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Now you can listen to us on our new web radio show “Hey Marketing Genius!” You can listen by clicking here

Today’s show discusses branding. Our guest is Erik Kent, President of

So it’s been about fouryears since facebook redefined networking (MySpace fans, I do recognize that your site came first, but I’m on a roll here) and since, the world has come to see things just a bit differently. So here are some thoughts on what we have and have not learned about the new world.

1. Rush to fools gold – believe it or not, people still believe that you can get rich through social networking. This is Fools Gold 2.0. Yup, this is reminiscent of what happened with “the internet” about 15 years ago. The fact is, social networking takes time and work…one other thing, it’s not free. The medium may be free, but the work is not.
2. Who you tweeting to? – “I can get someone right out of college to do this stuff,” one of my current clients said to me when I was pitching his firm. “Certainly, you can.” I replied, “But will this person have the strategic background to build your network because if your network is not relevant, then there’s no reason to do this. Oh, and how are you going to keep your network interested in your firm.” Guess what? We got the account and the client is happy :)
3. Protect Your Brand – We now know that we need to protect our brands, products, and services on social networking sites. So it’s important that we secure these accounts even if we don’t intend to use them.
4. Your Network is Key – Building your relevant network takes time, but once it’s build it will serve you well, but only if you keep your network engaged. Are you measuring network growth? Are you measuring engagement? What are you doing for your network?
5. Social networking is the tip of the iceberg – It’s about integrating all the tools that the web offers and doing it well. Social networking is not a silo, it’s not an activity, and it must be a key part of your overall marketing communications strategy. And if it’s not, you’re probably dropping marketing bombs.

More to come.

1. Engage – People who join your group or fan page want something. Find out what it is and give it to them. Give them coupons, suggestion, offers, new, meetings, rallies, contests…what ever it is, you must keep your network engage or else you risk loosing it…or worse, having a stale network.

2. Aggregate – Social networks allow you to bring people together around your issues, products and services. Once you build your relevant network, you can engage by polling, conducting market research, delivering offers, and so on.

3. Measure Online – Measuring your activities on your social networks. For example, how many people joined your group. How many people are attending your events, how many people saw your event, and how many comments are made.

4. Measure Offline – Use every opportunity to drive your “offline” audience to your online social networks. So if have a quarterly magazine, or conduct monthly direct mail, or advertise in print or television, invite people to join your online network. Now you can measure what’s happening offline and at the same time grow your influence in your social network.

Social networking is no panacea.  But, done right, it can be a slice of heaven, even though it takes hard/smart/inspired work.

I started my career working for legendary stock picker and investor Mario Gabelli. In my brief stint at Gabelli’s Rye, N.Y.-based firm, I learned much that has stuck with me to this day, including the basics of value investing. Value investing is about kicking the tires, doing your research from the ground up, and carefully evaluating a company and its stock based on its intrinsic value… before you pony up one dime for shares.

Value investing also looks at businesses in their totality and, just as importantly, over the long term. No flipping stocks, no short-term trades; value investors are overwhelmingly in it for the long run.

The era of managing quarter to quarter is over. If you’re in business, surely you’re in it for the long term, right? So your business, including your marketing approach, ought to reflect that reality. No one doubts Gabelli’s success, just as we all love to hear from Warren Buffet, the renowned value investor, pontificate about his latest corporate conquest. Both Buffet and Gabelli run their businesses the same way they invest: with an eye on value and for long-term success.What can we learn from these legendary investors about marketing and promotion? Here are four suggestions to include in your marketing plans that will deliver real value for your business:

Kick the Tires: Do your homework on marketing, including media. Not all media are created equal relative to your products, services, customers, and geographic service area. Take time to review all options before investing a medium. And because media companies are recognizing that we are in the age of engagement, many are providing advertisers with more venues to reach customers. They may include websites, networking opportunities, and direct mail, in addition to its core business offers. So do your homework on media and negotiate a good deal.

Avoid Marketing Bombs: Without a marketing plan, you’re dropping marketing bombs and wasting your hard-earned money. Recently, a CEO of a $500-million firm that sells telecommunications equipment said of his marketing: “Yeah, we got that idea, we tried it, and it didn’t work.” When I asked him about the context of that particular tactic within an overall campaign and why it did not work, he replied, “What campaign?” A tactical approach to marketing is far less effective than a strategic one, so invest in and employ market-driven strategy. Then measure your strategy in its entirety; don’t simply examine one tactic, no matter how important.

Know that People Buy From People: Bring your business out of the office. Target trade shows that have a close affinity to your firm. Investing in trade shows goes far beyond having a nice booth. It’s a great chance to network with other businesses, each a potential client. Trade shows allow you to measure yourself against the competition.

In addition, invest in opportunities to make personal connections, such as the simple act of taking potential clients to dinner. It may sound clichéd, but it’s the blocking and tackling that allows you to move down the field with consistency, and not the 60-yard “Hail Mary.” Very often, personal connections win more business than 9-to-5 sales tactics.

Do Good, Do Well: In the 1980s, American Express developed a unique campaign for their customers to help restore the Statue of Liberty. A penny for each use of the American Express card and $1 for each new card were donated to the Statue of Liberty Restoration campaign. In four months, $2 million was raised and, more importantly to American Express, its transaction activity increased by 28 percent. So integrating social causes into your marketing strategy will surely allow you to “do good”—while doing well.

PLAN FOR THE LONG RUN: The above are value-based tactics that should be included in your overall marketing plans. Don’t rely on one approach. Delivering value through marketing is ensuring that you integrate your tactics with business-driven strategy. So, if you agree with me that we’re in a new era of customer engagement, you’ll give your marketing plan a second look. If you don’t have a plan, build one around adding value to your business. And remember, that plan must deliver value to your market not just for now, but for the long run.

A discussion about the American Auto Industry's recent marketing, advertising, and public relations efforts in response to the industry's troubles. Read more

A couple of weeks ago, I read an article about social networking in a leading New Jersey business magazine. The story quoted several New Jersey based marketing firm execs who weighed in on social networking. The article found a consensus among these folks who opined correctly that social networking is still in its infancy, but wondered about the direct relationship between social networking and the bottom line. The article went on to say the following [editor's note - I have removed the names to protect the innocent]:

  • “I think most people are probably savvy enough to know you can’t draw a line directly from a Facebook page to the impact on the bottom line,” but     building relationships with constituents through social sites will ultimately contribute to a company’s success, he said, in ways that may not be quantifiable.
  • [Name Removed] compares the push to participate in social media to the early days of companies seeking higher ranking on Web search engines. With social media still in its early stages, [Name Removed] said there are no proven methods of how best to reach customers.  [Name Removed] said while many companies want to engage in social media-based marketing, she warns that few know what to expect. Taking time to understand how the new playground functions can save businesses from a few headaches. “Corporate America isn’t quite ready for this interactive marketing highway that we are going on,” she said. “With this two-way street, they can’t control [the interaction] anymore.”

While the article suggested, correctly, that social marketing efforts ought to be tied into integrated marketing efforts, it completely ignored certain business driven realities of the medium and went on to substantiate the experience of those quoted in the article.  I called the reporter to let him know that, indeed, you can quantify the contributions of social networking to the bottom line. I provided the reporter with several cases from our firm showing him the direct correlation between successful social networking efforts and the bottom line. Other firms who work within, and understand the nature of the medium have done the same for their clients.  The reporter rationalized that the purpose of the column was simply to point out that social networking is no panacea, that there are still miles to go before we perfect the medium for business.  Agreed and if you read my previous posts on this blog, you’ll see how much I agree. But as much as I agree, I cannot accept the fact that the other side was not told.

The truth is that social networking takes work. It takes time, it takes strategy, and moves in real time.  This is not easy, and not easily explainable. And yet, we have the other extreme where the corporate business media make it sound like you can sign up for Twitter and make a million dollars.  The blinding speed in which people adopt, and are attracted to social networking, certainly does not help.  Which means, that as marketing/advertising/PR/communications professionals, we have to stay not only on top of what is happening, but provide meaningful interpretation for our clients in order to best leverage the medium to advance their business goals.

But there are certain realities that marketing and PR folks will not speak about in public. Frankly many traditional marketing firms are very, very afraid of social networking, because social networking, if done right, is a game changer, an eminent threat to their bottom line.  Much like the Internet decimated newspapers because of their their head in the sand rigidity about protecting their revenue stream, newspapers were like the proverbial frog who hangs out in a slowly boiling pot until it’s too late. Traditional marketing and PR firms will soon suffer the same fate, unless they begin to change their business model, and delve deeper into social networking to uncover real value and meaning for their clients.

Take a look at the last quote above from the article. With all due respect to the depth and breadth of the experience of the marketing executives who were quoted, but, have these people been on the Internet? Have they looked around to see how “corporate America” is utilizing social networking and the web? Have they seen major international / national brands direct people from TV commercials straight to their Facebook, rather than their own websites?  Do they realize that “marketing and advertising” or a very good portion of it, is so 20th century, and engagement is about today and tomorrow. Have they heard of the iPhone and it’s billion dollar earning apps?  I am sure that these folks have heard the calls of major brands like Procter and Gamble, American Express, Verizon, who understand that their businesses indeed do not have control of their brands, but they’ve adapted by developing strategies to engage their customers to proselytize for them and advance their business.  Have they attended the many leading conferences, where the Global marketers have called on Madison Avenue to stop wasting their money and their time?

Head in the sand strategy seemed to have worked fine for our banking system, right? I make the same analogy here, marketing and advertising firms have a responsibility to their clients rethink and reshape the way they do business. Because like newspapers, if they keep the old model close to their vest because they don’t understand the realities of the day…well, need I say more…

I’ll post about the imperfection of social networking in my next blog…more to come.

It’s an understatement to say Google has taken over the Internet, it may be even more parochial to speak about how Google has taken over our lives. From search, maps, video (Youtube), email, cell phones, and publishing, Google has built a vast business empire faster, and perhaps far more reaching, than any business in history. Heck, GE is now partnering with Google on environmental initiatives. This is GE, the king of all things industrial, partnering with a search engine on environmental initiatives?  Who’s zooming who?  But it’s true, Google is not only a resource for all things personal relative to the Internet, but the good folks at Google are smart enough to take leadership positions in non-core business opportunities.

However much Google has become a part of our lives, it’s important to know that business on the net is much more about the Internet than Google.  And it is much more local than anyone, including the mainstream media, will lead-on.  Once we recognize that the Internet is still an infant that can be shaped in ways that can be meaningful to our lives and businesses, then and only then can we recognize the wonderful opportunities that lay ahead, locally.  Locally? Locally, like right down the street locally.  Locally like within your city, county or state locally.  But we’re talking about the vast Internet, a world controlled by the Googles, MSNs, and powerful media moguls who we see on TV.  Folks, the Internet is local and Google can’t do anything about it, unless it start opening up stores in your area – note to the people at Google, the Google store thing is my idea.

Let’s get to heart of the matter. The local market? You’re probably saying, who cares. More importantly, you’re probably thinking you can’t monetize the local market in a way that generates real cash flow, and that’s why Google is staying away. Well, there are many very successful local sites that have built themselves a terrific niche in the local market.  These hyper-local, meaning everything is local, may cover issues relevant to one town, one business vertical tied to a particular geography, or neighborhood sites have proven that they can not only generate cash, but become real brands.

I would argue that hyper-local sites are real competition for becoming online gateways to local communities. And while the publishing industry’s troubles are directly related to the rise of the Internet and media fragmentation, there is a strong case to made for looking closer at the publishing model as the Internet continues to evolve.  Think of Google as Time Magazine, and think of hyper-local sites as your local or regional magazine that focuses on your community.  Both provide information that you deem relevant, just different information.  Unlike Time or Newsweek, your regional publications are your connection to what is happening locally.  So no matter, how relevant the national magazines are, the local ones are just relevant or useful.

Why is hyper-local so relevant? And why is it a coveted market? Let’s take a closer look at social networking sites and their success. What is it about Facebook, Twitter, MySpace, or Youtube that makes them so popular? The easy answer is you and me. Yes, that’s right, those properties are about you and me, they are ubber hyper-local relevant to me. I can create my own reality, with my friends, my interests, and my world within a given social networking site…It’s all things relevant to me. My personal reality show if you will.  And so within the vast confines of facebook, I can create my own little world where I can connect with friends I haven’t seen since college, and go out to dinner (local), I can discuss a movie (seen locally), review a spa (which I go to locally), and share good news about the birth of a new child with my cousins in Argentina who will send me flowers using a local flower shop over the net. You see, the Internet is relevant, locally.  So the rise of hyper-local sites, though not orderly, is a business model that deserves attention.

In Montclair, New Jersey there’s Baristanet everything local to Montclair. Founded in 2004, the site “soon after emerged as a leader in both hyper-local blogging and the online citizen journalism movement. Baristanet receives more than 5,000 visits a day and has inspired local news sites in Pittsburgh, Brooklyn, New Haven, Watertown, MA and Red Bank, NJ.”  Baristanet effectively competes for audiences with traditional local media such The Montclair Times, the venerable weekly newspaper, to

Staying in New Jersey, we find a business vertical, there is a website that ties all things weddings to a geographic region. Founded by Erik and Beth Kent on February 14, 1997 to help wedding professionals promote their services and directly connect with future brides and grooms. According to the site, it currently “receives over 500,000 hits per month and features over 500 wedding businesses serving New Jersey and parts of New York and Pennsylvania that future brides and grooms can choose from, including helpful articles and tips about wedding planning, expert relationship and marriage advice and much, much more.” competes not only with Google but with the 800 lb. gorilla of wedding sites,

In Maplewood, New Jersey, the well-healed turn to Maplewood Online for neighborhood gossip, news…it’s the equivalent of an online piazza. The site is jam-packed with classified, a community calendar, and every else imaginable. It even serves as a portal to news sites such as The New York Times, professional sports teams, cross word puzzles, all within one, local, place.

So as the Internet continues to grow, the threat to places like Google loom larger because people will continue to find ways to make the Internet resources relevant to them.  And with the continued rise of mobile, let’s see if these successful hyper-local sites adapt or go the way of newspapers. There are already sites popping up offering hyper-local mobile coupons delivered right to your phone.

The problem is, Google doesn’t have the foot-soldiers to compete at a hyper-local level. What it can do is to start buying hyper-local sites, but then again, why not simply buy community newspapers and turn them into mega-hyper-local sites (ok, enough jargon).  One final thought, I’m not sure if I would count Google out. They understand relevancy and adaptability, arguably the two most important strategies for success online.  More to come..

The internet as a medium is old news. Yes, it’s the most revolutionary medium in the history of man, but it’s old news. The good news is that we continue to discover how to use the internet to connect with consumers, build businesses, expand brands, and engage markets.  The 800 lb gorilla is content distribution strategy, which is how business get as much relevant exposure as possible across markets and demographics on the net. And why is that important? Well, think of your website as space sitting on your URL. And while you’re promoting the site in various way on and offline, there are ways to repackage your existing content and position it across the web.

Here’s an example:

Let’s say your site has video and 15 pages of static content. Think about the high value of relevant link-backs and create a channel on Youtube and upload your videos there, create a blog on blogger and recreate your content there…and use that blog as a platform going forward to update your customers on your products, business etc. Now, with a little effort, your site’s exposure just got exponentially more powerful.

Most importantly, continue to look for new ways to get your content out there where your customers aggregate and where you can get those valuable linkbacks…it’ll keep you one step ahead of your comeptition.

Social networking is a powerful tool. It’s even more powerful when it’s being promoted as a cure for all things ill in marketing. Sure, facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg is a cause celeb in the media – recent Oprah appearance and the cover of FORTUNE. And why not? With 175 million registered users, who are actively engaged in the medium, the 24-year Zuckerberg seems to be on to something…to say the least.  And with 175 million users, marketers are in a gold rush mode, scrambling to make sense and capitalize on channels like of facebook and other social networking technology…

There are several important, yet basic, things that the media is not telling us about Social Networking. Before I go on, let me address my concerns about the way that social networking is being hyped and promoted.  What we’re getting from the media is not necessarily the entire story. The same tired cries about people getting rich, businesses having endless ways of reaching their clients, markets expanding, and so on…yeah, yeah, yeah…now tell me how it’s done.  In this environment, or any other environment for that matter, it’s not enough to talk about outcomes, it is more crucial to provide insight about how one gets there, making mere observations are no longer sufficient.  And while social networking sites like facebook, MySpace, Ning are getting the press, social networking opportunities go way beyond these verticles when you use blogs, podcasts, and web engagement tools that you can employ right on your website

Social Networking is Not an Elixir, It is a Tool

Social networking is about behavior and will largely mimic the way your business behaves offline, but that also makes it more dangerous to your brand, because here, you have very little control. Here’s why…If your marketing is not up to par, chances are your social networking won’t be either…If your website is a relic, and your social networking is working, where do you think people go back to? Your website, and now what?

Integration of Social Networking To Your Overall Marketing Strategy

Social networking ought to be a strong component of your integrated marketing plan.  And because it is a medium that screams for engagement, you have to plan to continuously engage, if not you risk loosing your audience. Speaking of audience, let’s start with that.  Audience aggregation, check that, relevant audience aggregation is the foundation on which you build successful social networking campaigns – aside of course from your business, product, or service.

Your website is the center of your social networking universe. For example, if you have a group on facebook, and a group member invites someone to join the group and this person doesn’t know anything about your business, chances are they are going to visit your site first…if your site doesn’t pass the 4 second rule (4 seconds for someone to decide whether they will stay or leave), then you just lost a potential network member and possibly a client.  The same goes for blogging, pod-casting and so on…So make sure that web world is up to par prior to engaging in this activity.  But, this philosophy is exclusive to your social networking campaigns…the same applies to any off line campaigns. If you’re raising awareness through TV, billboard, networking or what have you, guess what? People will visit your site, so it’s vital that your web presence reflects the depth and bredth of your products and services, as well as be presented in a manner that is expected by your customers or market.

Like Good Advertising, Social Networking Must be Relevant

Yeah, there’s 175 million people on facebook, so what? Clearly for businesses, even those with national / multinational presence or aspirations, the 175 million facebook users must be segmented into something more meaningful.  One identified and segmented, now what?  It’s time to get creative about engagement.  And engagement comes with developing campaigns that are highly relevant to the audience.  It’s what keeps them interested, coming back, and telling other people – on and offline…

The Jig Is Up

10 years ago everyone rushed online with wide-eyed hopes of making tons of money…what we’re finding out now is that the web is more about strategy than design and programming – although these elements are vital. It’s important to heed lessons of history and apply them…look at what makes sense for your business, pick a medium and work it…own that medium…I argue that it’s impossible to truly be effective managing every medium like blogging, LinkedIn, MySpace, facebook, and the various directories that are so ubiquitous online…so figure out where your aggregate audience is, build the network, make sure that your own site is up to par before diving head first into the social networking waters.

What’s Next?

So what’s next? Social networking takes work and time. Yes, the sites may be free, but you’ll need to dedicate time and resources to develop meaningful, thoughtful campaigns that make business sense.

Execution matters…execute your campaigns, learn about audience, deliver, evaluate, and do it again!