Re-imagining Industry Conferences

Earlier this week, I had the privilege of attending the 3rd annual Email Evolution Conference in Miami, sponsored by the DMA and its email arm, the EEC. More than 400 people attended the event, an exceptional turnout considering that I’ve still seen a lot of cost cutting from 2009 continue into this year in the form of [in some cases even further] reduced exhibition and travel budgets.

People seemed content with the program, for the most part, and I couldn’t say enough good things about the quality of the speakers and the integrity of the organizers’ work and effort in putting on a world-class show. But I also can’t deny that, by the end of day 2–let alone the morning of day 3–there was a tense maelstrom of bottled up energy flowing through the halls that always seems to rear its head after attendees are subjected to hours of back-to-back PowerPoint presentations.

I shared a cab ride back to the airport with my old friend and email industry veteran Chuck Swenberg, and, after letting out a collective sigh, we both agreed that this conference–and the vast majority of conferences that we attend–could use an overhaul.

Chuck and I discussed how the entire online marketing world has been talking about how customer engagement focused messaging trumps broadcasting, but it doesn’t seem to apply the same concept to its industry conferences. We agreed that people would have a lot more fun and walk away with more value if each individual attendee had a chance to share their perspectives and experiences — after all, everyone has “in the field” experience that everyone else can probably learn from.

I had the opportunity to host a small roundtable at this year’s EEC conference on the morning of Feb. 3rd, and it was great just to be able to direct the flow of the conversation and hear what my smart guests had to say, all of whom came to the table with diverse backgrounds, fascinating experiences, and well thought out opinions. My only disappointment was that we didn’t have more time to keep the conversation going.

Over the year ahead and into the future, I’d like to see more roundtables and inventive formats that encourage greater audience participation and networking. I’m re-imaging industry conferences where we see “Facilitators” names printed in the rosters of conference programs instead of “Speakers.”

Whether you were at the EEC this year or not, I would love to hear your thoughts.

White House Names Jordan Cohen Nation’s First Email Marketing Czar

Washington, DC, November 21, 2009 — The White House announced today the appointment of Jordan Cohen to the newly created post of Email Marketing Czar. As the nation’s top email marketing official, Cohen is tasked with repairing an email program badly damaged by this past summer’s Obama Spam-Gate, where thousands of Americans complained of receiving communications from David Axelrod that they had not signed up for, erroneously believing that the missives violated various national and state laws.

Cohen has been a leading proponent of email marketing since 2003, when as manager of public policy for the Direct Marketing Association, he played an instrumental role in crafting and enacting the CAN-SPAM Act, widely acclaimed as the toughest anti-spam law in the world. A fervent believer in the power of email to forge powerful customer relationships and drive unprecedented return on investment, the appointment of Cohen as the nation’s top email marketing executive is certain to have widespread implications for millions of inboxes.

“When the president sends you an email, you respond,” said Cohen, who is rumored to have been offered the job sight unseen in an email sent to his Gmail account. “It’s a great privilege to be able to serve my country in such a critical role, and I look forward to spamming — I mean, emailing — every man, woman and child in America.”

Cohen said that his first order of business would be to increase the size of the White House’s already impressive email database–estimated by some to be 50 million strong–to more than 750 million addresses within his first 90 days in office. When asked how he intends to collect so many addresses, which outnumber the population of the United States by more than 350 million, Cohen responded, “Studies show that the average American maintains 2.5 email addresses, and I intend to capture all of them. By any means necessary.” He said he plans to use a variety of tactics, including email harvesting and dictionary attacks if necessary, to achieve his objectives.

According to Cohen, the CAN-SPAM Act specifically exempts political speech from its regulations, and he plans to take full advantage of what some critics have argued is a gaping loophole in the law. “Political speech was specifically exempted from CAN-SPAM because it is far more important than commercial speech, and is far less annoying,” Cohen said. “People genuinely enjoy the barrage of email they receive from politicians and elected officials — even more than the automated telemarketing calls they receive right before elections.”

Cohen went on to explain that, under his regime as Email Marketing Czar, the Administration will follow neither an opt-in nor an opt-out policy for deploying emails, as is common practice in the private sector. “People will not have to opt-in to receive our emails. Once we identify their addresses they will automatically be added to our list, without having to lift a finger. The even better news is that they will not be able to opt-out either, so we’ll be able to hit them with our emails at our sole discretion.”

“Jordan Cohen is a courageous leader who will undoubtedly be a vital part of our efforts to spread our agenda to millions of citizens who never asked to be a part of it,” said President Barack H. Obama, in a statement delivered earlier today in the White House Rose Garden. “I look forward to working closely with him and his team to leverage the power of email to kill all of our enemies – foreign and domestic – especially anyone who tries to opt-out. He is a true patriot.”

Google Stillwater

Google Wave… Oh, where do I begin?

I suppose this was bound to happen sooner or later– a formerly invincible, big bright star has begun to show signs of fading. But I (like you) never would have expected something like this from a company like Google, which seemed–just a few months weeks ago–to be comfortably drunk and situated on the upper heights of Mount Olympus…

The launch of Wave has been a total disaster — it’s an unwieldy, so-called “collaboration tool” that has proved to be little else than a minor distraction for the Twitterazzi. Email, IM, and countless other tools already do a far better job at accomplishing what “The Wave” portends to “make better.”

Android is a fine product, but it’s only second best a distant second best to Apple’s iPhone OS and hardware.

We are left wondering, “When did Google — friggin GOOG, for chrissake– decide that it was okay to be 2nd best?”

Wave reminds me of…

  • Michael Jordan playing basketball… for the Washington Wizards…
  • New Orleanseans… trying to find their old family heirlooms in the mess and decrepitude of their flooded, fungus-infested basements in the wake of Hurricane Katrina…
  • An easily catchable pop fly to the outfield, hit by a formerly unpitchable slugger.

… Sad, but true…

 

Finally, an Email Marketing Message Worth Responding To

Gmail - Great Scotch at a Great Price - jordancohenpr@gmail.com

The Best Email Marketing Message Ever

I’ve never purchased anything from BevMo’s web site; I only purchase in-store, where I always use my loyalty card. And yes, I enjoy a nice glass of scotch.  This message is a) based on my multichannel behavior, b) totally relevant, c) totally valuable, d) totally welcomed.

Kudos to BevMo and whichever agency, ESP, and smart in-house marketing leaders are behind this. And to other email marketers, please take note: I’m not on the market for a new phone right now just because I recently bought a new phone. My whisky collection, on the other hand, will eternally be in need of replenishment.  Keep them coming.

Social Media Marketing for Dummies

The marketing industry continues to chase its own tail trying to figure out what does and doesn’t work in the social media space. This is a classic case of analysis paralysis, where a simple human anecdote would more quickly produce the clearest answer.

I often discuss the paralysis by analysis problem as relates to email marketing: Forget all the models, the statistical regression and the 50 PhD’s you’re spending god-knows-what kind of money on to figure out what kind of email you’re going to send to people.  Just step into your own shoes for once–as a fellow human being–and ask yourself, “Is this a message that I’d be happy to receive, or would I consider it garden variety spam?”–before clicking send. If you’re having trouble answering the question, don’t do it.

The same applies to marketing your company through social networks (at least in the B2B space, which is the type of marketing I profess to practice).  I’ve been trying to earn my social media marketing stripes the good old-fashioned way: by leaping in head first and learning by doing.

From my POV, there are three key identities that you should be maintaining and representing to the best of your abilities as an online social networker, in order of importance:

  1. Employee
  2. Professional Brand
  3. Personal

With that in mind, here’s some food for naught on what you should–and more importantly perhaps, should not–be publishing on social media web sites:

Twitter is the best invention to happen to B2B PR and marketing professionals since the BCC line in email. And I am not saying that sarcastically. It is common knowledge to anyone who has visited the site that the vast majority of Tweets are nonsense, and a recent study shows that the vast majority of registered Twitter users have fewer than 10 followers.

The big secret that nobody seems to be talking about is that the less than 10% of us who have 100 or more Twitter followers are using the tool to great effect. I only have 201 followers at the moment, but these include many influential people who have several thousands more followers, and who often click-through to and ReTweet the links and content that I post.

Twitter has proven to be a highly effective mechanism for getting smart people to follow the narrative arc that I want them to be following, and I have traced time and again that folks are far more likely to click on the links that I post on Twitter compared to sites like LinkedIn, even though I have far more “connections” on that site (more than twice as many, actually).

Why is this happening? Because on Twitter we have created communities and have become accustomed to tapping into the knowledge of the collective on Twitter to advance ourselves as Employees and as Professional Brands. This is what we believe it’s for, have made it for, and actually use it for.

Unless you are Ashton Kutcher, and then again–especially if you are Ashton Kutcher–those of us who use Twitter for the professional service that it is have no use for your silly personal updates (just got out of the shower, just ate a salad, just got the high score on Pac Man, whatever). In fact, unless you keep updates like these reserved for novel occasions, we find them all completely useless and even worse, vapid. Unlike Facebook, anyone can “follow” you, not just your friends. In which case, you should operate under the assumption that Twitter is for professional use.

Verdict: Twitter is for maintaining your Employee and Professional Brand identities. Keep your Personal life out of there!

Facebook is the best thing that happened to the Olsen twins since Full House. It has NO value for B2B marketers. Want to let people know that your dog just pooped in your shoe or that your girlfriend just left you? Now here’s the place to do that–at length or in 140 characters or less. Facebook is also the most appropriate place to share pictures of your new tattoo, motorcycle, or way-cool Halloween costume.

As a result, Facebook has limited-to-zero value when it comes to B2B marketing (probably B2C too, but I’ll leave that to the experts). Step into those “human shoes” of yours again and imagine getting an invite from someone on Facebook to become a fan of the super-niche, high-tech company you work for (or any company really). Seriously, what’s the point? I’d say no, and so should, would, will you.

Verdict: Facebook is a Personal tool. Don’t waste time trying to market your Personal Brand or your company as an Employee here that can be better spent on sites like Twitter or LinkedIn.

On a positive note, Facebook is a great online destination to kick back and act like an idiot with relatively few consequences, assuming that floats your boat (and if you play your cards right, of course – e.g., don’t ever connect with your boss on Facebook, you idiot).

LinkedIn is all about your Personal Brand, a little about being an Employee, and is completely ImPersonal. What makes LinkedIn a lot different than Twitter is that there are a few walls protecting your garden compared to virtually no walls enclosing what you do and say on Twitter. Consequently, LinkedIn has had limited utility for PR and marketing people, especially when it comes to spreading the narrative arc of the companies that they currently represent.

LinkedIn is, however, a place where you can really make your Professional Brand shine by sharing your professional accomplishments and affiliating with industry networks in a way that you can’t so easily on Twitter.

Personal stuff on LinkedIn? You’d have to be out of your mind.

Verdict: LinkedIn shines when it comes to building your Personal Brand.

Blogging separates the Titans from the Twits. 140 characters are great, but 140,000 are much better. Ideally you are blogging both as an Employee and as a Personal Brand. As an employee, you should be producing intelligent content that tells the story of your company on your company’s web site. As a Personal Brand, you should be supplementing the story you are telling as an Employee, but also tell a functional story. What I mean by this is that your company blog is where you provide insight into your industry, and your personal blog is where you provide insight into your job.  The two are intertwined, but still distinct when it comes down to it.

Once again, unless you are a celeb like Ashton–and, in that case, especially if you are–no one wants to read a blog about the deuce you dropped in the toilet this morning.

Verdict: Blog for your company as an Employee, and for yourself as a Personal Brand.

The Final Analysis: I am a true believer in the value of social media marketing, but not all social networking sites are created equally.

Twitter is King of social media when it comes to marketing your business–there, I said it. And it’s true.

But everyone needs to consume a balanced diet of social media marketing, and you’d be well advised to cover all your bases. Just keep in mind the opportunities and limitations uniquely presented by each social medium before you load your marketing horses into the gate.

The Coronation of a LinkedIn King

I eclipsed the 500 connection mark on LinkedIn yesterday. It was a seminal moment in my social media development–a crowning achievement, really.  You see, once you get to 500 connections on LinkedIn, your “Connections” status on your profile appears as “500+”–as  in, once you get to 500, you are so f-ing connected that LinkedIn doesn’t even bother keeping track anymore. You gain entrance into an elite club of executive connectedness that is destined to change your life forever.

Here are three solid food for naught reasons for aspiring to become LinkedIn Royalty:

  • You now have proof–on the Internets–that you have so many contacts that you don’t need to make any new ones. If there were ever a good reason to be connected to a lot of people, it would be to not have to become connected to anymore new people.
  • People find other people who have 500+ connections on LinkedIn irresistibly attractive. On Monday morning–when I only had 498 connections–I was alone, dejected, with no prospects and no future. Now that I’m at 500+, my phone is ringing off the hook and women left and right are asking me to become their baby daddy.
  • As a 500+er, you get to get together once a year with other hyper-connected, super-rich people in Davos to set global economic and monetary policy. This way we ensure that we remain the top 1% of the population in control of 99% of the world’s resources, while the remaining 99% continue fighting each other for scraps and suffer through the Swine Flu

Kidding aside, there are many very good, food-for-thought reasons to build out your LinkedIn profile and presence. Here are  a few of them:

  • 500+ shows people that you have executive mojo; that you’re a guy or gal who introduces themselves to people at a conference and forges serious relationships which turn into bottom line dollars and cents for the company you represent.
  • You have a massive online Rolodex that is updated in perpetuity = a bat phone to reach hundreds of people–and quickly–who have professional relevance to your life.
  • As your participation in LinkedIn and your network grows, your personal brand becomes exposed to a huge number of new people who can actually help your career. (As opposed to, say, Facebook, where you are more likely to expose your latest tattoo or facial-hair debacle to people that you used to hang out with 20 years ago).

Want to become a LinkedIn King and reap the rewards? Here are a few tips, in no particular order:

  • Upload and invite all the contacts you have in your existing email address books (Gmail, Yahoo, etc.)
  • Send an invitation to connect on LinkedIn to everyone you ever meet–professionally and personally–right after you meet them. Add a friendly personal greeting above the standard “I’d like to add you to my blah, blah, blah”.
  • Fill out your personal profile to completion. And make it TIGHT.  Spell check it, have your friends look at it, look at the profile you most admire and make yours even better. This is your CV–on steroids. Any questions?
  • Join every Group that you do (or should) belong to (professional, academic, hobbies, anything…)
  • Update your status at least once a week with a link to something that you’ve recently worked on/accomplished.
  • Solicit and post a few strong recommendations from people who know you, like you, and can put together a decent sentence. Do NOT post every single recommendation you receive — especially if it comes across flat and/or is poorly written.
  • Post your picture, and don’t forget to smile. A picture tells a thousand words — post one that lets your intelligent, confident and fun-loving personality shine through. (This one might sound sappy, but I happen to believe in humanizing ourselves online).

Look, I know everyone is all gaga over Twitter, Facebook and Google Wave these days, but LinkedIn should not be ignored (especially if you’re, like, you know, a real-life grown up).  So, good luck building out your LinkedIn network and let me know how it goes. I hope to see you in the land of chocolate, tax-evasion and skiing real soon.

Update: Per comments from @emailkarma, please take a second to participate in this one-question, very scientific poll:

Marketing Approval Matrix: Week of October 12, 2009

Marketing Approval Matrix