Tuesday, November 25, 2008

"Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Blogs*

*But Were Afraid to Ask."

Before we take the advice of anyone about blogging matters it is worthwhile to remember one vital - and wonderful - fact: Blogging should be the simplest and most straightforward thing we do.

I've never blogged before and my friend told me that the first time can be painful; is this true?

Blogging is actually quite simple. But it's a good idea to learn as much about blogging as you can before you commit to your first blog. There is a great deal of information available about blogging, including: videos, books, magazines and even blog entries. The more you know, the more satisfying your first experience is likely to be.

Does the size of my blog matter?

Yes and no. Size - length - can be important, but even more important is the quality of your blog. If you want to leave your reader satisfied, concentrate on content, not size.

What is the BLOG spot?

Blogspot, also knows as Blogger, is an offering owned by Google. This offering allows users to register new blogging sites to set up their own blog. Because there are no restrictions, anyone can set up any number of blog sites for no charge.

My parents say I am not old enough to blog; how will I know when I am ready?

This is a very good question, and the answer is extremely confusing. In order to make the explanation easier to follow there are a few terms you should know, like "age of consent" and "age of majority". If you are under the age of majority, which is usually 18 or 19, and especially if you are under the age of consent, which can be as young as 12, you should get your parents' permission before blogging.

Is it possible to be too old to blog?

This is also a very good question. As long as you are able to get up on the Internet and still enjoy blogging, you are not too old!

I have heard that you can go blind from too much blogging; but how much is too much?

This is absolutely untrue, unless you press your face against your monitor while blogging. But even then, you are likely to only damage your retinas. Blogging is a perfectly healthy activity, whether a person is a girl or boy, woman or man. Although some people may worry that blogging is harmful, it actually is one of the most effective ways to relieve stress.

I find that I get more pleasure out of other people's blogs than actually blogging myself; is that normal?

Absolutely. You don't have to blog yourself to enjoy blogging. You can visit other people's sites and enjoy their blogs. Technorati reports that there are well over 100 million blogs on the Internet; find the ones that satisfy your interests.

I tend to jump around indiscriminately from blog to blog; am I more susceptible to viruses because of this behavior?

Risky behavior leads to bad outcomes. Viruses tend to infect, replicate themselves and spread. So the more blog sites you visit... Fortunately, there are antivirus software programs that offer very good and free protection. Remember, everyone needs to protect themselves from viruses.

I was recently invited to join a blogging group, but I'm not sure I am ready for that; how do I know for sure?

Experienced bloggers often feel the urge to experiment. Blogger groups can be a great way to talk about and learn from each others' experiences. If you are unsure, start out with a small group and see how you like it.

I've been told that adding twittering to my blogging routine can significantly heighten awareness.

This is true; you should tweet your blog regularly. But don't just announce that you've published a new post, engage your Twitter followers in a conversation about the blog topic by asking a question and offering a link.

I have been a basic blogger for some time now and think it might be time to spice things up; where do I start?

Many people are perfectly satisfied with a basic blog life, while others like to take it to the next level. If you are curious about spicing things up, consider links to other sites, photos, videos and WAV files. But don't get too carried away; stay focused on substance over style.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Holy Crap, I Forgot About My Blog

The great thing about social media is that it allows you to connect with so many people in so many different ways almost all the time. The bad thing about social media is that it allows you to connect with so many people in so many different ways almost all the time.

When I was in grade school at St. Stephen's on West 54th Street, one of my best buddies was Mike Kichak. Mike was unquestionably the smartest boy and perhaps the smartest student overall in my class. And I was (believe it or not) considered the next smartest boy in my class. But Mike and I were as different as night and day.

Mike was blond haired, blue eyed; I was brown haired, hazel eyed. Mike was medium height, medium frame, I was short and slender. Mike was quiet and controlled; I was loud and out of control. Mike was almost always serious; I was almost always laughing. Mike was an only child; I was one of eight. Mike had a million personal possessions; I had whatever fit into my pockets.

In the classroom, Mike had separate pouches for his seemingly endless supply of pens, pencils, pencil sharpeners and erasures. I know because I had to borrow a new pencil from Mike almost every day... and he always gave me one. And at home, Mike had baseball cards and football cards, baseballs and footballs, ten pairs of tennis shoes, magazines and books and toys and games and stuff galore. He had everything.

In truth, he had too much.

There just wasn't enough time in the day to use all that stuff, yet alone enjoy it. Even if you jumped around like a Tasmanian Devil from thing to thing, you couldn't use it all. And even if you did, the quality of time would make it pointless.

Mike's mom and dad were beautiful, wonderful people; I loved them. And they loved their son, so you couldn't blame them for showering him with all the stuff. And Mike was a good guy who shared almost all of his stuff almost all the time (as much as you could expect an only child to share his stuff with the local rugrats).

But it used to make me nuts that he didn't at least TRY to play with all that stuff all the time. I mean for a kid looking into the toy store from the outside, I just didn't get it. So I would hound him: "Hey Mike, let's get out your erector set and build something." or "Hey Mikey, let's get out your chemistry set and make some slimy, stinky goo." But Mike would just say no. Even when his parents prodded him, he inevitably hung his head and moaned.

And finally, thirtysomething years later, I get it.

Social media is to me what all Mike's stuff was to him. I love my blog and I love my Facebook account and I love my LinkedIn account and I love YouTube and I love Twitter and I love the Steelheadsite message board and I love my fantasy football message board and I love all my online marketing groups and social media groups and my news alerts and RSS feeds and on and on and on.

But holy crap; suddenly I have to much stuff.

Apparently I have been oblivious to the fact that I have been stockpiling. And suddenly I am overwhelmed by all the stuff, all the choices, all the options. It's just too much. So I am making an early New Year's resolution: I am making some hard choices to spend more quality time with less stuff. Wish me luck.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Can Marketing Save Starbucks

According to Kraft's new CMO, Mary Beth West, "Great marketing drives business. If it doesn't, it doesn't really matter."

Forget for just a moment that Kraft's top marketing posts have experienced more turnovers in the past year than a Hungarian bakery; Mary Beth West is a proven asset. She's earned her stripes building Kraft Foods brands. She's bold, she's consistent and she respects the power of marketing.

So, in light of of Starbucks' announcement today that 4th quarter profitability fell 97%, I wondered what kind of marketing would be required to pull Howard Schultz' company up off the floor. After all, Starbucks' arch nemesis (MacDonald's) also made an announcement this week - global same-store sales jumped 8.2 percent during the month, beating the company's own prediction for a rise similar to the one it recorded in its last quarter (damn you, evil clown).

But who knows more about marketing than Chief Executive Howard Schultz of Starbucks? He has tried just about everything to turn the company around: He has conducted companywide staff training days, thrown out the bean shop's hot sandwich program and is closing hundreds of stores. But so far it isn't working.

Have I mentioned that I love Starbucks? Have I mentioned that I really admire Howard Schultz? Have I made it clear that marketing is my life?

But unlike me, most Wall Street analysts are not believers. They say that the ship is still taking on water and Schultz is ordering the band to play louder to drown out the noise.

But the thing I like about Schultz is the same thing I like about West, they are mareketing geniuses. Schultz has always been a MBWA kind of guy; he knows consumers and what they want and how they want it, and he serves it up as ordered. The problem at Starbucks may in fact be that the consumer marketplace just doesn't know what it wants right now.

Consider that our new president-elect is not coming into office with the endorsement of an overwhelming percentage of the population; he is squeaking in with a 1% margin. Consumers are confused, concerned, uncertain.

A $3.00 plus coffee drink is a luxury item for most Americans when they don't have the spare change (or do but are afraid to spend it) and can get a similar cup of coffee for considerably less. That's the bottom line.

Can marketing solve this problem? You bet. Can great marketing drive business back into Starbucks? You bet. Will Howard Schultz prove once again that he has the marketing savvy to give consumers what they are looking for? I'm betting on it.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

A Search Engine is a Terrible Thing to Waste

At the risk of offending my SEO/SEM friends, I have a bone to pick with the state of search.

Last night my daughter and I invested a solid hour searching online (on two separate computers) for a resource selling "down fill" for a winter jacket she is making. We began with the obvious search terms:

Down Fill
Down Filler
Goose Down
Goose Down Fill
Goose Down Filling

Almost immediately we noticed two trends. First, we were not finding what we were looking for. Second, the same web sites kept appearing in the paid ads and sponsored links sections of the results page. These usual subjects included www.target.com, www.NexTag.com, shopping.yahoo.com, overstock.com and shopzilla.com.

Naturally, we clicked on these links because the ad copy indicated that they sold goose down fill. But guess what? None of them sold it or had links to other sites that sold it. It was a ruse... a deception... a lie.

So we continued our journey, carefully refining and rethinking our search. We asked ourselves, "What exactly are we looking for?" And the answer was "goose or synthetic down fill to stuff into a jacket." Our new search terms included:

Loose Goose Down
Loose Goose Down Fill
Synthetic Goose Down
Synthetic Goose Down Fill
Goose Down Retailers
Goose Down Suppliers
Synthetic Down Manufacturers
Where to Buy Goose Down Fill

And we got lots of results for pillows and bedding and comforters and sleeping bags and furniture. And new paid advertisers showed up – Amazon.com, SmartBargains.com, ShopDownLite.com, www.local.com...

We tried new permutations:

Fill for Pillows
Down Used in Comforters
Pillow Stuffings

And we got Walmart.com and www.unitedpillows.com, www.cuddledown.com, JCPenney.com and ebay.com. But none of these ads or sponsored links took us to what we were looking for. Instead, they drove us to a home page to conduct another search on their sites, where we quickly learned that none of them sold down fill.

About this time, we began swearing openly... frickin' frackin' companies, smurfin' smarfin' search engines, rizzle frazzle pillow stores. I was frustrating as all get out.

So, what are Target and WalMart and JCPenney thinking? And what are Overstock and NexTag and Shopzilla thinking? Aren't they the least bit worried about damaging their brand by leading consumers down a dead end path? And who is telling them that this is a good idea? Is it their marketing people or their search engine people or their IT people? And where is Google in the middle of all this? Doesn't Google want to protect its reputation by not allowing organizations to buy search terms and phrases that lead people in the wrong direction?

As consumers, my daughter and I were pissed with all of these brands for wasting our time and pretending to be something that they were not. And by far, Target is the worst offender, presenting themselves as the purveyor of all things. You did not help us and you damaged your reputation in the process. Congratulations on that achievement.

As a marketing and public relations professional, I believe Google and the industry-at-large (including you search engine marketing pros) need to take a long, hard look at the search process as it exists today. You can only get away with successfully selling ads and sponsorships for so long if you aren't providing consumers a valuable service. Search engines are designed for the express purpose of helping consumers find things... not for getting lost.

As for the goose down fill, our search for "loose goose down fill" finally revealed a resource: www.sevenwondersdown.com.

Finally, this experience also revealed an interesting insight. For all the public worries that the Internet may eventually cause diminished communications skills, consider the talent required to know how to look for all those things you look for on the worldwide web.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

It's Good to be GOW2

[Shameless self-promotion alert: my son, Matt, who is presently boarding a jet for England to participate in the Euro launch of Gears of War 2, is an employee of Epic Games]

Sometimes I feel like that kid at the playground standing on the wrong side of the fence, watching the championship baseball game instead of playing in it. I love marketing and public relations, whether we are working with the smallest company on a minor project or a Fortune 50 industry icon rolling out a global campaign. It's all a challenge and it's all fun.

Still, every once in a great while I read or hear about a campaign I wish I was a part of. The upcoming (November 7) launch of Gears of War 2 would be a great example.

This game has been in the works since the introduction of the original Gears of War (4.5 million games sold worldwide). And the plans for its unveiling have been in the works for more than a year. Print and broadcast advertising, online advertising, publicity and media relations, blogger relations, guerrilla marketing, web site marketing, social networking, video sharing, trade show marketing, special events and on and on.

Not a stone has been left unturned. The funny thing is that most of it is probably unnecessary (words most companies dream of but never hear). This game is so amazing and has such a solid cult following that it will likely sell out faster than it can hit the shelves. There will be no need for Heidi Klum to dance around in her underclothes to promote this game (though a few gamers might enjoy it just the same).

Nonetheless, Microsoft and Epic are pulling out all the stops. Consider a few of the announcements recently reported:

Microsoft Corp. on Mon. said that the Gears of War 2 Live Weekend Assault will offer sweepstakes, tournaments and more on launch weekend.

On Thursday, November 6, 2008 Xbox Canada is going to be celebrating the launch of the hugely anticipated Xbox 360 exclusive, Gears of War 2, from Epic Games, which releases on November 7 worldwide.

Microsoft India held an event to pre-launch Gears of War 2 at a nightclub in central Mumbai.

Spike TV will celebrate the launch of one of this year’s most anticipated video games, Gears of War 2, with a half-hour special hosted by "GameTrailers TV’s" Geoff Keighley, which premieres Thursday, November 6 (11:30 PM - Midnight, ET/PT). Spike TV’s "Gears of War 2: The First Delta Squad" special will feature five die-hard gamers from around the country participating in a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, to be the first consumer in the world to play Epic Games Gears of War 2.

Well, you get the idea. This is exciting stuff. And as much as most game enthusiasts would love to be a part of the team that created this new release, I would love to be a member of the team that is launching it. But I don't see that happening any time soon... this is a special club and I don't have a membership.

Dominic Santiago: Looks like you need an access code.
Marcus Fenix: Hmm... Got one?
Dominic Santiago: Yeah, in my other pants.

Monday, November 3, 2008

What Would Jesus or Moses Do?

Thanks to the business I am in, thoughts (some normal, some less so) about the impact of marketing and media constantly fill my mind. It is both a blessing and a curse.

For example, while trimming ornamental grasses in the yard this weekend, I had a rather unusual thought: If Moses or Jesus were here today, how would they make use of 21st century marketing and media?

Quite frankly, I think the answer is self-evident. Moses and Jesus both took to the streets and the mountains and the synagogues and anywhere else crowds were likely to gather for the express purpose of spreading the word. These guys liked to talk and they liked having lots of people to talk to.

But would Moses and Jesus blog? Would they hire a publicist to conduct media relations? Would they have their own Web sites? What about social networking pages (Facebook or MySpace)? Would they host special events, employ guerrilla marketing, develop videos and download them to YouTube, would they advertise, use direct mail, conduct research?

Yes, yes, yes, yes and yes. Moses was on a mission – to deliver the Hebrews from slavery and share the Ten (or 14 or 15) Commandments. Jesus was likewise on a mission – to spread the good word of love and to fulfill the promise of salvation and reconciliation.

In both cases, getting the word out was paramount. And neither of these religious leaders had any qualms about doing whatever was necessary to make their points.... from unleashing the ten plagues and parting the Red Sea... to turning water to wine and bringing the dead back to life, Moses and Jesus were all about getting results. They were focused and they were bold.

And if marketing and media could help their cause, they would not hesitate to put them to use. But whether marketing and media would help Moses and Jesus to achieve their missions is a whole other question.