9 September 2014
4 September 2014
PR Is Indirect Response.

“Direct response” is a form of advertising that prompts the customer to take immediate action. Examples include text messaging, email blasts, display advertising, direct mail and catalogue distribution, classifieds, and some kinds of outdoor advertising.

Direct response can be alternatively grouped with or related to database marketing, performance marketing, and outbound marketing, although subtleties differentiate each. Marketers love to argue about this stuff; for non-marketers however, don’t sweat the difference. Think: stuff that makes you do something, not think something.

The old adage is that “PR is about credibility, whereas advertising is about visibility.” That is, PR is indirect marketing.  One of the biggest mistakes any founder or marketer can make is to confuse one with the other.  PR is about making you think something, not do something.

Old school PR people work perhaps too hard to protect PR from any notion of measurable external effects, arguing that the discipline’s value can never be properly represented by a spreadsheet, or a dollar sign. That mentality has done us more modern folk a disservice.

It is pretty easy to measure PR these days, for the record. With a sufficiently sophisticated team, you can (and should) tie PR directly to upstream KPIs, within an acceptable margin of error.

However, it is still true that PR’s greatest strengths include introducing new concepts, validating pre-existing opinions, operating against bias, creating confidence in a given purchasing decision, and more.

PR absolutely, positively throws off a by-product of “direct response”. A well-placed article with the right messages will prompt readers to visit your website, download your app, sign up for your webinar, and more.  But it’s still byproduct.

Direct response sits one or two levels of abstraction beyond PR’s primary goal. I sign up for the webinar or I download the app because of the endorsement of a particular publisher and my long standing trust in them — PR in this case de-risked your product, making it easier to advocate for it internally. Similarly, I join a webinar because my colleagues and I have made a given technology a budgetary priority based on rhetoric first shepherded by PR.

Here’s another example of indirect benefits. PR exerts a lot of influence in “dark social” media. A bold, insightful thought piece in the Economist from a subject matter expert gets emailed around by CEOs and their staffs, printed out (yes, printed) and discussed in meetings in a way that no share button can ever accommodate.

Great PR messages in this sense are designed for reproducibility, and all the better if the consumer of that messaging plagiarizes it later. If I think something emphatically enough, I may cease to realize that there was a point in time when I didn’t think it, or think of it.

Today’s emphasis on acquisition metrics risks the mistake that PR’s success can be a leading indicator, or a direct cause of top-line growth.

If you need visibility (eyeballs, at scale), PR is disproportionately expensive and time-consuming on a per-click or per-action basis, and it always will be. It’s impossible in contrast to put a price on an inbound acquisition offer from Apple or an enthusiastic introduction to a new customer.

When you try to make PR direct response, or expect to judge PR based on direct response, you miss the opportunity altogether. It’s the stuff that goes on between my ears that marketers aspire to influence most. That’s the most expensive real estate on planet Earth.

Our current thinking at JDI that PR is “bring your own audience” (BYOA). This position is we hope soothing to the tension marketers feel between the accountability of “direct” methods (dilutive, cheap, infinite, with no middleman involved) and the transformative potential of “indirect” methods (additive, expensive, finite, via a powerful middleman).

If you assume an incredible PR result, the platonic form of an article about your company (for example this NPR piece about our client Cerego) replicating that same article time and time again is a near-impossible assignment. 

Rather, after its organic gifts cease arriving, the marketer’s goal becomes to shepherd multiples of that audience to the same article with subsequent (usually paid) campaigning.

Quality trumps all; one amazing PR result beats dozens of mediocre ones because you can “just add quantity” later. You can amplify the effects of PR with growth-oriented “direct response” techniques post-facto.

In fact, that’s precisely the “hybrid” strategy we marketers advocate when we get together at meetups and conferences — the best of both worlds. There are dozens of imaginative ways to take such an approach.

Another very easy example is placing the logos of “hero” publishers who have written about your company (with links to the source articles) on your homepage, which we have observed to meaningfully increase time on site and conversion percentages. PR can be a gift that keeps on giving if you’re clever enough to manifest its effects throughout your sales and marketing.

The lesson?

At the outset, let PR do what PR is best at doing. Let PR play to its strengths. Otherwise you overexert and overpay, and you miss a huge opportunity in the process. Give PR the mandate to create and exert influence, and it will.

Don’t ask PR to create direct responses. Rather, repurpose PR results for and in direct response campaigns after the fact, as a way to gather more fruit from the same tree. That 1-2 punch is powerful.

28 August 2014
Are You Able?

We are surrounded by worthy small businesses that permanently differentiate Austin.

My friends, family, and colleagues vote as best we can with our disposable income for the kind of city we want to live in. We give charitably, we do a lot of pro-bono, and we volunteer whenever and wherever possible. But we can do more.

I always thought to myself that if the right local, non-venture opportunities came my way, I’d get involved. Think: restaurants, coffee shops, apparel boutiques, movie houses, fitness studios, breweries, consultancies of many types, CPG, manufacturing…

I just never saw those deals, and truthfully, I never went out of my way to find them either.  

Small business are not typically a good fit for equity investing, and I don’t have the expertise or the ability to source, evaluate, and underwrite loans.

Enter: Able.

Able is the world’s’ first collaborative lender. They help small businesses get credit for what they do best.

Able’s loans range from $25K to $250K. If your friends, family and fans (aka your “Backers”) cover 25% of the loan, Able funds the rest.

The idea is that loan underwriting is best done collaboratively — that certain social signals should be weighted more heavily than traditional measures of risk.

Remember the old saying that the bank will only give you a loan once you no longer need it? Small business capital has always been expensive capital, and it has always been inefficient capital. That stops now.

Able was founded and is run by my good friends and clients Will Davis and Evan Baehr. They have already loaned money to a hair salon, a non-toxic soap company, a popular food trailer, a stylish apparel company and more.

Check out Able’s explainer video for more: http://vimeo.com/100742934

I’m proud to pledge my backing to at least five deserving small businesses in Austin. I’d love to hear your story. In the coming weeks, other Austin-based business leaders will commit to the same. I’m the sacrificial lamb, so to speak.

We know that creating a successful financial environment for small businesses in Austin is as important for our collective happiness and well-being as any equity investment or philanthropic gift. Able is a new, compelling way to keep Austin weird, and part of a portfolio of activities that together guarantee a vibrant future in 512.

Able is one of those rare, true win-wins. I beat the market betting on local businesses we love, and those businesses beat the bank with working and growth capital when they actually need it. Even better, there’s no predatory fine print. Able is more than fair for both sides.

If you are a local business that deserves credit, I want to hear from you. Together we can unlock an even greater sum from Able, at rates you won’t find anywhere else.

If you’re interested in my backing, take a look at my Able profile and get started here: https://www.hiable.com/dilworth

18 August 2014
When Not To Rebrand

This post is in some sense an addendum to “On Naming And Branding,” which you can find on the JDI website here.

It is not uncommon for people (execs, advisors, investors, Board members) to suggest a name change for the wrong reasons. Many of the companies we come across ought to rebrand. But, there are just as many who should stick to their guns.

This post was prompted by a situation in which the company in question was tempted to change its name in order to solve a messaging and positioning problem that sat considerably downstream. In this case the name change would have been a band-aid at best. It would not have treated the root cause of pain. In fact, a rebrand would have rid the company of one of its very best attributes.

I can’t reveal specifics here, but the example applies generally to any company that attempts to solve a problem with name or brand that name or brand cannot solve.

At JDI we’ve been a part of many rebrands, many of them to great effect, I’m proud to say. As such it’s not uncommon for us to suggest a change. But what’s not emphasized as much (because the outcome is invisible) is how often we counsel clients to stay put.

Names and brands will always have a hard time playing the role of cure-all. Names and brands are opening arguments — overburdening them with problems they are ill-equipped to solve is a common mistake.

“You should change the name” is one of the easiest pieces of advice to give, and yet one of the most commonly wrong as well.

A brand should be judged primarily on being memorable. What the original mad man David Ogilvy said of advertisements, can also be said of names (which can be thought of as advertisements at their core).

"The role of advertising is not to persuade people to try your product, but rather to persuade them to use it more often than the other brands in their repertoire."

Confessions Of An Advertising Man

That’s what a great brand is good for. Nothing more, nothing less.

If there is indeed a deeper problem that is impeding the business, you generally fix it best at the exact juncture that such an issue rears its head.

You’ll do better to think through what’s really going on — is onboarding vague? Are superusers passing along the wrong message to friends? Has an off-label use eclipsed the intended one? Is your language and vocabulary misleading, or too much like your competitors’ version of the same? Are you losing credibility by pretending that customers assume no risk by adopting your technology? Are you having difficulty summoning the courage to walk away from one customer segment in favor of another?

Very rarely is changing the name or re-doing your brand the intellectually honest solution to a complex business problem.

Think of Virgin Airlines, which seeks to question assumptions in a legacy business, generally break rank, and renew your faith where scar tissue otherwise pervades.

Virgin implies freshness, naivety, purity, inexperience, newness, sexuality, etc.

That is not in general a set of traits I would assign to my airline of choice — my life is at stake, for starters. And yet I use Virgin substantially more than the other brands in my repertoire…

Virgin has come under their fair share of scrutiny along the way — but they’ve stood their ground. It would have been easy at many junctures along the way to rejoin the peloton. And yet, they’ve weathered storms (marketing,  product, financial, regulatory) far more elegantly than their peers, in part because we believe in the Virgin brand more than we do others. In a commodity business, Virgin stands for something. It has an enduring point of view, through thick and thin.

Don’t get squeamish, or interventionist. And don’t take the easy way out.

Let name and brand do what name and brand do best. If you have a naming and/or branding problem, fix your name and brand. But don’t make them do more, and don’t let them do less — be sure the treatment fits the disease (and is worth the cure).

12 April 2014
8 April 2014
The Importance Of Noun Phrases

In case you had any doubt of the importance of a “noun phrase” let my colleague @dmfreeman and me introduce you to Wattpad.

What is Wattpad? Great question! 

They just raised $46M for their Social Publishing Network.” Or their Social Reading Platform.” Or their App.” Or maybe their Digital Writing Community?” Or their Collaborative Writing Platform?” How about the ambitious Global Literary Community.” Or maybe their Flipboard competitor, aka Social Reader?”

For what it’s worth, Wattpad simply calls itself “the world’s largest community of readers and writers,” but that phrasing isn’t widely used.

For the record we love Wattpad. It fills a real need & has a great higher purpose, it is growing like a weed, and it makes a lot of money. And in their defense, what they do is legitimately hard to describe. 

But they are a classic example of why you need a good noun phrase. What is a noun phrase? A noun phrase reveals the answer to the question: “wait, what do you do again?”

A noun phrase can have some embellishment or a judiciously-chosen modifier (or two,) but it really is the discipline of choosing a noun that makes the exercise both internally and externally useful.

Cerego is the world’s first memory management tool. 

Typically a noun phrase is paired with a positioning statement aka a “verb phrase.” A verb phrase says what the noun does that makes it worthwhile.

Cerego helps you learn faster and remember longer. 

Ultimately a “noun phrase” is just marketing jargon. Everyone has their own preferred rubric or template. It doesn’t matter. What matters is that you have the courage to hang your hat on something, and stick to that message consistently across all communications. 

17 February 2014
Healthcare Right Now

As I like to say, what’s the biggest pain point available? Dying. What’s the greatest value prop possible? Not dying.

There’s a reason technologists are getting into heathcare in droves, private capital fast on their heels. Because of our work in this area, and because this is where I started my career more than a decade ago, I’m often asked what’s big in healthcare right now.

This is how I typically respond.

Healthcare is increasingly performance-based.

Healthcare’s business model is changing. Because of certain provisions in the Affordable Healthcare Act, as well as broader changes in opinion by payers laden with spiraling costs, performance-based health care has finally arrived, after much discussion.

Providers are starting to be paid on outcomes, no matter how many visits or how much testing it took to achieve those outcomes. How it actually goes down in practice is more complex than I address here, but imagine that your doctor, hospital, or clinic of choice gets a flat fee for treating a given illness or disease state. It’s kind of like an advertiser moving from a CPM to a CPA model.

This is in theory a good thing for everyone. Unnecessary testing is curbed, costs get under control, more emphasis is put towards wellness and preventative care, and more money is invested in innovation.

Whether these effects will prove out is grounds for another post entirely.

Demand for healthcare services is growing.

We’re onboarding millions of new people into our healthcare system, many of them with pre-existing conditions, and many of them under-treated. There is already an acute doctor and nurse shortage. If you’re thinking through career options, nursing school is in my opinion a much better bet than the coding dojo equivalent.

Talent is only one part of how we’ll cope with new demand. For a long time the healthcare establishment was standoffish to change, and careful to preserve control. Healthcare is still a sensitive industry (as it should be) when it comes to ethics, confidentiality, and compliance.

Nonetheless, growing demand has brought down more than a few walls. If you introduce new efficiencies help address the demand problem, you’re far more likely these days to get a meeting, and a deal.

It is easier than ever to end-around the system.

Concierge healthcare and medical tourism are trending.

Concierge healthcare is a cottage industry that has traditionally catered to wealthy individuals and families who can afford to pay outright for increased access and the very best doctors. These people usually buy supplemental insurance to cover catastrophic issues, but for primary and secondary care they are generally able to eschew the system as the rest of us know it.

If you take away the fact that concierge healthcare carries an elitist connotation, it actually makes a lot of sense. Is it so crazy to think that we would pay for healthcare the way we pay for any other service, and that we’d only buy insurance to do just that — insure us against unlikely events? Have you ever found it weird that you buy insurance for things like annual visits, which are certain to happen?

What’s most interesting is that the costs of concierge healthcare are coming down significantly, as concierge practices grow more ambitious. What’s exciting is that concierge practices typically differentiate on pedigree, convenience, and innovation. Those last two in particular mean that a concierge doctor is far more likely to text with you, and far more likely to try new apps, services, tests and technologies.

Medical tourism is exactly what you think it is — Americans traveling outside of the US to avail themselves of alternative care and significantly lower prices, often in a luxury resort wrapper. Think: more Four Seasons than a seedy trip to Tijuana. Star athletes like Adrian Peterson and Kobe Bryant have made this kind of activity cool, much to the chagrin of mainstream physicians, who recognize the (very real) risks. Still, I think the risk issue is long-term solvable.

What people often overlook however is medical tourism inside of the US, which is just as popular. Regardless, the big change here is the removal of geography as a reasonable constraint for care, and that’s a gigantic change.

Genomics, proteomics, biomics.

“Omics” is the future.

This is the area I’m most excited about, and there’s enough here for dozens of blog posts. The reason “omics” matters is because of personalization.

For example, we’ve already cured cancer…in a few cases. The methodology these days goes something like this. Your cancer is not my cancer, even if it’s the same cancer in a petri dish. How cancer interacts with each of us is unique, owing to our DNA, and any mutations thereof. The trick to curing cancer has everything to do with understanding the unique way in which each individual interacts with each form of cancer. 

But “omics” applies to far more than cancer. “Omics” is about a personalized understanding of your past, present, and future body. That understanding might be achieved through testing done in consultation with a doctor, or it might be achieved on your own.

“Omics” looks like Silicon Valley 10 years ago — the hardware is expensive, data is piling up, and consumer interfaces are found wanting. I should be able to manage my health the way I do my wealth. My doctor shouldn’t know more about my body than I do (we should know the same in my opinion). And we shouldn’t only inquire about our bodies when we are sick.

14 February 2014
3 Promising New Approaches To Content Marketing

With brands paying north of $4 an engagement on Twitter and Outbrain polluted by fast-following spammers (not to mention Facebook click fraud galore), it’s time for a few new ideas in content marketing.

The search for better channels is a familiar game. When suits start talking best practices and big budgets descend, it is time to move on. We gladly put up with rough edges in search of novel advantages.

Here are three companies with wholly new ideas about what content marketing ought to look like. I have firsthand experience with each.

Versa: https://versahq.com/

Versa is an opinion platform, op-eds gone native. Advertisers can promote their POV’s on relevant topics at the tail end of related articles, linking to a fuller argument off-site. It’s kind of like leaving a promoted comment. A high bar for editorial approval by Versa’s team ensures ensures quality.

Versa has found a natural fit with publishers oriented towards politics, with advertisers focused on public affairs and issue advocacy. Over time I expect them to expand. The technology vertical is a good next step, as there’s no shortage of opinions, and plenty of ad spend to go around.

The company’s CEO Keya Dannenbaum is elite, and the company raised $2M last month from Omidyar on the strength of early traction.

Written: http://www.written.com

Written matches a company’s top keywords to high-performing articles that already exist. They broker licenses of those articles, which are redirected and reskinned.

Why invest in speculative new content when there are already so many great pieces out there with good Pagerank and monthly recurring traffic? For bloggers, Written is a great way to give their archive new life (monetization + exposure).

The company is run by serial entrepreneur Josh Kerr. His team has managed a near-impossible feat — aligning the interests of bloggers and brands in an authentic way. The company raised over $1M in November 2013 from Live Oak and top-tier angels.

Disclosure: Written is a client.

OneSpot: http://www.onespot.com

OneSpot repurposes display inventory for content recommendations. Imagine Outbrain-like units (image, headline, social signals) in place of traditional fodder.

OneSpot runs on top of exchanges like Facebook, Appnexus and Doubleclick, and campaigns can be retargeted. Their secret sauce is a machine learning layer that hones in on your most clicky audience by re-structuring buys in real-time.

OneSpot’s CEO is Steve Sachs, famous for creating Real Simple during his tenure at time Warner. The company raised $5.3M from Mohr Davidow and others in November 2013.

31 December 2013
Coal for Christmas: Hangtime, Crowdtilt, and MotionX

One’s Facebook feed brings untold delights, never more so than during the holidays. 

I’m not going to dignify these CPI (cost-per-install) app ads with too much comment, other than to say: you know better. 

image

Like e-mail spam, these ads only exist because they work. If a profitable percentage of people didn’t open and click on spam, spam would stop, because it would cease to be viable. On some level we have only ourselves to blame.  And if thong-clad, delightfully topless women are exactly the people you don’t want to “miss out” on, then hey, there’s an app for that. 

But what gets me is how the ad’s content is misaligned with the app’s brand. Here’s one of Hangtime’s App Store screenshots:

\image

That contrast is bad marketing. The ad inaccurately conveys the underlying app’s purpose, and value. It misleads in order to convert.

Maybe we’re looking at a rogue user acquisition consultant’s dutiful work. Maybe we’re looking at the inevitable byproduct of so-called vanity metrics. Maybe our lust for users risks too much. Maybe it’s a race to the bottom.

Today sex sells more than ever:

image

I’m not some puritan, some holier than thou marketing cop. But patterns come in three’s. I don’t like this pattern. This is me saying so.

You have to ask yourself, and you have to ask these companies: do you really want to rub virtual elbows with the kinds of people who are convinced to download and join via these ads? Is this the kind of user base you seek, full of people who download your app for the wrong reason? In this the kind of user base you want to join? 

Every day we use our disposable income and our disposable attention to vote for the way we want the world to be.

In MotionX’s case the ad’s image is much more subtle, but doesn’t that make it even worse, because it’s more obtuse, and less necessary?

image

29 November 2013
8 November 2013

Via http://sharpsuits.net/

22 October 2013
17 September 2013
Book worth reading — Contagious

I encourage you to give this a read — it argues against Malcolm Gladwell’s point in the Tipping Point that influencers drive virality.

The thesis is — we’ve ended up obsessing about the messenger, and we’ve overlooked the message. This is the first large-scale academic study of its kind.

Properly configured messages spread among non-influencer peers causes virality, not the king-making of a select few. I like this idea of course because it puts emphasis on craft instead of access.

The author is a Wharton professor:

http://jonahberger.com/books/contagious/

I think the findings are useful to anyone trying to create virality (content, messaging), or amplify virality (PR, advertising), or sell virality (sales and BD).

Cliff’s notes:

The emotion of “awe” is the most viral of all — if something invokes awe, it has a disproportionately high chance of going viral.

Awe. ô/. Noun a feeling of reverential respect mixed with fear or wonder. ”They gazed in awe at the small mountain of diamonds.” 

Synonyms: wonder, wonderment 

Other factors that drive virility:

  • Looking smarter to others, being in-the-know — social capital drives us. What makes us look good goes viral. 
  • Read: We’re all really self-conscious. Even when we think we’re not.

We share what is close at hand. This is why we share our opinion of the weather — it’s immediate, cognitively close. He gives the example also of Apple changing its laptop logo to face outwards to the world, instead of inwards at the user.

  • Read: what is convenient or ubiquitous (or both) goes viral disproportionately. We share the best of what’s near.

Anger and humor are both actually very closely related emotions. More importantly, they’re both very intense. They make our brains especially active. That intensity spurs sharing behaviors.

  • Read: controversy and comedy are more inherently viral because of how our brain is wired.

Practical, useful information, no matter how mundane performs really well, even if it’s about something like getting silk off of corn cobs.

  • Read: immediate small value is more viral than non-immediate large value.

A much larger percentage of information is shared offline than online, even today. We just can’t track it unless you’re doing a large scale funded study.

  • Read: the majority of the conversations about a brand are (for now) still untraceable.

A lot of this is “no duh” stuff — but I think it once again confirms my insistence that the best marketing is great messaging. The best way to increase conversion is to improve the underlying content. You can optimize calls to action and see real gains. But most transformative effects can only be achieved through a shift in the message.

Not everything we marketers do can possibly pull on all or even many of the above levers. And for god’s sake, not everything has to go viral, or should. 

In fairness, if you want to read a smart critique/counterpoint to the author’s claims:

http://nautil.us/blog/what-the-tipping-point-missed-about-the-spread-of-ideas 

17 September 2013
A Good Reminder

Data from the last thirty years lead to a conclusion that is not scientifically challengeable: thinking well requires knowing facts, and that’s true not simply because you need something to think about. The very processes that teachers care about most — critical thinking processes such as reasoning and problem solving — are intimately intertwined with factual knowledge that is in long-term memory (not just found in the environment).

It’s hard for many people to conceive of thinking processes as intertwined with knowledge. Most people believe that thinking processes are akin to those of a calculator. A calculator has available a set of procedures  (addition, multiplication, and so on) that can manipulate numbers, and those procedures can be applied to any set of numbers. The data (the numbers) and the operations that manipulate the data are separate. Thus, if you learn a new thinking operation (for example, how to critically analyze historical documents), it seems like that operation should be applicable to all historical documents, just as a fancier calculator that computes sines can do so for all numbers.

But the human mind does not work that way. When we learn to think critically about, say, the start of the Second World War, it does not mean that we can think critically about a chess game or about the current situation in the Middle East or even about the start of the American Revolutionary War. Critical thinking processes are tied to the background knowledge. The conclusion from this work in cognitive science is straightforward: we must ensure that students acquire background knowledge with practicing critical thinking skills.

Via Nick Carr via Daniel Willingham

13 September 2013