Sometimes It’s About Doing What’s Right

March 31, 2009 by  
Filed under All, Featured, PR

2119535732_caffe880ae1I’ve had a couple of conversations and insights this week that led me to this blog post. In marketing and PR, we all, myself included, get hung up on making every perfect move based on what will or won’t reach and resonate with your target audience. But sometimes, it’s OK to just step away from the microscope and make a decision based on your heart.

For example, I was talking with a client recently whose company generally does not target women, yet she had a booth at a major women’s event targeting business owners. I was completely perplexed. 

When I asked her “Why would you participate in this event when you aren’t looking for female customers?” her answer was obvious, but I’d totally missed it. As a woman business owner, she felt it was important to support and assist other women just starting out. Of course. It was just the right thing to do.

Another example is traditional advertising. I am forever harping on the decline of the effectiveness of advertising in traditional media. But, here’s a point we often miss: if you love your local paper, be it a community weekly, your local business journal or your alternative newsweekly, then advertise in it. Help it out in these trying times! If you don’t want it to go away, support it, even if it’s not the best bang for your buck.

Does your child’s sports team need a sponsor for uniforms? Sure, you may not be targeting parents of 8 year olds, but won’t that feel good to help?

And the real clencher here is that even if you make some decisions based on your heart and not the numbers, I bet you’ll find that you will have endeared yourself to your target audience even more. It shows you’re a good company who supports its community and important causes, and that might go even further than any dollars you could spend.

Skittles: Innocent Candy or Evil Spammer?

March 3, 2009 by  
Filed under All, PR, social media

skittlesAnother week, another blow up in the Twitterverse. And this time it’s all down to a small, sugary treat.

If you haven’t yet visited skittles.com, do so now. They have replaced a traditional website with a small navigation box which overlays a search for #skittles on Twitter, the Facebook Fan page, Flickr-hosted photos and a Youtube channel. The Social Web’s dream, right? Well, maybe.

I first came across it on Saturday evening and thought it was pretty cool, and more than a little daring too. Giving over complete control to the world? Huge potential for that to backfire. Still, a fun idea, and a lot more interesting than most product websites.

Well, as with so much on the internet, it didn’t take long for the backlash to begin.

  • Many pointed out that the concept was kinda-sorta ‘borrowed’ (wholesale) from Modernista, an advertising agency in Boston who had done the same thing last March.
  • Others complained about having to be an adult to see the site, as Tim Allick puts it, “Can’t believe that #skittles website bans KIDS! Doesn’t send them to a safe page, just tells ‘em to go away. How is this smart marketing?”. (He does have a point. It’s a kids candy after all. )
  • The Wall St Journal chimed in with a round-up of comments, most of them negative.
  • Joanne Jacobs wrote  a blog condemning the whole exercise as a failure – just one day after the site launch – Why the Skittles social media campaign failed’: ” Skittles has failed in its social media campaign because all it has done is hold a mirror up to conversations, without providing any content of its own, any context for remotely valuable conversation, and any rationale for productive engagement.”
  • A poll by PR Sarah Evans, shows that 60% of respondents wouldn’t be swayed by the new site to buy more Skittles.
  • Etc, etc, and etc

Sigh. Sometimes it all seems so predictable. The constant flow of negativity. The need to show that ‘I’m not taken in by their sneaky advertising’. Jumping on the ‘this is just a rip-off’ and ‘besides, it doesn’t work anyway’-bandwagons.

Come on people! Where’s the joy? Where’s the ‘Yes, we can’-spirit we keep reading about!?

My 6 year old has recently begun spotting website addresses on things that I ignore – mcdonalds.com, orville.com, quakerkidsdoinggood.com – pretty much *everything* has a website now, and they’re all the same. A nice Flash intro. Maybe a game or something. A code you can enter to unlock the hidden area. Yawn.

At least Skittles.com didn’t do that.

So, personally, I’m sticking with my initial reaction, “It’s kind of cool”.

They may not have been first, but they were the first Big Name Brand to do it, and that’s something. It may not convince 60% of people to buy more, but that still leaves a lot that might. It has generated a ton of publicity, and got them over half a million fans on Facebook. And it’s different and interesting.

Unlike so much of the commentary around it.

Hubspot Study Suggests Blogs Best Social Media for Leads

February 2, 2009 by  
Filed under All, ppc, PR, seo, social media

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statsA new study from Hubspot, who canvessed 167 small to medium sized business owners and executives,  is both encouraging and confusing.

The percentage of leads from each source was broken down as:

Other (including public relations and print and online display advertising) 25%
SEO 16%
Email Marketing 14%
Pay Per Click 13%
Telemarketing 9%
Blogs+Social Media 8%
Trade Shows 8%
Direct Mail 7%

I find this very encouraging – particularly as we offer services for PR, SEO, email, PPC and Social Media, that’s 76% of the leads right there! – it’s certainly good to know that more and more businesses are trying a variety of methods to generate leads, rather than sticking to whatever they have done in the past. That has certainly been my feeling from talking to clients in all kinds of businesses lately.

However, I’m also slightly skeptical of the accuracy, for a couple of reasons. Firstly, if you’re in are a small or medium sized business yourself, you know the difficulty in pinning down exactly how a lead found you.

If they remember you from a trade show, but Google* you to find your contact info, does that count as SEO or a trade show?

If you send offers via both email and direct mail, as many of our clients do, which one gets the credit for the sale?

And Mike Volpe, Hubspot’s VP of marketing, even goes on to say that there are additional benefits to blogging,

“Not only are you creating a community around blog articles, but all those articles get indexed by search engines, so blogging has elements of search engine optimization (SEO) as well”

So how can we accurately claim that SEO is 16% vs Blogging’s 8%?  I don’t feel that we can. But I also don’t see that as a problem.

One thing we try to stress here at Step Ahead is that your marketing efforts, particularly onlne, will help each other. Being active on Twitter can drive traffic to your blog, which can help with your SEO, which can get people to sign up for your email marketing, which can inform people about your trade show appearances, which, well, you get the idea.

One final thing which jumped out at me from this was this statistic:

Companies with less than 50 employees earmarked more than three times as much of spending on blogging and social media than larger ones, and 36% more on SEO.

On the Internet, there is no reason the small companies can’t compete with the Big Boys. In fact, the lack of barriers to getting things accomplished, which plague many a large corporation, can be to your advantage. If you aren’t already blogging, tweeting, facebook-ing, etc, you can start right now. You don’t need to organize all the different departments, have a bunch of strategy meetings, get the lawyers to overlook things, and waste months of everybody’s time. Just sign up for an account and jump in.

So, what are you waiting for?

*I really don’t like using Google as a verb, but everyone else does it!

Welcome to the new look Step Ahead!

January 14, 2009 by  
Filed under All, PR, social media

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welcomeNew year, new website.

If you’ve visited us in the past, you’ll notice we’ve undergone a complete overhaul here at Step Ahead. Gone is the old, static thing of the past, in comes the all-singing, all-dancing thing you see before you.

Why change?

Well, a few reasons. We’re very active on various forms of social media (Lyn & Simon on Twitter especially, but also Facebook, Youtube and more – see buttons on the top right), and our website just didn’t reflect that. Even the blog just linked out to a blogspot hosted account.

Secondly, maintaining the site was a real pain. All files had to be FTP’d and changed manually. That’s way more time-consuming than I realised.

Basically, we were stuck in the past while trying to live in the future (deep, eh!?).

Although we had planned on upgrading once we were up and running, there just never seemed to be enough time. But we have big plans for this year (more to come on that), so – with a little nudge from a few friends - we decided now’s the time.

How did we do it?

Well, we kind of cheated. A one-click WordPress (2.7 no less!) install with the good people at Dreamhost. A lovely new version of the Revolution 2 theme from Brian Gardner, and we were basically ready to go. Well, a couple of days importing old posts, fiddling with CSS and PHP, but nothing too heavy.

So, what do you think?

What Media SHOULD Be Doing Online

October 27, 2008 by  
Filed under All, PR

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Recently, I’ve come across several Web sites which are doing a great job of offering up news in a way that’s compelling and smartly engages social media as part of the experience. None is associated with a traditional media outlet, and sadly, I think they had to come along because traditional media wasn’t getting the job done online.

One is TheDigitel, a site that is local to Charleston, and produces its own content, as well as highlighting the best of news from other sources across the area. They describe themselves as “a Web outlet that ‘gets it,’ [that] provides the Web integration and savviness that is demanded by young adults who grew up during the Internet revolution.”

TheDigitel.com strives to have good relationships with local media outlets. “We know that only through working together on the local level can we achieve the goal that we’ve set for ourselves: a comprehensive view of the community for everyone,” they say.

I had the privilege of meeting the founders Ken Hawkins and Chris Gigante at an event I helped organize for the Charleston Parks Conservancy and these are smart guys who I think have done something the Post & Courier should have along time ago. If traditional media don’t “get it” soon, they’re done for in the not too distant future, I fear.

Here’s what TheDigitel does right:

  • Focuses completely on local content and on doing it right
  • Has multimedia components; shoot their own video or use others’ video when appropriate
  • Has a most popular stories category
  • Allows you to search by topic and location
  • Provides links to related coverage at other media outlets — TV, newspapers, radio, etc — and related stories on their site, making it a true resource for ALL Charleston news
  • Allows for comments
  • Very clean site, easy to read

What else it could do:

  • Offer ability to share articles on popular social media sites with one click
  • Allow others to embed video so long as it credits TheDigitel
  • Add RSS feeds by topic

This is a fairly new site, however, and I’m betting these things are in the works.

Now, let’s compare to the Charleston Post & Courier site, the local paper of Charleston, S.C. Here’s what the Post & Courier does right:

  • Ability to share stories on social media sites with one click
  • Ability to post comments
  • Starting to include some video with stories
  • Offers some RSS feeds
  • Offer some audio clips

Here’s what else it needs to do:

  • Unclutter the pages; very distracting and difficult to read
  • Add reporter blogs
  • Improve search function; very clunky right now

In looking at these two lists, it appears the Post & Courier is not too far off TheDigitel, but visit the two sites and I think you’ll see the difference. I believe the key here is for traditional media to incorporate social media in a way that is unintrusive and helps organize the news experience instead of adding to the clutter. TheDigitel gets this right.

Any other suggestions out there for how traditional media can “digitize” itself into maintaining an existence?

Imaginative Marketing…For a Good Cause

October 6, 2008 by  
Filed under All, PR, social media

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I don’t think many people realize exactly how hard it is to market for a charity. Years ago I worked on a website which raised money for a South African park project, and it was far, far tougher trying to get noticed there than on most of the commercial sites I’ve worked with.
So I was extremely impressed with the approach this Belgian company took to getting their message across

(tip of the hat to Donor Power Blog, where I came across this):

Unlike the ‘edgy’ Truth stunts and videos, which appear to be trying way too hard, this campaign actually worked, not only in raising awareness of the issue, but (more importantly?) dollars too. Well, Euros.

Microsoft Ad Nails It

September 19, 2008 by  
Filed under All, PR

Well, after all the hullabaloo about the Microsoft Seinfeld ad and my criticisms (see post and Brand Bandits Podcast), it seems that Microsoft got smart and did it right. I’m sure it was after they read my wise comments.

So, the new ad takes a shot at the very successful Mac vs. PC ads and defends those of us who work on a PC as not being the nerds portrayed in the Mac ads. As my colleague Simon Ashton pointed out, compared with the Seinfeld ads, Microsoft came out looking better in the Mac ads! So very smart that they latched on to the success of the Mac campaign.

What they’ve done is given a voice to all the cool people who use a PC and through that, given a personality to the PC that is not nerdy (All the Seinfeld ad did is reinforce that, I thought). It’s people from both political parties; it’s scientists, it’s enviromentalists; it’s teachers, it’s students… You get the point. I have to say it even gave me the warm fuzzies a little. Loved the part of the people who work for both Obama and McCain.

So, two thumbs up Microsoft. Glad you heeded the negative banter and fixed your mistake.

Though I must quickly add that the whole backlash over the Seinfeld ads got so much attention that it really set this second round of ads up to be noticed. Do you think we’d be talking about this ad otherwise? I think not. Think they planned it that way? If so, I have to give them way more credit.

Who’s Watching You on Twitter?

September 10, 2008 by  
Filed under All, PR, social media

Although in theory I understand that anyone in the world can see my Twitter posts, I tend to forget that on a day-to-day basis as I reveal my thoughts to the world. Well, my friends, don’t forget. I was reminded today in a very funny, and shocking, way!

Sure, you realize that anyone can “follow” your tweets and read what you say, but did you know that by going to Twitter’s search function (formerly Summize) you can find what anyone is tweeting about? Additionally, tweets now come up in the main search engines. I have a Google alert set up for myself and my companies (something everyone should do), and every day it shows me some of my tweets from the day before.

Well, apparently, a New York Times blogger who was writing about the new game show “Hole in the Wall” searched on Twitter to see what folks were saying about it. He found my tweet about what a crazy concept it is, but how I was still compelled to watch and used it in his blog post.

So not only is Twitter great for business, apparently it can get you media coverage too. Pressure’s on now to say something clever and insightful, huh?

I was also reminded how transparent I am making myself on Twitter the other day after I met someone I follow and who follows me on Twitter at a presentation I was giving. I regularly tweet about a hip hop dance exercise class I go to. He said to me “The whole time you were presenting all I could think about was your hip hop moves.” Which, believe me, is probably not a pretty image. Anyway, I thought that was really funny, as I do forget how much I am putting out there to people, many of whom, I’ve never even met.

Anyone had a similar experience with something you posted on Twitter?

Chrome: What the World is Saying

September 3, 2008 by  
Filed under All, PR

OK, this maybe something of a cheat, but I have a good excuse. I had fully intended to download Google’s new browser Chrome yesterday, test it out and write up my thoughts, but with that hurricane looking like it was heading directly for my house, I had more pressing matters.

Now Chrome has been available for almost a complete day, the Twitterverse, the Blogosphere and maybe even some people in the real world, have had a chance to chime in with their thoughts. Which leaves me wondering what I can really add to the conversation with just a brief test time.

So, not wishing to seem redundant, I thought a round-up of reactions might actually prove more useful.

History

Wired pretty much has the definitive article about how Chrome came in to being, Inside Chrome: The Secret Project to Crush IE and Remake the Web. Highly-respected tech journalist Steven Levy gives a birds-eye view of the whole project, from its beginning to the actual release. Includes some interesting stuff – would you believe that Google actually, um, ‘fibbed’ about building their own browser?

“After a 2004 New York Times article quoted “a person who has detailed knowledge of the company’s business” saying a browser was in the works, Schmidt had to publicly deny it.”

Hmm…

How it is Different

The most current versions of browsers have been improvements upon older versions, but those older versions were for the original www – not today’s web of applications, JavaScript and ‘constant connectedness’. Google wanted to rip it up and start again:

“All of us at Google spend much of our time working inside a browser. We search, chat, email and collaborate in a browser. And in our spare time, we shop, bank, read news and keep in touch with friends — all using a browser. Because we spend so much time online, we began seriously thinking about what kind of browser could exist if we started from scratch and built on the best elements out there”

I Feel the Need – the Need for Speed!

You bank online. You check your email on line. You work, live and play online. So speed is a bigger and bigger issue. Chrome is certainly a step up, at least according to Jof Arnold:

Many others are saying the same thing. Techcrunch found that,

“After just ten minutes of jumping from site to site, I was amazed by how quickly I was able to get around. And unlike some browsers (I won’t mention any names), opening a slew of tabs doesn’t matter — it’s just as fast with or without tabs.”

Hicks Design call it “fast and nimble. In a Camino way”, Eamon Costello says it’s “seriously fast” and, at the time of writing, there are about 5 tweets a minute with the search string, “Chrome is fast”!

So, let’s assume it’s new and it’s fast – what does this mean?

It’s Google vs Microsoft

Chrome is obviously another shot at Microsoft. Which is why Google waited until they were dominant enough to really challenge in the browser wars. Clinton Skakun is rooting for an IE-Killer:

“Hopefully this browser reaches the eyes of enough IE6 and 7 users. If it kills IE it was all worth it!:D When it’s all said and done, we might just have a Internet Explorer Killer on our hands:) If it doesn’t kill IE, maybe it will cause a slight shrink their user base.”

But Hank Williams isn’t so upbeat:

“Microsoft has been fighting the browser wars with spitballs and plastic knives and they are still beating Firefox handily. So Chrome, from a business perspective, for the foreseeable future, is totally irrelevant.”

Some, however, think that the real challenge is not to Internet Explorer, but to Microsoft Office. Google has been rolling out it’s own Ajax applications, Google Docs, Spreadsheets, etc – a browser which can handle Javascript better, making these faster and more stable, will take yet more users away from desktop applications.  Preston Galla’s take is that,

“Google’s Chrome browser…takes dead aim at Windows 7 and Microsoft Office, and attempts to make both irrelevant. Google’s long-term goal is clear: Dominate the enterprise and small business market in the same way it now dominates Internet search.”

Actually, it’s Google vs Mozilla

There is already one great open source browser available, and it claims around 20% of the market share. Mozilla has also just renewed its deal with Google – so why would Google want another competitor in the mix?  Joe Wilcox has a suggestion:

“Google wants to keep that money it gives Mozilla and other browser developers…Chrome will compete with Firefox and other Google search-supported browsers. Oh, yeah, if that’s you, Google is doing evil. If you’re Mozilla and dependent on Google paid search revenue, your browser’s future is perilous. How ironic if Google does to Firefox what Microsoft couldn’t: Kill the browser.”

What Do I Think?

I’ve been playing around with it for the last day or so (I’m writing this post using Chrome right now), and it’s, sort of, well, underwhelming. Considering it has 3% of the market share in under 24 hours I expected something more. Although I’m not sure what.

Maybe I need to get used to it a little more. It took me a while to feel fully comfortable with GMail when I first began using that, and now it’s all I use. It’s certainly fast, no doubt, and it has the Google-feel to it that Docs and so on have too, but switching browsers is a pain, and I’d need a strong incentive to do that. I don’t currently think Chrome is it.

I also have a few concerns about monopoly and privacy. Do we really want Google to dominate in another field like it does in search? They have made the software Open Source, so perhaps developers can port some of the better parts over to the Mozilla project, which would be good for everyone. Right now, however, I’m not going to be switching from Firefox.

Have you tried it out yet? What do you think?

***Update***

Looks like I was right to have some fears about privacy – Jacob Morgan has the goods…

How to Blow $100,000 on Word of Mouth Advertising

August 26, 2008 by  
Filed under All, PR, social media

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Do you remember your last vacation?

Whether it was Disney World, Aspen, Paris, New York or wherever, chances are you probably heard a recommendation before you went. That recommendation more than likely came from friends, family or co-workers.  Someone whose opinions you trust.

Do you remember the last time you vacationed somewhere because a politician suggested it to you?

Exactly.

So, you can see the problem in this story – South Carolina taxpayers are funding a trip for German politicians to visit Myrtle Beach this Fall. At a cost of $100,000.

These politicians will then return home, spread the word, and the German tourists will come flocking to the Grand Strand, eager to spend some of their hard-earned Deutsche Marks. Or, at least, that’s the theory.

Now, maybe I’m overly cynical, but try thinking of this in reverse. Imagine one of your state’s senators is given a free trip to somewhere in Germany. Dusseldorf say. He (or she) then comes back with a glowing report about what a wonderful time he had. Would you be booking the next available flight?

I started thinking about this after another blogger, Jacob Morgan, had tweeted (Twittered?) about an upcoming trip to Turkey.  I lived in Turkey for a short time and loved it. Any time anyone mentions going, or thinking about going, I try and convince them that they won’t be disappointed. And no-one in the Turkish government has had to pay me a dime to do this.

This is the kind of advertising that is truly effective. Not paying politicians to say nice things.

So, how could that $100,000 have been better spent?

Well, in 2006 over 17,000 Germans came to South Carolina as their primary destination. If each one of them went home and told their friends about the great time they had had, wouldn’t that have some impact? How about if the SC government spent $100,000 to make it easier for those people to share their stories, videos, photos and so on.

Many tourist destinations are already doing this. For instance, Aviemore in Scotland, a popular skiing resort, already incorporates Flickr streams, Youtube videos, blogs and more on a website aimed at attracting more visitors to the area. New Zealand actively solicits travelers’ blogs for “straight talking thoughts and opinions about our places, people and adventures”.

The most frustrating thing about this waste of money is that it’s so close to being a good idea. Word of mouth works. We all know that. The state government obviously knows it, which is why they want the German politicians to spread the word. But the beauty of word of mouth is that it’s cheap!

Wouldn’t that $100,000 be much better spent creating a central location to gather the experiences of people who are already coming? Of course it would!

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