Why I Remain on the Ad Age 150 Blogger Index

Tim Lincecum
Two-time Cy Young Award Winner Tim Lincecum is experiencing a horrible 2012 season

I made a joke about my Ad Age Power 150 ranking a while back, but when I found out how low my score was last Spring it seriously upset me.

I used to be a top-ranked blogger! What happened?

De-listing became a serious thought for a couple of days. After all, publicly quitting networks and such seems to be the fashionable thing to do amongst bloggers these days.

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5 Common Actions Competitors Take

Marketing extends beyond stakeholders and organizations. Although companies and nonprofits like to pretend they operate alone in an industry, competition exists even if its just for the stakeholder’s time and money. If a marketer does their job well, and the product, service or solution is met with a warm reception, invariably the competition responds.

Moving forward, there are some common competitive responses that you can expect. Here are five of them:

1) Pretend You Don’t Exist

This out of all the responses is the most short sighted and foolish response. The ostrich approach — at least publicly (they certainly talk about you behind closed doors) — kids no one. Customers know there are alternatives, and so does the media and bloggers.

No one thinks the company or nonprofit operates in a vacuum, so when your competitor acts like that, it causes them look, like, well, marketers. It doesn’t mean anything other than people view communications from their organization to be completely transactional or brand related. Customers are less willing to trust them.

Further, it’s hard to develop industry leadership when a company doesn’t acknowledge the ecosystem, even in a general way. Apple rarely talks about HP or Dell, but it certainly acknowledges and talks about other PCs and smartphones. Car companies discuss industry accolades, which is smart, because it puts their product within a competitive context.

2) Copy Your Offering

When a company does really well, a common competitive response is to ape the product and offer the same product or service, often with less success. After Amazon launched the Kindle, Barnes & Noble offered the Nook. When Cirque du Soleil revolutionized big top entertainment, other circuses stole elements from their shows like the ribbon dance.

Holding first place is a very strong position for long-term success. In a strategic sense, first is the position of high ground. It’s always good to have established market share when this happens, but it can still be quite disconcerting.

There are instances when a company like Netflix or Google rises up and wrestles the market away, usually through some sort of technological innovation. Sometimes companies are caught in a price war.

The key here is to not necessarily over-react to the competition. Rather, to continue innovating on the product or service offering and extend market leadership. Don’t rest on your laurels.

3) Trash, Sue and Undercut

Smartphone bar.
Image by MJ/TR

Google recently purchased Motorola Mobility to acquire its patents in an effort to strengthen its case against Apple, who is suing the search giant for copying the iPhone iOS with Android. Other common hardball acts include talking poorly about the competition publicly, privately, stealing (er, hiring away) their talent, blocking distribution, and undercutting pricing to seize market share.

These are the tactics of war in the market. You have to be able to defend against them, not necessarily with direct engagement, but certainly by responding with value to your customers.

While these tactics are inevitable, they almost always make the market harder to work within, and can reduce customer trust sector-wide. These tactics do not grow the general market in any obvious way.

4) Go Toe to Toe

In an established market like car insurance where offerings are very similar from company to company, it is not uncommon to see advertising that directly positions a company against its competitors. This is a common tactic that Sprint takes with Verizon and AT&T with its data and service plans.

There’s not much you can do here other than to clearly state why your product is better than their’s and to engage in customer service and loyalty programs. This is about avoiding customer churn by bettering your total experience.

In the competitive wireless market, Sprint is a distant third currently, a gap that has increased over the past decade in large part because of the customer service issues the company experienced after acquiring Nextel. Having resolved many of these issues, it is now struggling to rebuild that marketshare. In a highly commoditized market, non product specific points like service can make a great difference.

5) Leapfrog Your Offering

Honda Civic
Late 1970s Honda Civic by dave_7

Last, but not least is when a competitor responds by offering a product or service that is significantly higher quality, more cost effective or easier to use than yours. While you might have the higher ground, this type of innovation in a new offering creates green fields for your competitors. Customers flock to them.

Consider how Japanese companies beat their U.S. counterparts in the electronics and the automotive sector in the 70s and 80s by offering higher quality products for lower costs. The result was incredible losses of marketshare and reputation. Google beat Yahoo by offering a superior search algorithm.

In this instance, speed is critical. Loyal customers will stick with your brand, but only if you are able to match or better the offering quickly. Unfortunately, when faced with a paradigm shift, most leading companies fail to respond, comfortable in their way of doing business. And thus new brands seize market leadership.

What are some common responses you see from competitors?

Google: Plus or Minus?

Googleplus

Many folks have reviewed Google+. Certainly the launch went well with pundits acknowledging the significant improvement over past Google efforts and the serious competition it may offer Facebook. However, while Google+ adds to the game, it subtracts from the dwindling pool of time dedicated to social networks.

If you have the opportunity, it’s worth a try. The Circles add a new depth of privacy, the network design is simple and elegant with strong integration into the larger Google universe, and the Android mobile app is stellar. The question becomes which online activities suffer as a result of experimenting with Google+.

Let’s face it. Unless you are an Internet personality, an organization with a full-time community manager or a professional online content publisher, there is not enough time to succeed in the multitude of social networks AND manage your own social content. Let’s consider the list of most used forms: Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, Google+ (assuming all continues to go well), LinkedIn, FourSquare, Gowalla, StumbleUpon, Tumblr, and your own site.

This means choices will be made. Some will spread the peanut butter a little thinner, trying to make it stretch further. Others will simply focus on the networks that have the most impact on their community.

The latter method is the smart way for those who are seeking to create and sustain grassroots communities. Technology adoption should be driven by stakeholder usage, needs and wants. Long term players in social media demonstrated this axiom (see Netwits post) in their common best practices researched and discussed in Welcome to the Fifth Estate.

Social media is entering a period where certain communities and demographics will migrate to some networks in favor of others. The social network market place is already competitive on the second tier below Facebook. Google+ will add to that competitiveness. Organizations should choose the ones that make the most sense in relation to their mission.

2011 has already seen LinkedIn’s come uppance in the professional social network marketplace. Similarly, Pew studies continue to show Twitter is a strong social network for mobile and urban use, with a particularly strong hold in the African American and Latino markets.

Personally, it is a struggle to offer a strong presence in many networks at once. That means if Google+ maintains its momentum and continues to be enjoyable, then time spent on other networks will drop. There is really only time to do two or three networks well.

Facebook remains a core community. The rest really depends on clients, readers, and what tools they are using. Last month, that was Google (search & reader referrals), Facebook, Twitter, and StumbleUpon, according to Google Analytics. LinkedIn and Tumblr were in the top twenty.Time will tell the impact Google+ makes.

What do you think of Google+?

Cause Competitiveness: Keep Your Eye On The Prize

Who's Getting Off First?

by Estrella Rosenberg & Geoff Livingston

If the last two marathon weeks of cause-related conferences are any indication, competition isn’t just something the for profit sector is thinking about – the cause community is too. How do we compete for market share? How do we compete for visibility? How do we compete for more money? Much has been said about competitiveness in the for profit sector, but what is the right role of competition in causes? Is there a right role?

Some would have full on competition, while others would have singular causes or coalitions within each sector. Are either of these right? They both are in a way. Competitive spirit definitely has its place: Finding the fastest, most efficient, most impactful way to resolve the problem the cause addresses.

Non-profits are not in business to make money. They are a business to be sure, but unlike a for-profit, which seeks to dominate markets and yield profits, a cause or social enterprise seeks to provide a solution. When a for-profit business is successful, it keeps its doors open for years and expands and keeps looking for more market share. When a non-profit is successful it should close its doors because its business – or mission – has been completed.

Are you competing just to raise the most money? Competing in the sense that a cause seeks to beat out its competition helps no one. It actually hurts the cause space by creating distractions and wasted resources.

Consider Komen for the Cure’s use of $1 million spent to legally enforce its rights to term “for the Cure.” How does that help anyone resolve health or larger issues? Worse, last year during The Cause Marketing Forum, Komen for the Cure proclaimed that it was their mission to reclaim the pink ribbon from other non-profits in the breast cancer space – organizations that they themselves support with grants! Imagine if that money and energy went towards finding the most innovative way to discover the most impactful solutions in breast cancer?

Competing to be the first to the finish line with the same approach as ten other organizations in your cause space isn’t the right kind of competition either. Wealthy founders and well meaning activists who think they can do it better without any unique theory of change are creating distractions too and just making more choices for donors, often paralyzing them. Yet another voice with nothing new to add creates a longer path to the answer.

The ability to see the problem and a unique answer to it (or a part of it) is at the heart of social entrepreneurship. Innovation means finding better faster ways to provide answers. In essence, this is the Ashoka model of social entrepreneurship where a changemaker seizes on a unique approach to a problem and deploys ambitious actions for wide-scale change.

For these social entrepreneurs, and for forward thinking non-profits, competition means cooperating with other organizations within the same space when they have to because they have their eye on the prize: an answer to whatever problem they’re trying to solve. That doesn’t necessarily mean sharing resources, but it does acknowledge that everyone is trying to reach the same end goal. Forming coalitions and cause verticals can have great impact if each organization is working on their own piece of the puzzle.

Ultimately, causes should want to end their business by resolving their problem. They shouldn’t want to be the organization who uses social media the most cleverly. They shouldn’t want to be the organization that raised the most money at their annual event. They should want to shutter their doors. Period.

What kind of cause are you? Are you competing to make change or just competing?

Kick Your Competitor’s Ass

DC United at the DC Auto Show

Yes, you did read the headline correctly. One of the most annoying flavors of kumbaya in social media circles remains the idea that we should all get along. These voices leave no room for public competition. Meanwhile most of the folks singing this tune don’t run businesses, and are bloggers and their fans. They are clueless about winning market share.

Ignore them. As a marketer, your job is to outperform your competitor.

Growing the pie bigger and helping the industry makes sense. That’s just part of being a good community member. Acknowledging when a competitor does good things makes sense, too. Facts are facts, and everyone appreciates best practices. You probably like some of your competitors. Hey, sometimes it even makes sense to team together for larger purposes.

The cause space could stand for less competition and more cooperation since nonprofits seek to resolve the world’s ills rather than compete. Still, nonprofits have different ideas and approaches towards change, and compete. Thank goodness because some approaches don’t work, like Komen’s suing other causes over the phrase “for the Cure.”

When it comes to direct one to one market competition and position, your job is to win. “Me, too” platitudes and nicety will cause your organization to fall behind more often than not.

If a competitor launches a winning service, innovate and offer customers a better offering. When the competion catches up and betters you, focus and compete on quality, price, timeliness, distribution and services. Look how Radiohead competes in all of these areas compared to traditional recording artists.

When competitors have weaknesses or hurt the market with bad practices, position against them and seize the market. See Google Android versus iPhone (open versus closed operating systems). When competitors make poor decisions that distract them from your customers, let them fall down. Who cares if they like it or cry about it? Are you in business or in a popularity contest?

Whether its your phone operating system, selling music and tickets, ideas via blog content, a better answer to social crisis, or a marketing firm, competition exists. Kick ass, and don’t look back.

5 Tips for Blogging in the Post RSS Era

Blog.jpg
(image by the Bilerco Project)

Much has been said about the decline of blogging, and why now is a great time to start creating content. The latter arguments are sound. Now that the rush to play with the latest shiny object is over and marketing folks have moved to social networks, good writers will find it easier to rise above competitors. But the dynamics have changed. Building a successful blog in 2006 depended on building a loyal readership via RSS. In 2011, RSS usage has dramatically declined with many people receiving their news from friends in social networks online or via email.

How does one write a great, well-read blog in the post RSS era? Here are some tips to build on past ones about blogging:

1. Honor Your Community

Because content dissemination requires word of mouth, an organization or blogger has to be an active, participating member of a community. This means more than just dropping links on a feed. It means giving back to the community, reading their content, remarking on the things that matter to others, too. Strength of community is essential to a blog’s health.

If you don’t have a community, consider cutting one post on your site, and guest posting once a week on other blogs and mastheads to develop a following. Start circulating your name (and social network locations) using more established and read media.

Further, your content needs to serve intended readers, too, and be seen as interesting to the larger collective. Quid pro quo. If you want to be read, make sure the content has something to offer people as opposed to marketing messages. Use an editorial mission to keep content on target.

2. Write Great Headlines and Positions

In the past, headline writing mattered, but without significant RSS traffic, the need for catchy titles increases exponentially. Without a punchy headline that attracts people immediately, posts die in the water. Your content has to work immediately. It has to resonate though the clutter on Twitter, Facebook, groups, usenets, emails, etc., and compel people to click through. If a headline can’t grab someone in ten words or less, go back to the drawing board.

Similarly, content should provoke thought. Write a strong first paragraph that states a thesis promptly. Use the rest of the post to prove or disprove the thesis. If you don’t have anything to say, why will people come back or check your blog out if there’s nothing to add value to their lives or to talk about? It’s better to say something and have vigorous discourse, then to be safe. Unremarkable blogs are easier to find on the Internet than not; they’re easy to ignore, too.

3. Value Quality Over Quantity

In the past with a large RSS readership base, it was important to publish regularly. It’s still important to publish with an expected frequency, but it’s more important to write great content.

Because RSS matters less, posting doesn’t depend on someone opening their reader every morning to find new content. Instead, content is disseminated by a community that either checks a blog periodically, or sees the post via referral online whenever they check in. That means the life span of a post as “new” can be as long as two days. Focus on your best ideas and invest in writing and editing them well to ensure maximum value.

4. Reward Loyalty

When people comment or link to your blog, it means more now. These are loyal readers who care enough to say something (instead of tweeting it), who care enough to link (as opposed to hacking ideas), and who share a similar content interest. They are self identifying as important members of the community.

Your job is to reward their interest and reciprocate. Read their post, thank them, and comment. Reply to their comments, even the negative ones that don’t necessarily jive with your thesis. Who knows? Maybe they are right in the end. If you see them on your social networks, take interest in them.

What you don’t want to do is ignore them. Their time is just as valuable as yours (sorry, dear A-Lister, we are all busy). Developing a loyal readership today means being active in conversation. Call it being a good host. After all, when you blog isn’t hosting a good conversation one of the primary goals?

5. Market Your Content

Understand that there are time swings where more people are online than not. First thing in the morning East Coast time is always good. Mid-day slots 11-12 and 2-3 EST have both coasts online, with a likelier frequency of being at computing devices. End of day East Coast time is also good for catching both coasts.

Some days are better than others. Sundays are better than Saturdays. Monday mornings, most people are in meetings. Many people take Fridays off periodically.

When you publish content online to notify your readers, especially if you are not publishing every day, try doing it a couple of times with different intros. People migrate to content via word of mouth as opposed to opening a reader, and most people aren’t online all day. Second and third waves of readers can be created.

But don’t over promote (for example, by asking people to retweet your post). If all you do is drop links to your blog, well, your community will become very tired quickly. Again, it’s important to be a part of a group of people as opposed to talking at them.

Also, be sure to offer RSS readers an easy way to subscribe. Though readers are dying, some people still want to receive content this way. Don’t deny them the opportunity!

Related material: Blogging Primer, Blog Last, Headline Writing Drives Traffic