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Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Twinkies References in Zombieland Cause Major Sugar Spike

Google Searches for [twinkies] surged in the US and Canada in October, coinciding with the successful release of Zombieland, starring Woody Harrelson as Tallahassee, a (non-Zombie) survivor character obsessed with Hostess' sugary snack.

The effect was more pronounced in Canada, perhaps because Canadians search less for Twinkies under ordinary circumstances. It's interesting to speculate, though, about which populations are more likely to pursue searches in response to offline advertising and strong themes in media.

The top "related search"? [fried twinkies], which just happens to appear prominently in the movie as well.

The rival snack in Zombieland, the delightfully pink and coconutty Sno Balls, doesn't register much of an increase, and in any case attracts very few searches in a given year.

For the record, the real Woody Harrelson is a vegan.

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Posted by Andrew Goodman




BlackBerry "Doomed"?

The current wave of Research in Motion naysayers all seem to point to one primary reason for the future demise of the BlackBerry: the relative lack of apps for the BlackBerry as compared with the iPhone, and that, caused by it being much more difficult to develop those apps for the BlackBerry.

The people making these claims are typically developers, American, or both.

If you were Canadian, and in particular, a Canadian consumer, this would seem like no big deal to you. It's about having the patience to wait for things, because quite frankly you have no choice. Even though you're tantalizingly close to a place where you don't have to wait for things, and at least one or two cities that never sleep.

Want Google Voice in Canada? Can't have it. Yet.

If you wanted an iPhone in Canada... you had to wait. Until you could get it.

The Kindle? There's no carrier deal in place yet. Ergo, no Kindle for Canada. Yet.

BlackBerry users (not just in Canada, but globally) are pretty loyal. So - there are only 5,000 apps for the BlackBerry. And 85,000 for the iPhone. Maybe next year there will be only 7,254 apps for the BlackBerry and 41,000,000 apps for the iPhone. For me personally, as a user, this won't make much of a dent in my thinking. I figure that BlackBerry will improve that aspect of their business, while maintaining their solid understanding of the needs of the corporate user. I figure that sooner or later, the apps I really need, made by companies like Google, Yahoo, Yelp, and the PGA Tour, will become available. As a consumer -- whatever the frustrations may currently be for the developer community -- it's not enough of a catastrophic issue for me to switch devices.

Sure, not all the apps for the BlackBerry will live up to the coolest iPhone apps. They won't vibrate, shake, and blink in quite as satisfying a fashion. But there's a solution to that, too: my wife has an iPhone.

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Posted by Andrew Goodman




Tuesday, October 20, 2009

New Google Analytics Features Inject Intelligence Into Marketing

Amy Chang, Group Product Manager for Google Analytics, notes that when GA was bought and launched by Google, it was "all about democratizing web analytics," bringing more powerful web analytics functionality to a wider audience of businesses than ever before. Mission accomplished. Books will soon be filled with tales of Google's awesome data management capacity (they'll be dry books... but books, nonetheless). Providing such a massive exercise in computing to so many millions of customers -- with multilayered segmentation capabilities -- is a task nearly no competitor could accomplish, least of all for free.

Today Google continues its aggressive pace of development for GA, releasing a long list of enhancements. They'll delight power users and laypersons alike. Chang notes that the more customized (as opposed to customizable) features continue to be part of the trend of analytics moving out of its old role as the sole preserve of IT departments, and putting intelligence directly in the hands of marketers and managers.

On the power user front, we get more custom variable capability. This was available in the past, but it's becoming easier to use. To take an example, GA is now making it easier to track segments like session attributes (logged-in vs. not-logged-in users) or visitor characteristics (member vs. non-member, or even demographics like gender). Don't expect setting this up to be easy, but it's getting a lot easier.

For the rest of us, Analytics Intelligence is evidently the culmination of extensive product development. Rather than having to customize a "what's changed" type of report yourself, or having the canned report be limited to vanilla categories, this alert functionality is tuned so that it's better at predicting which change alerts are the most likely to cause a marketing department, specifically, go "eeek!" (or in other cases, trade high-fives around the M&M's dispenser). Note the slider in the screen shot below: you can set the "alert sensitivity" to "high" or "low". As Google aptly notes: "Now, you can spend your time actually taking action, instead of trying to figure out what needs to be done."

Other new toys include the ability to set 20 goals instead of 4, and custom engagement metrics considered as potential goals, as opposed to clunky custom segments you had to cook up from scratch.


And that good old IT person who formerly had the only set of keys to your marketing statistics, and sent them to you in whatever format she felt appropriate? Expect a lifelike facsmile to be staring vacantly into the camera for the Official GA Photographer, looking every bit like the lonely Maytag repairman.

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Posted by Andrew Goodman




Thursday, October 15, 2009

Social Media as Signaling Strategy

So, so, so much ink has been spilled on the "proper use" of social media for business.

And as I continue to replace football season with my new pastime, reviewing friends' marketing books, I expect to be seriously schooled soon by some of the best. I have three books by amazing social media experts on my shelf. It could have been fifty, no doubt.

So much ink on such a new topic. As Mitch Joel has noted, not a single "social media expert" has put in the Gladwellian 10,000 hours in the field that would be a prerequisite to being a true virtuoso. (Translation: hire one of them and place too much faith in them, and they could be fishing what's left of your company's debris out of the Pacific.)

I'm not a social media "expert," but for now, I can still be right about this.

In this glut of commentary, how does anyone make an original statement? I think perhaps by going extreme. Imagine Zero Social Media Usage. Imagine generating business without it.

In Meatball Sundae, Seth Godin went the polite route. He warned companies that grafting social media sprinkles on top of your existing organization would create a disconnect at best.

But in real life, Seth's reality speaks volumes. He's got one of the most popular blogs in the world, and has published dozens of books, probably a dozen bestsellers. And he doesn't tweet. Number of followers, zero.

So let's think about that extreme position applied to your company.

What if you just didn't do social media at all, and kept on doing the things you know generate leads, partnerships, repeat business, etc.?

Like email. Like buying advertising. Like "good old fashioned" word of mouth. Like trade shows. Like hiring people who are respected, who act as shining beacons for your company (and yes they are allowed to use social media in their own way, which creates a 'signaling effect' I discuss below.) You're telling me you've got all those channels figured out and fully optimized?

I hear what you're saying to yourself. Other people are saying stuff about you in social media: it's a huge task to manage this! You need to manage your reputation, both reactively and proactively. OK, fair enough. You need to *monitor* social media, and you need to maintain a good reputation. It's starting to get more complicated. But most of that falls into place if the individuals in your company come with the right toolkit: they're inherently approachable and online-communication-savvy. My point earlier when I wrote about Google, Zappos, and the "New PR," was that you can't credibly develop a company-wide PR 2.0 strategy, because social media is inherently about people, not companies. It may be agonizing to think that everyone in your company had better "get" the new reputation management, from the CEO right down to the engineers or baristas. But that's the way it is. Nothing -- no social media usage -- is better than letting someone screw it up royally, or artificially doing it as a "company." Remember? You can still sell beer on TV and software at trade shows?

In case it isn't clear, then: you'd better get the right people on the bus. You can't fake "people". Your people will either be good or horrible at social media brand creation. If horrible, then zero social media use is preferable. What about using it to promote themselves over your company? Do you think you can legislate that in your company? Sure: you can make all the draconian rules you want, if you pay six figure salaries and have free range quail in the lunchroom. Or maybe not even then. Maybe that's a separate post about the Art of Letting Go, and on that I may just disagree with @MarkEvans. If you had the right people on the bus in the first place, though, they wouldn't embarrass you horribly with online oversharing and drama. That eventually turns into a firing offence in many companies, whether or not anyone admits it.

I know what you're saying #2: good social media mentions may help you rank well in search engines in the future. Sure, that's an extension of off-page factors (such as links) that search engines use to figure out how to rank your content, etc. True. Important and fundamental. And you don't get everyone falling all over themselves to tweet about you overnight. It's part of full engagement with your marketplace, and creating something unique and valuable.

I know what you're saying to yourself #3: what if we wake up two years from now and it turns out we really should be using social media to win new customers, or for some other reason? Won't we be screwed? It takes time to genuinely build those loyal follower lists. Aha. Now, you're making sense. You do need to figure out social media as a hedge against being completely left behind in two years.

Most companies today go through that reasoning, and then they do it wrong. They put logos on their avatars. They talk about their new low calorie beer, ostensibly to customers who have opted in to hear all about it! They diligently try to build really big follower lists, waiting patiently for the day they can broadcast their marketing messages to everyone. Bzzzzt! Wrong! Why not just buy ads?

That's not how Tony Hsieh did it.

So that gets us back to the main point: the most impressive corporate uses of social media have not been for outbound marketing. They've been to make the individuals who run the company look like they get it, and to make companies more like people: approachable.

(There's nothing new about that. Media was social before it was "social media.")

Like being good-looking, toting a new smartphone with the latest apps, refreshing your website design, or choosing a good office location, social media savvy signals to the world that you've developed enough mastery of the world to be able to conduct business or personal relationships without tripping over your own shoelaces or running short of breath.

There's one more thing it can do for you. Help you plug into knowledge and further your career: as an individual. Smarter, more connected individuals don't just help themselves. They help their companies.

So that's it: social media can help you look hot, or at least to seem approachable. And it can assist you in your ongoing research so you don't look clueless, since networking plus information in the digital age is research on steroids. It can strengthen your "personal" brand(s), and help you to run with the pack, savvy-wise.

But as for using it for outbound marketing? Save the spam for later. Or how about never.

My hypothesis is that a handful of our experts may say just that in their books. Kevin Ryan once said it off the cuff to a room full of 400 marketers, or so I hear. Let's see if any experts really do agree with this. Saturday morning, the fall reading session commences.

Edit: I did a search for the title of this post to see if there were any exact matches of it online. Turns out Google had already indexed it, and (like Twitter) can tell you it was published "four minutes ago." The immediacy of social media, and the rush of real-time search, is cool too. Question though: did it make either of us money, or did I just waste my time posting this screen shot?

But seriously, that take is too prosaic by half. If everything happens much faster, then the cautious, laborious "targeted message" mentality of traditional public relations is fast growing obsolete. Social media savvy signals success. And those who panic under pressure (highly likely until we all have our 10,000 hours) aren't going to be great ambassadors for your company.

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Posted by Andrew Goodman




Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Major Mea Culpa Manifested in Yahoo Class Action Settlement

Today Yahoo is sending out details of a settlement in a Class Action lawsuit about its negligent and sloppy provision of partner traffic to advertisers, dating back through the Overture days and all the way back to GoTo.com, before Yahoo even owned a PPC engine. The story is presented as a minor hiccup by a couple of news outlets as of this writing. Barry Schwartz at Search Engine Land points to the $20 refund component, though by my reading that's only reserved for any company that is now "out of business."

In the letter, Yahoo makes the usual noises about a settlement not being evidence of any admission of guilt.

But the description of what advertisers give up if they opt into the class reads like a detailed overview of every nefarious practice in pay-per-click advertising sales since the beginning of recorded time. (After the jump, the cut-and-paste.)

More important than the small refund is Yahoo's agreeing (1) to give advertisers a tool to fully control partner placement; (2) to better disclose online on the "Traffic Quality" portion of their website where traffic may come from; and (3) to enhance something called the "Click Investigation Request Tool" advertisers use to request information on specific traffic partners.

This non-admission-of-guilt will seem to many advertisers like a full recap of the often slippery relationship Yahoo has maintained with reality, especially in the realm of partner traffic. It comes as an albeit hollow victory for the many advertisers who were treated as an ATM by click arbitrageurs, rogue publishers, and Yahoo themselves.

And now for the ugly stuff:

"The Settlement will release Class members' Released Claims against Yahoo!. The complete definition of "Released Claims" is set out in the Settlement Agreement, which is available atwww.inreyahoosettlement.com or from the Claims Administrator. In summary, and without limiting the definition of "Released Claims" set forth in the Settlement Agreement, Released Claims include any and all claims, causes of action, demands, rights, liens, obligations, suits, appeals, sums of money, accounts, covenants, contracts, controversies, attorneys' fees and costs, expenses, losses, damages, judgments, orders, promises whatsoever, known or unknown, matured or unmatured, suspected or unsuspected, concealed or hidden, whether sounding in law, equity, bankruptcy, or in any other forum, from January 1, 2000 through and including September 22, 2009, that have been or could have been asserted in the Action. This release includes without limitation any and all claims concerning domain parking sites and pages; typosquatting sites and pages; bulk-registered domain name sites and pages; software applications; downloadable applications; pop-ups; pop-unders; "sliders"; "sidebars"; "injected ads"; adware; spyware; malware; malicious software; error implementations and pages; email campaigns; clicks that result from self-targeting; untargeted or random placements within the Distribution Network; ads displayed on sites or pages that lack any bona fide content, or any content at all; or ads shown to Internet users who have not conducted a search or viewed bona fide content related to a Yahoo! pay-per-click text advertisement."

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Posted by Andrew Goodman




Monday, October 12, 2009

Badly-Managed AdWords Accounts -- Worse for You Than for Google

With a few high-profile exceptions, water always flows downhill. If you want to calculate which way a river flows, all you need to calculate is which end is on the high ground, and which on the low ground, and there's your answer.

Similarly, the flow of advertiser dollars from other channels into paid search platforms like Google AdWords has been predictable over time because of one factor: measurable performance when compared head-to-head with other channels.

In accounts where that condition hasn't been satisfied, companies don't increase budgets for paid search. They don't always shut off their accounts, though. So the end result is an account that sort of wanders along, hoping for the best, performing far below potential.

At different points in time, this state of affairs might benefit Google a lot or a little. The times when it benefited Google less were when their relevancy incentives (mostly CTR-based) were set in a dogmatic sort of way. If your account was really lazily and loosely targeted, eventually stuff would get "disabled" or "deactivated." That would kill volume for you, but you were probably doing horribly anyway, so it was actually a savings. Google, meanwhile, didn't get to exact as much of an "idiot tax" out of you. So they had to rely on other mechanisms, such as ego bidding or a hot economy, to further their profitability.

It's not quite like that now. Google has a sophisticated set of mechanisms for selectively allowing you to screw things up. They may not particularly like your fuzzily-targeted ads, but they're willing to show a certain percentage of them in certain verticals as long as your bids are sky high.

The end result of a low-volume, fuzzily-managed campaign, of course, is a poor ROI for the advertiser. But here's the curious thing. If the company has invested something in people and plans to run ads in this channel, they don't shut it off completely. They treat it like their other underperforming channels: shrug their shoulders, hope it gets better, turn the budget down a bit so it doesn't cause significant harm. From day one, I've suggested that this isn't a true savings, but a squandering of potential. "All in" or "all out" should be the advertiser's mentality. It is difficult, but not impossible, to optimize your campaign so that increasing the budget is feasible. If that's not happening, why run it at all?

The fuzzy, meandering, high-CPC-low-return campaign is not a negative scenario - short term - for Google's revenues and profits. These inefficient campaigns collectively spend heavily, smoothing out the ups and downs of the keyword auctions where advertisers are managing more tightly to customer responses. That's one of the reasons why, in the near term, Google's revenues will continue to rise gradually or at least be flat, avoiding the severe hits that other advertising media have taken during the recession. Look for proof of this with Google's upcoming Q3 2009 earnings release on October 15.

At Page Zero Media we inherit such accounts fairly often. There are two common targeting errors that companies make in the early days of planning AdWords campaigns:

(1) Loose and broad targeting, particularly of the type that addresses a mass market when you're going for a niche market. A company will say to themselves (perhaps having watched Conrad Hilton in Mad Men saying he wants to put a Hilton "on the moon"): "We want someday to be the biggest and best insurance company in the world!" But for now, they're just focusing on being top-of-mind in car insurance for high-risk drivers, especially those under the age of 25. Somewhere along the line, possibly in a text message from a golf banquet with impressive friends, the CEO forced the associate to the assistant marketing director to try broad matches for the words "insurance" and "car insurance" in the campaign. They're still eking along, in select markets, costing the company $18 per click whenever they are clicked, eating into the allotted budget for all the good stuff.

(2) Insider thinking. Companies get into their own jargon, right down into the regulatory mumbo-jumbo from arguments in Congress about all the players in their industry. The next thing you know, there are ad groups containing all the jargon about high-risk drivers -- jargon that's only ever come up in those Congress debates, in board meetings, and expensive consulting reports. People click on the ads occasionally, but they're inevitably just looking for information, not a car insurance vendor.

As these cardinal errors continue to eat away at the overall budget, the ROI for the whole campaign looks poor. The budget stays where it is. And the company concludes that the channel doesn't match the hype.

--

I got a note from a colleague who has spent years building out paid search campaigns that have formerly failed for the above reasons. Here's his tale of woe - the industry sector changed to protect the innocent:

If I can lend a "yes this is the way it works" rule to any PPC work for [insurance] that we should inscribe into our core being: Seth Godin needs to be read by every one of the people who do campaigns for them. Most of the time (probably CEO driven) they focus on the whole "getting their name out there" thing. Each new one I see is a broad, undisciplined mess. They constantly target information seekers with words like "best insurance" or "top insurance companies". The people who click those 1) Already have a vendor and are satisfied with them; and 2) Are simply looking for ideas; 3) In no way are targeted properly. The kicker is that those words are $5, $6, or $10 a click. They might as well spend that money on a TV commercial because that is akin to interruption marketing, PPC style. You can get fooled as well, because if someone has an article on top insurance companies on their site, like our client does, people will read it and stay. The bounce numbers tend to be pretty low, so if you are looking at that only, you get a false sense that the words are working. But when you look at signups, they are very close to 0%. I am not sure many of them do it, but content and blogs should be king for these sites, for those words; and they should spend that money on writing content. If you have and write articles based on all the key buzzwords like "car insurance comparison", you should get bang for that on organic search for $0. Example: "Best [(competing but ultimately very different type of) insurance]" and so on. Our new client spent $22,000 on those words via adwords. They got one person to sign up for an account. ONE! [Edit: we did more checking, and it might have been two.] Conversely: Targeted to their selling proposition of [doing more research on individuals in high risk insurance categories to offer them a break on rates if possible], those words [all having to do with insurance rates, unfair insurance rates, demographics of insurance rates] and so on, with a good ad, had $4000 spent and they got 20 people to sign up. OK, long story short: For financial services, not unlike others but especially for them, being targeted to exactly what you do if you are spending $4 a click or more is so vital it is not funny.

--

Google has worked themselves into a situation where the "idiot tax" helps Google's bottom line. So although they'd prefer it if most advertisers improved the relevancy of their advertising, the current system is built to hedge against idiocy. That being said, then, Google doesn't stand to gain a whole lot as advertisers become savvier and more efficient. In the past, the genius of the ad platform meant that Google's earnings and profits raced ahead faster than expected. During the recession, they're outperforming everyone else. But as the economy recovers, this current efficiency also means that you may not see Google grow as fast as you expect. They've wrung a lot of cash out of relatively wasteful advertising. Less wasteful practices will definitely help individual advertisers... a lot. They won't help Google nearly as much.

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Posted by Andrew Goodman




Saturday, October 10, 2009

The Echo Chamber (Bad) and the +1 Culture (Bad and Good)

Mercifully, readers, I didn't have time to post on specific topics this week.

But gathering up some high level responses to the ongoing rush of events, two stand out:


1. Struggling Against the Mirror Effect. Many pundits have warned that in setting up our social media environments using only our instincts and the technology as intended, we risk surrounding ourselves with people we already know well, or agree with, just deepening prejudice against modes of thinking outside our immediate circle. Guy Kawasaki's advice to "defocus" your Twitter relationship-building is a helpful antidote against this. "Defocus" means attempt to pick up some eclectic interests. On Twitter, I've tried this quite a bit, but talking to friends, I gather that many users can't see why they'd do that in the first place.

Anyway, I've allowed the voices of conservative commentators, nerds promoting obscure causes like walking trails on railway right-of-ways, aficionados of a specific mountain, and a variety of self-described famous digital divas who inevitably tweet about the egg yolk that just got into their hair, into my life. But after awhile, inevitably, you have to pare things down. You get so annoyed by some people, you give up on the defocus experiment and just unfollow the schmucks who seem a little too distant from your immediate concerns and tastes. I know that's what I tend to do, and I'm actually trying not to.

So on the whole, I do fear that our approaches to social media will lead to more and more strident debate in the public realm, and narcissism about personal tastes, and in the end, talking past one another.

2. The +1 Culture?

Speaking of dittoheads: Canadians like to pride themselves on independent thought vis-a-vis their gigantesque neighbo(u)r to the south. But you'd never know it from much of Canadian management culture.

In online forum parlance, "+1" is a cute, self-deprecating way of admitting that your post is just about to echo what the last person, or the thread-starter, just said. Through the gentle use of irony and shortening it down to two characters, you're at least cognizant of the fact that you could potentially be taking up more space than you're worth.

[Origination: According to Wikipedia, "A way of voting on mailing lists and forums, used by the Apache Software Foundation and other open source organizations. By extension, a way to signify "yes" or agreement (often with a quoted post) on internet forums and similar media." Hat tip to Jodi for pointing me towards the first meaning.]

Insofar as many Canadian executive positions - not least in the digital space - are merely tack-ons of a local nature managing the regional economy in a templated way on behalf of a large, impressive US-based company, long articles quoting the heads of these entities regurgitating what the firm's leadership and PR heads out of California or New York just said ... might usefully be shortened to the two-character "+1". We'd save some trees.

People (Canadian people) who are actually thread-starters - folks like the Flickr founders Caterina Fake and Stewart Butterfield, and RIM co-founders Jim Balsillie and Mike Lazaridis - are such curious creatures here, that's why at least some of us pay so much attention to them. That's not to say that as a whole, Canada particularly respects them or wants to foster them. If you want to be part of the "club," it's simply easier to join up with the +1's.

That being said: being part of a moderate, +1 culture has its benefits. Here we seem like mere +1's when it comes to joining up with American wars and causes, but in fact (as +1's to Obamamania), there are a few areas where moderation itself leads to advances. In the 17th century, Hobbes posited that avoidance of extremes -- less war, squabbling, haggling, and strife (bland consensus, even at the price of personal autonomy) -- was a necessary (if not sufficient) condition to build a nation's prosperity and commerce. Like the air we breathe, consensus is necessary to (if not sufficient for) survival. To quote one of Canada's most successful managers (namely, a political head of state known as former Ontario premier Bill Davis): "Bland works."

And sure enough, among other things, "bland" has created things like universal healthcare, the largest auto-parts supplier you'd never heard of, Magna International, and the prescient frameworks built by intellectuals like Marshall McLuhan. While there is much to be said for originating brilliant ideas and game-changing companies, there is economic value in the ability to observe, refine, perfect, and stay out of trouble in the process.

By reflecting on all this, I'm able to dampen my personal impatience with the +1's.

Posted by Andrew Goodman




Thursday, October 01, 2009

Bryan Eisenberg (.com): Guru, Teacher, Dad, Friend... and Just Plain Right

It's unusual to post on the launch of a blog from someone you may have already heard of - in this case Future Now founder, prolific author, and globally recognized conversion improvement (Persuasion Architecture) speaker, Bryan Eisenberg.

For example, I never got the chance to say - hey guys, Seth Godin's got a blog, you should check it out! That would have been absurd. You would have found it yourself.

I probably mentioned Danny Sullivan's blog, Daggle, when I found it, because he writes so much professionally that many in the industry found it fascinating how much personal insight he snuck in over at Daggle. Just illustrating the wide range of sensibilities people bring to the mix between personal and professional. There aren't any hard and fast rules here.

Having the chance to catch up with Bryan in Norway (on a 2 hour fjord boat tour, among other things), I certainly had a great opportunity to take in the personal side. It isn't to Bryan's taste to share much of that publicly, so BryanEisenberg.com, his new site, is strictly for professional purposes.

Despite Bryan's caution with oversharing online, audiences and colleagues like Bryan for more than just what he says. They take in the full spectrum of who he is: passionate about personas, obsessed with conversions, innovative in business models, but also, Brooklynite, newly-inspired lifestyle guru, dad, and a confident speaker with a wacky sense of humor (who never fails to derail the momentum with that gross dog diarrhea example... j/k Bryan). And the reasons for him shifting the locus of operations to the website with the personal name is connected to what makes him tick today. His primary passion is speaking, writing, and teaching, so it stands to reason that to get more quality speaking gigs he should have a website that says, "hey guys, it's me, Bryan Eisenberg".

I learned a few things hanging out with Bryan last week. They fall into a few categories. The first was just some kind of confirmation about how many regular global speakers share the same attitude towards the travel thing and the places they visit. They don't party too much (it's all relative), because on their day off they want to hit the ground running and walk for many miles to take in every sight they can. And when you're walking with them, aside from the local culture and business topics, they invariably talk about family. Well, of course. They miss them!

I also learned that you can make an immensely good living if you figure out what you're passionate about and focus on that without comparing yourself to anyone else. This may be nothing new, but either the dot com bust in 2001-2 or the current economic malaise got a lot of people. Waylaid them on their march to global supremacy. Made them ask, to cite the Po Bronson book title, What Should I Do With My Life?

It just may be that Bryan's next book would be a good sequel to Bronson's. Stay tuned for more on that from Bryan.

Bryan is no longer going to work 15 hour days grinding himself into dust. He'll work more efficiently and take time out to relax, be with family, and religiously follow his new exercise and diet regimen. You guessed it: Bryan's new life dovetails with the title of a forthcoming (marketing strategy meets personal empowerment) book he'll be working on: "Trim the Fat!" In the end, I bet he winds up earning more in his newly streamlined lifestyle. But in the meantime, he'll also have strengthened his whole life, to say nothing of his heart, lungs, etc. He's lost 50 lbs. since March... and is still going.

More practically, hearing Bryan confirm his persona as a sought-after speaker was a reminder to me that there is a marketplace for fantastic, value-adding speakers. In his groundbreaking book, Free, Chris Anderson recently related the Stewart Brand clarification that "commodity information wants to be free, and scarce information wants to be expensive." Combine scarce with motivating and mobilizing, and that's information that businesses will pay for and travel for.

I tend to think the conference circuit worked itself into a glut of events overfilled with so-so speakers who are pretty fair at putting out eight minutes of material. That's OK, but there's just too much of it. Like Bryan, I don't have any intention of contributing to the glut of 8-minute sound-bite-style presentations any more than I have to in the coming years. (That's part of why you'll see me delivering a full 45 minute standalone, Advanced Paid Search Brain Candy, at SES Chicago in December.)

None of this friendly stuff would matter to most of us, though, unless Bryan's material was constantly inspiring us to test new things with our websites, whether it be using a formal tool like Google Website Optimizer in concert with tips in the book he co-authored, Always Be Testing, or applying principles more broadly to different forms of problem-solving. Bryan's brain is the main thing that motivates me to hover nearby. :)

From time to time I'll offer more concrete examples here, no doubt. But for brevity's sake, just one for now. Persuasion Architecture puts much stock in the typology of four types of information searchers based on the dimensions fast vs. slow, and emotional vs. logical -- resulting in four basic personality types: competitive, methodical, spontaneous, and humanistic. My personal take is that as psychology, this is very rough-edged. But it is also very germane psychology when it comes to our task as interface designers and marketing communicators. Eye tracking studies showing the behavior of the four types are almost hilarious in how evocative they are in showing how people's searching and comparison shopping behavior differs. Those doggone methodical people stare down every link and heading on the page!

So in Q&A after his keynote talk in Oslo, I was curious to find out why a variety of "competitive" elements (of marketing copy, interfaces, etc.) seem to repeatedly test out so well in the direct response world (Google AdWords, landing pages, purchase conversions). Is the world becoming more competitive? Are frequent purchasers skewing towards more competitive types of people?

In Bryan's view, overall the trend is for buyers to use logic more than they once did, and less emotion, at least using online interfaces. (So, competitive is a subset of that use of logic, it's just the hair-trigger version.) This may be chicken-egg. Certain interfaces prompt us to be more logical and especially competitive as to how quickly we can get to the "right" solution for us. The tools are better. Those of us who are even slightly predisposed towards this are not easily taken in by that cute hero shot - though humanistic elements may lurk in the background to support the strength of brands. In our behavior, we flit from site to site. Finding best deals, comparing from bigger inventories. Finding more unique products from companies with niche (but better) products, and being able to buy quickly while getting to know the designer (OK, so that's just a tad humanistic). We're wringing every bit of performance out of this "buy now machine" called the digital world that we possibly can.

Going against that trend may prove expensive. In a naked digital world, your customer may be wearing a more dispassionate hat than you expect. And the definition of "in a hurry" keeps changing. Everyone gets faster, even the methodicals. Hide the banana and yet another of your prospects just may puke before you can finish the sentence "my bounce rate sucks."

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Posted by Andrew Goodman




An Open Letter to Couples Resort in Algonquin Park

To the proprietors:

I just got an email from your company today. Why? I'm on your list, because I'm a would-be customer. Because I attempted to book accommodations online. That should mean I actually stayed there, but nope. So you sending me the email is rubbing a little salt into that wound.

We planned a last minute three day holiday in early summer, in late June -- at the height of the recession, mind you.

Thinking of something a little bit different, I started doing searches for a few places right inside beautiful Algonquin Park. Most of them were booked up with groups or just expected weekend travel to kick off summer. But one, Couples Resort, had availability. It was certainly luxurious, maybe a little over the top. But let's live a little, I said! So I did the booking online, and it was done.

A desk clerk called me the next morning at 9:00 a.m. to tell me the booking didn't take, because the room I'd seemingly paid for with my credit card online, somehow got booked by someone else doing the exact same thing, perhaps a few nanoseconds before. She then tried to upsell me on whatever else was left -- up a couple of notches, as I recalled. "No problem," I said, feeling magnanimous. What I was thinking, though, was "this is a huge problem." You don't go to bed having paid for a room and want to wake up hearing that you don't have one.

I suggested that because we were in the deep depths of a recession, and because their snafu had screwed me over royally, we'd be more than happy to fill their monster standalone cottage on 24 hours' notice if they'd be willing to knock the price down by 30%. Not like they were going to sell the room now anyway.

I would have taken 10-15%. Any type of gesture. The rooms at this place are all pretty much outrageously priced, still evidently riding on fumes and memories of the boom. As someone who uses Hotwire to get 4-star hotel rooms for 55% off or better, I have limited patience for companies that talk about recession pricing and then try to sell you $400 rooms on 24 hrs. notice, without so much as a haggle.

The clerk told me there was zero (0) flexibility on the price of that huge room we didn't want, because the "computer" told her what to do.

I laughed and said no dice.

My search turned to more reasonably-priced Prince Edward County. We somehow figured out that The Inn at Huff Estates Winery is the best, most luxurious resort in all of The County. So Huff Estates it was. We enjoyed great local dinners and wine tasting, plus a lengthy walk through the dunes at Sandbanks Provincial Park.

FYI: After October 11, bed and breakfast at the Premiere Suites at Huff Estates (complete with whirlpool and patio) will only be $159 a night! What a deal!

Couples Resort, receiving your email today makes me wonder how you can stay in business. Look around you! While you talk about the recession, most everyone else in your industry adjusted to it. Purveyors of luxury four and five star accommodations truly would be empty this year without major cut price incentives.

Oh, the economy will bounce back, but some of you guys won't.

In case you forget, here was your letter to me, your "customer":

This harsh recession is ending now and it has caused a lot of heartache for many. I hope we all are doing better soon and looking forward to a much better 2010.

Like most of you, we have lost a significant amount of revenue this year. We have certainly reduced prices greatly this year in order to adjust for your pain and to help retain our occupancy. Guest stays at the Resort were down very little on the full year. As the saying goes, "We have squeezed the Nickel until the Queen Screamed" and reduced our costs significantly to meet the lower prices offered.

Thank you for doing your part and understanding our changes so that we all may enjoy this Resort for many years to come. We are pleased that as the economy is starting to stabilize we can add back in the Free Breakfasts in Bed, a highly valued service to you.

Well, thanks for the free coffee and donuts, Couples Resort. But the damage has already been done. To anyone reading, I recommend instead you check out Huff Estates Winery in Prince Edward County. You'll need to get out of bed to go to breakfast, but you can haul a plate of breakfast across the courtyard to your patio... in case your partner wants to stay in bed or near the fireplace, bring a couple of extra melon slices. All that for $159. Apparently the "computer" doesn't tell Lanny Huff and his staff what to do.

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Posted by Andrew Goodman




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