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Community Managers will become the most visible customer-facing people in your technology company, if they are not already. It was just a few years ago where executives doubted their value altogether. Now I hear about Fortune 500 companies launching Community Managers for each product and each market. It's strong move, but a wise one. Community Mangers are the team captains of the internet because they ought to be a customer as much as they are an employee.
Community Mangers bridge the company/customer gap in the same way team captains connect coaches and players. Team captains are the players that coaches consult to understand the player perspective. They are the person who can rally the other players to get behind one thing or against another. They are usually the most famous and iconic player on their team. Most important: team captains do not coach, they educate when appropriate. Likewise, Community Managers need to have a total understanding of what the customer wants and how they are likely to behave. They represent the community because the community trusts them. And they never sell, they provide relevant content and products according to the unique needs of the conversations they are in.
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I first gave my definition of marketing on this blog two years ago. I still believe Marketing should be a Sales operation, and that effective marketing is sales at scale. But there are a lot of kinds of marketing and all are important. In general, Marketing serves these functions:
The image above is from Tom Ford and is one of my favorite fashion adverts ever. Good marketing will not please everyone.
Ecosystems like Apple, Android, Amazon, Google, Microsoft, and Facebook are reaching unprecedented levels of ubiquity, so consumers have important decisions to make.
Add more personal access points into the ecosystem and it works better; you are happy. But with every additional node it becomes exponentially harder to leave that ecosystem.
I like to be free -- ecosystem agnostic; but I also like to be happy -- ecosystem optimized. Will it be possible to have both?
To be an effective marketer you have to know what works, what doesn't, and allocate your resources accordingly. But how can you determine the efficacy of your marketing? It takes some math and analytics, but I promise it won't hurt. Let's consider a simple base case: you are marketing for an eCommerce company and your goal is to acquire sales through paid advertising. Keep non-paid and organic marketing out of the model for now.
First, choose a time interval that is long enough to be meaningful but short enough to be evaluated regularly. Let's say 24 hours. Then establish your benchmark. For each day, you are responsible for bringing in some number of sales. This is your daily sales goal [G]. Divide [G] by your on-site conversion rate. This is the number of new visits you need to your website per day. Multiply this number of visits by your daily CPC, averaged over all the paid networks you are advertising on. This is your daily spend [S]; what you have to spend each day to achieve your [G].
Now add up all the sales from the day you want to inspect. This is your gross revenue, a direct result from your [S] for that day. Multiply gross revenue by gross margin (as a percentage), this is your net revenue [R]. Now compare your spend vs revenue. If [R] > [S] congrats, you have a positive ROI. Take a moment to pat yourself on the back. If [R] < [S] then you have a negative ROI, this might be okay for now but you probably want to make it positive as soon as possible.
This exercise is what I call Efficacy Testing. The goal of Efficacy Testing is to give you a quick way to determine if what you are doing is working. Most businesses have more comprehensive models, but the logic is the same. Don't forget that you manage what you measure, so do Efficacy Testing on your most important channels on a regular basis.
Marketing should be designed to perform: it is the marketer's duty to bring new customers and optimize existing ones. This is how I approach every company I work with. I'm thrilled to be in the industry I'm in but I see a lot of marketing professionals totally missing the point. A great article by the Harvard Business Review illuminates the problem well:
In a devastating 2011 study of 600 CEOs and decision makers by the London-based Fournaise Marketing Group, 73% of them said that CMOs lack business credibility and the ability to generate sufficient business growth, 72% are tired of being asked for money without explaining how it will generate increased business, and 77% have had it with all the talk about brand equity that can't be linked to actual firm equity or any other recognized financial metric.
Although it's a sad trend I'm happy to see that I'm not the only one that has noticed. While brand equity is great, it should be the natural by-product of effective marketing -- not an end in itself.
Build. Sell. Measure. Optimize. Repeat.
Selling your software online is hard, even the most beautifully designed website will be ineffective if your sales page is totally screwed up. This is what most startup SAAS pricing pages look like to me.
Unintuitive = ineffective. Ineffective = no sales. Here are some strategies to make your website a more effective sales tool.
Use real metrics people understand
Proprietary metrics are not impressive, they are confusing. Most of your customers don't care what it takes to get the job done, all they care is that you get the job done and you do it well. Structure your pricing according to core business metrics your customers already track and understand to maximize the chance of a sale. I really love how Custora bases their pricing on the number of customs you have.
Focus your pricing into one real metric
Even if you do price your software according to dozen of variables, keep the customer facing options as dead simple as possible. Give your customer one price based off a simple metric they understand. If you do have to tier your service, tier it off of different levels of exactly one variable. Your goal is to make it as easy as possible to say yes to a great offer. With each extra variable in the pricing equation you will add another question the end customer has to consider. A "no" anywhere in the funnel will result in a sale of 0. Optimize for one YES and get the credit card. Props to WePay and my former boss, their Director of Marketing, for such a focused pricing solution. It's easy to understand and really stands out against their competition.
Give them everything they need to be successful
If you build a product, it should be great. And if it's great why wouldn't you want your customers to use every awesome feature? This may be my most controversial point: include all features at every level of service. I'm crazy you might say, a sure fire way to go broke right? Nope. Just price your packages according to the highest possible use case at each level, then add on top the margin you wish to earn. Yes, that means you will make more money of customers who use your product less, or conversely, less money from customers who use your product more. But this is intrinsic to other technology models we already know like internet service, cell phone data packages, and satellite TV. The corollary here is if a feature is not cost effective or worth offering at every level of service, you need to kill it. There is one specific exemption from this rule -- super premium features. Do not factor them into any standard offering but definitely do offer them to any customer who is serious about an upgrade. Just be sure the features are in fact super premium, it's not worth making huge promises for an incrementally better product. Virb is a great example of an elegant pricing solution. They give you all their great features at one easy to understand price.
You are a startup: you need more traction, more customers, more runway. Your company is a nightclub and your product is the party. Don't worry about different kinds of tickets, just make sure it's a great party for everyone. Even better if you can get them talking about it tomorrow.
I'm very excited for the future of small and medium businesses across all verticals and sectors. The sophisticated tools and services that drive Fortune XXX companies are reaching down to smaller enterprises (thanks in part to tech startups) and as a result SMBs are becoming an increasingly powerful force in our economy. SMBs have more leverage now more than ever.
As SMBs everywhere develop, businesses who sell their products and services to other business will have to think harder about their sales and marketing strategies because SMBs don't operate like Big Cos. In a way, marketing to SMBs is one of the hardest fields you can play on. Unless you have the capital to fund a gigantic sales team or comprehensive ad campaign, your product and product marketing will have to speak for itself. You have to be strategic with your approach.
This presents interesting marketing opportunities. In big companies, new tech and product adoption is forced. The end users are typically totally disconnected to the sales process where cost, features, and utility are necessary parts of the multi level conversations. But in SMBs, the end user is likely no further than 1 degree away from the owner/operator and key decision maker…the user might even be the key decision maker himself. So the cost, features, and utility of your product are always on trial by the key decision maker or his agent every time it is used. In SMBs your product has to be good otherwise it will be eliminated, quickly.
Your value prop and key marketing messages need to reflect this relationship. If your end user is an employee, your messaging should show how your tech will make his job better. If your end user is an owner/operator or his agent, your messaging should show how your tech will make his life better.
I suppose relating your product to the to the most profound context should always be the marketer's imperative, but you can only take an employee's responsibility so far. When marketing to SMBs remember who the operator is and talk to him directly. Make their life better.
1. If you like economics, geopolitics and have a big chunk of time you should read A Brief History of the Corporation by Venkatesh Rao. It is brilliant. This is what first got me thinking about the role of SMBs in our future economy, and how we can seize to the opportunity it brings.
2. I've been working on this particular post for a couple days and just earlier today Seth Godin published his thoughts on B2B selling. It's not very similar to my what I have above, but just wanted to let you folks know that I am aware of it, and am not writing on this topic only because he is. F*ck it! We'll do it live!
I'm frustrated with music. All around me I see great technological innovations yet none of it has made a meaningful impact on the music industry. There is certainly a demand for it: music is the most popular form of human entertainment. By my count about half of the top 100 Twitter users are musicians or musical artists. Further, good music is incredibly addictive and is proven have a psychoactive effect on our brains. To me, this equals missed opportunity.
The big incongruity lies between what music people want versus what music they can get. People want more music. There is more music being created now more than ever and musical tastes are diversifying. Despite this, people are getting the same music they have always had access to because, even though more music is being created, the power of distribution is still held by the industry oligarchs. And therein is the problem with the biggest music broadcasting platforms -- internet and terrestrial radio. Both mediums distribute effectively the same music but package it up in slightly different ways. I personally love Rdio and pay $5 a month for it, but the experience there is exceedingly similar to Spotify, and the music I get there is exactly the same as the music I can download on iTunes (or Amazon), or download illegally (or borrow from a friend), or listen to on Pandora (or Last.fm), or even listen to on my local radio station if I'm lucky. Music, it seems, is being commoditized.
What we need are novel and valuable ways to bring new music to the mass market. Most important is empowering the creators of music to do more with their fans and unlock new monetization channels. The answer I think is building awesome experiences on top of music, where the musical product itself is a unique function of the platform. Critical to this is mobile because it will become the atomic unit of computing, if it is not already. This is something I am working on. Stay tuned.
I searched Google for the keyword "search". Interesting result... apparently they rank themselves as the 4th best result.
Quick and Dirty
Search is changing quick. Facebook search has never worked at all, and is still broken. Twitter is useful to get a real time glance on a subject, and has launched some new advertising services which apparently include keyword bidding. Pinterest is useful to see really cool stuff from the theme of your search query. Google has changed a lot and it is still tbd whether this will enrich or inhibit their search experience. Youtube is the second biggest search engine in the world yet their search results looks dated and irrelevant, nothing is innovative or customized. I would expect Google to make some serious improvements to YouTube search very soon, and they will likely be in line with their Google+ strategy of uniting all Google properties. DuckDuckGo is a sleeper that I have been keeping my eye on. Their technology is great and I think has a lot of promise going forward. I threw in Yahoo just for good measure. Let's just say I'm not convinced they know what the term UI/UX means. Ask and Bing are chugging along but they are aiming at the wrong target. Blekko is good but boring.
Searching for Search
Search is at the heart of the web. At a fundamental level, the internet opens information of all kinds to everyone in the world, so it follows that search utilities are important for helping the end user find what they want. Google defined our modern paradigm and I believe there will always be place for them. But I'm also happy to see new paradigms emerge as they necessarily should because the old school website model itself is evolving into real-time and social discourse. Some new models are better than others. Here is what the current landscape looks like. Please note that all images below are screenshots taken above the fold.
Facebook search has always been a sensitive subject to me. I've been a member since 2005 and spend so much time on the network, I was hoping they would have a decent search and discovery engine by now. Alas Facebook search is still broken, in fact it was never working in the first place. Facebook probably knows more about me than Google, yet the search results for "BMW" are not actionable at all. The best they give me is the BMW fan page. That's nice, but what about the content behind the BMW based conversations that I know friends of mine are having? What about local search results? Facebook relies heavily on the News Feed as a vehicle of discovery. Yet it came out recently that only about 17% of your friends are exposed to any one of your posts. This means that a significant amount of information (and possible discourse) is lost, and as far as I can tell it's not being recovered with Facebook search.
Twitter Search is definitely one of the most underrated web utilities today. In terms of getting a real time snapshot of a subject you really can't beat it. That said, it really is just a raw dump of data that match your search keyword so much of it might not be relevant to the individual user. But that's okay, by the very nature of Twitter the "what" usually takes precedence over the "who". Twitter users -- the non super user variety -- have become commoditized in a sense. There is no limit to the people who are having public discussions about BMW. What's important to the user query the is the quality and content of the tweet, not necessarily who said it (assuming you do not know them).
Another noteworthy update is the multimedia search results at the left. They are presented clearly and simply. The end user is presented with choices and she will make click decisions based on the what is displayed, not who it came from, because user names are not displayed. What is particularly interesting to me is the sponsored Audi tweet at the top of the search results. This seems like a nifty SEM-like advertising service, and this will be huge. I've known for a while that Audi's marketing team is crafty, and this is no exception. When I search for a car that I love I see a similar make, and a tweet showcasing their hottest road car nonetheless. Props to Audi.
The new kid on the block is getting some serious attention, Amazon has even integrated Pinterest buttons on their product pages. I would agree with Brycewhen he suggests that Pinterest is leading the charge in disrupting the original search paradigm altogether. But their traditional search functions are also interesting. What I see when I look at this "BMW" search result is the coolest and newest content in the category. Intuitively this makes sense, people are not going to Pin [are we cool with calling it a "Pin" yet?] things that are not compelling, interesting, or new. Perhaps it's not useful for most brands, but for any company rolling out super cool products and services I would say Pinterest is a big and untapped opportunity.
I also really enjoy the simplicity Pinterest uses in their URL syntax. You don't get the long random strings of tracking codes Google and the other search engines append to track everything. Even though I'm sure they are, I don't get the sense they are watching me with a magnifying glass, running multivariate tests, and tracking my every click.
I'm going to skip Google.com search because is there is already plenty of literature on the updates of their algorithms and UI. But I did have a pleasant Google discovery in my research though that I should share. Just Google search the keyword "search".
Considering it's parent company defined our modern search paradigm, the YouTube search results are very unimpressive. YouTube.com is the second biggest search engine in the world yet I see so many missed opportunities from (Google's perspective) to make the results more personal, relevant, and compelling. Hey Google, I know you're tracking my search and browsing history. And I know you are doing it for people I am connected to (via Google +), yet all I see are untargeted advertisements and random BMW videos. WTF mate? How about you show me trending BMW videos, or videos that my connections may have watched? There is no way Google is not thinking about this so I'm expecting a massive overhaul and rollout to the YouTube search results very soon. It is also possible Google just may rollout Search Plus Your World features and functions into YouTube. Will be interesting to watch.
This is a search engine that has been quietly growing and I've been watching for a while. I'm okay with rooting for the little guy when the little guy is actually doing stuff better, and I think this may be the case with Duck Duck Go. Their simple and clean search result interface reminds me of something I can't quite put my finger on…oh yeah I remember now…it looks like Google 10 years ago. Maybe the classic UI/UX best practices never die, or maybe they have a new secret sauce. Either way I think their product is impressive. It gives me relevant web results quickly and directly.
I was going to group Yahoo together with Ask and Bing, but given all the recent hubbub over Yahoo, and their impressively bad search results, I decided it's best to give Yahoo a dedicated writeup. Their verdict? The Yahoo search result is a complete miss. Keep in mind, this screenshot was taken above the fold only, but only one result on the page is organic, the rest are paid ads. Fortunately Yahoo tried to zero in on my location and give me a local result. The only problem with that is they gave me results for Los Angeles, and I'm writing this in San Francisco. Try again, Yahoo.
Ask and Bing
Judging on the interface alone, they are trying to play Google's game. But they are loosing because you can't beat Google at their own game. They are not doing that bad of a job, they are just not doing it nearly as well as Google and (love it or hate it) they don't offer any of the extra fixtures Google (i.e Google+) does. The novelty of asking an actual question in English to Ask has also worn off, you can do it in Google now and get results that are just as good. Plus there are already two other much better resources for asking questions - Quora and Stack Exchange.
Thanks to Mike Cane for reminding me about Blekko, it has grown significanlysince last time I checked so it definitely deserves discussion. While I really appreciate the clutter free experience, it's so simple that it's almost boring. It gets relevant information to me quickly but the experience itself is missing something. The results are solid, but the experience seems like a blank canvas ready to be painted on. Not a bad place to for a budding search engine to be. A big concern I have though is the fifth result which is a Blekko.com property. I don't know what they are trying to do here this probably does not belong on page 1 search results. You can also narrow serach results according to cateogry by appending a "/" on the end of your query, i.e. "bmw /news". I really like this feature but it seems too techy for mass appeal.
Overall I'm anticipating the rate of which these search engines change to accelerate, not slow down, because that's the lifeblood of the tech world we have today. Social Search is also a big priority for me and I have not seen any killer solutions yet, probably because the APIs of the various social networks can be finicky, and I know they don't like to play with one another. What search utilities and engines do you use? Let me know if I missed anything