Happy Anniversary, Boundless Markets

I’m finally getting around to posting about Boundless Markets, the firm I started one year ago.

The need we’re filling is the lack of bandwidth among mid-market CEOs and CMOS who want to accelerate their businesses but have insufficient resources— particularly seasoned, digitally savvy and data-driven people who “get it.”

So, what have we done in the past year?

We’ve landed and helped clients backed by Google, The New York Times and private equity firms.

For our clients we’ve developed and executed marketing and product innovation plans, overhauled and grown databases, launched marketing automation programs, created new sales channels, conducted multiple quantitative market research studies and formed lucrative partnerships (and much more).

We built a fantastic team of seasoned operators with deep experience in industries such as business information, software, marketing services and analytics.

Recently we launched a newsletter called Boundless Briefings, which includes our perspectives on data-driven marketing, sales and innovation. Feel free to take a look at our website and sign-up.

We’re always open to entrepreneurial opportunities, partnerships and interesting potential clients, so please keep us in mind.

This Fall our articles on data-driven marketing and innovation will appear in the following publications: Chief Executive, Chief Marketer and, my personal favorite, the Boundless Markets blog. We’ll also have our share of speaking engagements (on innovation and analytics).

In short, it’s been a productive and fun year.

But enough about us. What’s new with you? Drop me a line: http://boundlessmarkets.com/contact-us/

What Happens When You Get 100+ CEOs in One Room

Yesterday I had the pleasure of attending the CEO2CEO Leadership Summit at the New York Stock Exchange, organized by Chief Executive. Aside from networking with mid-market CEOs, the event was a terrific opportunity to gain insights from luminary CEOs on leadership, innovation and transformation. The line-up of speakers included among many others:

  • Jeffrey Immelt, Chairman and CEO, General Electric
  • George Barrett, Chairman and Chief Executive, Cardinal Health
  • David Cote, Chairman and Chief Executive, Honeywell
  • Bob Nardelli, CEO, XLR8 (former CEO of Home Depot and Chrysler)
  • Larry Freed, President and CEO, ForeSee
  • Ed Heffernan, President and CEO, Alliance Data

Here are some of the notable quotes from the event.

On Employee Engagement and Communication

“You have to use EVERY tool in the book to try and get alignment between employees and the organization” – George Barrett

“A huge insight was the power of simply telling employees the truth. If things aren’t going well, tell them.” – David Cote

“People are smart. They know exactly what’s happening in your organization. And they’re just waiting to see if you know it too.” – George Barrett

“Never ask people to do something that you’re not willing to do.” – Bob Nardelli (on traveling to 10 Home Depot stores on Easter Sunday)

“Have a relentless commitment to consistency of message. It might be the 15th time you’ve given the speech, but some people may never have heard it. Or, some people may have heard it four times but it’s the first time they’ve internalized it.” – David Cote

On Leadership and Trust

“As CEO, it’s more important to be right at the end of the meeting then at the beginning of the meeting. We made better decisions when people didn’t know where I was coming from.” (re: how essential it is to learn facts about what you don’t know) – David Cote

“You have to resist the temptation to think you have all the answers.” – George Barrett

On Diversity

“We looked at every opportunity employees had to move the needle on diversity– new hires, promotions etc. We measured people on the availability and opportunities to have an impact on diversity of employees. It’s amazing what happens when you simplify things. (If you want) anything done in an organization, make it disciplined and strategic and put the right people around it. Diversity and other HR programs need to be treated like any other strategic initiative…with metrics, measurement and course correction. It can’t be done silently.” — David Cote

On Digital Disruption and Big Data

(On GE’s Industrial Internet initiative which captures data on equipment operations to improve and optimize performance) “We’re putting sensors in everything from gas turbines to engines….if we squeeze 1% more efficiency out of operations that serve a large market we can save $2 to $3 billion in costs for customers.” – – Jeffrey Immelt

“With Big Data, be prepared to write a big check.  You have to go all in.  It’s not something you dabble in.” — Ed Heffernan

“You need to measure the right things.  You need a system of metrics that cover the things that really matter.  Behavioral data, attitudinal data and transactional data are all part of the equation.” — Larry Freed

The event also featured discussions on issues ranging from leveraging intangible assets, supply chains and logistics, organizational purpose and more.

In a closed door session sponsored by Chief Executive Network, CEO attendees also discussed some critical, current issues in a confidential setting. This was a moderated session where CEOs gained peer-to-peer insights and shared best practices. It seemed like a cathartic experience, almost therapeutic, for some attendees. One of the them said to me afterwards “It’s clear what I have to do now. The current situation just isn’t working. This really helped and brought me some clarity.”  Peer-to-peer feedback goes a long way, even at the CEO level.

Talking to Your Customers (Literally)

In the digital world, driven by interaction and big data, there are many sophisticated ways to get customer feedback.  Yet, whatever happened to good old-fashioned conversation?

Before I go old school and suggest engaging in real dialogue (the kind where human lips move and emit sounds), let’s take a look at some more technologically advanced ways to do it:

  • E-listening tools that mine and semantically analyze online chatter.  These tools are getting more and more specialized for specific industries, e.g. there are different social monitoring platforms built specifically for restaurants and car dealerships.   These days you can’t go anywhere in New York City without running into a hot dog vendor, an investment banker or someone who has developed a new social media monitoring tool.
  • Online survey tools that tie respondents’ attitudinal data (from surveys) to the demographic and behavioral data that lives in databases and analytics software (at Penton we used Qualtrics with intriguing results).
  • Sophisticated platforms like Jive Software and Get Satisfaction that facilitate online customer communities and integrate with social media, CRM systems and marketing automation tools.   This takes “feedback” to the next level by making it actionable – by putting it right in the tools used by marketing and sales teams in the context of their workflow.  You know things are far along when Gartner even has a Magic Quadrant for the space, called Social CRM tools.

There’s a time and a place for these tools.  I admit they’re very tempting.  I’m an early adopter of marketing technologies and my team has done hundreds of research studies for clients in recent years. So if anyone’s going to be tempted by shiny new toys and the urge to quantify feedback, it’s me. 

But what about actually talking to your customers?  New technology is wonderful but nothing can provide the context, tone and depth of a human voice.  (Not to mention the important subtleties by reading body language). 

We live in a digital world, with short attention spans and universal impatience.  So you might be wondering – will people take the time to really discuss how they feel in great detail (when it’s so much easier to click or type comments online)?  People like to sound off, to be heard.  Back in my brand planning days at Saatchi & Saatchi Advertising we identified several core human needs, one of which is the need for expression, which runs deep in our DNA.  Customers have emotional ties to brands, even in the business world where “rational” criteria is supposed to drive decisions.   In every market, customers with true attachments to brands have a vested (psychological) interest in expressing what they think and feel.

 So how can those conversations be held?  There are focus groups and 1:1 interviews (and at Saatchi we hired psychologists and anthropologists to facilitate and analyze the dialogue).  Yet, one obvious but overlooked way is simply asking people for feedback.  Go to a trade show or an event and talk to current customers and prospects—in depth.  One time at trade show, I introduced myself to a customer prospect and effectively said, “Hi, I run X brand and I’m wondering if you can give me some feedback.”  The gent spent two intense hours with me and provided terrific ideas on our product and ways to improve it given the challenges he faces every day.  At the end of our conversation, he thanked me for listening.   He gave me two hours of his time and thanked me.  Now that’s the power of listening.

 Advisory boards can be a wonderful way of getting dynamic and deep customer insights. Many companies use advisory boards as window dressing, as a way to give the appearance of being customer centric.  The ones that do it well put their advisory board members to work and have a structured process.   Personally, the most productive advisory board I’ve been on is one that put particular time and care into its organization.  Some highlights of that board:

  • Annual retreats for members
  • Briefing materials in advance for participants (with some business context)
  • Structured agendas with strategic challenges posed (with time allocated for free form discussion)
  • Breakout groups with issues and tasks for board members to address

 All of the output of the advisory board session was facilitated by a moderator and the proceedings were documented, prioritized and presented to management back at headquarters.  And then after the session, we, the customers, become part of a community.   This group was better than a market research panel, we became a team of actively engaged stakeholders with a vested interest in seeing the company succeed.

 Senior leaders should get out of their office and talk to customers more.  In the 1980’s there was a business philosophy called Management by Walking Around, where managers learned about concerns first hand by physically circulating around the office and having impromptu discussions with the rank and file.  (Seems obvious now).  The philosophy refers to managing employees, but it also applies to getting customer feedback, e.g. the power of getting out there and talking to people. 

 W. Edwards Deming said it best, “If you wait for people to come to you, you’ll only get small problems. You must go and find them. The big problems are where people don’t realise they have one in the first place.”

The Ultimate App for Husbands

In honor of Father’s Day, below I’m re-posting an oldie but a goodie on this blog for husbands everywhere.  Hope you get a kick out of it.  Enjoy and feel free to share.


When shopping in a supermarket recently I overheard a man complaining about the complex rules established by his wife:   “Get dye-free detergent, no other kind.   Unless it’s on sale, then it’s ok to buy one with dye.   But only if it’s Tide or All.”  It made me think that this guy (and husbands like him) needs a database to store and manage all of these rules.  And it would sure help to have the database be part of a mobile app so husbands can easily put these rules into action when confronted with vexing decisions like whether to buy lunch sized vs. dinner sized napkins and whether to clean the kitchen table off with Fantastic or a Clorox wipe.  Husbands simply have to know the rules.

So drawing from my product development days I started chewing on how this app would it work and what it would do.  Here are the high level requirements I came up with so far (would love everyone’s feedback):

  • Voice recognition:   So spouses can speak into the husband’s mobile device and verbally input rules while he is watching Monday Night Football.
  • Rules database:   It comprehensively stores thousands of rules established in the household.  This is the core feature.
  • Semantic/fuzzy search:  Given the shoddy memory of husbands everywhere, natural language search helps him easily find “Clorox wipes” when all he can remember is “those slimy white things that are hard to pull out of the canister.”
  • A massive, crowd sourced taxonomy:  Organizes the content of the rules which makes for fast and easy retrieval. Time is of the essence when you are putting the toilet paper on the holder and have to remember if it should roll over or under .
  • Conditional logic:  Powering the app are a complex set of if/then rules for every possible contingency.  Like IF the kids had breakfast cereal yesterday, do not give them cereal today.  UNLESS there are fewer than 7 grams of sugar in the cereal and THEN it is ok.

Here are some other requirements:

  • Social profiles:  What’s an app without a social component?  This feature would enable the husband to create a profile so he can connect with other creatures of his ilk.   Login would be with your Facebook credentials so you can immediately connect with 250 million other husbands who are equally inept. 
  • Location aware functionality:
    • Location based push notifications – so when he is at CVS he can be prompted to pick up Qtips (entered in the system while he was oblivious and watching Monday Night Football)
    • Location sharing with randomized signaling – so any attempt to track his exact location can be foiled (unknowingly to the would-be tracker/spouse)
    • Four Square integration – so he can check in at local establishments approved by his spouse (admin rights with tiered access needed).   And if he goes there often enough he can save $5 at fine establishments like Chili’s.
    • User generated content:  So husbands around the world can contribute (and find) excuses for not following the rules.  A star system would enable the community to highlight excuses that are especially creative and plausible.  And users can search, sort and view excuses based on the  profile characteristics other husbands.  This way, a churchgoer in Alabama does not get advice from a swinger in New York.
    • Collaborative filtering/recommendations:   Excuses are proactively recommended for the husband even before he screws up.  This is based on an algorithm that determines the most effective excuses used by others who match the husband’s profile.  In phase II, there would be an integration with the male equivalent of Siri, which would speak the excuse for the husband if he is too busy watching Monday Night Football.
    • Machine learning:  unlike the husband the recommendations get smarter over time.

I am still working on the rest of the requirements and welcome your feedback.  What else should it do?

Mashing Your Way to Innovation

Imagine you’re the head of a Hollywood studio. You get pitched movie ideas every day. The pitches go something like this:

  • “It’s like ‘Rocky’ meets ‘Casablanca’ – the underdog fights his way to the top and sacrifices his true love for the greater good.”
  • “It’s like ‘Home Alone’ meets ‘Aliens’– a kid takes on invaders from outer space all by himself.”
  • “It’s like ‘When Harry Met Sally’ meets ‘Lincoln’ – a neurotic single woman from New York City unites a nation.”

Ok, these are a little far-fetched, but they illustrate the power of a mash-up: combining two or more disparate ideas into an entirely new concept.

Mash-ups are everywhere and have been for a while. They define some great products and are inspiring some promising new businesses. In the web development world, the term technically refers to a new generation of apps and web sites that combine functionality and/or data from two or more sources. When you combine Google Maps with data on local gasoline prices, for example, you could get a mash-up that helps you find the cheapest gas located near you and get directions to the station.

Mashed-up Ideas are Driving Digital Innovation

Everyone knows customer feedback is important in developing new products. But customers don’t always know what they want, or can’t express it. The magic happens when unarticulated needs can be met. And one way to get there is to creatively mash-up the things that create value: functionality, data and services.  The term “mash-up” might suggest an element of randomness.  On the contrary, a very thoughtful – and structured – approach to the process helps.  E.g. what I call the dimensions of value (but that’s a blog post for another day).  The bottom line is that we live in a world of APIs, big data and cloud computing, where easily accessible services and analytics can add value to our customers, when combined in the right way with the proprietary stuff we build ourselves.  What’s at stake?  Innovation, dramatically expanding the possibilities for new digital products and dominating the competition.

In addition to the “functional” kind of mash-up, in a broader sense the concept of a mash-up can drive strategy, when big themes or trends are combined together in the right ways.  Consider these:

  • Gamification + Localization + Mobile = Foursquare
  • Vertical communities + Social networks = Quora
  • Content aggregation + Social media = LinkedIn Today (LinkedIn’s personalized newsletter)
  • Online education + User Generated Content + Affiliate Marketing= Skillshare

Throughout history, the mash-up of ideas has driven innovation. Gutenberg invented the printing press by combining new twists on movable type printing with oil based ink, which resulted in the mass production of printed books. Henry Ford wasn’t the first to create the automobile engine; he mashed up the idea with a novel assembly line concept to achieve scale in the production of cars which made them more affordable for the masses.

Taking a step back, when big trends from a variety of disciplines are combined, you get some powerful mash-ups. Some might call it simply “connecting the dots.” But too often connecting the dots happens by serendipity or a fleeting moment of inspiration. In contrast, a proactive attempt – and structured process – to mash trends together into a new singular concept can yield big results.

Let’s go back in time, to the 1970s.  Let’s say you worked at a manufacturer of personal electronics back then. What was happening in the world and in your industry then?  What were the big trends?

  • Demographically…urbanization. There was a continued dramatic shift in the number of people living in cities, building on a trend that began two decades earlier. In 1975, the percentage of people worldwide who lived in cities was 40%– up from 30% just twenty earlier. More people living in cities means more people meandering about.
  • Economically…high unemployment levels and inflation meant less disposable income. This mean more potential for cheap forms of entertainment.
  • Culturally…the Me Generation. Individuality and personal expression reigned.
  • Portable entertainment. In the 1970s, early models of boom boxes exploded onto the streets of cities, popular with young people. They were heavy, large, clunky and played music oh so loudly.
  • The price of electronic components had dropped, which means the cost base for “inventing new stuff” was low.

Imagine yourself at the manufacturer of electronics. How can you mash-up what was happening around you? Imagine the boardroom discussion….

  • Higher urban population means more people living in cities. That’s millions of more people meandering about. How can they be better served?
  • The Me generation is all about individuality and personal expression. Music is the ultimate form of personal expression.
  • What if the boombox could be made smaller and cheaper?
  • What if music devices could be made even more personal?
  • What if they could be made more portable?

How can we combine all of these things?

Enter the Sony Walkman. Launched in 1980, the same year as MTV, the Walkman checked the boxes on all of these trends. It was the ultimate mash-up, not only in terms of what it did functionally but also in terms of how it addressed a range of emerging trends.  From the Walkman, the iPod can trace its ancestral roots.

Communicate Your Idea as a Mash-up and People will Get it

Even if your idea is completely original, chances are it can be expressed in terms of a mash-up. And doing so can help people understand and envision new concepts, because the components are already known commodities. Let’s take the founder of the Subway sandwich chain. Would he have been successful pitching investors with “I want to make a chain of sandwich shops.” Urrggh. How uninspired. In contrast, isn’t this a bit more compelling: “We’re starting a new quick service concept that does for sandwiches what McDonalds did for hamburgers. In fact, the idea is McDonalds meets the old fashioned sandwich shop, but healthy and fresh.” Immediately you get it.

On a closing note, I personally publish a newsletter on innovation called The Digital Fast Lane.  It’s a mash-up of RSS feeds, tweets and content aggregated from many sources across the web, made possible by a tool called Paper.li which in itself is a mash-up.  Feel free to check it out.

Happy mashing,


Explaining Marketing to a Gremlin

Screen Shot 2013-01-15 at 11.37.15 PMThis week I was on a flight back to New York and when I looked out the airplane window it reminded me of a classic Twilight Zone episode: “Nightmare at 20,000 feet.” That’s the the one where William Shatner plays an airplane passenger who sees a gremlin on the wing of his plane in mid-flight. He tries to warn the flight crew about the gremlin but nobody believes his claim.

Thinking about that episode made me wonder…if there was a gremlin on the plane wing right outside my window, how I’d react.  I might explain to it what I was working on.  What would a gremlin think about marketing and our digital world?  The conversation might go something like this:

Gremlin: hey, what are you doing?

Me (after getting over the initial shock of speaking to a gremlin): Umm, I’m reviewing a marketing plan.

Gremlin: What’s marketing?

Me:  It’s what humans do to sell things to each other.

Gremlin: We’ve been observing humans for some time. Our earth scanning shows that there are massive amounts of commerce on your planet. But in recent years humans seem to be doing that more while reclining in their dwellings.

Me: Yes, we call that e-commerce.

Gremlin: What’s the “e” stand for?

Me:  Electronic. Most humans are connected through an electronic network, where they can buy things without doing it in person.

Gremlin: Not in person? So humans engage in commerce with people they do not know?

Me:  Sometimes. They also buy things from companies they know and companies they don’t know.

Gremlin: Oh yes, companies. We’ve heard of them. Wouldn’t humans be more likely to buy something from a company that they know?

Me: Yes, absolutely. That’s the value of a brand. Most companies spend lots of money to become known, so more people will buy their things.

Gremlin: what do they spend the money on?

Me: Companies spend in a lot of different ways. And these days a lot of money is spent trying to reach people who are searching for very specific things, when they are doing research or ready to buy. In fact, we use technologies like eye tracking to see what messages they are looking at and analytics to see patterns in the data. But ultimately it goes back to the brand.

Gremlin: But if humans don’t know about the brand, why would they care about the message?

Me: It’s complicated. Many people see a little bit of the message, get interested and then decide to learn more which sometimes can lead to a purchase. Or sometimes the message comes in the form of a story. Humans love stories and like brands that tell them stories they care about.

Gremlin: telling stories to get people to pay attention sounds childish.

Me: It’s hard to explain exactly why people like certain stories and are more likely to pay attention to certain messages. But that’s part of what marketers try to do. Also,
sometimes people just like to try new things, so we try to tell the stories to the experimental ones who can influence others.

Gremlin: how do you find influential humans? The gremlin approach is to hang out on airplane wings, look for people who sit in the front of the plane and drink strange liquids from tiny bottles until they fall asleep.

Me: umm, that’s one way but there are actually special tools available to do that. It’s important to find these influencers, but they are rare. Most humans simply go about their daily business and are not that experimental or influential.

Gremlin: why don’t most humans like to try new things?

Me: people are really comfortable with their habits and routines, which makes it challenging to get them interested. But solving that challenge can be exciting, especially using that electronic network I mentioned.

Gremlin: what’s that network all about?

Me: The network connects us all, and is a place where humans learn, get entertained and communicate with each other. We also use it to share personal information and things we’ve experienced with people we barely know.

Gremlin: That sounds dumb and really impersonal.

Me: actually we call it becoming more “social.” Humans love sharing the things they think, feel and see with others — especially with people they do know. And for marketers it is becoming more popular way of getting messages to people.

Gremlin: You humans are strange. Because when gremlins are sharing things and connecting with each other, the last thing we want to do is get a message about some product.

Me (attempting to justify it all): Yes, but with humans the messages can be shown only to the people who like a product or a brand, if the marketer sets it up that way. So it can be very relevant to the person who sees the message.

Gremlin: It’s not relevant if the person is in the middle of sharing or communicating, which is what they’d rather be doing.

Me: Yes, but it gets back to the stories. A great story for a brand can entertain people, connect people and inspire people. And when that happens the brand becomes relevant and people then gravitate to their messages.

Gremlin: I suppose so but it sounds like an intrusion. If it works why doesn’t every marketer create these stories?

Me: I ask myself the same question. What would work better?

Gremlin: Why don’t marketers just tell the truth?

Me (exasperated): You better get off that wing now. We’re about to land.

Lessons from Hurricane Sandy

What Hurricane Sandy reinforced for me:

  • Be happy with the little things.
  • Don’t take anything for granted.
  • Family and friends first
  • Anything is possible when good people come together, with focus and a sense of purpose.
  • Nothing exposes one’s true colors like a crisis.
  • People appreciate honesty, above all, in their leaders.
  • Public service should be about serving the public, not politics.
  • Life goes on without Twitter.
  • Once in a while everyone should go on a self-imposed holiday from computers, mobile devices and TV, including our children.
  • When you read something that affects you, or think it might affect you, take a moment and let it sink in.   Particularly since we live in a bullet-point world and most of us have the attention spans of goldfish.
  • Henry David Thoreau had it right:  “I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life, to live so sturdily and Spartan-like as to put to rout all that was not life, to cut a broad swath and shave close, to drive life into a corner, and reduce it to its lowest terms, and, if it proved to be mean, why then to get the whole and genuine meanness of it, and publish its meanness to the world; or if it were sublime, to know it by experience, and be able to give a true account of it in my next excursion.”

Is There a Magic Button in Your Future?

I’m listening to Pandora, the streaming music service, which learns your musical tastes and then plays songs similar to ones you specify as favorites. A song by Journey is on and I like it. So Pandora’s algorithm goes to work — playing other songs in the same genre, with the same feel, from the same time period: tunes by Foreigner, Kansas and Styx and on and on.

Pandora is “learning” what I like — or is it?

The flaw is that some of us have really diverse tastes. After lots of songs from the same genre, you’re ready for something different. This is what the shuffle button on MP3 players is all about. After a soft rock ballad, sometimes a flamenco guitar number is just so cool. A Broadway musical tune followed by a hip hop song takes you to another place entirely. The sudden changes in tone and expression catch you off guard and capture you. These genres have nothing to do with each other but when put next to each other the contrast really works.

This is making me think about how people find other kinds of content, particularly content recommendations found on web sites and where they fall short.

Unlike the algorithms used by e-commerce sites like Amazon.com, which validate the predictive ability of their recommendations based on actual sales, many content driven web sites simply feature “popular articles” that may not pertain to you. And even if they have an algorithm, the recommendations can be off the mark because they draw from a limited pool of content (the articles on a web site, the stories liked by your 100 Facebook friends etc.). Since the content recommendations are based on a small universe of things you might actually like, they often don’t resonate. Also, there’s got to be a way to solve for the fact that sometimes people like to see different stuff. StumbleUpon has 25 million users because they solve for serendipity – the art of casual discovery- by exposing seemingly random web sites you might like (within categories you specify).

People have diverse interests and sometimes like contrast – that’s why we love the shuffle button. Not all people who read about “Polar caps melting” want to read about “Polar Bears Run Wild in Local Zoo” simply because that article is the closest keyword match based on a limited content set. Some people who read about polar caps might actually be more inclined to read about “Al Gore’s New Venture” which has absolutely nothing to do polar caps melting. But in that particular moment for that particular person – they might be more interested in the piece about Gore. Interest in content varies by mood, time of day, things happening in your life, weather and so many other factors. And the unpredictability of human behavior and interests makes it hard to predict content that might resonate, even if the “likes” of your social graph are factored in.

If you run a web site, showing your audience random pieces of content probably seems silly. After all, we like content to be organized, with order and the ability for people to easily find what they saw previously and intuitively know where to go for things of interest. These are basic principles of usability.  And media properties are brands that must stand for something, not just cater to random whims of the user.

Yet, there are times when a shuffle button for content would mix things up. That’s what I’m proposing: a content recommendation engine that lives on web sites and pulls in content from across the web. A magical shuffle button for content.

Imagine this: buttons on a web site that say “more like this” or “surprise me” where users control the relevancy and, yes, even the randomness of content recommendations. Scoop.it, Paper.li and other aggregation tools already enable people to curate their own content and create their own web sites and newsletters, drawing from sources they specify (Favorite web sites, RSS feeds, Twitter followers etc). Storify does that for publishers– enabling them to pull content from other sources into their sites while they maintain control of the curation and the user experience.

But why not give some control of what’s on a web site to the audience directly? Well, as someone who runs marketing for 80 media brands I can tell you that most publishers are fiercely trying to maintain control. Yet hasn’t our industry learned that if we don’t disrupt ourselves we will be disrupted by someone else? Content personalization is happening anyway. Why don’t we just embrace it?

Which reminds me of Mexico’s War on Drugs.

The previous sentence was a test. A total non sequitur. You didn’t see it coming so it seemed odd. But it got your attention. If you had a “surprise me” button you’d know that something different is coming, so you’d be a bit more prepared and curiosity would take hold. And that dynamic might actually increase your future engagement with the web site that brought it to you.

That’s what I’d love to see: a StumbleUpon for content on individual web sites, a shuffle button for content. Sometimes random, sometimes relevant. It should be up to you.

Bringing Content to Life in New Ways

The core of any media company company is developing content that resonates with the audience.  “Develop” doesn’t quite capture the scope of the modern editorial role given the growing importance of user generated content, community building, curation and aggregation.  But so much attention is given to WHAT content is delivered that sometimes the HOW gets short shrift.   By how, I’m talking about the means by which content is served up to the audience – beyond the obvious need for great usability – and the hooks that get people engaged.  Here are a few ways to do the “how” and I welcome thoughts on other ways to make it happen.

1. Create Debates

There are always hot button issues that people feel strongly about one way or the other. Points of contention are great ways to rally people on both sides and engage an audience.  Even in the business world, there can be heated debates over topics like Brazing vs. Welding – the best way to join metal.  And in the Financial Services industry, one raging issue now is Social Media:  Compliance Nightmare or Client Development Opportunity.   Media companies often write about contentious topics but what if they held debates and let people duke it out through one-on-one discourse?  Here’s an example.   And here’s another very different execution.

Video debates might be even more powerful.

2. Vote and Predict What Your Peers Think

Many web sites do some kind of audience polling.  But there’s an opportunity to take polling to the next level.  Take Scoople, an iPhone app that lets people “play the news.”   After reading an article, you can vote on the topic, try to guess what others think and see how well you can predict people’s feelings on current topics.  It’s fun and engaging.   And think of the PR and revenue opportunities that could result from a media brand becoming the authority for what decision makers and influencers think.

3.  Award Educational Credits

Much has been written about gamification, which Wikipedia defines as “the use of game design techniques, game thinking and game mechanics to enhance non-game contexts.”  Examples of gamification abound in consumer apps and web sites.  Four Square features badges, Klout’s offers perks and the user’s incentive is typically about collecting points or achieving a certain status level for community recognition or bragging rights.

But what about gamification in business media?   Business is based on achievement so it likely will have a role to play.   Here’s a very practical application for some business media brands:  give educational credit for reading the content.  Educational credits are a “point-based” model with practical benefits.  It doesn’t apply to every industry, but has big potential for ones that require certifications, licenses or a certain level of continuing education.

MedPage Today does this in the healthcare field.  Each article alerts clinicians to breaking medical news, with summaries and actionable information enabling them to better understand the implications. When people read content on their site, they can actually get continuing medical education credits at no cost.  Most content is gated and requires a registration, so they collect valuable data from their audience.

With all of these concepts, what’s critical is understanding the audience.  It’s about having some insights or hypotheses and testing them out in agile ways that will ultimately lead to success in digital media.  Because when it comes to commanding an audience’s attention,  HOW to hook them can be just as important as WHAT to focus their attention on.

A Quick Experiment in Social Curation

  1. I’m experimenting with a new tool called Storify, which enables people to pull in content from a variety of sources across the web (including RSS feeds, social media etc) and immediately publish it.  Below is a “story” I created in about 5 minutes and, I must admit, it shows. But it does illustrate how social media buzz and other content can easily be curated.  There are plenty of other tools. My point though is not so much about the tool that’s used, rather that in addition to creating own original content, there is value in curating the content of others.  And editors can add value by providing context, perspective and analysis to the chatter going on out there.  Because there is no end to that chatter. Here’s my crude first attempt….
  2. Earth Day:  Mobilizing Your Brand
  3. This year there were over 1 billion pledges to “improve our planet” on EarthDay.org.  Going Green clearly part of the platform for many brands and Earth Day can be a focal point of those activities.   Here’s how some companies got involved this year and what some people are saying…
  4. Intel
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    RT @intel: Today is a day to celebrate our earth. Happy #EarthDay! #Intel http://pic.twitter.com/DKLLKJqR

    Thu, May 03 2012 07:59:55
  6. Virgin America
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    Thu, May 03 2012 07:45:54
  8. Verizon Wireless
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    http://bit.ly/K4cK0y Verizon Wireless NY Announces Top-5 Earth Day Apps – http://ParamusPost.com

    Thu, May 03 2012 10:04:39
  10. Whole Foods
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    RT @WholeFoodsCHI: Have you heard? @epicurious shares that we dropped unsustainable wild-caught seafood on Earth Day! http://epi.us/ICzeVV #oceandevotion

    Thu, May 03 2012 10:11:28
  12. Share

    Sun, Apr 29 2012 22:26:09
  13. Around the Web
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    Modern farming is grounds for Earth Day celebration

    Thu, May 03 2012 10:09:03
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