) and that the effort is a long term investment in your online personae.  It is my firm belief that you cannot extract the maximum value from your social media endeavors without a blog as a home base for your efforts.

So how do you make your blog matter to you?  Here is a quick list of things that I did to make my blog matter to me (and what I’m doing with this new blog as we speak.) These are obvious but if you’re struggling with a way to get started try these out.

  • If you can, register your name as a domain name. It allows you to make your blog the home base for your online activities for the rest of your life. It gives you flexibility in topics and allows your blog to grow with you as your life changes.  It also helps with the aforementioned Google love.  (To wit, imagine if Scoble’s first blog was Microsoft Insights instead of Scobleizer.)
  • Blog about something you’re passionate about. Pick a topic you have an opinion about and start with that. And don’t be afraid to have an opinion and express it.
  • Don’t be afraid to put something out there. Start writing and start publishing.  Don’t let perfection or how you think other people might respond deter you from putting content out there.
  • Get insight and inspiration from other blogs, Twitter and the news.  Just like new writers can often get past writers block by taking the opening of an existing story and spinning their own tale, so can you leverage an existing story line and add your own perspective as a way to get started.
  • Don’t try to write like a journalist or a marketer.  You’re not writing the cover story of the New York Times and you’re not writing the corporate brochure.  Write from the heart and with passion and don’t worry about the formalities when you first start.
  • Be a good online citizen. Don’t steal content. Be sure to link and provide attribution to ideas and give credit where credit is due.
  • Experiment. Try a video blog. Try a long post. Try short posts. Try thought pieces. Try news pieces. Do an email interview. Do a podcast interview. Just do, over and over until you begin to get your blogging legs under you.

Blogging and ‘Winning on the Uphills’

Seth Godin recently wrote about using challenge as a differentiator between you and your competitors.  The idea of winning on the uphills is that everyone succeeds and goes fast on the downside of the mountain.  In a good economy everyone is profiting.  It is in a difficult environment where the good companies and professionals have an opportunity to stand out from the crowd and move forward, ahead of the pack.  The same can be said for blogging.  While everyone is proclaiming blogging dead and lamenting how “hard” it is compared to Twitter you can win on the uphill and begin to carve out your own little portion of the online conversation.  And before you know it you’ll have created an online presence that will serve you professionally and personally for the rest of your life (if you let it) and will help you stand out from the noise of social conversation by creating a clear signal that resonates with readers.

Flickr photo by Mexicanwave.

33 Tools Every Startup Marketer Needs

I’ve spent the last twelve years working in (or as) the marketing department at start ups. In fact, every job I’ve had has been at a start up. Marketing for start ups is a lot different than big brand marketing. For one, the budgets are much, much smaller, and often nonexistent. And you’re laser focused on customer acquisition, there’s no time or money for branding exercises. Because of those start up marketing truths, these tools are focused on getting the most bang for the buck and driving real marketing results for the business.

Over the years I’ve compiled a list of tools that are must haves for marketers who are trying to get marketing up and running for brand new businesses. This is not every tool, these are not the most expensive or a list of free tools, these are the ones that I’ve found help me get a marketing department off the ground. Here are my top 33 tools that every marketer needs to run a successful marketing department at a start up.

Google Analytics – Start here. The best, free analytics package there is. If you configure your goals and segments properly you’ll be off to the races with web analytics. The second you launch your website, install this tracking code. If you’re selling anything on your site configure it to capture ecommerce information. That will let you get important information such as, oh you know, revenue, average order size, revenue per visitor by traffic source, all that good stuff.

Google Analytics

Basecamp – There’s one thing that’s consistent across every start up I’ve been at: everything moves at a lightning pace. Having projects, files, timelines, and to-dos in one place is critical in a start up environment. I love basecamp for marketing teams because it’s lighter weight than something more robust like JIRA but far better than trying to stay organized by email. Works just as well with two people or twenty and will help you keep on top of everything you’ve got going.

Basecamp

Campfire – Communication is everything at a start up. Campfire is a great way to keep everyone in the loop with a browser-based group chat. Teams can bat ideas around, share comps and other files via the chat room and have an opportunity to weigh in on important projects and initiatives that the team is working on. With Campfire the likelihood that someone feels out of the loop drops significantly.

Skype – If you’ve got a remote team, Skype video chat is the secret sauce to keeping everyone on the same page and connected to the team. Video chats are a quick easy way to get in synch and keep that all-important chemistry that will keep the team moving forward.

Google Apps – Save yourself the headache and costs of a Microsoft Exchange setup. Convince your IT team that they would be better focused building the product and not dealing with desktop support and networking. Google Apps: mail, docs, sites, chat and Google Plus are all incredible productivity tools that can keep the team focused on building what matters and not dealing with the nonsense of desktop support.

Dropbox – Skip FTP for moving big PowerPoints and marketing files around and use Dropbox, plus you’ll save your inbox storage for all the mail you’ll generate. It’s great for sharing comps, files, storing assets and synching important documents. Your team can start with free plans and upgrade to a Team plan when you’re ready and need the space.

Dropbox

A DSLR – Whether it’s the Canon or a Nikon, grab a DSLR and learn how to shoot decent shots of your company, product, customers and events. Bonus if it takes HD video too. If you’re going to leverage social marketing to power your business you’ll need content. And people love photos, lots of photos, and video. From shots of the hackathon to video of the product launch and everything in between, having great photos and video can make for engaging content that connects your customers to your company and has them rooting for your team from the beginning.

KISS Metrics – Google Analytics is great, but it doesn’t give you two important things: cohort analysis and user-level funnel metrics. KISS Metrics provides you with detailed funnel construction and page-by-page analysis for cohorts of users and at the user level to see how people are moving through your website. You can see where drop-offs occur and find opportunities to improve your conversion.

Crazy Egg – How is your website performing? Are people seeing the content you want them to? Are the calls to action getting the attention they need? With Crazy Egg you can see what your users are clicking on and how far they’re scrolling down the page. By using Crazy Egg you can see if you have page elements that are being ignored or navigation that is leading people astray. It’s a great visualization tool that you can leverage to up your conversion and improve the user experience on your site.

Crazy Egg

Optimizely – With a single line of JavaScript, Optimizely lets you run and deploy A/B testing on your site in a snap. If you’re running marketing for a start up, one thing is certain, you don’t really know what your customers want. From headline copy, to button color, to page layout and more, Optimizely lets you collect the data and find the best combinations to drive conversion. And, you can deploy it on any page — landing pages, home page, product pages and in the conversion funnel, you can learn and optimize with Optimizely.

Optimizely

Facebook Power Editor – Facebook ads are cheap, plentiful and provide a quick and easy way to test your start up’s value propositions, messaging and offers. But how do you do all that testing? Facebook Power Editor. A Chrome extension, it lets you upload ad variants via Microsoft Excel so you can test hundreds of versions of ads in hundreds of different targeting configurations. With a monthly spend of just $1,500 you can leverage Power Editor and put its functionality to work in helping you find what really resonates with who.

Google Adwords – Another great tool for start up marketers. Even if paid advertising isn’t part of your early plan (i.e. you’re hoping press and social word of mouth drive the business) AdWords is a great testing ground, just like Facebook ads. You can test messages, value propositions and calls to action to see what resonates. If you find a particular message or ad unit that converts at a higher click through rate you can take that winning message, value prop or call to action and test it in a broader setting across your site.

MailChimp – There are dozens and dozens of email service providers (ESPs) out there. But MailChimp’s dead-simple user interface and affordable pricing makes it a no-brainer for startups. Plus A/B testing, autoresponder capability, API integration and more, MailChimp can grow as your business grows. Plus the Chimp? Adorbs.

Mail Chimp

WordPress – You’ll need a website and there’s a good chance that you’ll want a blog to keep people up-to-date with what you’re working on. WordPress is a great first step to get your marketing website and/or blog out there. Obviously, if you’re building a consumer facing web product, then you’ll be launching you’re own site based on whatever tech the product is built on; but when you need to get a blog or marketing site up in a hurry, WordPress is a perfect tool to get the job done.

Adobe Photoshop – As a marketer in a startup it’s likely that you’ll be doing not only the marketing, but you’ll be kicking in to support the design team, and if you’re building a product, you may have to fend for yourself creating marketing materials so the designers can focus on the product. Photoshop can help you crank out things like landing pages, email marketing templates, production graphics, ad units and more. The more you can roll your own graphic needs the more you can get done while letting the designers do their thing on the product side.

Final Cut Pro X – If you’re launching a new or novel web service, mobile app or something else brand new, it’s likely you’ll need an explainer video. Video is a great way to demo a product, capture interest, generate press and drive new users. Of course you can pay for it; or you can shoot it and make it yourself. Plus tutorials, how-tos, customer testimonials, demos and more all look better on video. If video is going to be a key part of your marketing strategy you’ll want to be able to polish it up quickly and easily. Final Cut Pro X will give you everything you need for just $299.

Final Cut Pro

Google Alerts – You’ll want to keep an eye on any press, blog or comments mentioning your new venture. Set up a free Google Alert with your brand name and any variations that may exist (e.g. a space between two words in your name, even if you write them together). Extra points for setting up alerts for the founder names and competition to keep a better picture of what’s going on with your brand and in your space.

TweetDeck, HootSuite – Google Alerts can’t monitor everything, and if social marketing is going to be a key component of your marketing, then a more powerful Twitter monitoring and management tool will be handy. I love having a separate monitor setup with HootSuite to keep an eye on people talking to the company, answering customer support, engaging in conversations relevant to the brand and more. TweetDeck is a bit limited in its new release, but HootSuite is just one of many full-featured Twitter clients that can be an important way for marketers to stay connected on the platform.

SEOMoz Pro – SEOMoz Pro is the secret weapon for many online marketers. It’s packed with useful tools and information. You’ll get search monitoring tools to measure your organic keyword traffic, social measurement tools to see how effective your social programs are, and tons and tons of education on how you can build visibility for your company with search engine optimization and social marketing.

SEOMoz

Hacker News – Simply the best news source for the latest and greatest in the technology space. If your company is in the startup world, you just can’t afford to not read it every day.

Inbound.org – Like a Hacker News for online marketing full of great insight on search engine optimization, social marketing, conversion rate optimization, online testing and lots more. If you’re looking to get educated on the latest in online marketing, Inbound.org is a great place to start.

Inbound.org

Verify – Sitting around a table arguing about design is healthy, up to a point. Then it’s better to get the design out there and see if anyone outside the building really likes it or not. That’s where VerifyApp comes in. You can put up a page, email, add, or mobile app comp and ask Verify users to choose a favorite between two designs, recount what they remember after seeing your landing page and more.

Verify

Bit.ly Pro – If you’re using social media marketing there’s no better way to track clicks then to push all of your links through bit.ly Pro. It’s a great way to get analytics on what was clicked and what wasn’t so you can see which content has the most interest to the social audience.

Litmus – Litmus is an email marketer’s dream. It lets you send test emails to a single email address and then Litmus renders them in each of the main email clients. You can even select which clients to include in your test. It’s brilliant for ensuring that your email looks great in the email clients that matter to you, in the browsers that your users use. See an email in Gmail in FireFox, Chrome and IE. See how it renders on the iPhone. Busted HTML email is amateur hour — make sure it looks good before you send it.

Balsamiq Mockups – Wireframes aren’t just for the UX designers any more. Marketers should know how to use and communicate with wireframes. Need a landing page? You should be able to wireframe out one to use as conversation starter or requirement with your designer. Need a Facebook tab, a pricing page, or a blog? Pick up the tools and learn to do it yourself, it will go a long way toward saving time and giving your designers and devs more information on how to approach a marketing project. Balsamiq is great because it’s easy and because the wireframes looked sketched, which makes people feel like they aren’t as formalized, yet they still communicate your requirements.

Balsamiq Mockups

Survey Monkey – There’s no better way to learn about what’s working that to talk with your customers. Regular surveying is a must. Survey Monkey is a cheap and effective way to survey your customers. You can create surveys quickly and easily and go as long or as short as you like. If you’re not surveying your customers you’re doing it wrong.

Unbounce – If your design team is too busy on the product to worry about marketing projects then you might want to consider Unbounce. Unbounce lets you create great landing pages on the fly. If you know some HTML and some CSS you can crank out some great looking landing pages without having to get sprint points to get them done. Win!

ReTargeter – Personally, I think display advertising is for suckers in a startup, but if you’re going to do any display ads, they should be retargeted ads. ReTargeter and Google ReTargeting ad programs let you target display ads back to people who have been to your site. It’s a great way to appear bigger than you are, and to remind your previous visitor to come back soon.

Retargeter

Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Google+  – I can’t write about all of the social networks, but obviously if you’re a startup you’ll take all the free marketing you can get. I’m not going to go into detail on these, because there are literally hundreds of books on the subject. Hundreds. My recommended books post is coming up after this.

Salesforce – Whether it’s Salesforce or some other CRM, it’s helpful to have a database of prospects that are tied to marketing campaigns that allow you to follow up with, measure effectiveness and see progress tracked back. Especially good for marketing teams that need to support sales staffs and for product sales that have a long sales cycle, such as B2B sales. Without CRM you’re under performing in the sales department, guaranteed.

Join.me – Need to share a screen with a potential prospect or business partner? Join.me makes it dead simple. Just send them the join.me link and they’ll see your screen in real time. Great for marketing folks who have to support business development efforts with product marketing and/or training. Also great for demoing press and bloggers who you can’t meet in person.

join.me

ZenDesk – Say it with me, customer service is marketing. Great customer service can lead to excellent word of mouth, which leads to more business for you. You know this, I know this; but if customer service doesn’t fall in your domain you need to champion for a help desk solution for your customer service team to ensure that your marketing effort is focused on growing the business, not fighting fires from unhappy customers.

Vlogging Camera – Video Marketing is an essential marketing tool, remember the guerrilla youtube viral video dollarshaverclub used to kickstart their campaign? this year the startup sold for $1billion dollars yeah 1B. Things you need: a vlogging camera for raw recording, photoshop and illustrator to edit the videos.

OLark – If you’re trying to sell something online, there’s no better tool than live chat. It’s great for answering questions and giving users the confidence they need to make a purchase. It’s also a great way to learn about what visitors questions and fears are before buying from you. It’s marketing gold, because you can turn that feedback into content and design that addresses those concerns and converts more visitors to customers.

olark

So there you have it. Some of my favorite tools for startup marketers. They represent a strong set of technologies that can help you get any marketing department off the ground and run it for the beginning stages of the company. These tools work for a company of just 3 or 4 people and scale upwards of 100 (and beyond in many cases). Sure, there will be some that are overkill in the beginning, so wait on those, and there will be those that won’t scale with the organization, so just graduate from them when it’s right; but in all I’ve found these tools invaluable in the startup environments I’ve been in. As a marketer, you’re doing everything from customer acquisition, to email marketing, to social, to supporting customer service and business development, to product marketing and more. With these tools you’ll be able to do your job better and help your startup grow.

I know there are hundreds of tools out there, which ones did I miss that you’d add to the list? Share with me in the comments.

Facebook Product Changes Aimed at Maximizing Revenue

Brands love being on the Facebook platform. With Facebook reaching 3 out of every 4 Internet users in the US, it’s been a great way to reach customers where they’re spending their days. And the best part? It’s free. That combination has been a powerful driver, bringing brands and marketers on to the platform, with companies forsaking their own websites, driving traffic to Facebook to gain new fans. All with the hope that this new opt-in-lite “fan” asset will be a longterm winner, creating new customers and revenues. But two recent seemingly-unrelated changes on Facebook may signify the party is almost over, and that Facebook will be coming for it’s cut of the pie for the privilege of connecting with customers on Facebook.

The first change rolled out week’s ago to much fanfare and debate. The new Sponsored Stories. The Sponsored Stories product lets brands promote organic mentions, reviews and other shared information by users of Facebook, gaining guaranteed visibility for the item that may otherwise have gone unnoticed in the river of the hidden-by-default “Most Recent” news items. Most marketers loved this idea, because trying to get your items into their much more visible “Top News” feed is an art and science that has yet to be figured out completely.

With Sponsored Stories, Facebook gave brands a way to pay to get that extra visibility that everyone wants, in a consistent and guaranteed way. It was pitched as a boon to advertisers who wanted to stand out among the noise, and already, brands like Levi’s have lined up to take advantage. It was a smart move for Facebook in terms of wooing advertisers, and an innovative way to drive revenue.

But, then, just a few days ago, Facebook changed what users see in their news feeds. Switching the default view of the feed to “Show posts from: friends and Pages you interact with the most”, hiding tons of content that could’ve previously been visible to the user under the old settings. Of course, there are some obscure controls at the bottom of the News Feed that let you customize and restore the “Show posts from: All of your friends and pages”, but really, how many users even know they can change the global settings on their news feed, let alone know that something’s been changed for them that’s materially altering their experience on the site?

And this is punch #2 of the 1-2 product punch for Facebook. Because with a new, more restrictive filter on the News Feed, plus a new vehicle for driving revenue with Sponsored Stories, Facebook is making it harder and harder for brands to get organic mentions in front of casual fans – the exact people they want to reach and engage with on Facebook. It’s a shrewd and calculating move. Cut off organic access quietly, shortly after trumpeting a new, innovative way to get more visibility. And I predict that as brands see less engagement on their organic posts, more and more are going to be considering the Sponsored Stories as the de facto way to ensure key messages hit their target audience on the site. Driving tons of new revenue to Facebook.

But how will this sit with the advertisers who have been lured into a false sense of security where now the only way to leverage Facebook is to pay whatever the going rate is? Will brands feel taken advantage of now that their organic updates are less effective and the only way to the customer is through the Facebook sales department? Or will brands just merrily pony up cash to reach more people on Facebook, counting their number of fans like chits and assuring themselves they’re building a permission-marketing asset?

What do you think? Did Facebook intentionally roll these changes out together to drive more revenue? Or is one just a case of improving user experience by reducing clutter and the other a new ad model? That’s the benevolent angle I guess – but not the one I’m betting on.

It remains to be seen; but either way, the trap has been quietly set, and Facebook is counting on reaping a ton of cash from access-starved marketers who, now addicted to connecting with their customers for free on Facebook, will pay the going rate to keep feeling the love.

Identifying a Social Media Workflow

Whenever I start talking to people about social media invarably the questionarises “Where do I find the time?”  It’s easy to understand where they’re coming from.  After sitting through several hours of eye-opening presentations about a brand new world of communication and engagement people sit back and think “but I already can’t get everything I need to do done,” and so they come asking “Where do I find the time?”  A fair question to be sure.  Trying to Tweet, Facebook, LinkedIn and YouTube all while trying to do whatever job you’re supposed to be doing seems fairly impossible at the onset.  It’s almost enough to give up and go back to what you’re used to and comfortable doing.  Which is exactly the wrong impluse.

Change always feels uncomfortable.  And unless you’re forced out of that comfort zone its difficult to take the steps you need to take to get out and move forward.  So what I try to do when talking to people who feel overwhelmed by the prospect of social media is talk to them about email.  And cell phones.  Because I often speak to and work with people who are older than me I ask them “Do you remember doing your job without email and cell phones?”  Invariably they say “yes,” and then they smile knowing where I am going with these questions.  Email and cellphones have completely changed the way we do business during the course of most baby boomer careers; but they have become so ingrained and essential to business today that we forget what it was like before them.  I imagine most of these overworked souls said the same thing about these new technologies.  In fact, I remember my mom resenting the implication of a cell phone when they were first invented.  Now it’s the only number I reach her on.

Social Media is the New Email and Cell Phone

What I explain to them  is that in the same way that email and cell phones have pervaded how we do business and (more importantly) connect with one another, social media is again revolutionizing communication.  With hundreds of millions of people using social media every day (and sites like Facebook adding 750,000 a day) that using social media is no longer a choice for those who wish to remain relevant and engaged with their friends, colleagues, mentors, business contacts and prospects.  Just as people bemoaned the use of another communcation tool in email, and then quickly saw its power, so too will business professionals soon recognize the lasting power of social media in their business and personal relationships.

Keeping Social Media Simple

I advise newcomers to social media to keep it simple to start.  There are so many different social media sites, properties, tools and communities that trying to interact and use them all is a recipe for insta-burnout and a return back to the safe, comfortable shore of business as usual.  You can see a whole host of them in the Conversation Prism below:

The Conversation Prism by Brian Solis and Jesse Thomas

Trying to utilize them all will lead to abandonment at worst or ineffective use at best as it is easy to be spread to thin in a hurry.  So it certainly makes sense to pick just a few sites and properties to get started with.  Wade into the water and take it slow.

Choosing the Right Social Media Sites for You & Your Business

Many people recommend choosing a handful of social media tools and properties to use in order to make it manageable.  Invariably they recommend this generic combination:

And while these are all surely the leading sites in their respective spaces, and you should probably be involved in most if not all of them to one degree or another, simply recommending a generic list like this does little to address your needs in your business/expertise area.  For example music professionals, A/R people, etc. must be on MySpace as it is still a premiere place for unsigned acts to display their work.  Real estate has networks such as Active Rain and you’ll find computer engineers and others on open-source forums, IRC and bulletin boards.  That’s why it’s important to identify where you’re industry congregates online before choosing the tools you wish to use.

However, once you do find where your community likes to interact and congregate online you need to create a sustainable workflow that allows you to participate in that community in a way that is beneficial for the community and yourself.  Notice how I’ve put the community first.  You need to think in terms of providing value before you can get value.  If you’re used to traditional marketing and prospecting this is going to feel foreign to you.  But it is essential that you “pay it forward” before jumping into a sales pitch.

Becoming Part of Your Online Community

Once you’ve identified your online community its time to get involved and become a part of the community.  But like any social gathering, you can’t just storm in and scream at the top of your lungs “I’m here!” It’s important that you move slowly and humbly and deferentially at first.  What you want to do is get a lay of the land and a sense for how the community operates online.  You’ll start to notice the rythym of the community in terms of communication, how people talk to one another, who are the leaders and influencers and who are the clowns, etc.  It requires a bit of anthropology 101 to observe and understand this new ecosystem that you’re about to join.

With that here are the steps to getting involved with an online community:

  1. Listen. The most important part.  Use your newly-acquired anthropological skills to listen and learn about the community and how it operates.
  2. Learn. Learn the “rules of the road” about how to engage and interact within the community.
  3. Provide value. Start by providing value. If you see a question you know an answer to, answer it. If you have a piece of insight on a topic, share it.  If you have an interesting article that you found online share it.  Rinse, repeat.  Providing value is the best way to build up your social capital within the community.
  4. Engage. As you’re providing value engage with the people who are responding to your answers, shared articles and more.  Talk to them like a normal person – not a salesman or a corporate press release but as a normal human being (crazy right?)
  5. Promote Others. How can you help other people? Can you advocate for their position? Can you share or (in Twitter’s case) retweet something they’ve said?  How can you help advance the cause of other people?  By doing this you’ll build social capital within the group and specifically from those individuals.  That capital will eventually be available for you to draw on for your own needs.
  6. Share about you. Self-promotion is often looked down upon in communities. It’s far better to get others to promote you (see #5) but you can share information about yourself that lets people know what you do, your background, expertise and more.  The last thing you want to do is be a hard salesman; but there is nothing wrong in demonstrating your expertise and background through meaningful conversation and engagement.
  7. Promotion. If you do all the steps above right eventually you may earn the right to promote on a very limited basis.  This does not mean that one day a switch will go on where you can just spam the community with your marketing messages. There is never a time when the community will look favorably on that behavior.  But as you build your social capital in the community you may find natural opportunities where what you bring to the table is viewed as valuable and welcome by the members.  This doesn’t happen overnight, so don’t hold your breath on shouting to the world about your product or service.

Creating a Social Media Workflow

You’ve found your community online in the areas that they congregate. You’ve identified the sites that are most important to you in connecting with those communities.  Now you need to create a social media workflow that helps you make interacting with those communities a regular, ongoing occurence.  Social media is like a marathon, it’s not a sprint.  So the only way to gain value out of it is through repeated, regular involvement.  To make sure you do this you need to set up a workflow and schedule that ensures you develop a repeatable cadence that becomes part of your reputation online.

Setting your Cadence

Set your cadence by identifying time throughout your week where you can commit a certain amount of time to social media.  Think of it like setting an exercise routine.  Start with something manageable and build up.  How about 30 minutes every other day?  Or for blogging, perhaps it’s a post per week.  Whatever it is you need to create a block of time that you’re committed to learning and using social media.  There is no other way that you are going to be successful using it otherwise.

Choosing your Activities

If you’ve determined that you’re going to spend three 30-minute sessions a week using social media and also want to blog you should consider what activities you’re going to do when.  For blogging you should look at how many times a week you want to create new content.  Once a week? Twice a week? More?  In order to develop a cadence blogging I suggest you blog at least once a week.  Then you need to identify what the 30-minute sessions are going to entail.  Is it using Twitter to talk with people in the community and share interesting links? Is it connecting with people on LinkedIn and answering questions, joining and participating in groups and writing recommendations? Is it recording a how-to screencast video and posting it to YouTube?

Think of the most important and valuable activities that you could be doing via social media and make those your priority.

Become a Local

By choosing your activities and meeting your commitments regularly you’ll establish a strong cadence which will become identifiable and predictable from the members of your community, followers, readers, etc.  This will begin to establish your role in the ecosystem and community as you carve out your own particular niche.

Make Life Easier

As you get into the rythym of participation you’ll notice that some people have identified tools and systems to help them make their participation more efficient.  You’ll want to do the same thing.  Taking Twitter for example, there are a large range of tools that make Twitter more seamless in your day-to-day activity.  From desktop publishing and monitoring tools such as Tweetdeck, Seesmic Desktop, Destroy Twitter and more to automating Tweets with HootSuite, to tracking links through bit.ly and su.pr you will find a host of solutions that make the experience more rewarding and easier to manage.

Keep at It

Remember it’s a marathon, not a sprint.  Social media isn’t like old media. You don’t buy a newspaper ad and wait for the phone to ring.  It takes time, persistence and the creation of real value for others in order for the system to provide value back to you.  This doesn’t come over night.  Start by paying it forward and work to provide value to the people you interact with.  By keeping it simple, sticking to your social media workflow plan and by looking to contribute before looking to extract you’ll be well on your way to leveraging social media for you and your business.

Flickr Image: Binary Flow by Adrenalin

Google Gaga for Groupon’s Growth

The rumors started Sunday night with a note from Vator News that Google acquired Groupon for $2.5 billion. Now Kara Swisher over at BoomTown puts the number of the Groupon Google Deal at $5-6 billion. Whatever the number, the reasoning behind it is clear. Google is in a desperate hunt for revenue growth. Groupon is the fastest growing business on record. Google wants to finally crack the local nut after years of battling for SMB dollars with yellow page directories, Groupon is a sensation among small business owners. Those two factors make Groupon a must win for Google, and they’re willing to pay a premium for it.

Google needs Groupon for growth. Google has no doubt been on a tear, but in 2009 they slowed, dramatically. Google advertising revenues grew 59% YOY in 2007, 29% in 2008, and just 8% in an admittedly tough economy in 2009. And in 2010, it looks as if advertising revenue will grow somewhere in the neighborhood of 15% if Q4 revenues are in the ballpark of the rest of the year. And while most companies would love to see this track record of growth, it can’t be satisfying to Google execs who have seen companies like Apple see their revenues and market caps up big. And even private companies like Facebook and Twitter are reporting big gains in users, big gains in advertising revenue (with Facebook’s purported $1 billion in revenue this year) and getting impressive private valuations.

It’s clear. The battle for web dollars is on. Google is turning more into a utility with good but not great growth while the aforementioned high fliers are getting the growth, the spotlight and the valuation. For Google, Groupon is the perfect antidote. An infusion of growth for a company that really has no other answers.

Think about it for a minute. Google’s big acquisitions YouTube and DoubleClick are not growth centers. Heck, YouTube is specutively a break even business unit at best. Their enterprise apps, mail, and other products are seeing user growth; but not revenue growth. And Google’s recent spate of product launches (refinements to search, HotPot, etc.) don’t point to any new revenue champs coming from internal teams. All this leads to Google looking for growth, and there is no better growth story on the Web right now than Groupon.

Groupon is enjoying 50% margins and an estimated $50 million per month in revenue. That’s a shot in the arm for Google’s bottom line. And Groupon isn’t even operating at scale yet. They’re still rolling up knock-offs, hiring sales and copywriting staff like crazy, and innovating on the product side to bring Groupon to everyone. And even if small businesses lament Groupon and even if Groupon’s not a great marketing strategy for business, it’s popular, it’s easy and it works to drive numbers to local businesses. And Google, for all it’s done on AdWords and Places has not been able to capture the imagination of small business like Groupon has.

For small business owners Google is hard and confusing. AdWords is competitive, expensive, requires keen oversight and intensive setup to get right. And even after doing all of that, the search query volume for “Pomona pet store” just isn’t high enough to drive real traffic and business to small business. And as anyone in the directory business can tell you, it’s not about branding, it’s not about being findable, it’s all (and I mean all) about making the register ring. Yellow page companies have been chasing this grail for years, with click to call technology and in-depth customer reporting, all in a desperate effort to tie results back to spend. And while Google has a much clearer ROI path and performance model, they can’t drive foot traffic, phone calls and new customers like Groupon can (and like the Yellow pages used to.)

But the yellow pages are expensive with high monthly minimums, and even with the advent of new performance plans on things like search and click to call, the industry doesn’t have a strong way to drive new business in waves (like Groupon) or have clear ROI reporting in line with Google’s.

Which gets us back to Groupon, because Groupon solves the two problems that Google and the yellow pages don’t solve. They get awareness, and lots of it. The Groupon rushes are famous by now. Google can’t generate demand like that, they can only help to harness existing demand and drive it in your direction. They can’t make more people search for teeth whitening; but Groupon can set off a wave of people who suddenly realize they need to brighten up their incisors. Groupon also has the low cost and the yellow pages can’t compete with that; their monthly minimums come and go every month for the entire year. Groupon, in contrast is pay for performance. You only pay for each person that buys, although, you pay out the nose.

When you put it all together, Groupon is a sexy, sexy target for Google. For all of Groupon’s misgivings, it’s a hot company; a big growth opportunity and a model that small businesses get and like, for the most part. So if Groupon is the right play for the company that wants to be the yellow pages of the Internet, the next question becomes the price tag. At $5 billion, this is no small potatoes, and represents Google’s biggest M&A deal ever. The questions are numerous – will Groupon be able to maintain margins in the face of stiff competition (currently at %50, the answer is NO,) will Groupon be able to scale efficiently, will Groupon be able to continue it’s growth? Not likely and not likely. There are only a handful of companies that have successfully cracked the local nut, their names are AT&T, SuperPages, Local Insight Media, Dex and a handful of others; all have large sales forces, and all have low margin, low growth businesses. Interestingly, most have had to reorganize via some form of bankruptcy or acquisition. Can Groupon buck that trend? Questionable. But they do have things going for them that yellow page companies don’t, like no cost of goods and production of books as massive cost centers.

So is $5-6 billion worth it to Google? Buying growth is expensive and companies will pay a premium for it. Just look at Disney’s acquisition of Marvel for $4 billion, all in the name of growth among tween and teenage boys. For Google and Groupon, time will tell; but I think the answer is yes, because Google needs growth, Google has the resources to scale Groupon and Google can leverage the wonderful world of advertiser bundles to sell things like places, tags, and AdWords to advertisers who make Groupon just part of their advertising/marketing mix. I argued that Groupon is not a marketing strategy; but Groupon, combined with thoughtful search, and other localized online marketing can be a part of a coherent small business marketing strategy. Google has all the pieces to deliver that value.

Let me know what you think.

Photos are the Love Letters of the Social Web

Instagram, Hipstamatic, Path, the list goes on and on. Photo taking, editing and sharing apps are gaining momentum right now as more and more people use quick photos to communicate with their friends and family. Years after Flickr and Facebook reinvented the photo as a shared, social object, these new apps are transforming how we communicate, from short text-based status updates to candid, interesting photos. Some people are wondering why these photo sharing apps are so en vogue right now, but I think the answer is pretty simple – people want more than text to express themselves. As the on-board cell phone camera technology has improved pictures have become a more viable and attractive way for people to express themselves online. With our new cameras and better upload ability photos have become the new love letter for the web.

We’ve talked about the “statusphere” since the dawn of Twitter. Short text bursts were our our only option if we wanted to participate in the social web. But they were lacking. Sometimes, words just don’t do it. Text is great for relaying information, facts, quotes, etc. but photos are a much more emotional. They not only serve an information need, they serve an emotional and phatic need as well. These facets are often missing in text form, or if they’re there, aren’t nearly as profound or effective.

So now, instead of typing what we’re doing, we’re sharing what we’re doing visually with these apps. Our phatic expressions previously text-based, are being replaced, and in a hurry. The rush to join Instagram and the rest of the photo sharing/taking apps is a direct response to this emotional void that photos fill that text just can’t touch.

For example, I share photos with my girlfriend throughout the day. We snap pictures of what we’re doing, our kids, our workspaces, our shopping carts, our friends, and more. These aren’t award winners and they won’t end up on the mantle; but they’re a powerful way to say “I’m thinking of you. I wish you were here. I love you.” A picture of my son coloring is far more emotionally engaging than a text message that says “we’re coloring,” and that is what makes the photo sharing so appealing to us as users.

But there’s another thing going on here. Because people could MMS well before Instagram came along and they could share on Flickr and BBS’s long before that. And I think the secret ingredient is the filters that come on these apps. Because when you take a photo you’re documenting an event; but when you add a filter to the photo you’re adding a mood and personality to the moment. You’re marking it for posterity. You’re able to add what the camera can’t see. You’re making each picture special. And that last step is what makes sharing so interesting. In some way, you’re able to idealize the moment, and that makes sharing far more interesting for both the sharer and the recipients. It isn’t just cold reality captured by an unforgiving, inhuman lens. Rather, it’s the scene as it appeared in your mind (to some reasonable approximation anyway,) and you’re able, in some small way, to share your life the way you see it.

And people love this. Because it’s their editorial touch on the reality captured by the camera. And it lets them put their voice into the picture. The picture and it’s alterations say as much about the person as anything else they share.

This ability to alter the mundane into something special resonates with users again and again and again. We see this behavior and rapid adoption whenever a company can add an extra layer of meaning on top of an everyday item. For example, it’s not Starbucks coffee, but what the coffee and logo say about the drinker and how it makes that person feel. It’s the design of the Mac and the aluminum casing and what that says about the person holding the laptop.

And now these photos are capturing and conveying that same idea. It’s not the photo necessarily, its presenting the moment the way we choose to represent it, and what that says about us and who we are and the life we choose to lead. The photos are love letters to the people we love and care about and to ourselves. They make the mundane significant and add importance to what we experience, big and small.

Idealizing these moments is what makes these photos the love letters of our time, and what makes these apps so popular.

There are important ramifications for this change in behavior from a business and social media strategy standpoint as well. As more people share and engage around photos brands will have to find a way to participate in this preferred way of sharing content online. The Daily Beast reported that photos and videos get more interaction on Facebook than text updates. Images and videos get more comments and likes than text updates (on average,) which puts them in more Top News streams and in front of the customers they’re trying to reach. How can brands adapt to this? By sharing more photos and video of course – photos with an emotional appeal that resonates with their customer base.

It goes beyond just social sharing though, and has much broader implications for product design and development. How do you let your customers express themselves in a way that resonates with them, that helps them depict an ideal/romanticized version of their world? How do you give customers lightweight ways that they can take the raw product and add their idealized filter to it to make it truly one-of-a-kind, truly theirs? How can you help your customers portray not just their reality, but the reality in their mind’s eye?

Increasingly we are able to share more about our lives via text, photo and video. And increasingly we can craft and present our lives to be displayed perhaps not as they are in the harsh light of objective reality; but in the idealized vision of our own emotional lens. And products, like Path, like Instagram, that give us the ability to capture that state and to share with our loved ones and the world that our life is filled with interest and wonder and love are the ones that will continue to succeed in the social space. They say photos are worth a thousand words. In an age when people proclaim that SMS, Twitter and status updates are killing our language, these photos show that expressing our love to those we connect with and care about is healthier than ever.

Woz: Android Will Dominate Mobile. Jobs: Yawn.

Steve Wozniak told reporters yesterday that Android would become the dominant smart phone platform, not the iPhone. Of course, this got the tech blogs in a buzz, with Woz’s Apple ties and the classic open vs. closed platform debate making this quip juicy link bait. But I couldn’t help but think that Steve Jobs sees this quote and just yawns. Literally.

Does anyone think that 1) Jobs is worried about Android becoming the dominant OS or that he wants the iOS on every phone and 2) that Android’s destiny is preordained? I don’t think so.

If we define “dominant” by the number of devices carrying the OS, then there’s no way that Jobs is worried about it. Look at the market caps of Apple and Microsoft. Look at the install bases of both. Jobs knows that winning doesn’t mean putting your device in every hand. It means creating a profitable ecosystem and customer base that wants to pay a premium for a premium product. The idea that Apple would suddenly want to be the commodity leader in the ultimate commodity technology market completely ignores Apple’s strategy since Jobs’ return to power. Apple is about premium products, premium experience. It’s not about OEMs, licensing across a million platforms and trying to get every single member of the mass consumer market using their products.

If Android becomes the largest share of mobile phone OS installs it has little impact on Apple as a company, and less still on their mobile product strategy. Of course, they want to get people into the walled garden and let them know how nice and cozy it is so that they’ll grow their customer base – but they aren’t trying to be the Windows of the phone world, that hasn’t been their corporate strategy to date, and there’s no reason to think it will be in mobile now.

Jobs knows that being the commodity leader is not being the market leader. But giving Android the commodity crown now is also flawed. Android has a long way to go before regular users will adopt it, recommend it and use it.

Woz makes the mistake of equating “more features” with greater product desirability by the market. We know, from countless historical examples, that this just isn’t true. In fact, I’d argue that a more limited OS is more desirable to most consumers. Take my mom for example. She just wants a phone that works. She doesn’t want a phone that works like her PC. She HATES her PC. It takes forever to load, is still filled with garbage from OEM installs of anti-virus trial offers and doesn’t offer a seamless experience in any shape of the word. The last thing my mom wants in her pocket, when she needs to make a call, is another implementation of her disaster of a PC experience.

This is where it will be difficult (not impossible, just difficult) for Android. How do you keep the user experience high on a device that should just “work like it’s supposed to?” People have learned that computers crash, have performance issues and are generally a pain. But people have learned that the phone just works. Just like cars. Just like electricity. Consumers will get frustrated if the Android marketplace and software emulates the PC experience. They won’t adopt it in large numbers.

And if the Android market isn’t secure there will be a public perception problem about the safety of installing apps. We’ve already had the stories of malware in the Android App store. These will take hold and create challenges for the OS in public adoption. Users aren’t sophisticated enough to navigate this themselves, and when people start losing business contacts due to viruses on their phones the backlash will follow.

So while the tech industry can crown Android now, and call it the soon-to-be dominant OS I can see the folks at Apple, Jobs particularly, sitting back and yawning. Knowing that 1) it doesn’t matter if it does come true and 2) it’s not guaranteed to, anyway.

Update: Apparently Woz was misquoted and basically sums up what I said above in his response here:

According to Steve, that’s about it — he says he’d “never” say that Android was better than iOS, and that “Almost every app I have is better on the iPhone.” Woz did say he lightly prognosticated that Android would become more popular “based on what I’ve read,” but that he expects Android “to be a lot like Windows… I’m not trying to put Android down, but I’m not suggesting it’s better than iOS by any stretch of the imagination. But it can get greater marketshare and still be crappy.” He’s not shy, that Woz — listen to him say it all for yourself after the break.

Artisanal Marketing

My favorite type of marketing, by far, is artisanal marketing.  Hand crafted, thoughtful, intelligent marketing.  Not slick. Not aimed at the masses. Not average marketing for average consumers.  But just the opposite.  Thoughtful, insightful, honest, embracing complexity and celebrating the craft of the product or products themselves.  This type of marketing eschews hype in favor of information yet still has a very strong opinion and point of view that it shares with those that choose to listen.  It’s not easy. It takes thought to get and isn’t for everyone.  And it is all of these attributes that makes artisanal marketing special, unique and, wildly successful.

In a world full of over-promise, under deliver, sell to the lowest common denominator marketing, the artisanal approach celebrates the simplicity (and complexity) of delivering a message about the value and use of a product or service.  And in its own anti-establishment way remarkable and worth talking about.  Artisanal marketing used to be the realm of small companies.  Companies that didn’t have the Madison Avenue Madmen telling them how to package and process their message to hit the widest, most generic target possible.  It was the realm of the companies who clearly “didn’t get it.”  But their charm and earnest nature earned them raving fans who loved the product and felt a connection as part of a tribe that “got” what the company and the product was all about.  The company didn’t settle and neither did their fans, who became passionate consumers and advocates for the brand.

That is the power of artisanal marketing.

But it’s no longer just the purview of those small companies.  Big corporations are embracing artisanal marketing and cultivating that same down-home, honest image and approach that makes artisanal marketing so refreshing, appealing and successful.  Not conicidentally the ones that do it the best are the ones that have done it all along – from the time they were tiny to now.  The ones that haven’t succeed are the ones where the only thing artisanal about the product is the marketing.  Without real, honest product the way you package it up becomes irrelevant.

One artisanal marketer that immediately comes to mind is Trader Joe‘s with their sales flyer that is unlike no other.  The Fearless Flyer reads like a local newspaper, full of kitch and detail and opinion and bad puns and play-on-words and everything that you’d expect from a local publisher.  Except its the sales circular for a large grocery chain.  And it works, brilliantly.  While most sales circulars, loaded down with high-gloss photos of studio shot food and triple coupon specials, end up in the recycling bin without a second thought, Trader Joe’s Fearless Flyer gets read, like a magazine and enjoyed.

And it’s completely counter-intuitive to what you’d expect from a grocery flyer.  Printed on newsprint without any photos of the products it is often 4 or 5 times as long as a traditional circular. Product descriptions aren’t two sentences, they’re two paragraphs.  The copy is breezy, funny, and engaging.  It takes time and energy to get the most out of the Fearless Flyer.  It’s the time and energy the other chains are betting its shoppers don’t have.  But Trader Joe’s makes the Fearless Flyer an experience.  A hand crafted experience that insists that you slow down and enjoy it.  It doesn’t hope to reach the thoughtless masses with cheap promotional calls.  The Fearless Flyer says, I’m not mass produced. I’m not aiming for the lowest common denominator.  I will not make it easy to consume and discard me.

The Fearless Flyer is artisanal. It embraces an honest, authentic point of view that celebrates the complexity and diversity and joys of food. It doesn’t try to win in the rat race – it connects with its shoppers who appreciate a more honest and artisanal approach to food.

It’s the perfect expression of artisanal marketing and the power the authentic, less-polished approach to marketing can have.  It’s refreshing and wonderfully done.  I’ll look at more artisanal examples going forward; but my question to you in the meantime is what can you do to bring a more honest and artisanal approach to your marketing?

My Top 3 Google Buzz Tips

After using Google Buzz for a few days now I’m excited about the potential of this service to really bring together two important parts of my daily workflow, social media conversations and email.  Ever since Gmail, Google Reader, Twitter and Facebook have become important parts of my daily life I’ve struggled with how to unify them.  Friendfeed was the best bet, but a quick sale to Facebook killed that option, and didn’t address email.  Now Google Buzz has taken the first big step to an overall unifying communication platform.  And I’m excited.

There is a lot of, um, buzz, about buzz and it’s noted security flaws and it’s ability to drive you to ADD-delerium due to the way it integrates with Gmail.  And the criticism is fair.  And while these are early days for the product you can’t let some beta product ruin an important part of your private life and work – your email.  So here are a few Google Buzz Tips that I’ve found work really well for me after a few days use.

To get the most of Google Buzz, try these tips:

1) Don’t follow weblebrities. Following someone like Jason Calacanis, Robert Scoble or Pete Cashmore of Mashable is just asking to be innundated with Buzz updates from their fans that comment on everything they post.  Each of their posts receives hundreds of comments and likes which does two things: 1) bumps their threads to the top of Buzz, so that every time you login you’re dealing with scrolling down through the same posts over and over; and 2) clogs your inbox if you’ve previously responded to the post (liking or commenting) which pops the threads into your Gmail inbox.

See an example below. 89 comments and 60 likes is a lot of activity to deal with in your email box.  And you can get all of Mashable’s content on Twitter, where you don’t have to get the feedback of the masses.

2) Mute posts early and often. You can mute noisy posts, like the above, simply by clicking the drop down arrow next to comment.  This allows you to mute the post and you will no longer hear updates from that particular post. This is particularly handy for when the argument devolves to back-and-forth banter between a few people on a post like the above. You’ve extracted the value you wanted, now mute it and move on.

Here’s how to mute on Google Buzz:

mute-google-buzz

3) Move Buzz updates into a new label and auto archive them out of your inbox. If you don’t want to see when new comments get added to your Buzz items simply create a new filter in Gmail that takes your Buzz update items and moves them to a label/folder out of your inbox that you can read at your convenience.  This article about moving Buzz updates out of your inbox from Lifehacker has all the details if you don’t know how to create filters in Gmail.

Those are my top 3 tips for making Google Buzz work for me – what are yours? Share any hacks and tricks in the comments! Thanks!