Community, social discovery and the implicit graph

The give and take between explicit requests and implicitly inferred assumptions is the natural state of how we live.

Offline we don’t really think about this.

Face-to-face with family, friends and tight-knit interest groups we accept that serendipity just happens, more often than we expect. The sum of explicit and implicit requests and assumptions is what make human dynamics what it is.

This dynamic is also the core DNA of community, online and off.

Given the right environment, this interplay of explicit demands providing keys to implicit inferences just surfaces naturally. This is why community works and very much why it matters.

As marketers and business owners, this is key to what we do and why community dynamics are both marketing goals and a gauge of the health of a growing business.

This is a simple and basic truth, yet bears repeating.

Great companies learn from what our customers ask for explicitly and listen hard to what they infer implicitly. This listening is a core competency of marketing and business development, interpersonal and inter-customer communications.

This is true not only of companies built on the ‘network effect’ of spiraling interconnected customer growth, but all business that gather their customers around each other, and themselves, to continually recreate their market dynamics.

Yet, as marketers, we spend a lot of time reconceptualizing the value of community. It’s a never-ending process. A healthy discussion certainly but ultimately a conclusion you need to accept without pure data as proof.

The exploded focus on what is referred to as the ‘implicit graph’ and the power of implicit data over the last few months has by default shined a brightened light on the value of community. What the curation segment and social networks call the implicit graph has no greater proof point than the dynamics of a successful online community.

Community is the sandbox for the power of implicit connections and test bed for how to use that data.

This is what a community platform like Disqus, the socialization around video in Google+ Hangouts, the inference-based connecting power of Foursquare and personalization of Hunch are all getting at.

Community is hard to make happen. But the pieces that marketers move around in social design are the people themselves. We resift the sand in the sandbox till it works.

In social communities online and off, implicit connections are a function of human behaviors, encapsulated in conversations.

On social nets the behavior become data. The networks need to collect and sort through an ever-growing matrix of social data and algorithmically connect implicit input to explicit inferences.

There is a core connection between the gestalt of community and the data driven power of the implicit graph as a tool for social discovery. This started to come together for me last month when I participated in two workshops around “Social Discovery and the Implicit Graph.” Eric Friedman from Foursquare wrote a post on the workshops that is worth a read.

They were group brainstorms organized and led by Disqus, Hunch, Foursquare, StumbleUpon and Tumblr. Each of these companies has a business interest in figuring out how to drive implicit recommendations that are personalized for each individual over time.

Nothing was decided. Much was discussed. The standing room only crowd was inspiring.

The following from the conversation stuck with me:

-People expect the benefits of implicit suggestions on their social nets.

It’s not creepy that Foursquare should suggest things that we want to do when we are somewhere in NYC, it’s what check in-apps should be doing.

Having to explicitly ask for everything we want is both unnatural and boring. It belies the value of connecting and the power of the networks themselves.

People want to get suggestions on what they want without asking for them.

-People expect companies and brands to know them personally and implicitly.

Each of us invests time in sharing our thoughts forward and chronicling our lives as they happen online. This is public information and companies have access to this.

Translated…there is a market for Hunch in my opinion, big time.

-People want implicit discovery as a personal tool.

Search is not enough. Inferred info streams ala Facebook news feeds are not adequate. People want searchable context and companies like Disqus with the implicit data of 50M commenters in their database that can provide enormous value for discovery. The market appears to want it. I certainly do.

When I think about Foursquare in this context, what they are really doing is creating a social, inference-based platform that creates micro-flash communities on demand, one implicitly value-based connection after another, check in by check in.

You can build an analogous map for StumbleUpon, Tumblr and Hunch.

This is very cool stuff. Powerful, heady and just plain hard to do. A bold attempt to build social consciousness into artificial intelligence, code-driven algorithm that spits out time sensitive, personalized implicit suggestions.

I think this is still all about community.

Community works, my bet is that the implicit graph will also.



Closing the action gap on the social web

We intuitively understand the power of our social nets.

They are part of the fabric of our lives. Liking and sharing are natural behaviors; Facebook and Twitter are platforms for our personal expression.

For businesses and brands though, harnessing these nets with intent for business purposes is tough…often elusive. Most businesses wriggle around on the friendship graph, entreating others to follow and like them, stumbling forward through a fog of loose connections.

The gist of the challenge is ingrained in the naturalness of the social web itself. It’s a reflecting pool for our lives and public by design. Whispers become amplified; conversations become a form of attention grabbing media themselves.

The social web is host to an ongoing live channel with ‘us’ as the star, innately external and globally immediate. This is key to both its power and to channeling the subtleties to make it actionable.

Think of it this way.

Being a natural communicator and performer with genuineness, poise, excitement and humility is no small feat on or offline. That’s the realm of stars and performers.

Being natural in the spotlight and publicly poised is just not that ‘natural’ for most of us.

For businesses hidden behind a URL online rather than the archetypal counter at the local store, the separation creates uneasiness. Being face-to-face shines an easy light on our personal foibles. Being ourselves on the web is akin to performing on a global real-time stage. If only the professional performers can play here, this is zero sum game.

Self-help lists for the online marketer or tips for the tweeting CEO are just not enough nor that useful. People and companies need less dressing up and polish and more context for conversations. Being genuine is more powerful than being professional.

Hugh MacLeod of Gaping Void fame, sheds light on this in a great post defining what he calls ‘social objects’. For him, context is discoverable in a social object that encapsulates interests and passions. It’s a connecting node on the mesh of the interest graph.

He also alludes to the need to embrace the inner geekiness behind every social object.

Wine geeks. Gardening geeks. Foodies. Motorcycle fanatics. Rabid sports fans. The web lets us follow our interests globally, immediately and with uncanny depth. We are all like a ten-year old kid rattling off facts on dinosaurs. We live in a world of passionate geeks searching for communities of interest. I’m certainly one.

He’s onto something.

I posted about context as a filter over friendship and how the interest graph is the playing field for connections and dynamic communities of interest. Hugh’s social objects are islands of aggregated passion around an interest that cuts through the noise of friendly social chatter and surfaces like safe harbors on this graph.

This just works. Focus on your interests as the language for connection, and passion as the rhythm for communications and you are not performing, simply conversing.

What does this mean for businesses?

Everything…with a twist.

It’s too easy to state that we want a conversation between company and customer. While true, it doesn’t bring you any closer to action than would a list of general ‘to do’s’ for your Facebook fan page.

This is the action gap personified.

A market’s need for context and connected interest is not well served with lists that skirt the issue and spiral away from a solution. The gap is real. The solution requires a new and more focused lens on the situation.

Few companies have rock star CEO or CMO bloggers. Or big juicy viral topics that connect the masses in a sweeping horizontal flash. Or are brilliantly coy in their poise.

But all companies have passion points. If you are a start-up, that’s what drove you to create your business and solve a market problem. If you have market traction, that’s why your customers come back and engage with you.

Building a brand is hard. Finding a phrase that captures your core value is elusively magical. Marketing needs to lead this process, but as a discipline is behind in understanding its role.

These passion points are true for disruptive companies bent on transforming the world, like Etsy with an artisanal marketplace or Kickstarter with crowd-sourced funding. True also for the most vertical niche like custom snow boards. Or just stuff we love in our neighborhoods like a farm-to-table local restaurant or a natural wine bar with weekly tastings.

Companies like Shopbop accomplish this through a great shopping interface that make purchasing women’s clothes online easy and fun. Or Boxee, through an easy flowing, information rich enthusiast and product blog. Or communities like Ravelry for knitters or SEOmoz for search experts

For every possible slice of the universal marketplace pie there is a unique vernacular and a singular bridge to connection.

You need to start the process of discovering your marketplace with this bridge. Your customers won’t tell you what language to speak but they will let you know you have it right when they start talking back.

Context not content is king

The social web has a connection conundrum.

Our own enthusiasm with the democratization of expression has created the very noise that is making it hard for ourselves to be heard clearly–or even found.

The antidote to social noise, the key to finding connections around interests lies somewhere in the interest graph and the choice of context over friendship as a filter for relevance. I blogged on this here.

This is a real problem for everyone on social web. It’s a gotcha built into the fabric of social ecosystem itself, not an isolated bubble nor a mass hallucination of the uber tech aficionados.

Finding real connections with like-minded individuals and for businesses, connecting with their marketplace requires a fresh look at the social infrastructure, with a new lens…or maybe the current one turned inside out.

Social media logic says to keep creating interesting and honest content, keep recycling and resharing links and this will create intersections of value. This brute force approach is too haphazard and works less well daily. We need to understand how social design intersects with businesses needs; where context connects with customers.

And how it becomes actionable—how do you find and have conversations with people who are interested in both sports and raw foods? How does your company connect with people who are trying to solve a problem that your company’s product is built for? Actionable context is the goal.

Think of the filtered web as a mesh of layers getting finer and more finely tuned as you surface from the amorphous friend’s graph to discover interest connections and context for conversations. You need to pop out value connections from the social graph, not just add to it with more content and noise. This is not a science but it is marketing with focused social intent.

Harnessing interest and context is the realm of the curation tools and platforms. There are scads of companies in a race to win our attention, capture our network data, discover context and build new communities of interest at the intersection of these social graphs around our specific needs.

This is just really hard to do and today, more promise than reality. Filtering relevance and connection out of broad-based social networks is non-trivial but key to discovering business utility within the wondrous social framework of the real-time web.

I believe that you need to focus on context over friendship and discovery not just curation as the goal. That’s the end game and the fuel behind the race. I’m positive that every curation platform, especially the more aggressive ones like Summify and XYDO and the scrappy smart ones like Eqentia, are all chasing this.

I search for contextual connections every day for my own and my client’s businesses and have tried many of the platforms. This is my wish list to make curation useful and discovery tangible for both individuals and businesses.

‘Good enough’ curation filters are neither good nor specific enough to be useful

Curation is in some ways just smart search with an intent to aggregate and share.

The same problems that plague search plague curation as well. What I see in Summify or XYDO, I’ve already seen in my Facebook wall or Twitter streams. And most of what I see isn’t that contextual, it’s simply a garden-variety search result with social plugins as a layer.

Two ideas jump to mind that may help to remedy sameness by building context around more unique information:

-Broaden the input stream

The world is not just Facebook and Twitter. Few (maybe no) curation engines import Tumblr content. And none have found a way to work with Disqus to plumb the massive implicit data that resides in their comment systems.

35 million Disqus commenters having conversations on over 750,000 blogs is a global pool of connection value that is untouched. That’s an ocean of context to channel.

-Self-tuning and personalized curation controls

When most players in a new segment are building the same thing, something is amiss. Curation tools are essential but they mostly seem generic and force context based on link popularity. This is both a yawn as a social play and non productive as a business solution. The curation process needs to be personal, customizable and adjustable in real-time.

The hierarchy of curation terms would be a good start, like you adjust bid terms in a pay-per-click ad campaign. These are personal filters, your screens with different mesh densities, that need to move from the very specific (rarely used) to the general (everybody uses).

Being able to parse and rearrange streams of information by keyword lets you define your own context.

For example, my list of curation keywords for natural wines (general to specific) is: Artisanal-> Natural->Organic-> Biodynamic-> Region-> Vineyard->individual vintage.

I want to pull the adjustment levers at will, adjusting the search as I refine the information and the context I think is most promising.

Check out Eqentia’s dashboard for this. It’s a good one, letting me curate by type and sort by a variety of factors, not just popularity.

Sharing is not contextual by definition

A Facebook ‘Like’. A link ‘Share’, or a ‘Follow’ are not delimiting factors and while they inform, they don’t really guide finding information or context.

Think about what happens on a comment string of Fred Wilson’s or Mark Suster’s blogs. These guys are master curators of focused and topical communities. Both are the epitome of context and a bright spotlight on the interest graph for technology and start-up discussions.

Their dynamic encourages sharing, learning, friendships, communities of extended interest and even new customers and partners. They are a wonder and but very much the exception.

Few of the curation platform players seem to understand that content without dynamic context is really neither interesting nor that valuable. The mix of search and social is uncomfortable and bolted on, like Google trying to integrate social data into search.

Interest footprints are complex and multifaceted, like people themselves

When I decided to hang my business and wine blogs off of the same URL, a couple of friends thought I was wacky. But that is my interest footprint and my personal passion graph and just who I am. Today over 90% of my business connections converse with me about wine. That intersection of wine for me, is a shared footprint along with business needs.

Follow any comment string on a dynamic community. If the commenter is from Colorado in the winter, skiing comes up. If from Spain, Mencia and Galica surface. If from London, the Tate Modern. This is human nature. The platform needs to encourage and support conversations as they naturally occur.

Human nature is telling us something about social business design. We want to have interests intersect even as we are searching for just one. Few of the curation platforms seem to be listening.

Discovering context is the end game of curation

The need to filter social networks to create value is a natural reaction to the raw value and size of the networks themselves.

Social nets like Facebook and Twitter need to figure this out for their own models. The rest of us do it for pursuit of interests, business connections and enlisting customers. It’s a real problem with no apparent nor pat solution.

Some niches have developed communities around rock star bloggers. But there is an infinite yearning for groupings around informational needs in travel, arts, sciences, crafts and on and on. On my list of have-to-finds, very few are located. And just putting out more and more content to create a magnet for context is a non-answer.

Businesses fall into that same need to discover these groupings to find new interest for their products. They need to channel the contextual exhaust from these communities of interest into commercial connections. They are looking for these informational-sorted, socially-fueled links in their sales and community funnels.

It’s this commerce piece of the search for context that is the Philosopher’s Stone of the social web.

The market leading solution will be some variation of a B-to-C-to-B curation paradigm. People want to connect socially, create communities of interest with new friends, share information and refer each other to products or vendors or destinations.

When this happens, not only will individuals have dynamic channels for connections but businesses will have a new customer acquisition pipeline from these communities of curated interests.

And the platform that figures out how to go beyond friendship-based communities and referrals to context and interest-based commercial traffic aggregators will have solved both the value for their network users and the business model for themselves at the same time.

Coming to terms with search in a social world

Web traffic is the marketplace talking to us at a click level.

This is true both pre and post the social web.

But just about everything else has changed, including the very nature of how SEO works as a traffic driver in a world reconfigured around the social web.

Two guys who really get traffic, Henry Blodget (CEO of Business Insider) and Kevin Krim (Head of Digital, Bloomberg) were on a panel at Media Summit 2011 recently talking about traffic. I sat in and per them, the traffic growth breakdown looks like this for content sites:

  • Direct  =   40-60%
  • SEO    =   30-40%
  • Social  =   20-35%

This looks textbook perfect but to most of us is more aspirational than a reflection of what our own stats look like.

Content rich sites are finding themselves challenged by traffic growth, especially in natural search. At one level, this stems from a crowded and competitive keyword universe. Domains are scarce and most common category keywords wildly competitive and seemingly impossible to show above the fold where it matters.

But more than keyword competition, the seemingly counterintuitive connection between success in natural search and success in driving community and social traffic is at the core of the new search order and at the heart of the traffic challenge.

I advised a client on this recently and it afforded me the opportunity to vet my search assumptions to a handful of highly referred, smart people and agencies in the SEO field.

To be clear, I’m not an expert. I’m the customer of SEO services. I don’t need to understand everything at an atomic level but I need to feel informed to the point that I’m comfortable making the tradeoffs in schedule and budget to get the best traffic results.

Understanding the changes in search in a social world took more work than I imagined…and the comfort with vendors and their approach has not been easy. Every business owner and marketer must be facing the same choices when noodling over how to grow their traffic and their businesses because it is they, not the experts, who need to make these resource and business decisions.

To help myself understand, and with some guidance from smart people I bumped into, I built three thought categories that helped me, even though they broke the mold somewhat of how traditional agencies service their clients.

How to decide what really matters to drive more traffic in SEO?

Brad Prescott, an organic search publisher who thinks at the intersection of social, search and lead gen, shared the following with me as a guideline to rank search activities in order of contribution to traffic.

  • Content  = 40%
  • Backlinks  = 40%
  • Spider friendly code = 20%

I view these as a virtual slider to help make decisions and develop qualifying criteria of what makes sense to do and when.

For example:

-Great content with spider friendly code won’t have a great ranking without strong backlinks.

Translation:  the proof of the quality of content is the quantity of links that get shared. Your market is guiding you on what they like. Code is irrelevant at this juncture.

-Great content with strong backlinks will rank well without spider friendly code.

Translation: If the content is interesting and shared, you can still rank well even without spider friendly code on your site. You can compete in the rankings war even without the pain and cost of massive code changes.

-Great content with strong backlinks will accelerate in rankings greatly if you clean up the code.

Translation: If content is great and humming, you’ve got approx 20% of upside cleaning up the code level. This is tough work, involves engineering and for small companies is a tradeoff between building out the product or fixing the plumbing. Sometimes it’s right. Rarely ever the first step. A great first step when starting from scratch, harder the more the site gets iterated together.

You might think these simple conclusions are obvious. From the conversations I had and quotes I took, they are not.

For example, if you have seemingly topped out in SEO-driven traffic growth but have low social and SEO sources, what is the first activity?

  • Fix the code because while not easy it is a discrete action that is knowable?
  • Reconfigure your thinking and content approach to discover how to turn your customers interest into sharable information bits to drive more unique traffic?

People often choose what they know and avoid having to do what they don’t have a clear scientific path for. This happens all the time. It’s the wrong choice.

I’m a believer in an integrated marketing and search approach. Everything does tie together at its core. But the argument that you need to do code level work at the same time as content and backlinks is misguided logic to my thinking. This is text-book not the priority driven real world. Certainly everything contributes, but you should choose what is most pertinent not what is most familiar nor discrete.

Part of the problem with traditional approaches to SEO at an agency level comes from a seeming mismatch between how search used to be and how it is today.

There is a skill set for understanding how to create spider friendly code. A skill set for thin slicing the world into keyword matrices. A marketing strategy to build partnerships for backlinks. And the hard and critical and unchartered work of creating socially interesting and shareable content.

No one individual can do these all. I question whether all four can exist within an agency that is targeted towards and affordable by a small or mid sized company.

Thinking of the world from a keyword perspective matters…and is learnable.

Keywords, as Joel Greenberg, a marketing pro told me, are one of the spices that SEO offers to the traffic equation. And keyword knowledge is key. It used to be considered SEO DNA. It’s less overtly critical now but still important. Search and marketing and even social activities are more coherent and directed when you have this keyword map of your business ecosystem.

SEO experts think in a matrix of keywords. Translating and slicing your business goals and product strength into market terms that the search world defines for you is a powerful asset.

Mapping words against competition. Mapping words against the reality of garnishing that competitive traffic. And then teaching your writers and content curators, your community managers and tweeters, how to think about and use the terms, matters.

This is a learnable and teachable skill.

This is expertise that you need to find a way to acquire. If agencies won’t work ala Carte, find individuals with credentials to help you plot this out.

Social and search, in today’s world are more alike than different.

This is the big aha that stunned me and shone a light on where natural search is today and how to harness it for your company.

The key for both search and social is that your content needs to be interesting and relevant before it can shared and liked and referred. Very simple. Very powerful. Very difficult for many companies to do.

The good news is that the tools and networks for sharing are everywhere. The challenge is that being interesting and relevant is certainly obtainable but not trivial and is not something that a search expert or most experts can teach you.

As an example–not everyone can tell a joke but everyone likes to laugh. Therein is the situation for producing content. You need to be able to tell a joke or become the curator of the comedians, because that laugh is what is shareable. That laugh is the link that drives unique traffic.

That is why social is hard for companies. You can’t buy it. You can’t hire a proxy. You need to keep peeling back the layers between yourself and your customer till you connect. And build from there.

This is true for search as well. Google has access to all Twitter data and some of Facebook’s as well. And per them, your popularity, gauged by network chatter is part of your natural ranking.

The great post that gets retweeted and shared. The post’s comments that get shared and retweeted create both social referrals and social proof for Google’s engines.

And backlinks, whether they are a referred link on Twitter or part of a syndication out to your network, to Google are just backlinks.

It’s harder to tell how search and social are different than to list how they are alike.

This is a changed…and much more interesting world where the categorical relevance of SEO intersects with the personal communications of social.

Wrapping up

As business owners and marketers what we do, all day every day is figure out the connection between our products and the marketplace. How to grow and create value is our job description.

Over the last few posts, I’ve dug into how the social web has moved the customer into the center of the commercial bulls eye. How marketers are the connectors of customer and market value. And how human behavior broadened and found areas of expression on social nets that simply wasn’t able to be seen prior.

Honestly, I usually think of search and social as distinct, even competitive approaches to providing relevance to the customer. The Facebook <-> Google standoff.

I’m sure that exists to some degree; not so in the SEO and the social worlds.

Search informs the efficiency, especially through keywords, of social spread. And social proof  has changed its value scale and transformed the core of how search engines rank value, and create rankings. That’s what drives traffic and what determines, to a large part, your business success.

How powerful is this? How radical a change is this?

When the answer to how to increase your search rankings on Google is to write interesting content that engages your customer’s values and interest and incites sharing…everything is different.

Search and social start to dance to the same drumbeat and the customer’s satisfaction is the drummer.

And just like you need marketers and product coders to really build a winning product that organically can find its early market, you need a partnership between SEO scientists and great communicators to really crack the SEO and social code conundrum

This is a better world. More challenging in some respects, more approachable by all.

The best marketing strategy is dynamic execution

Marketing has traditionally been thought of as a split discipline, with strategy driving the concept and direction, and execution and tactics charged with making things happen.

Nothing could be further from today’s reality than this.

The more you separate the strategy from the execution, the more you wall the actions from ideas that directed them, the more you lose touch with the dynamics of the market.

And the more you view marketing as anything less than an ongoing continuum with your customer, the more you are stacking the deck against you.

Something very intrinsic has changed that drives this.

In many ways the reality of today’s business and marketing world has occurred because it can. Not only the hierarchy of power, but people themselves have changed.

I don’t know which came first–the technology that empowered the change or the human drive for different market dynamics. Regardless, the result is a new landscape with the customer as the center of gravity for the commercial world.

Human behavior has evolved alongside the technology and the marketplace has reconfigured itself to the new world order. And marketing, that connecter has shifted focus toward process of discovery and communications with the customer. In fact, marketing is that process.

I had an email exchange with a University marketing professor after I wrote my “Customers rule” post last week. This sums up his stance:

While customers have more power to vote with their dollars because of the Internet, it’s just an enabling technology and not a paradigm shift. There were customer centric companies before the Internet.

We are on opposite sides of this discussion. Not about the value of the customer but about the depth of change in today’s commercial ecosytem.

Undeniably, the tools are powerful and enabling but I believe that a basic human and commercial shift has occurred. This is not merely a continuum of core business values, but something new and more profound.

The real-time web and social nets have enabled new behaviors to arise and the social landscape has changed with them. With freedom of choice, personal power of communications and a readily available global audience, the result is a different commercial and (even) political world.

Communications and social tools are not the change–how we use them and how that has affected us is. This is a paradigm shift, not just faster cars on the same roads with the same rules.

Think about the check-in space and the social nets.

Have check-ins exploded because we have phones and are always connected or because it tapped into a behavior looking for a platform? Or the incessant need for sharing on social nets. Is Twitter or Facebook the catalyst? Or was human behavior ready to share and brand itself and the platform enabled that?

Things changed because they could, because a new platform of possibility empowered by technology but inhabited by a customer-centric world has evolved.

I believe that this is driven by the behavior not the tools. And this is not a subtle distinction, especially as it affects how we market to and discover our customers.

Great customer-centric companies like Nordstrom who invented the ‘no questions asked return’ policy in the 90s changed the rules of business dramatically. They realized that most people were honest and only returned items if they really had to. But they are not like Naked Wines , a company that opens up the supply chain of wine production and sales to the community along with a no questions asked, no cost mail-in returns policy. Each fervently believes in the customer. Each is a product of its times and the times have changed.

Certainly there is a different model for every company.

Groupon employs the social net driver to power its viral loop to acquire customers, a new twist on email marketing selling local products on a global social platform. Lululemon created a brand that drove fierce customer loyalty around the intersection of street gear and yoga clothes and good vibrations by local word of mouth (pushed by social nets) with hyper friendly in store policies, all without an online component.

But for each, a new culture fueled by new technology served a demand of the customer to sold to in a certain way–their way. Great companies figure that out. The models are endless with flexible technology as a servant to design social and personal commerce.

So what does this have to do with the traditional polarity of strategy and tactics in marketing?

Everything I think.

What is the goal of all businesses?

  • At its simplest, to find a way to bring value to your customers. Certainly you need to do this is in a cost-effective, margin-positive way but without customer value all the rest is moot.

What is the goal of marketing?

  • At its core, building that value chain between customer and company.

How does it get done?

  • An ongoing, dynamically informed process. Smart iterative execution.

Whether you are an early stage startup with a new product or a more mature company looking to extend the line, the process of discovery will be dynamic for both. Not the same of course but dynamic execution nonetheless.

The process of discovering what you should do is tied to the idea you set out to quantify. Each will be unique. Each will be dynamic. Each will be iterative.

Traditionalist marketers will state that this is how it is always done. They are wrong.

Traditionalists will counter that this is a non-directed process. Not so.

Budgets, criteria for measuring success, timelines and resources all are essential. Just that finding the right process is the initial goal. Discovery is the focus and the customer is the group that will provide the information.

This change is empowering and the surge in entrepreneurship speaks to it.

Today you can come up with an idea, create an online space, gather those with like minds and establish a global community of people to vet your ideas with.

Today you can build a sizable community with only your friends and their friends and test ideas in a invitation only space before you ever go to market.

Today you can start with your existent business and test an extension of services or products without a public launch, with mitigated risk to your core business and gather data to make a decision with.

But this is hard to do, old paradigm or new. It has always has been a herculean task to build a new brand or a successful business or create a market out of an idea. Still is. Just that the process is different and the skills to succeed changed. And the barriers to success less about resources and more about ingenuity and early market creation.

I believe in market magic. In that ineffable ‘thing’ that happens when value and customer connect. When the chasm gets crossed. When ideas become a market reality.

Everything is different but somehow the magic is more accessible under the new order. Sure there is more noise to cut through. More competition for everything but with customer values as the clear target and social nets as marketing’s road to travel, directionally everything makes sense.