Marketing by helping, not selling

The future of marketing is helping, not selling.

Those were the words of content strategist Jay Baer at the recent Content Marketing World conference, an event focused on helping brands become better content marketers. So what exactly does it mean to market by helping? On September 15, Internet security firm McAfee showed us by announcing the results of its annual “McAfee Most Dangerous Celebrities” study.

McAfee is a lot like its owner Intel. Both companies provide services that are essential but kind of boring to talk about. McAfee provides unsexy but important security products and services to safeguard your personal and business computers. It’s the kind of company whose website features stock photos of bland, smiling corporate types dressed in power suits out of the 1980s.

That’s why the McAfee Most Dangerous Celebrities surprises and delights. Each year, McAfee analyzes which celebrities are most dangerous to search for on the web – in other words, the names most often used by cybercriminals to lure web searchers to sites containing computer viruses and spam.

This year, McAfee revealed that searching for Heidi Klum’s name yields a nearly one-in-ten chance of landing you on a malicious site. So take a bow, Heidi Klum: you’re the most dangerous celebrity in cyberspace for 2011, unseating Cameron Diaz. The most dangerous male celebrity, by the way, is Piers Morgan. Ironically Lady Gaga ranks a relatively tame 58.

The McAfee Most Dangerous Celebrities list qualifies as helpful content marketing for two reasons:

It’s useful

McAfee raises awareness about the vulnerabilities of web surfing for celebrity names. Searching for phrases like “Heidi Klum” and “free downloads,” for instance, expose you to risks for encountering sites that will steal personal information.

In a press release, Paula Greve, director of Web security research at McAfee, comments, “Consumers should be particularly aware of malicious content hiding in ‘tiny’ places like shortened URLs that can spread virally in social networking sites, or through e-mails and text messages from friends.”

You might think you’re beyond falling for malware traps, but in our multi-tasking society, even the most savvy among us can be vulnerable. McAfee earns our attention by helping us understand an important issue.

It’s engaging

McAfee could have relied on a perfectly functional but boring video featuring a security expert to remind us of the dangers of reckless web surfing – perhaps valuable but not very helpful if the video fails to engage you.

Instead, McAfee finds a fun way to keep our attention by tapping into our national fascination with celebrity culture. McAfee gives us an amusing version of the Vanity Fair annual New Establishment list, providing little tidbits of fun trivia that manage to educate. For instance, although Charlie Sheen might post a danger to himself (and his publicist), he’s not too dangerous in cyberspace.

“Hot movies and TV shows, awards and industry accolades seem to be more of a factor than headline-grabbing activity,” explains Greve.

The McAfee Most Dangerous Celebrities List works as content marketing also for what it does not do: hit you over the head with a hard sell for McAfee. To be sure, McAfee slips in a reminder to use McAfee security software to safeguard our computers by performing a variety of tasks such as blocking risky websites. But the message feels earned in context of a larger and informative discussion about Internet security.

Since McAfee published its 2011 Most Dangerous Celebrities List on September 15, McAfee has quickly gained attention on news outlets ranging from CNN to Entertainment Weekly.  The PR returns alone, gained in a matter of hours, are priceless.

By sharing useful and engaging information instead of pushing product at us, McAfee defines helpful content marketing.

The high cost of brand failure

By triggering a catastrophic oil spill in 2010, BP made a mockery of its own carefully orchestrated $200 million marketing campaign to tout the company’s green values. One year later, BP continues to pay a price for failing to deliver on its brand promise to move “Beyond Petroleum.” As The Wall Street Journal reported on September 7:

  • The company’s share price is 44-percent lower than it was when the April 2010 Gulf of Mexico disaster occurred – a rig explosion that killed 11 workers and inflicted harsh damage with far-reaching impact on anyone who calls Earth home.
  • BP has lost nearly $80 billion of its market value since the disaster occurred.

An energy fund manager interviewed by The Wall Street Journal said, “The impression is that events are happening to BP, rather than BP shaping events. There’s a sense that the company is not in charge.”

Considering that BP is responsible for dropping a massive pile of dung on the world, I am relieved to know BP is not “shaping events.”

Actions speak louder than words, indeed.

Music I like: “I Get Da Money” by Spade

The Global 14 social destination run by Jermaine Dupri is a hotbed of emerging music from aspiring hip-hip and rap stars. One of the benefits of being a member is having artists share their music with you personally. It’s like a holiday grab bag: sometimes you find a gift that you toss back into the bag, but other times you find a keeper.

One good example of a musical keeper is the tune “I Get Da Money” by Spade, whose video appears in this blog post. I like this one because the driving beat, Spade’s wordplay, and a Latin-fused chorus move you along with a provocative and tightly edited video.

Spade’s manager Imurge Thugwear sent me that tune on Global 14. Check out “I Get Da Money” and join Global 14 to explore more.

What music do you like?

Will the Apple brand become more open without Steve Jobs?

Where is the Apple brand headed in the aftermath of Steve Jobs’s resignation as CEO?

It’s a significant question for one of the world’s most valuable companies (depending on the daily ups and downs of the stock market.) Steve Jobs is more than the face of the Apple brand — he is the Apple brand. The company has willingly benefitted from the strength of his own reputation, which makes it all the more difficult to build a brand without him.

Fortunately for Apple, as Steve Furman points out in his blog, the organization has an advantage obvious to millions of consumers: an unmatched reputation for creating innovative and user friendly products that have become part of our lives. But many observers associate those innovations with Steve Jobs personally. Here is what I think might happen now:

  • Apple might open up its brand with social media (a largely untapped opportunity for Apple) to show you more of its personality beyond Steve Jobs.

This is a sad time for Steve Jobs, and an interesting time for Apple.  How do you believe the Apple brand will evolve?

Why Amazon and Netflix don’t always know best

It’s far too easy to allow ourselves to be led around by the nose.

Amazon tells us what to buy. Netflix and Pandora suggest movies and music based on our tastes. Facebook and Google+ suggest friends to us. Twitter tells us whom to follow.

But those tools reinforce what we know already. They broaden our horizons only incrementally.

To make a creative and intellectual breakthrough that forces you to grow, I believe it’s important to find moments of serendipity – when you stumble on new ideas that seemingly lack any immediate application to your life. You won’t find those moments by allowing others to curate your life for you.

Here are a few examples of how I’ve tried to spark moments of serendipity:

1. Getting immersed in a different setting

For most of my life, I was not interested in medieval history. So I had low expectations when I joined my family on my first visit to the Bristol Renaissance Faire a few years ago. The faire re-creates the town of Bristol, England, in the year 1574, complete with period costumes, jugglers, minstrel entertainers, and a visit from the Queen of England. And as I’ve mentioned on my blog, the faire enchanted me on my first visit.

It’s not just the passion and spirit of the fairgoers that attracts me – it’s those moments of personal serendipity that occur on so many visits. Recently, by complete chance, I discovered a band known as the New Minstrel Revue, who opened my mind to the gentle and beautiful sounds of Celtic folk.

One of my favorite things to do at the faire is to walk into the Compass Rose music shop and buy whatever the store is playing at the time. It’s a total hit-and-miss proposition that has introduced me to new music I might not have heard otherwise – such as Sacred and Secular music from Renaissance Germany (a selection that I doubt Pandora would have suggested based on my musical interests).

This year I happened to be walking through the dusty Bristol streets and heard a strange, beautiful drone-like guitar sound. By simply following the siren call of the music, I discovered the Darbuki Kings playing bouzouki and drums with a belly dancer. Even better, Antone Darbuki took the time to show me how he strums an exotic sound with an open G tuning on his bouzouki strings.

I had heard of the bouzouki — but I had no appreciation for what a bouzouki could do until this chance encounter at Bristol.

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Why Google wants you to win the zero moment of truth

Jim Lecinksi wants marketers to respect the power of the zero moment of truth. And he just conducted an interview with me to tell you why.

In his new ebook, Winning the Zero Moment of Truth, Jim, Google’s managing director of U.S. Sales and Operations, describes why you need to connect with consumers at the moment they research a product or service — or the zero moment of truth.

Before we get to the Q&A with Jim, let me give you a little context about the book. I believe every marketing executive should read Winning the Zero Moment of Truth. Jim articulates clearly why the act of researching a product (for instance, when people read customer review sites or simply use search engines to find information) is also an incredible opportunity for marketers to win  business. As he writes in his book:

Would it surprise you to know that a full 70% of Americans now say they look at product reviews before making a purchase? Or that 83% of moms say they do online research after seeing TV commercials for products that interest them? This is how consumers live and learn and make decisions today: from ratings and review sites, from friends on social media, at home and on the go, and (more than ever) from video.

He goes on to discuss how marketers can influence the consumer decision making process by being visible at the zero moment of truth – for instance, making it easier for people to find your website when they research products in your category or participating in the social sites where people talk with each other about products and services in your industry.

Jim was kind enough to answer some questions I posed about ZMOT and its importance to chief marketing officers. Here’s what he had to say:

What inspired you to write this book?

I think it started with search trends.  Particularly in the last few years, we at Google have seen a marked rise in searches for product reviews, coupons, and local information. This was the first bit of evidence that a significant change in consumer behavior was afoot, and it inspired us to dig deeper and learn more.

Your book defines the zero moment of truth – or ZMOT — as the moment when consumers research a product or service before purchase begins. People have been conducting researching prior to purchase for years. What’s changed?

Indeed, people have done their research before making purchases for quite some time.  The Internet — and access to the world’s information anytime, and virtually anywhere —  is the major shift that has made zero moments of truth so important for marketers.

Consider how you would have bought a car 20 years ago.  Twenty years ago, you would have talked with family and friends about cars they liked. Maybe you would have read some auto-specific magazines with reviews. You might also have read Consumer Reports.

After you had felt relatively comfortable with your choice, you would have walked into a dealership and made a decision based on factors such as the recommendations of a salesperson, price, or availability.

Today, the process is quite different.  You can still do the same things you did 20 years ago, but now you can read reviews on the web, browse a broad variety of car-related websites, and engage with your contacts online via social media to get their recommendations and thoughts.

You may turn to YouTube to actually see the cars in action, and you might strongly consider buying a car that you can find more easily online.  And you can do all this wherever you have access to the web — at home, from your desk, on your mobile device from the train.

Now you can show up at a dealership with a much richer, more defined sense of the car you want to buy.

Why should a CMO read Winning the Zero Moment of Truth?

ZMOT is an idea for the marketing world we live in right now.  The fact is, now that your customers can access the world’s information on the web — at their desks, at home, on mobile — they are smarter and more informed than they’ve ever been, especially when it comes to making purchasing decisions.

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Spammers, Baby Boomers, and Google+

Boy, do I feel like a digital slacker.

On June 28, Google invited me to a Field Trial of Google+ — and you better believe I interrupted a family vacation to get involved lest I miss out on all the fun.

But unlike Jay Baer and Chris Brogan, I’ve failed to contribute to the pithy Google+ commentary that has flooded the marketplace. (Reason: school’s out, which means more time with family, and less time for blogging.)

And at this point, I certainly am not going to write an opus on Google+ Instead I’ll ask a few somewhat annoying questions and provide comments smackng of personal whimsy:

  • Google+ is a boon for Baby Boomers like me. We like clean layouts, big pictures, and easy-to-read text. We are too tired of squinting to find content designed by people who fail to comprehend the fundamentals of an engaging user experience.
  • I love how you can add anyone to your Google+ Circle even if they don’t add you to theirs. I’ve always thought it disingenuous of Facebook to suggest friends to you and then ask, “Do you really know Mark?” when you follow through on Facebook’s suggestion. On Google+, I can pretend Mark Zuckerberg really is my friend even if he doesn’t add me to his Circle.
  • I am shamelessly promiscuous about adding people to my Circles. If Google thinks you can add value to my life by suggesting I add you to one of my Circles, I’m going to do so. I like the idea of having a river of ideas from all walks of life flowing through my Google+ stream. That said, as of July 27, I have 1,717 people in my Circles, and only 454 have added me. Does that make me a Google+ loser?
  • I don’t mind admitting that within 10 seconds of joining Google+, my first to-do was claiming my own vanity URL (
  • If you have created more than six Google+ Circles to curate your interests, you have way too much time on your hands.
  • I can’t tell you how thrilled I was to become a member of the Circle for CEO Celebrity Hedge Fund (gender: male; in a relationship).
  • I am learning more about Google+ from all the third-party commentary resulting from the Google Field Trial than I am from Google itself – and I’ll bet Google likes it that way.
  • Google has a chance to differentiate itself from Facebook by providing more personal service  on Google+ — like actually responding to you when you encounter a problem (unlike Facebook, which treats its members like second-class citizens). But I have a feeling Google will also take the DYI approach to customer service with Google+.

Finally, a word of sincere counsel: I keep hearing about people leaving Facebook for Google+. You’re seriously going to leave behind 700 million people? Sorry, but if you want to be active in social, there is no either/or choice – you have to find time for both Facebook and Google+.

AXE: sexy and useful at Pitchfork 2011

Want to make your brand memorable? Be useful. AXE just showed me how at the 2011 Pitchfork Music Festival in Chicago.

Most of us know about AXE, the provider of men’s body grooming products, from its slick and sexually provocative advertisements. AXE also uses music to build its brand (in a more thoughtful way), an example being as the AXE Mystery Concerts to promote its Music fragrance.

At the Pitchfork Music festival, AXE was not only a sponsor but provider of a playful yet highly practical AXE Excite Sky Lounge to promote the new AXE Excite line of body care products.

On the day I visited the tent (July 17), Pitchfork was a mass of sweaty bodies watching bands such as Odd Future on a scorching hot day. It didn’t take long before the water refill lines became unbearably long, and security guards took to cooling off the crowd by drenching people with water from the various Pitchfork stages.

The AXE tent was like a godsend.

Outside the tent, the so-called AXE girls handed out free samples of AXE Excite and invited passers-by into the tent to hang out. Whereas I find AXE advertisements usually juvenile and anything but sexy, the AXE girls at Pitchfork exuded plenty of good old-fashioned sex appeal that comes with simply being friendly and smiling – not quite Doris Day, mind you, but more engaging than in-your-face silly.

And the tent itself was a refreshing change of attitude for AXE, with a focus on, well, utility, as demonstrated by:

  • A cool misting as you walk into the small tent.
  • Free stations to charge your mobile phone (incredibly useful for those of us wearing down our phone batteries by tweeting, texting, etc., throughout the day).
  • Portable devices to relax with video games.
  • Shade. And plenty of it.

The tent was playful, too. You could have a photo taken of you with faux Angels Will Fall backdrops and download them later (or have the photo emailed to you).

Or you could just hang out and do nothing.

For all the money AXE must pour into its high-concept provocative ads, I am most impressed with the side of AXE I experienced at Pitchfork: useful.

How to say hello to a customer

Recently I blogged about the right way to say goodbye to your customer. How you say hello to a customer is even more crucial — in fact, so important that Guy Kawasaki devotes several pages to the power of the first impression in his latest marketing best seller, Enchantment: The Art of Changing Hearts, Minds, and Actions. Leaving a good first impression creates a halo effect for your brand. My recent experience with consumer printer maker Epson is a case in point.

If you have ever set up a printer or any other consumer technology product, you understand why I felt like slitting my wrists when I realized I needed a new printer for my MacBook at home. Researching and deciding on the right one – an Epson Artisan 725 – wasn’t so bad; it was the set-up process that I dreaded.

I anticipated the painful and confusing wrestling match with information technology that I’ve come to expect with consumer electronics. Confusing instructions. Devices that won’t talk to each other. And perhaps a bewildering experience with a call center for good measure. You know what I’m talking about, don’t you?

One day the Epson Artisan arrived on my front porch like a bomb waiting to be activated. My first impulse was to clean my daughter’s hamster cage and finally get around to thoroughly understanding my employer’s expense reporting policies – anything to avoid a confrontation with the large cardboard box waiting for me.

Finally I caved in and opened the box. And I was in for a surprise: a flawlessly easy experience that transformed me from consumer-as-victim to Epson ambassador. Here’s why:

1. Epson shows empathy

As I opened the box, I anticipated having to wade through a lengthy manual and sorting through a box of random parts requiring assembly. Epson understood what I was thinking. I had barely opened the box when I encountered a slender, prominently placed envelope labeled, “Open Me First.”

Open Me First – like a welcome mat in front of a home. Immediately I felt just a bit more comfortable.

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Weinergate not about social media

By now Anthony Weiner has become a poster child for the perils of social media and a case study for the influence of Twitter. But I don’t believe Weinergate is about social media or digital illiteracy. Weinergate is simply another cautionary tale about public figures acting recklessly and badly.

From his mea culpa press conference, we learned that his public Tweet revealing himself in his bulging underwear (aimed at student Gennette Cordova) was just one of a series of online indiscretions (if that’s even the right word) with six women.

Or, as he put it: “I have exchanged photos and messages of an explicit nature with at least six women over the last few years.”

One of those women, Megan Broussard, shared with ABC News emails, Facebook messages, and other evidence of an online relationship that had been occurring since April.

“I didn’t think it was him,” she told ABC. “I thought for sure, ‘why would someone in that position be doing this?'”

Why indeed would someone in his position be doing something like this?

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