Latest Posts

Marketers: Don’t Prey. Pray.


Today is the National Day of Prayer in the U.S.

I originally did not intend to write a post about it, but as I drove to work, listening to the Focus on the Family broadcast, I reflected on something CK said to me once about how people have a distaste for marketers because they expect them to prey on people. If that’s true, then marketers are seriously lacking in proper ethics and behavior.

Perhaps, I thought, this would be a good time to reflect on the things we can do to increase the likelihood that we behave in a way that brings credit to ourselves and our profession. I then was reminded, as I often am, on the wise admonition of George Washington.

Let us with caution indulge the supposition that morality can be maintained without religion. Reason and experience both forbid us to expect that national morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principle. – George Washington

If CK’s assessment is right, then I’m convinced that we need less preying and more praying.

The verse that immediately came to mind was Matthew 6:5-6, but before I posted it, I decided to break out and dust off (yeah, I know) my old study Bible and look up today’s memorization verse. It’s a much more appropriate passage for marketers, given our fears and motivations, don’t you think?

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Then you will call upon me and come to pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. – Jeremiah 32:27 (NIV)

I won’t go into a long analysis of what that passage means, but instead will ask you to consider and meditate on it. Also, if you are so inclined  — and even if you are usually not much for praying — I would greatly appreciate your prayers, not only for me, but also for our leaders and our countries. – Cam Beck

Subscribe to this feed • Share on Facebook • Add to

Ad:Tech Parting Thoughts: Are Conferences a Waste of Time?

This last week I had the great fortune of being invited to attend Ad:Tech San Francisco, along with RyanSeanKatie, and Paul, on behalf of Tim and Wendy McHale of The Madison Avenue Journal. It was a fun, rewarding experience on a personal level, but when I came back, I knew I would have to answer the question (both for myself and for my company): Can companies regularly justify the (sometimes hefty) entrance fee for events like these?

I can’t speak for all conferences, but on this one, I can say I will recommend my company, Click Here, send at least one representative per year, if not two.

To be sure, not all sessions had equal merit. Some of the panelists were throwing around buzzwords like they were going out of style. Several times I expected half the audience to stand up and shout, “Bingo!”

As Dave Barry would say — I swear I’m not making this up — I heard one panelists say “engagement” six times in one sentence. The more he used the word, the less it applied to me. I had enough.


Is there an echo in here?
Also, I didn’t always agree with (or I didn’t always understand) the keynote speakers and panelists. This is a good thing. I figure that, as a general rule, if you are attending only those conferences and speeches where everyone agrees with you and they’re only talking about things that everybody knows, you aren’t stretching yourself nearly enough.

If no one disagrees with you, you’re probably in an echo chamber. That’s a dangerous place to be. That’s why, by the way, I told Ann Handley and Paul Barsch, in the comments of a post on that I want to hear from people who hate what I write.

There’s no way to get better feedback and fine tune your own thinking than to stand toe-to-toe with someone who will kill or die (figuratively) for a competing idea.

There were plenty of moments I was also in some speaker’s “Amen” corner. There was some passionate disagreements between panel members — and between the panel members and the Twitterers. These are the sorts of disagreements from which innovation springs.

5 reasons you should attend these conferences

  1. Networking. I met a lot of good people at Ad:Tech, and got an opportunity to see others I don’t get the opportunity to see that much.
  2. Exposure. I don’t care who you are, it’s good for those in your industry to be aware of what your company does. If you need business, with over 10,000 people in attendance, this is a good way to build it. Maybe you have all the customers you can handle, and if so, good for you! But nothing is perpetual in business except change. So it will be nice to be on the top of someone else’s mind when they happen across a situation that causes them to reflect, “Hey, I know the perfect company for your project.”
  3. Education. We’re apt to think that our problems and challenges are unique, but in reality there isn’t much that is new under the sun, if you know what to look for. Chances are you’ll come across someone, either in conversation or by watching a keynote or panel discussion, who has found a way to tackle something you’ve been struggling with, and it might spark an idea on you can approach your situation.
  4. Trend-spotting. Where is the industry heading? What are the buzzwords? Hint: If you haven’t heard any new ones lately, see my warning about being in an echo chamber.
  5. Vendor research. This is sort of a combination of all of the other reasons, but it deserves its own space for the extent to which you can educate yourself about the companies out there who are, in pursuit of their own interests, dying to help you solve your business problems. I know a lot of us get pitched by potential vendors all the time, but it’s hard to beat the opportunity to see so many of them in one place, at one time.

The ideal conference strategy
Depending on your budget and human resources, I recommend sending at least two representatives to these conferences. One person would be the designated seminar attendee, and the other would attend all the vendor demonstrations.

For a multi-day event, these attendees should meet 2-3 times daily to discuss what they learned, how it applies to their company, and what their respective next steps should be. Ask questions like:

  • What seminars should I attend?
  • Should I ask any questions?
  • What types of vendors should I look for?
  • What questions should I ask them?

It is impossible to attend every seminar. What’s more, it’s still difficult to attend seminars all day and still get a good run of all the vendors. With two company representatives in attendance, you can build enough contacts to keep several members of your company busy for awhile, just vetting out everything you have learned at the conference.

Yes, that takes time and effort and money. But the alternative is to become stale and to slowly lose relevance to your customers. It’s much less expensive to simply attend the conferences. – Cam Beck

The Problem with Price Controls

Juan_valdez_cafe_de_colombiaPrice helps people make decisions. It helps them prioritize. It helps people assign value and meaning to objects. Efforts to centrally control prices have historically caused more problems than they have solved.

By way of example, let’s keep using the coffee analogy we used yesterday to explain the free exchange of goods and services using a common currency.

A 75-cent a cup of joe has a low cost of entry, and therefore it is accessible by just about anyone.

It would be considered a drink for common people.

However, if there were a great coffee famine in Columbia, the price of coffee might shoot up to $15 per cup, and people would be forced to be more judicious with their consumption of coffee.

Keep in mind that the price of producing the coffee would not increase on lands unaffected by the famine. Their costs are exactly the same, only now they can sell their coffee at a higher price because the global supply would be affected.

Most of us — even those who work at an ad agency — would find a way to live without coffee.

With increased prices, it would be considered a drink for the affluent.

To ease your caffeine addiction, you might substitute sodas, tea, energy drinks — something else — in the place of coffee, but you probably would not have bothered were the price of coffee not so high.

Now, a few things could happen from this point. Probably a number of them would happen at once.

  1. The price of sodas, tea, and energy drinks may increase due to the elevated demand, especially if supply could not be increased quickly.
  2. The price of coffee could fall with demand until an equilibrium was met.
  3. If the famine seems as if it will be sustained, some would invest in coffee growth to cash in on greater margins the crop promises to yield.

The growers outside of Columbia would experience a huge spike in their margins: Their costs would have stayed the same, but they would charge a higher price.

To compensate for this horrible famine and “obvious example” of market failure, typified by the “excess profits” of “big coffee,” government may pass a “coffee stimulus package” or place controls on the price of coffee — or promising hefty fines to anyone who “gouges the customers.”

This line of reasoning is completely bunk.

Were price controls to pass (or if the coffee growers were sufficiently afraid of congressional reprimands for making a profit), people would go on consuming coffee as they normally had, but with the decrease in the global coffee supply, this would cause a coffee shortage, and a lot of people who wanted a cup of coffee and who would have paid for it at full market value would not be able to obtain one.

What about price-gouging?
Say you bought a truckload of (Columbian!) coffee before the famine hit, and you paid $3 per pound. After the famine hit, the value of that coffee significantly increased, even though your costs did not. If you’re going to sell your current supply, you have a choice:

  1. Sell the stock at a same margins you had been before the famine.
  2. Sell the stock at a rate that would allow you to buy and sell more.

Choosing option #1 would stave off the Congressional investigations, but option #2 will allow you to earn a living. With option #1, you wouldn’t earn enough to buy much coffee. Option #2 would ensure you had ample supply for people willing to open their eyes to the reality of the shortage before them.

Plus, as we explored yesterday, no one is forced to buy what you have, at your price.

Price helps govern demand so that supply is adequate.

If anyone were selling coffee at the previous levels, the smart business person would buy up his entire stock and resell it at market price. Plus, if your competitor decided to charge above what the market would bear, people would naturally consume less, which would result in less income for your competitor.

In this way, prices regulate themselves.

People have a choice to use their money how they wish in a marketplace of virtually infinite options. They will refuse to buy if the price is too high. And they make these decisions every day, on their own and without government interference.

This does not mean that everyone always makes the best possible choices from the available options, but the choice is theirs, and no one else’s. That is freedom.

(This implies, by the way, that freedom requires a certain level of discernment and wisdom — a topic for another day)

In fact, government interference just restricts companies from compensating for the realities of the marketplace, which makes it harder for them to make a profit, employ people, grow their businesses, and maintain a high level of productivity that is necessary for a growing economy. – Cam Beck

Next time
It would be useful to talk about how these principles apply to something specific that’s in the news. You get to decide which. Here are your options.

  1. The housing market
  2. Gasoline
  3. The consequences of the XM/Sirius merger

Please cast your vote in the comments section, along with anything else you’d like to talk about.

The Road to Great Success is Paved with Miserable Failures

D9ae2dfe44a94fc4b141ed1602b97b93imgI just finished a wonderful book called New Ideas from Dead CEOs. The book, written by Todd G. Buchholtz, is at times irreverent and witty, at others poignant, but it is always insightful. The author examines the lives and careers of 12 different CEOs and what made them successful. He concludes that they are united by one common thread: failure.

Sam Walton franchised a five-and-dime and, in spite of being beholden to an unfavorable franchising contract, turned it into a successful business, only to be denied a renewal of his lease, because the property owner was overcome with a sense of nepotism and wanted to give the proven real estate to his son.

This gave rise to his desire to be free from artificial and arbitrary restraints set by others, and he eventually became the world’s richest person.

Walt Disney was conned out of the right to use one of the first characters he created. He since developed a company that became notorious for ferociously protecting its trademarks and copyrights.

Having toiled in poverty for a good portion of his early life and career, one of his finest creations, Walt Disney World, is now the largest single-site employer in the U.S.

Ray Kroc, a high school dropout,  built a business by convincing companies that sold shakes and malts (such as Walgreens) that using paper cups instead of glassware would increase their sales volume. Kroc further helped their businesses by devising a contraption that would allow them to make multiple shakes at once.

World War II and a slew of other factors caused orders for his machines to slow to a near stop. When he happened upon a couple of brothers in California selling quick lunches (and shakes!), Kroc saw an opportunity to transform the way Americans saw lunch.

Though he may have too hastily signed a contract detailing the franchising opportunity, he never relented in his pursuit of his dream, and after more than five years of quality management and trying to make ends meet (assuming enormous debt to buy out his less ambitious business partners), McDonald’s started making a profit, and eventually served “billions and billions” of burgers that, at the time, far exceeded the standard fare of the day.

Additionally, Kroc’s franchise terms were much more favorable than his competitors, and he favored the working middle class, who had a stake in their store’s output.

Mary Kay Ash was a dedicated wife until her first husband, just home from World War II, decided he wanted a divorce. She remained a good mother throughout her life, but having been thrown into the role of breadwinner for her kids, she became a savvy businesswoman trying to be successful in a world where men were preferred and where her success was often punished.

The woman whose name would become synonymous with facial cleansers, makeup parties, and Pink Cadillacs defied all expectations of the bankers who refused her along the way by fostering an entrepreneurial spirit in women looking to make a few extra bucks or those looking to build their own empires.

I would be hard-pressed to pick any one CEO examined in Buchholtz’s book who I admire more than any other, but if pressed I might have to toss a coin to decide between Mary Kay Ash and David Sarnoff, the patriotic immigrant who not only founded RCA and revolutionized entertainment, but who was also instrumental in creating the communication plan that allowed the Allies to coordinate D-Day in World War II.

All of these CEOs, as well as the others examined, had to leap hurdles so high that most people would not have bothered to try to overcome them. Most people would quit and resign themselves to working for someone else.

These CEOs did not point to their failures as an example of market failure. They did not ask anyone else to solve their problems. They simply assessed the situation and worked tirelessly to find a way to add more value to others than anyone else could.

They tried. They failed. They got back up and tried again. We can all learn a lesson from their sense of responsibility and their tenacious spirit. We would do well to remember that we can only fail when we do not learn the right lessons from that failure, and if we stop trying.

Buy the book. You will not be disappointed. – Cam Beck

The Blogger in Our Backyard


A valued member–and very dear friend–within our community, Arun Rajagopal lost his mum this week, and our hearts and prayers go out to him and his family.

While Arun is geographically located in the Sultanate of Oman and that feels mighty far away to many of us, Arun has brought the marketing community and the world closer through his tireless work to make the Age of Conversation book, and all of its authors, known to The Middle East–along with spending so much time in providing profiles for us to get to know one another better.

He has been proud to do the work of not ten men, but ten thousand.

It is with a heavy heart and much love that we send Arun and his family our prayers–as that is all he has asked of us. Please take some time to leave some kind thoughts, a poem, a prayer or just some supportive words in the comments below. If you can donate through PayPal, we will also get that to Arun to help with the tremendous expenses associated with laying a loved one to rest.

And please let others know to leave Arun some kind words here. It’s amazing what words from friends can do in trying times. Arun, you are loved, you are high in our thoughts and in all of our prayers

Distributed content is the new black

What’s the newest thing in internet marketing? Blogs were the fad in 2005, Podcasts were the term in 2006 and Widgets in 2007. In 2008, it is all about distributed content.


At the 2008 iMedia Brand Summit in Coconut Point, Fla., the interactive industry’s leading marketers were polled on many of the topics that shape the digital landscape. Here are the full results of that survey. Each graphic breaks down responses horizontally to indicate answers expressed by brand marketers on the top bar and other industry leaders (publishers and web technology experts on the bottom bar.Basically, people who work for brands and those who work for agencies, software, web service, etc.  Looks like they’re pretty much in agreement.

Distributed Content? That doesn’t sound nearly as fun as writing your own blog or recording a show about your favorite television series.

The fact is, though, that distributed content is the solution that’s been needed for almost a decade. Companies spend an extraordinary amount of resources developing content for their website in the hope, and sometimes with the expectation that if they just put it out there, people will flock to it. Fact is, they won’t. The brand is not as important to them as they are to the brand. Believe it or not, people don’t just sit at a computer and decide to type in brand’s website address to check out what’s new on the site.

Distributed content allows content to be shared with minimal effort. It takes your content and allows people to use it in exchange for getting your message out. It’s a solution whose time has come.

-Paul Herring

Perception is 90% of Success

When a customer or prospect comes to your website, they usually do so with a specific task in mind. In most cases, they have little or no interest in reading everything on your site, but only that which gets them further down the path of their intended purpose. If you have information or a service that is important to your website users that you want and need to communicate to them, you must not use language or design elements that hide this from them.

In industry terms, websites and their elements are said to have a “perceived affordance.” These aren’t two terms that are often used together in common vernacular, but a short:

  • Perceived – What people think (they can do)
  • Affordance – What can actually be done with or at an interface

If the two don’t match, then the object is said to have poor perceived affordance. But what you need to know is that a preponderance of poor perceived affordance will cause your website to fail.

Jakob Nielsen wrote about this problem in his recent article, “Top-10 Application-Design Mistakes.” He says that you can tell you have a perceived affordance problem when:

  • Users say, “What do I do here?” – (This should be obvious to them.)
  • Users don’t go near a feature that would help them. – (If it would help them, then it needs to be highlighted at logical places.)
  • A profusion of screen text tries to overcome these two problems. – (Lengthy instructions should not be needed, and they won’t be read anyway.)

To demonstrate his point, Nielsen wrote about an interesting and persistent problem — that sometimes objects in a Web design look like they should be clicked, but are not clickable. His example was something that looked like (but wasn’t) a button, but the same can problem occurs when people use  underlined text on websites for anything other than a hyperlink.

(Did you see the difference?)

But not all affordance-perception problems are related to interface issues. Marketers can also fall into this trap by hiding the true purpose of their ads — by making promises that cannot be fulfilled without effort that make the endeavor less valuable.

A “marketing” example
Last night I bought a plane ticket to New York from a very popular travel site. At the end of my checkout process, I came across a promo that told me I could get a $20 rebate if I would just “Click Here.”


Curious but skeptical, I clicked on the promo only to come to a page that told me that to capitalize on this offer, I had to agree to a “trial subscription” for whatever it was they were selling.

Once the trial period expired, they would make things “convenient” for me by automatically deducting $14.95 per month from my account. On a page full of text, graphics, and fields, here is the fine print:


I had no interest whatsoever in what they were selling, and the promo gave me no idea what I could expect. In fact, because the conditions necessary to get $20 cash back  weren’t spelled out (nor did they mention any conditions existed at all), the promotion was misleading — something that is becoming increasingly frowned upon in a society that claims to value transparency and authenticity.

In the case above, the deception hid something that the company wanted to hide, but it still amazes me how many companies hide things that they think give them a competitive advantage.

They’ll shove it under “About Us” and leave it there. They’ll use cute navigation names and calls to action that hide the true purpose of the resulting or subordinate pages just to satisfy executives. What they fail to realize is that people aren’t looking to be sold to. They’re looking to accomplish something that probably has very little to do with the managers of the company or the bonuses they relish.

If you have information that may help people accomplish their tasks or be more comforted that they are making the right choice, aside from constructive design constraintsyou should not force it upon them, but make the information accessible. When you do so, make sure people know 1) that the information is available and 2) how they can get to it, if they want it. – Cam Beck

The Best Kind of Meme

Marianne Richmond tagged me with the best kind of meme: Short and easy to digest.

4 Places I Have Been

  • Patton’s grave: Hamm, Luxembourg
  • On top of the Berlin Wall: Berlin, Germany
  • The Hague, The Netherlands
  • Brussels, Belgium

4 Jobs I Have Had

  • United States Marine
  • Offset press operator
  • Graphic designer
  • Day laborer at an apple orchard

4 Favorite Foods

  • Sushi
  • Oatmeal Cream Pies
  • Apple crisp
  • La Madeleine’s tomato basil soup

4 TV Shows I DVR

  • Battlestar Galactica
  • Smallville
  • Top Chef
  • Throwdown with Bobby Flay

Marianne was tagged by Peter Kim, who changed the meme from the original “8 things you didn’t know about me” meme. I like this new take on it, because it provides its own frame of reference, narrowing the scope of things I must choose from.

If you’re reading this and you want to play, consider yourself tagged. Ping me so I can learn a little more about you. – Cam Beck

What are the building blocks of a good slogan?


Usually I would finish reading a book before I start commenting on what’s in it, but I saw an interesting article by Al Reis today that disparaged one of same lines Steve Cone praised in his book, Powerlines. Coincidently, I read both the article and the pertinent section of Cone’s book today. As of this moment, there is no way for anyone to tell which author is right.

See for yourself (emphases are mine):

“[T]he slogan of the American Revolution, ‘Don’t tread on me,’ is mostly forgotten today. Even a minor war, such as the Spanish-American war of 1898, can generate a memorable slogan: ‘Remember the Maine.’ – Al Ries, “Ries’ Pieces of Slogan Savy

“[T]he recipe for success seems simple enough: Create a shorthand message for the mind and eye, and deliver it through mass communication again and again and again… The American Revolution had all manner of slogans and mottos including, for example, ‘No Taxation Without Representation’ and ‘Don’t Tread On Me.'”  – Steve Cone, Powerlines, p. 31

I tend to favor Cone’s take on the phrase because I personally remember it well. However, I’m a history nerd, and if there is anything I know, it’s that my experiences and beliefs may not reflect that of the general public.

A Word of Caution
Ries seems attracted to rhymes, alliteration and repetition, and there is plenty of history, passed down orally over thousands of years because skilled bards used such techniques, that suggests he’s onto something.

Any expert worth his salt is an expert for a reason, and we should at least consider his opinion. However, no one should mistake his judgment as infallible, especially if he does not give us the ability to challenge them by boiling them down into testable, easily duplicated principles.

Personally I would like to have seen some statistics that confirm his hypotheses. Maybe I’ll see some of that as I get further along into Powerlines.

I’ll save you a seat in the front row. I hope you’ll join us when we get there. – Cam Beck

What Are You?

Starbucks_cupStarbucks_cupThe Starbucks story offers an important object lesson in the dangers of growing beyond the identity that made you famous.

I’ve not had many bad experiences in a Starbucks (by my count, only one), but people in the know tell me the “experience” has really gone downhill. The community and familiarity one could once apparently get in a Starbucks has been replaced with an atmosphere more befitting a commodity.

Perhaps sensing a problem with this move away from experience to commodity, Starbucks said goodbye to CEO Jim Donald and replaced him with the guy who helped make them famous in the first place, Howard Schultz.

One of Schultz’s first acts of business was to announce that Starbucks would slow its domestic growth and redirect that capital to international expansion.

If that is all it does, however, it won’t be enough. If an in-store experience is bad, simply building new stores more slowly isn’t going to fix it.

Any company that outgrows its identity needs to spend some effort refocusing its energies on developing  its existing assets to get them up to an acceptable — even extraordinary — level.

I don’t know for certain what this means for Starbucks, but they have only a short time to figure out exactly what they stand for. McDonald’s threatens to enter the specialty coffee business. Against a distribution network of that size, Starbucks faces the prospect of a significant price war if all they offer is a good cup of joe.

It won’t be too long before McDonald’s offers wireless access, too.

Oh, wait. They already do. – Cam Beck