Archive for July, 2009

We were interested in last week’s news about Amazon’s purchase of online retailer Zappos.  In doing research for our book last year, NET Value, we learned that Zappos was not your garden-variety online retailer.  Instead, its model was pretty much what’s was, and is.  It wanted to be known as a service company that just happened to sell shoes, handbags, and everything else.  And like Amazon, Zappos realized that the “customer experience” should deliver everything a buyer wants.  Good fit for both companies.  Future value for customers, value now for shareholders.  Zappos understood, from its beginnings, the importance of the Net Promoter metric touted by Satmetrix.  It’s not enough to have satified customers.  What you want are customers who are loyal: the ones who’ll recommend you to their friends.


Take it from recruiters such as John Younger: the more specific and narrow your focus, the better your chances for finding a job in a very tough job market.   More and more people with jobs report that their own assignments, while having become more demanding, have still become more tightly defined.  It’s always been open season on marketing budgets, but now more than ever.  Companies, in various degrees of panic, are either (a) not spending anything, or (b) spending only on people and projects with very circumscribed definitions.  Think of going out to buy a piece of clothing based on thread count.  In your interview, or in your pitch for new business, the more knowledge you can get about the need that requires filling the better.  Only then can you be specific and definitive about what you want to do, what you’ve done and what it produced, as in incremental revenue, new customers, and marketshare (not “awareness” ) to a degree that makes you attractive.  Hiring managers, and potential clients, are under a bigger gun than ever to hire based on a list of specs.  Experience shows that this doesn’t always net the best person, but it makes the hiring company feel as though it did its diligence.  Pay heed.

Still wondering what the big deal is about Twitter, or how  it and Facebook stand to reap colossal rewards by being search engines powered by human crawlers sharing content?  Then look at this. It’s a glimpse into the future.  Of course, the trend will have to hold. Hard to believe that a technology that enables microblogging and a social networking site now exceed email as a way to share links (content).  Hey, it’s not your older sibling’s Web anymore.

Yes, we can understand newspapers, in small towns or big cities, charging for online content.  But isn’t it a moot point?  The Wall Street Journal charges, but it won’t stop anyone from pasting the headline into a Google search and reading the story for free.  The paper-to-pixels model is evolving.  We’re not there yet.

In PR and marketing and advertising, there are classic cases of how-to-do-it.  Apple comes to mind, of course.  Then there are the cases of how-not-to-do-it, of which there are countless examples.   And then there are the cases representing an object lesson in both.   May I present Murphy-Goode, a winery north of San Francisco, as the poster outfit for how-to and how-not-to utilize social media in marketing.  You can read about it here. Part of Jess Jackson’s empire, MG was reaping a PR bonanza for months with its online campaign to recruit a “lifestyle correspondent” to blog and tweet and do all things digital to promote the brand.  The next sound it heard was the crack of a large backfire.    Seems that some of the job seekers, Internet celebrities in their own right, thought of themselves as “contestants” in the style of American Idol.  They mobilized and enlisted their blogosphere/Twitter followers to vote for them.   The company, on the other hand, while recruiting a digital-media superstar, had been reserving the right to hire the  right candidate, not necessarily the one most adept at mounting the most powerful  campaign, in the way that a digital-media superstar could and would certainly do.  Today, the winery folks are really hearing it from online movers and shakers eager to remind the Winery folks about the rules of social media.  Rule Number One: Don’t Ignore the Players.  To me, though, the ultimately irony was this: here’s a winery about to hire what amounts to marketing dude, or dudette, and it just terminated the job of the marketing guy who conceived this PR coup in a cost-cutting move.  Go figure.

There’s no executive in or out of the Valley for whom I have more respect than Yahoo’s Carol Bartz.  Haven’t logged a whole lotta personal time with her but we overlapped at NetApp in the 1990s, she as a director and yours truly as the company’s minister of propaganda.  Seriously. I have the business card to prove that this was my actual title. But back to my main point, my respect for Ms. Bartz.  This is why I respectfully suggest that she do the following as part of her re-branding initiative:

1.  Identify what your users believe is the single most valuable benefit Yahoo delivers.  Know precisely what it is. Then design everything around this benefit, including the structure and operations of the company itself — and get rid of everything (and everybody) else.  She seems to be moving in this direction, but we’ll see how far.

2.  Drive the cost of adopting Yahoo services down to practically nothing.  Strive to make them the standard for simplicity and adopt-ability.  Make Yahoo’s stuff known as the go-to web services in search, news, entertainment, everything.

3.  Make your business model and advertising structure consistent with 1 and 2 above.

OK, you’re ready to roll.  I now respectfully suggest that you direct your new hires, former Y&R exec  Penny Baldwin and  ex-NetApp CMO Elisa Steele, to grade all creative material according to these criteria:

Is it unique to Yahoo?
Is it relevant to the user?
Can it be sustained over a lengthy period of time (long “shelf-life”)?
Is it comprehensive?
Does it lend itself to compelling communication and resonance with users?
Is it supportable internally (can it excite and energize your employees)?

BTW, we stand ready to contribute — especially  if you’re inundated with unsolicited vendor calls these days.

No knock on the good work of the publicists and firms cited in yesterday’s New York Times, but if there’s one thing I’ve learned in three decades of doing PR in Silicon Valley it is this:  it’ not about your contacts, your shmoozing gene, or the technology involved in “getting your message out”.  Today, this includes tweets, outreach to alpha-bloggers, etc.  It’s all about the merit of the story you’re telling and the way you pitch its news value.  If it’s not a good story, I don’t care who you know or how many times a day you tweet.  Especially in the digital culture, it’s still about your chops for recognizing a trend and how to sell into it.  It’s still about your instincts for knowing if and how what your pitching relates to something topical.   Just like in advertising, it’s not about the big technology (digital video, etc.) you’re using, but the big idea you’re selling.

Other things I learned:

> The best clients make the best agencies.  Good shops have always had a knack for picking winners (most of the time).  See: Regis McKenna. Less-than-stellar clients were never made into stars by hot agencies.  Clients typically received the PR they deserved. It was true 30 years ago when Commodore tried to challenge Apple and it’s no less true today.  I’ll refrain from the lipstick-on-a-pig metaphor, but it sure as hell is appropriate here.

>Know the difference between buzz and “fizz”.  Buzz is self-generating and it’s almost always associated with something of real value. Think Apple products.  Fizz inevitably goes flat and it’s always associated with something of limited (if any) value.  Stuff that’s contrived and inauthentic.   There are countless examples.