Creating Ideas That Can Get You Fired

When was the last time you created an idea that could get your fired? I’m not talking about something illegal, immoral or unwise. It’s those grand, outside-the-box ideas that make your managers’ teeth hurt. Not the good ideas we frequently have that make a positive impact on our business – we need those frequently to give us credibility when we go off the deep end. I’m talking about those paradigm-shifting, anger-inducing, light bulb-busting, WTF, disruptive kind of ideas.

Saul Colt (@saulcolt) gave a talk to the Social Media Breakfast Seattle where he discussed the importance of creative ideas to generate word of mouth marketing. Many of the ideas can be quite simple yet creative to get people talking, while other ideas are so disruptive that they can get your fired. As digital and social marketers we’re faced with an ever evolving industry where disrupting traditional marketing models are frequently the norm. We’ll have the opportunity to push the limits of long-held beliefs of how we engage customers, measure success, impact the sales cycle, etc.

What’s it like to be a disruptive thinker? Here are a few thoughts:

  • Disruptive ideas are polarizing: When I tell people about a disruptive idea they will either love it or hate it. There’s very little middle ground. I know I have a “good” idea when almost everyone likes it but know I have a disruptive idea when people trying to protect the status quo hate it.
  • When I have a disruptive idea I can’t sleep. I wake up, shower, commute, work, breath and sleep the idea. It’s a blast – if I can bottle the feeling I can sell it for a lot of money. I can change the world, I am superman.
  • It doesn’t need to cure cancer or solve world hunger but the idea should be transformational for the problem it’s solving. It can be as simple as a different customer insight or a tweak on how you use your product or service but that minor change should be disruptive to traditional ways of doing things.
  • Be persistent and fearless. Push the envelope. Be willing to go against the tide and test the idea despite the opposition. I’m prepared to drive the idea on my own – it’s sometimes lonely.
  • Find allies. I’ll test the idea with likeminded and contrarian thinkers to refine and validate the idea. Build support with those who love the idea especially up the management chain.
  • Work for a company that can support disruptive change. It helps when management allows you to push the limits and try new things. It gives you more room to try innovative things. It doesn’t mean everyone will agree with your new ideas.
  • Make sure you’re right. Is what you’re doing for the greater good? Is it selfish? Will forcing the change bring better outcomes? Come up with a strong business case and risk assessment because you’ll need to fall back on it.
  • Know your limits. Sometimes the organization is just not ready for the idea. If it’s bigger than you or the organization you may need to take it elsewhere but sometimes you need to back down and wait for times to change. Just because it doesn’t happen now doesn’t mean it won’t – keep your eyes open for the right opportunity or another form the idea can take that will make it more receptive.
  • Why bother? Big disruptive ideas make a difference. They change business and the way people think and perceive.

Practice disruptive thinking as you build your digital, social and traditional marketing efforts. Challenge your assumptions: customer perceptions, brand positioning, sales cycles, business rules and goals, how you engage customers, how you deliver your marketing efforts, etc. Then come up with ideas that push the limits of the status quo.

How do you and your company develop and encourage disruptive thinking?

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Bringing Virtual Events into the Mainstream

It seems like more and more marketers are looking into virtual and hybrid events. With tight event budgets and opportunity to scale reach online, virtual events can look attractive. Craig Rosenberg from the Focus Expert Network posted a question last week, “What are/will be the biggest impediments to the Virtual Event market reaching its potential?” I thought I’d flip the question and ponder what we would need to do to bring virtual and hybrid events into the mainstream.

  1. Simplify the user experience. With so many distractions online and offline pulling for your audience’s attention we need to make it easy for users to navigate the user experience.
    • Understand your customer. What are their engagement styles online? Would they prefer immersive 3-D experiences or more simplified interfaces? Are they likely to sit at their PC to consume the content or would they prefer to download it and consume it on the go?
    • Design for digital. The optimal digital user experience is very different than what you’d have at an in-person event. See my previous post “Why must virtual events look like in-person events.”
    • Minimize the number of clicks the user needs to get to the core value from the site. See this response from Cece Salomon-Lee from the impediments question.
    • Simplify user registration – ask the least amount of information you can get away with. The more questions you ask the higher the barrier to entry becomes. Consider providing some resources for “free” to give users value before they register for higher valued resources.
  2. Digital marketing skills are critical in virtual event space. Many of the people I meet in the virtual event space come from in-person event marketing. The model they bring to this digital channel still has many of the in-person metaphors – terminology I hear: conference room, booths, backpacks, theaters, etc. How well do these metaphors relate to our digital customers and how they want to engage online?
    • For an event organizer, virtual events are a major paradigm shift. Engagement in the digital world is very different – user experiences are different, ROI is different, understanding the nuances and complexity of social media versus attendee interactions are worlds apart, etc.
    • For many digital marketers, virtual events are an evolution of what they’ve been doing. They’ve been doing webcasts, digital video, online forums and online chats for years. Combine these together and scale it up for a virtual event and you’re not too far from where you want to be. Add someone with social media expertise and you help enhance the user interactions within and outside the event.
    • Of course this is an exaggeration but if we’re going to put event organizers in the lead they need to make that leap to understand digital. Digital marketers will need to learn new ways to integrate in-person experiences with digital experiences and break down the silos. Ideally, you’ll have a team of in-person, digital and social marketing experts creating your virtual event.
  3. Make it simple to create virtual & hybrid events. I see virtual events as a spectrum – from very simple, to moderately complex to highly complex.
    • A webcast with a chat could be considered a virtual event. What if you used that same webcast software with a video camera at your in-person event – now you have a simple hybrid event. With a little time and thought you can easily create a low-cost in-house solution.
    • As you build out bigger events with multiple tracks and sponsors, then you’ll need to consider the virtual event vendors. When you’re dealing with multiple of video streams the complexity increases significantly and having a good vendor to help you manage the infrastructure is key. The vendors need to provide greater flexibility of services up and down the virtual event spectrum.
    • The digital space is constantly evolving and will require the virtual event manager to stay on top of those changes – Flash, HTML5, video compression & formats, social media, mobile apps vs. web, location based services, augmented reality, telepresence, etc.
  4. Add value to the company. I think virtual and hybrid events are in a unique position to bring together the various marketing channels into a single resource. Integration can include: in-person events, digital marketing, traditional marketing, social media, community building, customer satisfaction, PR, sales, partner channel, etc. Think of the potential when we bring these capabilities together in one place and the kind of synergies that are created by this convergence.
    • You’ll need to define what the ROI is for virtual events. It’s not the same as it is for our traditional channels and can be complex, much like the struggle to define the ROI for social media. Dennis Shiao provides a good explanation for defining virtual event ROI.
    • Do we need a new model? ROI is a financial model based on what you get for your investment. For social media and virtual events there’s greater value generated through engagement that is difficult to quantify using traditional financial models. What is the potential lifetime value for the customer that you’re nurturing through a more sustained engagement model. Perpetual virtual events can help develop a community that can transcend traditional sales models.
  5. Capture & hold your online audience’s attention. Virtual events are bucking a trend for shorter content. Lengths for online videos have gone from 60-minute webcasts 10-yrs ago to 2-5 minute videos in this world filled with distractions.
    • Content is still king. Users will stay tuned in as long as the content is valuable to them. As soon as it’s not relevant you’ll lose them.
    • Find ways to interact with the online audiences. One of the reasons I like using webcast software on low-end solutions is they have built-in tools to engage your online audience that you have to add separately if you’re streaming video – polling, collaborative whiteboards, remote panel discussions, chats, etc. If the attendee is going to be distracted during an online event, why not distract them with what I want them to be distracted with.
    • It’s a skill for a presenter to integrate and engage the online audience during a hybrid event. Acknowledging both audiences is important. Make sure proctors are running online questions to the front of the room and identifying the source. It’s so cool to read a tweet and then see it mentioned by the presenter – it’s a victory for all of us online.
    • We’ll evolve the tools we use to engage our audiences during virtual events. Tools like augmented reality and location based services may be fun to play with now but we may find ways that it can provide real value for our digital interaction. Right now, most of our events still tend to be one-way broadcasts with chats but with webcams and mobile devices the event can become more collaborative by empowering the voice of the community.

I don’t think we’re too far away, but we still need some foundational shifts in the virtual event industry before it becomes a regular marketing channel for most companies. What else do you think will need to happen before virtual events become mainstream? Thoughts?

Posted in Digital Marketing, Event Marketing, Virtual Events | Tagged , | 1 Comment

Connecting the Dots

Tweetups? I don’t get it – a bunch of techno-geeks getting together over a beer with the only thing in common is that they tweet? I get the beer part, you don’t need an excuse for that, but tweeting? Okay, I’m finally starting to get what a lot of people understood a long time ago. It’s not about Twitter but it’s the relationships and connections you make along the way and what you’re able to do with them.

I find the connections fall into a few groups:

  1. Direct professional connections – I meet people who have a product or service for something I’m trying to solve. They can help shortcut the development process and I can use them as a supplier.
  2. Direct source of best practices – I may not need that person’s service but they’re doing some really cool things that I should be doing, too.
  3. Indirect source of best practices – The person may be doing a bunch of cool things that are totally unrelated to me or my business, BUT if I can figure out why it’s working I can create a new concept which I can use.
  4. Personal connections – I may find lots of non-business reasons to connect with people because common interests.

I find the first two connections very simple to get value from. I have something I’m interested in and this person has some ideas that can help me with them. The third one, is probably more common if I’m meeting a bunch of people which I may not have common ground with, yet. However, with a little more work, I can connect the dots and come up with novel ideas that I may not have thought about for my business. If I can find those hidden links, the solutions can be much more satisfying and valuable.

Connecting the dots can be tricky. Most times the value of an idea is not obvious or the connection would have been apparent. I like to figure out what is the core concept of the idea and why the idea works for the audience. Strip away the tactics and keep the essence of the idea. Then figure out how to build around that core for my projects.

Digital and social marketing is constantly changing. Finding creative ideas are important to stay ahead of things. Put yourself in unfamiliar or challenging environments and look for ways to connect the dots of unrelated ideas.

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Identifying the Core Customer Benefits for Hybrid Events

This past summer President Bill Clinton gave a keynote speech at a Microsoft partner conference. He talked about his vision for creating a global conference to aid economic development – “I would like to know that within two years you could have a meeting like this in sub-Saharan Africa with people from 130 countries.” I thought that would be cool and wondered what it would take to pull something like that together. More importantly, most of the event’s audience would not be able to make that trip and how would you create a digital version of that in-person event so the virtual attendees would get just as much if not more from the online experience.

Here were a few initial thoughts if I had to pull this together:

  • What are the core benefits for customers to attend a conference: to learn more about the content, to teach others about their expertise, to meet subject matter experts, get answers to specific questions, to inspire new ideas, meet vendors who can provide solutions, to set up formal meetings, to make serendipitous relationships, engage with community, to get away from the office, to party with like-minded people, etc.
  • Once you determine the core customer benefits – how can you create a compelling digital experience for each item for the online audience? How can you digitize 1-to-1 and 1-to-few meetings, Birds of a Feather sessions, stimulate community, provide access to the content, allow users to engage experts, etc. Develop a simple user interface which ties these digital experiences together.
  • Once you determine the core customer benefits – do more of it at your in-person event. A common concern about virtual events is that it will cannibalize the in-person attendance. However, there are many features of an in-person event that is just not replicable in the digital world. How can you enhance these user benefits for your event?

If you work with a major virtual event vendor they’ve probably thought through many of these points and built the features into their platform. However, they don’t know your audience as well as you do and it’s a worthwhile exercise to run through as you plan your in-person, virtual and hybrid events.

Posted in Digital Marketing, Event Marketing, Virtual Events | Tagged | 4 Comments

Why Must Virtual Events Look Like In-Person Events?

Every year I look forward to attending the Virtual Edge Summit online. Not only is it free to consume the content online and saves my travel budget (one of the keys for virtual events) but it also showcases some of the top vendors and trends in the virtual event industry. One thing that amazes me about many of the event platforms is how they use an in-person conference metaphor to navigate through the events. Many will have a picture of a high ceiling conference hall, information booth, a movie theater for watching sessions, partner exhibit hall with booths that mimic an in-person booth and lots of images with people walking around. Does this in-person metaphor provide value to the digital event user experience?

When I go to Netflix, they don’t send me to a site that looks like a video store and the player doesn’t look like a movie theater with people sitting in rows of chairs. Pandora doesn’t look like a radio. So why do we insist on building virtual platforms that keep the look and feel of big conference halls? The exhibition hall was set up the way it was to accommodate 1000s of attendees walking through a physical space. Trade show booths were set up for in-person attention getting and salesperson/attendee engagement. I don’t know if leveraging the same visuals in a digital environment is the most effective user experience in a digital model. As traditional marketers it’s sometime difficult to let go of engrained models we’re familiar with.

Some things to consider when evaluating the user experiences for virtual events:

  1. Who is your audience? Will they be receptive to navigating a maze of pages to find the content they want or would they prefer a more direct access to the content?
  2. Are your metaphors and labels clear to your audience? Common verbiage for an in-person event may not make sense in a digital environment. A picture of a fish bowl at the partner booth may be clear to an in-person event manager but will your audience understand what it’s for in context of a web page? Can I easily figure out where to click based on what I want to do or do I have to guess and click several times?
  3. Immersive environments may seem like a cool and exciting concept to marketers and first time attendees but does the experience hold up over repeat engagements? Once the attendee has mastered the learning curve it will be easier for them to navigate your environment but is the site and content robust enough to push them through the challenges?
  4. Is there an simpler way to represent what you want to do in the digital environment? Can a simple button/s on a web page do the same task as an elaborate graphical interface?

It’s important to test performance with our audience – some immersive environments may appeal to certain personalities which may increase participation while other personalities may want something more direct. It’s good to see some of the virtual event platform vendors providing more varieties of user experiences. I’m not sure we’re there yet but it’s a good start.

I’d be interested to hear from virtual event marketers who have done A/B testing or have done extensive comparison between various user experiences.

Posted in Digital Marketing, Event Marketing, Virtual Events | Tagged , | 11 Comments

Top 10 Things I Learned from Web 2.0 Expo

I attended the Web 2.0 Expo in San Francisco earlier this year. It’s one of my favorites social media gatherings of the year and I always walk away energized. From my notes, here are my top 10 things I learned at Web 2.0 Expo:

1.       The Internet is disruptive because it changes who we are as people

a.       Digital shifts how and where we spend our time and our expectations

b.      We are changing faster than our institutions

c.       We are defining a new era of society and how we ultimately connect and communicate with one another

2.       Social engagement – when we understand the people we’re trying to engage, we lower the barriers to that engagement

a.       Hire people for social engagement who have a burning passion for  the customer – it’s not about the technology

b.      Social media is not just building the breadth of customer relationships but also the depth of those relationships

c.       Need to reach outside SM comfort zone and reach communities outside our standard groups

3.       Building social in the organization – should not be a silo, there’s a potential for complete business transformation

a.       Social can build value across organizations & create new connections

b.      Many companies fear customers will say something bad – get over it. They’re going to do it anyway & you might as well be in the conversation

4.       Use the community to solve problems that you may not have been aware of

a.       Create ways to operationalize social feedback into product & service development

b.      Addressing customer issues via social can help build advocacy.

c.       Eventually, real-time customer service is not fast enough – you’ve got to fix the real problem.

5.       To serve our audience we need to overcome our legacies and engage in new ways.

a.       Traditional customer view: source of cash, gullible, task oriented, highly rational

b.      Build empathy & view our customer as a whole: Intellectual + Emotional + Rational

6.       Business culture works against social media

a.       Most business change takes years but social media change is constantly evolving

b.      Don’t try to live on the cutting edge – prioritize what’s important & focus on areas which help accomplish your business objectives

c.       The best way to promote change from w/in the organization is to appeal to what’s important to them

7.       Measuring social media impact – ROI is a financial measurement not a social impact measurement. Much of the impact from social are difficult to quantify in financial terms. Need to redefine objectives as value creation.

  • “We tend to overvalue the things we can measure and undervalue the things we cannot” – John Hayes, AmEx

8.       Why do companies turn their social media strategy over to interns?

a.       A business’ social strategy should be understood in context of overall business strategy – from the top-down

b.      Social strategy should not just be left to those who have dabbled in social

9.       Customer experience is not something an organization buys – it’s a mindset it adopts

a.       Design a social program that is proactive to engage community not just reactive to customer service issues

10.   Inventions must fit the world it is completing not the world as it is now.


Resources: Tim O’Reily, Brian Solis, Charlene Li, Joshua Ross, Natalie Petouhoff, Peter Merholz, w/ apologies to any of the speakers I may have forgot.

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The Creative Marketer

One of the reasons I enjoy digital and social marketing is the dynamic nature of things. The tools & processes we use to engage customers are constantly evolving and opportunities for innovation are around every corner. I started rereading Daniel Pink’s book A Whole New Mind which provides an excellent foundation for creative thinking. The premise of the book is that with automation and outsourcing of jobs overseas many of the repetitive and analytical left brain jobs can be done much cheaper elsewhere. The job market will start to value right brain thinkers who are able to connect the dots to come up with novel approaches. The concepts outlined in the book also work well for digital and social marketers.

Three keys for creative digital marketing:

  1. Connect the dots. One of they keys for creative thinking is to find relationships between different ideas where none may have existed before. This is very common in digital and social marketing as our customers become more empowered and many of our traditional marketing assumptions are coming into question. We’re forced to rethink our perceptions of customer behavior and how they will want to engage with us in the future and connect them with our traditional marketing efforts and objectives.
  2. Think holistically. In the past, it was not unusual to have the CMO of an organization or other high level marketing managers think through the overall marketing strategy and the individual marketing managers execute on specific tactics. In the digital and social marketing space it helps if the digital marketers think through the overall marketing plan so their projects aren’t executed in silos. The metrics and return on marketing measurements may be quite different than traditional approaches so the digital teams need to make sure their results are relevant with the company’s marketing strategy.
  3. Avoid the “how we’ve always done it” trap. In his book, Daniel Pink talks about the basics of drawing – the key is to see relationships with your eyes. One of the big dangers is to place a name or a label on something instead of just drawing what you see. If you view digital marketing in the frame of traditional marketing you may end up missing big opportunities. If you think about your digital efforts in the context of MarCom or PR or lead generation or support you may end up with projects that are similar to what you’ve already done through other channels. Look at the objectives of your project and visualize fresh ways to engage with your customers or how they would want to engage with you. Don’t think of the traditional labels – think of the results you want.

One of my favorite quotes is, “If you do what you’ve always done, you’ll get what you’ve always gotten.” It’s a good time for a change.

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