NASCAR Fan Bloggers Jump Into The Race

Knight Ridder Digital (KRD) property That’s Racin’ has launched a blog network. And the voice is great. One journo (the editor of That’s Racin’), one pit crew member, and two fan bloggers (read “customers”).

Reading through the site today, it blew me away on a number of fronts:

1) It’s a blog. About friggin’ NASCAR. I was skeptical; now I’m not. It’s real and passionate. It works.

2) In the four bloggers, they have 360-degree representation. The journalist. The insider. And, most importantly, the two customers who had been doing this anyway because of their love of the sport.

3) I had never realized there exists an intricate, almost Newtonian, balance between mullets and karaoke. I learned something today.

Congrats to KRD for pulling this off! More here.

A Review Of The General Motors Podcast

O no. A big miss on the new GM podcast. Representative excerpt:

“For the dreamer in all of us…(dramatic pause)…this is the 2006 Buick Lucerne.” (cue cheesy music, which sounds a little bit like Apocalyptica)

Ungood. Five minutes of corporate dronology. I much prefer Lutz’s blogging, which sounds human.

UPDATE:

Michael Wiley (GM Communications, Director, New Media) responds:

“Sorry you and Shel did not like the GM podcast. We understand that a press conference is not the ideal format for a podcast but we do have enthusiasts that want to hear these sorts of things. That is why we webcast them as well.

Also, since we’re in new territory, I don’t think there is a template of what is right or wrong, everything is niche oriented and this niche obviously wasn’t for you.

But, we are asking readers of FastLane what it is they would like to hear more of, and through constructive feedback we will hopefully produce something that appeals to you guys. We’re by no means limiting ourselves to press conferences.”

Conversation continues in the comments.

Customer-Centric Cuban

A couple of nuggets from Mark Cuban’s recent post, “Need A Job?” After spending a couple of ‘graphs slagging on sports marketing majors, Cuban states “it’s more important to know how our customers’ businesses operate than how the sports business operates.” ::ears perk up::

He then proceeds to advise the following for anyone wanting to get into his business: “If you can sell, you can get a job – anywhere, anytime.

At this point, I’m of course expecting a Alec Billy Stephen Fluffy (no, it was Alec, I get get ‘em all confused) Baldwin-esque rant like the one from Glengarry Glen Ross. Instead, Cuban offers a litany of good sense and spot-on recommendations. Three pull quotes of note:

“Let me be clear that it’s not the person who can talk someone into anything. It’s not the hustler who is a smooth talker. The best salespeople are the ones who put themselves in their customer’s shoes and provide a solution that makes the customer happy.”

“The best salesperson is the one who takes immense satisfaction from the satisfaction their customer gets.”

“The best salesperson is the one the customer trusts and never has to question.”

In other words, invest the time to understand, converse, and connect – truthfully – with the customer through empathy, integrity, and understanding. Practice actual relationship-building.

Right on.

(hat tip: Trevor Cook)

The Business Blogging Field Guide, Part 7: The CEO Blog

Ah, the CEO Blog. Such the conundrum. A great opportunity…here is a means for an organization’s leader to connect and communicate directly with the market. At the same time, a great challenge…if done poorly, a CEO Blog can be worse than doing nothing. Such interesting times, no?

Although commonly called a “CEO Blog,” the name itself is a bit of a misnomer. Although a CEO Blog is oftentimes written by the chief executive of an organization, the name has been co-opted a bit and now commonly refers to a business blog that is written by any high-level executive of an organization. Heck, even BusinessWeek gets it right: “Execs are finding blogs useful for plugging not just their products, but their points of view.”

As in any other medium, there are differing takes on what topics are appropriate for a CEO Blog. There are some who take issue with a CEO Blog when it is injected with humanity. (My two cents…if a blog is going to be a medium of conversation, then it absolutely needs to enable a personality to show through, as long as the blog doesn’t become an exercise in pure narcissism.)

The real power of the CEO Blog, however, is that it can be a strong — and perhaps the supreme — means of differentiation for an organzation. Ultimately, products commoditize and best practices can be copied. The only real differentiators that are sustainable are the connections that form between members of an organzation and customers. The CEO Blog is an opportunity for the individuals who are guiding the ship to make these connections, and to make them real.

No, the CEO isn’t going to have the opportunity to connect directly with every customer, but that’s not the point. The point is: when an opportunity arises, if the leadership is accustomed to engaging in real conversations with real people, those leaders can make the most of a situation (more on this here and here).

“CEO Blog” example #1


Blogger: Bob Lutz
Role: Vice Chairman
Company: GM
Blog Location: http://fastlane.gmblogs.com
What’s right: “As I said before we appreciate all of the comments… positive and critical, keep ‘em coming. I would love to address more of them directly if there were more hours in the day. Every so often, however, a comment cries out for a response so loudly that I have to put thumbs to Blackberry.”


“CEO Blog” example #2


Blogger: Bob Parsons
Role: Founder and President
Company: GoDaddy.com
Blog Location: http://www.bobparsons.com
What’s right: “As I write this, I am now 54 years old, and during my life thus far I suspect that I’ve encountered more significant life events than most people ever dream about. Here’s some information about me: I grew up in a lower middle class family in Baltimore’s inner city. We were always broke. I’ve earned everything I ever received. Very little was ever given to me. I’ve been working as long as I can remember. Whether it was delivering or selling newspapers, pumping gas, working in construction or in a factory, I’ve always been making my own money.”


“CEO Blog” anti-example #1 – Don’t do this!


Blogger: Peter Zencke
Role: Board Member
Company: SAP
Blog Location: http://www.sap.com/community/pub/blogs.epx
What’s wrong: “To access this page or item, you must log in to SAP.com. If you are an SAP.com member, please log in by entering your e-mail address or user name, and password.” That, and the fact that the last time that Zencke posted was in October, 2004, on the scintillating topic of “Translating Ideas Into Marketable Solutions.” Wieux-hieux.

Podcasting For Business

Nope, not podcasting about business (there are great folks doing that here and here and many other places). Podcasting as part of our business. The particulars:

What is Cerado doing?
Extending our competitive intelligence offering, so that it is available via a private podcast to subscribers. Competitive briefings will now be available in a podcast as a companion to existing briefing documents (we’ll continue to provide the briefing documents as well).

Why are we doing it?
Three reasons:

  • Our end customers (usually sales and marketing types) are time-strapped. Even when distilled down, information in document form may…or may not…get reviewed. Delivering this information via MP3 and podcast gives these folks the ability to reduce information overload by listening to the information they need when and where they need it.

  • This enables this information to be readily available for review, as a refresher, when heading out to a meeting.
  • This type of information is particularly time-sensitive, and becomes “stale” very rapidly. Delivering it via podcast enables the most recent updates to be instantly available to everyone who needs them.

Who is going to be using it?
Sales, marketing, product marketing, for the most part.

More about it here. Would love feedback!

The Business Blogging Field Guide, Part 6: The Do-er

Whereas the Maven business blogs typically are written at a high level, cover a broad industry, and oftentimes do not overly associate the business blogger with the organization they are with, the “Do-er” blogs dive to a deeper level. In some ways, these types of business blogs could be thought of as a more narrowcast version of the Maven blog, concentrating on a particular area of expertise within a particular organization.

A number of large organizations – Sun, HP, and others – allow (or even encourage) developers to write about their area of expertise. Sun, in fact, has dozens, and maybe even hundreds, of bloggers writing about different detailed aspects of the organization. Although in Sun’s case, President Jonathan Schwartz has the largest number of hits on his blog (about 4,300 recent hits), the number of views by readers of the Sun Do-er blogs, in aggregate, outstrip his reach by at least 10:1. (And that’s just looking down the first 65 employee blogs at Sun…the actual number is probably much higher. Weren’t we just talking about this?) HP is testing out this strategy as well, but to date has taken a more cautious stance, with only a handful of Do-er blogs.

It is extremely important to note, however, that Do-er blogs in particular are not restricted to the high-tech industry. In fact, some of the most interesting stories and insight from down in the trenches comes from areas outside of high-tech. There are a number of medical professionals who are blogging about detailed topics, as well as individuals from midsize and even small companies in areas such as automotive repair and home improvement.

“Do-er” example #1


Blogger: Bryan Cantrill (middle)
Role: Solaris Kernel Development
Company: Sun Microsystems
Blog Location: http://blogs.sun.com/roller/page/bmc/20050125


“Do-er” example #2


Blogger: Archie Reed
Role: Secure Identity Management
Company: HP
Blog Location: http://devresource.hp.com/blogs/reed/


“Do-er” example #3


Blogger: Ivan Best
Role: Proprietor
Company: PickupSpecialties.com
Blog Location: http://pickupspecialties.blogspot.com/

Personalization, The Long Tail, And The Charge Against The Customer Monoculture

I’ve always believed the Long Tail is real (even before the concept had a trendy name and a piece in Wired). Maybe it’s some sort of subconscious iconoclasm on my part; perhaps it is the desire to not fit into any well-defined bucket.

I suppose marketers would call this a desire for “differentiation” in both my personal and professional personas.

Most of discussion so far around the long tail is tied to consumerism. That is, long tail economics seem to make sense when one is a consumer (in the strictest sense of the word) of “stuff.” Most of Chris Anderson’s additional writing on the subject centers around this idea as well. The long tail gets invoked when figuring out what is marketable, what is saleable, what is interesting, and to whom.

After further reflection, and at its core, I think the long tail discussion is about personalization, and the human need/desire/want/jones for experiences that uniquely resonate, emotionally, within an individual.

“But most of us want more than just hits. Everyone’s taste departs from the mainstream somewhere, and the more we explore alternatives, the more we’re drawn to them. Unfortunately, in recent decades such alternatives have been pushed to the fringes by pumped-up marketing vehicles built to order by industries that desperately need them.” – from the Wired article

This inherent tension between the “hits” and the long tail is not going to cause a mass jump to “only” long tail scenarios, however. There are still plenty (30%? 40%?) of things that will be hits. And 30% of “everything” is still “a lot.”

What we will see, I think, is a bifurcation. A split. A schism. This will occur not only in the way things are “marketed” to customers, but, moreso, in people themselves. One group, a fragmented set of loosely connected folk (“small pieces, loosely joined,” some might say) will be the “long-tailers,” actively seeking out and creating experiences for themselves that are unique and personalized to them. These folk, in aggregate, will be the majority. (But at the same time, they won’t. Each small community of like-minded folks will be teeny-tiny in comparison to the “mainstream.”) The other group will be those firmly rooted in the mainstream.

Of the long-tailers, there will be a particular set that completely eschews the mainstream. These are the ones who will rail against the monoculture that still, when compared to any particular long tail subgroup, is many times larger. And will continue to be.

Why is this? Why is it easier to be a consumer of the mainstream, rather than creating one’s own experience in the long tail? I think there are a few reasons.

Reason #1: It’s easier to be a customer of the monoculture. Search costs? Zero. Everything is marketed on the billboards, right to your front door, right to the TV, and blown into the most recent issue of People. Information about the mainstream is everywhere. If these are the products and companies you know about, they are the ones that are most familiar.

Reason #2: It may be cheaper, in monetary terms, to be a customer of the monoculture. For items that have signifcant fixed costs of production, spreading those fixed costs out over more units makes things cheaper to produce.

Reason #3: Depending on where one is a customer, the suppliers themselves may actively discourage long tail activity. Anderson’s article states that Wal-Mart, in particular, needs to sell at least 100,000 units of an item to make it worthwhile for them to carry it. It’s hard to be a customer in the long tail if you are never exposed to it.

Being a customer in the long tail takes work.

Now, traditional marketing tries to provide what matters to a buyers who are stuck in the monoculture that exists in a “hits-driven” marketplace. In the absence of local knowledge (e.g. a recommendation from a trusted source), one needs to draw one’s own conclusions. If the only information you have to go on is what is beaten into your head via thirty second spots, those are the products and relationships that you are going to engage with.

This is why technologies such as social networking are lowering the barriers of entry to the long tail. If you have visibility into the movies, the music, the people that other members of your community find worthwhile, you have not only awareness of things that were previously obscured in the long tail, but also an implicit recommendation. Your community has supplanted the traditional marketing machine.

Now, here’s the money shot. Organizations have been hung up on producing products that are “the hits.” We are now on the verge of getting hung up on a similar thing, but in the long tail…because everything that has been discussed about the long tail so far is about stuff. And the long tail really isn’t about stuff. It’s about relationships.

Being a customer in the long tail is not as much about acquiring the things that are unique to you. It’s about connections. It’s about doing business in the unique way you want to, on a day-to-day basis, with organizations who get it. (And, in this case, “get it” means that they offer you exactly what you want, in the way you want it, when and where it’s convenient to you.)

It’s also about building relationships within a community of like-minded folk. When you find out about the amazing Liz Phair B-side, you immediately want to share it with your friends. It’s not about you anymore. It’s about building a community. A community of individuals whose connections will span vocation and time and distance.

Listen up, vendors. If what you’re trying to do is serve only the mainstream, and everybody in it in exactly the same way, you’re about to miss the boat. Trying to build the exact same, cookie-cutter relationship with every one of your customers may work for your organization. But it’s only going to work if you have “the hit.” And people get bored with the hits after a while, and look for something that is different. So, it’s your choice. If you enjoy life on the treadmill, keep doing what you’re doing. Otherwise, you need to have the courage to change your game, and start building some bridges. And fast.

Update:

Ross Mayfield has complementary thoughts on this here and here.