The Surprised Entrepreneur – Diary of new venture – Entry #3:

“Mama never told me there’d be weeks like this…”

It has been a while since my last entry and I am relieved to say it is mostly for good reasons. Over the last few months, this little venture has begun to take hold – to wit:

  • I have been on the speaking tour about The Interaction Engine capping it off with a spiel at ad:tech this month.
  • We have closed two new clients – one in the consumer electronics space and one in the mobile app space.
  • I am getting better at presenting our system in meetings – now I can kinda explain it in about 30 minutes. It still falls far short of the 2 minute elevator pitch – but hey – we are getting better.
  • A number of marketing and technology companies have contacted us to “partner” – not sure what that means though
  • We have done a few presentations to media buying agencies as they are challenged to “buy” social media. They are interested in working with us (again – no idea what that means)
  • Most important – revenue is beginning to accrue

Yet, despite the clear progress and momentum – I recognize the utter fragility of this venture. Of the dozen or so folks that are part of this company – most (but not all) are getting paid some compensation. No one is getting what they deserve – yet.

But my biggest challenge is that as we get more noticed, there are far more opportunities that need to be assessed and prioritized. Fundamentally, these opportunities run along three basic lines:

  • Technology Partnerships – there are 4 companies that we are talking to now in the marketing technology space. These companies are anxious to partner with someone like us because often these tech companies have no easy distribution channel. A cool recommendation engine is nice – but it’s hard selling a “stand-alone” technology to a big brand or agency. As a quasi “system integrator” of social media technologies – they see our Interaction Engine as solving this major channel issue for them.  thsi is not a pr 
  • Funding Options – my initial plan was to sell the Engine we have now (does not require any development) to generate about $500K in revenue. While that plan is still in play – I realize that getting to that sales threshold might take longer than I can wait to begin the second phase of this company – to develop/ sell “self-serve” integrated social media programs to SMB via web hosts. I am encouraged by experienced colleagues who tell me I can go get funding now with what we have. TBH, I am still unclear whether any VC would consider this investable. My colleagues are so confident that this can get funded that they are willing to spend their own time over the next few months to work on this. On the one hand, that’s a funding gift that I would be crazy to reject. But on the other hand, it will still require my time for an exercise that I’m not convinced will have a successful outcome. Getting VC funding is a huge time hog – not matter who helps you. I keep wanting to put it off or get a traditional loan to ease the short term cash crunch. this is since this is not any way understand how to make this spaceing this work. it is frustating to say the least but this need
  • Media Alliances – Unlike most other marketing technology companies, I focused on the technology platform but I built it within a holistic system that includes an organized set of content assets from a diversity of publishers. To me, content is not king – but rather the juicy bait to start the engagement process which is why I had to collect relevant content assets. So while I spend a considerable amount of time building these alliances – there are many more people looking to partner with us because so many content producers and writers have been caught in the tumult of “freep” (free and/ or cheap) digital content distribution. In our system, these folks have a voice and a stake, so we solve a problem for them too. The problem is deciding who we can take on.

Most interestingly (and yes – it is a surprise), it seems that our Interaction Engine System (a coordinated, tech mashup of a monetizable “community of interest”) is an approach that can integrate disparate marketing activities into an operational program. In essence, instead of pitching an individual program to a client where I have to plug into their operations – we are being seen as our own ecosystem and other marketing programs and/ or technologies have to plug into us. I won’t say I planned it that way – but I am loving how this is playing out.

Now on to my biggest “what’s keeping me up list?” for this entry:

  • Knowing which contacts are worth pursuing on the tech front, on the funding front and on the editorial front. The response to my presentations has been great – but overwhelming actually.
  • Keeping the pressure up on the sales front –  our issue now is too many great leads and not enough time to follow them all up.
  • Keeping the team motivated and monetized – always a struggle whether you are a new company or an old one

The next four weeks tend to be intense because marketing budgets are being finalized so we need to keep the pressure up – yet people’s mind are on the holidays. This requires an elegant and thoughtful approach to sales (I hope we are up to it).

Day after day, it seems the ride I am on gets more thrilling, more scary and more substantial. As the stakes keep going up, Mama never told me there would be weeks like this where too much is happening too fast. But I guess that beats the other option: too little happening too slow; by a mile.

“So dear Mama – I am grateful you taught me to appreciate a good ride when I see one which is exactly what I am doing  – even though it feels like I caught a tiger by the tail.”

I don’t intend to let go now.

Judy Shapiro

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Why did social media become so urgently important right now?

Nowadays, I sometimes feel like the doctor who is often asked his advice “off duty”. Once I say I am in marketing, the inevitable questions begin. “How can I launch a product with just social media?” (You can’t). Is social media really free? (No). Can I be successful at social media without an agency (yes…but). This is not just mere curiosity; there is urgency to the questions I have not encountered before.

Now aside from the inconvenient truth that I am practitioner of marketing and perhaps not an “expert”; the other inconvenient truth is that there aren’t many experts to found anywhere because social media has barely been on the corporate radar for 24 months and it is very fast evolving category of marketing that is growing in importance. This expertise gap understandably makes companies scrambling for advice with a frantic energy approaching panic.

So with that perspective, let’s return to our initial question; why has social media become so urgently important right now?

There are two primary factors driving this laser focus on social media worth exploring. First, I think it’s safe to say that from a purely demographic perspective, social media has just now reached the tipping point, a critical mass of adoption led by key demographic segments like women, baby boomers. (read: More women than men on social networks for more). But the second, equally important reason is that social marketing is emerging as a company’s worst marketing nightmare – it is where a company’s most important branding battles are waged and it is also largely uncontrolled and uncontrollable. It gets worse. It became very apparent that the old corporate branding rule book needs to get tossed out! Gone are the days when a core branding platform was centrally created and communicated to the various stakeholders groups in a coordinated way. In the new social media branding paradigm, the community now creates the brand positioning for companies – like it or not.

And the days when visual branding standards were created for distribution are dismantling in favor of a model where affiliate communities re-invent the identity of companies to suit the needs of their members.

In the end, the systems that companies used to pump out the corporate messages are caving under the more credible corporate branding connections happening in social networks outside corporate control.

So what’s a corporate marketer to do? This can be a tough one to answer, because this is still evolving. But a few principles will help ease the transition to this new model.

1) Develop a learning path for your people to understand the nuts ‘n bolts of social media.

Often, the mystery of social media reduces seasoned marketers to passive observers to these new branding dynamics. Change the dynamic by encouraging active exploration of this media.

2) Launch a secondary branding experiment using an “ignition point” topic.

Nothing instills confidence than real world experience. A way to accomplish this without risking the corporate brand is to find a topic that your users or prospects have passion for. Launch a mini social media campaign and start explore the tools, play with the networks, participate in the community and experience it just for the sake of learning. Agencies and consultants can only take you so far since nothing beats hands-on experience. Learn for yourself how the machinery of social marketing works and that’ll be invaluable in how to create the new corporate social branding paradigm for your brand.

3) Deploy a reputation measurement platform that tracks your social media visibility.

It is crucial to monitor the conversations going on about your brand and there are great platforms our there to help you do that. There are companies that measure Twitter influence, social networking topic trends and specific corporate conversation in social networks. Some platforms are free while others do not cost a lot.

4) Get serious about community creation and management.

Too often companies start a community but quickly realize that maintaining it is far more difficult. Commit the necessary resources to do community management well. If that is not an option – it’s best not to start at all until you can commit the necessary resources. But a well done community will deliver benefits ranging from engagement marketing to an early warning system should the brand falter.

So if social media seems to be taking over your marketing conversations – it’s useful to remember that it is going through a growth spurt. It has not yet matured into a systematic, predictable set of technologies and processes. Until it does, it helps to be brave and jump right in even if you seem to be splashing around. You’re not alone.

Judy Shapiro

The Marketing Measurement Maze: measuring marketing is a mess.

Forgive the illustrative nature of the headline  – but I had to laugh out loud about this whole thing or else I would cry.

This post is a follow up to my previous post about how fragile measuring marketing technology really is based on a real time experience I was having with Technorati regarding the authority ranking of this blog.    Unhappily, my initial concerns about marketing measurement were realized so it is worth recapping.

About a week ago, by accident, I learn that according to Technorati this blog, getting a mere 1,000 visitors a month, vaulted 4x in authority rankings to about 400 when previously I ranked about 100. For about a week, I jumped up and down a few times going between 400 and then 600 (see pictures in my previous post).I contacted Technorati and told them I think there is a glitch. I got a very polite answer to tell me they are updating their rankings system and some blogs are radically shifting in position as a result.  Sounded rather fuzzy to me, but hey – what do I know?

After that response, over the course of the next 3 days, my blog bounced around some more in the 400 to 600 range and then yesterday I seem to have settled back into my original humble ranking of about 100. OK – I think – that sounds more reasonable – except now I am not even listed in the directory at all!

I went from a blogger superstar to a non entity in just three days and it is still not “unglitched”.

To put this into perspective, I get that when you are making improvement to a site, things go weird for a bit. But since Technorati is largely viewed as the authority on blogging ranking (and thus ad value), this whole episode is ample proof of the sorry state of measuring marketing efficacy. You often can’t trust the measurement data because of innocent technology glitches and then you have no way to verify the accuracy of the measurement reporting data you’re getting.

While it’s tempting to brush this aside as some little blimp in the world of marketing measurement – you can’t because the financial consequences can be significant. Imagine if my blog was a commerce oriented site or if I am advertiser trying to assess what’s the audience reach of all these blogs. Such variations in rankings can mean a lot of money gets spent or not depending on which side of the glitch you happen to fall on.  And this type of glitch is just the tip of the iceberg. I have seen measurement issues across the marketing landscape from traffic reporting to ad buys to data you get from PPD or CPL marketing programs.

Bottom line. It’s time to get serious about measuring marketing efficacy. Now it is a mess!

Judy Shapiro

Want to understand the essence of Yiddish angst? The secret is revealed in seeing how business leaders inspire.

One of my favorite ex-bosses was fond of saying; “Failure is not an option” when asked about the secret of his success.  His Turkish/ British sensibilities expressed this concept as a statement of fact – unequivocal – no heroics – no bluster … It simply was the reality. It was meant to encourage people to realize that you keep trying until you achieve your goals.

Now while many of us we have heard that expression before, subtly within the phrase lays a wonderful aspirational dynamic. Since failure is not an option – the only other possible outcome is success.   Uplifting, motivational and inspiring. Well done.

Now – here’s the Yiddish version of that sentiment (fyi – I was raised in a Hasidic family speaking mainly Yiddish until I went to school). Mind you, same the net effect is intended, e.g. to encourage people to carry on no matter what, but the difference is how a “Yiddish” CEO would say it which is in a more plaintative “Never surrender” type of sentiment.  In the psyche of the Yiddish (largely traumatic) experience, this sentiment had the same duality that the “Failure is not an option” phrase has but with a key element of angst thrown in. In this mindset, you also had two outcomes. 1) “You surrender” which was understood to mean  you died – either a physical or spiritual death; or 2) “Never surrender” – you managed to lived to see another day. No great vision of glory but simply the ability to go on was success enough.

Same concept – keep going no matter what – but worlds apart in their outlook on life. One uplifts and inspires – the other is satisfied with much less grand results. And in seeing the contrast one can see the entire essence of Yiddish angst.

Me – I like to use both ideas. The “never surrender” gives me a sense of extra urgency and imperative (OK – so I do worry too much) while the “failure is not an option” phrase reminds me of the prize.

I confess though, living is both worlds can confuse at times (just ask my husband or this ex-boss 🙂 .

Judy Shapiro

Brands becoming Publishers

I came across this white paper from R2I, a technology company serving the marketing industry that discusses how brands are evolving to become publishers.

Insightful and worth a read.  Here is an excerpt:

The Past:

Before the Internet, and even for some years after its rise as a consumer tool, the roles of retail brands and publishers were distinct and complementary. Publishers catered to, and often created, communities of interest, delivering compelling content and facilitating dialogue within the group. Brands, alternately, would seek out these communities and pay publishers to have their community-targeted advertisements delivered within this forum.

And so it remained for generations…

The paradigm shift

Today the capabilities available to each participant in this relationship have changed profoundly. Search technology in particular has changed purchasing behavior significantly. Customers now have the power to gather information and opinions from multiple sources. Communities of interest, instead of being mediated by publishers, are now self-organizing, appearing on social networks, blogs, news sites, and even retail sites. Retail brands, for their part, have clearly come to recognize this shift and have begun in earnest to deliver not just ads, but community-focused content directly into these forums.

In fact, when examining a day in the life of a brand and a publisher – they don’t seem to be that different anymore. For both, their job is to:

o Create communities of interest

o Deliver compelling content

o Facilitate community dialogue

o Monetize through advertising

Read the White Paper here.

https://trenchwars.files.wordpress.com/2010/03/r2integrated-white-paper-brands-becoming-publishers-21.pdf

Judy Shapiro

Twitter’s growing pains in 2010.

I have been tracking Twitter much like a bird lover would affectionately monitor a prize species through their every migratory move in an effort to gain that prized sighting. So when I notice a flutter of Twitter buzz that Twitter is profitable – it perked me right up.

My first instinct when I read the tweets was to say; “Well done”.  But when one reads a bit more, one is struck by the realization that their new profitability engine was because of some cash deals rather than a sustainable monetization engine where, gasp, Twitter  actually sells a service to a “Judy Consumer”.

No such business maturity seems to hover anywhere near the Twitter nest. This is probably why Twitter has some serious skeptics, myself among them sometimes. “When will they grow up” I ask myself, “and create a real business with real services.”

But I see no such plans yet, nor, do any of the business analysts who should know. Sure, I see how Twitter caters to a few industries brilliantly – the media world and the PR world for instance. But I don’t see any deepening of “Judy Consumer’s” attachment to Twitter.

Instead, we hear loud twittering about how business can use Twitter to great effect or endless schemes where businesses can use Twitter to promote themselves. And all this business exploitation of Twitter carries the real risk that it will alienate its fragile consumer base which BTW has so many ghost users that its hard to get a real tally of who lives  in Twit-o-ville.

Yet, I can easily imagine some consumer friendly services with just a bit of mature business thinking. For instance, I love Twitter because it has become a highly accurate, human filtered way to sift through the info saturated digital world. The list of people I follow on Twitter is a mere 24 (I have a paltry 185 group of hardy followers) and is highly structured into three rough tiers: about 1/3 are made of up huge news publishers so I hear about the big news items (e.g. CNN), then another 1/3 is made up of a group of “specialty” reporters and pundits covering categories that are important to me (e.g. Guy Kawaski). The final 1/3 are folks who amuse me or are likely to find that quirky item on the web that I would never ever find on my own.  Surely, other people use Twitter the way I do and I bet there’s a paid service in there somewhere.

Maybe I am too hard on Twitter. Maybe they are thinking along these lines anyway. Or maybe Twitter wants to continue its Peter Pan life within the cocoon of the techno-rati.

Maybe.

But here’s a thought for you Twitter folks to help you on your journey of maturation. When you wake up tomorrow pretend that you have no idea about how you are going to make payroll in the next four weeks. Or for a change, forget that you have oodles of someone else’s cash in the bank and try to figure out how to convince your first 1,000 prospects to buy from you. You’d be amazed at quickly you grow up in the process.

Take a chance and join us in the grown up world – we’re ready to welcome you with open arms.

Judy Shapiro

My top 10 New Year’s “un-resolutions” for 2010

We all know about our New Year’s resolutions. We make them with all good intentions to keep them. But we also know that what usually happens is that, inevitably, one by one our resolutions go by the way side. So I stopped making those New Year’s resolutions years ago because it seems to be a recipe for failure.

Instead, this year for a change, I have started to make “un-resolutions” – things I am determined NOT to do. Here’s my top 10 un-resolutions. Take care – this may become a new tradition.

1) I will not get seduced by any new digital marketing toy just because some industry pundit thinks it’s the coolest thing to hit the street. Nor will I believe every promise made by every new marketing technology company.

2) I will not abandon common sense in digital marketing and be blinded by digital agencies promises that their “new” campaigns will go viral and get the attention of millions of people. I will continue to listen to my gut and if it sounds to good to be true, I will let skepticism drive my decision.

3) I will not abandon newspaper, magazines, radio and other forms of traditional media if it is the right vehicle. No matter how sexy digital media may seem because of the perceived lower cost, I will continue to create integrated programs that weave together the best of both the traditional and digital worlds.

4) I will not give up my attachment to email marketing. Sorry folks – but email marketing, well done, drives real business results. If your email campaign did not work – either you had a bad list or an inadequate call-to-action or maybe your agency did not know what they were doing.

5)  I will not be fooled into thinking that the ad market is going to rebound in 2010. Nope. The ad market will continue to be buffeted by the tides of an evolving economic landscape and by consumers’ ever fickle attraction to new tech toys like mobile devices.  These trends will continue to dampen ad revenue for publishers for some time to come.

6) I will not get excited about cloud computing – at least not yet. I do see how it is going to dominate in the next 5 years – but there are real security problems to solve before everyone can get into the clouds. Conversely, I do get excited by all types of ASP offers as that is a steady business model that offers real value to consumers.

7) I will not blindly follow Google as they chow down every tech industry from telecom to digital publishing. Ever one loves to love Google. Me too. But that does not mean that I have to support every initiative as Google relentlessly marches toward digital dominance. In the process, they stifle competition and kill real innovation by companies who deserve to succeed. Now here’s my one New Year’s prediction (for 2012) – I predict that Google will have to break themselves up to avoid the growing recognition that Google is really a monopoly, albeit a new kind.

8 ) I will not diminish my slavish devotion to data driven marketing no matter what new platforms come out that can behaviorally target any audience any way I wish. I know I know – the BT folks can slice and dice an audience so many ways that it makes a marketer salivate. But unless I can see, touch and feel the data – I will pass for now.

9)  I will not start following every Tom, Dick and Jane to gain more Twitter followers. OK, so I only have about 175 folks following me but at least I know they read what I tweet. Quality – not quantity is what drives social media.

10) And my final un-resolution. I will not try appear to be “30 something” just because I love digital marketing. I know that the average age of people in digital marketing tends to be 27 – but my depth in this space has yielded real world, hard won recognition. And while I am at it, will not submit to peer pressure to use more “hair product” than one can find in a Duane Reade store so I can appear suitably young as a digital marketer. What you see (grey hair and all) is what you get 🙂

There you have it. My top 10 un-resolutions for 2010. If you have your list – feel free to share it here.

Judy Shapiro

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