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Archive for October, 2004

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The New Tipping Point?

If you haven’t read Chris Anderson’s piece on the Long Tail you’d better… Usage of the phrase are popping up everywhere. The Long Tail has many other names – like, “The Network Effect”. Or, is it “Viral Marketing”.

Actually, Chris has crafted a very unique view of how the web coupled with the infinite inventory and access of the web are driving new purchasing behaviors and market phenomenon. This is actually incredibly stimulating as a notion for all marketers. It points to the need to look beyond the 20% that account for 80% of the revenue towards the massive incremental revenue potential of scaling the 80%.

To get a sense of our true taste, unfiltered by the economics of scarcity, look at Rhapsody, a subscription-based streaming music service (owned by RealNetworks) that currently offers more than 735,000 tracks.

Chart Rhapsody’s monthly statistics and you get a “power law” demand curve that looks much like any record store’s, with huge appeal for the top tracks, tailing off quickly for less popular ones. But a really interesting thing happens once you dig below the top 40,000 tracks, which is about the amount of the fluid inventory (the albums carried that will eventually be sold) of the average real-world record store. Here, the Wal-Marts of the world go to zero – either they don’t carry any more CDs, or the few potential local takers for such fringy fare never find it or never even enter the store.

The Rhapsody demand, however, keeps going. Not only is every one of Rhapsody’s top 100,000 tracks streamed at least once each month, the same is true for its top 200,000, top 300,000, and top 400,000. As fast as Rhapsody adds tracks to its library, those songs find an audience, even if it’s just a few people a month, somewhere in the country.

This is the Long Tail.

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Something to Say…

Why is it that those who have something to say can’t say it, while those who have nothing to say keep saying it?

I recently sat on a CMO Council panel in lovely Monterey. It occurred t me as I sat up there with my fellow panelists how different this was from keynoting an event. And, that we really only train our spokespeople on how to deal with keynotes.

Guy Kawasaki’s latest book – The Art Of The Start – is indispensable for anyone looking for proven counsel on communications basics. If you are too cheap to buy a copy, take a look on Always On – he covers the basics of sitting on a panel really well. Here are the first four:-

1. Control your introduction. Bring a copy of your bio and hand it to the moderator to introduce you. Don’t depend on what the moderator came up with. And, like in speeches, cut the sales pitch about your organization. To make your organization look good, be an informative panelist not a loudmouth braggart. (Note from me ~ write this in a single paragraph. I’ll often hand my biog to the moderator and rather than reading the first para they go on, and on, and on… do as I say, not as I do).

2. Entertain, don’t just inform. Answering the moderator’s or audience’s questions is only half the job of a panelist. The more important task is to entertain the audience. You can do this with a penetrating new insight, humor, or controversy. Always be asking yourself, “Am I being entertaining?” (Note from me ~ this goes for keynotes as well. Scott McNealy and Steve Jobs probably have this down better than anyone. Too many CEOs forget that in most instances – the audience paid to be there!).

3. Tell the truth—especially when the truth is obvious. Most people expect panelists to lie when they encounter a tough question, so if you don’t lie, you establish credibility for your other answers. (Note from me ~ and don’t talk about anything you even vaguely think you shouldn’t talk about. It’s just amazing to me how often an executives brain disengages from the mouth and all kinds of things that really shouldn’t be said pop out.)

4. Err on the side of being plain and simple. Often a moderator will ask a technical question, so the temptation is to answer with a technical statement. This is usually a mistake. Keep it plain and simple: Enough to show that you know what you’re talking about but not so much that it makes you incomprehensible to 80 percent of the audience. (Note from me ~ that means if you have to read your slides you shouldn’t use them. If the audience is reading while you are speaking then you just introduced a level of complexity you don’t need.)

Get to Always On our Barnes & Noble for the rest… I’ll drop my full review of The Art Of the Start up here when finished. In the meantime, also get a copy of The Highest Goal by MIchael Ray. A real stunner. Hey – you might even get free shipping for buying both at once.

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Control Room…

If you haven’t seen it, Control Room is well worth a look. Revealing look at Al Jazeera. This reinforced my view that news is a product rooted in the ground from which is was birthed – it’s biased and subjective. The more extreme the reporting, the less objective it becomes. And, it’s a product subject to as much manipulation by media relations pros as ever – many of whom are seemingly oblivious to the trade they ply.

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Communications Opensourced…

A NYT Article on Newton fanatics got me thinking about how the blogsphere is effectively the open-sourcing of communications.

As ”The Cult of Mac” notes, Newton loyalty has attracted the attention of the academy. Albert Muniz, an assistant professor of marketing at DePaul University, has been studying ”brand communities” for about a decade. Our real communities, it has been said, are disintegrating. We don’t know who our city councilman is; we shun P.T.A. meetings; we’ve never met our neighbors. But Muniz argued in a paper on the subject (written with Thomas O’Guinn of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign) that brand communities, ”based on a structured set of social relationships among admirers of a brand,” are real communities. He acknowledges that it’s more typical to cite the culture of consumption as something that undermines social togetherness rather than creates it. ”But our point of view is: This is a human phenomenon, we are social beings,” Muniz says. ”If community gets lopped off over here, it will emerge somewhere else.” Groups of Saab, Bronco and Macintosh admirers — all studied by Muniz and O’Guinn — even possessed ”a sense of moral responsibility” (albeit a ”limited and specialized one”).

As communicators we foster both communications within and to our communities – internal and external. Increasingly though, (at least in high-tech) the most important communications aren’t occurring from the company but by it’s communities. There is no question constituents turn to company web pages for basic information such as news releases, financials, etc – by important I mean in a deeper way than just information. The dialogue that shapes the way this information is perceived is increasingly occurring outside the company firewall and domain within the community through blogs, wikis and other vehicles.

As the NYT story points, this will inevitably lead to our communities transcending our brand lifecycles and corporate directions.

Some companies will do everything they can to manage the dialogue – to shut down dialogue on dead products. At best all they will be able to do though is enable it.

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Blogs Are Better For Business

We interviewed Tony Perkins of Always On – you’ll need to log on for the full story but its worth a read. We absolutely believe blogs are better for business. Better conversations with the market. Better transparency. Better feedback. What more could you ask for?

Q: When did blogging strike your interest, and why?

TP: I’ve been in the publishing business for more than 15 years and, during that time, I noticed a grassroots media phenomenon called blogging. It was incredibly fascinating, because it allowed individuals to easily publish on the Internet using open-source software, and to create a dialogue with their readers.

Blogging is similar to the open-source software movement, in that the original author puts out a piece of information or a perspective, and the viewers can add to that, creating a potentially interesting dialogue for the benefit of everyone who reads it.

Q: OK, but do businesses benefit from blogs?

TP: Yes. In spite of the Internet bubble — which unfortunately partly discredited the business value of the Internet — it was clear that business people were increasingly moving online to gain information because information is the currency of the technology industry.

The quicker you can gain access to information, the more competitive you can be in business. Clearly, the trend was business people going online to gain technology, business, and strategic information.

“Information is the currency of the technology industry.”

All great companies pay attention to what their customers are saying. Getting a perspective on how their company and products are perceived in the market, and whether they have any market positioning or public relations issues is extremely valuable.

Blogging is a powerful way to communicate openly in a market. We call it “open source media” because you can have that direct dialogue and understand why a customer may or may not want to buy from you.

Yet executives like Jonathan Schwartz, who has been brave enough to start his own blog, are very much the exception rather than the rule. Smart executives will realize that blogging allows them to communicate directly with users, potential customers, and strategic partners and to create a direct dialogue with those people without the media getting in the way.

More online at Always On