Wednesday, September 30, 2009

WebInno, the PR Panel, Recap and Some Thoughts

Glad I could make it to the Web Innovation Forum last night. Couple of interesting companies presenting as main dishes - missed most of BatchBook, but found Epernicus and Book of Odds quite fascinating (Book of Odds is sill under private beta, but those who attended the webinno, we got a special access code - sorry, can't share it, was asked not to).

The PR panel was hosted by Mike Troiano (who I am thrilled to have as one of the panel experts at the MIT Forum concept clinic I am organizing on October 15 - hope to see you there!) and had Scott Kirsner of the Boston Globe, Wade Roush from Xconomy, Peter Kafka from AllThingsD, and Bob Brown of Network World. All in all, the panel agreed PR agencies are overrated. Kafka, sounding a lot like Joe Wilson, said a few times that if PR people tell you this, they lie.

Best way to get journalists' attention? Seek and get a personal referral - otherwise whether you do it or your agency does it for you, your pitch will go unnoticed. Then try and meet these journalists in person and tell them your story. Got the impression that journalists are looking for the raw material, that more often than not, they avoid media-trained people. Because they are after the juicy details, the things people don't tell you - so the more authentic, first-hand info they can get, the better the chance that they will listen to your story.

Biggest take-aways:
1. There are no rules on how to do pr anymore - whether you do it yourself or hire an agency to do it for you. Each reporter is different - Peter Kafka said that if you have big news, don't give him embargoes, exclusives, sneak previews - just publish it on your blog and get all the media to get the news at the same time. That may work for Peter, but does not work for 99% of the journalists out there.

2. PR is not a wholesale game - it is a retail game, to quote Scott. You have to pick a handful of media outlets that you find important and work with them. Newswire services like PR Newswire were frowned upon. I say use them when you have exhausted your top 3-5 media list - posting on Newswire services helps you with second and third-tier publications, which, if nothing else, boosts your SEO ranking. And btw, reporters do use them to do background research. So don't take anything one reporter tells you for granted.

3. Don't try to be smart - don't tell reporters you have no competition, that you are the first, the best, the leader - these are labels that remain in the domain of good, investigative journalism. Reporters won't take words for granted anyway - they will call their VC contacts, and they will get the scoop on who's doing what, who's doing well and who's floundering. Avoid using embargoes, exclusives, if you don't know the reporter well - Peter Kafka was proud he tweeted a press release yesterday that was sent to him under embargo. I guess he can afford to do that. Most of us would do (almost) anything to be in AllThingsD - I am jealous he can afford it, really.

When asked if they use HARO, none of the panelists raised their hands. Well, as an entrepreneur, you should. Even if some of the top guns in the business are not using it, there are plenty of reporters who use services like HARO to get their stories, information, and the expertise they need this way.

One final piece of advice from the panel - if you want a reporter to cover you, read their stories. And comment on them. Evidently all good reporters read and respond to readers' comments. Good luck with it - it turns out, you the entrepreneur, do need a 48 day, 8-10 hours of which dedicated to reading the press, commenting, and telling them your won story.

To follow the panel on Twitter, @pkafka, @scottkirsner, @wroush @miketrap (did not catch Bob's handle)
Yours on scratching on the subject of good pr,

Thursday, September 24, 2009

MIT Forum Concept Clinic October 15: The Start-up Candidates

I am thrilled to be organizing the MIT Forum of Cambridge’s concept clinic on October 15th. The concept clinic is designed to be like a workshop in which experts and audience deep dive on one partially-baked business idea and really help the entrepreneur sort out what their key issues are, whether they really have a business, and if they do, what are the key actions/strategies to move it forward. I posted about the format of the concept clinic a few days ago - .

I felt privileged (and conflicted at the same) to get a number of great companies interested in participating in the October 15 clinic. 8 companies, 8 very interesting ideas, with potential and with as intriguing and diverse challenges one could possibly imagine. Very hard to zero in on one – see for yourselves:
1. Klick Mobile : integrated mobile solution offering a bundle of an iPhone application and a mobile-optimized website. Built Klick, a Flickr app, BlackBook Local Search, a number of magazine and slideshow applications, plus an auto insurance app in the works.
2. BIM Stream : BIM Stream: 'Google of interior space' digitally documenting interior space and making it available to various end-users via the iPhone platform.
3. Cadio Mobile: - mobile consumer analytics, using GPS data from individual consumers to provide consumer insight and lifestyle-relevant offers.
4. site where employers can post jobs directly to a community of student job-seekers. Facebook meets Craigslist.
5. Leotus Home Cooling : came out of this summer's Betaspring Program; redesigning the window-box air conditioner
6. StoeLiving : smart furniture for small spaces – created an ultra-comfortable bed that, when stowed away, reveals a compact 4" profile showcasing artwork.
7. WaySavvy : built prototype for a highly personalized travel engine, which offers exact travel itineraries to travelers.
8. : built prototype helping people find events and local businesses through the latest buzz on Twitter, in private beta

As hard as it is to choose, early next week, I will be announcing the one company that will share their idea with everyone who is interested in tackling a good, start-up challenge and will be present at the clinic on October 15th. In the meantime, feel free to check the other Forum events - the Forum organizes over 70 events/ year, all open to the public.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

How to Use Facebook if You Are a Brand: Quick Review of Facebook Profiles, Fan Pages, and Groups

I have had to look at and use Facebook for a few of my clients and thought I would share what I have found and learned so far. There is really no clear answer as to what brands and businesses should set up on Facebook – as usual, it all depends on what a company is trying to achieve. It can be prostrating when you start on a path to only figure there was a better way of doing things.

When to use Profile Pages, Fan Pages and Groups:
- Personal profile pages are for individual users (no brainer for me now but hindsight is always 20/20). Not that they are that different from Fan pages – it’s just those little differences. Profile pages can grow to 5,000 friends only (there is conflicting data on that subject)– at least that is the limit that seems to have be set to date. Profile pages don’t offer discussion modules either, which is a bummer when you want to engage your community.
- Group pages are great for promoting causes, events, and specific discussions and they have the best viral elements – you can bulk invite people to join your group and in turn people can bulk invite their friends to join a group.
- Fan pages are aimed at longer-term engagement and a great for SEO purposes as these are the only pages on Facebook that get indexed by the search engines such as Google and Bing.
Here are there great posts on the subject –
one by Ann Smarty, one by Leslie, and one on Mashable.

Brands with engaging Facebook fan and group pages – search for, Starbucks, and Ben and Jerry’s as a start.

What’s your experience on Facebook? What has worked? What has not? Thanks for sharing,

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

New MIT Forum Concept Clinic: October 15

It is true what they say - better write again than never. It has been a while for me - busy summer, helping a few great start-ups, including my favorite
- the first place where traders of foreign currencies connect and collaborate based on their real trades. But it is that time again - I am organizing the next MIT Forum concept clinic on October 15.

Concept clinics focus on start-ups who have not yet been funded (can be angel funded but no institutional funding yet). Usually these are start-ups with a winning idea/ good potential, but not a fully baked their business plan and execution yet. The goal of the concept clinic is to help these entrepreneurs get feedback from a panel of qualified participants so they can finalize their business plan and shop it for funding.

One company presents for the night - 6:30 to 8:30. Based on the needs of the company, the Forum helps bring together 3-4 experts. We break the room into 3-4 groups - each expert is then in charge of moderating an interactive discussion with their group around a question that is critical to the entrepreneur's success. We work with the entrepreneurs to come up with the discussion questions so experts know in advance what subject area they are covering (usually within their area of expertise).

The benefit for the start-ups - they gain exposure for their idea not only among the attendees, but among the Forum members (the MIT Forum promotes these events via member emails, their web site, etc. - here's a link to the Forum's web site) and the broader start-up and investment community in Boston. They also get great, actionable feedback, which helps them to finalize their business plans for funding. There are no restrictions on industries/types of start-ups.

I got some great start-up suggestions already - stay tuned - I will be sharing those with you over the weekend - and will need your vote on which stat-up to choose. Feel free to check the other Forum events, including the next start-up clinic where two cool new start-ups will present their challenges.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

The Paradox of Choice: How We as Marketers Can Help People Choose Better

I came across
Barry Schwartz’s
book The Paradox of Choice
recently and decided to buy it. I made a good decision. The premise behind the book is that too much choice (as we have it in modern affluent societies) is really not that good and is actually counter-productive – it makes people make worse choices, if they make them at all.

It turns out that too much choice produces paralysis. And when we manage to make a choice, we end up being less satisfied with it. It is easy to image that we could have made a better choice even if we did make a good decision. I am sure most of us have experienced this regretful emotion not one but many times and in different situations. I remember when I first came to the US and went into a supermarket to buy some essentials. My expectation was that essentials should be easy to buy – after all, it is essentials we are talking about. Little did I know that I would face two isles of breads, infinite varieties of flour, flavors, and preparations. I just wanted bread that I liked – and I was beyond overwhelmed. After facing myriad of choices on an hour-by-hour basis for a few days, I was ready to head back home where choice, albeit more limited, was manageable.

I didn’t know that living in a world of unlimited choice and opportunity would turn out to be a challenge – that when choosing one thing, I would feel I was giving up something else. More importantly, that the presence of these various choices would make me less satisfied with my original picks.

Barry Schwartz says that evidently nobody in the world of marketing knows this – he implies that we are part of the problem. Well, most of us don’t. Most companies believe that launching just one more brand extension, one more flavor, or one more bundle, would capture us more market share. Everywhere you turn – from SaaS companies, to mutual funds, to medical services, to retailers, to supermarkets, to social networks – it is all about the next flavor we sure will be gobbling up. What we fail to realize as marketers is that offering so many options to our customers makes them not only more confused and unsatisfied, but makes people feel like they are a failure. If we only had one option to choose from, it is the company, not us, who’s to blame if the choice turns out bad. But with thousands of options out there, we are know that there must be at least one alternative that is perfect – and if we don’t pick it, it is us who are responsible for the failure.

There is a lesson to be learned from companies like Twitter and Apple – simplify the choices we face. Keep them to a minimum. Don’t inundate me with product flavors, options, or customization boxes. Tell me what’s good enough. Give me an easy guidepost for making decisions.

I yet agree with Barry Schwartz: the secret to life is low expectations.

You can listen to Barry’s TED review of his book


Wishing us all to be living in the moment,

Monday, June 1, 2009

Service vs. Price: Service Matters

Long time, no post – got distracted by lots of travel and the wedding of my of my best friends (if you cared to, you can see the party pics here

So to the point – came across a great article on CNN living - Customer service 'vigilantes' target executives
, thanks to the weekly OMMA newsletter. I have always been of the mind that you either offer customer service or you don’t – there is no in between. I recently tried to cancel my premium subscription on LinkedIn – it took me a while to figure out how to do it. I had to browse through multiple pages of unrelated content and then why I finally got to the instructions, they made little sense so I had to reread them a few times. There was no human I could speak to, no live chat option. And although I still use LinkedIn pretty religiously, I am no longer as impressed by them as I used to be.

I am even less impressed by – their cancellation policies are inconsistent from one booking to the next, and they do little to warn their customers of the potential losses. I had to learn the hard way – when I called their customer service line, I had an agent who kept reading from their web site a few lines of copy that clearly did not make any sense. The rep even asked me to recreate the booking so I could see that the coy was there. Very helpful indeed.

I had to sync my iPod with my new Mac a few months ago (was proudly switching from a PC). When I got to Apples customer care rep, he advised me that he could help me but it would cost me $25. The alternative was to search through Apple forums for my answer. In then turned out that he could help me for free, he just did not get why I was calling in the first place. What is wrong with that picture?

If we live in tough times, shouldn’t each customer and each interaction matter? Shouldn’t each brand experience we have be thought through? Do we really need to resort to finding top execs at companies so we can be listened to?

Companies and brand will have to get it that we do live in a new culture – a convergence culture. A culture where customers will not only have a voice, but will shape who makes it and who does not. Watch this video on Scott Kirsner’s blog
on Henry Jenkins’ take on convergence culture.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

The New Marketing Mix: Marketing in today’s Social Age

Scott Kirsner recently wrote in his Innovation Economy column - Increasingly, marketing isn't just one-way street
, about the ways marketing and advertising are changing in the new social era we face today. The idea behind the new trend is that, instead of interrupting people, you get them to discover your product or services – as a conversation.

There is no denying that social media, like Twitter, Facebook, BzzAgent and LinkedIn, have changed the way we discover new products. Now more than ever customers have a voice in what companies do and how they market to them…or do they?

If you are a big brand, with a big budget, you have a lot of options – you can buy media, and continue to interrupt people. You probably need to do that because if you need to reach a lot of consumers, fast, social media is not the answer. It just doesn’t scale as you can scale a media campaign. Then, not all of your customers want to participate in a conversation. Then there is the noise level – big brands need to interrupt as we simply can’t process everything that is coming at us. We know that whoever screams the loudest the longest must have something to say. Expensive you say? You bet.

As any new start-up, aiming to conquer the consumer mainstream for the first time, finds soon enough, getting people to notice you costs a lot of money. Usually over $100 cost per customer acquisition. Well, at least initially.

At a recent MITX mobile event, Brad Rosen shared his not-so-favorite ad campaign outcome he had for his iPhone Drync app during MacWorld. He spent $2,500 in banner ads and discovered that his cost per acquisition is well over $100. He says he much prefers chatting with people directly on Twitter – he not only gets a conversation going, but also paying customers for (almost) no money.

Although I agree with Brand that bootstrapping a start-up is the way to go these days, I have to warn entrepreneurs that the secret to marketing lies in its mix – there is no one way, or one channel you can use to build a business. You need a social media and an ad mix – and you can be creative and not pay through the nose for that. Then for media buys to make sense and have a reasonable ROI, you need to think about two things – frequency and reach. Media buys are not short stunts – they require commitment over time so you can reach enough people enough times so they notice you. If you are seen one, you are not seen at all. You are seen twice, you are not seen at all. If you are seen three or more time, you are now on people’s radar. Then set your expectations – it will take longer that you expect to build your business – it always does.