It Is A Very Silly Email Address…

Monty Python - Very Silly Email Address - Paul O'Flaherty

What’s your name? What’s your company name? What’s your email address? Ask those 3 questions fast enough and it almost sounds like a Monty Python sketch.

Just like the “Bridge of Death” scene from “Monty Python and the Holy Grail” if you answer incorrectly then cast into the chasm you shall be.

If your email address ends is @yahoo, @gmail, @comcast, @aol or any other service other than @yourcompany then you’re inflicting a serious flesh wound to your reputation and deserve to be mauled by the Killer Rabbit of Caerbannog.

Reputable companies do not use disposable, throwaway email accounts.

Image: Monty Python and the Holy Grail

Native Advertising on Forbes Magazine Cover – Right Or Wrong?

Forbes Cover Page

Image: Forbes

As a consumer I am not a fan of so-called “native” advertising, which are basically advertising pieces that are dressed up to look like editorial content. It’s become a relatively prevalent practice on the web, and in print you’re used to seeing them as advertorials.

Side note: I’m not discussing In-Feed units, recommendation widgets,  paid search units, or any of the other “looks almost like the real thing except for the disclosure” forms of “native” advertising in this post.

No matter how we gussy it up, we have to be honest with ourselves and admit that native advertising isn’t about creating a better experience for the reader (although we say it is) , it’s about creating more revenue streams (which we say it isn’t really) and creating adverts in the hopes that the reader doesn’t realize what they are consuming and takes it as a genuine editorial endorsement (no, no no nevah!).

You can put lipstick on a pig…

According to Ad Age, Forbes will run a cover on Monday includes native advertising, can you spot it in the image?

That’s right, it’s the black box on the right shilling for Fidelity, who purchased a two-page infographic in the publication and for what I can only assume is an obscene amount of money.

Forbes aren’t the first to do this. Time Inc., ran Verizon ads on the covers Time and Sports Illustrated last year, but they haven’t tried it again since. Despite this, undisclosed ads on the front of magazine covers remains a new phenomenon.

Mr. Mark Howard, Forbes Media’s chief revenue officer doesn’t see an issue with this:

The cover line doesn’t specifically state that it’s an advertisement. It does, however, include the term “FidelityVoice,” which is how Forbes marks its native ads — melding the advertiser’s name with the word “voice.”

Mr. Howard doesn’t think the cover line is misleading. “When you look at the color scheme and the box, it’s separated, it has a different background,” he said. “For readers of Forbes, they’ve known for four years that when you see FidelityVoice that that is content that’s coming from one of our partners.”

Mr. Howard might not see an issue with this but I do. Granted, the hardcore Forbes readers may recognize this as an advertisement, but the average person at an airport newsstand looking for something to read on their flight will not. Heck, Forbes gets delivered to my house every month and I wouldn’t immediately recognize it as an advert.

This brings to mind the FTCs 2009 guidelines governing endorsements and testimonials and how they affect bloggers. The entire point was to protect consumers (and I suppose search integrity) from fake reviews, essentially forcing bloggers to disclose their advertiser or product owner relationships so that consumers wouldn’t mistake advertorials from unscrupulous bloggers and advertisers with genuine reviews.

The FTC acknowledged in the document that traditional media doesn’t have to do the same thing for reviews because the expectation is different:

The Commission acknowledges that bloggers may be subject to different disclosure requirements than reviewers in traditional media. In general, under usual circumstances, the Commission does not consider reviews published in traditional media (i.e., where a newspaper, magazine, or television or radio station with independent editorial responsibility assigns an employee to review various products or services as part of his or her official duties, and then publishes those reviews) to be sponsored advertising messages. Accordingly, such reviews are not “endorsements” within the meaning of the Guides.Under these circumstances, the Commission believes, knowing whether the media entity that published the review paid for the item in question would not affect the weight consumers give to the reviewer’s statements.

Granted, this Fidelity advert is not a review, but it does fly in the face of the traditional expectations of magazine readers – which is NOT to find advertising on the front cover, especially advertising that is not marked as such.

What do you think? Did Forbes go a step too far?

LinkedIn’s Group Spam Problem Is Almost Unbearable

LinkedIn Spam

Not the first to complain about the spam problem that plagues LinkedIn groups, but I shall definitely jump on the bandwagon because it feels like it’s escalating lately.

I’ve been rather careful about the groups I’ve joined (a mere 20) and changed all my settings to receive only digest emails only for the groups I’m most interested in, weekly for others and turned them off altogether for others, yet it feels like the spam levels have increased. I may have to excuse myself from most of my groups just for the sake of email sanity.

I know that the vast membership of LinkedIn tend to be typically unengaged unless actively seeking new opportunities, but the successful groups are more engaged and with their high numbers are a tempting target for the less scrupulous of our profession.

Marketers. I guess they’re why we can’t have nice things.

Empower Your Community To Spread Your Word

Evangelism Marketing - Paul O'Flaherty

I was contacted by a fledgling religious oriented startup that wanted to get various celebrity ministers and church leaders to make a specific declaration during one of their sermons.

Their goal could not have been achieved given their budget and timeframe so I offered some free advice which also happens to apply to almost every business no matter it’s size:

Send forth your evangelists.

Every business, no matter what type, has its fans and believers – people who actually care about the business, its products or goals. These people, whether acolytes within or believers on the outside, are your best marketing tool.

Evangelism marketing is the next step up from Word of Mouth Marketing (WOMM), but the goal is the same – to have passionate people talking about your product!

Evangelism marketing is … in which companies develop customers who believe so strongly in a particular product or service that they freely try to convince others to buy and use it. The customers become voluntary advocates, actively spreading the word on behalf of the company.

As they act independently, evangelist customers often become key influencers. The fact that evangelists are not paid or associated with any company make their beliefs perceived by others as credible and trustworthy.

It costs very little to enable customers to spread your message, but it will take time and effort to promote them from simple customers to passionate advocates for your business.

Listen to them. Share their stories and incentivize them to spread the word as your advocates. Enable them to share their experiences on social media and in real life.

Organize them into a community, and show them that you care about their opinion. Interact with them and let that interaction be part of a larger conversation.

In the case of the startup mentioned above, I recommended that they organize their friends and followers as volunteers. Explain their mission and what they want to achieve to their volunteers, and create fun community events around achieving that goal.

Have group events to make calls, tweet, share and send emails, while you provide food, snacks, fun distractions and the thrill of achieving a common goal. Get everyone t-shirts and share pictures and updates from these events on social media. Spread the word about what they are doing and not only give them something to talk about online, but give them the means to do it too.

Taking this approach the startup would get a lot more “bang for the buck” and a longer sustained campaign, while also building a community around their message.

How you empower your evangelists is up to you, but must do it and you must make them part of your community.

There are very few things that a passionate community cannot achieve.

You’re Not Ready For Me

The Path To Success?

“You’re not ready”. It can single most difficult and hardest thing to say to someone who pitches me about marketing their product or idea, but sometimes it can also be the easiest.

Some of the pitches I receive are for products which have already been developed, others are for vague notions with no clear concept or even a value proposition, but everyone is sure that theirs is the next million dollar idea.

I’ve turned away potential clients for myriad reasons – your idea is crap (sorry, but it’s true), to people thinking that I’m going to drop everything and devote one hundred percent of my time to an idea which they haven’t even begun conceptualizing. Oh, and I’m going to do it for free.. but hey it’s going to make a million dollars, who cares if I can’t feed my family for the next 18 months while you “explore the concept”?

When I tell you that “you’re not ready” it’s because you’re really not – I’m not just some crazy masochist that likes to turn down money – I have kids to feed (which may mean that I am a masochist, just not a crazy one).

Sure you’ve reached out to me (and no-doubt a bunch of other marketers) but the chances are that you have not taken basic steps that show that you are committed to your idea:

  • Basic product / idea validation
  • Start a blog or website
  • Have a twitter account and Facebook page for your product or idea which you are actively growing
  • Start a newsletter
  • Make some YouTube videos (if the product can be demonstrated)
  • Put together a basic press kit.

The vast majority of this can be done for little more than elbow grease and a time commitment, with the only real financial investment being $14 for a domain if you use a free service to host your blog (tumblr, blogger or WordPress.com).

Not having these things in place raises serious red flags leading me to think that:

  • Your idea or product hasn’t been well thought through
  • You haven’t done your research before reaching out to marketers
  • You are too lazy to market your own product
  • You’re not really committed and won’t stick with it
  • You are flat ass broke and can’t afford me (c’mon – fourteen bucks for a domain?)

Nobody is going to talk about your product unless you start the conversation, and coming hat in hand, asking for other people to do the work that you could have already started is the quickest way to get turned away and discouraged.

Show that you believe in your concept or project. It doesn’t have to be perfect, but putting in the effort will show that you are willing to put your best foot forward and make a positive impression.

I Botched My Email Newsletter

Subscribe to Insights

So that you don’t have to…

There’s a hundred excuses I could make but the only truth that matters is that my lack of attention to my RSS driven email newsletter has resulted in the last few emails not being delivered – Oh the perils of automation!

Somewhere along the line some dodgy characters got introduced into a post (all hail copy & paste quoting) which failed to validate, so MailChimp failed to send and pretty much every RSS reader failed to pull my posts. Needless to say emails didn’t go out, I now feel like an ass, but at least I’ve learned a valuable lesson about trusting too much in automation – or at least about the merits of checking on said automation periodically to ensure that it’s working.

Every cock-up is an opportunity and this one is no different. Instead of sending you guys new posts every time they are published (although you can still get them that way if you want) I’m switching to a weekly format where I’ll not only send you links to what I’ve written in the past week but add some commentary about and highlight other cool marketing / podcasting / consulting / valuable content, tools and stuff from around the web. The point being to give as much value to my beloved newsletter subscribers (that would be you) as possible.

I want this newsletter to be a dialogue and not a megaphone, so feel free to hit the reply button  and tell me where you agree, disagree and just how awesome it all is…

Before I round out this post by asking you to subscribe to, let me just say a great big “Thank you” to everyone who is currently subscribing to the newsletter. I’m touched that you take a bit of time out of your week to read my stuff and I hope I continue to make it valuable and entertaining for you.

You guys are the best…

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Stop Over-Analyzing and Build Your Referral Network

Build Your Referral Network

Note: The alternative title for this post was “Getting Bogged Down In Data”.

If there’s one trap that everyone falls into at some point in their marketing career, it’s over-analyzing. We all know how important it is to track the right data when you’re launching a new campaign, or building out a referral network for your medical practice or small business – but over-thinking which data-points you need can actually lead to precrastination and a lot of wasted opportunities and delays.

To be fair these issues tend to be befall those relatively new to marketing more than anyone else, but even experienced marketers can fall into the same trap when faced with something they’ve never had to work with before.

These delays and wasted opportunities are not what our clients are paying us for. Our clients expect us to hit the ground running and create actual results, but how do we do it?

Let’s assume you’ve never built a referral network for a medical practice or small business before and you’re suddenly thrown in a the deep end and have to start building one at an established practice that previously handled all their own stuff. You’ve been handed a couple of spreadsheets that they’ve been using to track referrals, but they appear to have somewhat contradictory data. Where do you begin?

Talk to the client and set your goals:

Confer with your client and find out what is they wish to achieve. Obviously they all want to add to the bottom line, but for most medical practices it will be something like: “Renew relationships with past referrers who aren’t sending as much work, strengthen relations with existing referrals, and bring in new referral sources”.

Examine the existing data:

Use past data to figure out who you need to be courting to bring them back into the fold. Most practices and small businesses will have some form of referral tracking in place, and the very least they should be able to pull data from their CRM or practice management solution. If the don’t then you’ll have to do some extra leg-work with the client.

Discuss your observations with your client as some declines in referral sources may have “political” reasons and may be a waste of your energy. Very often your client will have a fairly good idea as to why someone stopped referring to them and this can give you very valuable insight into how to approach them.

Do your research and identify new referral sources:

Chances are that the sources referring to your client are not the only fish in the pond. Get online, hit up directories and find out what other potential referral sources are within your client’s catchment area.

Decide What Information You Need To Track to be effective:

The previous three steps were easy, now comes the part the holds most people up – deciding what information to track and how to track it. The more information you track the harder it can be to find a tool that will allow you easily manage the data, and frankly, the more work there is for you. After a certain point the tracking of unnecessary information becomes a burden and a time drain. Too much data can cloud your view. Lets keep it simple.

Get yourself a whiteboard.

Write down all of the data points you would like to be able to track (Name, contact info, NPI number, past referral numbers etc..)

Go have a cup of coffee and talk to someone about something completely different.

Come back to your whiteboard and start erasing all the data points that you don’t ACTUALLY need! Be aggressive. If it’s just a “that would be nice to track” but doesn’t actually help you beyond looking pretty on a spreadsheet, then kick it to the curb.

If at the end of your murderous erasing spree you’re tracking more than 6-8 data points you’re doing it wrong.

Track Your Information And Visits – Get A CRM

Finding a CRM (Customer Relationship Management) solution that fits your needs is considerably easier now they you’re only tracking a handful of data points, but there are somethings that you will want to consider.

  • It should allow you to easily import contacts from your email platform
  • It should integrate with your email platform so that you can tag emails and assign them to relationships and organizations
  • It needs to have strong note taking abilities
  • It should have a strong mobile app. You don’t want to be carrying a laptop around all day or filling in your notes when you get back to the office. If you can do it all on your phone, then YAY!
  • It should be scalable – someday you may grow your consulting activities beyond yourself

Also, keep in mind that you don’t need to enter all of your potential referrers information in straight away. Add them as you intend to visit them, and any competent CRM will start building relationships and tracking organizations as you tag emails and correspondence leading to organic population.

As an added bonus, a CRM will help you track your progress, projects and tasks, making reporting to your client considerably easier.

Prioritize your list

Based on your research and existing referral data you should now be able to easily prioritize the practices that you need to reach out to first. Talk to your client once your list is complete – explain your reasoning as they may have some insights into the meetings you’re about to setup.

Start making phone calls, sending emails and hit the streets.

Get out there. There’s nothing holding you back now except you and your willingness to make contacts. Send your emails, make your calls, visit offices, attend conferences and events, shake some hands! Track and analyze your results, rinse and repeat accordingly.

What’s Your Reputation Worth? Why It’s Okay To Say “I Can’t Do That”…

Know Your Limitations

When I started freelancing and consulting, back when I was young, good-looking, idealistic and proudly rode my Brontosaurus to work, I made the same mistakes as many budding freelancers and consultants –  I accepted work that I really shouldn’t have because I wanted to ensure that next paycheck. Hey, don’t judge me! Do you have any ideas how much it costs to feed a Brontosaurus?

While I certainly delivered on my end and my clients were always happy, it usually meant a steep learning curve for me as I tried to learn new technologies in order to be able to deliver on the promises I made – it also meant a lot of stress and working a lot more hours than needed – hours which came out of my my free time because you can’t charge the client for your lack of knowledge.

Looking back with more than a decades worth of hindsight I find myself wondering what damage would have been done to my reputation had I not been able to deliver, or if clients were unhappy with the finished project?

I find myself wishing that someone had told me (or that I was clever enough to figure out) that it was okay to turn down work that wasn’t within my area of expertise and to use the extra time to expand my skill set. A little extra hunting for contracts in my field, instead of taking every job that came for fear of not getting another one, would have led to a lot less sleepless nights.

Unfortunately for many freelancers and even firms, this habit stays with them long after they’ve graduated beyond Padawan Consultants. It’s a hard habit to break – that paycheck is very tempting when your health insurance is on the line.

We need to accept that doing what is best for the client is ultimately what is best for our business and our reputation. Reputation is all we have.

It’s okay for us to say that we can’t do a job. It’s okay for us admit to potential clients that we don’t know something (Pro-tip – it makes you look smart and confident to acknowledge your own short-comings), and if we refer clients to people who can deliver quality work, the client and those we referred them to are likely to send work our way in the future.

Yes, we’ll have to hustle a little harder to get that paycheck in the short-term, but long-term being honest with yourself and potential clients about our abilities is the best deal for everyone, and will do wonders for your reputation.

They Didn’t Think It Through – Browsing WordPress Mobile Theme Stores

I was looking for inspiration for a mobile site design today, trawling WordPress theme stores, when I noticed a particularly stupid and unhelpful trend.

The image you see below is what I get when I visit the demo for a mobile theme on a mobile browser. Yes, that’s right – you’re looking at the full desktop site with the mobile version embedded in a frame…

I understand that these demos are setup to help people visiting from their desktop, but is it really such a stretch of the imagination to think that someone might want to demo your mobile them on, I don’t know… their mobile device?

Theme Demo Nexus Screengrab