The web is like junk food to a generation of marketers.
They chew on it because it’s there. It’s like muscle memory doing the same thing over and over because it looks good in the mirror.
It’s often exercise without form or results. And worse—we do it simply because we can.
I seriously love the web. How it has changed our world. How it has reconfigured how we build brands and sell products. How it has turned upside down how we interact how with our customers.
It’s dark side is that while it has made the impossible plausible, and everyone a marketer and a brand, it has created a generation of posturers, along with an echo chamber of deafening noise.
And I’m personally not exempt from the lure of vanity cruising. The behaviorally insane truth that I care if someone likes a picture of Sam, my cat (as wonderful as he certainly is!). Of mistaking activity with work.
Social porn is fun to play with—it’s just not marketing.
BACK TO MARKETING BASICS is a message in all caps I have on my computer screen this week. It is not retro in the least, nor a call to a better, simpler past. Not at all! It is all about core behavioral values and market truths.
The opposite of social grinning is not advertising. Not email. Not SEO. Not any channeled tactic over one or the other.
I believe that marketing starts with belief and intent. Period.
My biggest lament about most marketing I see, is that is all exclamation points. It’s all trolling to discover themselves in the eyes of the customer. It’s like politicians taking polls to discover what to talk about. Kind of insincere and invariably unsuccessful. Heartless and substanceless.
Define marketing basics?
1. Internalizing the core value of who you are and what you sell
If you don’t know who you or your company is, get to work and figure it out.
You may not be right forever but you need to know in your gut that this is what you are about right now.
2. Acknowledging the difference between core value and market fit
This is my favorite one. Market fit is not a reflection (usually) of what you believe in. It is a mashup of belief, the economics of your value, how you deliver it and to whom. Ninety percent of what people call ‘minor pivots’ are not about core value at all. They are about iterating market fit.
Iterating beliefs is strictly for amateurs, not the serious or inspired.
3. Talking to customers in their own language
Marketing is about what you don’t say and how what you do say is heard. Iconization of customer needs is the art; choosing language is the craft. If you are dumping Instagram photos and Tweets to Facebook, Tumblr posts to Twitter without thought, you are doing more harm than good. It’s just exercise in a vacuum.
4. Sell value by understanding customer behavior
If you believe in your value, don’t gently nudge it forward but smartly and passionately sell it. In almost all cases we aren’t selling a better barbecue, we are selling a different approach to eating. Find the language and the passion, giving the customer the way to opt in to the discussion, then sell away. Here’s a post on selling value.
Understanding why a customer would respond defines the language and context of how you sell. If you can’t understand, on the social web, why a customer should care enough to share, why are you bothering? Here’ a post on just that.
5. Respecting the market’s attention span
Attention is the currency of the market. Customers opt in, give you their time, out of respect. This is a gift to the lucky. Take this opportunity seriously. This doesn’t mean you are all serious–or even perfect. Honest intent will trump form every single time.
I disdained survey marketing when it was the vogue. I disdain the easiness of ‘what do you think’ or ‘discuss’ as leading the customer to a conversation. It invariably is a bright light on the Exit sign and a quick slide unsubscribe and unfollow link. Teaching is not leading necessarily and the market is not your classroom.
Don’t waste anyone’s time is as true a goal as you can have.
Thinking before you act is not overrated
I try and consider these five core basics before I act each and every time.
These are building blocks of strategy. They often determine organically how you determine the channels you should target, the language you should use, the offers you should make and the messages you want remembered.
Some stuff just works on email. Some segments just rock on Instagram and hit the floor with a thud on Twitter. Markets and messages are channel specific.
I’m all about understanding craft. I’m very much a believer that each channel for communications has its rules-of-thumb that we need to become masters of, from know when to post and understanding the value and limitations of the analytics you can gather.
But–I would choose a crisp message about a core value infused with passion with absolutely no budget and no tools except drums and smoke signals, over instant and free access to the web and just nothing useful or inspiring to say.
I walked by this storefront in the Meatpacking District late last week.
My first impression, like others on the street was—what? The big gotcha of course is that this is not a storefront at all, but the popup store itself.
It’s an interactive diorama of Kate Spade merchandise. A visualization of a giant mobile commerce site, store sized and street side. Big brand commerce wrapped up as an adult busy box for mobile shopping.
On the left side of the the window are the ‘Saturday’ line of products for sale on pegs. To the right, an over-sized touch screen complete with some funky mechanical sound effects for each action. You sort by item, check sizes and colors, confirm availability and then order.
This is a mobile shopping cart on growth hormones in a store window. It lets you browse, shop and purchase. To transact, you put in your cell number, and they text you a link to their mobile site to complete the sale.
The big difference, of course, is that this is literally driven by walk-by-foot-traffic, and what you buy is delivered to wherever you are in the city in an hour.
Quite cool. Clever certainly and speaks to innovations that are starting to happen on the streets of New York, as shopping enters a mobile renaissance and location based-retail gets turned on its head.
To be clear, this storefront is actually a promotion, jointly developed by Kate Spade, eBay and PayPal. It’s not a channel per se but event marketing launched a month ago to bring attention to the Saturday line of clothes, sold in-store and online.
I don’t know if the promotion is working. And I’m not certain that it it is going to sell many products through the mobile link, but there is something seriously disrupting going on.
There are a number of retail redefining concepts playing out here:
1. The web is not a place
ecommerce is not enough on its own. For all the brilliant plans to interrupt our lives with advertising, engage the enthusiasts with shareable and transactionable social objects, and the science of driving traffic online, there’s a gap between sites on the web and shoppers on the street.
Web sites just sit there. Stores wait for people to come to them. People want to buy products where they happen to be, when they feel like it. For Kate Spade, maybe that is Gansevoort Street. For New Yorkers, one-hour delivery is certainly better than standing in line to pay and schlepping stuff home.
The system of shop and buy, wait in line, pay and carry out, is vestigial behavior en route to extinction.
2. Transactions are the easy part
We’ve perfected taking payments efficiently from our customers. Transactions aren’t the issue. Connecting transactions to inventory and delivery wherever the customer may be is.
Kate Spade, consciously or not, has smashed a hole in the status quo of retail. By taking a mobile site and externalizing it onto the street, she makes it clear that this transaction, this store itself, could be just about anywhere. A wall in the subway station, even on the back of a cargo bike rolling around the neighborhood.
This is a touch screen kiosk fronting for a mobile store tied into local warehousing and delivery through the web.
Kate Spade is selling hand bags and fashion accessories. Next it could be wine or beer maybe, or who knows, a massage package arriving at the park for you with a blended green on the side and a customized I Love NY beach towel.
3. Urban markets are unique unto themselves
Kate Spade in Manhattan and in a mall in Ohio are different animals completely. Behaviorally and culturally distinct.
The most dense population centers demand their own shopping solutions. This popup might make little sense in suburban Illinois but it sure would work in Paris or Singapore. These are a massive market in their own right.
Human density is in itself an inspiration for innovation.
Cities are the perfect sandbox for discovering market proof for mobile solutions. They are quick becoming an open source petri dish for not just mobile, but a mashup of urban life, ubiquitous connectivity, transportation and shopping. Something is brewing on the streets big time.
4. Channels are nothing more than a moving consumer doorway into the supply chain
Depending on where you are and what you buy, channel is mutable to the situation.
Think about the Apple Store early innovation where the people on the floor could provide the product and handle the transaction. Primitive today but groundbreaking then.
Imagine if in store, a mobile app let’s you buy for delivery as you walk around without talking to anyone. Or try it on, get sold, then buy on the subway at a kiosk or online on the way home for delivery when you arrive. This idea of people on a personal map, carrying purchasing and organizational capabilities around with them wherever they are, connected directly into supply and delivery is unquestionably the future, unfolding right in front of us.
This is inevitable. In fact, it’s overdue as the behavior, the technology and market is already there.
5. Brand is the most powerful filter there is
This mashed up popup shop works because of the filtering power of the brand.
Not the Saturday line being introduced, but Kate Spade. Her clothes, her bags, her reputation is what let’s us plonk down dollars without trying the clothes on, seeing how the bag hangs from your shoulder. Video or no video, it’s trust and brand identification. With us giving her the ability to text us transactional links in the personal context of our cell phones.
There’s two other brand driven trends intersecting here:
–>Online brands (like Etsy) using popups to connect more directly with people where they are, not just online. Nothing builds a strong online brand and community like face to face contact in the real world.
–>Hyper local brands known in-neighborhood, moving into new locations with a low cost, highly branded and just easy model and test delivery system. Spot (even moving) distribution like these virtual popups.
These are the building blocks of the future
Mix up mobile ubiquity, transactional efficiency, predictable street traffic, brand recognition and delivery when and where you want it! That is the joint power of mobile, and, in New York’s case, the added power of the bicycle delivery person getting there just in time.
This is a serious shake up of the traditional kiosk signage idea, connected to the mobile web on one side, people on the street delivering to you on the other.
If you live in NYC, check out these popups. The locations are here!
If you live in another dense urban area, do share variations on this theme with us. I’m certain that this is not the first of its kind but it’s the first for New York and I can assure you, many more are coming.
This is the traffic sign at the Chambers Street Subway Station.
Single functioned. Primitive even. Yet a significant game changer for New Yorkers.
Generations of city residents and commuters, up to 3M people a day, have stood dumbly waiting, sweating and broiling in the summer heat for the next subway train. No possible idea when or even which train is coming.
This display, at one level, is a Jetson-quality, sci-fi like glimpse of the future. A great example of big data trickling down to the mass market. This is the digital data runway fitting to the analog needs of our lives.
Of course this is also somewhat laughable and pathetic.
The signs are only in 25% of the stations. They went live in 2011 after 8 years in development. In 2011! — A decade after Google search put information ubiquity and e-commerce at our fingertips. One hundred and eight years after the trains starting running,
As much as I like knowing that an air-conditioned #2 train is approaching on a sweltering day, the sign is actually a techno tease. A drip of useful information in a desert of analog, real-life experiences cut off from the power of useful data and web connections.
As my fellow New Yorker Fred Wilson and I discussed online recently, the entire idea, as wonderful as it is, is woefully inadequate.
Hiding this info inside the pay turnstiles and not at street level is just bad human UX. Not using this data as a mashed up information hub with bus schedules, Hailo and Uber, Citi Bikes and time-to-walk-to-maps, makes it nothing more than a baby step of a solution. We are grateful for the crumbs of relief but impatient for the real thing
This story is a metaphor for the on/offline dichotomy that we are seeing more and more every day—and a well-lit sign pointing to where the market needs to go.
Online, we experience life like some suburban dream–squeaky clean, sanitized, orderly even within the confusion of the social nets. It’s curated, moderated and personalized. But also wildly intoxicating in its power, whether you are sitting in the office or at a park with free WiFi, pounding out a post or organizing your life for the week.
Each of us is the master of our abstracted and matrixed online world.
Offline it’s a disconnected mess.
Things are always broken, people are late. Connectivity is erratic, data incomplete, and the pace is arbitrary at best. There is an uneasy intersection of the transforming power of data, the web and the human touch.
This is not an app gap; it’s a data aggregation gap.
It’s a new way to think about data, the web and usability at the street level of our everyday lives. About human need where data begins to serve us as we move through life, not just as an abstraction of chores that surround our informational needs.
Businesses like Zipcar, Uber, Hailo and Citi Bikes are uniquely disruptive and personally empowering. Transportation at their core, but a bit more. True life changers for urban life.
They are painful to build, as the currency of value is dependent on the people who use the systems to behave responsibly. Logistics as a design element is no easy task. Tech is easy to get right. Human behavior is simply not programmable. .
I’ve been renting, hailing and riding a bit lately. I’m astounded by the power of these solutions and reminded in each case of these common building blocks.
-Mash ups of public and private data
Data from the subways and buses. Data from independent orgs like limo and cab companies. Data from APIs like Foursquare. These are the ingredients for the next generation system that will make the web belong to us on our own terms, on the streets where we live.
It may take another generation to get subway signs that truly deliver. Entrepreneurs, not the cities, may be the solution, curating value into discrete contextual pieces of urban life. The cities with smart leadership and cultural chutzpah will simply let the data out to be used as raw material.
-Human behavior and street level UX
People are messy. We are late. We don’t do what we should. We are the breaking point for every system that touches us and every system that requires us to feed the data pool so it flows smoothly.
It is what breaks for ZipCar using non-owned garages. What may for Hailo organizing third party cars and Citi Bike managing its neighborhood expansions and its inventory of bikes.
Street level design, the intersection of the data visualization, commerce, logistics and customer service wrapped in the culture of the consumer on the go will be the criteria for success. This is more subtle, more interesting, more empowering and considerably more difficult than fixing abandonment rates on a shopping cart.
The new expert architects for these solutions are not coming from web designers; they are using web design to serve these real-time events, grounded not only in space but in time, in the moment itself.
-Cracking the mobile language code
If your Zipcar is late or has a flat tire, their app, while great for ordering, is pretty useless for trouble shooting. You have to walk out of the garage, get a signal and call and wait.
We need a new mobile language. As easy as texting, yet as digitally powerful as a tag. Right now it’s like moving between two systems with a phone size display. No-one has designed this bridge across systems, data types and language. Yet!
Inspiring stuff. Changing not how we just shop or order stuff but how live better, informed, more efficiently.
A few years ago, we were all blogging about how the line between on and offline was blurring. As connectivity became ubiquitous we thought the wall was down.
We were simply wrong. It’s just getting started.
I touched on this in my Trading Places post a few weeks ago. My bet is it’s going to drag the orderliness of the web and reshuffle it into a just-in-time dynamic map of how we navigate our lives.
And just maybe, these early transportation point services will aggregate into platforms where we can share map-like slices of how we experience our days. Reshaping not only how we move around but how we order and organize our world in the moment it is changing.
Tumblr’s $1.1B price tag was a fair one.
It stopped me though, and forced me to rethink and recommit to the truly transformative power of these social nets, and their value, way beyond their present revenues.
It also reconfirmed my strong belief that native advertising as the monetizing engine for these super social nets has little to do with their value. Discussions on the non-intrusive nature of native ads are a bit silly. Ads are intrusive by nature, and ‘intrusive lite’ is merely a masquerade, sweeping intent under the carpet.
Net native communities and networks have changed the very culture of our world at its core. They’ve shattered our ideas of time and space. Changed language and commerce. Impacted behavioral norms not just online, but everywhere.
Back when e-commerce ruled the web, we put cars, art, real estate and most every hard good online, and made pricing transparency the new ethos. We redefined disruption, moving customers to the power seat and companies to the sidelines.
It was a defining change, but pales in comparison to the remapping of the world and human interactions that native platforms like Tumblr, Twitter and Facebook have enabled. What is happening on and between them is nothing less than transformational to how we all live our lives.
The core difference of course is that e-commerce is measured in importance solely by the dollars it creates from the clicks you capture. Social nets have changed human behavior and culture, not simply how we shop for theatre tickets or ski passes.
This is not to say that commerce doesn’t happen, or that we as companies won’t market on these platforms. We do today, rather badly as a rule, but advertising, no matter how you define it or morph it into a socially acceptable, non-interruptive formant, is not natural to social interaction.
The core marketing power of net native communities is that each has its own unit of language and gestures, specific to the context of the platform itself.
Social media pundits have this all wrong with their commandments on how to talk, market and sell to this social new world. They make the world think that how people act and communicate, share and sell on one net is the same as on every other. That how we sell clothes is the same as how we sell wine, and that we can sell them whenever and wherever people congregate.
It’s simply not true.
When behaviors change, language and culture morph. Each of the net native networks have unique behavioral dialects, specific to the networks themselves. We act differently wherever we are. Same person, different language and intent. Once size does not fit all.
Think of it this way.
Twitter. Core unit of language: the Tweet. It’s all about shared gestures, one-to-many broadcast in a looking-glass like paradigm. You speak or share, others listen, watch and consume. It’s the perfect currency for immediacy and leadership, with the most popular as the most influential.
Tumblr. Core unit of language: pictogram as post. Concrete poetry whether in text or graphics. Non-conversational, yet highly communal. One-to-one connections, like tattooed images with emotional impact tumbled across our memories in a collective stream.
Facebook. Core unit of language: the gesture of liking. Pile the world’s population into a huge funnel and give them a monosyllabic language to click at each other. Raw,primitive and simplistic. Posts as the unit of language are coming on strong though, and a conversational platform is surfacing regardless of the built in technical limitations.
The core marketing truth that you need to speak to customers in their own language has adapted to this context into how you talk to people and communities is specific to the networks you engage them on.
And that not every network is suitable as a selling place for every product.
Seems obvious doesn’t it?
But the number of companies that are pushing tweets to their Facebook streams and standing on top of their social strategies as one homogeneous activity across different networks is more common than not. Companies pushing discounts when people want to chat about politics or sports
Our challenge in business is always communications. It’s that simple. We need to discover, engage, transact with, and then support the customer. Context and timing is everything.
The native social nets are the web’s gift to us as business owners and marketers.
They are there, omnipresent, open for business with no admittance charge. Our customers and community members are milling around, transparent and open to hearing what matters to them.
I have an ask for Marissa Mayer at Yahoo.
Don’t focus on making ads palatable for Tumblr. They simply aren’t by nature in this environment.
As a marketer, business owner and consultant to numerous companies, I’m happy to pay for creative ways to discover communities of like interest. Don’t build a model based on how you sell display ads today, but for the longest possible tail of your network. For the rest of us.
Help me do that in Tumblr’s unique way and I’m all in.
The big aha from all the noise about the Tumblr acquisition was a huge sigh of optimism now that here are dollars to not only keep it going, but to make it better.
Imagine a world without Tumblr, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, and Facebook. A sad thought actually.
Imagine a world of objective clicks, where business communications was again a science and supposition, and the net was reduced to data and analysis, not people and communities. Where transactions were the definition of loyalty, and feedback a survey by unattached third parties.
The greatest part of these native communities is that they are there, unique, open, communal, yet distinct from each other.
The greatest boon to companies today is that we know where our customers are. We also know the language they speak, their motivations and behaviors in each place they frequent.
It ain’t easy to discover the right customer in the proper context and understand the language to speak with them. Never has been. But the social nets give us two steps towards the door, as we already know where to look.
All we need to do is to learn to play by the rules and speak the language. Not ours–theirs. They are actually waiting for us.
The web makes starting things easy. It also makes us a bit lazy and smugly entitled.
We throw up a blog. Set up a store and sell something. Imagine a market or merchant need, and thread connections in a new way with an eye towards relayering peoples wants and needs.
It’s easy and inexpensive to get started on the web. Technology is our ally here.
Human nature, however, is not, and the web is littered with lightly programmed skeletal ideas hanging by threads. Not ready for prime time, not sure where to go next and no real idea how to get there.
Somehow people think that it just happens.
And somehow businesses think that just being there is marketing itself, as if the web is a favored address with qualified street traffic walking in the door.
Of course, neither is true.
There’s a softness that comes from these expectations that is out of whack with reality. There’s a misunderstanding that even though your customer may be in control, they certainly aren’t always right. That opted in discovery is what lead gen should be but you need to push hard before the market starts to pull.
This customer first perception as right as it is, is wrong when it drives marketing as survey, marketing as asking a customer what they like and what they want. It is about setting a new context and selling the value of the experience. Then you see if it touches a nerve
Actually, Henry Ford captured this perfectly:
“If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.”
At its core, permission-based marketing has nothing to do with asking the customers or the community what they want. They are giving you the permission to sell them, not determining what they want.
I believe that core value needs to be sold. Sold smartly and sold hard. It’s really that simple, although the craft of selling and the orchestration of setting the proper environment are anything but trivial.
Neither the market nor people know what they want until you sell it to them. I’m not referring to a transaction, but to shared perceptions of a different tomorrow. Letting something be tried on with anticipation and good will, and seeing something in a new way.
New doesn’t just happen, it needs to carve it’s own spot in the market. New doesn’t exist to be bought, it needs to be sold within a conversation. Within an experience. Within a new context.
Some ideas have logical inklings of pent-up market demand (a singular online POS system for all consumers), and some things have merchant demand (customer acquisition tools that work for the SMB) but a generalized need and product that suits it are completely different.
There are exceptions of course, but there are no overnight successes. The idea of “Build it and they will come” is no idea at all.
We all dream of that magic moment when you stop pushing the market and it starts to inch toward you and pulls, as if with new found gravity. When your dashboard of metrics on campaigns and activities has no logical relation to the positive growth of traffic, transactions, referrals or market attention.
Most every successful company and product has that market aha moment.
It doesn’t happen because you built something and the market just moseyed on over. It happens because you pushed and sold, with passion and persistence. Because you found bridges between circles of adopters that, in total, defined a new community of customers.
Ideas in product form are the fuel that drives, but that the market defines. In between is where we work, iterate, execute and create our own luck.
Selling value is tough. Marketing is tough. Building something new is always devoid of oxygen at first. There is never momentum until we create it.
The cool thing of course, is that it can happen and does, every single day, and changes the market and potentially our fortunes along with it. .
My last post, “Marketing Matters…” was a primer, and a reminder that marketing, as a mindset, is the other side of the market coin. That marketing is part of what you build and how you sell, and the interpreter between what you so believe to be true and what the market comes to adopt.
This post is a further nudge to all of us.
That value is there to be sold, not simply discovered. That just putting it out there is a non-starter.
That you need to create a common ground where selling what you believe on your customer’s terms is key, and that listening to their response, not asking for their approval, is how you create a new market reality with yourself firmly entrenched as part of it.