Category Archives: Marketing

Business Lessons Learned in the Quarterback’s Endorsement

business lessons learned in quarterback's endorsementIn the stadium, on the field, confetti everywhere, the Super Bowl is over, the winners celebrate. Team, journalists, and celebrities surround the star quarterback, 39 years old, whose team has won. This is the perfect end to a stellar career in pro sports. He has millions of eyes on him as he says: “I’m going to drink a lot of Budweiser tonight.”

Welcome to 2016. The like and follow and  threatens old-style advertising. Big brands have big budgets, but we buy what our online friends tell us too. And the quarterback, so the big brand hopes, is our friend. And the Peyton Manning’s beer call sparked a storm of social media. And maybe business lessons learned. Search the web or any social media platform for #manning #budweiser and you’ll see.

Beer and Disney World

It’s not that different from 29 years ago when that Super Bowl’s winning quarterback said “I’m going to Disney World” in exactly the same situation. Phil Simms, that quarterback, said Disney paid him $50,000 to say it. Of course there was no storm of social media back then. And, according to Wikipedia, other sport stars who did the same as Simms at championship moments included Joe Montana, Tom Brady, Magic Johnson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, and along list of others. The Disney World remarks continued through last year’s Super Bowl, when New England Patriot stars Malcolm Butler and Julian Edelman both did it. The U.S. women’s soccer team did it in 1999. Ellen DeGeneres’ television character did it in the 1997 TV episode when she came out as lesbian.

So what? Sure, there’s the obvious problem with plugging beer in that situation. Last I looked, drinking “a lot of” beer rarely correlates with success on any playing field.

It’s also a marker of change. Big brands struggle as ads become less effective because of blocking, fast forwarding, or just plain ignoring them. And opinions published in social media swirl and engulf celebrity and business personas these days.

Business Lessons Learned

My conclusion, for startups and small business: It’s a reminder. You can’t ask for the close so quickly anymore. Nobody gets fooled. Peyton Manning may or may not have made some big bucks with that comment (there are lots of competing facts about how much), but his brand suffered. You and I don’t have the opportunity and spotlight he had last night, but we do have our equivalents, here and there. Don’t blow it with anything that obvious. People see through it.  They might ding you in amplified word of mouth. Or, maybe worse, they will probably just ignore you.

Social Media Marketing Earthquake, Content Tsunami

(My latest column in the Eugene Register Guard. Click here for the original. Reposted here with permission)

content marketing tipping pointSocial media marketing earthquake

The social media marketing earthquake is already here. And, in keeping with the forecast theme in this month’s blue chip, here’s a prediction: content marketing tsunami.

The shaking started as social media took off with Facebook, MySpace, LinkedIn and early blogs. It continued with Twitter, Pinterest and Instagram.

So-called content marketing emerged. Marketing is getting people to know, like and trust you. Content marketing does that with blogging, online videos and other online content that businesses offer to people for free, through social media. Content marketing is theoretically free to businesses because they don’t pay for space, like they do with traditional advertising. But what isn’t free is the production of content that is interesting, useful, funny or just plain not boring on social media and blogs, as an alternative to advertising.

You can find examples of successful content marketing on the Web. Anita Campbell of Small Business Trends turned a thoughtful blog into a multi-million-dollar information business. John Jantsch of Duct Tape Marketing turned a book into a multi-million-dollar blog, consultant network, and speaking business. Gary Vaynerchuk of VaynerMedia made a fortune in writing and speaking. They were individual experts, but these businesses grew because people found their content interesting and useful. Readership became relationship, which led to customers.

This earthquake has already changed the business landscape. Marketing stories are more important than ever. Smaller companies with good stories can compete effectively against big brands. Advertising is no longer as simple as value proposition message repeated in media. The bigger budget doesn’t always win.

Content marketing tsunami

And the tsunami? Billions of dollars that have been flowing into big-brand advertising budgets are now going into social media and content marketing. What we’ve seen so far, however, is a trickle compared to what’s coming.

Those big budgets are managed by a generation that grew up with advertising as the key to big-brand marketing. Those people are being dragged, kicking and screaming in many cases, into this new world. They may not like it. It’s not what they grew up with. It’s not what they came to power with. But these are smart people and more of them get it.

For example, Target created a free iPad app, “Made For U College Styler,” that helps college students design their dorm room decor. It gathers information from their social media accounts to guess at style, then suggests items they can buy at Target. They want loyalty so they offer utility. Zappos, originally an innovative online shoe retailer, rode social media to a lucrative sale to Amazon and big-brand success. One of Zappos’ biggest successes was a Pinterest page that posted pictures of free products. Burger King, Snapple, Red Bull, and BMW are offering brand-related content on multiple social media sites.

The big-budget attention is going to create increasing competition in content marketing. The innovators had the field to themselves when it started 10 to 15 years ago. Not so much in the future.

Yet few people understand how evolving social media and content marketing will carry an implicit trade-off­ between short- and long-term success. The kind of tactics that might generate immediate business leads won’t work for the long haul. Long-term success in this new world is about legitimately helping people, offering useful information and being interesting — or at least not boring — to establish long-term relationships with potential customers.

Long-term success will be won by people and businesses that create, curate, and share legitimately good content, not self-serving, thinly disguised infomercial-like content. New technology has leveled the playing field in ways that neutralize advertising budgets and reward real sharing.

It’s going to take work and patience. But here’s the good news: Business owners who stick with it will be rewarded through long-term relationships with customers, which, by the way, is what marketing is all about.

Which is Better: Great Product or Great Marketing?

MarketingEvery once in a while the world gets a great product that’s so good that the marketing follows almost automatically. Mosaic was like that in 1994, Facebook 10 years later, and Twitter, sort of, as well.

And of course they did have marketing, even early on, but they were driven by their products.

Those are rare exceptions to the general rule. Apple had great marketing from the beginning. So did Google. All successful businesses have marketing. Most depend on it.

It saddens me that this is true, but it is; I’ve seen it proven many times:

Almost always, mediocre product with great marketing defeats great product with mediocre marketing.


On the other hand, are those the only options? Great product with good marketing, maybe?

Marketing Today: Sparing, Sharing, Caring

Niche_marketing_iStock_000011003850XSmall_igonconceptThe principals of marketing don’t change. It’s still getting people to know, like, and trust you. But what works for marketing today has changed a lot, and continues to change, as technology levels the playing field and companies and people intermingle on even terms. Here’s what I see working:


Winners are sparing their target markets the tedium of old-fashioned slogan-based value proposition shouting, like a hack with a megaphone. We’ve been immunized. We fast forward, mute, unfollow, or – the worst case for marketers – ignore. Nobody clicks online ads, and millennials don’t even see them. We have to spare people the self-serving one-way shouting.


The technological change makes us all channels, all publishers, individuals, small business, and big brands alike. We’re competing for attention. We won’t get any attention if we’re just boring. We have to legitimately share something useful, funny, or interesting. Otherwise we get ignored. Everybody has lots of choices. The informercial is boring and obvious. We have to offer something real.


It’s a great big conversation and people sense self interest and turn it off. The winners in a competition for attention are the ones that actually care about the people they serve. Participate. Engage. Have presence. Or you are irrelevant.

New Fremium Formula Pits Revenue Against User Satisfaction

What would you think of a restaurant that offered really good food, but the salad is free and the dressing is extra? The potatoes are free but the sour cream is extra. The soup is free but heating it costs extra. And table service is free if you wait two hours, but table service in 20 minutes costs extra.  

That’s sort of what’s happening with a free mobile app that’s generating a ton of money (It’s been called “a big public test of freemium.”) and a lot of user hostility at the same time. I’m fascinated by the trade-offs here. 

Real Racing 3 complaints

It’s an auto racing game: Real Racing 3, published by Electronic Arts. It’s a free download for both iOS and Android phones and tablets. It shows up very high in multiple mobile app revenue tracking reports, such as the App Annie Index — which means it makes lots of money. 

It’s a great game. It’s won several app awards. You drive fast racing cars over simulated tracks. Tilt your mobile device to steer. Use a finger on the right hand to accelerate, one from the left to brake. I’m not a typical gamer, but I do play this one and I like it. 

Playing it for free takes real patience. It works with inside-game money to buy, fix, and upgrade cars. In practice, you either repeat races a lot, wait a lot, or buy game money with real money. The rewards for winning races don’t cover the game money requirements to keep upgrading to better cars and better races. Fixing cars takes time but you can buy time with game money, and you can buy game money with real money. Buying cars is required to move up the degree of difficulty, but the reward for a win isn’t enough to sustain the normal flow of new cars needed, so you either repeat races of go to the store to get more game money.

In my case, because I’m not patient, I’ve spent more money on it than I care to admit. I’ve bought game money repeatedly to speed things up. And still, after an embarrassing amount already spent, I’d need about five million game dollars to buy and upgrade the cars I need to complete the levels I’m involved with. And while technically I can afford the $99.95 the game wants from me now, I’m starting to question my common sense and I don’t want to be an easy mark or a soft touch. So I’m repeating races and waiting. And cooking up rationalizations for later. 

And I’m absolutely fascinated by the trade-offs here. This is so different from normal price-value tradeoffs. This is not the elasticity we all grew up with. 

The publisher controls  the game-money reward for wins, the waiting times, game-money repair costs, game-money purchase price, and game-money upgrades price. Those factors determine the real-money cost to play the game at various levels of patience and waiting. So it’s very much as if they pit revenue against user satisfaction. It’s more money for more hostility, and less money for less hostility. 

Which do you want: Happy users, or more money? You can’t have both. 

How Small Business, Sole Proprietors, and Entrepreneurs Are Apples and Oranges

Fruit Basket 2
Fruit Basket 2 (Photo credit: AditChandra)

This post starts a new category for this blog, named — for lack of a better name — “Politics Big Biz Small Biz.” It’s based on the assumption that politicians and big businesses want votes and money from an extremely diverse collection of people they call small business. Who are in fact some small business owners, some small business managers, some small and single-person service businesses, some startups, some entrepreneurs, and some others, who have relatively little in common with each other.

To understand how this really works, start by exploring the definition of “small business.” Data collectors define that mostly by how many employees, but definitions are all over the map. The federal government’s Small Business Administration (SBA) includes businesses with as many as 1,500 employees and as much as $21.5 million annual sales, depending on type of business details. Other studies and government agencies cut off “small” at 5, 10, 100, 500 employees.

In practices, buying patterns, and decision making, not to mention motivation and definitions of success, how different is a business with 1,500 employees, or doing more than $20 million a year, from the graphic artist or consultant on her own, or the dry cleaner on the corner? That’s huge. These are not the same thing.

And entrepreneurs? Some people think everybody who owns a business is an entrepreneur. Some think that includes the massage therapist and freelance writer, the self employed; but a lot of them would never call themselves entrepreneurs. And thoughts, writing, ads, and products marketed for entrepreneurs won’t reach these people who don’t define themselves as entrepreneurs.

Amazing fact: More than 22 million businesses legally registered in one way or another in the U.S. have no employees. Some are just service people getting by, some are economic freedom fighters, and some are fake businesses that exist for tax purposes only. They defy classification.

True story: I ran into a business that classified the so-called small business market according to the decision making pattern. There were those in which the owner decided, those in which a functional expert decided, those in which a committee decided, and some others.

What do you think: Is it a small business if it has no employees? Is the owner of a 50-person small business an entrepreneur? Are entrepreneurs only the startups looking for funding? Is the family running the new dry cleaner business on the corner an entrepreneurial family?

Amazing fact: business owners’ political opinions are not predictable. Owning a business doesn’t make a person belong to any party or interest group.

Conclusion: People who own businesses, particularly people who start businesses, but also people who run their own one-person small business, are more likely to be go-it-on-their-own type people than joiners or followers. That’s by definition. So we defy classification systems.

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The Power of One Simple Question

I like this. If you want real customer feedback, keep it simple. My friend Stephen Lahey, of Small Business Talent, understand email, and who he’s talking to, when he asks his small business owner clients one simple question:

Stephen Lahey simple survey

“When you think of me and our working relationship, what are the five adjectives that first come to mind?”

The illustration here on this post shows the survey link he offered. There it is, a single question, with the promise of “done” showing right there on the submit button. 

And — no surprise — this keep-it-simple strategy works great for getting responses. The subject line of the email was “Single Question Survey.” The open rate was higher than average, almost all who opened clicked-through to view the survey, and about 60% of this number actually submitted survey feedback. Those are really good results. 

I think that’s a brilliant example of how to use data and surveys, and get people to join in. Even though yesterday I posted Don’t base business decisions on data and statistics on Up and Running, which contradicts this post, I still think this is brilliant. And yes, the one does contradict the other.  That happens all the time. 

Steve said: 

The feedback I received was consistent and encouraging. But it wasn’t exactly what I expected — it challenged my assumptions. Valuable? Yes, indeed.

And he makes this point: 

My point? If you want to understand the reality of your brand, then don’t assume anything. Ask your clients for their feedback. I think that you’ll find it’s an eye opening experience.

Yes. Well said. Great example. 



The Irony: Complaining about Linkbait with Linkbait

Here’s an irony: Mashable’s thoughtful post titled Stop Linkbait Before It Ruins Content Marketing is surrounded by linkbait. 

And what’s there on the right, in the sidebar? An ad, then “what’s hot,” one about an injured kitten and the other about Justin Bieber. Both of which are, well, linkbait. Right? 

The post, by Sam Slaughter, starts like this:

“You’ve clicked them before: ‘5 Things Preventing You From Becoming a Billionaire,’ ‘The Secret Video Obama Doesn’t Want You to See’ and the ever-insidious ‘[Hot Female Celeb’s] Wardrobe Malfunction.’

It seems harmless enough linkbait, but stories like these have the potential to kill content marketing.”

In Sam’s defense, he’s not — despite the title — just complaining about linkbait tactics. Instead, he has serious suggestions, and reminders, of how content can and ought to be different from linkbait. 

The title got my attention because it seemed like one of those impossible quests to change humanity. The linkbait phenomenon he writes about is, like spam, the natural result of what people, en masse, choose to click on. It’s related to the same human phenomenon that sensationalizes headlines, yellow journalism, television news, and tabloids. It’s as old as journalism. I ran into it more than 30 years ago, as a young journalist in Mexico City. And it’s still there today. 


You Aren’t What Others Think You Are … But Your Business Is

Do you like ironies, paradox, and contradictions? I do. And I like this one a lot. And, better yet, it helps me work through some of the marketing angles for my business.

Flickr cc Dorian Gray soter-was-here

You can’t define yourself by what others think

“To thine own self be true” was Polonius’ last piece of advice to his son in Shakespeare’s Hamlet.  Everybody gets this in theory. It’s hard in practice. Defining yourself by what others think is a bad idea. You know why. Everybody knows why. Right?

You aren’t what other people think of you.

But what others think defines your business.

Flickr CC mirror kool_skatkat/3008266499/Sure, you try to define your business with mantra, mission, your marketing messaging, almost everything you do with your marketing. But what really defines it is what others think. Your marketing goal is to influence what they think. And, beyond marketing, it’s the goal of your business offering, your sense of quality, your pricing, your logo, your website, your signage, everything. With business, however, it’s just the opposite: Your customers, your former customers, your champions and your detractors define your business for the world. You don’t. Understanding this is important to managing your marketing, your brand, your image, and your sales.

Your business is what others think of it.

(images: Soter Was Here! via photopin  cckool_skatkat via photopin cc)