November 29, 2011


queue lineup crowd 500x500
From the outside, marketing looks like magic, especially using social media.

It's a snap to create newsletters but you don't have permission to send them to strangers.

It's easy to create a website or blog but you need fresh compelling content to attract traffic.

You can create tweets in seconds but you can't make anyone get them.

You might nab media mentions but how do you leverage that recognition unless you have a proven deliverable?


Some companies get amazing results with little effort. Or so we like to think. A firecracker creates a bang but extinguishes quickly.

As the boy who cried wolf learned, when you get attention the first time, you better deliver. Earning revenue takes ongoing attention and that takes a strategy.

The Trap

You first need to know you have a product or service for which there is
  • actual demand (e.g., peace of mind), or
  • latent demand (e.g., iPad)
Self-deception is the trap. You think you’d wow the world ... if only they knew what you have. Not quite. Your target market often has reasonable-to-them options like doing nothing or using your competitors. Those options make your marketing tougher to develop.

There are lots of great ideas. Some are even executed well. That doesn't guarantee success or a sustainable competitive advantage. The Apple iOS used on iPods, iPhones and iPads works extremely well. Despite recent innovations like iCloud, Android is catching up. Casual users already seem indifferent.

You can't tell predict what will work. Even Hollywood makes flops. Monty Python's cheese shop (YouTube) was the cleanest but that’s not want customers wanted.

In The Beginning

In the beginning, marketing is about watching and listening. You absorb information. You think about your message and then develop one. This is when you create the branding basics to look legitimate (e.g., brand, logo, business cards, website).

Once you have a prototype that seems to work, you’re still not ready to start your marketing campaign. You don’t yet have independent external evidence of success.

Focus Groups

You can take the focus group route if you have the time, money and believe the results. Would a focus group predict the success of smartphones, Starbucks or Facebook? Even working prototypes may not be enough for them to tell.

How we behave in theory is not how we behave in real life. The focus group is not actually buying with their own money, which limits the value of their opinions. They could even be paid. Your real customers might not be the target you envisioned. How would you include them in a focus group?

Field Testing

Another approach — the one I use — is to field test your prototype and fine tune. Start with prospects or influencers you know. See who will pay you with attention. Next make or initiate several sales. You now have promising signs of success.

If you provide a service, it might close to what your competitors have or could easily copy. If you claim you’re superior, you’re like Rogers vs. Bell. No one wins. Finding the right positioning is challenging and may take iterations before you explain how you’re different.

You’re now ready to scale up your marketing with interviews, articles, blogs, tweets and maybe even advertising.

The Risk

A wind-proof fire starts with a spark but you first need to prepare and get the timing right. Marketing takes savvy — and something worth marketing.


PS Best wishes with your initiatives

November 22, 2011


SEO and youSearch engines work hard to give us relevant results to our queries. Search Engine Optimization (SEO) uses techniques to get your content ranked higher. Doesn't that mean you are trying to trick Google?

Guess who will win? Google is on the constant lookout for attempts at manipulation and punishes abusers. Your penalty might be invisibility.
Deciding to hire an SEO is a big decision that can potentially improve your site and save time, but you can also risk damage to your site and reputation. Make sure to research the potential advantages as well as the damage that an irresponsible SEO can do to your site. — Google
I keep seeing people claiming they are experts in SEO. Their presentations make SEO look
  • complicated which implies you need to hire them
  • slow which means you need to hire them for six months are more

Other Ways

There three free ways to rank high in search results in your niche
  1. create compelling content
  2. follow conventions
  3. help Google find you

Create Compelling Content

You need great content. This takes time to create and time to impact your search rankings. Quit and you start slipping. Using social media regularly keeps reminding Google about you. Using Google tools can't hurt either. This blog uses Google Blogger (instead of WordPress) and is syndicated via Google Feedburner (instead of FeedBlitz).

Word of mouth will then boost your popularity. That takes the form of comments on your blog posts, Likes, Google "+1" and links from other credible sites (essentially testimonials).

Follow Conventions

When you're writing, you benefit by following norms. Make your content easier for readers and you'll help Google too. You'll want a sensible heading and subheadings. You'll want to write posts of a reasonable minimum length (e.g., 300 words). You'll want to use simple, common words because they are more likely to be search queries.

You might not get much credit for good grammar but you won't be penalized either. Maybe Google can (or will) check grammar.

Help Google Find You

Google wants to find you. You help by telling Google about yourself. Your Google Profile is the perfect place to link to your different sites. Google Analytics also marks your sites (you can only track what you own). Google offers Webmaster Tools to show you what Google sees. Don't forget Google+ either.

There's plenty of free online help too.

The Wrong Focus?

SEO focuses on websites but you may not need one anymore. You can rely on social media instead. You'll want a destination like a blog or personal website (which can be on a blog platform). If you are on LinkedIn, have a Google Profile or using Google+, you're increasing your chances of showing up on page one.

One search engine “expert” had a Klout reputation score of 13 out of 100. Another has only 22 tweets. That’s proof of inability.


If you want to be found right now, you can buy attention with Google Adwords and other advertising techniques.

I've got nothing against hiring SEO experts. I have never used one but they may be ideal for you. Lasting results take more than money.


PS What do you think of SEO?

November 15, 2011


Award - smoke dissipatesCongratulations to winners of the Business Excellence Awards from the Toronto Board of Trade! The gala took place on November 9, 2011. I was nominated and ... lost.

Is that why I'm saying something else matters more than winning an award? You may think so but I drafted this post well before the outcome was known.

The Winner Is ...

I used to love awards. The best album of all time. The Academy Award for Best Picture. The Car of the Year. Over time, I started finding that I could make my own decisions and did not always agree with the judges. I started to question authority (the third universal principle of influence).

Instead, I turned to what James Surowiecki calls the wisdom of crowds: as a group, we're smarter than the smartest amongst us. I started to rely on consensus (the fifth universal principle of influence), rather than authority

The Crowd

The Internet gives us instant access to lots of relevant crowds. Goodbye Consumer Reports.  I'll now look at Amazon, IMDB or other sites depending on what I'm evaluating.
Where are you getting advice these days? What about your customers? Are you visible where they are looking?
Netflix gives personalized recommendations based on your past viewing preferences. You see how others rated a film and even a prediction of your rating. That's nifty and works surprisingly well. You can also read reviews from other Netflix members. There's no need to see what newspaper reviewers say or to visit IMDB.


I was recently invited to judge a Toastmasters speech contest and declined. However, I attended and saw 13 contestants in two categories. Since we were given blank scoring sheets, I used them. The real judges selected different winners every time. This suggests the outcome could easily have changed with different judges. That's comforting and discomforting.

I also noticed that I formed impressions of the contestants before they even spoke. Malcolm Gladwell investigates snap judgments in Blink.

If other attendees also judged the contestants, their combined scores could have shown the collective wisdom of the room. Would the outcome have differed?


An award shows the decision of the judge(s) at one point in time. Awards needn't translate directly into an ongoing increase in revenue. Prospects may not notice or care. Would an award entice you to switch between Coke/Pepsi, pizza chains or realtors? Is an award from last year, still relevant today?

More Important

Awards are given on the basis of objective criteria but we don't make buying decisions logically. Trends matter more than winning an award.

Trends show patterns. If you earned other forms of recognition, the new award is further evidence of your excellence. If you only have the one award, your win could be seen as an anomaly, like a small lottery prize.

Suppose that The Tipping Point was a success but Malcolm Gladwell's other books flopped: Blink, Outliers and What The Dog Saw. How eagerly would you await his next title? Since all his books were well-received, the trend raises expectations for the next book.  The successes build upon each other. Malcolm was awarded the Order of Canada earlier this year. That's noteworthy by itself and consistent with his other accomplishments.

In the absence of a trend, an award winner might be a one-hit wonder.


PS Winning awards is nice too :)

November 8, 2011


RGB colour spectrumbass / drums /guitar
red / green / blue
With the right trio you can do wonders. A service business needs this team:
  1. a salesperson
  2. a technician
  3. a marketer
If you're working solo, you may be able to outsource what you do poorly (or disdain). In some situations, you might need a larger team at the outset or as the business grows.

Who Matters Most?

A car needs an engine, an interior and brakes. Each element matters but the relative importance keeps changing. Your prospects will vary in what they value. For example,  spelling mistakes could go unnoticed or quash a deal.

Since each team member contributes differently, you can’t tell if everyone is contributing their fair share? If you agree that 1+1+1 > 3, a simple solution is to equally divide the revenue after expenses.

The Salesperson

The salesperson finds the prospects, follows up and closes the sales. Here, we'll say the salesperson also provides the ongoing service since that's also a form of additional sales and referrals.

The salesperson is the toughest to replace. This may lead to some arrogance about who is most important on the team. This may be the main reason why the other two want to join the team.

A salesperson may be better at talking and promising than delivering. The other team members can offset those tendencies.

The Technician

The technician does the actual work in an error-free way that is compliant with the relevant rules and regulations. I’ve primarily worked with accountants, lawyers and actuaries. Since change is relentless, the technician must stay current and avoid biases about what is "right" for the client.

In the past, technicians were essential. Nowadays, they can often be replaced or their work outsourced. You could even have a stable of external suppliers. Going outside lets you to scale up your business since the technician is often the bottleneck. However, having an internal technician gives more consistency and helps keep your "secret sauce" private. As the business grows, the technician could review the work that gets outsourced.

The risk of financial innovation. Click to read.To show their importance (and justify their cost), technicians may add complexity and downplay risk when innovating. They may be unwilling to admit mistakes.

The Marketer

In the past, the marketer was not deemed necessary in a team. However, expectations have changed. There's a greater need for polish and continual visibility online using today's tools.

You could look at Steve Jobs as primarily a marketer and what Malcolm Gladwell calls a “tweaker”.

Marketing isn't finished when the website goes live and the business cards have been printed. Marketing evolves. Refinements may be needed after meetings with the initial 5-10 prospects take place. This is why having a marketer on the team is more effective than outsourcing.

Since what the marketer does is intangible, it's difficult to see a direct connection with sales. Also, the marketing works is done in the beginning and can easily get taken for granted when the sales start.


There is overlap among team members and their roles. The specifics will depend on the actual people. The marketer refines the positioning, which helps the salesperson setup meetings. The salesperson and marketer help simplify the technician's content, which helps close deals.

The role of each member may not be valued equally, but each matters. As long as there are sales, that might be enough.


PS When disagreements arise, a trio always has a tiebreaker.

November 1, 2011


others need reminding tooHave you noticed that people don't remember things you know you told them? This normal in families (at least mine) but a problem in business. Your carefully crafted messages can easily get overlooked. Even with repetition. Why?

There can be many reasons:
  • They forgot
  • They didn't notice
  • Your timing is wrong
  • Your message is unclear
  • Your delivery is not engaging

String Theory

Earl Nightingale said we all need reminding. You can’t tie string to their fingers but you can keep reminding them in different ways (without telling them you already told them).

For example, I conduct actuarial insurance reviews and have for ages. Days ago, I realized — shock! — this isn't well known.


Selling your wisdom makes complete sense but for-fee work is rare in the financial world. Instead commissions get paid and create conflicts of interest which lower trust. If your competitors work for “free”, who would pay you? I decided to find out.

This summer, I started charging for my analyses. This fundamental change has boosted the perceived value of the diagnoses and also increased compliance with the prescriptions. That's a win for all.

When I started describing the for-fee change, I found that people didn't know about the reviews in the first place. I hadn't reminded them because I thought they knew. Maybe they didn't ask because they  thought they knew too (even if they were misunderstanding). What sticks is that I'm an actuary and less boring than they expected. It's easy to beat low expectations.

What do people remember about you? Maybe you can build on those memories to remind them about what you do.


You may be reluctant to promote yourself after you've delivered your powerful 10 second commercial. Assuming that your golden words will stick is passive and risky.

I've met some people more than once and still don't know what they do. I may remember some words but not understand the meaning. For instance, I've heard of a "Human Resources Consultant" but don't really know who might need one or why. That means no referrals. The people you meet can face the same confusion. How would you know? Ask connections to describe what you do. You'll test their knowledge and spot ways to clarify your message. Just remember to ask.


PS What's new with you? The answer could give you a reason to reach out and reconnect.