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Who wouldn’t want to be awesome? 09/29/2009

Posted by Paul Daigle in Uncategorized.
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NeoUmair Haque, Director of the Havas Media Lab, recently challenged the world’s markets with what he calls The Awesomeness Manifesto. In it he asks “What makes some stuff awesome and other stuff merely innovative?” His point? If innovation is the act of doing something a little bit differently, then are markets driven by innovation all that, well… awesome?  He goes even further in asking if the cost of innovation can exceed the benefits.

Innovation often isn’t. Innovation means, naively, what is commercially novel.

Yet, as the financial crisis proves, what is “innovative” is often value destructive and socially harmful. Financial “innovation” destroyed trillions in value.

A better concept, one built for a radically interdependent 21st century, is awesomeness. –Umair Haque

Though our culture is built on, driven by, and even a bit obsessed with innovation, is the enhanced value, meaning and quality of life produced always proportionate to the energies expended to realize those fruits? And, more importantly, can innovation be a double-edged sword?

He goes on to identify, what he calls, the four pillars of awesomeness. Each of which sound like an appeal to leave business for the sake of business behind to pursue the higher calling of true value creation.

Awesomeness happens when thick value is created by people who love what they do, added to insanely great stuff, and multiplied by communities who are delighted and inspired because they are authentically better off. That’s a better kind of innovation, built for 21st century economics.  -Umair Haque

Umair’s observations are quite similar to my own (see Gravity vs. Electricity).

He concludes by turning his manifesto into a collaborative exercise by inviting readers to contribute their ideas to the cause of awesomeness.

Here are my thoughts on awesomeness.

Capitalism, which is a reasonably good economic and social model, asks most of us to make a significant personal contribution in order to sustain our quality of life. We call this contribution “work.” Regardless of how much we like what we do, most of us see our careers as a means to an end.  We often keep professional and personal separate. We qualify our contributions through their financial rewards. We make our work, what is often our single greatest contribution to society, about making money and living well. Too few of us qualify our participation through our careers much further.

Does the disconnect between our day-to-day getting by and the net value of our output contribute to the kind of markets we see today? Markets where too many indistinguishable goods and services compete for our business. Where fierce competition for existing markets creates a cacophony of voices in the media working to distinguish themselves… creating secondary markets around consumer attention and mind share. If we consider the time, energy and resources that all this competitive activity expends, the environmental impact, the noise we have to filter through, and the time and energy we waste knee-deep in messaging, offers and hype… we have to ask: does this innovative marketplace, with all the heat and friction it generates, really produce net gains for society?

I’m not saying that Capitalism, free markets or innovation are the problem.  I believe that we are the problem. Do we recognize how our careers, our products and our companies affect the world we live in… really. Perhaps the pursuit of personal awesomeness can begin by reconnecting the value of our sweat to the net-value we produce in the market.

Innovation, the act of bringing incremental improvements to existing ideas, keeps us locked in an endless front-line battle for market share. Awesomeness transcends the value found in existing markets to create new markets. The pursuit of  awesomeness is the pursuit of game changing ideas, unrealized value, and truly original ways of thinking. Because we are so accustomed to imagining new ideas and value propositions within the context of existing markets, we have a difficult time trusting or embracing the promises unleashed by awesome thinking. This insecurity prevents awesome thinking from becoming an embraceable model.

Instead, we view awesomeness as a phenomenon produced by a few gifted geniuses. Steve Jobs, Howard Schultz and Oprah Winfrey have the magic touch for creating markets. A Pixar or Nintendo’s succession of successes are accidental or otherworldly. The rapid ascent of YouTube, Facebook and Twitter are too singular to teach us anything that we too can employ. By exalting our real world examples of awesomeness, we don’t allow our best case studies to reveal the fundamentals of awesome thinking.

Our biggest challenge is to demystify awesomeness, to help it become a more understood and attainable pursuit. Only by working together to define, recognize, uncover and support awesomeness can we unleash awesome new companies, and create jobs that impart the personal benefits of delivering awesomeness to the marketplace.

Being awesome, especially in this economy, is incredibly difficult. Awesomeness almost always requires monumental amounts of self discipline, courage and persistence, along with a willingness to risk what we have to get to something better. Awesomeness demands that we stand against well established ideas, and openly challenge entrenched paradigms. The pursuit of awesomeness can cause friends, family members, and even our most trusted advisers to question our sanity. Because awesomeness can be disruptive to existing markets, there may also be some who don’t wish us well. The barriers to awesome are high.

Today the web gives us access to a wide and rich stream of information, ideas and communication. We can leverage this new channel to help the models behind awesome thinking become more understandable and embraceable, and help awesome success become more attainable. My question is this: How can we work together to explore and convey the principles of awesome thinking?

What can Google teach us about effective homepage design? 09/23/2009

Posted by Paul Daigle in Uncategorized.
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Go!Last week, when I came across news of Google’s new patent award for the company’s ultra-slim, famously utilitarian homepage interface, I must admit, I chuckled a bit. It’s hard to imagine a more superfluous use of our patent laws. Even Amazon’s much mocked one-click shopping award from 2000 had more meat on the bone. Trying to turn simplicity into a defendable IP seems… well, kinda evil.  For its role here, I hope the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office gets a sleigh full of Internet interface design patent applications for Christmas this year. If Google’s design is defendable, then aren’t they all?

But then the thought occurred to me that this simple, little design may provide some important lessons? Sounds like a joke… I know. But the fact is, this interface is the Internet’s most successful homepage. Sure, Google’s superior search technology fuels its success. But a homepage plays an important role in supporting that kind of success.  What makes it work?

GooglInterface

In bringing a more critical eye to this, an interface that I’ve relied on thousands of times over the years, I found I was able to recognize some important design strengths.  I boiled those strengths down to three essential elements.  Later in the week I visited several other highly successful web properties to see if the same elements were similarly present and easily recognizable. And they were. Hmmm.

This exercise helped me uncover a model for approaching homepage and other product interfaces. What I like most about this model is its simplicity. By forcing attention on communicating these three value drivers it thwarts many of the excesses that undermine most homepages.

So here they are: The 3 key elements that are communicated in a successful homepage design.

Confidence

Communicating confidence is crucial for winning an audience or attracting a customer base. Successful homepages make their companies look credible, stable, capable and ready to serve.

How does the Google design communicate confidence? By allowing the homepage to stand on its name, thus allowing its name to become synonymous with the site’s value proposition, web search, the design exudes confidence.

The take away:

Gratuitous design and blustering copy do nothing to project credibility. Confidence is best communicated by a lack of defense. The more space and attention expended on explaining who we are and why we’re great, the less credible we become. Credibility is a quiet art. The less we say the stronger we look. Say who you are. Be who you are. And call it a day. Let satisfied users and customers create your hype.

Utility

Most websites have several jobs to do. How websites accomplish those tasks define their utilities. In simple terms, the job of an effective homepage is to effectively communicate the job of the site.

For Google, the utility is web search. The value is finding what we are looking for online. Google’s design doesn’t allow anything to distract from its utility message. In doing so it ensures that the site is able to do its job.

The take away:

The homepage should  promote the site’s value propositions while communicating the utilities that drive them.  Don’t force the homepage to do more than that crucial  job. Why let your news, promotions, product information or events distract attention from the page’s purpose, when uncovering that valuable content is a part of the utility of the site? Let the homepage deliver a clear understanding of what value propositions the site holds in store, and a sense of how those value propositions are delivered. In other words, the homepage should focus only on helping the site do its job, which is delivering users to the value that they seeks.

Functionality

The homepage isn’t a storefront, a doorway, or a billboard. When a user hits the homepage they should feel like they’ve come inside. The actions and options available on the homepage should establish a basis for the site’s overall navigation and functionality. Users should get an immediate sense of how things works.

The Google homepage  prompts users to enter their search term and hit the search button.  How we use the site to drive the utility and experience the value proposition is made clear, and that functionality is carried over to every other page, as the Google search box stays with us.

The take away:

Users shouldn’t have to leave the homepage to start comprehending how they’ll use the site. By instilling function and navigation early we give users the confidence and the understanding to navigate successfully among the site’s utilities.

So, there you have it.

Because websites are so complex, and every homepage comes with its own set of challenges, it’s not at all surprising that most homepages fail to successfully communicate all three of these elements. I’ve gone back to apply this model to my own homepage designs, only to find that I’ve often fallen short.

But what is striking is how well sites that have become essential to online life have done at communicating these elements around their value propositions within the homepage. Amazon. Ebay. Craigslist. Blogger. Twitter. YouTube.

I wonder if anyone has a patent pending on confidence, utility and functionality?

Gravity vs. Electricity 09/18/2009

Posted by Paul Daigle in Uncategorized.
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gravvselect4 I think we can all agree that the world’s markets have changed dramatically over the last couple of decades. It’s a bigger world, in that more of us are out there competing for market share. It’s also a smaller world, as more of us are now competing globally. The ubiquity of the Internet has substantially lowered the barrier of entry by providing an inexpensive and direct distribution channel between any company and the world’s markets.

Yesterday’s markets, which were characterized by scarcity and exclusivity, have been replaced by new markets that are characterized by abundance and egalitarianism. It wasn’t all that long ago that everything we consumed came to us through a market of limitations. We were accustomed to limits in our choices, resources, knowledge, access and providers. Today we have almost unlimited resources and options to choose from in satisfying our needs, with new providers emerging to serve us every day.

These new forces are shifting power and attention away from the mass media and big business towards consumers and their networks, giving consumers more power and control than ever before.

Since we are all now forced to compete on a more level playing field, and one in which consumers can call the shots, what changes need to occur within our organizations, and within ourselves, to ensure we are able to remain competitive?

To answer this questions, I’d like to  introduce and define gravity and electricity as marketing concepts.

Gravity, a naturally occurring energy, helps to determine every object’s place and position within the environment. Using an object’s relationship to everything else in that environment, gravity helps objects move or stay in place. Gravity is a constant. It’s self sustaining. We can position objects to suit our needs, but sooner or later gravity will win out and relocate the objects, re-determining their relationships and roles.

As consumers and as people we are guided by internal gravitational forces which stem from our value systems, desires, tastes, aspirations, identities and relationships. We are motivated to action, or non-action, by these inherent forces. Our gravitational will is always at work, helping to keep us safe, grounded, balanced, and satisfied.

Electricity, on the other hand, is a force that is generated through the expenditure of energy and resources, and wielded to fulfill a task. Like gravity, electricity can be used to move objects, or to keep them in place.

When we work to elicit actions in people which aren’t directly aligned with, and fully powered by their gravitational will, we are using electricity. Anytime we work to motivate others to take actions that they wouldn’t have taken by themselves, we need a degree of electricity to accomplish it.

When someone successfully talks us into something that we didn’t necessarily want, and through our acquiescence we find ourselves in a position that’s less satisfying, we can be sure that electricity was used to win us over. When this happens most of us will take some action to reposition ourselves back into place, or into a new place of comfort. That’s our gravitational will at work.

In markets characterized by abundance and driven by the will of the consumer, gravity will always trump electricity.

Electric marketing was a best practice back when markets were characterized by scarcity. In those days a large share of voice and wide distribution allowed companies to create markets for their products. Though many brands continue to rely on costly electric marketing and advertising, electricity is losing its potency, and the long-held advantages of electric brands are slipping away. In today’s market the flagrant use of electricity can diminish a brand’s reputation and position. The belief that electricity can still create markets keeps many brands from recognizing and serving the will of their markets and using their considerable resources to appeal to that will.

By recognizing and appealing to a market’s gravitational will, gravity brands tap the natural energies that exist within the market. When a new gravity brand uncovers and serves the pent up will of a market, the market’s networks can do most of the heavy lifting in moving its membership toward the new value proposition. For consumers, the process of being lulled towards a gravity brand is powerful and seductive. Gravity brands allow markets to feel that the brand belongs to them, and not the other way around, tapping into the market’s desire to remain in control. Consumer relationships with gravity brands create bonds that are impossible for electric brands to break.

Microsoft has long been one of the world’s most successful electric brands. One of Microsoft’s most successful electric marketing tactics was to leverage the ubiquity of the Windows operating system. By force-bundling the Explorer browser, Media Player, Office Suite and other Microsoft products onto personal computers, the company was able to quickly dominate those markets. Microsoft was successful using electricity because the software market was characterized by scarcity, and consumers weren’t yet acclimated to exercising there will within that market.

Over the years successful gravity brands like Apple, Firefox and Google have neutralized Microsoft’s electric tactics. Though Microsoft continues to produce high quality products, its reliance on electricity has often hampered the brand’s ability to appeal to the will of the market.

Last year Microsoft launched a promotion to pay web users for using its Live.com search site. In many ways the ultimate electric marketing tactic, this promotion failed to diminish Google’s gravitational pull on the search market. Today Microsoft is again leaning hard on bundling to promote and position its new search site, Bing. If Bing’s value proposition appeals to the gravitational will of the market, will wielding electricity help or hurt that appeal? Could Microsoft find better success by simply allowing its product to speak to the needs of users?

As a gravity marketer, it’s important to recognize that no market is ever truly satisfied. Today’s brands show us where the lowest center of gravity rests based on today’s offerings. As gravity marketers our job is to work to recognize where the gravitational will of a market leans, and to build offerings that can move some or all of the market into a more comfortable and advantageous position. Gravity brands must remain in lock step with the will of their market in order to continue recognizing and serving the market’s lowest center of gravity. Because the gravitational will of consumers and their networks is stronger than brand loyalty; any brand, whether they use gravity or electricity, can lose their market position when a competitor uncovers and serves the pent-up will of customers.

When a gravity brand allows consumers to leverage community, tribal or network benefits, it can produce a gravity-well. What makes gravity-well brands especially powerful is the gravitational force they exert on their markets can over-power the gravitational will of consumers.  How many Facebook users report that they dislike the site, but use it because all their friends are there? How many consumers buy Apple computers, when a PCs could satisfy their needs at half the cost, because of their strong tribal connection to the Apple brand?

Understanding why gravity trumps electricity is a paradigm, a way of thinking, and a means of operating. We can recognize and leverage gravity in everything we do, from product development, to marketing, to managing our personal and business relationships. Appealing to, respecting and leveraging the gravitational will of a person or a market can produce exponential returns. In a world characterized by abundance, gravity breeds security, stability, loyalty and satisfaction while electricity often produces doubt, anxiety, immobility, waste and resentment. As you go through your day, and you find yourself engaged by people, influenced by media and distracted by the many messages working to get your attention, ask yourself…

  • Am I being engaged by gravity or with electricity?
  • How does my answer affect the way I feel about the message and the messenger?
  • How does my answer affect the likely success of the message and the messenger?
  • What are the gravity brands and gravity wells in my life?
  • How do my favorite gravity brands appeal to my gravitational will?
  • Can I recognize the gravity brands and electricity brands in different markets?

Putting attention economics to work in a small American city. 08/26/2009

Posted by Paul Daigle in Uncategorized.
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dollarstore

I’ve been traveling Maine this week. After celebrating a family reunion in Caribou, and visiting my family’s origins in Van Buren and St Leonard New Brunswick, I arrived back to Lewiston on Sunday evening. Lewiston is my childhood home, and where most of my immediate family still resides.

Yesterday morning I ventured out in search of some coffee and Wi-Fi.  Driving down Main Street I was struck by the number of “For Sale or Lease” signs on homes and businesses.  Lewiston has struggled for years to transcend its original mill town roots, like many small towns and cities in New England. It occurred to me that Lewiston’s biggest problem is now a much more visible national dilemma: How can we replace our lost manufacturing base in order to keep regional economies growing and healthy?

The café I’d hoped could serve up an espresso and Internet fix was no longer at 205 Main Street. A brand new store called “The Dollar Store & Up!” was in the process of taking over the space, with a front window display now featuring miniature Empire State Building, World Trade Center and Lady Liberty figurines. Some of Lewiston’s longest running businesses have specialized in this sort of overstocked and distressed merchandise. Seems deal conscious residents are more likely to spend a buck on a homeless New York City tchotchke than spend $3 on a high-end mocha. Driving around town it’s clear to see that this city is struggling to find it’s footing in this very difficult economy.

DepTrustFoiled in my attempt to find a comfortable place to work, I decided to take a walk down Lisbon Street, the heart of downtown Lewiston. Once the city’s main shopping district, Lisbon’s eight blocks of early century architecture reflect the city’s one-time ambition to serve as a regional center for commerce and culture. Growing up in Lewiston in the seventies and eighties this particular street was better known for all the things our parents wanted to protect us from… namely drugs, alcohol, crime and “adult” merchandise.

Coming to downtown Lisbon as a child for guitar and art lessons sparked a lasting affinity for urban living and culture. But in those days I wasn’t able to recognize or acknowledge the street’s unique assets. Then Lisbon Street felt like a tattered remnant of  the city’s past. Lewiston and Auburn’s newer shopping malls and neighborhood businesses represented the future of city life.  Our downtown, like many across the country, became an anachronism, and a center for the city’s underbelly.

I left Lewiston in 1984 for Boston, MA and then moved to New York City in ’95,  residing in Brooklyn and working in Midtown and Lower Manhattan.  I relocated to Portland, Oregon in 2001. Over the years I’ve spent time in many big American cities like D.C., Baltimore, Chicago, Atlanta, St. Louis, Seattle, San Francisco and Los Angeles. These life experiences have given me an appreciation for what makes vibrant cities work. Walking down Lisbon Street the question occurred to me: Do cities and towns, like media, possess attention economy attributes that help fuel their success, or lack thereof?  The largest urban economies like New York and San Francisco are able to cater to many diverse demographics and interests. They have something, in fact, many things, for everybody, and for that they demand a lot of attention.  But smaller cities have a harder time catering to wide spectrums of people or satisfying wide ranges of interests. In order to succeed, smaller markets must become associated and identified with specific areas of richness.

My current hometown of Portland Oregon is adept at cultivating and promoting the special associations that give the city much of its character, history and identity. Portland is known to be a hub for outdoor activities like biking, hiking, running, skiing, windsurfing and climbing. Nike and Columbia Sportswear have helped Portland become a international leader in outdoor and athletic apparel. Portland’s independent spirit has helped it become a national leader in many indie industries and cultures, from coffee roasting, beer brewing and DIY music to chicken keeping and gardening. Portland has been successful promoting itself as an international center for sustainability and green living, as well as a leading hub for computer processors, Open Source Software development and technology Start-ups. Smaller Oregon markets like Bend, Ashland and Cannon Beach have become successful centers for experience, from shopping and dining, to outdoor recreation and the arts.

Some of Maine’s most distinctive coastal communities like Portland, Freeport, Bar Harbor and Boothbay Harbor have become strongly associated with the environmental, historic and commercial assets that make Maine a distinctive place. These smaller cities demonstrate the importance of creating a cultural identity to help grow a sustainable economy. Markets with focused identities create attention, and that attention helps fuel growth.

distcourtLewiston’s rich historic associations served it well in the old days. The city was built on its manufacturing prowess, especially in areas of textiles and footwear, and on its strong Franco-American culture. Today Lewiston is a city struggling to navigate from that past into the future. Perhaps Lewiston’s most important decisions regarding its future identity, culture and economy have yet to be made.

As I applied these attention economy principles to my morning stroll I realized that I was experiencing Lisbon Street for the first time as a person of experience: as a marketer, an urban dweller, a critical observer, a parent, and a concerned former resident. I can now recognize and separate the shell of downtown Lewiston’s hope-filled past from the economy that currently inhabits it.

For example, as a big fan of music and the arts, I’m surprised that I’ve never noticed the beautiful old Music Hall called the Frye Block. It’s just never caught my attention. It’s now a Maine District Court. I’ve since learned that the building was the location of Lewiston’s leading hardware store when downtown still served as the city’s main shopping district. But I still know nothing of its original history or the role it played in the lives of early residents.

Applying my experiences cultivating attention economies online, I asked myself what downtown Lisbon currently stands for as a real-world environment. Who utilizes this marketplace today? What characterizes and distinguishes its value proposition, identity and gravity well? Whose attention does it work to attract?

As I walked down this beautiful historic street, with its exposed cobblestone and early century charm it was clear that just a few of the street’s locations were serving 98% of the pedestrian traffic out and about on this particular morning. Those were, in order of volume: the District Court, Labor Board, the Library’s free sidewalk Wi-Fi, the Pawn Shops and Law Offices. If this traffic represents the market, than this early morning economy was clearly focused on the regions underemployed, undereducated and underprivileged.

signlessThis goes to the heart of what any attention economy faces, which is that of perception, identity, experience and relevance. There was little to be found this morning that would cater to or interest the larger populations found strolling through the regions malls and super markets, which explains why most Lewiston residents ignore this downtown environment and why it’s been so difficult for a new mainstream economy to take hold here. The easiest way to measure the value of a marketplace is to image it as a network, remembering that a network’s users and operators help define its character, culture and value.

A downtown economy can cast a light or a shadow on what outsiders believe a community is about, affecting the kind of  attention the community inevitably receives. It was only after I left Lewiston in ’84 that I learned that outsiders often viewed my childhood home as rough and tumble place.  A scary place.  A place to be avoided.  I knew that Lewiston wasn’t that, and had long wondered where this negative perception and reputation originated. Yet on this very morning I watched as downtown Lisbon St. perpetuated an identity that is counter to that which successful downtown markets, or any successful attention economies, work to create. When the heart of a city fails to attract and serve it’s residents the community reputation and identity can pay a price.

Today, like most cities,  Lewiston and Auburn residents rely heavily on their regional shopping centers for shopping, dining and entertainment. But the suburban attention economies and corporate experiences that superstores, malls and plazas provide are indistinct and homogeneous. They offer uniform, garden variety experiences found in every market across the  country.

43_lisbonWhat downtown Lisbon Street offers that’s unique and distinctive is a string of early period store fronts and environments that can be refashioned to serve modern needs and deliver uncommon experiences. Today cities can’t afford to build downtown structures like the Gateway at 5-11 Lisbon Street, or the vacated Depositors Trust Building at 55 Lisbon Street, or the long abandoned space at 43 Lisbon Street (pictured above) with its grand open floors and antique tin ceilings. I’ve had many memorable shopping and dining experiences over the years at establishments built into reconditioned spaces just like these, often wishing that my hometown had possessed such distinguished public environments. What a surprise to discover that Lewiston has the distinctive old bones found in much larger markets. But how does a community begin to create a new economy around an undefined, unrealized and neglected downtown district? It can start by recognizing that it possesses the kind of distinguished urban assets that many towns and cities wish they had, and can’t afford to build… and by creating a new economy that leverages and promotes these assets.

Many of Lewiston’s old mills are being refashioned into modern shops, businesses, bars and restaurants. Lewiston’s reinvention from a manufacturing economy to a distinctive modern marketplace is already underway. Lisbon Street’s future identity seems the big challenge ahead. Glimmers of the street’s future richness can be found in the new businesses popping up that are representative of the kind of experience-driven offerings found in larger markets.  A new restaurant called Fuel and an adjacent art gallery exhibit a modern urban sophistication that feels very much in sync with it’s historic surroundings. A new Indian restaurant called Mother India hints that a more diverse, international flavor could eventually take seed.

fuelWhatever the nature of the economy that eventually characterizes this area, Lewiston would be wise to continue to reclaim and protect the street’s valuable urban assets, while working to support the entrepreneurial culture that’s begun to take shape. The easiest way to support a progressive business culture is to enjoy it’s fruits. Residents should make a point of visiting the new environments and offerings that pop up, and supporting the local entrepreneurs and investors who are willing to take personal risks to bring new jobs, opportunities, culture and experiences to the city.

Residents should make a point of visiting downtown Lisbon Street to experience the local character and uncover the city history that abounds. They should engage the new Somalian shop keepers to help their new international transplants become a working part of the street’s community and culture. Most importantly, they should help create or support new businesses, opportunities and experiences that reflect and serve both the current community and the identity that they envision for the future.

Turning an ailing attention economy around is hard work, but worth the effort, as the economy owners will continue to grow and monetize their assets, investments and the attention they create over time. In the case of Lisbon Street, the economy owners are Lewiston resident. What can residents gain by turning this under-appreciated downtown environment into a welcoming, robust and singular experience? A stronger community. A renewed regional reputation. A prouder local identity. In short, all the cultural assets that translate into jobs, tourism, quality-of-life and rising home values.

Discussing and creating a framework for a community vision maybe helpful for creating a marketplace that successfully accommodates and serves the city’s current culture while working to instill an identity that residents, visitors, neighboring communities and transplants alike can connect with. Without community discussions and involvement, the city’s old identity may feel at odds with the new, more cosmopolitan businesses and environments that emerge, and that disconnect can cause investments to fail. Lewiston’s residents should explore what other small to midsized cities have done to reinvent and revitalize their historic downtown assets and environments, as well as understand how such transformations occur, and how they benefit the whole of the community.

An interesting case study for how a well-defined attention economy leads to exponential growth for a small city is Freeport Maine. Here is a bit of important Freeport history…

L.L.Bean was founded by an avid hunter and fisherman who developed a waterproof boot and set up a shop in his brother’s basement in Freeport, Maine. By 1912  he was selling the “Bean Boot,” or Maine Hunting Shoe, through a four-page mail-order catalog, and the boot remains a staple of the company’s outdoor image. –excerpt from Wikipedia

Freeport is an example of how a single innovative entrepreneur gave a small town a distinctive commercial identity. Today Freeport’s economy sustains over 200 upscale outlets and shops, making this small community one of Maine’s leading tourist destinations. Freeport has succeeded by pulling a singular “attention economy” up by its Bean bootstraps. Imagining what Freeport would look like today if Leon Leonwood Bean hadn’t set up shop is equal to trying to image what Lewiston’s downtown would look like if Benjamin E Bates hadn’t built his mill on the banks of the Androscoggin River back in 1850.

cobblestonesEvery marketplace can be considered an economy of attention. The attention you create is the attention you grow on. The success of small cities depends on how well they define, cultivate, protect and promote the community’s distinct assets. Through the principles of attention economics a city can build and market a focused identity that residents, visitors, business owners, entrepreneurs, investors and neighboring communities can connect with, participate in, and leverage. Lewiston has an opportunity to turn local and regional attention into a valuable new currency by focusing its own attention on reviving this singular urban district.

signless

The sales and marketing time machine 07/21/2009

Posted by Paul Daigle in Marketing, Sales.
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TimeMachineI was thinking recently about how sales and marketing have been at the center of everything I’ve done professionally since 1993. The ideas and tactics that fuel successful sales and marketing have always interested me.

Thinking about the goals of sales and marketing from an academic standpoint, it struck me how time really is the crucial piece.  Sales and marketing teams are charged with speeding up the clock. We are the time accelerators.

Let’s assume we have a good product or service. In time people will realize it… and we will be successful.  But if we wait for ideal customers to find us, learn about our offerings and realize how we can enhance their quality-of-life or maximize their bottom line, our competitors might beat us to the punch.  Or worse, we may  go broke waiting for enough of them to walk through the door.

Call in the Sale & Marketing team… the time accelerators! This creative, hyper-driven band of thick-skinners live for the challenge of locating people who are oblivious to the fact that our company and products exists so they can make introductions, influence purchases and establish permanent associations between needs and value and our company… and doing it all in as little time as possible.

We begin by identifying who our company can really help. Who is the ideal customer? What do we know about them? What can we learn about them? How can we reach them?

We then isolate exacting methods for reaching these prospective customers with messages that draw ideal prospects into meaningful conversations.  This allows us to uncover our prospective customer’s unique needs, concerns and situation. Listening, the key to sales, allows us to formulate a response that explains just how and why our company can solve these important problems. This detailed and customized explanation describes an improve future that focuses on the customers own needs… a future that is better because the customer found our company and let us help them. Articulating and delivering on this improved future is our key to sales, brand and sustained growth.

Our qualified prospects step into the Sales & Marketing Time Machine and are hurled off into an improved future in which they are our customers.

Sales & Marketing’s goal: To work to get prospects through our Sales and Marketing Time Machine as quickly as possible without sacrificing product quality or customer experience .

Putting technolgy back “inside” the box 08/21/2008

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You may have seen this (hilarious) video parody of what an iPod’s 2005 packaging might have looked like had it come from Microsoft. It explores in deadpan accuracy the kind of insulated thinking that keeps many technology companies from producing products and messages that connect with average people.

I find this topic interesting and timely because I often see today’s Web2.0 Cloud as a space where engineering paradigms and tech laden worldviews fuel industry marketing, product design and messaging.

The social web has produced vibrant social ecosystems for youth culture and tech enthusiasts. This is both good and important as early adopters help new technologies find their footing, and lead mainstream majorities to new value propositions. The growing expanse of tire kicking, test driving, puddle jumping and outright pioneering going on in Silicon City, the new city in the Cloud, is one of the most exciting human developments we’ve seen in years.

As we’ve watched new communication channels come to life we have also witnessed the emergence of a powerful social collective consciousness or hive-mind that I’ll call the new Social Tech Society. This prodigious and loosely tied community of social scientist, marketers, developers, entrepreneurs, cyborg anthropologist and influencers wrestle the daily streams of micro-innovation, advanced usage and data feeds to uncover new developments that can make networks flock, bloggers speculate and activities trend, fueling a network fetishism for technical innovation and social evolution. New apps, platforms, methodologies and memes are discovered, evaluated, documented and assimilates or dismisses at a rapid pace .

Is the work of the Social Tech Society widening the chasm between important new value propositions and Main St? Mass consumer success requires products and services that connect with the needs and desires of average people. This occurs when companies successfully package features, functionality and value around simple propositions like solving everyday problems and enhancing quality-of-life. The Social Tech Society is apparently convinced that today’s tech enthusiast ecosystem will one day become the mainstream. Geek is the new chic.  But the seductiveness of combing for watershed moments within the Cloud keeps focus on the outer edges of advancement, which leads to uncertainty, unreliability and diversion. Being an instrument of change, the Social Tech Society is not built for packaging proven features, functionality and value around reliable and well-defined value propositions.

Meanwhile, people who aren’t enamored by tech as tech want to understand what Silicon City is about?  What does it do? Why do we need it? What problems does it solve. How will it improve life? Companies that can develop products that answer these questions for the mass market will harness the true value of the network and the Cloud. Though the Social Tech Society may delay the inevitable, new technologies will eventually connect Main St., Geeks St. and the hive-mind to a truly unified social grid.

If the social web were the telephone, I think we can say that we’ve reached a point where the telephone has become widely embraced by a growing network of wired audio communication enthusiast.  But these participants currently define the network. Until those who care nothing about communication technologies or their effects on the evolution of the human species pick up the telephone and start talking, Silicon City will remain a land known mostly for it’s free flowing innovation and technophile pursuits.

The real value of the social web will be found in the network effect produced by a mass consumer market embracing the cloud for daily interactions. We’re not far from that moment, but we need to improve our ability to develop for and speak to average people. We need to put  technology back inside the box.

How can we help brands become more social? 07/16/2008

Posted by Paul Daigle in Marketing, Social Media.
Tags: , , ,
1 comment so far

ListeningTuesdaySeems like almost once a week I find myself reading a blog or industry report that works to redefine what social media means for marketers and advertisers. It’s pretty clear that the advertising and media industries are still wrestling with how they can gain real competitive advantages from the social Internet explosion.

But I wonder if discussing advertising in the context of social media misses the point entirely? Can a company succeed socially without first assembling the assets to function as a social company? Seems the resources and talent needed to succeed with social media have less to do with traditional advertising and marketing, and more to do with customer service, customer relationship management and PR.

Wikipedia defines PR as “the practice of managing the flow of information between an organization and its public.” Customer Service is defined as “the provision of service to customers before, during and after a purchase.” These are the attributes that make companies social, as these functions are grounded in listening to customers and the market in order to better serve the needs, concerns and desires of the market. Customer relations and PR departments are better equipted to decipher and manage the constant changes in customer perception and market environments, and they know too well the importance of response. They are accomplished in the art of the 2-way conversation. Ironically, just as most businesses have given up on idea of real Customer Relationship Management (CRM), the ultimate CRM facilitator may well have just arrived.

CRM, according to Wikipedia, is “a multifaceted process, mediated by a set of information technologies that focuses on creating two-way exchanges with customers so that firms have an intimate knowledge of their needs, wants, and buying patterns. …CRM is intended to help companies understand, as well as anticipate, the needs of current and potential customers.”

Advertising, on the other hand, doesn’t know how to listen. Sure, you can run traditional ad campaigns within social settings, but the real opportunities being create here are not for traditional one-way messaging… but meaningful 2-way communication. There maybe a misalignment between the goals of marketing decision makers and opportunities provide by the social Internet, and this may explain why so many companies are moving so slowing, and acting so apprehensively towards the social media space.

Advertising, as we know it,  isn’t going to go away. Nor should it. Advertising will always be an important way to build brand and drive sales. But developing social strategies and advertising strategies may require completely different vocations. So I’m wondering whether marketing and advertising departments are where tomorrow’s corporate social strategies will reside.

In order for companies to succeed socially, many will have to restructure to become social entities. It will happen. But it will take time. Helping companies understand where their social assets lie and how to synthesize these assets to create modern CRM/Social Communication  teams maybe the answer. These teams could work to manage the ears, the face, and the personality of a company.

When we represent our companies at social events we try do so in a manner that communicates who we are, why we are there, and what we’d like to accomplish. We also know how important it is to understand who we are speaking to. We know that our success requires that we engage the room in conversation… and that we listen.

Welcome to social media.