Thursday, April 30, 2009

The Marketing of "You Dirty Swine"

I don’t think I’ve seen this much media hype since 9-11. There’s flu out there somewhere, and Homeland Security, the CDC, the White House, the World Health Organization, and every local health department and school board is on high alert. We’re at the equivalent of Level Orange .. which in health terms is Phase Five, which actually means we don't even have a problem yet, but we need to prepare for one, just in case. This is marketing at it's very best.

On the other hand, no matter how much I read or watch (and I admit it’s not a lot because I just can’t stand it) I have questions, lots of questions. How many people had flu at this time last year? The year before and before that? How many people actually died of flu last year? And what kind of flu did they succumb to: Asian, Hong Kong, Bird, Avian (is that different from bird?), Swine, or, the Ubiquitous "Other"? Strangely, there are few answers.

I asked the CDC, "How many flu deaths do we have in a normal year?" Well, you see, we really don’t know, they said, because we only compile those statistics for pediatric deaths. But, Dear CDC did have a few answers: On average, 5 to 20 percent of the U.S. population gets the flu every year (that would be 15 million at the low end and 60 millon on the high end. [Note: someone check my math.. this cannot be right or we wouldn't be sneezing at the Swine of the moment.. would we?].

Again, on average, about 200,000 people are hospitalized from flu "complications" (whatever that means) and about 36,000 people reportedly die from “flu-related causes. So does that mean that of the 15 million who can expect to get the Ordinary Flu, two-tenths of one percent will die from flu-related causes, though not necessarily from the swine himself.. in a GOOD year? Yes, that’s what the CDC says – 36,000 flu-related deaths in an average year (actually, since I, personally, have had flu just once in decades, I'm wondering how I avoided being one in 15 million for x years ... but that's way beyond my ability to calculate.. the mind reels).

Moving ahead, near as I can tell, as of this afternoon, total confirmed cases in the U.S. (64), Canada (19), and Mexico (99) totaled 182, with fewer than 10 deaths. That’s not much in a world population of close to 7 billion (I’d calculate it for you, except my little solar calculator doesn’t have that many decimals). There are certain to be more, of course, because in an average year at least 15 million people in the U.S. alone will get flu .. but we already covered that, didn't we?

What we see here may be less the power to inform, than the power to market because – with very little statistical clout – an awful lot of people are buying something: newspapers, flu masks and related paraphernalia, extra stocks of food, etc. Meanwhile, businesses are devising emergency plans to cover possible worker shortages and folks are canceling flight reservations. A lot of overtime pay is being expended on planning for an uncertain future. The drug companies are ecstatic, the airlines are grim (win some, lose some).

Having said all this in the best mathematical precision I can muster, I confess: I simply do not understand what is happening. With all this information everywhere, I do not understand. but I do understand that it's selling like crazy.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Social Media Is The New Social Disease

I’m struggling to put into words this morning's revelation that social media – LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, Plaxo, Twibes, and the remaining “connectors” of which I am yet to be made aware – may quite possibly make us all very sick. I can’t prove this, of course, because it’s only an intuition. But I can make something of a case for the notion.

One of my favorite social mediaites exemplifies the manic nature of what I’m describing. I’m not going to name this gal because I have enormous respect for her talent and nothing I'm saying here is meant to impugn her. Her website, blog, Facebook page, podcasts, and tweets are stuffed with information for writers, marketers, creatives, and entrepreneurs generally. Simply following CK puts anyone on the cutting edge of social media. IMHO, she’s the best there is. So what’s the problem?

This morning, I started following some of CK’s tweets and, about an hour in, I realized I was exhausted. I couldn’t concentrate because, quite suddenly, I felt overwhelmed by the vast knowledge “out there” -- knowledge I needed, had to have, couldn't do business without! This was worse than reading an encyclo/wikipedia because here I was, exposed to a vast mob of fabulous people doing fabulous things – every day people, simple people, people just like me. They were all experts on overdrive! I felt depressed, inadequate, unable to “keep up.” I wanted to run away and I did (to write this blog).

What I experienced was real: depression, anxiety, fear, social phobia, and more. I don't believe I'm alone. I’m speculating that the human brain isn’t ready for SM (social media). Certainly, before social media reached critical mass (like it has in the year 2009) we’d never before been able to connect intimately – and intimately is the key -- to hundreds of people. But this morning, should we choose to do so, we will be invited into strangers’ thoughts, opinions, dreams, and aspirations (not to mention what their dog had for breakfast). As social beings, we’re bound to measure our own thoughts and activities against this explosion of inside information. What are we to think? Me? I think I’m on overload and I’m not sure it’s temporary.

Maybe the Swine Flu frenzy has contributed to my befuddlement. (I simply do not understand why this particular hysteria has happened. Can somebody please answer two simple questions: How is the current swine flu more dangerous than the previous swine flu? And, why is this swine flu a bigger media story than Hurricane Katrina?)

Bottomline: Something just isn’t right here and I’m thinking social media might have something to do with it. Maybe human beings just aren’t wired to deal with social circles that include hundreds of SBS (social brothers and sisters) tweeting, blogging, chatting, and obsessing (please don’t laugh. I’m serious about this).

CNet reports that about 60% of people who sign up for Twitter last only a month. Apparently, burn-out happens pretty fast. But what if your business/livelihood depends on being “socially connected” (and isn't that what every business is hearing it must do)? In my experience, there’s not a lot of room or a lot of tolerance for professionals who eschew LinkedIn or don’t blog. If you’re in the creative or marketing field, you’re expected to be SM savvy. Truth is, I'm tired.

To add to the SM heresy I’m espousing, here’s another public confession: So far, I’ve stayed away from mobile devices with keypads. I don’t even have a text messaging plan because I really don’t want to be reachable when I don’t want to be reachable. Still, I admit to having felt pretty old-fashioned sitting in meetings where everybody except me was thumbing it up (and I don’t mean that in a good way).

Look, all I’m saying here is this: In a warming global climate, are we humans beings firing up to burn out? Should we "just say no" or is survival no longer possible in a hyper-socialized world?

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Schwein On Sterioids

I heard on the radio yesterday that the CDC is tweeting the Swine Flu situation. Children’s Hospital Boston is reportedly doing the same, as, no doubt, are hundreds of other hospitals and local health departments. Meanwhile, the rest of us can keep track of swine via the omnipresent, CNN Surgeon Generic Sanjay Gupta, who also tweets (a few minutes ago 13,557 people were following Dr. Gupta, who posted that the rate of deaths in Mexico is “starting to taper down.”) Not everyone is enthralled with instant illness updates, however. This morning, newscasters are all atwitter with reports of why medicine via microblog can be a very bad thing. I'm still back on Saturday, trying to figure out what qualifies as a certified “Swine Flu Pandemic.” Surely, it’s not the 40 reported cases in the U.S. that represent .000013 of the population. When media meets fear -- hyped further with the hurricane of self-produced media -- where does reality go?

Friday, April 24, 2009

Brand is D-E-A-D. Is Marketing Terminal?

Brand used to be the reason we chose one product over another (Coke, Niblets corn, Gap jeans, Eukanuba dog food). But, today, more and more of us are looking for quality and features first -- and brand be damned. Lesson? Brand is dead. It really is – and, as marketers, we’d better figure out how to replace it; otherwise, we're looking suspiciously terminal, too.

I suspect the demise of brand is part of the “Fool me twice/STIM paradigm.” We neither trust brand, nor have the money to buy it. In short, the head has come off the chicken. If you don’t believe me, consider this.

An study recently reported that, when put to the test, a family of four couldn't tell the difference between house brands and name brands. Some people (including me) even suspect that the store and name brands are actually the same item with a different label.

Even fad-obsessed teenagers aren’t buying brand. This is revolutionary! When my daughter was a child, the summer camp folks called her “The Toys ‘R Us kid.” She had every fad toy that came out and carted them everywhere (my bad). Her generation (Y) bought everything by brand. At the turn of the century, when Jen Y entered her early twenties, however, that started to change. In wonder, I watched her shop price at Wal-mart and Target. She still does that a fair amount (okay, not Wal-Mart.. but that's another rant) , but she also shops for product features online first, then checks blogs to see how her peers like the product she’s looking at (it's mob marketing on meth). Today’s teenagers, Generation Z, have started years earlier. A New York Times article reports that, among this group, brand is already “losing its cool at the mall.”

More evidence that brand is dead? Well, for one thing, it doesn’t even exist. I heard yesterday that brands like Westinghouse and Toshiba have existed “in name only” for quite awhile. The New York Times confirmed this, too.

Finally (but not really, finally, if you know what I mean), a friend tells me about a great little coffee shop near Naperville, Illinois, which located its independence just down the street from Starbucks. This java interloper is now outshining its big-name competitor in every way. I know a bit about franchising, so I can tell you that, since forever, a major site location strategy of franchisors has been to locate a new shop near a successful mom ‘n pop. Wouldn’t it be just choice if the tables turned and mom ‘n pop (who today might be brother ‘n brother or brother ‘n partner.. whatever!) were putting their new stores near a franchise -- and winning!

Could it be that, all of a sudden, consumers are ready for a little independence? Maybe we’re tired of being lied to – by government, by pharmaceutical companies, by the media, and, most definitely, by brand marketers. Maybe we finally get it. And, most of all, maybe we now can do something about it. We can make our own choices (on the Internet and near Starbucks). See you on the net!

Stats from Obama's Internet Campaign

Ben Self, founding partner of Blue State Digital, helped design and manage Barack Obama’s online activities in the 2008 election. On April 15, Self spoke to a group of direct marketers at a DMAW EdVent. My website features a longer write-up of Self's presentation, but here are some quick stats about the world's most successful Internet campaign -- so far.

• 1,800 videos were created for voters
• the videos were viewed 15 million times for 14 million hours of viewing
• the campaign “talked to” 68 million voters and was in contact with 220 million
• $770 million was raised for the campaign; 65 percent of that was donated online
• $500 million was raised through small donations of $100 or less
• 13 million people visited the MyBarack website
• 20,000 volunteer groups formed and those hosted 200,000 offline events
• the campaign website was developed in 10 days, though it evolved over time

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

And You Can and Will Quote Me On That (Even If I Didn’t Say It)

In October 2008, my team sent selected media an article about using email as part of a cross-media marketing campaign. In January 2009, extractions of that article (a few sentences worth) appeared in Business Strata. The article “quoted” our client (which is very nice, don’t get me wrong) and also “quoted” Marketing Sherpa, apparently based on a press release that I remember receiving from that fine organization. Thus, the Business Strata “story” didn’t really incorporate interviews with people, though it sure looked like it. Instead, the "story" used press releases for the origin of quotes. This happens a lot, I've noticed, and traditional journalists get very upset with this "easy-out" approach. It's not inaccurate, exactly, but it does imply a process that never happened. It also goes to show that, on the Internet, when somebody says they "said" it, maybe they did and maybe they didn’t.. or maybe they just sort of said it, like, well, they would have said it, if you'd asked them.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Shall We Play It Again, Sam?

On his blog Prevential, copywriter Derek Halpern suggests that marketers,“Do It Like Miles Davis Did.” Halpern says, “Miles Davis was able to stay relevant and on top of his genre by dramatically changing his style and approach every few years.”

Copywriter Dan Rieck thinks Australian rocker band AC/DC has a better idea. “These aging, stubborn dinosaurs give their fans exactly what they want: the same songs, the same sound, the same show, the same attitude. Why? Because new isn’t always better.”

In direct marketing, we don't have to wonder which song will sell. We continually test and measure. That way, we know who's listening and when to change up the tune.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Four NEW Reasons To Trust Junk Mail

Copywriter Dean Rieck, who wrote about direct mail last week in DM News, made an interesting point. Rieck said, “People are so annoyed and suspicious of unsolicited e-mail, they now consider direct mail to be a relatively trustworthy medium.” Imagine that: trustworthy!

is right, you know. The Internet has given “Junk mail” new authority. I see four reasons for that.
  • Direct mail costs money to deliver, so at the very least we know the contact is coming from a source that’s put up their own money to reach us.
  • Direct mail originates exclusively from businesses. We can be pretty sure a mass-produced mail piece hasn’t been cranked out by some guy in a basement.
  • Direct mail can’t be “hacked,” or “phished,” and it’s an expensive way to steal somebody’s identity. If it looks exactly like something from our bank, it is from our bank.
  • Postage has become so expensive that direct mailers have gotten very serious about who they mail to. By the time we get a marketing message by mail, it’s very likely to be relevant to us. Come to think of it, direct mailers are so good that a peek inside somebody's mailbox discloses a great deal about who they are and what they care about. (Nope. Can’t say that about my in-box, can you?)

Friday, April 17, 2009

The Korean Taco Approach To PR

By now, most marketers have heard about the success of the L.A. Korean Taco truck. This popular meals-on-wheels snack won a loyal customer following using Twitter, and garnered attention in Newsweek. The story fascinated everybody and, in my PR business, the term “Korean Taco” crept into our jargon. Very simply, around here, a Korean Taco is a communication with editors that contains a nugget of useful, printable information, as is. So, while the objective may be to place an article with an industry publication, we make sure our email to the editor extracts a salient point – a Korean Taco – that the editor can use even if the full article doesn’t get picked up. Editors seem to like the KT approach. I guess that’s because – as Ben Self, founder of Blue State Digital and genius behind Barack Obama’s online presence in Election 2008, says – “Nobody reads press releases. Even editors don’t read them.”

Monday, April 13, 2009

AdSense Spiders Have Big Brains

A couple of days ago, I blogged about my 25-year love affair with Macintosh computers. I mentioned every Mac I'd ever owned (and there have been many). This morning when I signed on, Google had my AdSense connected to PowerMax, an online retailer of used Mac paraphernalia. Now that is targeted advertising, I thought. When I re-blogged about copy writing, a whole new set of ads came up. This little bot spider crawling around for Apple has a very big brain to keep track of all this. Impressive? Yes, sir: Impressive.

Tweet Smart

Econsultancy Blog has listed 10 copywriting “dos” for Twitter, including: make it personal and relevant, engage your followers with questions and challenges, send along good links, and scoop the crowd. Read the full article here.

Friday, April 10, 2009

This Apple Worries Me

I’ve owned and worked on Macintosh computers since the very first model came out in 1984. I bought the original Mac and immediately upgraded to a “Fat Mac.” Over the years, I’ve owned (and loved) the “wicked fast” MacIIfx, two workhorse G3 beige desktops, a purple “Candy Mac,” the original dual-system titanium “Ti-Book,” the beautiful blue and white G3 Tower (also dual system), two 17-inch G4s, two Intel mini-Macs, and now a 15-inch G4 "glossy." There was a time in the 90s when people made fun of my devotion to Macs, but I never had a breakdown or a hard drive crash (until January 2009) and (knock on wood) I’ve never had a virus. Lately, I’m worried. In late 2007, a gal I work with bought an ibook laptop. She had a fatal hard drive crash eleven months later. A friend in California converted to a Mac laptop 18 months ago. He’s had two hard drive crashes. The first shock came when another devoted Mac user I know bought the little white ibook when it first came out. The keys fell off. When I asked what was going on, she said, “Oh, they all do that.” To an “I-was-there-when” Mac user, this decline in quality startles. Still better than a PC, but scary. Maybe that’s why I now have four huge external hard drives for back-up (they crash, too, but that's another story). My computer is no ipod to me, so why did everything start changing when Apple went into the music business? Surely, there is still a market for quality computers whose real strength is dependability. Apple?

Thursday, April 9, 2009

DocuTicker Knows What You're Looking For

Gary Price, founder and director of ResourceShelf, was doing his thing years ago, when Internet research was still "new." Today, Gary has a number of great resources for writers, including DocuTicker, which includes the DocuTicker Grey Guide. Librarians and serious researchers are very familiar with Gary's work, but it's a rich mine for the rest of us, too. DT's free weekly newsletter is a great reminder to check the grey matter. And while you're at it, check out FreePint, " a global network of people who find, use, manage, and share work-related information."

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Tyrannosaurus Rexanna Loves Print

I was watching the CBS report “Stop The Presses” that deals with the demise of the American newspaper. So many have gone out of business or are in bankruptcy: The Rocky Mountain News, Minneapolis Star Tribune, Seattle Post. It’s all because of the Internet, say observers, including the free news online. At the end of the video, Gail Shister, who's been with the Philadelphia Inquirer for 30-years, says, “The big downside of [online] speed is that a lot of times you don’t get the quality control, you don’t get enough editing, you don’t get that extra phone call to check something.” But quality control angst is for old people, Shister concludes. “It’s generational. People under 50 don’t know what they are missing because they never had it. And, more importantly, they don’t care. I still get excited when I pick up a new paper and open it for the first time, but I’m a dinosaur -- and I accept that.”

I'm not convinced. Is the decline in newspaper readership really “generational” – or is it pervasive for this medium in particular? After all, newspapers are about news, timeliness, and what’s happening now. Besides, we've been warned for years about the environmental impact of print newspapers. So does a decline in newspaper readership in 2009 really point to a vast movement of readers away from print generally? If so, how to explain the popularity of Real Simple with the under-thirty crowd? Or my 28-year-old daughter’s monthly waiting for Oprah's O to arrive in the mail?

In 1998, Pew noted that, while the television news landscape had been transforming, the audience for print media was stable. Back then, 68 percent of survey respondents reported reading a daily newspaper regularly. Even then, though, Pew found that only 28 percent of those under age 30 read a newspaper “yesterday,” as compared to 69 percent of seniors. Have newspapers always been for the "over-fifty"?

In 2000, Mediaweek reported that magazine readership was on the rise, with increases across the board. Since then, a bunch of magazines have gone “digital too” – Maxim, Elle, MacWorld, BusinessWeek, VIVA, New Beauty, Boating, Popular Mechanics, Esquire, and Playboy, to name a few. How will digital magazines fare? Who knows? It doesn’t cost publishers much to experiment, so the mere presence of a digital version doesn’t signify a real trend or a real investment.

Frankly, the thought of a digital magazine makes me glaze over, so I’m not ready to throw my print magazines out the window yet. I do subscribe to far fewer magazines than I once did, simply because being a writer forces me online. I get most stuff electronically now -- mail, newspapers, advertisements (!), work-related content. Still, I may be a dinosaur, but I’m not ready for an exclusively digital diet. Print smells better, for one thing, plus you can dog-ear and rip the pages. Grrrr.