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.
I’m a believer that the market is always right.
This doesn’t mean that the market knows what it wants, nor that you don’t have to sell smart and hard, and often take huge, gut-directed leaps of faith to nudge it in your direction.
But it is the only proof that matters. It’s the playground where it all happens.
I’m a believer that marketers, at their best, are the practitioners of market dynamics. Their job is to understand that consumer behavior is the atomic element of any market, and the key behind every transaction. This is expertise and gut talent you need on your team.
Marketing, as a point of view and a mastery of skills, is often misunderstood and invariably butchered by definition.
What marketing does is simple to phrase–working the world from the market side in—but just plain difficult to do, and beyond challenging if you don’t have the DNA for it.
–>Marketers work the space between what customers feel they are buying and what the company thinks they are selling.
–>Marketing’s goal is connecting the right customer to your product in the most effective way at the most opportune time.
–>Marketing’s secret sauce is aggregating customers into groups, groups into communities, and communities into that ineffable broader market that really matters.
–>Marketers are obsessed with why customers should care enough about your product, your brand and your company, to share that connection.
–>Marketing knows that buying is an act of approval. Margins are a calculation, pricing as part of consumer value is market intuition.
There are scads of metrics that are used by marketing practitioners, many invaluable, though none of them matter at all if you don’t sell product and establish a brand with true customer value.
It’s a long journey to a black and white judgment as to whether marketing made it all come together. Most successful marketers are heroes or bums many times over in their careers for just this reason. The old Hollywood saying that every ‘movie executive will one day come to work and be fired’ could well apply to the marketing leader as well.
Marketing exists at the intersection of customer behavior, strategic intent, partnership with sales and product, and maniacal mastery of executional details.
If you limit marketing to execution alone, it will never be effective. It you remove it from tactics, it’s all just talk. If you are driven by anything other than getting customer behaviors in line with market intent, you are simply playing the odds. And if you don’t work hand in hand with sales and product, you will always fail.
It’s crazy stuff.
The intersection of soft sweeping strategies, deep value understanding, an infantry of special team skills and science, and hard visible tactics. But at the end–stuff either works or it doesn’t. Traffic pays off over time or it doesn’t. People come in the door with intent to buy or they don’t. Clever is stupid to many and funny is flat to more. And brilliant strategy at 20,000 feet doesn’t fill the sales funnel.
We judge marketing by countless data points daily–customer acquisition costs, buzz, lead counts, how the logo looks, brand value that drives a premium price—and the pride and joy that comes from a market that tips its hat to your product and brand behavior because you are a cut above.
It’s all about the obvious and what’s behind it.
Not simply about drawing customers to you (which of course you do), nor simply about pushing intent down the chute to the transaction (which we certainly do as well). Perfection can be mechanical, but it’s not what counts first. You can scale an undeniable core customer value by beating on a drum if that is all you have. But you can’t make people love you if they don’t.
It’s that’s simple.
The social web has invariably changed everything in our world including the gestalt of our markets and how we impact them. More profoundly than even the internet and basic ecommerce itself.
It’s evolved a new language for business communications. Handed the power baton to the customer and established socialization as the vernacular to how we market our products and manage our communities.
It’s a massive customer sandbox for product development and communications. And a place to play nicely with the market when you don’t really have all of your pieces in place. It’s made the unimaginable, possible.
It has also made us lazy and mistake activity as work at times.
The web, the social nets are not the market though they are critical ramps to it. Nor is social media the new marketing. Not in any way!
The web, although it has accelerated everything– including consumer evolution– is not the end game. The customer is, and they straddle the off and online markets naturally. So does marketing when it is cognizant of itself and its purpose.
There are people who are really skilled community managers, gifted mavens of the social channels, wordsmiths that wow us with how good we sound, scientists who dream SEO ratios and savant email strategists who are magicians at touching just the right person at the right time with a message that will get opened just when it should.
Every one of these activities will fail unless integrated into a coherent point of view. This can be discordance at a deafening din or perfection without self-awareness or soul.
Every one of these doesn’t matter unless they are strung together somehow under leadership that can orchestrate the nits and the message with the right cadence and crescendo.
Markets matter. In fact, as an aggregate of a possible consumer population, they are all that matters!
Marketing is the other side of the market coin. Inextricably intertwined.
It is the fabric of communications and connections that with lots of luck, creativity and deep craft, can take an idea and turn it into a household brand, can make the elusive, the almost ineffable, tangible and a new market reality.
Nothing is cleaner and more behaviorally pure online than a transaction.
I’ve been zeroing in on the where and why of transactions as key to figuring out models, market opportunities and customer acquisition channels.
Perhaps it’s part of my recent quest for the measureable and actionable, letting the purity of transactional models just suck me in like comfort food. Perhaps the antidote to too much social backslapping and an overdose of vanity metrics.
Possibly it’s also a reaction against free as a model.
Not that Freemium doesn’t work, just that, by definition, it is a ‘go big or go home’ model. It takes so so much free to create anything of monetary value that it’s perhaps more aspirational than it is feasible in today’s market.
Creating value from connecting behaviors and aggregating people at a Facebook, Twitter or even Linked In level is, perhaps, yesterday’s dream. But these monoliths have an Achilles Heel–they are commerceless. Devoid of transactions. It may not hurt them with media as their financial model but it opens a huge doorway for the rest of us.
That’s where the opportunity lies.
As community and commerce designers, as consumers ourselves, transactions are the bright shiny thing in the grass. People on the web don’t only want free and it’s not true that we’ve spoiled them away from reaching for their wallets. People pay for value, though very rarely for the promise of it.
Transactions are a reality sandwich for marketers.
Grasping onto data as truth in the form of market dynamics, traffic patterns, unique visitors and influence matrices gets level set quickly when you focus on where in the value chain the transaction happens. Where is the customer’s role in sharing it, and the company’s role in brokering and owning it.
That is why I love the community marketplace model.
Marketplaces live between search and SEO on one side, social on the other. They leverage the ubiquity of Google and Facebook to supercharge their models. Marketplaces thrive where products need to be sold (think Etsy and Kickstarter) rather than bought as commodities, like at Amazon. They connect buyers and sellers using the entire web as their personal social network.
A perfect model actually.
My bias for commerce design at the earliest stage is making the transaction a value add to the process, not just a gateway that let’s you slide down a chute towards a ka-ching at the end. Even with the understanding that everything may indeed change.
Transactional-based models are anything but simple, but they are clearer.
They are clearer because you have tangible metric for success. Clearer because shopping and deciding to ‘buy it’ is a pure and basic human behavior. And clearer because shopping is not an abstract ecommerce activity, but a core social behavior.
You may need volume in your business to be solvent, but you don’t need volume in order to have something to sell.
Transactional models are as varied and many as the types of people who use them– with every possible permutation. There’s no one formula, just customer behaviors and exceptions to the rules.
In abstract, the farther you are from the transaction itself, the less sticky the model, the less substantial the play in the long term. And owning the transaction itself feels naturally correct.
I don’t think this holds true in every circumstance though. Reality is more random.
Some businesses broker connections and work well, even though referrals are a tenuous commodity to platform. Businesses that broker sales leads I think are in serious trouble even though some are tied into the transaction.
Coupons, abstract and old school as they are, are a great business despite being simply a lead gen tool that becomes valueable only at the time of transaction. And the dream of retail brands of embedding transactions in catalog items sent everywhere over the web as both social and financial objects that breaks down completely the idea of ‘where’ the transaction happens at all.
I work with client’s models that need millions of users before value has an outline. Where the transactional exchange is clear from day one, but where there is no value till the customers are acquired. And models where platforms let other businesses touch their own customers in a new way, and the transaction is an embedded subscription itself.
Take a at the model of your business and rethink it with the transaction as not the end of the chute toward dollars, but at the center that you can build to.
This post is a nudge towards rethinking value as tied to payment, both within and without communities on the web. To see whether the transactions are a natural part of the experience that bubble up and feel good to ask for, or an afterthought that just never quite fits.
I’m now into year four of consulting and advising mid-stage and start-up companies.
I really love this work.
I’m irresistibly drawn to the oxygen-starved activities of moving a company, piece by unchartered piece, often from $0 along the up/down slope to $100M. I’ve built bigger companies, but the scrappy, customer-obsessed culture in this general company size just sucks me in.
I’m attracted to individuals and teams obsessed with taking an idea and making it into a product, a core customer value and turning it into a market, and evolving a name into a brand that connects. Really hard and wonderful work.
Here’s the rub of course as an advisor.
Market and brand building is all about doing. At its core, the best strategy is just smart execution. Even though the discipline of a plan and the inspiration that comes from a strategic direction are useful, they are never enough. They are, at best, a preamble.
Business strategies are easy to map out on paper, cute to capture in a phrase and tweet, but invariably fall back on themselves in executional shambles. The most prophetic words on building a business come not from us practitioners, but from Mike Tyson:
“Everyone has a plan till they get punched in the face.’
If you’ve ever woken up to have Microsoft, Apple, Google or Facebook enter your space, or worse, find years of work evaporate with a market shift, you know this is true. Closer to home are the many painful decisions and programs that hold lots of possibilities and just don’t deliver. They all sting and set you scrambling after you gain composure.
In my advisory work, I’ve worked to bridge the advisory action gap.
To find a way to guide and advise, but not merely pontificate and walk away from action plans. And be responsible to the company’s goals. I’ve focused on longer-term, skin-in-the-game relationships where I can take my 25 years of operational experience across a variety of models and categories, and become part of your extended team. The more I know about your business and the more you trust me, the more valuable the partnership becomes.
This approach takes lots of time and focus, and limits the size of my client base. It stifles my innate drive to dabble and flirt with new and different models and ideas. To know more entrepreneurs in a working environment which is where you really get to vet and appreciate each other.
I needed something lighter…and the result is “Office Hours”.
This is a subscription-based service to me as an advisor, to my experiences and thinking through an ongoing but lighter touch-point relationship.
It works really well with teams or individuals that don’t need to be managed, just directed.
If you have the vision and the where-with-all to put tangible structure behind an advisory role, then this model may be suited for you.
It’s simple and it seems to be working well.
Scheduled meetings at your offices or a coffee shop. Or Skype. Always face-to-face, always on a schedule, and always tied to objectives we’ve set. A couple of times a month, a hand-shake, mid-term contract commitment. Open access as needed and satisfaction guaranteed.
I’ve rolled this out through my networks for a while now. Showing great signs of traction.
I realized while writing this that in all my blogging on marketing and business, on the web and communities, this is the first I’ve written about my advisory work.
It feels good to lay out how I work with the community of marketers and entrepreneurs. I love what I do and get inspired by my clients and make their challenges very much my own.
Check out my many blog posts on building a market and how to balance core marketing tactics and thinking with the possibilities of the social web. The details of how I work in the Consulting section of this site and the Voomly Office Hours page. Then hit me with questions on how this might work for you now or sometime down the road.
The largest hole on the social web today is the one right outside your front door.
As counter intuitive as it sounds, proximity is the antithesis of the web’s dna. The key element of the web is certainly people and their interconnections, but its blind side is where these bump into each other, and businesses at the street level.
This anomaly is one of the core quirks of the web, and throws interesting wrenches and untapped upside on its usage as a business runway for neighborhoods.
Local and neighborhood from a web perspective are not necessarily the same.
Local, wrapped in the idea of a global local market, is native to the web and intrinsic to the commercial power of distributed aggregation models like marketplaces. This is a make-in-your-basement-sell-anywhere paradigm. Local is the origin and often the allure, but not necessarily nor often the market.
Neighborhood is the antithesis of this in some ways.
It’s a physical and emotional place, where we live and shop. We may buy local (stuff produced here) but it’s a matrix on the geographical grid. Neighborhoods have coordinates at the street level. Local doesn’t necessarily.
It’s odd that the web’s flatness is its power as a community umbrella across time and space, but its softness as a tool for business when you add place to the matrix.
Today, if I want to find out what the difference is between the Rofosco and the Terlan grapes, I just ask my networks. A holistic vet who does Skype calls with your pet? No problem. Even where to eat the next time I’m standing at the corner of St. Germain des Pres and Rue di Buci in Paris.
But add location within a neighborhood, the idea of around-the-corner and human touch, and it starts to fissure. Need a trusted cat or babysitter who works in your neighborhood? Or to gather a group of people within four blocks to petition to get the street lights fixed? Non trivial.
This is the world of tear-offs at the local coffee shop, or in-building emails or bulletin board systems. The web just doesn’t parse itself this way well.
It is possible to sit at your desk and build a community online around people who believe in and share recipes, for example, for non allergenic cooking or natural wine or city cycling or cat rescue. But open a restaurant at street level and you’ll find quickly that exercise on the social nets are easy to do, but less actionable in filling up your reservations.
From the neighborhood business side, this nothing but upside and possibility.
There’s a reason that we still get flyers under our apartment doors. Not that they work but there is no real or readily available alternative.
Neighborhood is the next connected frontier. Many are trying figure out how to make this work, none that I know of as yet are doing so with much success.
Groupon and its clones thought they had an answer. Foursquare, while I’m awed by its ambition and determination, serves better from the user side in than from the business side out. If I had a street level business I would try it but my expectations are not high for results.
This discontinuity between the power of the web to verticalize in interest across a horizontal swatch of space and its impotence in the face of place and neighborhood is one of its more interesting dichotomies.
This is the marketing and community nut to crack.
It’s becoming more interesting every day, as more and more, the web as a virtual reality is being turned on its head and taking what I think is its rightful place as a connecting ramp grounded in a physical street address.
There’s a retail renaissance in the making, a developing concept of connected retail where things are sold, person to person, in stores, trucks, popups, pushcarts. And location becomes visible and intrinsic, the open end of the web’s connection.
We will see more brands built online moving to street-side store fronts to touch their customers, build community and city connections and drive business and brand. In New York at least, a spot of sidewalk is honestly a greater kickstart to a community of users than a URL by itself.
Connected neighborhoods are one of the last miles of the social web to get tethered to the real world. Or maybe this is the first time that the social web is anchored in real world at all.
For businesses and marketers, this is a puzzle piece that’s been a long time coming.
For almost two decades now we’ve built on the web to capitalize on its reach, its immediacy, its frictionless nature. We’ve thought brilliantly how to imbue behavioral characteristics to UX , to transactions, to virtual connection. And the science of web marketing has followed.
A connected neighborhood turns this trend on its head. It will make the web bend to people’s and businesses needs rather than us to it. The web is where we register our views not live our lives. The web is where we connect with the intent to meet. The web where shops down the street will find customers one the web that live on the next block and bring them in the door.
Web marketers may lament that there are no tools to do this. There aren’t.
Savvy marketers and business people will start where they always have, with the person in front of them and tie the string starting with place and immediacy. That’s always been where it belongs.