Monday, December 17, 2012

APE it up. Author, publish and market your own creative genius.

Have you ever considered writing a book? Is it your calling? Do you hope it will make you rich (and famous)? Are you trying to promote yourself to get extra business? Whatever has you thinking about putting pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard), you've almost certainly wondered about getting your work of creative genius published. And if you have read a book sometime this century, you've definitely looked at Amazon. And probably wondered if you can publish your book, yourself. This new book by the master of marketing, Guy Kawasaki and his tech sidekick Shawn Welch talks plain and simply about the benefits and pains of self-publishing. APE: Author, Publisher, Entrepreneur-How to Publish a Book is that book, which of course, is itself published by the authors themselves.

Personally, I haven't felt the urge to lock myself away to author a serious work. My simple endeavors into writing some free e-books on the subject of mobile websites and e-commerce have demonstrated to me that writing is a time consuming, and quite frankly wearying experience. But I have friends and family who are serious writers. And my wife recently led the production and promotion of a serious business book on Engagement Marketing for small businesses. So I read a review copy of APE with interest.

The book is honest when it suggests it be read quickly, from cover to cover the first time. To get a sense of what matters and what is involved in self-publishing, or even the initial writing and editing of a book,  skimming through the chapters in an evening can make you much more of an expert than you were previously. This is what I did. Each chapter of APE gets deep into the details of every step of the writing, publishing and marketing of books, so the skim avoids you ending up in the weeds. But even if you do so, the book handles those weeds in an unintimidating, easily accessible way. Sometimes even just skimming through, one of the many illustrations, screen-shots or photos catches your eye and you start reading about details that you'll possibly never need. But the writing draws you in as the personality of the authors shows through.

Overall, Guy Kawasaki and Shawn Welch have done an excellent job with this book. It is quite possibly going to become the self-publishing bible that it pitches itself to be. And its own success will be the best review and recommendation. So if you are serious about authoring and publishing a book, whether you are considering self-publishing or not, this could be the best ten dollar addition to your e-book collection there is. Find it on Amazon: APE: Author, Publisher, Entrepreneur-How to Publish a Book

By the way, I've been terrible at writing this blog recently for all kinds of 'overworked, underpaid' reasons. I promise in the New Year to do better! Happy Holidays / Merry Christmas to you all.

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Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Growing customers - advertise to attract, reward to retain

In the last week or so, Constant Contact has released a new 'deals' product designed to give Groupon and LivingSocial a run for their money. Or more importantly, Constant Contact's SaveLocal aims to help small businesses control the deals they offer. With discounts they can afford businesses attract new customers by rewarding current customers that share their coupons with their network. It is an interesting concept, and just one of the tools that small businesses can use to attract new customers. But do deals just downplay the value of what a business offers, cheapening the product and the vendor?

The concept of SaveLocal, is that by offering rewards to current customers for sharing your coupons with friends, you are more likely to grow a local and loyal new customer base. Today's New York Times online article, A Groupon Alternative Aims to Offer Small Businesses a Better Deal talks with Constant Contact's CEO to flesh out the details of the way it works. When it comes down to it, the argument is that small businesses typically thrive on referrals and endorsements from current customers, since the new customers they bring in are likely to provide repeat business.

Groupon on the other hand does the opposite, focusing on a mass of previously unknown wannabe customers sharing with their bloated social networks, in order to satisfy the entry requirements for getting 50% or more off. The Groupon masses are likely to just take the discount and never be seen again. Which means that your discounted rate minus fees still has to cover costs, because a businesses is unlikely to recoup much from a new customer base. If profit margins are over 75% on your products (remember that Groupon takes half of your discounted coupon value, so you effectively see 25% of the full price) then Groupon can get you a flood of customers really fast. Some may come back.

This is the issue with deals to attract new customers: like any discount scheme, the customer's expectations have now been set based on the discounted rate. In future they may not want to pay double what they paid the first time. And if a sub-standard service was offered, there will be no repeat business anyway. There are not many wins in this.

For years, this approach to attracting and retaining customers has worked for companies big and small:

market for awareness, advertise to attract, reward to retain

Advertising your products at full price, spending 25-40% of your sales on advertising may ensure that your brand doesn't suffer a devaluation up front. With new customers in place from advertising, the SaveLocal approach can then help keep them loyal, since they've paid full price for the products and now feel rewarded for coming back again and again, and encouraging their friends to do the same.

So it seems that deals can be seen less as pure devaluation of your products and more as rewards for loyalty, as long as you use them right. Huge discounts to an unknown crowd seems like a risky proposition. I think I'll stick to marketing with valuable content (does this blog count?!), using free business listings (Manta, Google Places and Consected's own Roaming Local), Google AdWords for online advertising (contact me for a $100 coupon to get started - no obligations), and rewarding my current customers in very individual ways.

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Thursday, March 01, 2012

Business excellence - how do you know you've got it?

There is a concept of 'excellence' that is often used in business improvement to show that we are doing something so well that everybody agrees that we are excelling at it. On the BPM ebizQ forum this morning, the question came up of what is process excellence, and what is a key metric to show it?

A great response from Steve Weissman sums up the difficulty of measuring any form of excellence:

It's sort of like pornography in that – as Supreme Court Associate Justice Potter Stewart famously once wrote – it's hard to define but "I know it when I see it."

My thinking was along similar lines, that excellence is hard to measure but easy to know when you observe it working in practice:

I'll suggest that process excellence is an emotional response to a process or set of processes. "Happiness" could be the very untechnical metric.

If everybody is truly "happy" with an organization's processes, there is a good chance they are excellent. When we don't have process excellence, it is hard to measure but easy to observe: users don't fully adopt them and there is rarely additional investment.

As with anything we do in business, happiness with processes just means that they are delivering the results that everybody wants without getting in the way. So maybe I could have suggested an even better non-metric to define business or process excellence:

If you don't notice that you are performing a process or activity because it is so easy and natural, and it has the desired results every time, you have probably achieved excellence,

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Thursday, February 02, 2012

Facebook welcome pages - but why?

Last night I received a question from a customer asking how his new Facebook welcome page can help the ranking of his main website. He suggested it was a dumb question, but when you think about it carefully it is hard to see the link between all the effort that goes into Facebook and getting the rankings on a regular website up so you can convert more visitors to new business.

So, it is not a dumb question at all. Here is the way I look at it, and it is likely that social media gurus will be able to scream at me and say I'm missing something. So go ahead, scream! That's what the comments box at the end of the post is there for...

But back to the real issue, how does a fancy Facebook welcome page help drive up your main website rank?

In short, the more people you can get to Like the page, the more likely you are to keep them engaged and have them share things you post that point back to your website. This will get you more traffic to your main site, and will get you a bigger likelihood of links from other blogs and sites. This drives up page rank.

Of course, people aren't going to do much if your Facebook timeline is empty. So it is essential that you share something at least once a day on the Facebook page to make it worth people coming along and coming back to take a look.

In general, for promoting the Facebook page with the aim of getting more people to visit your website, I would suggest a few things:

1) discuss your Facebook page in a blog post, and reference how it is (or you hope it will grow into) a community of people interested in your area of business and sharing their experiences etc.

2) is there something you can give away? Can you offer discount coupons or similar things? Maybe you can offer one of your longer articles you've been sitting on for a while, made into a simple PDF ebook. Visitors will only get it if they like the page (see the Consected page for an example, which I put together today, where you get a free eBook if you like the page)

3) if you do have a give-away of some form, make sure you send an email newsletter pointing people to the page, discussing its merits as a community and telling them what they get for free when they 'like' it

4) once you get more people involved in it, tweet about interesting items on the page occasionally

5) everything you do needs to keep people involved in your brand and so the more activity there is, the better chance of higher page rankings

There is no causal link that I'm aware of between a Facebook page with plenty of fans and a higher ranking website. The page rank may not get boosted directly, but the amount of traffic you get back to your blog and website will grow, which is the real aim of the exercise. Visitors are where your leads come from, not a mystical page rank number. So keep blogging, keep sending email newsletters, keep Facebooking, keep Tweeting and keep updating your website.

And if you'd like a Facebook page like Consected, just drop me a note!

A post from the Improving It blog

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Monday, January 23, 2012

The end of RIM is nigh

RIM BlackBerry 7230Image via Wikipedia
I remember using a Blackberry for the the first time. My boss at the time was driving to meet a client, and I was riding shotgun. Of course, he had no idea where he was going, so he handed me the blue device and said "look in my email, you'll find their phone number". Without fear, I found the little thumbwheel thing did just what I expected. A big block moved up and down and pointed to just what I needed. The device was more intuitive than I could have imagined. Even when it came to opening a browser to find the elusive phone number, then just clicking the link to call it. I needed no instruction. It just worked. So, dear Blackberry makers, Research in Motion (RIM), what happened?

I'll admit that I remember that first Blackberry use more vividly than other tech experiences. So I understand why people (especially salesmen, bored in airports) got hooked. The 'crackberry' was addictive. People needed them. So what changed? It certainly wasn't the Windows Mobile devices, which looked similar, but had the intuitiveness of a brick.

Well, the Appboy blog claims that you can blame the late, great Steve Jobs, not for changing the mobile market (at least not in this context), but for being the presenter and imperfect idol that he was. He just set the bar too high for RIM executives. His flair and presentation, his innovation, just made it impossible for a little accidental success like RIM to survive. Certainly an interesting take on it, and a scathing judgement of the new CEO.

Then of course, there is the likelihood that there were Blackberry users who wanted a big screen device (those were the days when mobile phones were getting smaller, not bigger) that felt solid and real. They weren't Blackberry fans though, and quite easily were taken by the bigger screen iPhone. Close to useless for business people in its initial form, with poor email support, virtually unusable calendar and a single mobile carrier (AT&T) unable to manage the load. So the few accidental Blackberry users who didn't really care about corporate email moved to iPhone, the masses moved to iPhone and the mobile market changed beyond recognition.

But, Blackberry should still have had a grip on the business market. It had infrastructure to support them, and an apparently intimate knowledge of how their users could make subtle shifts of their thumbs to control their electronic world. No repetitive strain inducing swiping a whole hand to scroll through your email. Typing in a moving car on potholed Boston roads was possible with a real raised keyboard (as long as you weren't driving). But still RIM lost the plot.

A touch screen Blackberry was a nice idea, though you couldn't exactly type in a car any easier than an Android. The Playbook was just stupid branding in my opinion, and apparently it didn't have a native email client, so it wasn't really a Blackberry, just a toy for the kids of Blackberry owners. It touted that it had support for Flash, just as Adobe announced that it was going to scale back development of Flash on mobile devices. Bad luck, or bad planning?

If RIM is to survive, seven minute monologues by the new CEO is not going to save them. Neither is another Playbook. As Appboy said, innovate, innovate and innovate some more. Hell, make a tablet called a Workbook with real email support. That's your market, so stop trying to expand out of the one you've got when you are barely keeping a grip on it.

I have to say, good luck to RIM. There will be disaster in corporate IT if you go away. Many people rely on getting their email through your servers. If the company goes, the infrastructure goes, and that possibly makes the devices instantly obsolete. Don't panic!

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Monday, January 09, 2012

Aspen QR Code review - 100% fail!

I had the pleasure of spending Christmas and the New Year in Aspen, Colorado, skiing. It was a great place, although Mother Nature could have lent a hand with some more snow. While I was there, I picked up some of the local free papers and glossy magazines, with the intention of testing my theory that advertisers and marketers are starting to understand the value of QR Codes and the importance of mobile friendly landing pages and websites. Aspen is a pricey place. Consumers are wealthy and many have ample free time to spend a small fortune. Extracting some of this fortune is the top priority of businesses. Advertising should be top-notch, right?

As you've probably guessed already from the title of this post, my theory that QR Codes have "come of age" was squashed. In the Aspen Daily News and the pull-out TimeOut supplement for December 23rd, there were only five advertisers that I spotted using QR Codes. In 56 pages. That says to me that QR Codes are by no means saturated yet. They are still unusual and readers of printed publications will still notice them. 

Worse still, of the five QR Codes I noticed, only one scanned with my old iPhone 3G. A phone with autofocus might do better, so I'm not going to beat people up over my outdated technology. Target consumers in Aspen have the latest and greatest, so I'm just not representative. Still, two of them were completely unscannable even after digitally enhancing with photoshop. That's just a waste of ink. And my question is whether the people designing the ad even bothered to scan the QR Code on the proof before going to print.

Most distressing of all though - 100% fail - not one had a smartphone-friendly website sitting behind the QR Code. Beautiful websites they may have been when I got home and looked on my PC, but unusable on my phone. Why bother with a QR Code if you are going to send a visitor to a site that just annoys and frustrates them. Have them call you or email you instead to find out what they need.

A new years resolution for all print advertisers should be to investigate QR Codes. They stand out. And when done right, your company will stand out too.

A post from the Improving It blog
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