Thursday, May 31, 2007

Quick Update: Donut PR Guy Gets Hired

PR guru Greg Hoffman, who taped his resume to a box of Dunkin Donuts in order to get the attention of the hiring manager at Think Partnership, has landed the job. The news was actually broken earlier today by Shawn Collins at the Affiliate Tip Blog. I'm not sure if he got the job more as a result of the donuts ploy or his publicity blitz across the blogosphere, but either way—congrats, Greg.

*****

The affiliate Internet marketing portal: WebMarketCentral.com

Contact Tom Pick: tomATwebmarketcentral.com

Labels:


KudoSurf Me!
Add to Technorati Favorites
AddThis Social Bookmark Button
AddThis Feed Button

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Book Review: The Black Swan

Most business and marketing books are written for the broadest possible audience, have the tone of a motivational speaker, and offer specific, concrete guidance on topics such as drawing more web traffic, better organizing your time, or closing the big sale.

The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable, by Nassim Nicholas Taleb, is none of those things. First, it's an intellectually challenging book, so it's not for everyone (particularly economists, social scientists and government planners, who would benefit from reading it, but take quite a beating from Mr. Taleb here). Second, the tone is engaging, but certainly not cheerleading, and ranges from dryly academic in spots (e.g. discursions on competing schools of philosophy) to positively engrossing (e.g. first-hand accounts of the Lebanese civil war). Finally, the author's advice, while highly practical, deals with nothing as mundane as B2B lead generation or podcasting, and will require considerable thought on the part of the reader to properly and constructively apply.

The "black swan" of the title comes from the fact that for centuries, scientists and pretty much everyone else believed that all swans were white. The first sighting of a black swan thus completely upset the established conventional wisdom. A "black swan" in the context of Taleb's book is a completely unexpected event that has a large impact. The terrorist attack of 9-11 was a black swan, as was the stock market crash of October 1987. Black swan events can be positive as well, such as the end of the cold war.

To give you some sense of the book, here are just three of the author's numerous intriguing observations and anecdotes:

1. Know when to apply the bell curve—and when not to. If you gather a thousand people in a stadium, and measure their weight (or height, or IQ, or any other natural measure), you can plot that on a bell curve, and be highly confident that one additional observation wouldn't have any significant effect on your statistics (i.e. you won't a human anywhere who is 900 feet tall and weighs 50,000 pounds).

The bell curve does not, however, apply in the man-made realm. Measure the financial net worth of those same thousand people, and then add a 1,001st personBill Gates. What does that do to the shape of the curve, and the average value? Human-world attributes don't follow the bell curve: stock market valuations, book sales by author, the income distribution for actors, singers and professional athletes, stock valuations within a specific industry, etc. Prediction errors are frequently caused by applying bell curve thinking to non-bell curve phenomena.

2. Predictions are always wrong. Before reading this book, I believed that economic forecasts were generally more reliable than weather forecasts (particularly living here in Minnesota, it's difficult to imagine anyone making a living being wrong more often than our weather forecasters). Yet weather patterns, despite their intrinsic variability, still follow physical laws. The entire "science" of economics rests on a faulty premisethat people will always act rationally to maximize value. That is, cloud formations and wind patterns have no free will, but people do. Throw in one large irrational economic act, or a hundred small ones, and economic forecasts become dreadfully wrong. Yet research also shows that while economic forecasts rarely cluster around the true values (e.g. next year's GDP growth rate or prime interest rate), predicted values do usually cluster around each other. Which is to say, economists seem to be more afraid of being significantly different from one another than they are of being significantly wrong.

As an example of this, Taleb writes about the experience of a large Las Vegas casino. The casino went to great length and expense to protect itself from gambling losses or unusual "lucky streaks." Yet these risks were both modest and quantifiable. The six largest financial losses in the casino's history had nothing to do, directly, with gambling at all. Among these were the loss of an irreplaceable performer to a tiger mauling; the kidnapping for ransom of the owner's daughter; and a large fine after it was discovered that a casino employee had inexplicably failed the winnings of high-rollers to the federal government for tax purposes.

3. Recognize the limitations of classroom knowledge in the real world, or, the importance of street smarts. An engineer and a real estate speculator were both posed the classic question, "If I am flipping a perfectly fair coin, and it comes up heads 99 times in a row, what are the odds of it coming up tails on the 100th flip?" The engineer answers: 50%. That's the correct answer, the one we all learned in school, right? The speculator, however, though he knows the "right" answer just as well as the engineer, pegs the odds at no more than 1%. Why? Because, given that heads have come up 99 times in a row, he questions the assertion that this is indeed a "fair coin." To use the tired but applicable phrase, he "thinks outside the box" by questioning the basic premise of the question. This relates to the weakness of economic forecasts which rely on the assumption of "human rationality" as well.

Three interesting facts from the book that you may or may not have known:

1. "The best predictor of the success of a movie is mild rain in large cities on the release date." Light rain makes outdoor activities unpleasant, but doesn't keep people from going out altogether. This increases the probability of a big opening weekend and subsequent buzz for the film.

2. Alexander Fleming accidentally discovered the antibacterial properties of penicillin when one of his old experiments became contaminated.

3. Charles Townes, inventor of the laser, was initially teased by colleagues about the irrelevance of his discovery.

And finally, three lessons from the book:

1. Be humble about your knowledge. Taleb writes about author Umberto Eco's "antilibrary," a collection of 30,000+ unread books. Eco keeps this library to remind himself of how much there is that he doesn't know, which helps him maintain humility. It's okay to say "I don't know" when that is indeed the right answer. It helps one avoid making (inevitably wrong) predictions.

2. Follow the 85/15 rule. Focus 85% of your endeavors (professional time, your stock portfolio, etc.) on low-risk ventures. These are investments with a high probability of yielding small returns, and extremely low probability of loss. They are unexciting, but keep you from starving in the dark.

Invest the other 15% in black swan-seeking, high-risk opportunities. These carry a low probability of a very high payout. While there is high risk of loss (but remember, this is only 15%and the investments should be spread out to avoid overexposure to any single opportunity), these are exciting and hold the potential to let you do far more than keep the lights on and food in the refrigerator.

3. Be skeptical and empirical. In other words, be like the real estate speculator. Question assumptions, dubious reasoning and even "facts." Believe what you can verify through observation and experimentation, mindful of the limits of your knowledge and aware of the possibility of black swans.

Taleb simply thinks at a higher level than many other writers. This book isn't for everyone—but if you are up to the intellectual challenge, reading The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable will be highly rewarding.

*****

Other reviews of this book: Platformonics blog, BusinessWeek


The Internet marketing online portal: WebMarketCentral.com

The only Minnesota-based PR and marketing agency focused exclusively on B2B information technology clients: KC Associates

Contact Tom Pick: tomATwebmarketcentral.com

Labels:


KudoSurf Me!
Add to Technorati Favorites
AddThis Social Bookmark Button
AddThis Feed Button

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

WMC Interviews: Alan Douglas


Last week I caught up with Alan Douglas, president of Douglas Publications and the Briefings Publishing Group. Briefings offers newsletters, videos, reports and tip books to help professionals sharpen their workplace skills, improve productivity and become a more effective team player and leader. Their Corporate Writer Resource newsletter provides corporate communicators in PR and marketing with concise, practical advice about writing, editing, format, design and writing for the web.

Here's our (rather concise) conversation:

WebMarketCentral (WMC): What did you do before Briefings Publishing Group / Douglas Publications?

Alan Douglas (AD): An eclectic background with experience as a business executive, attorney and college professor.


WMC: How, when and why did you get started in this business?

AD: Business to business publications allow for both creative and financial rewards.


WMC: Who is your ideal or typical client?

AD: Someone who wants to be better, happier and appreciates “cool.”


WMC: What sets you apart from your competition?

AD: An interest in providing what is useful content, media and continuing education.


WMC: How do you market and promote your business?

AD: Personal sales, telemarketing, direct mail, email and affiliates.


WMC: What's the biggest or most important marketing lesson you've learned since you started Briefings Publishing Group / Douglas Publications?

AD: Judge people by their actions, not their words.


WMC: Anything else you'd like to add?

AD: Anything is better than junior high school.

*****


The website marketing strategy portal: WebMarketCentral.com

The only Minnesota-based marketing strategy, lead generation and PR agency focused exclusively on B2B IT clients: KC Associates

Contact Tom Pick: tomATwebmarketcentral.com

Labels:


KudoSurf Me!
Add to Technorati Favorites
AddThis Social Bookmark Button
AddThis Feed Button

Monday, May 21, 2007

Greg Hoffman, PR Guru for Hire

I don't normally do this here, but PR expert Greg Hoffman of the Internet Marketing Gorilla blog is an extraordinarily talented PR guy seeking employment. I've been in his shoes and know how frustrating and painful that can be. Greg isn't letting his situation affect either his creativity or sense of humor, however: check out his post on "The old resume taped to a box of Dunkin Donuts trick."

Greg gave me some great feedback for an upcoming post I'm working on addressing interactive PR. He knows how to develop highly effective PR programs on a tight budget. Hopefully the company he's pursuing is smart enough to hire him. If not, someone else certainly will be.

*****

The web marketing strategy site: WebMarketCentral.com

Contact Tom Pick: tomATwebmarketcentral.com

Labels:


KudoSurf Me!
Add to Technorati Favorites
AddThis Social Bookmark Button
AddThis Feed Button

Friday, May 18, 2007

4 Ways to Build B2B Customer Loyalty and Generate Referrals

As B2B buyers become increasingly immune to traditional marketing and more reliant on word-of-mouth vendor referrals, sellers need to become more sophisticated in building customer loyalty through relationship marketing, and converting this loyalty into referral business. Here are four tactics to enhance loyalty and positive word-of-mouth advertising from your best customers.

Low-Involvement B2B Products and Services

For low-cost products and services, or infrequently-purchased higher cost offerings, one frequently used method is offering discounts. While this tactic can be effective, bear in mind that repeat customers are often less price-sensitive than new ones (which is how cable and phone companies get away with offering super-cheap "switcher" offers while screwing their existing customers -- an exasperating practice for consumers, but apparently successful), so you may be leaving money on the table.

Another tactic is to use a third-party tool such as ReferNow.com, which enables companies to build structured programs for soliciting and rewarding referrals from current customers. It provides smaller companies with the tools to build an offering similar to big company customer rewards management systems (e.g. NWA WorldPerks, My Coke Rewards, MaxPerks, Borders Rewards). Janine Popick at hosted email marketing service Vertical Response has some interesting thoughts on reward cards and points programs as well.

High-Involvement B2B Products and Services

For higher-priced products and services, particularly those which involve long-term interaction between the vendor and the buyer (e.g. enterprise software suites, hosted software services, outsourced business services and commercial insurance), more sophisticated tactics are called for.

One intriguing concept is to build your own industry-specific Web 2.0 social tagging site, sort of company-sponsored version of Digg. BeeTooBee enables any company to go beyond offering white paper and podcast downloads to create "a thought leadership community" -- a hosted, private-labeled version of a social news platform that marketers can license to set up user-generated, vote-ranked, and aggregated thought leadership libraries under their brand. The platform includes contact tools such as click-to-chat, so vendors can reach out to prospects when they are ready for interaction. The thought-leadership community turns your employees, existing customers, and even prospects into marketers for your product or service. Interested? You can download the company's no-registration-required white paper here.

Finally, there is the old-fashioned way: build a solid product, back it up with excellent service, maintain relationships, reward your best customers with direct access to key product development people within your organization -- and then ask for referrals. If you are in a position to offer reciprocal referrals to your customers, that's even more powerful.

In the end, the most successful companies won't be those with the biggest promotional budgets, but rather those that have effectively built interactive networks of clients, both online and offline.

*****


The web marketing services site: WebMarketCentral.com

The only Twin cities-based marketing and PR agency focused exclusively on B2B IT clients: KC Associates

Contact Tom Pick: tomATwebmarketcentral.com

Labels:


KudoSurf Me!
Add to Technorati Favorites
AddThis Social Bookmark Button
AddThis Feed Button

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Web 2.0 Social Tagging Sites, Part 4: B2B Traffic Building

Does Web 2.0 social tagging help drive B2B web traffic? There is a general sense that the answer is "yes" due to both direct referral and its impact on SEO, according to sources such as Profitimo, Anything Goes Marketing, WebProNews, Digital Telepathy and others (even Larry Chase recommended social tagging to improve SEO in a recent newsletter). However, there's been a shortage of quantifiable data. Blogger extraordinaire Paul Dunay is working on a survey of Web 2.0 lead generation tools, but the results haven't been released yet. So, I started an experiment last month to provide some metrics.

First, anecdotal evidence from two clients. Client #1 created a glossary of terms specific to its industry niche. The day the glossary web page was launched, I tagged it on 40 social bookmarking sites. There was no other promotion or announcement, and we all know that search engines don't pick up new pages immediately. The result? By the end of the first week, the glossary was the fourth-most-visited page on their site.

Client #2 was struggling to get top search engine rank in a crowded field (network monitoring). Three weeks after tagging a thought-leadership piece from the site on 40+ Web 2.0 sites, the company achieved first-page position on Google for a dozen key search terms (in the top three spots for half of those terms).

For the WebMarketCentral web marketing site, and this blog, SEO improvement was modest: little impact on Yahoo or MSN, and an average of an 11-spot improvement on Google. Why? It depends on the number of existing relevant external links to a site; the fewer the number of pre-existing external links, the greater the impact social tagging will have.

Still, the Web 2.0 social tagging experiment did show measurable, positive results on both blog and site traffic. As this chart shows, five-month trendline growth for WebMarketCentral.com was 19%; in the 30 days following social tagging, traffic increased by 33%. Search traffic was at the level expected, but direct links from Web 2.0 social tagging sites accounted for 40% of the greater-than-anticipated growth.

Blog traffic showed a similar increase, from an expected trendline increase of 8% to an actual increase of 21%. Additional search traffic accounted for 6% of unexpected growth, while direct links from social networking sites accounted for the entire remaining 94%.

Conclusion: Web 2.0 social tagging drives significant, quantifiable increases in B2B website and blog traffic through both direct links and improved search engine rank.

Previous articles in this series:
Web 2.0 Social Tagging Sites, Part 1: Alexa Rankings
Web 2.0 Social Tagging Sites, Part 2: The Worst
Web 2.0 Social Tagging Sites, Part 3: Special-Purpose Sites

*****

Terms: Web 2.0 tools, social bookmarking, B2B, SEO, Profitimo, Anything Goes Marketing, Larry Chase, WebProNews, Digital Telepathy, Paul Dunay

The site for website marketing strategy resources: WebMarketCentral.com

The only Minnesota-based marketing agency focused exclusively on B2B IT marketing and PR: KC Associates

Contact Tom Pick: tomATwebmarketcentral.com

Labels:


KudoSurf Me!
Add to Technorati Favorites
AddThis Social Bookmark Button
AddThis Feed Button

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Web 2.0 Social Tagging Sites, Part 3: Special-Purpose Sites

Here are eight special-purpose social tagging sites that aren't applicable for general purpose use, but fill specific niches.

StyleFeeder
A place to share links to style and fashion-related sites and pages: great buys, cool items and shopping sites. Interesting to the right demographic, but not applicable for general business use.

indiamarks
I didn't evaluate this site as a general-purpose social tagging tool for two reasons. 1) The site states that " indiamarks is a social bookmarking service for the global Indian community," which is attractive to members of that community as well perhaps as businesses that market to it, but not relevant for more general use, and 2) the top links displayed on the day I checked it out contained tags like "topless," "voyeur," "steriods," "dating" and a few I can't print here; presumably not tags that many marketers would like their brands associated with.

Tailrank
A useful tool for tracking and searching blogs, but not really a social tagging site.

BeeTooBee
Social tagging site for peer-submitted marketing knowledge. Add URLs with title, keywords and description, vote on the best submissions, and subscribe to the RSS feed or get the most popular links sent to your email account.

Wink
The self-proclaimed "people search engine," Wink is more useful for promoting yourself than your company. Their terms of use also explicitly states, "You may not use Wink to sell a product or service, or to increase traffic to your Web site for commercial reasons." Sort of a scaled-down, free version of LinkedIn.

Segnalo
Looks interesting, nice design -- but the site is completely in Italian.

Slashdot
One of the longest-running and most established social tagging sites, Slashdot is exclusively for technical / IT-related news, links and discussion.

Dzone
A place to post links with title and description, focused on software developer resources and news.

My test of general-purpose Web 2.0 social tagging sites should be wrapped up in another week or so, so stay tuned.

Previous articles in this series:
Web 2.0 Social Tagging Sites, Part 1: Alexa Rankings
Web 2.0 Social Tagging Sites, Part 2: The Worst

*****

Terms: Web 2.0 tools, social bookmarking, StyleFeeder, Tailrank, Wink, Slashdot, DZone, special-purpose

The Internet marketing strategy site: WebMarketCentral.com

The only Minneapolis-based marketing agency focused exclusively on B2B IT PR and marketing: KC Associates

Contact Tom Pick: tomATwebmarketcentral.com

Labels:


KudoSurf Me!
Add to Technorati Favorites
AddThis Social Bookmark Button
AddThis Feed Button

Monday, May 07, 2007

Web 2.0 Social Tagging Sites, Part 2: The Worst


Although I generally try to keep the tone of this blog positive and avoid disparagement, it's important to expose what doesn't work as well as what does. Saves you the time and trouble. With that in mind, here are 11 Web 2.0 social tagging sites to avoid.

If the owner of any of these sites cares to fix their problems and contact me, I'll be happy to post an update.

folkd.com
On my first attempt at registration, I tried five different email addresses; the service kept saying "email address already in use. Please use another or click 'password forgotten.'" There was no link to "password forgotten" on the page. My second attempt at registration went more smoothly until I reached the account activation page from their activation email, at which point I copied the activation code they had sent and got an error stating "Could not activate your account! Please insert a valid activation ticket to activate your new account." After the third attempt (again, it wouldn't accept the validation code provided), I almost gave up. I gave this one more shot a week later, and it told me that my selected username was already in use. Service could not be evaluated.

Jots
Attempted to register on three separate occasions; every time I clicked "Signup," I got an error message saying "Invalid action: signup."

My Bookmark Manager
Registration failed on three separate attempts. Registration page displayed this error: "Disabled - check back soon." Gave this one more shot a week later -- this time my connection repeatedly timed out when trying to access the registration page. Unable to evaluate.

Namakkal
Again, made three attempts at signing up. Unable to register -- kept getting a 403 "Forbidden. You don't have permission to access /register.php on this server." error. Not very friendly for a social tagging site!

Scuttle
A fitting name for what should be done with this site. I made three attempts at registration, but was unable to evaluate as the registration page link kept returning a 404 error page.

SiteTagger
Attempted to register on three different days. Unable to evaluate as the registration page said "Signups are disabled for the time being." each time I checked it out.

Smarking
Tried five times to register; kept getting a "500 Internal Error" message page.

Taggly
Unable to create an account; none of the links worked (login, register, about, feedback) except the link to the Taggly blog -- which is written in Italian. On my second registration attempt, I again got a "No input file specified" error when I clicked the "Register" link. Tried one more time -- three strikes, it's out.

unalog
Unable to register because "new registrations are disabled." There is also a prominent warning that this is a beta site, and therefore all passwords are passed in clear text. Until they fix this issue as well as re-enabling new registrations, avoid this site.

LinkaGoGo
Yet another site where new user registration failed: I continually got a 404 error page after filling in my account information.

Previous articles in this series:
Web 2.0 Social Tagging Sites, Part 1: Alexa Rankings

*****

Terms: Web 2.0 social tagging sites, the worst, what doesn't work

The source for web marketing news, resources, guides and books: WebMarketCentral.com

The B2B IT PR, go-to-market strategy and lead generation experts: KC Associates

Contact Tom Pick: tomATwebmarketcentral.com

Labels:


KudoSurf Me!
Add to Technorati Favorites
AddThis Social Bookmark Button
AddThis Feed Button

Thursday, May 03, 2007

Web 2.0 and the Evolution of Marketing

Hot on the heels of my last post came several news announcements on the growing influence of Web 2.0 social tagging and its impact on marketing practices.

First, there was Use Web 2.0 Tools to Drive Loyalty from iMedia Connection. Author Joe Lichtenberg contends that "Customer engagement drives loyalty, and effective (and judicious) use of Web 2.0 drives customer engagement. Marketers that embrace these technologies and integrate the new brand/customer dynamic into their strategies will engender the loyalty of the customers." How? He recommends that marketers reward their best customers with valuable information (something I've said before) and use Web 2.0 tools to drive customer community participation.

Next, MarketingVOX reported that Web 2.0 Websites Account for 12% of U.S. Web Traffic. The article notes that Wikipedia has already become the dominant reference website -- outdrawing Encarta by a 3400 to 1 ratio -- and quotes Bill Tancer of Hitwise as saying, ""It's the participatory aspect of Web 2.0 that is still in a very nascent stage. When online participation goes mainstream, we can expect an explosion of new content on the web."

Third, I got an email from Shawn Henry of the Britopian Marketing Blog, a highly engaging blog devoted to SEO, social media optimization and online marketing. Among Shawn's posts was a link to an interesting SEO'Brien piece on paid Digg-ing and the black market for the unscrupulous use of social tagging.

Finally, the speaker at a recent SEO seminar quoted one of the think tanks (sorry, couldn't find the original source for this) as stating that by 2010, half of all the content on the internet will be consumer-generated. She probably should have added: "Or at least you'll be led to believe that."

Savvy marketers will explore and refine ways to use Web 2.0 tools and social tagging to effectively promote products and services without "brochure-speak." Marketers are as hungry as dinosaurs but much smarter. Web 2.0 will drive the evolution of marketing, but not its extinction.

*****

Terms: Web 2.0 tools, social bookmarking, customer loyalty, Wikipedia, consumer-generated content

The Internet marketing business site: WebMarketCentral.com

The only Twin Cities-based marketing agency focused exclusively on B2B IT PR and marketing: KC Associates

Contact Tom Pick: tomATwebmarketcentral.com

Labels:


KudoSurf Me!
Add to Technorati Favorites
AddThis Social Bookmark Button
AddThis Feed Button

eXTReMe Tracker