Five in the Morning

number-fiveA few months back, Steve “aggregator-in-chief” Woodruff started a daily blog series called “Five in the Morning”.  Through the series, Steve shares recent posts and news items from his feed reader that he finds interesting.  Wednesday night, Steve and I got together to talk shop and to enjoy some award-winning, Bobby Flay-slaying BBQ ribs. Somewhere between the 13th and 17th napkin,  Steve mentioned that he wanted to franchise the Five in the Morning series to cast a wider net around the great content available out there.  When he asked if I wanted to give it a shot this week, I said sure.

So without further adieu, here are five posts that I think you’ll find interesting….

  • Forrester’s Bruce Temkin discusses the just released 2008 Customer Experience Index.  As usual, industries with the least amount of competition clock in with the lowest customer experience scores.  That includes Comcast whose overall index dropped a whopping 12 points since last year despite its ComcastCares efforts. Also, the post includes a link where you can download the complete Forrester report for free.
  • The guys over at MyCreativeTeam explain why an old burglar with a reindeer fetish has such a strong brand.
  • Social media consultant Matt J McDonald tells us that “Blogging is hard work” plus 15 other Simple Social Media Truths.  By the way, some believe Matt and American Idol David Cook were Separated at Birth (Go ahead, click the link.  You know you want to).
  • Crayonista Adam Broitman outlines three creative interactive marketing strategies that invoke consumers to talk to other consumers about brands, with minimal interference from the brand itself.  Note: the post starts on Adam’s blog but continues at iMediaConnection.
  • Last but not least, Amber Naslund picks up on posts from a few other bloggers and makes a great case for looking at old tools through new lenses.

Wal-Mart is Blogging Again and That’s a Good Thing!


A year and a half ago, Wal-Mart and marketing partner Edelman took a fair amount of heat from the social media and marketing communities for the fake blog “Wal-Marting Across America”. Another Wal-Mart blog, “Working Families for Wal-Mart” was also criticized as being nothing more than an extension of retail giant’s PR department. They were high visibility examples of the importance of Transparency.

Wal-Mart learned a valuable lesson from those failures: If you can’t be Authentic, you shouldn’t blog at all.

Despite the missteps, Wal-Mart seems to be committed to blogging. A NY Times story published today describes an active program in which various Wal-Mart merchandise managers (a.k.a buyers) are maintaining blogs. More importantly, the new corporate bloggers are openly encouraged to speak openly and honestly about their products and their lives, even it the result is not always complementary:

Microsoft is one of Wal-Mart’s biggest suppliers. But that did not stop the Wal-Mart employee in charge of buying computers from panning Microsoft’s newest operating system, Vista.

“Is it really all that and a bag of chips?” he wrote on his blog. “My life has not changed dramatically — well, for that matter, it hasn’t changed at all.”

His public burst of candor was not isolated. On the same blog, a video game buyer for Wal-Mart slammed a “Star Wars” film as a “debacle” even though Wal-Mart still sells the movie.”

This is really Wal-Mart? Yes, that was my reaction when I first read the article, but considering that Wal-Mart has always been a retail leader, it really isn’t all that surprising.  I also think this signals an important change in the traditional corporate approach to blogs and expect others to follow.

Wal-Mart isn’t the first to have corporate blogs, but historically they have been highly polished, filtered, lawyer-approved messages, ostensibly from CEOs and top executives. What’s different about the Wal-Mart blog site, called Check Out (, is that it turns that traditional model on its head. Instead of channeling high-level executives, it is written by little-known buyers, largely without editing.

The result is a much more personal look into the lives, opinions and tastes of the people who decide what stuff you can buy at the nation’s largest retailer:

“We are real people, and that gets lost in the to and fro of business,” said Nick Agarwal, a Wal-Mart communications official who helped develop the blog. “It puts real personality out there in a real conversation.”

…and that after all is the whole point isn’t.  Put a human face on your cold corporate exterior.

You should check out Check Out and then let me know what you think about it’s value.

People Don’t Want a Drill…


Today, I have the honor of guest blogging over at Drew McLellan’s Marketing Minute. The post is titled “People Don’t Want A Drill…”

Here’s a sample…

“…people aren’t looking for that thing you are marketing; they’re looking for the best tool to get a job done. Unless your product is some sort of “collectible”, your customers are only buying your product because they believe it will help them achieve that objective. Product features and functions may change at an ever increasing rate, but the things that people want to accomplish in their lives don’t change that quickly. Brands that help customers accomplish their objectives more effectively and conveniently than their competition are the ones that will be successful.”

Check out the whole post here

Update: Here’s the complete text:

In his book “The Innovator’s Solution: Creating and Sustaining Successful Growth“, Clayton Christensen writes:

“How do you create products that customers want to buy–ones that become so successful they “disrupt” the market? It’s not easy.

Three in five new-product-development efforts are scuttled before they ever reach the market. Of the ones that do see the light of day, 40% never become profitable and simply disappear.

Most of these failures are predictable–and avoidable. Why? Because most managers trying to come up with new products don’t properly consider the circumstances in which customers find themselves when making purchasing decisions. Or as marketing expert Theodore Levitt once told his M.B.A. students at Harvard: “People don’t want to buy a quarter-inch drill. They want a quarter-inch hole.””

Put another way, people aren’t looking for that thing you are marketing; they’re looking for the best tool to get a job done. Unless your product is some sort of “collectible”, your customers are only buying your product because they believe it will help them achieve that objective. Product features and functions may change at an ever increasing rate, but the things that people want to accomplish in their lives don’t change that quickly. Brands that help customers accomplish their objectives more effectively and conveniently than their competition are the ones that will be successful.

Given this, why do so many companies attempt to market their products and build their brands using an approach focused internally on the thing and not externally on the customer’s need? They conduct focus groups, assembling panels of customers to ask if adding this bell or that whistle to their thing would make it more appealing. They do extensive demographical analysis to determine those target customer segments that will find their thing appealing and then spend lots of resources convincing those customers to buy their new and improved thing. Sure, they get clear inputs on what customers want, but don’t typically take the time to understand what customers were trying to get done for themselves when they use the company’s thing. And this approach isn’t isolated to just manufacturers. It carries over to retailers who are focused on the products they are selling and not what the customer is passionate about or the “hole” they are trying to make.

Consumer Electronics retailers (my background) are particularly guilty of this. They are constantly telling customers that they have “all the great technology you want (or need) at prices you can afford“.

The fact is, very few people “want (or need) technology”. Customers don’t just wake up one morning and decide they need to go down to Circuit City to pick up some great new technology.

They DO want to have an incredible theater experience in their home. They DO want to capture and share family memories. They DO want to be able to print documents from any computer in their home.

How do the marketers respond to these needs? They dish out specs like 1080p, HDMI2.3, megapixels, and 801.11B, G or N. Whatever the latest spec is, that’s what you want. For the customer, none of this hype guarantees a great experience. Marketers who choose to promote their things this way will have a hard time building a powerful brand.

Marketers who understand what customers are really looking for will succeed by focusing on the experience enabled by their brand. Apple is, of course, the often-cited poster child for this. The iPod has never been the best in class from a technical standpoint, but the way Apple enables the music listening experience is what has put their brand miles ahead of the competition. In fact, the term “iPod” is often used generically in place of “MP3 player”. Customers looking for a portable media player will almost always think of Apple and iPod first.

My friend Ryan Karpeles wrote a great post on what he calls Reverse Branding which echoes this idea:

“People rarely think of your actual brand first. They think about what they want. Then they decide who, specifically, can fulfill that desire. Being that “who” is the essence of Reverse Branding.”

Getting customers to drive your brand in this way is the holy grail of marketing. To get there, you first need to understand that it’s the hole they want, not the drill. Once you get that, focus your efforts on being the best damned hole maker in the business.


Getting Social with My Digital Friends

Over the last two years, I have had the opportunity to meet many wonderful people through social media. I often refer to them as my “digital friends” because, for the most part, we have never actually met. I know a handful of voices from phone conversations and podcast and I have seen most of their faces on their blogs, facebook, and Flickr. Despite the lack of physical familiarity, I have followed their lives through the things they share online and have gotten to know many of them quite well.

It’s a very odd feeling when you physically meet a digital friend for the first time. Back in October, I had dinner with Geoff Livingston, Valeria Maltoni & CC Chapman. I had never met any of them before, yet the conversation came as naturally as it would have had we been old friends. In a way, we were and a great time was had.

With that as the backdrop, I am really excited about attending Blogger Social ’08 next April 4-6. Bloggers from all over the world will be converging on New York City, not to talk about Social Media, but to just be social. It will be an opportunity to hang out with the digital friends I communicate with on Twitter, Facebook, Seesmic, Utterz, etc.

Below is a list of those who are confirmed. If you are a blogger you should get on this list, too…if for no other reason than because the cool kids are.

  • For full weekend, register here.
  • Commitment shy are you? Yeah, I get that. So then sign-up for Saturday’s spectacular event only right here.
  • Full Blogger Social website with FAQs, bells and whistles is right here.


Here’s who has signed-up to be a Socialite thus far: Susan Bird Tim Brunelle Katie Chatfield Terry Dagrosa Matt Dickman Luc Debaisieux Gianandrea Facchini Mark Goren Gavin Heaton Sean Howard CK Valeria Maltoni Drew McLellan Doug Meacham Marilyn Pratt Steve Roesler Greg Verdino CB Whittemore Steve Woodruff Paul McEnany Ann Handley David Reich Tangerine Toad Kristin Gorski Mack Collier David Armano Ryan Barrett Lori Magno Tim McHale Gene DeWitt Mario Vellandi Arun Rajagopal Darryl Ohrt Joseph Jaffe Rohit Bhargava Anna Farmery Marianne Richmond Thomas Clifford

You can also check out where everyone will be coming from, thanks to this Google Map put together by Matt Dickman.

I hope to see you in NYC!

Thankful Experiences

rockwell.jpgYesterday, ahead of the US Thanksgiving holiday, David Armano posed one of those great conversation starters to the community that follows his company’s blog, ExperienceMatters. The simple question: What Experience Are You Thankful For?

The response was big, especially since Experience Matters is typically more essay-oriented. Within 24 hours there were over 60 responses to the question and those responses make for a wonderful read. I went to the post this morning and was inspired to add my own words to the conversation.

The replies that people have left are personal, engaging and entertaining. They also demonstrate the human side of these digital relationships we develop through social networking. Do yourself a favor and check it out.

PS. For those of you who are Circuit City associates and read my internal blog when I was employed there, the name ExperienceMatters may sound familiar. Yes, it was the name of my blog there and is the name of the LLC that I created after my employment at CC ended. Great minds do think alike 🙂

Do I Respect Media Snackers

mediasnackers.jpgMediaSnackers is an organization based in England that provides insight and consulting in the area of youth media consumption. Last week, Jeremiah Owyang posted a video from MediaSnacker. The video describes “media snackers” as young people, hyperconnected to a wide assortment of digital, on-demand media. They are consumers who are no longer bound to linear media; who “snack whenever, wherever and whatever they like”. Owyang challenged the idea that it’s just youth consuming content in this way and suggested that you must respect snackers if you want to be a part of their lives. With that, he tagged several bloggers to to answer the question: “Do you respect Media Snackers?” and a new meme was born

Several generations later, I was tagged by Geoff Livingston to weigh in. Like many others that have participated in this meme, I’d have to say that in some respects I do respect media snackers, but that I have lots of room to improve.

Here’s what I do to show respect:

  1. I try to offer insights that will be of value.
  2. My posting frequency varies; I don’t blog unless I have something worth sharing (healthy snacks).
  3. I try to keep my post short and too the point (ok, may need some improvement here).
  4. I usually include links to other snacks that relate to my post (are you still hungry?).
  5. I use Twitter for micro-snacks or to link to other snacks.

People blog for many reasons; some more purposeful than others.  I initially started blogging to learn.  Even today, I write about things that I am interested in, but not specifically to create content for others to consume.  Nevertheless, I have developed a regular group of  snackers who consume my content.  So to Jeremiah’s point, here’s what I need to do better:

  1. Get more concise and timely in my messages.
  2. Explore new formats that can deliver content more effectively (video, podcast, microblogging).
  3. Look for new channels that snackers may be using.

To keep the meme going, I tap Steven StreightRick Mahn, Luis Suarez, Ryan Karpeles, and Erin Handy to answer the question.

Even it I didn’t tap you, feel free to weigh in and leave a comment linking to your post.

Is “Conversation” Cliché

I’m in Washington, DC this week getting new hire training from IBM. As fate would have it, three of my favorite on-line friends were also in town to speak at the Era of Conversation event. Last night, I had the opportunity to have dinner Geoff Livingston, Valeria Maltoni and CC Chapman. After dinner, Geoff suggested that we make an impromptu video, so we did. After an awkward couple of minutes trying to decide what to talk about, Geoff asked if the word “Conversation” had become cliché. Here are our answers:

Guest Blogging…

My friend Greg Verdino is taking a little relaxing vacation at Walt Disney World this week.  Greg didn’t want his blog to “go dark” for the week, so he asked some folks to guest blog in his absence.  Greg always has great content and is focused on Marketing.  I wanted to give him something that was thematically aligned, so my post is an updated version of one I did here a few months back.  The subject is Niche Marketing and it should be posted on Monday.

I’m just the warm-up act.  The guys that follow me are really great writers so be sure to go to Greg Verdino’s Marketing Blog every day this week to read posts from Ryan KarpelesJonathan Salem Baskin,  & Matt Dickman.

I’m not dead, really

I have broken one of the important rules of being a successful blogger.  I have let the blog go dark.  The last two weeks have been a whirlwind for me and my focus has been on things that have little to do with the normal content of this blog.  As a result, I just haven’t had the time or the motivation to write anything other that Twitter tweets.  That should change starting next week (more on that to come this week).  In the meantime, I thank my regular readers for their patience and promise to get back in the groove soon.


Collaboration and the Power of Social Networks

collaboration.jpgUpdate:  I’ve had some interesting responses to this post in the past week.  A couple of interviews are scheduled and Geoff Livingston over at The Buzz Bin asked me to do a guest blogger recap which should come out this week.  Thanks for your ideas and keep ’em coming!!

Testing…. Testing… is this thing on?? Good! Every day, we hear about the power of social networks to…

  • share new ideas
  • make a difference through charity
  • connect people with common interests
  • enable long-distance collaboration

This is truly the Age of Conversation and there is much to talk about. Thanks to the social networks that I have been participating in over the last 18 months, I have “met” and had conversations with more interesting people from around the world than I ever imagined. As LinkedIn demonstrates, the real power comes the fact that the people in your network also have networks. I may have 100 friends but if each of them has 100 friends, then I potentially have 10,000 friends and this enables ideas to spread very quickly. Given that potential, I would like to take my extended network for a test drive to see what it can do.

A few weeks ago, I told you about a small IT consulting business called Impact Makers. Started by Michael Pirron, a Richmond, VA Social Entrepreneur, Impact Makers is “competitive social venture,” a for-profit business model with a nonprofit mission. The idea is simple –

Create a company that works to make profits, but instead of being based on maximizing shareholder value it’s based on maximizing community value.

To my knowledge, this is a new and unique business model. It is a nonstock corporation overseen by a volunteer board of directors. Its books are open to the public, its officers earn salaries but no equity, and all profits are donated to charitable partners. Those partners must be nonprofit organizations that meet four criteria: They must be secular, nonpolitical, local and have a philosophy of helping people help themselves. For its first charity, Impact Makers chose Safe Harbor, a Henrico County-based advocacy organization for victims of domestic violence.

Steal this business model, please!

While Pirron wants prove that the model works through Impact Makers, his larger objective is seeing the business model spread. He wants people to steal the idea, refine it, apply it to other types of business and create community value in as many places as possible. After writing about Impact Makers and connecting them with some of my readers who also participate in Social Entrepreneurship, Pirron asked if I would help with “marketing” the company’s business model and concepts through social media. In other words, get the “Conversation” started.

That’s where you, the people in my network, come in. I would like your help by suggesting ways to communicate the concept and by communicating it to people in your networks that might find it interesting or even actionable. There are lots of ways to get involved:

  • Share the idea with people in your networks. Have a conversation about it.
  • Interview Michael Pirron for your blog or podcast
  • Connect Michael with other prominent bloggers/podcasters who focus on innovative business models or social causes
  • Suggest ways to effectively communicate Impact Makers’ message to non-profits and academia

Get the idea? Take a look at my previous post and Impact Makers’ website for a quick overview of the company. Then use the comment box to let me know what you think. If you want to contact me for a “conversation”, my e-mail address is here.


Sunrise over the Atlantic - Duck, NC

Summer is my favorite season. I love the warmth and the long days. I love the sounds, meals outside, sunrises at the beach, lightning bugs and lightning (except when it hits in my backyard). I’m happy that Summer doesn’t really end for another three weeks, but with the Labor Day holiday now past and start of a new school year, the transition to Fall has started.

This year, the transition from Spring to Summer was a painful one for me with the loss of my job after 23 years. I was outwardly optimistic, but a bit shell-shocked. Although I got really good at networking, solid opportunities were elusive and I spent much of this summer worrying, making it pass by way too quickly.

I’ve spent the last two weeks at my favorite vacation spot, the village of Duck on North Carolina’s Outer Banks. A series of barrier islands subject to frequent coastal storm, its beaches are always in a state of transition. You never know what to expect when you arrive for a visit. Sometimes they’re wide and sandy, other times narrow and pebbly, but the salt air, the rhythmic crashing of the waves and the squawking of the gulls remain constant (and good) regardless of how the sands shift.

Over the last two weeks, I have not written much here and what I have posted has been rather light. Instead, I have spent a lot of time reflecting on the positive things from the last three months. I have been able to spend most of the summer with my 13 year old daughter. I’ve started playing music with a couple of bands, something that I have not done for many years. I’ve build a large network of professional contacts. I’ve met several local entrepreneurs and have had ongoing conversations with them about how to develop their ideas. I have also continued to develop friendships through conversations with my “digital friends” (that’s you guys). So although the course that the summer took was not what I had expected and the sands of my future continue to shift, the experience was a good one.

Several people have told me that, just when you think you won’t be successful in finding a new job, something always pops up. For me, that’s starting to happen; things are “popping”. Summer is starting it’s transition to Fall and I expect to be “transitioning” along with it. As with Summer or the beaches of the Outer Banks, I don’t know what things Fall will bring, but I expect the experience to be a good one. In the meantime, I’ve got three weeks of Summer to enjoy.

Read This….

quit.jpgTim Siedell is a friend who I met through Twitter.  Like many of the people I follow, Tim is in the marketing business.  More specifically, Tim is the Creative Director/Co-founder of Fusebox, a brand communications studio in Lincoln, Nebraska.  Today, he is celebrating seven years of running his own business and wrote a great post that offers this advice…

Caveat here: the advice is not intended for everyone, but for those who feel it works for them, Tim offers seven lessons learned…

I highly recommend that you check out the post and subscribe to Tim’s blog whether you are planning to quit your job or not.

We Interrupt this Blog….


We had a major storm come through last week and a lightning strike in the backyard wiped out the cable and the router (among other things), so this is the first time I’ve been on-line since then. Today, we started a two week vacation on the increasingly crowded Outer Banks of North Carolina. Hope to be able to play catch-up on the blog posts and also share some of the vacation happenings. More to come, but first, a cold beer and a walk on the beach is on order.

Taggin’ The Line

Cam Beck started it, Ryan Karpeles was a second generation tag-ee, and he has now tagged me. “It” is a new meme in which you create a new tagline for some of your favorite bloggers. The rules from Cam are as follows:

  1. Pick 5 of your favorite bloggers (they don’t have to be *the* 5 favorites) and give each of them a tagline.
  2. You can pick more, if you wish, but each tagline should be unique, and it shouldn’t mimic the tagline that exists on the individual’s blog.
  3. Participation is optional, so don’t feel like you are obligated to tag anyone else unless you just think it would be fun.

I’m not marketer, so taglines aren’t my specialty, but it sounds like fun so here goes…

JerseyTodd: “Rockin Briefs” (Hey, he’s a lawyer)

Chris Cree: “Better Business Through Blogging”

Going Like Sixty: “Blogging Boomer”

Liz Strauss: “Leader/Teacher”

Tim Siedell: “Tropical Fruit with an Attitude” (OK ,I stole that from Armano. How about “Every Picture Tells a Story”)

If you aren’t following these bloggers, you should check them out.

Random Thoughts

chance-dice-random-numbers-2-ahd.jpgSurprise, Surprise, Surprise! In the last week or so, I’ve been tagged not once, not twice, but three times with the latest fun meme echoing around the blogosphere – Eight Random Things About Me. Something tells me that many of us (self included) have relatively small social networks and need to get out more. Before I give you the facts, the rules say I need to tell you the rules:

  • Each player starts with eight random facts/habits about themselves.
  • People who are tagged need to write their own post about their eight things and post these rules.
  • At the end of your post, you need to choose eight people to get tagged and list their names.
    Don’t forget to leave them a comment telling them they’re tagged, and to read your blog.

Here’s my list:

  1. I’ve always lived in Richmond, VA
  2. Way back in the late 70s, my band was playing at a fraternity party at Washington & Lee University. Sam & Dave came into the house and played “I’m a Soul Man” and a couple of other songs with us. They had played a concert on campus earlier that evening.
  3. CDs currently loaded in my car: Porcupine Tree: Fear of a Blank Planet, Fall Out Boy: Infinity on High , Genesis: Trick of the Tail (remastered), Smashing Pumpkins: Zeitgeist, Gomez: How we Operate.
  4. Every car that I’ve owned has been red
  5. Like Drew, I go to Disney World a lot.
  6. I prefer charcoal to gas (gratuitous plug for my friend’s invention)
  7. I’ve been married for 23 years. My wife is in the insurance business, my 13-year-old daughter wants to be an actress.
  8. Favorite TV shows are Lost, Countdown w/Olbermann, House, and any Star Trek rerun.

And now, so as to not break the chain, I hereby tag David, Joi, Doug, Chris, Jeff, Becky, Joseph, Jeff, and Geoff.

Update:  Just realized that I tagged 9 people so here’s a 9th random thing about me:  I don’t like following the rules 🙂