Tag Archives: marketing

A PBwiki Webinar, Starring *You*

3 Apr

As y’all might have noticed from our Web site, PBwiki is now conducting regular webinars to help folks learn how they can use PBwiki to make their lives better: http://pbworks.com/content/webinars

The reaction to these webinars has been so positive, that now we’d like to expand them to include PBwiki users.

If you’d like to be featured in an upcoming PBwiki webinar, please leave a comment on this post.

If you’re an expert using PBwiki in your work, or if PBwiki has made a big difference in your life, we might want you to star in our next webinar. For example, one upcoming webinar will feature a leading professional organizer, who will talk about how you can use PBwiki to organize your life.

This is especially perfect for professionals who would like a way to reach PBwiki’s loyal user base of millions.

So if you think you have what it takes to co-host a PBwiki webinar, leave a comment, or email me, Chris Yeh, at chris dot yeh at pbwiki dot com.

I’ll be looking forward to seeing your name in lights.

P.S. As I mentioned in my last webinar on templates, if you have a template that you’ve created that you think really kicks ass, let me know. We might just add it PBwiki (named after you, of course!).

P.P.S. If you’d like to be featured in a webinar and reach millions of PBwiki users — and PBwiki has made a big difference in your life — please leave a comment on this post.

To Sell Your Story, Be The Story

14 Feb


For this week’s marketing post, I’m going to delve into the world of politics again, which holds some interesting lessons for the business world. 

One of the major advantages that Barack Obama currently holds over Hillary Clinton in the race for the Democratic presidential nomination here in the United States lies in how his campaign has managed the media.

Clinton’s campaign has complained that the media coverage is more sympathetic to Obama (which is pretty evident to anyone who watches CNN or MSNBC), but a bigger issue is simply the volume of coverage.

In political contests, pundits often refer to the “air war” and the “ground war.”  The air war consists of media exposure (either paid advertising or press coverage)  to drive awareness, while the ground war consists of the door-to-door organization to get out the vote.

In many ways, this division resembles the classic divide between Marketing (air war) and Sales (ground war) in business.

When it comes to the air war, the key is to drive awareness.  As I’m fond of saying, your most potent competitor is generally ignorance.

Because Barack Obama has become a magnet for free press coverage, he has a significant advantage over Hillary Clinton in the air war.  Every time he holds a 15,000-person rally at a sports arena, with thousands more spilling out into the streets, it’s a newsworthy story that can draw national coverage, and perhaps even more importantly, local news coverage in both print and TV.

It’s possible to substitute money for coverage by blanketing the airwaves with paid advertising, but as Mitt Romney has demonstrated, pound for pound, paid ads are less valuable than free coverage.

The advantage that free coverage brings can be seen in the relative fortunes of the Obama and Clinton campaigns.  While both have raised roughly the same amount of money since 2006, Obama’s press advantage also allowed his campaign to spend more on the ground game than Clinton, while still maintaining a larger warchest.

The same principle applies in business.  If you can get the press to do your job for you, why spend money buying ads?  What’s more valuable, a 1-page ad in Fortune, or a glowing article?  And don’t forget, that article didn’t cost you $25,000.

The key question then is, how do you get that press coverage?

You can spend a ton of money ($20,000+ per month) on high-priced PR agencies, but as the example of Hillary Clinton shows, the best spin machine in the world can’t help much if you don’t have a story people want to write about.

Barack Obama has been successful during the nomination battle not because of his spinmeisters, but because he successfully embodies a story that people want to hear and retell.  What American doesn’t want to believe that anybody (including an African-American with a Muslim name and father, raised by a single mother) can grow up to be president?  And if people want change and a break with the past, there is no way for Hillary Clinton to argue that she is best positioned to deliver it.

Great marketing isn’t about selling your story.  It’s about being the story.

The same applies to the business world.  Google famously refuses to spend any money on advertising.  Guess what?  They don’t have to, because they are the story.

Microsoft can spend far more money than Apple on ads (and it does).  But Apple always wins the air war (at least during the iPod era) because it is the story.

To sell your story, be the story.

Great Expectations (Management)

7 Feb

One of the skills every marketer (if not every person) needs to master is the art of managing expectations.

Managing expectations is a “Goldilocks” task–too high, and they’ll be impossible to meet; too low, and they’ll detract from your accomplishments; just right, and you’ll be a hero.  Of the potential pitfalls, high expectations are perhaps the most dangerous.

High expectations are seductive.  It feels good to have everyone saying good things about you.  “The Next Bill Gates” is a favorite chestnut that the business press dusts off whenever a hot new company with a photogenic founder appears on the scene (see Andreesen, Marc; Abrams, Jonathan; and Rose, Kevin).  But no matter how good it feels to ride the wave of hype, sooner or later, you’ll have to deliver the goods.  Too-high expectations carry a double-whammy: When they prove to be wrong, not only is the result a downer, it kills your credibility.

Take the impact of expectations on the current U.S. presidential race.  Senator Hillary Clinton began as the prohibitive favorite.  As recently as November, the Iowa Futures Market (the best predictor of presidential politics, since real money is at stake)  showed that her chances of earning the Democratic nomination were 75%.  That’s what made her third place finish in Iowa so shocking.  And as a result, in the immediate aftermath of the loss, she plummeted to a projected 25% chance of winning the nomination.


After that, however, the expectations game shifted.  Now the high expectations shifted to Senator Barack Obama, as a tidal wave of coverage (helped along by his own strength at inspirational oratory) sent his poll numbers skyrocketing.

But while the excitement helped Obama’s campaign in many ways, allowing expectations to get ahead of reality came back to haunt him.

Clinton had held a 17-point lead in New Hampshire, but it seemingly crumbled overnight as poll after poll showed Obama leading in the state.  On election night, Clinton squeaked out a 3-point win.  So who actually won?  Was it Obama, for making up 14 points in less than a week, only to fall short at the end?  Or was it Clinton, who held off her challenger when all expected her to lose.

The race was close enough for either explanation to take hold, but it was the latter narrative of Clinton’s resurgence (despite being a frontrunner who had lost 14 points off her lead) that ended up holding sway.

We saw a near replay on Super Tuesday this week.  After the South Carolina election (an unexpectedly large victory for Obama), Hillary and Bill Clinton indicated that they expected an overall victory once they took their message to the broader public.

Once again an Obama surge in the polls dropped the expectations for Clinton; I often thought that the national media was openly rooting for Obama to land a knockout blow.  Here in California, poll after poll indicated that Obama had closed a 20-point lead, and had even pulled ahead of Clinton.

When the dust settled, an objective analysis showed a near-perfect tie.  Obama won more states, but Clinton won the bigger prizes in New York and California.  Obama won the critical swing state of Missouri, but Clinton overcame a tidal wave of endorsements to win Massachusetts.  Obama came out with slightly more delegates, but it was statistically insignificant.

So who did win?  Nobody.  But both campaigns tried to frame the results as a win for their side–Obama by pointing out that he had overcome a big deficit in the earlier polls, Clinton, by arguing that she had done better than projected in the most recent polls.

Just politics?  Perhaps, but just ask the folks at Joost, who went from being the future of television (Sequoia had to beg Joost to take their money), to the walking dead in less than 9 months.

Great expectations require even greater execution.  ‘Tis better to set and exceed realistic goals than it is to ride the wave of hype…right into the trash heap.

If at first you don't persuade, try, try again (The Rule of Six)

31 Jan

One of the most important principles of marketing is persistence.  Every marketer I’ve ever worked with has said that a target has to be exposed to your message at least six times before it sinks in.

At first, I wasn’t certain if I believed them.  After all, six times seems kind of arbitrary, and I never saw any scholarly research to back it up (I am so ancient that this was actually in the pre-Google days, and you had to go to the library to look anything up).

Yet as the years went by and I heard it from more and more people, I came to accept it…which just illustrates the power of this homely rule.

But there are also some important implications to this rule that most people forget, especially in this age of instant gratification.

If it takes six impressions to make an impact, the relationship between marketing and results is non-linear.  In a linear world, buying 1 week of ads would drive 10% awareness, 2 weeks 20%, and so on.  Here’s a quick table for emphasis:

Week 1: 10%
Week 2: 20%
Week 3: 30%
Week 4: 40%
Week 5: 50%
Week 6: 60% 

But in the non-linear world of the rule of 6, the results actually look more like this:

Week 1: 0%
Week 2: 0%
Week 3: 0%
Week 4: 0%
Week 5: 0%
Week 6: 60%

If you give up after Week 5, you’ll have spent 83% of the money and achieved 0% of your goal.  You can only achieve a worthwhile ROI if you have the stomach to stick with your guns and keep sending your message out, even without visible results.

I have a theory on why this principle works.  I believe that what’s actually happening is that a lot of the effects of marketing are exponential, rather than linear.  That’s why overnight success is generally an oxymoron.

What’s actually happening is that the press only picks up on the effects of “week six” marketing–the debut album, or the starring role in a sleeper hit that shocks Hollywood–and completely ignores the previous five weeks of marketing–the years of playing in clubs and building up a fan base, working for scale in indie movies and making the right contacts.

In my own life, I began 2002 as a failed entrepreneur who had managed to lose $6 million of investor money.  I had no job, no money, and no reasonable prospects (caveat: I did have degrees from Stanford and Harvard Business School, but we’ll ignore those for the time being).

It was around that time that I started getting involved in professional organizations such as SDForum and HBS Tech.  It was also around that time that I decided to change my hermit-like workaholic ways, and start reaching out to venture capitalists and other entrepreneurs.  And I started using something called Blogger that had recently been launched, and was being run by a single dogged entrepreneur named Evan Williams.

For years, it was difficult to see how those activities were making a difference.  Those were weeks 1-5.  But fast-forward to today, and all the little things and persistence ended up making a big difference.  I’ve met hundreds of wonderful people since then, including the founders at PBwiki, whom I invested in, and later joined, and PBwiki’s main VC backers.  And most of these good things have happened in just the past 18 months (helped along by a heck of a boom in our industry).

But if I had gotten discouraged with entrepreneurship and decided to cash in my chips by becoming a consultant or investment banker, I would never have had all these great experiences.

Marketing is hard, and the rule of six makes it harder.  You have to be willing to persist, even when all the standard measures scream for you to pull back and give up.  But if you’ve made the right call, and you persevere through day six, you may find you’ll get the chance to bask in the glory of your “overnight success.”

You Get What You Inspect, Not What You Expect

24 Jan

When I started my first company (long, long ago in a valley not so far away), I learned a valuable lesson from Jim Fitzsimmons, the guy I recruited to be CEO.

Jim had experience both as an entrepreneur, and as a corporate manager (he had been assistant controller of all of Pepsico), and he had a favorite saying:

“Chris, you get what you inspect, not what you expect.”

Translation?  Unless you can define success in measurable terms, you’re not likely to achieve it.

This is why metrics are the lifeblood of marketing.  Just as professional military commanders understand that logistics are usually more important than the oh-so-sexy field of strategy, so professional marketers understand that metrics are more important than flashier cousins like branding and positioning.

Unlike Sales or Engineering, where everyone knows how to measure the results (“How much did you sell?”  “Does the product work?”), Marketing is not blessed with such simple metrics.  While it is important to be in the right sector of Gartner’s Magic Quadrant, inclusion or exclusion doesn’t determine the fate of your company.  And don’t forget, Pets.com had great brand awareness.

There are marketers that slide by on pleasant talk and cool advertisements–these are often enough, especially in large organizations, to satisfy questions about the marketing budget–but startups don’t have that luxury.

It’s a challenge, but you have to pick the metrics that matter, and then manage to them.

My personal philosophy is to manage sales support and branding/awareness separately.  Measure your lead generation programs on the sales they generate (and how cost-effectively they do so), and separately agree on the amount you’re willing to spend to generate awareness and PR.

Even then, I believe it is important to set PR targets such as # of mentions and article placements.  Otherwise, it is far to easy to spend $20K/month on a PR agency without knowing what you’re really getting.

Figuring out what to measure isn’t easy, but if you do a good job of defining your goals, it makes your ability to judge your success (and justify your budget) far greater than relying on that old-fashioned blarney.