Archives for August 2005

More on Minding & Starting Conversations

This post is by Michael Pollock, the original owner of Small Business Branding. Yaro Starak now owns and produces the latest content for this blog.

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Imagine this conversation (I’m paraphrasing) …

Customer 1: This product sucks.
Product Maker: No it doesn’t, you’re using it wrong. Try this …
Customer 2: Dude, really, your product sucks because of this one feature.
Customer 3: I agree with customers 1 and 2. 
Product Maker: Yeah, when you put it that way, that feature is pretty lame. I’ll see if we can do it another way.

This is a conversation that actually took place. I tracked it down on a message board. Wasn’t hard to find either. I just entered the name of a product into Google and clicked "Google Search." (UPDATE: Link to message board.)

It used to be you had to spend gobs of cash to find out what people were saying about you, if they were saying anything at all.

It used to be you had to spend gobs of cash just to get people talking about you (i.e. advertising). For example, how much do you think it would have set you back to take a S. African-made wine brand and build it into something people are talking about all over the globe? Millions, right? Not any more.

Blogger Hugh Macleod has spent the last three months spreading good will – in the form of free Stormhoek wine – among the Eastern Western European blogosphere. 

Hugh Macleod: "The main purpose of this exercise is to make Stormhoek the first major wine brand to take the Cluetrain seriously. ‘Markets are conversations’ etc. This freebie promo is hopefully not too bad a conversation starter. Time will tell."

Next, according to Hugh "is to roll the idea out to both the United States and Western Europe.
We’re looking into the logisitics now (shipping costs etc.). I’ll keep
you posted."

It used to be it took an act of congress to force an 80 billion dollar company to change the way it does things. Now all it takes is one pissed off, buzzing blogger.

"DELL COMPUTERS, INC., WHICH CAME under
fire this summer from blogger Jeff Jarvis, says it has new procedures
for dealing with the blogosphere. The company’s public relations
department monitors blogs, looking for commentaries and
complaints–and, starting about a month ago, began forwarding
complaints with personally identifiable information to the customer
service department so that representatives can contact dissatisfied
consumers directly, said Dell spokeswoman Jennifer Davis. The move
appears to have been triggered by a series of "Dell Hell" posts penned
by Jarvis about his problems with a Dell computer. Jarvis first wrote
about the topic in June, and continued posting updates through the
summer." Shankar Gupta, Media Post Publication

The lesson, while not necessarily new, is glaringly simple, yes?

Part one: Make/offer a remarkable product, and do everything you can to get people talking about it. The twist, of course, is you no longer need to spend millions on a a Super Bowl commercial to do that.

Part two: When people do start talking about you, respond to what they’re saying. ASAP.

Part three: Free booze can’t hurt either.

Good Design is a Luxury

This post is by Michael Pollock, the original owner of Small Business Branding. Yaro Starak now owns and produces the latest content for this blog.

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How much time and money should you spend on a beautifully designed blog, website or marketing materials? Personally, I’m a design freak. I like my blog and other materials to look good. But frankly, it’s not always a good business decision to invest the time and money it might take to make it look beautiful. It just makes me feel better.

I probably never would have said that publicly until I read a post from Peter over at The Blog Studio blog titled: A well designed blog is a luxury item (after all, who needs a bunch of pissed-off designers telling you what an idiot they think you are for marginalizing their craft, which I’m not, but I’m sure many would take it that way). 

"The argument that I’m going for here is that by investing in great
design, you feel good about your site, you take care of it, it
flourishes, etc etc. But I have to remind myself that there is no point
to luxury other than making you feel good: there’s no need to make a
business case for it. It is its own justification."

Ultimately, I believe if your budget allows for it, beautiful design if a great thing. What really matters though is the clear communication of your message and a high degree of usability. People need to know who you are, what you do and why that matters to them. It needs to compel them to take the next step toward beginning a relationship with you (e.g. contact you, sign up for a newsletter, make a purchase, request info, etc).

Of course, if a big part of your brand image is beauty, then you need to maintain that image. Can you imagine Apple posting a page on it’s site that looked cluttered, cheesy or anything other than deliciously elegant? Just wouldn’t work. We’ve come to expect certain things from Apple, and they need to at least fulfill, if not exceed, those expectations every single time.

I always use del.icio.us as an example of a product that’s one of the most popular applications of it’s kind. And it’s ugly. For those of us who use it though, we don’t care what it looks like. It does what we expect it to do each and every time we use it, and it’s pretty damn easy to use. Okay, I know it’s free, but even if it wasn’t I’d still use it. A more aesthetically pleasing design may give it a sharper edge as competition increases in the social software market, but for now it’s a pretty strong competitor.

Ultimately, I think you have to understand what your core network of people expects from you. If you are a copywriter, they expect great copy, so your design is relatively unimportant. If you are some sort of designer, however, people probably expect beauty from you. Whatever the case, make sure to make your message clear and compelling with a parallel focus on ease-of-use. If you can afford the luxury of beauty, by all means, please make that investment. I, for one, will appreciate you for it.

What Radio Station Employees Can Do Without the Station

This post is by Michael Pollock, the original owner of Small Business Branding. Yaro Starak now owns and produces the latest content for this blog.

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"Transmitters? We don’t need no stinking transmitters." If you listen to Adam Curry’s Daily Source Code podcast, that’s the rebellious mantra you’ll hear in the introductory music. Of course, you’d expect that kind of maverick mentality from podcasters, right? What about a group of radio station employees though? And not just any backwater radio station, but CBC, Canada’s national public radio.

CBCUnplugged: "Locked-out
CBC Radio workers in Vancouver will record a one-hour program from the
picket line, and five radio stations have now agreed to carry the
broadcast."

Citizen Journalism is Creating It’s Own Ethics

This post is by Michael Pollock, the original owner of Small Business Branding. Yaro Starak now owns and produces the latest content for this blog.

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Citizen journalism, from Wikipedia:

"also known as ‘participatory journalism,’ is
the act of citizens ‘playing an active role in the process of
collecting, reporting, analyzing and disseminating news and
information,’ according to the seminal report We Media: How Audiences are Shaping the Future of News and Information,
by Shayne Bowman and Chris Willis. They say, ‘The intent of this
participation is to provide independent, reliable, accurate,
wide-ranging and relevant information that a democracy requires."

Much has been said about how technology advances (i.e. blogs, RSS, podcasts, etc.) have placed the power of mass communication into the hands of every-day citizens like you and me. And it’s interesting to watch as we learn how to play with that power and use it responsibly.

It’s probably not new, but what I’m starting to notice is how we are beginning to create and/or articulate an ethical foundation to support this new power. One person (among many) I see leading the way in that regard is Doc Searls:

"Here’s a question: Would you pass along
unsubstantiated ‘news’ that is clearly a rumor? Say, about a company’s
new product, or somebody’s new job, or the sale of one company to
another …

"So I’m thinking again, not just about fact-checking
to avoid mistakes, but fact-checking to avoid the temptation to spin
stories one way or another.

"That temptation is one that faces all journalists: amateurs as well as professionals.

"Following that temptation isn’t so bad if it meets the Hippocratic standard: First, do no harm.

"But is that what we’re trying to do when we run or point to unsubstantiated rumors?

"Just wondering."

What you say to 1 or 2 people has little importance outside the the circle of those 1 or 2 people. But when hundreds or thousands of people start listening to what you have to say – as your influence grows – a whole new level of responsibility comes with it.

BTW, I’m not meaning to preach or lecture here.

Just sort of thinking out-loud …

Collectively, as we grow and mature, we’re moving away from a society being controlled, filtered and influenced by the traditional power brokers (i.e. government, big corps, big media). And I suppose for that growth to continue, we must police ourselves. We must create/articluate our own standards and ethical foundation.

It’s fun to watch it happen, and I wonder where we’ll be in 10, 20, 30 years … globally, where will we be?

Minding the Conversation

This post is by Michael Pollock, the original owner of Small Business Branding. Yaro Starak now owns and produces the latest content for this blog.

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I wrote yesterday about how Feedster CEO Scott Rafer contacted me just 3 hours after I wrote about their Top 500 Blogs list.

Steve Mafosky Makofsky (The Furry Goat Experience) shares a similar experience he had with Otaku Software. Seems he complained about Otaku’s Top Desk application publicly on his blog, and here’s what followed:

"I never contacted Otaku Software, yet James Stewart found my blog post and responded with his thoughts on the reasoning behind they implemented their registration reminder system in that way. He even went the extra mile and offered me a free version of the software because I was disappointed in it.."

Robert Scoble (one of the most frequently read bloggers on the planet) picked up the story yesterday and posted it on his blog. That kind of PR is nearly the equivalent of being picked up by a major, national newspaper. All because Otaku’s people are minding the conversation going on about them in the media (blogosphere) and responding immediately to what’s being said.

Naked Conversations

This post is by Michael Pollock, the original owner of Small Business Branding. Yaro Starak now owns and produces the latest content for this blog.

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Scoble reports Naked Conversations is available for preordering over at Amazon. The full title is  Naked Conversations : How Blogs are Changing the Way Businesses Talk with Customers.

Written by Robert Scoble and Shel Israel, Naked Conversations is another book written with the help and participation of an entire community of people via the Naked Conversations blog. Call it open-source publishing or open-source product development perhaps, but it’s a growing trend among writers and savvy soloprenuers.

More on Human Information Aggregators

This post is by Michael Pollock, the original owner of Small Business Branding. Yaro Starak now owns and produces the latest content for this blog.

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Rex highlights the importance of human information aggregators:

Rexblog: "… I’ve come to believe it is a competitive advantage to have others in my
line of work continue to slog through information overload and
communication chaos while I speed-read through highly organized RSS
news feeds, converse via gmail and IM and let bloggers I trust filter
out the noise." (emphasis mine)

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