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
12 September 2013

Lessons in headline writing!

30 August 2013
24 August 2013
10 August 2013
Finally, big changes to how Google handles press releases

Google recently made a big change with regards to how it treats press releases. We’ve been watching it play out and are ready to share some conclusions. Their changes have some real meaning for modern PR. We’re sending a summary of our opinion to all of our clients, and you should take a few minutes to read the following.

For background information, visit Silicon Valley Watcher and Search Engine Land, who do a good job summarizing the changes.

Essentially, Google has degraded press releases algorithmically. Part one is that releases’ SEO value is now minimal. Part two is that overly promotional press releases **might** also get blacklisted as spam, which can actually downgrade your site’s PageRank overall (punishment may be doled out retroactively for past sins). 

Companies of substance should not be worried about this move because in general, innovators are able avoid overly-self-serving, SEO-driven press releases. Few of our clients’ past releases would be considered bad behavior in the way Sullivan and Foremski describe above. Releases should be written in AP style (journalism-grade writing), and they should aspire to be be **actually useful** to real journalists. That is their original purpose. Google has moved to restore that original purpose.

The whole point of a press release is to support original new articles written by journalists, not to be “picked up” in pre-arranged, surface level syndication deals that garner exactly no unique visitors but look good on a coverage report. In fact, you may have noticed that Google News and Google Alerts of late have surfaced fewer organic “pickups” of your releases. Such is one immediate ramification. Press release syndication across the web is being counted as one document only, if that. And Google no longer considers press releases to be “news” as such.

Press releases are best taken as primordial ooze. They should be made of copy and paste-able components, including clear explanations and great quotes. And they should always be accompanied by 1:1 media (and customer) outreach. Press releases these days are “bring your own audience”. I can count on one hand the # of legitimate inbound press inquiries we have receives across all clients and all releases over the past 2 years.

Why has Google chosen to intervene? Essentially, they think that press releases have radically decreased the usefulness of Google search and Google News.

Companies whose “news” is so uninteresting that no journalist actually would ever write a story off of their press release rely on press releases as a stand-in for actually doing media relations. Those companies are the ones who over time moved to make the the press release a stand-alone object, an SEO-driven landing page, essentially (instead of its original purpose as a means to a much more interesting end). Because their press releases were not causing any earned media effect, these bottom-dwellers tried to make the release be the effect itself. 

Essentially, news-poor desperation led companies who struggled to get real press results to mutate the press release to approximate the impact of a traditional placement with a real publisher.  Press release have for too long on Google’s view allowed non-news to masquerade as just the opposite.

We like this move by Google. It reduces noise in the system, makes journalists’ lives better, and increases the likelihood that real, substantive news will get noticed, and published.

However, it means that moving forward, your releases need to:

  1. Be well-written, in AP-style, etc.
  2. Use keyword repetition and links conservatively
  3. Convey real news 
  4. Give great quotes (also: stop saying you are “excited”)

Essentially, if you’re one of the good guys you’ll be fine. Spam is bad, always has been. Press release spam is just another species of the same. Google is pushing back on a practice that has ghettoized PR for too long. This is good for companies who deserve attention on merit.

You should also stop spending a lot of money $1.5-3K typically) on press releases. If you’re working with major partners, customers or funders, going the traditional route (Businesswire, PRNewswire) still carries some weight — “officialness” matters, and changing their minds about press releases isn’t your job, and it isn’t worth your time or energy either. Otherwise, a blog post, an open view-only Google doc, or PRWeb ($300) will suffice just fine. 

Thanks for listening!