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Free, Seth, Malcolm and Reinvention

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If you haven’t gotten a free copy of Chris Anderson’s Free by now, you didn’t try hard enough.

The free ebook versions were pulled off the net recently, but a little Googling will still reward you if you look at the publisher’s site. Likewise, the free audiobook version of Free is still on iTunes (a 6 hour+ listen).

While I’m planning on commenting further about Free in future posts, reading what Seth said about the whole Free thing has provoked me to comment a little early about it.

In particular, his response to Malcolm Gladwell’s comments about Free got me going, especially given that I read it not long after posting last week’s Beacon column about the news business.

During the dustup between Malcolm, Chris and Seth, Seth says this: “People will not pay for yesterday’s news, driven to our house, delivered a day late, static, without connection or comments or relevance.”

When you describe a newspaper that way, it sure sounds quaint and outdated, if not irrelevant.

How can your business/product/service be described to make it sound like that?

While “people will not pay” might not be 100% true today, that day is rapidly approaching as my parent’s generation ages. Of course, people also might not pay for it online. Figuring out how to make it work is the premise of Free.

We’ll talk more about the strategy of Free (or not) in the coming weeks, so in the meantime, do your homework: take a listen (or read) Chris Anderson’s Free and consider how it might reinvent your business, or at least, impact it.

You may not be in the newspaper business, but the reinvention of your business is just as important to you and Free might help you figure it out.

Should you give it away?

If you have trouble with ideas on this, think about what would be most painful if your strongest competitor started giving it away. Likewise, what would pain that competitor the most if you gave it away? It’s a place to start the thought process and might even identify a new value proposition for your business.

All of this is less about free and more about finding a way to reinvent your business. Not necessarily because your business is broken, but because strategic reinvention before you need it beats the crud out of reinvention focused on survival.

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WSJ speaks out on the CPSIA

shoes and pipe
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The Wall Street Journal opinion page finally sounded off on the CPSIA yesterday. Pretty good discussion, though they didn’t really get into the ripple effect of the CPSIA. 

That’s the part that concerns me long-term.

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Not ALL marketing is local. Nor is it personal.

So far today, my home phone has rang 13 times. THIRTEEN TIMES. My office is at home. It’s 2:20pm on Wednesday.

EVERY SINGLE CALL has been from the same political party, on behalf of that party, or from one of its candidates.

EVERY SINGLE CALL has either been made from an automated call bank that transfers calls to Botswana (or whatever) or they have been an automated pre-recorded call. 

NOT ONE CALL has been a personal call from a real person who asked if they could take a moment to find out if I plan to vote (I do), ask me to discuss or change my vote, or whatever. Not that it would change my decision, but that is irrelevant. 

13 interruptions. OK, 14 including the few minutes to write this post. Even if I don’t answer, its an interruption. 

Do you REALLY believe that an automated phone call from someone that you’ve never met would change their vote?

Every one of your candidates just lost my vote. I don’t care if the other candidate is the worst SOB on the face of the earth. And the candidates I know and see regularly – I’m going to tell them how they lost my vote, face to face, as a thank you to you and your party. I’ll see one of them tonight. I bet he’ll be THRILLED. 

Is that the kind of impact you want your marketing message to have? 

Don’t act like a political party. Don’t create marketing based on the “lessons” they’ve been teaching the last few months. Don’t misuse technology simply because you can. Dan Kennedy has a catchphase: “Be a welcome guest, not an annoying pest.” Words to market by, much less to run for office by:)

If you read this blog regularly, you should know better. I said it anyway, just in case.  

PS: Don’t even bother answering the phone.

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You and the NY Times, bucking for change of another kind

From the Oct 28, 2008 issue of the New York Times, an excerpt from the column “The Media Equation”:

Stop and think about where you are reading this column. If you are one of the million or so people who are reading it in a newspaper that landed on your doorstop or that you picked up at the corner, you are in the minority. This same information is available to many more millions on this paperâ??s Web site, in RSS feeds, on hand-held devices, linked and summarized all over the Web.

Things change. In every business.

Businesses faced with such situations typically have two choices: Adjust or lose the opportunity to do so.

Oh, I guess there might be a third: denial.

The NY Times figured this out a while back. Even the denial part.

To their credit, they’re still changing and adjusting how they provide content – a process of change they’d better get used to.

One example: They created the NY Times Reader, a nice Windows-based program that was created to display the Times in its original format on your screen, complete with high quality font display, 7 days of issues available to read with no requirement to be connected to the net once the news is initially downloaded.

But not all things are bright and shiny in the Land of Change: Another quote from the same column illustrates a collision of new and old thinking, and a teaspoon of Dont-Quite-Get-It-Yet:

More than 90 percent of the newspaper industryâ??s revenue still derives from the print product, a legacy technology that attracts fewer consumers and advertisers every single day. A single newspaper ad might cost many thousands of dollars while an online ad might only bring in $20 for each 1,000 customers who see it.

Is that just the slightest hint that they are still in a bit of denial about the price of newspaper print advertising out of whack with the value provided?

It’s NOT about how many people see the ad

It’s about who sees it, and further, who responds to it. That’s what advertisers should be paying for. One price to display to just the right audience. Another price if they respond.

Why another price if they respond? A great ad in front of the right audience at the right time will elicit a good response and generate more than enough revenue to make the ad worthwhile.

If this isn’t clear, consider this: If I see a feminine hygiene commercial 42 times (or 42,000 times), is it likely that I will ever respond? Ladies, you could easily find a parallel from the male world that you’d never respond to.

So why bother displaying the ad?

Why doesn’t the NY Times offer the option to never see ads, in exchange for paying more to read it? Or maybe I just don’t have time for ads on weekdays, so the Sunday Times still shows ads to me. Different fee.

It’s 2008. My paper should react to me and my needs. I might not mind ads if they were targeted at my needs, based on demographics and psychographics, among other things.

These ideas are troublesome for a print publication. Revolutionary to the newspaper business perhaps, but easy for a digital publication to deliver.

With all that in mind…

What kind of information should you be looking at for improved delivery? Sales info. Customer support info. How to info. Company news. Info for employees. Info for business partners. Training.

How are you and your business prepared – and continuing to prepare – for the speed that information delivery is changing?

Two choices. Adjust, or become the next $1 magazine like TV Guide. Not a $1 for one issue – $1 for the entire magazine.

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Flip Video: One person’s design is another’s ridiculous annoyance

Recently, I bought my son a Flip Ultra video recorder so he could easily take and send videos of my new granddaughter.

If you haven’t seen the Flip video recorder yet, it’s a nifty little device about 4″ tall, 2″ wide and less than an inch thick. Their newest model (which the store didn’t have) is even smaller and thinner.

It has a flip out USB port to attach to your computer and the device appears as a hard drive so you can simply drag and drop videos from it to your system. Easy as pie. In fact, it even automatically installs its little viewer software when you first plug it in.

For a $149 device, it works great.

2 button presses turn it on and start recording, 1 more stops it. It’d be great for recording business processes for training purposes in your business, as well as putting instructional or marketing (etc) videos on your website.

There are a few gotchas though, and one is pretty Flippin’ annoying.

First: when the software is first installed, it also installs muvee (a movie editing program). It doesn’t ask if it can install it, or if you need it, it assumes you do. I don’t and that was a minor annoyance. In 1998, installing unneeded software was standard behavior. This, however, is 2008.

Second: and this is the big one – the Flip people decided to use some mysterious video codec (3ivx) that isn’t part of Windows, and that Windows Media Player doesn’t know about.

Result: Taking and distributing videos just went from easy as pie to a royal PITA. Now you must convert them to flash (.swf) using some other software – and only on the machine where you installed the Flip, since it has the codec installed when you plug in the Flip recorder to your computer’s USB port.

Sorry folks, but this isn’t as simple as falling down. It’s a pain in the rump roast. There’s a reason why software uses common standards: so that stuff like this doesn’t happen. Proprietary codecs are so 1998.

Oddly enough, the 3ivx codec was recently included in Apple iMovie, so hey, 15% of the free world can play the videos for free. How’s that for a viral marketplace?

Your business lesson? Making it drop dead easy for your clients doesn’t stop at 50%. The premise of these cameras is easy videoing and sharing. They got it half right. Don’t make the same mistake with your products and services.

Use standards when issues like this can appear. Set standards everywhere else.

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What would a HARO look like in your market?

Woolworth. Sears. KMart. WalMart. The Internet. Napster. Amazon. iTunes. Open-source software.

And now, HARO.

HARO, aka is proving to be disruptive to PR Newswire’s ProfNet, a service for subject matter experts (SME) – which could easily be you. ProfNet charges sources to connect with reporters who need an expert to interview for their next story.

NOTE: Reporters and other journalists (hmmm, bloggers?) get access to PR Newswire’s ProfNet at no cost. Only sources pay.

I’m on the HARO list (from a source side) and the queries from reporters are indeed high quality and often from the NYT, AP, etc.

But that really isn’t why I mention this today.

I’m thinking of how you should be looking at this angle.

It might be hard for someone to come into your nice, juicy market and have this kind of impact, but this is far from the first time it has happened.

What would a HARO look like in your market?

It wouldn’t have to be free. Clearly, HARO creator Peter Shankman is getting work as a result, so don’t limit your thinking to “the HARO for my market must be free”.

How long is it going to take you to be a disrupting force instead of the disrupted one feeling the effects of that force?

Or will you simply wait for someone else to disrupt your market?

Think about it.

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Celebrating Business, and US Independence

It’s the 4th of July Independence Day holiday in the U.S., so I thought I’d find a piece about creating your own independence, rather than writing it myself.

The NY Times Sunday Magazine story on Rush Limbaugh is just perfect for that purpose.

Like him, dislike him, hate him or love him, you can’t help but admire his success as a business owner.

Yes, a business owner. Not a pundit, nor a preacher to the right, but a business owner.

More accurately, an entertainer.

If you just can’t bring yourself to read the story, consider this quote before you bail out:

â??Do you know what bought me all this?â? he asked, waving his hand in the general direction of his prosperity. â??Not my political ideas. Conservatism didnâ??t buy this house. First and foremost Iâ??m a businessman. My first goal is to attract the largest possible audience so I can charge confiscatory ad rates. I happen to have great entertainment skills, but that enables me to sell airtime.â?

Finally, if you don’t takeaway a lesson in positioning or marketing from it, well, you just aren’t reading hard enough.

Happy Independence Day, everyone.

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Small business invades the Ukraine

Despite the fact that you can obtain the same thing anywhere in the world, a client of mine does a fine job of selling their high-end, custom version of this product in many countries.

We were talking yesterday during a telephone coaching session about return policies for online sales.

One thing led to another, and it came up that an order problem occurred with a client in the Ukraine, forcing them to issue their first refund.

The product shipment was refused entry to the Ukraine.

While the refund still needs to be issued, I suggested that this episode, while not a big deal, should be blown up into something as big as they can manage.

  • Call the State Department to lodge a complaint.
  • Write your Senator and Representative.
  • Write your state’s international trade board requesting help.
  • Write your national industry’s representation demanding a resolution.
  • Go on YouTube to talk about the injustice of it all.
  • Issue a press release to the local media about the refusal to let your products enter the Ukraine. If they just happen to stick you on the TV news, or even the morning show, so be it.
  • Send a press release to PRWeb or a similar service and see if the national morning shows or NPR pick it up.
  • Send a package with that item in it to the Ukraine Embassy in Washington and ask them to forward it to the buyer’s address in the Ukraine. Include a few samples for the embassy staff, you know, just in case they want a bribe:)

One of their comments during this discussion was, half-seriously, “What if we cause an international incident?”

My reply was something along the lines of: “Yeah, wouldn’t that be great!” – And I was dead serious.

You just can’t beat the story line: “Small U.S. retailer stopped at the Ukraine border, invasion fails”

But that isn’t all.

  • Why not stick a map of the Ukraine on the wall of your store? Or a global map showing where the products do ship in the world, and make a big deal out of fencing off the Ukraine.
  • Follow the Ukraine in the Olympics and celebrate either their failures or successes, or both.
  • Create an Exiled product line to make a little fun of the situation.
  • A whole line of “Banned in the Ukraine” promotions, PR blitzes and product offers are possible.
  • Have a “Save the Ukraine Day” at the store, serve native foods, have native dress and so on.
  • Invite all local people with roots in the Ukraine to come by the store and let them experience what their countrymen cannot.

Or, just give the money back and forget the whole thing.

You couldn’t possibly use this event to have a little fun, much less for marketing and publicity purposes, could you?

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Business owners: Do the math when putting on a promotional event

I ran across a couple of whining news stories recently that talked about paying celebrities like Paris Hilton or Donald Trump $10000 to $20000 to appear at a party or other event for 2 hours. In Trump’s case, it’s more like $250k per appearance, but it doesn’t really matter.

The news reporters don’t get the big picture because they aren’t looking at the economics. The bright shiny celebrities distract them from the business that is going on.

What Time Is It ??
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Let’s consider for a moment that you are having a small business seminar in Seattle, Dallas or Chicago. You plan to charge $3000 and you know for a fact that you are going to deliver far more value than that.

Your problem is this: demonstrating that you’re going to deliver $3000 worth of value.

Certainly you can do that, but look at what it might take to allow you to get Trump at your event – for free.

If his price is $250k, then you need to get an extra 83 people to show up at your event. In a city of 3-5 million people, are there 83 business owners, real estate people or entrepreneurs who would be interested in hearing Donald Trump speak, get a photo with him and have a brief word with him?

Sure there are. 83 people gets Trump at your business event for nothing out of your pocket.

People line up to pay $25k to have lunch with Warren Buffett every year. He donates that money to charity, but the concept is the same – and in fact, you could do this at your event with Trump (or whoever).

So when you read these celebrity stories (regardless of where they are – even in the WSJ), don’t gloss over them and think those people live in another world. Business-wise, they don’t. They are making hay while the sun shines. They know that you only need to get (for example) another 83 people there to pay their fee and they know what that does for you, your business and your event.

You simply have to do the math to make it easy to get someone like that for your promotional event.

What does this have to do with your small business? Lots.

Local businesses have promotional store events all the time. Anyone can do a live radio spot. Do the people in your market really want to talk to the DJ? Who in your market can you get at your store for a big event that will blow away your local market and position you as the only place to do business with?

For example, if you’re an attorney and you held a private event for your best clients, what would it cost you to get George Ross (Trump’s attorney) there? On the other hand, what positive can come of it? Be sure that you think that part through. Your guest needs to be strategic to your long term business goal, not just someone to ooh and ah over.

Think bigger and do the math to make amazing things happen when you hold a local promotional event.

PS: Don’t forget to record the event on digital video and put pieces of it (drip, drip, drip) out there on all the social media sites you use to promote and position your business (ie: Facebook, YouTube, and so on). Your event isn’t a one time thing. It should pay dividends for a long time.