Author Archive: Willie Cole

The Marketing of Conceit


“Toleration is not the opposite of intolerance but the counterfeit of it. Both are despotisms: the one assumes to itself the right of withholding liberty of conscience, the other of granting it.”
 — Thomas PaineRights of Man

The longevity of the spurious concept of tolerance among smart people never ceases to amaze me. The brilliant Seth Godin, author of one of my favorite marketing booksplanted his flag on Tolerance Hill today, and I’m guessing that, as with most of Tolerance’s great advocates, no fierce bombardment of arguments could remove him from it.

Wisely, Godin was not specific or direct in his criticism, lest he alienate his fans. However, it’s possible to infer, given the entire context of the article, that he was subtly ridiculing a Polish politician who articulated a position that maintained that sizeable public investments should produce sustainable returns.

People who wrap themselves in the Tolerance Flag are quick to pat each other on the back to congratulate themselves on how tolerant and open-minded they are. However, they often mistake the self-congratulatory applause for being right, and they are quick to eschew all reason that contradicts them. They are so enamored with their assumed virtues that they lack interest in hearing any argument that demonstrates contradiction.

“The nations…cling to their opinions as much from pride as from conviction. They cherish them because they hold them to be just and because they chose them of their own free will; and they adhere to them, not only because they are true, but because they are their own… It was remarked by a man of genius that ‘ignorance lies at the two ends of knowledge.’ Perhaps it would have been more correct to say that strong convictions are found only at the two ends, and that doubt lies in the middle.” – Alexis de TocquevilleDemocracy in America

Tolerance is not a virtue, and it is not superior to intolerance. Both of them are simply conceit, and neither of them deserve marketer’s promotions.

If confronted with someone who doesn’t value the same things you do, you may indeed attempt to sway his opinion and change his behavior (after all, as Godin essentially notes, this is what marketing is about), but keep in mind that with respect to the virtue of those beliefs, “[N]o earthly power can determine between you.” – Cam Beck

Don’t Panic. Just Lead.

Bethharte_thom1At MPDailyFix, Beth Harte related a story about how a friend of hers, who is a senior-level marketer, was offered employment with junior-level pay. She goes on to explain some of the reasons this is happening and why she believes it will become more commonplace if marketers don’t show their value. She’s right. But if I can add my own perspective here, the problem Beth identifies can be understood economically and solved in the same terms.

Unemployment means there are too many people for too few jobs. In other words, there is a surplus of labor.

Surpluses tend to drive down prices.

The price of labor is measured in wages. Thus, when there is a labor surplus in any industry (like marketing), it tends to depress the wages of the people in that industry.

This is especially true when the hiring manager believes it doesn’t matter from which part of the labor pool he chooses. One person is just as good as another — or in Beth’s words — a commodity.

Being good — being great — these things don’t matter unless we distinguish ourselves from the rest of the pack. It is the perception of our expertise and effectiveness that will enable us to demand higher wages.

Actual expertise can help drive perceived expertise, but it does not guarantee it. Now, more than ever, a marketer must be both good and an excellent self-promoter.

Doing this effectively is about all the things Beth mentioned. Among them:

  • Be a leader.
  • Measure.
  • Document.
  • Foster and nurture relationships.
  • Continuously improve.

However, this effort shouldn’t resemble a campaign — which is temporary and smacks of insincerity. In order to assure others of our value, we must first strive to be valuable. We must both improve the product and promote the improvement.

Luckily, in our cases, the act of successfully promoting the improvement, in some ways, actually helps to improve the product — especially when we’re willing to make mistakes and learn from them.

Instead of curse the conditions that led to this difficulty, we must embrace it as an opportunity to revolutionize the way we practice marketing. And we can apply to our clients the wisdom we gained from the experience of practicing it on ourselves.

I’m afraid that this won’t guarantee a happy ending for everyone — even a lot of the good ones. However, being a jack of all trades (and more importantly, being the sort of person who can adapt to changing circumstances) all but promises that we’ll find someplace to be of use. – Cam Beck

Social media snake oil

Snake%20Oil%20SalesmanIt’s the latest thing. What every brand needs to be engaged in if they’re going to survive. You have to be on it.

That’s the message that a lot of people are sending to marketers out there. Unfortunately, many of them are listening and haphazzardly putting their brands and reputations at risk. Creating a Facebook group, a Twitter feed and a Ning social network is not something every brand needs or can benefit from.

Here are ten ways to know if you’re selling social media snake oil:

10. You tell your clients that EVERY brand needs a Twitter account.

9. You really think the web will eventually be more like Second Life and everyone will have an avatar.

8. You think even B2B companies should have a Facebook page.

7. You have more social media presentations than actual examples of social media work that you’ve participated in.

6. You think Ashton Kutcher really is more popular than CNN because he has more followers.

5. You’re considering opening up your own twitter agency.

4. Most of your experience with social media is due to your own self-promotion via social media tools.

3. You’re speechless when people ask you how to measure social media.

2. The NING network you set up only has five members, one of which is your mom who hasn’t been on it in months.

1. It’s the only thing you sell or do.

The bottom line here is that social media is great. It may disrupt and change everything we do in on-line marketing but it’s not likely. If you’ve been doing on-line marketing for more than five years, you’ve seen a lot of these things come. They don’t usually go but they become part of the framework. At the end of the day it’s about your competitive environment, your customer and your strategy. Work on those first and then understand which tool is the right fit.

I don’t agree with everything he says but Jaffe had a great rant on Twitter:

– Paul Herring

Know your limits. And push them cheerfully.

One of the great things about having a toddler is the lessons they can teach you about the value of having the proper outlook on life.

This weekend we cleaned my son’s room. And by “we,” I mean my wife and my son, Avery. I brought my daughter, Faith, in there just to get in their way provide moral support.

Now, both Faith and Avery have a lot of stuffed animals, but Avery keeps his on top of a bookshelf and far out of reach of anyone who hasn’t yet been through puberty.

Still, they’re plainly visible to anyone, and of course Faith is still young enough to enjoy them. Finding one that struck her fancy, she pointed up at the stuffed animals on top of the book shelf and said hopefully, “Kitt-ee Cat? Mee-oooowww!”

Those of you with kids might expect that this wasn’t a request or a question. She was going to get the stuffed animal she wanted. The problem was that Avery has no stuffed felines. I would have gladly gotten it for her for a “please,” (which I would have gotten), but I didn’t know exactly what she was asking for.

“No, sweetie. There are no kitty cats. Do you want the stuffed doggie instead?”

“I’we get it,” she helpfully chimed. And with no hesitation, she leaped a good inch or two off the ground, coming a mere 5 feet shy of touching the nearest stuffed animal.

Everyone else in the room just lost it, and Faith was happy enough to join the fun (even though she likely didn’t know why we were laughing).

I noticed something else, though: She only jumped once.

She didn’t keep jumping, hoping the next time the result would be different. She jumped once, learned conclusively that this particular method of obtaining what she wanted was beyond her limits, and then she found another way.

Had I not gotten it for her, I wonder if she would have moved a chair into position to take another shot at it, but there are some things I’d prefer she not have to learn the hard way. – Cam Beck

Can they make it to profitability?

Social_media_non_profit11In a recession what’s real in terms of sustainable business models comes to light. I lived through the dot com boom and there were any number of companies that were “changing the rules” or creating a new economy. Economics, unfortunately, is a lot like gravity. It’s pretty difficult to change the rules.

YouTube and Facebook have changed the world online. It’s hard to remember how hard it was to post a video online before YouTube.  Facebook has successfully created the first global scale online community and seems to becoming one of those sites that just about everyone visits and engages with on a daily basis.

The problem is that neiter one is profitable. Although YouTube has seen tremendous growth its still yet to come up with a way to monetize that growth into profitability. The number of ads that Facebook would have to display based on their own tool is staggering. Both are in desperate need of a new advertising model that can either show direct correlation to sales or one that proves that brand awareness can be built on these site more effectively than through other vehicles, say TV.

At the peak of economic growth, like in 2007, companies are willing to invest in what hasn’t been proven. In the depth of a recession, however, the hard questions get asked and just like during the dot com boom, many companies cease to exist.

I don’t think this will happen to either of these companies. However, something has to change with both of them in order for them to be sustainable for the long term. I’m just not sure that anyone, including those inside the company, know what that something is.

– Paul Herring

Conflicts of Interest

The skeptic is not one who doesn’t believe anything without proof. He’s just one who believes that people tend to act according to their own self-interests. Like the marketplace itself, this is neither good nor bad. It’s just a force of nature.

Consider the following examples:

  • Google CEO’s Eric Schmidt said that journalists should rely on online advertising. Did Schmidt make this assessment because it’s right, or because 98% of Google’s income is comprised of advertising revenue, and to state otherwise would be heresy?
  • College professors and administrators tout the benefits of a college degree. Perhaps they teach because they believe it’s true. Maybe they believe it’s true because they teach. What’s clear is that without a steady stream of believers, they would have to find employment elsewhere.
  • Politicians want to prove they care about you by spending money on things that you care about — and that the other guy doesn’t care as much about you because he doesn’t want to spend it on those things.  To maintain their position, however, they need you to forget that it’s your money anyway, and their decision to take and spend your money removes your ability to choose what to do with it.
  • The voters who elect them are no different, of course. They will happily cast their lot with the person or people who appears to promise the most while taking the least — from them. That these promises must be paid for by someone else appears to be of little consequence.
  • Companies want you to believe that owning their product or enjoying their service is better than the alternative, even if the alternative includes keeping your own money. Of course, their livelihoods depend on your being convinced of this.
  • Companies also have a strong desire to pay you as little as they can without causing you to leave, and you have a strong incentive to get the best compensation package the market will bear.
  • Unions want to convince you that market forces (including the freedom to choose where to work) are insufficient safeguards against abuse. Pay no mind to how increased union rolls fattens the pockets of the union bosses.

Powerful people can always mitigate the forces of self-interest, but it’s useful to examine what their interests are before subscribing to their demands. – Cam Beck

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Magazines vs. TV vs. Online

Which medium is the most effective? It’s a question that every type of marketing agency is asking every day. Many people, media publishers and agencies default to the medium they have the most experience in.

One of the most recent studies getting coverage from McPheters & Company gets what will be a controversial heading “TV and Magazine Ads More Effective Than Ads on Internet“. The study, commissioned by Condé Nast and CBS Vision, a major publisher and a major television network (insert red flag of potential bias) concludes that:

Within a half hour, magazines effectively delivered more than twice the number of ad impressions as TV and more than 6 times those delivered on-line.

Among web users, 63% of banner ads were not seen. Respondents’ eyes passed over 37% of the Internet ads and stopped on slightly less than a third.

Though TV doesn’t deliver as many ads per half hour as do magazines, net recall of TV ads was almost twice that of magazine ads; magazines in turn had ad recall almost three times that of Internet banner ads.

I don’t question these results. I do believe that many Internet users have trained themselves to ignore banner ads. Also, I do believe that both television and magazines can be an effective advertising medium. However, I think the study doesn’t consider a number of things, including:

Cost – What’s the cost per impression for each of the three scenarios. Sure, maybe my banner ad only gets noticed say 1/3 of the time. However, if my banner ad cost is 1/20 of a television or print advertisement, then which is the better investment?

Placements and technology – These days, anyone who buys on-line media will not buy just banner ads. Typically there are sponsorship, custome placements in certain sections of sites and on-line promotions. In addition there are a number of different types of networks that can use technology that’s not available offline to serve the ad to the right audience at the right time.

Rich media and video – Not all banner ads are created equal. Rich media ads and video ads tend, in general, to get a much higher response rate than regular banner ads and sometimes higher than their offline counterparts.

Optimization – If your on-line media buy isn’t working, you can modify and optimize your buy on a periodic basis, even monthly. You can’t do that with a print and television ad nearly as quickly if at all.

Maybe the problem here is that we’re asking the wrong question. Maybe it shouldn’t be which medium is most effective. We should take a look at the brand and product we’re trying to promote and customize an approach based on our customer. With a budget large enough to do TV ads or even print ads, an integrated campaign using all three components together should be considered. Its just not a simple matter of plugging and playing into the “most effective media”.

– Paul Herring

Alright, Amazon. I’m sold on the new Kindle. Now can you deliver?


When the first Kindle was launched, I admiringly took a look at the features it offered and considered some ways it could be improved. Others had some of the same ideas.  Although the next-generation Kindle that Amazon announced today doesn’t implement all of the suggestions, it improved in two ways that convinced me that I could really use this device to become more productive.

2007 suggestion:

Enable audio and ability to listen in car. This would kill my need to buy a traditional book again, and would be well worth the cost. In fact, I’d pay three times as much for each book if the audio version were included, in spite of the difficulties above. Then I could listen to books on my commute and read and reference books elsewhere. I’d even repurchase the books I’d already bought just so I could listen and/or read on my own terms, in my own time.

Kindle v2 improvements

Read-to-Me Feature – Now Kindle can read to you. With the new Text-to-Speech feature, Kindle can read every book, blog, magazine, and newspaper out loud to you. You can switch back and forth between reading and listening, and your spot is automatically saved. Pages automatically turn while the content is being read, so you can listen hands-free. You can choose from both male and female voices which can be sped up or slowed down to suit your preference. Anything you can read on Kindle, Kindle can read to you, including books, newspapers, magazines, blogs and even personal documents. In the middle of a great book or article but have to jump in the car? Simply turn on Text-to-Speech and listen on the go.

Audiobooks – With Kindle, you are able to download and enjoy more than 50,000 audio titles from, including bestselling audio books, radio programs, audio newspapers, and magazines. Due to their file size, audiobooks are downloaded to your PC over your existing Internet connection and then transferred to Kindle using the included USB 2.0 cable. Listen via Kindle’s speaker or plug in your headphones for private listening.

I should mention that a couple of my 2007 criticisms were off the mark. For instance, owners would be able to access their entire library online, so if they lost or destroyed their Kindle, their library wouldn’t be at risk.

Although I still recognize the social nature of discovery and therefore believe in the utility of temporary book sharing (peer-to-peer and library-to-user)  the practical side of me says that publishers will never agree to it as long as they fear poaching, which is always. However, their Whispersync technology may eventually prove me wrong.

All said, even with a $356 price point, the Kindle may be the must-have device of 2009. Hopefully Amazon will be able to overcome the manufacturing difficulties that plagued the launch of their first device. – Cam Beck

Are you in the business you think you are in?

A lot of people go into a business for themselves because they have an overriding passion for an area  in which they also  have a lot of expertise, but they later discover that there is a lot more to running a business than they imagined. There are books to keep. Employees to hire. Regulations to which they must conform. But imagine you’re Wilbur or Orville Wright, who, in addition to running their own bicycle business, decided to take on the “problem of flight,” which included not only successfully flying a heavier-than-air craft under its own power, but also maneuvering in mid-air.

Oh, and due to a general human intolerance to blunt force trauma and impalement, landing alive consistently was another important issue to solve.

But what business were the Wrights in? Weren’t they just bicycle men?

Well, yeah. But they were so much more than that.

They were even more than entrepreneurs or even inventors. They were all of these things.

But chiefly they were problem solvers who, importantly, were not afraid to try, though they might fail.

So many times we allow others to define us, and we refuse to break out of our boxes for fear that we would be ridiculed by those who have more “expertise” than us.

When you find yourself in this situation, think of the two brothers from Ohio. And remember that their success depended on their doing, not on what others may have expected of them based on their credentials. – Cam Beck

Taking Risks

Today, Seth Godin published a piece on how costs of being current and up-to-date may be higher than sitting back and waiting just a little while. He isn’t necessarily opposed to “investing in now,” but rather he suggests to audit the amount you’re investing to ensure it’s being used wisely.

It’s always good advice to be wise with your money.

But let’s also not forget that, according to Seth Godin himself, being safe is also risky.

Is this a contradiction?

I don’t think so. It’s just a matter of embracing the what Jim Collins and Jerry Porras called “the genius of the ‘and’.” It’s possible to be both wise and to take risks on being current on any given subject.

Wisdom doesn’t guarantee success, though.

Even if you invest thousands of hours finding resources to help you increase your intellect and wisdom, you may fall flat on your tail. That time you spent is wasted only if you stay there.

The stupid and unwise may occasionally find a measure of success. But success rarely, if ever, favors the timid.

Be bold. – Cam Beck