Why pulling out of Macworld makes sense for Apple

Apple's announcement that they're pulling out of Macworld is causing all kinds of speculation. Is this the end of American innovation as we know it? Is Steve cryogenically frozen in a vault in Cupertino?

I can't comment on Steve Jobs health. I can only wish him well. But, I can tell you why I actually think the long-term pullout of MacWorld makes complete strategic good sense for Apple. 

Follow the logic train, why dontcha'...
  1. Apple does a lot of marketing. 
  2. Every piece of marketing Apple puts out is scrutinized to make sure it lives up to the Apple brand (not that I'd know).  So, they need quality talent to produce that marketing. And quality talent is neither unlimited, nor easy to bring up to speed.
  3. Marketing is for selling stuff. When do people buy stuff? Christmas. Lots of work for the Apple elves to do.
  4. MacWorld is for selling stuff. When is MacWorld? A week and a half after Christmas. Lots of work for the Apple elves to do.
  5. Reason #3 + Reason #4 = December must suck in Cupertino
  6. WWDC has been becoming a really popular event over the last few years. 
  7. WWDC isn't a week and a half after Christmas.
  8. Apple owns WWDC. They don't own MacWorld.
  9. WWDC stands for Worldwide DEVELOPER Conference. 
  10. The world is shifting toward a collaborative economy. This is a major change that means innovation no longer comes from just inside of companies, but from the communities surrounding them. Read Wikinomics if you don't believe me.
  11. Developers have created 13,000 apps for the iPhone since Apple released the API a handful of months ago. This is where the driving force will come from that will maintain Apple's leadership in innovation in the years to come. IMHO, this is a major strategic shift for Apple—and the absolute right one.
  12. WWDC has a stage that will work just fine for announcements.
  13. Regardless of Steve's health (which I hope is fine) he won't live or work forever. The Apple brand (and stock price) then cannot be tied so tightly to "The One" forever either.
  14. If I'm right and this is the first step in a major strategic shift for Apple, it's as good a time as any to start the brand transition from Apple's innovation comes from Steve to Apple's innovation comes from the Appleverse. (I just mentioned to my wife that I was writing this post and she says to me independently "they've got to wean the world off of Steve eventually—the man sneezes and their stock price drops 10 points!")
  15. Last week no one was talking about MacWorld. This week, I am.
My two cents, anyway.


iMedia Agency Summit: Takeaways

Back a few days now from the iMedia Agency Summit. Numero uno bit of news is that I've been asked to do an occasional article and write a blog on iMediaConnection.com. My first blog post was on my impressions from the Summit. I'm going to double post most of what I write on iMedia here, but in the meantime you can check out my iMedia blog here.

Without further ado, reposted here for your reading pleasure:

Impressions from my first iMedia Agency Summit

Posted by Adam Kleinberg on December 13, 2008 at 01:00 AM PDT

A few months ago, Dave Smith from Mediasmith and I were talking and he told me I “had to” check out the iMedia Agency Summit coming up in Palm Springs. I went. It was the most valuable conference I’ve ever been to—made great connections, learned a lot, even had fun.

Here’s my top five takeaways from the Summit.

1. Optimism.
People were surprisingly optimistic about the economic downturn was going to be a boon to the online marketing industry (to the extent that one morning the event planners put up a slide joking that “Dow up 267 points based on optimism at iMedia Agency Summit”).

Not across the board, of course. One-on-one, I definitely talked to people who’ve been feeling the squeeze. However, as a group we are either incredibly lucky to be in this industry or a bunch of naïve fools.

2. The lines between media and creative are blurring.
There’s so many ways to reach an audience, so many opportunities to make a unique (and measureable) connection that creative and media simply cannot take place in a vacuum.

Publishers and Networks (NBC Universal, for example, showed work for Nissan that included a content integration with the show Heros that spanned) are developing creative on their own in many instances and in some cases, agencies with digital capabilities are starting to act like networks. In his keynote, the CEO of Havas Digital showed how they are developing their own ad targeting technology based on unique user-cookies. So, even the players are blurring.

3. There is a conflict between the need for measurable ROI and the need for big ideas. (Don Draper is not irrelevant, I tell you!)
As the head of a creative-driven agency at a conference primarily focused on media, I found that our approach was very different from others I spoke to. We start with an idea and then think about the best way to deliver (and measure) it. In a world where people see a zillion messages a day (that is an actual statistic), reaching your audience creatively becomes incredibly important.

Media targeting and optimization is tantalizing. Even delicious. But it’s easy to lost site of the facts that people have dreams and fears, aspirations and frustrations. When we lift our heads from our databases, these are the things that make for great advertising.

But no standard metrics apply to reaching your audience in creative ways. This is a challenge in an environment where measurability has become the litmus test for success. (Reminds me of testing in schools being necessary, but being applied so stringently it takes the creativity and adaptability to kids’ needs out of teaching.)

Of course, the agencies that figure out how to bridge this conflict will be the winners when the dust settles.

4. This industry has issues.
I spoke to one peer who told me how great she thought it was to be able to collaborate at this conference with people who are normally her competitors and what a relief it was to see others facing the same challenges. For instance, at a metrics roundtable discussion I was in, everyone was in agreement that 15-20% variances in measurement technologies were the norm. One ad network rep told of a campaign where PointRoll and DART had a 300% difference in reporting!

I’m going to be part of a Client Value team that will be doing research and developing a report this year on how agencies can ensure they maintain client value in a rapidly changing world. (I’ll blog about it here as we make progress, but if you’re a brand marketer and are interested in being part of our survey, email me and I’ll make sure you’re on the list.)

5.This business is still about people.
The people at the Agency Summit all seem to know it. That’s why they come. But this runs deeper than networking.

When Gordon Padisson, the former head of marketing at New Line Cinema, spoke about his experience with agencies, he spoke of frustrations regarding turnover, over-promising resource bandwidth and the bait-and-switch of principles that disappear once they get the account. People, people, people. When he talked about agencies were great, he referenced energy, perspective and publisher relationships. People, people, people. Not a whisper about behavioral targeting or integrated cross-media reporting technologies.

So, remember what’s important folks.

Thanks, iMedia (and Dave) for the invite. I’ll be seeing you next time.


iMedia keynote: Tim Hanlon on the need for Transparency

Tim Hanlon from Vivaky gave the keynote at the iMedia Agency Summit this morning. Made a very great case for urgent need for change. If you're not measuring and proving value, you're going to be irrelevant and lonely in this economy. Recap at imediaconnection.com later today. Also, someone posted a Twitter search url for tagged comments from the conference here.

Marketing with Twitter

The big Twit question I keep hearing people asking is "how are brands actually using Twitter?"

@nunzi @task is great. Check out Qtask if you need real accountability and online collaboration https://website.qtask.com/t... about 1 hour ago
I tweeted at a guy I know in response to a tweet he had made. This guy is searching for his competitors names in discussion threads on Twitter and hitting people to check out his thing. 

That's how.


Don Epperson from Havas DIgital

On stage at iMedia, the CEO of Havas Digital says budgets are up 15% for interactive their. Told about one client that just shifted huge portion of TV budget to online video. Don's topic is "Evolving toward the agency of the future." A few of the things he's saying"

  • branding and strategy are more important than ever
  • optimization is part of what planning is becoming
  • large agencies will act like the large sophisticated media networks (my 2 cents: why not? seems like the media nets like Platform-A and NBC are doing creative)
  • tech providers will enable this for small agencies. big ones will create their own technology.
  • talking about a model where every individual cookie is evaluated and an automated bidding process puts a value on reaching every unique individual
  • moving from a placement value (your typical CPM) to an impression value (unique person)
Overall, it seems like no one's eyes are closed about the tough times ahead, but a lot of optimism about the potential for innovative companies to thrive. 

Makes me feel good about prospects for Traction.

iMedia Agency Summit

At the main session for the iMedia Agency Summit today—talking about digital media strategies in a down economy. Obviously, the good news is online is still growing (11% in the 3rd quarter). One recent study says still expecting 18% growth in 2009. We've all got these gadgets from a company called myxer that let us vote in real time and they're posting results. According to the folks in this room...

37% expect budgets to remain the same (about the same say it'll go up and down)
43.9% think biz's are projecting growth in 2009
47.2% think digital media will grow 10% in 2009 (plus another 10 or so % who think it'll grow more)
80% of people here have direct access to the c-suite
68.7% think agencies and publishers think there's decent collaboration
87.6% want to wait til the bar opens to have a big group hug

CEO of Havas up next...

iMedia Agency Summit: Why agencies suck.

10 minutes til breakfast here in lovely Palm Springs. I'm at La Quinta for my first iMedia Summit. Everyone keeps telling me to "pace myself" so I'm a little worried about the libations over the next two days 

(Note to future first timers: Just finishing this post 3 days later. Didn't pace myself. It was good advice.)

However, it's been a great event and given me lots to think about. Gordon Patterson, the former CMO of New Line Cinema (and a great guy), was interviewed yesterday about how where he sees agencies providing real value to clients and where he sees agencies screwing up—and why despite that he still loves agencies and sees they have great value to offer.

According to Gordon, the fundamental issues between clients and agencies are on both sides: clients don't communicate to agencies and agencies don't listen.  Big fundamental issue on both sides because it leads to clients who feel like they're being nickel-and-dimed by agencies and agencies constantly struggling with scope creep and being squeezed by clients. It leads to a situation where agencies—that are full of smart people trying to be strategic about everything they do—wind up being tactical.

From the client side, Gordon's other issues were really about getting the service you expect:
  • the old bait and switch: principals pitch and then you never see them again
  • retention and turnover: as soon as people get up to speed on your business, they move on (from now on, you can be be sure I'll mention that only 2 people have quit at Traction since we started the agency in 2001 every time I pitch)
  • don't over-promise on bandwidth, dammit
  • agencies better keep bringing new ideas to the table, because your competitors sure are
  • turf battles: agencies and publishers need to tag-team to make good ideas a reality, not fight over turf
But Gordon also point out that agencies are incredibly value because of the energy, the outside perspective and the media relationships they bring to the table. He also brought up the value of agencies that "cross-fertilize" across client relationships (something I think Traction needs to do more of).

Great session.


Twitter. Bitter?

Just got back from seeing Evan Williams, the CEO of Twitter, at a Churchill Club event. Was very amused when he snarkily pointed out that Barack Obama hasn't made a tweet since he got elected. He felt "used." Sniff.

Ironic that I'm blogging about it instead if twittering about it, but I just twittered about this blog post, so I guess it all works out. Even more ironic that Evan Williams used to be the CEO of Blogger which is what I used to make this blog post. About Twitter. Whew.

Twitter has been gaining a lot of traction lately in the media. Some people are even calling it "the next big thing."

I can't call myself a big fan, however. My last five tweets are dated Oct. 16, Sept. 25, June 24, May 14 and Dec 21, 2007 (it's December 2, 2008 today). I understand the "watch the chatter" aspect of subscribing to a bunch of people you know and just being "present." But this concept of "presence" is everywhere now and frankly, (drum roll, about to coin a term here...) I'm suffering from Presence Fatigue. I've got Facebook Status, LinkedIn Status, a sadly neglected blog and I'm supposed to Tweet too? Who the hell is listening? I've got 39 followers, but I don't know who half of them are. And I'm following some people technically, but I'm not looking at Twitter so not really.

Evan pointed out that when he was at Google, they were always successful at rolling out web apps because they focused. And, I think Twitter is similar to Google in that it is simple and focused. Google was nothing but a search box for years. Twitter is nothing but a 140 character box. And they're both dominating their categories. Great.

But Twitter has to change. They have to change because I don't have any way to discover friends on it, so I've basically tried it out and abandoned it. They're working on fixing this—according to Evan Williams they are trying to make it so you can port your Facebook friends into Twitter. But as soon as they start making this app better — and they have to because they're not making any money now — they're going to lose that simplicity and focus that makes them the Google of "presence."

Mr. Williams says he has a plan to make money that won't screw up the product. He also says that the reason things fell apart with the Facebook acquisition was that he thought it would be a "disappointment" to sell the company for only $500 million. I'll just wait and see.


Agile Design

I was first introduced to the concept of Agile Development when Paul Giese, Traction's Director of Technology, had me read an eBook that was put out by 37 Signals.

The basic premise of the book is that there's a smarter way to develop applications. By taking a rapid, iterative approach where a team updates features early and often you wind up with simpler, better applications — in less time. Simpler is key. The argument made by 37 Signals is that most applications (think Microsoft Word or Excel) are bloated with thousands of features that 99% of us never use. Why would a company create a ton of features you wouldn't use? To justify the cost of selling you an upgrade every year.

Simplicity becomes very important for a number of reasons. First, if we have a dedicated team releasing early and often, we have to prioritize what they do next every couple of days. When you have to make choices, suddenly unnecessary features become... well... unnecessary. What you wind up with is an application that just does the things the human beings that are going to use it need it to do. And do them really well.

And this is why zillions of companies from Microsoft and Google to every twodotohdotcom start-up in the universe are using agile development to facilitate innovation.

Sounds great, right?

The problem for agencies has been that "agile" is contrary to how companies and interactive agencies structure things. The way we've done things with interactive projects in the past is:

STEP ONE: client issues RFP
STEP TWO: agency writes proposal or Statement of Work
STEP THREE: agency gets the job and writes a func spec
STEP FOUR: agency does the job
STEP FIVE: the client wants something that is out of scope—we have to write a change order!

Agile Development effectively gets rid of the scope. We have a budget. We have a deadline. We have objectives. We have process. Now, let's create something using our process that meets our budget, our timeline and our objective. What will we create? We'll find out when we get there.

Ironically, the ad agency retainer model works really well here. With an advertising retainer, you're not buying specific deliverables. You're buying a staffing plan — hours of people's time. We estimate hours based on potential needs, but what those hours will buy will shift based on mutually agreed upon priorities.

Lucky for us, Traction is both an ad agency and an interactive agency, so this actually works well for us. We're currently using it with about half of our clients—from start-ups to Fortune 500 companies.

But what we're seeing now is the need for more than just agile development, but Agile Design. In one case in particular, our team is currently prototyping a really cool, really top secret immersive digital experience for one of the world's largest financial institutions. The timeline is ridiculously tight. The potential scope is massive. There's a boatload of both graphic and interaction design work and presentation layer coding (Flash, AJAX, HTML) to do. And, the client wants to review it 2 or 3 times a week.

We're using an Agile Design process to make this work. We are creating a feature prioritization matrix and assigning a "must-have," "should have" or "nice to have" label to every component. Digital triage. We will upload work in progress daily, but designating key areas to feedback. Feedback goes into the matrix too. The benefit of presenting often is that course corrections are made early—incredibly important for a project with a large number of stakeholders. A hard-stop design and feature lock date ensures we'll have the time to test the hell out of this puppy and deliver the high quality product our clients expect and deserve (of course, the browsers we'll test it on where prioritized too).

Now that I've written this post, I guess the reality is that this is really a hybrid Agile Design & Development process, but that's not the point. The point is that a lot of guesswork goes into estimates for interactive projects. Why? Because until you've actually designed something, you have no honest idea what it will take to build it. Being agile eliminates the guesswork.

This is great for both agencies and for clients. What's important to each?

Agencies want to produce successful work that helps them grow their business, make a reasonable profit and have a good working relationship. An agile process enables them to create successful work, plan their resources effectively so they can make that profit and establish the kind of frank dialogue that makes for a great working relationship.

Clients want to produce successful work that helps them meet their business objectives, pay a reasonable price and have a good working relationship. An agile process enables them to ensure the work that is produced is focused on successfully meeting their objectives, is fairly priced and is managed with the kind of frank dialogue that makes for a great working relationship.

If anyone has any experience working with this kind of process in an agency environment, please post comments. I'd love to hear about it.


Traction wins 2008 San Francisco Award

Traction has been selected for the 2008 San Francisco Award in the Advertising Agencies category by the U.S. Local Business Association (USLBA). There's a press release about it here. Thanks, USLBA!


BBQ Smackdown II: The Rib-off

That's right. Last Friday was the second BBQ Smackdown at Traction. This time, there were three contestants: Russell "Crispy" Quinan, Ben "The Kid" Wilkinson and yours truly. Of course, I walked away with the trophy. And of course, Crispy has sought a legal injunction (translation = public sore losing). Personally, I would never stoop so low as to dispute the wisdom of a fairly judged contest that had found me to be the lesser man, but I'm not Crispy. 

However, I've pasted his email to our council below for you to be the judge of the judging.

For your review and consideration:

They say that a Barbecue competition is the great equalizer among men. Unlike team sports, the barbeque master works alone, with no one to blame when staring defeat in the face. Like the puppet master who so elegantly manipulates string to give the doll life, the great barbequer makes flame and meat sear together into an almost mystical level of flavor and texture perfection. This is not a subject to be taken lightly, or to be manipulated for one’s own personal gain. The steaks are very high.

A “smackdown” was to occur on Friday evening, November 7th. What happened was far more sinister indeed. What happened was either an extreme travesty of justice, or perhaps, a plot far more intricate and dastardly, hatched on the day of Adam Kleinberg’s last Smackdown loss.

I submit to our General Council the facts of the evening in the hopes that any sane and or reasonable man or woman would agree that the following is clearly some sort of cleverly devised conspiracy perpetrated by Adam Kleinberg himself:

1. Mr. Kleinberg used agency “status meeting” time to pre pitch his barbecue recipe and story to the staff.

I think we can all agree that equal time must be given to all participants to pitch their wares. Not only did Mr. Kleinberg tell the entire staff about his barbeque prowess and menu, but he did so while standing atop our crow’s nest, some 10 feet above the heads of the audience—portraying himself as a deity. I can safely say that neither Mr. Wilkinson, nor Mr Quinan had the same opportunity to stack the perceptual deck in their favor.

2. Timing was unfairly manipulated by Mr. Kleinberg

Mr. Kleinberg knowingly captured an obvious advantage by continually changing the time of the barbeque. The invitation clearly says 3:00 PM. When asked when the meat should be coming off the grill, Mr. Kleinberg continually said in “20 minutes.” Apparently 20 minutes means 2 hours and 30 minutes because I believe the competition started approximately 5:30 PM. Both Mr. Wilkinson and Quinan had to actually turn their grills off and wait for Mr. Kleinberg. I should add that both Mr Wilkinson and Mr. Quinan were there and ready to begin on time while Mr Kleinberg was still hastily preparing.

3. A “scream off “ determines the winner in a BBQ competition?

Would a scream off break the tie between two fine artists? Would Salvador Dali hold a scream off against Van Gough? I think not. To select the winner of a barbeque competition, I would suggest a more appropriate tiebreaker to elevate the audience’s perception of the art form that is barbeque.

4. If a scream off is indeed fair (although I say NAY!) But if it is, how many people had left and were not there to cast their scream? Ballets were handed out in an orderly fashion, but screaming is anything but. Can Mr. Fanning actually measure the “loudness” of a screaming room of meat eaters? It is clear to me that his arm “meter” was broken and unable to deliver consistent and accurate measurement of decibels. Was every screamer even a valid screamer? This direction is fraught with peril.

It is clear to me that this entire competition was a cleverly manipulated farce; with malice of forethought I might add, by Mr. Kleinberg, who enlisted the help of the Master of Ceremonies himself, Mr. Theodore Fanning (if that is his real name?). I submit to our General Council that the two of them we’re planning on splitting all the winnings and beginning a new life in some other region where they could continually hatch these schemes on unwitting participants. They must be stopped.

I think the entire competition’s results are suspect and the only logical course of action is to hold the trophy in a safe and secure location until Mr Kleinberg and Mr Quinan can find some other respectful tie breaker that takes into account the art of flame and meat and not the screaming of a drunken audience.


Conversational Media Redux

I have to admit, I was pleasantly surprised by the CM Summit put on by Federated Media. I chatted with John Battelle last night at the cocktail reception and made the observation that this whole event was very web 2.0 of him. Meaning one of the keys of understanding what makes Web 2.0 tick is the idea that it's great to show your competitors' content—as long as they come to your site to see it. Literally a third of the people at the event had FM name tags,  but they provided value so I was happy to shake hands (I think about 7 of his people will be visiting Traction next week) because the event was pretty terrific.  Lot of interesting insights about how brands are able to use conversations as marketing—and this is important stuff to understand. As budgets start to get slashed in the coming months, it will be companies that understand how to foster connections with lower cost connections between brands and consumers that survive and thrive.

I'm going to go into each of these in depth in subsequent blog posts, but here are my top ten random nuggets from the conference:

  1. Brands are Twittering like mad and a few new success stories have emerged—like Dell generating half a million bucks in sales from tweets about surplus inventories.
  2. Avinash Kaushik, whose published some great books on web analytics, had this quote: "Engagement is not a metric, it's an excuse." I love that. He went to say don't try to sexify your metrics. Call them something ugly so they just say what you're really measuring. Time spent on site should be called "Time Spent on Site." True nuff.
  3. My pal, Richard Jalichandra from Technorati, was on stage. Showed a great case study of how brands can align with content relevant to their audiences: an NFL Draft channel on Technorati sponsored by Hummer. Brands need to think about how they can align with conversations. Great creative media example. Also, seems to be doing really well with Technorati Media network annoucning an acquisition of AdEngage yesterday.
  4. creative = media = creative ... these disciplines are becoming more and more intertwined
  5. Federated Media launched a new social media metrics dashboard tool. If you know the url, post it in comments!
  6. Social media tactics such as Facebook brand pages and Twitter are less expensive, but not without investment. They are only effective and authentic if they are done well. That takes time, energy and experience. A combination many brands don't have.
  7. Current TV VCAMs (viewer created ad messages) are preferred 9 to 1 by their users. Kind of obvious and one of those statistics that don't mean much—but the examples they showed were pretty damned good spots
  8. Justin Curtis, the digital creative director at Grey (and a very nice guy) pontificated that the art director/copywriter model cannot survive. The need to think across technology and media is a challenge. A great specific example he gave: a client was doing multivariate testing in a rich media banner and he had to direct the copywriter to give him 25 headlines to test in the ad. Not the kind of thing a creative director trained to find the one line that best expresses a very specific message necessarily knows how to respond to.
  9. Porter Gale, the VP of Marketing at Virgin America, presented a case study on their brand. A great story of a brand being built from the ground up (reminded me of my conversation with the CEO of Pandora). Really great. I  but I don't think they're doing a good job leveraging conversational media and I'm not sure why she was presenting at this specific conference. Porter, expect a phone call...
  10. Hashem Bajwa from Goodby showed this great piece for Wii on YouTube. Props. 


Conversational Marketing meets Experiential Marketing

The CEO of Meetup.com just announced that they are allowing brands to sponsor real life meet-ups that are organized on their site. He's on a panel discussing how conversational online marketing is being integrated into real world experiential marketing. I think this is going to be an emerging trend we see articulated in the media. 

This is the same premise behind the work we proposed to GM earlier this year (sadly, they took our thinking and executed with their retainer agency). Pontiac needed to get people in cars, so we showed them an idea called Karaoke Cab, where we put karaoke machines and video cameras in cars and gave people free rides in exchange for them singing on camera on the way. Then we were going to upload the video to the web and give people a mechanism to invite their friends to vote for them to win a Pontiac Vibe. Something we're going to see more of as brands look to inject themselves into consumer conversations—and avoid huge media expenditures— over the coming months.

Gian Fulgoni from comScore at CM Summit

Gian Fulgoni, the CEO of comScore is on. Talking about cookies. Making the point that cookies have been the accepted measurement device for unique visitors to websites, but a very high percentage of browsers now allow users to block cookies, resulting in inflated numbers. As high as 30% are deleting cookies once a month, he claims.

He's got a slide up right now measuring the impact of search. Says direct effects only account for 16% and indirect online effects another 21%. That means offline effects of search account for 63% of how it impacts buying. Basically, what he's been getting at is the need for ROI in everything but it's really a hard thing to quantify. 

However, he's optimistic retailers are going to continue to shift dollars online. Here's a study they did on impact of online marketing to offline sales:

119% search & display
82% search only
16% display

Makes me feel good about being an interactive agency.

CM Summit

I'm at the CM Summit today and tomorrow. Will get a few posts in. John Batelle from Federated Media is on stage right now. Tells us we're going to learn what works and what doesn't over the next two days. Of course, half the people at this event have name tags that say Federated Media, so I'm kind of sitting at an ad. But I'm here, so I guess it works.

More later...


Online marketing in a downturn

I attended a BtoB Magazine marketing event this morning here in San Francisco. Some interesting presentations from client-side marketers and some good insight during the Q&A session into how companies are reacting to the financial crisis. The presenters were from SAP, Sybase, Visa and Barclay's, so it was a good sampling.

So, how are these companies approaching the meltdown in the market? Differently.

If you want to skip the details, here the summary;

SAP - cutting budgets
Sybase - increasing budgets
Visa - not changing budgets

If you do want some details, keep reading...

My friend and client, Kevin Cox, Director of Strategic Initiatives for SAP Global Marketing told us that SAP is cutting budgets—but will continue to invest in building their brand while striving to find the most cost-efficient means of driving traffic to their online properties. He stressed that while budgets were being trimmed, "we're not shutting off the lights." Comforting.

Kevin gave a very insightful presentation on how SAP has evolved their use of search. SAP first started using SEM as a more cost-efficient means of driving traffic than print and traditional direct marketing. However, after observing their online properties, they found that investing in SEO by developing search engine-friendly content led to even more traffic through organic search. So much so, that now, they've abandoned landing pages and now focus on building optimized resource centers for customers on their website. Is it working? These resource centers are getting 40% of their traffic from organic search.

SAP is cutting, but Sybase is going the other direction. Mark Wilson, their VP of Marketing feels like now is the time to make some noise and be provocative. He said that Sybaseis actually increasing the budget for a new campaign set to launch in the coming weeks. Comforting.

He also characterized himself as a "chronically stingy" marketer and gave three tips for inexpensive, yet effective techniques he thinks works.

1. Video. Lots of it. Sybase is shooting cheap, single camera videos with limited production value of product managers writing on whiteboards, product demos (imagine someone just holding up an iPhone and walking you through an app) and customer testimonials. Then they distribute them everywhere they can: the web, sales presentation, even email. He cited a 50% increase in email newsletter click-through rates when Sybase started adding video to their emails.

2. Mobile. It's easier than you think to publish a short-code and get a mobile program up and running. Sybase used it at a golf event they sponsored and awareness rates for those who received the mobile ad were exceptionally high compared to those who didn't.

3. Conversation Monitoring. We've done a bit of this at Traction for some of our clients. There are a number of vendors out there that allow you to monitor the volume and tone of conversations about your brand and your competitors online. Sybase monitors them regularly to see what the customer is saying about them and adjust their messaging accordingly.

Alex Craddock said Visa is "keeping marketing budgets static" and continuing to shift toward online media and finding innovative new ways to connect with their customers. Comforting.

He showed off their Visa Business Network Facebook app which is pretty cool. I actually had joined it a few months back because they give away $100 free credit in Facebook ads as an incentive for joining. Great incentive. Very relevant to their mission of helping small businesses leverage new channels like Facebook. The app is kind of a community with a community on Facebook. I'm not sure if they've actually created a valuable tool that has staying power, but they have 70,0000 people who have added the app, so if they can continue to provide ongoing value, this could be a really great program for Visa.

Also spoke to a few agency people I know. Like Traction, they are staying busy and doing well (knock on wood). Interestingly, Traction is participating in an RFP for a major travel company right now. The reason they are looking for a new partner: because they want to shift their marketing budget online and need a partner that can help guide them toward a path of being ROI-focused marketers. We also just won a major account (that I can't talk about yet) that is looking for us to come up with big viral ideas—that are not dependent on big media budgets. Seems like a trend.

So, there you have it. The trickle has not yet come down whole hog on marketing yet. I'm sure it will, but the trend is toward innovation and online channels. I'm glad Traction doesn't make our bread and butter on mega-budget TV spots.


Traction on FastCompany.com

This interview with blogger Wendy Marx is supposed to be on the front page of FastCompany.com this afternoon (my favorite magazine these days):

Word of mouth marketing, the power of everyday citizens to talk up – or down – a brand is on a roll.

If you ever doubted its power and reach, take a step back for a minute to April of this year when a no-name blogger outed Sen. Barack Obama for his now infamous “bitter remarks.” The bittergate story changed the political landscape and for a time upended Obama’s campaign.

While word of mouth is certainly not new, smart brands, agencies and personal branders, not to mention politicians, are taking up the WOM cudgel as never before and making it a strategic part of marketing.

That’s because the Internet has spiked WOM’s reach. Call it the power of everyday folks to help make or break a brand.

Or as branding expert Adam Kleinberg, CEO of advertising and marketing agency Traction puts it, “Marketing is not just a conversation between a brand and consumer but between individual consumers. It’s no longer just one-way communication but two-way communication.”

In the old days, if you had an opinion, you told your friends. Then came the Internet and social media, and suddenly anyone had access to a worldwide megaphone to air his or her opinion. Smart marketers are recognizing that ordinary consumers want to express their thought and passions – and enabling that.

“Social media,” says Kleinberg, “is all about giving people a chance to realize that ‘what I say’ matters.”

Kleinberg’s company, for example, created a Facebook community for a new product called Livescribe, an audio pen gizmo geared to students. A case study in how to grow a successful brand online, Livescribe’s Facebook page grew to more than 10,000 people in just 45 days. The secret? An adroit combination of new and old media, including a clever viral video to encourage students to identify with the brand, a promotional giveaway for joining the Livescribe community and an opportunity for community members to talk about themselves and the product.

“We’re allowing people to interact with a brand,” says Kleinberg. “In a sense we’ve created a ‘circle of life’ for a brand. People enter the community and see how excited others are about the product and these new members in turn inspire others.” The proof of course is ultimately in the numbers. Livescribe had 9,000 people get on the pre-order list before their pens were even on sale.

“At the end of the day, social media is about allowing people to create their own content online,” says Kleinberg. “Social media’s greatest strength is to get people who are passionate about your brand interacting with it. The operative word is interactive.”

What are you doing to get people to interact with your brand? I’d love to hear from you.

Wendy Marx, Peronal Branding and PR Specialist, Marx Communications, Inc.


Inner8 Beta — very hush, hush

All investors are different, but they all have one thing in common. They can do better with the right advice.

But where do you get that advice? The fees paid to brokers diminish returns whether they give good advice or bad. The vast majority of mutual funds don't even outperform the market. And the press offers generic information that aren't personalized to individual investors.

Traction's new client, Inner8, uses some pretty snazzy and sophisticated tools to provide free, tailored advice to investors powered by the wisdom of crowds. It's called Inner8 because once a user has eight connections, Inner8's tools start to significantly improve investment performance.

That advice provided by Inner8 falls into two camps: the ability to discover new opportunities and the ability to validate decisions.

Inner8 helps users discover opportunities in two ways: first, it identifies opportunities based on the top performers in the community that match up with a user's personal investing preferences. Then, it surfaces additional, unexpected opportunities based on historical correlations between individual stocks and industries.

Inner8 also helps users validate investing decisions by leveraging the collective intelligence of their community. They can see how the most successful investors in the community perceive any given investment decision. With just eight active users in a user's Inner Circle, that collective intelligence is right more often than not—certainly more often than the "pros."

If you want to check it out, you can use this special access key on their homepage to check out the beta: 1ieiq


Seinfeld ad

I hear a lot of people are saying the new Seinfeld ad for Microsoft is horrible, but I think the Jerry Seinfeld Microsoft ad is more strategically brilliant than most people realize. It's not going to do squat to sell Vista today. But it's not meant to. What this ad did exceptionally well was make Microsoft human and likable by making Bill Gates human and likable. He shops for shoes just like everyone else. People expected Crispin to try to make Microsoft cool, but everyone knows that the least cool thing you can do is say "I'm cool." By making Bill this guy you want to be pals with, suddenly Apple's commercials feel mean-spirited. The cool kid in high school making fun of the geek. This ad isn't about selling Vista today. It's about shifting perception to pave the way for tomorrow. Hence, "The future. Delicious." Microsoft gets forgiven for royally screwing up Vista because, hey, they're only human. They'll get it right.

Of course, I'll never move from Apple to Microsoft. But that's my 2 cents on the commerical.


Burning Man Policy

Some people question why is it that Traction has a guaranteed-time-off-for-Burning-Man policy. Our hypothesis is that BM is that we are a creative company and Burning Man fuels the creative spirit like nothing else. Evidence? Here's an installation that our ACD, Renee Crawshaw, helped build out on the Playa with artist Peter Hudson.

I think we're on to something.


On client service...

I love LinkedIn. I posted a response this morning to a question I came across on LinkedIn Answers. LIterally three hours later, I got a telephone call from a woman in Texas who runs an agency in Texas interested in partnering with Traction.

The question was "How do you maintain excellent client service levels when an Account Manager leaves or you acquire a new client?" It's something we've given a lot of thought to over the last year, so I thought I'd share my answer here.

I'd say there's three main things you can do to maintain excellent client service levels in an ad agency.

The first is having processes in place that ensure communication between the client and agency are crystal clear (and that both the account team and client understand those processes). At the root of nearly every client relationship that I've ever seen go bad is poor communication. Conference reports aren't a waste of time. They avoid miscommunication. Creative briefs should be rigorously crafted and should leave no room for misinterpretation.

The second may sound obvious, but it's hiring good people. We always have a handful of account people in mind that we may want to bring on months before we need them. That way, you never have to settle when a new account comes in and we need to hire someone fast.

The third: be willing to walk away. I mentioned above that the #1 reason agencies and clients break up is miscommunication. The #2 reason is that there's just not a right fit. When my agency was 4 people and worked out of the spare bedroom of my apartment (7 years ago) we had a different cost structure than we do today at 30 employees. If you want to be great, you have to add process as you grow in order to maintain the quality of work. It's important to honestly ask "are we a good fit?" and if not, to just walk away. Otherwise, you're putting your client service people in the position of having to justify your agency cost structure again and again. And that's almost guaranteed to lead to a bad relationship.


BBQ Smackdown: The legal opinion

As some of you may know, we recently had a BBQ Smackdown competition on the sidewalk outside of Traction after our General Manager, Russell "Krispy" Quinan, challenged me to a meeting of the meat. Since then, some controversy has erupted. Our council, the esteemed Todd Moreno Esq. (who apparently has too much time on his hands) has issued an official legal opinion. I leave it to you, dear reader, to judge...

86 Cal. Burp. 469 (2008)


A chill wind blows through the halls of Traction, threatening to turn brother onto brother, as it extinguishes that fire of life that brings to our nearly civilized society the treasure we call Damn Fine Barbeque.

Mired in a pit of saucy Controversy, the fine people of Traction (as well as Giese) have demanded closure to this Great Debate. True, some have begged for silence. One has called for barbeque every Friday. But for those who cry for Just Resolution, gather thy knives and forks and take heart! (And if one’s is too encased in fat and cholesterol, take another’s!)

For here at Traction, like the clanking of a cowbell before its owner is duly processed, Justice Rings! And so Gentles All (as well as Giese), with an open mind, aided perhaps by our favored elixir of free-thinking, The Sacred Scotch, which comforts the weary brow, lulls fear and anxiety, and so often liberates us from the oppressive burdens of consciousness, we will seek to end this conflict and bring peace down to the very bowels of this Fair Company.


This case comes on appeal from Adam “Rib-Man” Kleinberg (Rib-Man) over allegations of voting irregularities, undue influence, bribery, conspiracy, and fraud, involving that contest entitled “Barbeque Showdown,” in which “Krispy” Russell Quinan (Krispy) was declared the winner by a certain Theodore Fanning.

For the purposes of this appeal, the parties have stipulated that Mr. Fanning, despite his shady past, questionable reputation and penchant for pedicures, accurately counted the ballots found in the event’s official ballot box. The only issue at bar therefore is whether certain ballots should have been counted in light of post-election admissions made by two voters.

Statutory jurisdiction is found in the Frank and Baloney Act of 2005, as well as the IV section of the Controlled Sauces Act, Subchapter J (4)(u) of the Smoke Flavoring Act, and Article LXIX of the Mutual Meat Consumption Accord.


The Advertisement

Respondent Krispy’s Exhibit 1 is an advertisement for a Barbeque Showdown between Rib-Man and himself. It is true that no mention of meat is made, save for the term “rib” in “Rib-Man.” Contrary to Krispy’s assertion however, the ad does not say to “come to the Barbeque Showdown.” In fact, it doesn’t convey much at all, except for what can be gleamed in the fiery menacing from a smiling Krispy aimed at an unsuspecting (and evidently debauched) Rib-Man.

This advertisement’s persuasiveness as affirmative evidence for the validity of making vegetables part of the competition is therefore as limited in use as Eric Ryan's green leprechaun suit on Memorial Day. Nonetheless, as Krispy is correct that no indication was made that this was to be an all meat event, this advertisement cannot serve as the basis for disqualification.

Comedy Mirroring Reality

On appeal, Rib-Man complains that the two photos presented in both the advertisement and the ballots were prejudicial and likely cost him votes, given that his likeness was less than flattering. Assuming this argument is serious, and it not made simply in response to Krispy’s wimpy equity arguments discussed below, the following conclusion has been reached:

Rib-man, you really do look like that and we’ve all seen you look worse. Get over it.

The Home Grill Advantage

Krispy asserts that the contest was unfair, in that he was unable to use his own grill like Rib-Man. Presuming Rib-Man and Krispy both knew about the failed delivery of the official contest grills at roughly the same time, it must be wondered: If Rib-Man was able to run home and get his grill, why couldn’t Krispy haul his skinny ass home and nullify the advantage?

Whether Krispy’s choice in not doing so was simple laziness or a play for sympathy, the perceived inequity was something to object to at the time of the competition. Having decided to participate, the issue must be deemed as waived.

The Tears of a Krispy

As an ancillary argument, Krispy maintains that he may have lost votes because certain judges considered his meat to be overdone. Krispy however, by his own admission, tends “to cook things more well done.” It is therefore unclear whether he is attempting to make his very cooking style a handicap, admitting that his meat was indeed overdone, or simply lamenting an ill-conceived appeal to the jerky lovers in attendance.

Regardless, one should expect contestants for best barbeque to closely monitor their creations, particularly if faced with a strange grill or the possible use of Tack’s military-grade “charcoal.” Krispy cannot therefore be said to have been unduly prejudiced. In the words of that culinary icon, Aunt Jemima, “You betta watch what you do wit dat meat o’ yours, Boy!”

Krispy: You should have watched your meat, Man.

Fraud or Marketing: Who Can Tell?

As part of his case, Krispy presents the question as to what “meat” means, suggesting that since vegetables have a “meaty” area, they might well be considered “meat.” Herein lies the basis of Rib-man’s fraud contention, and anyone who has bitten into a tofu “burger” would understand the outrage. But while Krispy might be guilty of trying to bamboozle a lawyer with wordplay, there is no evidence that he actually tried to pass his vegetables off as “meat” during the contest. Rib-man’s reactionary fraud allegation must therefore be dismissed.

A Conspiracy Afoot?

It is undisputed that Rib-man was unaware that vegetables might be part of the competition, thinking only that he just had to beat Krispy’s meat to win. It is also undisputed that Mr. Fanning, the guy in charge of the event, issued no warning to the contrary. (And certainly Krispy did not let Rib-man know of his plans.) It is further undisputed that Mr. Fanning neither made criticism of Krispy for his tactics, nor gave any admonishments to the assembled judges in order to mitigate any inequities that might arise.

Even with Mr. Fanning’s involvement however, can anyone say something nefarious was afoot? Again for lack of evidence, Rib-man’s nutty conspiracy allegation must be discarded.

The Bullshit

Krispy would have people believe his self-admitted unilateral decision to add vegetables to the menu only demonstrated his care for the health and digestive systems of the entire staff.

Yeah. Save it for the marketing pitches, Krispy.

No One Likes A Green-Noser

In a secondary bid, Krispy suggests that his accommodation of Alternative “Meat”-Styles should translate into something akin to points in deciding who does the best barbeque. Sorry Krispy. There is no “extra credit” in the world of barbeque. Just be glad that pandering to the dark, green desires of a select few did not amount to bribery.


This opinion is largely concerned with Vegetarians, and an unfamiliar reader may discover much of their character and a little of their history. Vegetarians have been living and grazing in the eleven districts of San Francisco for many years, quite content to ignore and be ignored by the world of the Flesh Eaters. The Bay Area being, after all, full of strange creatures beyond count, Vegetarians must seem of little importance, being neither renowned as great warriors nor counted among the very wise. In fact, it has been remarked by some that Vegetarian’s only real passion is for veg, a rather unfair observation, as they have also developed a keen interest in the practicing of yoga and the smoking of ganja-weed. But where their hearts truly lie is in peace and quiet, and good tilled earth, for all Vegetarians share a love for things that grow. And yes, no doubt to others their ways seem quaint, but today of all days, it is brought home to me: It is no bad thing to give the little blighters a good whack now and then.

“I’ve never trusted Vegetarians, and I never will. I’ll never forgive them for killing my boy.”

Rib-man again raises the issue of conspiracy and bribery, this time involving the two Vegetarians whose deciding votes lost him the contest. It is generally known that Vegetarians can be bought, sometimes for as little as a few sticks of celery. What is not commonly known is that vitamin deficiencies can also leave them addled, and susceptible to suggestion. Rib-man’s charge of undue influence is based upon this latter trait.

It is also known though that Michele would rat out her own husband for a good bottle of tequila, and that one’s more likely to get that questionable expense reimbursement from Greg after he’s had that last beer. The point is that neither a propensity nor susceptibility is enough to prove wrongdoing. Suspicion is not evidence, Rib-man. (You of all people should be grateful for that…)

Why Veggie Girl Can’t Read

Rib-man’s greatest argument for voiding the two votes in question stems from the plain language written upon each ballot: “Whose Meat Is The Best?” It was on the answer to this question that the two Vegetarian judges were to have voted.

Krispy hopes to prevail by taking the word “meat” out of context (though his example of going to a local meat market and getting lucky employs “meat” in the non-vegetative sense.) But we need not turn the interpretation of a simple word into an exercise of mental gymnastics. While some vegetables have a “meaty” area, this does not transform them into “meat.”

But Krispy is right that no clear criteria existed for deciding “Whose Meat Is The Best.” If Vegetarians are truly as baffled by the word “meat” as Krispy claims, they could well have determined, due to either excessive alcohol or the lack of protein in their brains, that vegetables could rightly be considered “meat.” This they may well have been perfectly free to do. However, because this case turns on other grounds, it is not necessary here to delve further into the murky minds of Vegetarians.

When Justice Is Blind, Deaf, and a Vegetarian…

It is a basic element of Justice that no matter what laws, standards or criteria are to be applied, no judgment can be fairly reached until the evidence from both sides is duly considered. Therefore, while the two Vegetarians might have been reasonably free to decide their own criteria in deciding “Whose Meat Is The Best,” those standards had to be applied to the entries of both Krispy and Rib-man equally. In other words, it was simply unfair to decide “Whose Meat Is The Best” by only sampling the culinary offerings of one contestant and refusing to sample the other. For a judge to do so would be more contemptible to Justice than flipping a coin, for it would be like giving heads to one contestant, skipping the flip, and then placing the coin on the back of her hand heads-up. Fairness demands more. In this case, Rib-man should have had at least an equal chance at being given heads by the Vegetarians.

It is uncertain from the record however whether, after giving heads to Krispy, the Vegetarians actually tasted Rib-man’s meat. If it is true that they only gobbled Krispy’s vegetables, determining whose fare was truly better would simply have been impossible. Judging requires comparison. Fair judging requires fair comparison. Potential judges who tasted only one should not have voted and, if they did vote, their votes should be disqualified.


For the reasons stated above, this case is remanded to Mr. Theo Fanning for further deliberation. It is noted here that Vegetarians could have properly executed their judging responsibilities by simply tasting Rib-man’s meat. They did not have to swallow. Thus, with as little as one good lick or two, their duties could have been honorably discharged while still technically adhering to their self-imposed injunction against actually eating meat.

But though by their mistake this controversy arose, let no Vegetarian hereafter be upbraided or abused in disdainful language. We have had our sport, and they are after all but Vegetarians, harmless by nature. It would be unfair to expect such weighty matters to be of their concern, unkind to force decisions of this magnitude upon their small shoulders, and uncharitable to assume that the breadth of details here involved would capture their full attention. Even when not swimming in pools of drink, as they undoubtedly were that night, Vegetarians ought to be forgiven their frailties, with compassionate understanding on the limits of their judgment. Hold them not to account, Gentle People, for they are beyond fault, and not blameworthy.

As a final matter, Krispy’s comments as to this jurist’s shortsightedness have not escaped unnoticed. In that this and his other assertion were fueled by a modest observation, an off-the-cuff remark as one might say (however greasy that cuff might have been) --indeed, a thought that was intended as a private communication, no more will be said of it. To the extent however that Krispy wishes to claim judicial bias and urge a recusal in this case, such a motion shall now be given the respect it deserves.


LivePlace virtual world

Second Life had its five minutes of fame and has been quiet ever since. Seems like either the regular world wasn't ready for the virtual world on a mass scale or the virtual world wasn't ready to knock the socks off the real world. Well, take a look at this video put out by LivePlace for a web-based (no plug-in) virtual world called City Space. Of course, this doesn't exist yet and they're not saying when it will. TechCruch also has some comment up that part of this video may be ripped off. Nonetheless, it is very cool to imagine a virtual world with this kind of visual impact.


Have a content strategy

I was just quote in an article in AirTran Magazine (don't ask me how I got quoted in an article in AirTran Magazine). I was asked to comment on how small businesses can improve their websites. I think my answer applies to plenty of not-so-small businesses too. You can read it when you fly from Atlanta to Albuquerque or you can read it here:


If you want your site to support your business well, focus on your objectives early. “What are you trying to accomplish with your site? Getting leads to the sales force, online sales and marketing are all common goals,” says Adam Kleinberg, CEO of Traction, a branding agency in San Francisco whose clients have included Adobe, Wal-Mart and CamelBak...

“Start with your objective—let’s say driving sales—and ask yourself, ‘What can I do to make that happen?’” Kleinberg says. “If by driving sales you mean ‘enabling e-commerce,’ you could have a special offer featured prominently on your home page. On the other hand, if to you driving sales means ‘generating leads for sales guys,’ then perhaps a link to a free webinar with an opt-in email registration is better content. Th e content on your site should map back to your goals, and a clear ‘call-to-action’ should direct users toward the next step in their interaction with your site.”


Blast from the past...

I promised someone I would post this. This was a video we did for Sun a few years back (before they rebranded). Probably would have lived under the category viral video if YouTube had existed when we did this. Enjoy.


Drivers Ed - Don't be a Mooch

Traction just launched this campaign for DriversEd.com called "The Mooch." DriversEd.com is the fastest way for teenagers to get their permit, so if you know a mooch who needs to get their license already, upload their photo and moochify them at www.dontbeamooch.com. Plus, you can download a free "moochtone" to your cell phone so you can decide if you want to answer their call.


Geo-targeting for online direct response...

I was just looking at Placecast to understand their geo-targeting capabilities online. I saw these guys at AD:TECH a few months back. The language on their home page is kind of murky, but taking a peek at the sample ads they show illustrate what they do very well. Hit you with a banner online localized for where you're located in the real world.

Now add this tidbit my pal Dave Smith included in his Mediasmith Anvil newsletter last month:

Online ads drive online sales. But did you know that they can be even more powerful in driving off-line sales? According to Magid Abraham, president and CEO of comScore, “Even in terms of raw increases … online ads had a bigger impact on off-line than on online sales in a majority of our studies.”

In the collective results of 18 studies comparing the sales revenue from customers exposed to online display ads, search ads, or both, with control groups that did not see the ads, comScore found a very interesting statistic. The off-line revenue of those who saw both search and display ads, in the same time period, increased almost 300% over that of the control groups.

Put those two tidbits together, throw in the open iPhone API (yes, this is my Melanie Griffith in Working Girl imitation) and you've got a big step in the direction of the "guy walks past a Starbucks and gets a coupon emailed to his cell phone" fantasy ad-men have been talking about for the past 8 years.

It's easy to see how this could be a really powerful tool for driving traffic from online to retail...


Distributed Consumption in BtoB

The Distributed Consumption article I posted a few weeks back was published in BtoB Magazine this week. Somehow, the word "yum" got deleted from the title. Take a peek.


Distributed Consumption. Yummy.

“Shouldn’t I be doing something in Facebook?”

Or LinkedIn? Or MySpace?

These are a questions Traction is hearing from virtually every client we serve. The answer is maybe. If your target spends time in that particular social network and if you can add value in a strategically relevant way, by all means, go for it.

Facebook has over 60,000,000 members. Fifty-four percent of those members log in every day. They spend an average of 22 minutes a day there. That’s a significant chunk of time.

By creating a presence in Facebook, your brand is simply going where your target is. If you knew your target took the 38 Geary bus home from their office job in downtown San Francisco, you’d probably want to put ads there. Your customers are more tech-savvy and have more options than ever before. They are inevitably interacting with technology in new and different ways.

The big lesson for interactive marketers: Your customers are “consuming” content and services on their own terms. If you don’t help them do that, you risk having your content, your brand, your box of soap, simply not be consumed.

So, is Facebook the missing link in your perfect marketing strategy? Of course not. But what Facebook represents just might be.

Your target is spending all this time in Facebook (or MySpace or Bebo) because they want to be there—not there because they want to be on your website.

I saw someone from Google give a presentation last month. He presented four best practices in the digital marketing arena. At the top of the lineup was a recommendation for companies to “detach and distribute” their content to customers. What’s does this mean?

We, as marketers, are challenged with a seemingly endless stream of new ways to connect with audiences. “Rich” media. RSS feeds. Social networks. Second life. ARGs (alternate reality games). Widgets. iPhones. Interactive TV. The blurring of the lines between the browser and the desktop. Even “experiential marketing.” These are all part of reality today. And they all are about “detaching” and “distributing” content and services. A client at SAP told me about a developer who was running SAP ERP with his Wii console. If that's not an example of users consuming content on their own terms, tell me what is.

Unfortunately, understanding this only leads us to Challenge #2: nobody wants to be “friends” with an ad.

Fortunately, there’s a secret to success: Adding relevant value. If you can make my social networking or mobile or desktop computing experience better, then you’ve added value to my life and I’m willing to engage with your brand. If the value you’ve given me supports your brand strategy, congratulations, you’ve made a personal connection with me in a deeply relevant way.


Adobe documentary on... Traction

Yes, I said that. Adobe has created a mini-documentary on Traction as a case study (yes, that charming fella in the video is yours truly).


Web 2.0 Expo - Design Learnings from Social Application

I'm sitting in a session at the Web 2.0 Expo with Jia Shen from RockYou (they make a bunch of the top apps on Facebook and other social nets) called Design Learnings from Social Applications. I look at the best practices put in place by companies like Slide and RockYou when I make recommendations for social apps for our clients marketing programs, so I'm really excited to hear what he's got to say...

RockYou approach to app design:

1. apply advertising principles to user facing web design
- the main goal is impressions, conversions for every single touchpoint. you grow by maxing # of touchpoints and maxing conversions at each point.
- don't abuse the channel. consider implications for long-term use
2. build fast and launch ASAP.
- design really simple apps
- focus is on virality and growth
- 'channels' are more important than 'features'. 'Channels' are the viral mechanisms that get people to add apps.
3. Iterate rapidly.
- viral channels should drive product development, not features
- tune the viral loop, release updates often
- use A/B testing. Simple, effective.
4. Let data guide product decisions
- numbers don't lie. don't be emotional

More on channels
- focus on 1-to-1 channels. You can tailor messages and they're far more likely to convert.
- Map out alternate flows (install to invite to interact v. install to interact to invite)
- balance relevance v. throughput. What's the objective?


Academy of Art

I was just asked to be a judge at the Academy of Art University Annual Spring Show here in San Francisco. I've done some other judging in the past few months (for the AD:TECH Awards and the WebAwards), but I'm actually really looking forward to this one! (And not just because I'm looking to hire about 6 people.)


New Creative Reel

Traction has a new reel. Turn up your speakers and check it out.

It's official. Traction is a hot shop.

I'm kvelling today. I just got a copy of BtoB Magazine's Interactive Marketing Guide 2008. Traction was one of five agencies in San Francisco (I think seven in the Bay Area) named on their list of Interactive Agencies in the US. The others include AKQA, Organic, Butler Shine & Stern, Modem Media, Eleven and Publicis. Pretty good company to keep—especially since I'd venture to guess we're the only one on this list under 50 people.

Woo hoo.


Mozilla Prism

Mozilla (the makers of the Firefox browser) has announced a new app called Prism that is an alternative to Adobe AIR for making desktop applications that pull content and services from the web. This is more evidence of the "browser blur" trend I've talked about here before.

Cool tool.


Addy Awards for Traction

The SF Ad Club has awarded Traction a Gold ADDY for the Livescribe Never Miss A Word campaign in the Online Campaign category. The campaign leverages social networks like Facebook and YouTube and a microsite called nevermissaword.com to promote the Pulse smartpen. The effort features a fake organization called "The Livescribe Institute" that has invented Pulse as a cure for a mythical malady called "Restless Mind Syndrome" that has symptoms like being distracted or bored. One video that has had over 60,000 hits on YouTube alone shows a college student being distracted by a tattoo poking out of his sexy teacher's g-string. He is startled back to reality when the tattoo appears to start talking to him. The punchline: since the Livescribe Pulse smartpen records audio, you'll never miss a word.

The agency will be presented with the award on March 20 at the ADDY Awards Gala, along with a gold ADDY award in the Web Sites, Consumer Flash category for their work on the ZoneAlarm ForceField microsite.


Social Network Marketing (a.k.a. Ode to a Facebook Page)

I'm writing a proposal for a Facebook marketing program. Thought I'd work out the introduction here:

Social networking has erupted onto the digital landscape in the past few years with unprecedented velocity. Many marketers understand they need to make use of this new medium, but few understand how or why. This is the reason scores of brands are fumbling around sites like Facebook with marketing programs that are failing miserably. They are failing because they are treating social networks like they treat landing pages—just another channel for direct response.

But nobody wants to be friends with an ad.

Facebook has 65,000,000 members. They claim that 54% of those members log on to their accounts every day—and spend an average of 22 minutes there. That's a long time on the internet. They're spending all that time in their social network because they want to be there—not because they want to be on your website. Unless you can add value to the social network experience, you're just wasting your time.

_________ has a terrific discount for ___________. We absolutely want to trumpet its availability. But is ____ off enough for them to join a group and come back?

Take a look at the top applications created on the Facebook platform and this concept of adding value comes to life. Just about all of them take some aspect of Facebook culture and embellish it in some way to improve the Facebook experience. The Wall becomes FunWall and SuperWall. The Poke becomes Superpoke. Friends becomes Top Friends.

And yes, a discount provides value too. Some of the old rules still do apply.

But Facebook is about connections. Connections between people. Our job—if you choose to hire us—is to do more than connect customers to your brand. It's to connect them to one another through the lens of your brand.


Kiss and Tell

This is a snog post, not a blog post.

Traction has just launched a new online promo for Clos du Bois featuring User-Generated Kisses.

Check it out at kissandtell.com.

People can submit their kissing stories and the community rates them. The best story wins a trip to Paris. Makes for some really good reading. You can kill hours on this site.

Also, super-awesome, C.D.B. is giving a $1 to a women's heart disease advocacy group called WomenHeart every time someone sends an e-kiss to a friend! And join the Facebook fan page while you're at it.

What are you waiting for? Start smooching!


Spoke too soon (MacWorld)

OK, so while the energy wasn't quite what it was in MacWorld's past, but there were a couple of cool things I saw before I left. My faves:

Flow from Gridiron Software - This is some pretty cool software. It basically tracks any files you touch and allows you to manage your assets on a project, without changing how you work at all. So if you open something in Photoshop, paste it into illustrator, export it as an eps, import it into Flash export, add some video and create a Flash movie, you can see all those files and the fonts linked together visually. You can archive them (similar to how you'd collect for output in InDesign, but from an end file) and even see in the amount of time that was spent in each of those files so you can have a to-the-minute view of how much time was spent on a project. Very cool.

The Modbook from Axiotron - A Tablet MacBook. What more can I say?

And if you're going to the last day of the conference today, my pick for Best Tradeshow Schwag is Roxio, who not only gave me a stack of DVD-ROMs, but actually answered my question, "why does this company still exist?" (Answer: they've got a special deal so you can burn what you tape on your TiVo to DVD)


Obligatory MacWorld post

I'm almost embarrassed to be sitting in the Microsoft Office blogger lounge at MacWorld—but they've got free M&Ms, so what can you do?

MacWorld is feeling kind of tame this year. The new skinny laptops are awesome, but the energy here doesn't seem as pervasive as it has in the past. The coolest thing I've seen so far is actually Adobe's demo of Bridge. Basically makes the workflow (their term, but a good one) of linking and placing files between apps a way smoother and more powerful process. I feel like they haven't articulated the benefits of upgrading to CS3 very well, but seeing it in action, the productivity improvements are very clear. Good stuff.

Other than that, just the standard plug-ins, project management software, iPod cases of years past. I'll keep looking.

Real live UGC

Our client Livescribe got their first real live UGC. Kind of weird, but gotta love it:

New Widget Article

I'm writing a piece for the Web Marketing Association's newsletter. Here's the description I gave to the editor:

...about the blurring of the lines between the browser and the desktop, but diving deeper into the widgetization of content so that users can consume it however they want to (in a browser, on a desktop, on a mobile device). Widgets are going to be a big thing in 2008, but marketers jumping on this bandwagon are missing the point—which is about the portability of services— that is the really important trend. 

Draft 2:

Let's face it, there's a lot of marketing trends out there. This is a challenge, but what makes it even more foreboding for marketers is that many of these marketing trends are interlaced with technology. And most marketers aren't technologists. 

So, it's a relief when a trend gets packaged up in a nice little buzzword we can all grasp and take advantage of. Like widgets.

What are widgets? There are actually two definitions. The first are tiny applications that can sit on a user's desktop—but still may pull information from the web. On my Mac, the Dashboard app let's me pull up half a dozen of these: Wikipedia, stock quotes, ski reports, Twitterific... all accessible right from my desktop. At Traction, we've created a desktop widget called exTraction that allows our client service team to automate much of our account management processes.

Desktop widgets are a powerful tool for brands if used effectively because users choose to install them and then interact with them on an ongoing basis. Think about how much you might pay for display ad CPMs and you'll quickly grasp the power of having a direct line to your customers. And, with new software like Adobe AIR that allow developers to create such widgets with their existing Flash and web programming skillsets, the only barrier to entry is a marketer's imagination.

The other definition of widgets is similar, but differs in how things are delivered. These tiny apps are sandwiched between some HTML code snippets so anybody with a bit of front-end programming knowledge can embed them in their web pages, blog or MySpace page. This may be as simple as pasting a YouTube movie into my blog or it could be as elaborate as Amazon extending its sales force by enabling members of its affiliate program to embed a storefront window into a web page. In a Web 2.0 world where 80% of consumers say they'd rather learn about products from friends or peers than from brands themselves, the next best thing to user-generated content is user-distributed content

The common thread between these widgets is that they are both ways of making services portable. This is the broader trend that's happening. People want to consume content on their terms. And technology now let's us that.

An example I use all the time is that I log in to BankofAmerica.com to manage my online banking once a week. Why should I have to go through the steps of opening a browser and typing in a url before I can access my log-in. Wouldn't it be nice if I could just launch it with one click? This example might have holes in it because of security issues, but you get the point.

More capable mobile devices. Social networks. Interactive TV. The blurring of the lines between the browser and the desktop. These are all part of reality today. I had a client of mine at SAP, the world's largest provider of enterprise software, tell me about a developer who was running SAP ERP with his Wii. If that's not an example of users consuming content on their own terms, tell me what is.

A more tangible example of portability of content is the explosion of applications and "fan pages" that have been created on the Facebook platform. Fifty-four percent of Facebook's 60,000,000 users log in every single day for an average of twenty-two minutes per day. They are there because they want to be there—not there because they want to be on your website.

Brands are rushing into Facebook and other social networks to ensure they have a presence where their audience lives. Many are fumbling their way around as they struggle to understand the medium because they realize that for better of worse, this is part of the future. This risk of not learning is to become irrelevant.

So, how does one maintain an effective presence in Facebook (or LinkedIn or the desktop or the blogosphere)? By understanding the experience of the social network and adding some sort of value that makes that experience better. Take a look at the top apps in Facebook. That's what they're all doing. Facebook has the Wall. Superwall, Funwall and Graffiti are all top apps (my client has created an app called Livescribe Wall that lets you add audio to drawings you make on the computer to emulate the content you can create with their smartpen). Facebook has the Poke. Superpoke, Foodfight and Vampires are all popular apps that enhance that functionality. Facebook lets you send messages to your friends. Elf Yourself let you send silly dancing elf movies to your friends.

Are these social apps technically "widgets?" No, but that's the point. Widgets are the symptom, not the disease. The epidemic that's really spreading like wildfire is diversified consumption of interactive content (need to come up with an acronym for that one). 

So, what's a marketer to do? 

1. Start with a strategy, not a tactic. How does the value you're creating map back to your overall brand message? Being sticky and irrelevant is not a win. 

2. Make sure there's an incentive. This could be a free box of Cracker Jacks, the ability to update your bank account from your desktop or the ability to poke someone in Facebook while standing on your head. The point is that the end-user needs a reason to care and a reason to engage with your widget or they're not going to.

3. Don't treat this like direct response. Don't create a presence with the intent to drag people out of the experience they are in. Think of an ATM. You can do your banking without visiting your bank. This whole concept of portable services is about bringing value to people wherever they are in their digital world.

4. Be thoughtful about metrics. Remember, an application isn't a banner ad or a landing page. Define your key performance indicators, but be mindful of what else you can learn about your audience from how they engage with your widget. This is an opportunity to measure engagement, but also to monitor conversation, understand viral spread and learn about your customers' needs by watching their interactions.

5. Avoid  bandwagons. Facebook gets a lot of press, but maybe LinkedIn is a better place for you to create a presence for your audience. Widget is the buzzword of the day, but maybe a mobile app is a more strategically relevant place for you to be adding value. By understanding the broader concept of portability, you can take advantage of the underlying trend without getting lost in the clutter of "what's hot" today.

Above all, do something. Carve off some corner of your marketing budget and start learning about how you can extend your brand beyond your website. The age of website as a digital destination is far from over, but people are only going to demand to consume digital content on their own terms more and more. And the customer's always right, isn't she?