Reputation Design is Bullshit

Reputation Design is Bullshit

Back in February of this year, I coined a bullshit term: Reputation Design.

You’re free to use it as much as you’d like. I’m going to be using it quite a bit over the next year or so to prove a point. Here’s how I came up with the term.

Earlier this year I was writing marketing collateral for a startup in Chicago. They offered SEO (Search Engine Optimization) and DRM (Digital Reputation Management) services.

I’m going to assume, if you’re reading this, you know what SEO is. Basically, it’s making sure your stuff appears in the first two search results on Google for whatever term you’re building your business or brand around. Although, and I agree with this, I like populating the entire first page for Google and not just the first two positions, even though the majority of the traffic goes to the first position under the advertisements. For me, it’s a good branding exercise. If you’re going to search for “B.J. Mendelson”, I want to be the only B.J. Mendelson on that page. I don’t want my competition to get anywhere close to me.

DRM is a bit trickier to explain. It’s a more extreme form of SEO where you try to kill or bury anything even remotely negative that might come up concerning you or your brand. For example, I once worked on a campaign involving a video game company executive who was sensitive about their image, and it was my job to bury any negative comments or search results there were about that person. DRM is not just search engine optimization though, it includes a lot of social media work, and if you’re smart (or if the people you’re paying to do it are good at what they do), they’ll also include a lot of public relations and content marketing within the overall DRM campaign.

The thing is, there’s no good way to explain a service that includes ALL of that. (All of that being DRM, SEO, Content Marketing, Social Media, Public Relations, all the things you’d need to do in order to show people how cool you are and own those search results, while also suppressing any bad shit you might have done in the past that you don’t want people to see.) So instead of writing DRM + SEO over and over again on the company’s collateral, I decided to just call that work “Reputation Design.”

It’s a bullshit term. It’s just a new way to describe an old thing, which is something marketers are good at doing. But I realized that it’s one thing to call out marketers for doing stuff like this, and it’s another to prove the point by doing it yourself. So if you see me identified in the years to come as a “Reputation Design” expert — and you see guest posts appearing by me or others about the benefits of “Reputation Design” — I want you to know this is an active, deliberate campaign to spread the term. I want to demonstrate how easy it is to rebrand old crap in a new way and show how people cash in on doing things like that.

If you want to help the cause, feel free to use the term as much as you’d like. I just wanted to put something here to explain what the term meant and why I’m going to be using it. I thought it’d be kind of hilarious to do a presentation and Powerpoint on how I spread this bullshit term around the world when all is said and done, so if things go well, you can expect me to do that in the not too distant future.

 

Small Businesses: You Have Options Other Than Facebook

Small Businesses: You Have Options Other Than Facebook

It’s almost 2018, so I hope you’ll pardon the frustration here. But. This new piece of research that ran in eMarketer was mildly disturbing.

Ok. I mean I’m not as disturbed as I would be if I went to see “It” this weekend and watched it while high, but I’m disturbed enough to write this short note for small business owners.

Actually, isn’t that everyone these days? We all have side hustles, as much as I hate that term. I have my comic books, you may have a YouTube channel or podcast you’re really excited about.

Anyway, two disturbing points came out of this study:

  1. 24% of the survey’s respondents are going to invest in marketing and advertising. (For fuck’s sake!)
  2. eMarketer speculates that Facebook is so popular for small businesses because of a lack of other options.

These two points together, to me anyway, are hilarious.

On one hand, you have 76% of small businesses saying they’re not going to invest, or prioritize investing, in marketing and advertising. And then in the next breath, you have eMarketer saying the small businesses are going to dump money into Facebook’s slot machine out of a lack of other options.

You have plenty of options. Plenty. Facebook is just one of them, and sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t depending on what you’re selling, your audience, and how much money you want to dump into the slot machine until it pays out. Sometimes it does, more often than not, it doesn’t.

There’s this disturbing plague of short-term thinking when it comes to marketing and advertising. And you can’t blame my fellow millennials because I’ve seen this plague spread by more Baby Boomers than I have people my age, for what that’s worth.

Everyone wants to “move the needle” or have some other kind of metric they can quantify immediately so they can feel good about their fancy MBA from their fancy school.

The thing is, if you’re thinking short-term and running a business, the odds are good you’re going to fail miserably.  So if you buy a bunch of radio ads, and nothing happens immediately, and then you go, “Well shit I’m not running any more radio ads because it doesn’t work” then you’re shooting yourself in the foot.  This is because radio (and I’m including Spotify and Pandora when I say this), requires repetition. People have to hear/see interact with your brand multiple times before it starts to sink in and becomes a thing to them.

The other side to that argument is that Facebook is less expensive than other media. This is half-true. Facebook starts out being less expensive than anything else, but if you want to see more and better results, you need to put more money into it. The same way the Wheel of Fortune slot Machines in Vegas only pay out if you put more money into it. The longer you use Facebook, the less effective your ads are, which is kind of the opposite of every other media and platform out there.

Small businesses are, still … going into 2018, attracted to Facebook and other social media platforms because they think they’re “free.” I’m not going to bore you with a long thing on opportunity cost here, but I will tell you that free only gets you so far. If Facebook is rewarding longer, high-quality video, with their algorithm, then someone’s gotta make and pay for that. And then you have to pay to promote it because you need interaction quickly to tell Facebook’s free system to pay attention to your new thing. The costs add up quickly.

If this all sounds familiar, it should, because I said this shit five years ago in “Social Media is Bullshit” and it’s only now that the rest of the advertising and marketing world is catching up to me. But I’m not interested in saying “I told you so.”

What I am interested in telling you is that you have plenty of options to promote yourself if you’re a small business. Radio, TV, and the newspaper might seem expensive, but those prices are always negotiable. The salespeople will hate you for it, but their rate cards are the start of the conversation, not the end of it.

If you want to put money into content (which you should, as long as you have a distribution plan for that content), then that’s something worth doing that won’t show immediate results. In fact, you’ll have to wait at least a year on the content front before it really starts to pay off. Unless Google makes some kind of algorithm change that benefits you during that time and starts bringing you traffic.

So, do me and yourself a favor. Facebook ads can be great as long as you have a plan, the budget, and know to watch out for their numerous shenanigans built to get you to put more money into your ads. But don’t go dumping money into Facebook because you don’t know what else to do.

Invest in marketing and advertising, but do so wisely. If you do, you’ll see the results yourself. You just have to wait a while, but we’re talking about your life here. This is not the time for shortsighted bullshit.

 

Why You Should Focus On Doing One Thing

Why You Should Focus On Doing One Thing

I’m having a frustrating week. Bad for me, good for you. When I’m frustrated, that means I blog. I vent. You learn stuff. Everyone wins.

Proctor & Gamble Says I’m Right … 5 Years Later

This article about Proctor & Gamble taking a stand against a lot of the crap involved with online marketing and advertising was a bit of a kick in the teeth.

I’ve run into people at P&G numerous times throughout the years. This includes during one of my first “Social Media is Bullshit” presentations five years ago.

After I finished, two P&G people came up to me to thank me. They really liked the presentation and agreed with what I had to say. The thing is, they turned their badges around so I couldn’t see who they were at P&G, only saying they worked in the marketing department. Then they added, “You’re absolutely right, but we can’t do anything about it.” This is something I heard a lot over the years, and even just heard recently this Spring involving a very large part of our government you would never think of when you think of being obsessed with social media, but they totally are.

Now, P&G is out there fighting the good fight. They’re more or less saying what I was saying, calling out the fraudsters and bullshit online metrics. I’m not going to lie, this stresses me out.

I’m thrilled! But … I’m also stressed. These days when people hear the title of my book, they laugh and they’re open to learning more about it. But man, it’s easy to forget but I had to eat so much shit when the book first came out. No one wanted to hear it. Not (many) journalists, media outlets, tech companies, VCs, marketing people, advertising agencies, you name it and I had a hard sell to make to all of them.

It’s nice to be proven right; Don’t get me wrong, and the fight is far from over too. Just one more example involving Sherly Sandberg that I saw TODAY: She’s featured in The Drum saying Facebook is going to show that digital ads (re: Facebook ads) “ring the cash register.

Motherfucker! Facebook has been saying that for almost a decade now! 

Yes, Facebook Ads can be useful for a lot of things. I don’t dispute that. For those of you on a budget, they’re less expensive than Google’s Adwords, they’re a good place to test copy, headlines, and image thumbnails, and depending on what you’re selling, you may see results from using them. All true.

But at the same time, Facebook often exaggerates about their numbers and reach.

Not to mention, for those of you who have run Facebook ads, you’ll notice that their system punishes you the longer you run an advertising campaign with them. If you run an advertisement that’s successful, pretty soon you’ll notice the ads are less and less effective and you have to pay more money to get better results for the same ad — Yes, you should change up your copy and call to action, but people do need to see the same brand/ad multiple times before it even sticks in their head.

So if you’re constantly forced to change your ad because Facebook wants you to put more money into their slot machine, it’s a challenge to actually build a brand within Facebook’s system. Unless money is no object, which is all they really care about. Even though most of Facebook’s growth is occurring overseas, the majority of the advertising dollars they need to collect come from the United States and Canada.

Facebook wants agencies and big brands with big budgets that can drop $500k-$1M a month and don’t even care about the results as long as all those soft metrics are reached. Everyone else be damned.

So if you run something that’s successful, pretty soon you’ll notice the ads are less and less effective and you have to pay more money to get better, or even equivalent results to what you were getting when the campaign started.

And then there’s the whole debate about whether or not page views / unique users are actually great results to hang your hat on. Business Insider actually just came out agreeing with me that those numbers, after a certain point, are meaningless.

Growth for growth’s sake is stupid as long as you can pay your bills and turn a nice profit.

 

You Don’t Get Points For Being First

You don’t get points in life for being right or even being first. That was one of the big lessons I took away from “Social Media is Bullshit.” P&G heard me say stuff that they’re now saying publicly five years ago. I didn’t get a medal — although I think I’d look pretty sweet with one.

There’s a common misconception that you have to be first, but that’s not actually the case. You have to be first in your customer’s mind, not first to market.

YouTube was not the first online video service, it was just way more awesome than the previous one. Dropbox was not the first online hard drive. Nintendo was not the first home video game console maker. Airbnb was not the first peer to peer home sharing service. The New York Times was not the first newspaper in New York City. LinkedIn was not the first business / professional social network. Facebook was not the first social network. Windows and Mac OS were not the first operating systems to use graphics as part of the user interface. Netscape was not the first web browser to use graphics.

This list is pretty extensive, but you get the point.

The difference between the first companies and successful ones I named is that they were so much better than what came before them. Being so much better than the competition allowed them to became the first in their target customer’s head.

Whatever came before that product didn’t matter. So much so that if you ask most people today if Facebook was the first social network, a lot of people would say yes. But they weren’t. They were almost a decade late to the social networking game. They just had a way better product than MySpace.

(If you want to read more about why being first in mind, not first to market, is important, I highly recommend the 22 Immutable Laws of Marketing. You can see my notes on the book here.)

So, take it from me. I tell you all this because when I hear people say “You gotta be first” my skin crawls. Dude, I was first. I was five years ahead of where the marketing world is now with what P&G is doing. It doesn’t matter if you’re first.

Just be better. 10X better is what the startup people like to say. That comes from Peter Thiel’s book, Zero to One, and he’s right. You know what I did wrong that I regret a lot? I could have done a better job with SMIB, but I didn’t. So it made a dent, but it didn’t break open the advertising and marketing industries liked I hoped it would. It wasn’t 10X better than books that came out around it. But you bet your ass that I learned my lesson and the next one sure will be.

Focus On One Thing

Alright. Second thing and this is why I’m actually frustrated. There’s a lot of stuff going on. Good stuff. Positive stuff. But for those of you who freelance, whether it’s consulting or writing, you know there’s a lot of hurry up and wait that goes on.

You have good talks, good ideas, everyone is excited, but what people don’t tell you about freelancing is that you only get to work on your schedule when everything is all set and running. Otherwise, you’re waiting around on other people’s schedules. And while you may think you have the most important thing in the world to do, the odds are good you don’t rate too highly on the to do list of others because they have A TON of more important things to worry about.

(If they didn’t, why would they hire you in the first place?)

So, you wait. And when you wait, you have to keep your attention from wandering. This is where I often get into trouble.

I’m very calm and patient about most things in my life, but when it comes to my career I’m a lot like Bojack Horseman in “Stupid Piece of Shit.” I get that little voice gnawing away at me. I don’t like to wait because there are things I want to do. That little voice has always been there, but it got worse after I almost died (and it’s the reason I see a therapist. Believe me, when you crash and see nothing on the other end, your brain immediately goes, “I want to do ALL THE THINGS” when it comes back on.)

Allow me to let you deeper inside my head for a moment, so you understand what these things are I want to do.

My current goal is to write for Marvel Comics within the next three years. So, what does that mean? It’s seemingly impossible to break into the comics industry, especially if you’re just a writer.

So, you can publish your own comics (check!),  you can go to industry conferences (check!), and you can write for industry publications (almost everyone I used to work with at ComicsAlliance.com now works for comic companies like DC.)

And … you can take a major swing for the fences.

You can do what I just did and pitch a self-help book, disguised as a graphic novel, to major publishers and hope one of them picks it up.

Then, if one of the publishers does pick it up, you can hopefully generate enough heat (re: Press and media attention) to the point where the people at other publishers (Image, IDW, Boom, Archie, ect.) will want to work with you.

The way that breaks down, at least in my mind …

  1. Year one: You write, and get paid for, self-help columns for a major media outlet (check!). You pitch a self-help graphic novel to your agent (check) and hopefully, you can sell the darn thing.
  2. Year two: Your graphic novel gets finished and published while you continue writing your self-help column, and then you write for other places and start doing media appearances to promote your stuff. At this point, hopefully, one of the smaller publishers will be happy and receptive to work with you, and they put you on a book like Ghostbusters or Sonic the Hedgehog. Something that’s already pre-sold to the audience because of what the comic is based on so that people are going to take a risk on a “new” comic writer.
  3. Year three: You do a kick-ass job on Ghostbusters to the point where an editor at Marvel is like, “I like your stuff. Pitch me your idea for Deadpool.” (If you’ve read Social Media is Bullshit, you know I’d be AWESOME at writing Deadpool, although I really, really want to write Guardians (the original team, not the movie team …), Darkhawk, X-Men, and New Fantastic Four. In other words, shit I read in the ’90s when I first started reading Marvel.)

I tell you all this because if there’s something you want to do, the odds are good you can (probably) take a shot at doing it. The trick is that you have to think long term and follow the plan, knowing you won’t see immediate results. Shit, if I’m being brutally honest, you might not see results for an entire year. And that’s really hard when you’re impatient.

This, by the way, is also where everyone fucks up. Not just me. Sometimes, it’s for logical reasons. You’ve got the MBAs and data people making so many decisions now, and while those decisions aren’t always bad, they’re almost exclusively made at the detriment of long term thinking and solutions. Sometimes, it’s for illogical reasons, like a voice in your head that’s constantly kicking you to do more better now faster.

Branding is a long term play. Trying to crack into a notoriously difficult industry like Comics is a long term play. The plan I showed you above will take me three years to do. And that assumes everything runs on time.

It may not. It may take longer.

So you have to maintain your focus on this one thing. The second you start trying to do other things is where you mess up.

Like right now? I just sent Peter 9 pages of a new comic while we’re waiting to hear back from my agent. This is what I need to focus on: Comics. But that voice in my head says, “Ok now let’s pitch a TV show! Let’s write a screenplay!”

Every moment of your free time, not dedicated to friends and family, should be dedicated to getting better at the thing you want to do, and being ready for the opportunity when it comes.

The second a comics editor at any of the companies comes to me, I want to be able to show them all these comics. I don’t want to sit there and go, “Uh … I have great ideas!” Shit, we all have great ideas, but too few of us put them into a fixed form.

That’s the way I want you to think. It’s the way I need to think too, so don’t think I’m some guru or anything like that. But it’d be great if we can think like that together.

Wanting to work on a bunch of stuff at once sounds great, but believe me, I’ve tried for years and years trying to spin multiple plates at once, and I found I was ok at most of them, but I could be amazing if I were to focus on just one of them.

So for me, it’s focusing on comic books. For you, it could be doing something else. But the important thing is to not be in a rush.

Don’t worry about being first. Or the guy you worked with getting to write for Marvel before you did. Worry about you and the thing you want to accomplish. And if the thing you’re working on is fantastic, room will be made for you. I very much believe that. And I hope I can get you to as well.

There Is No Such Thing As a Free Breakfast Burrito

There Is No Such Thing As a Free Breakfast Burrito

I always ask the people in my life — the ones I work with, the ones I love — “What do you want?”

Sometimes they have an answer, but most of the time they don’t. There’s nothing wrong with that.

For a while anyway.

But for people who work in marketing, communications, basically any industry where you need to capture and keep someone else’s attention, you know that everything you do takes forever to work. This is especially true if you don’t have any money to put behind it. You don’t NEED money, but it certainly helps and can speed up the process.

But most of us don’t have money. Either because we have our own limited funds to tap into, or because our department is only given so much to work with each year. Or the people in charge don’t believe in marketing and therefore don’t want to spend any money, but then they complain when they are not getting the results they’re looking for. (There is no such thing as a free lunch. Or as I like to tell people, there’s no such thing as a free breakfast burrito.)

Your biggest asset and your greatest enemy is time. Nobody knows how much time we actually have on this Earth, and we’re really good at wasting what of it that we do have. (Take it from someone who almost died not long after turning 30.)

So if the answer to the question of “What do you want?” is “I don’t know”, it’s fine for a while. We all need time to sort things out. But. You have to remember that you’re wasting the time that you do have with indecision.

And since it takes forever to convert people to whatever it is you want to convert them to, the longer you take to start doing this, the longer it’ll take to finish.

So don’t answer with “I don’t know” for too long, especially if you want to accomplish big things in your life.

(Photo Credit: Chef Buck on YouTube)

Who Should You Hire To Do Your Marketing?

Who Should You Hire To Do Your Marketing?

Every day, I make it a point to answer a marketing question on Quora. This is mostly to get my brain working because it usually needs some kind of prompt to get me writing. One of the questions I see come up on there frequently is how to hire someone to do social media, SEO or other digital marketing work. And then a second question that goes with that, which is, “should I hire an employee or an agency?”

As you might have guessed, I have an opinion on this. And rather than answering the same question over and over again on Quora, I figure I’d just answer it here. So …

“Who Do You Read?”

Most marketing people are clowns. Not all of them. There are some great people that work in this industry, but they’re outnumbered by the bozos and doofuses that we all like to make fun of. You can tell who the clowns are based on where they get their information from. If they tell you they read Forbes and follow Gary Vaynerchuk, you shouldn’t hire them. Gary hasn’t had anything interesting to say since 2007, and Forbes lost all credibility when it moved to a content farm model (and still to this day has not moved away from that like everyone else.)

I struggle with this, but sometimes if they namedrop Tim Ferriss, you should also be skeptical. I like Tim Ferriss’s books, but I think he suffers from the “Fight Club Problem.” The “Fight Club Problem” refers to how there were two kinds of reactions among people who read “Fight Club.” They either thought it was awesome and totally serious, or they got that Chuck Palahniuk wrote an excellent satire on hyper-masculinity and generally where we were as a culture before 9/11.

So Tim Ferriss has that same thing going, where people either read and appreciate his work for what it is (great advice for rich people), or think that what he writes is the be all, end all on how you should live your life.

Anyway, the clowns like Ferriss and Vaynerchuk and go to crappy places like Forbes to keep up with things.

The good people struggle through the Harvard Business Review, MIT Technology Review, name check and UNDERSTAND (this is important) Ryan Holiday’s first book, and pull their information from a variety of sources. So for example, right now on my desk is the two most recent issues of Fortune. The February / March Harvard Business Review, this week’s Adweek (although Adweek and Adage can often be problematic in their own right), Sam Walton’s “Made in America,” and Stephen Oates’s book on Abraham Lincoln, “With Malice Toward None.”

Let me be blunt: I don’t know anyone who enjoys reading the Harvard Business Review. Turgid doesn’t begin to describe how most of the content in there is written, but if you can work through it, you’ll often find one or two things that are useful. I’ve been suffering through reading that magazine since grad school in 2007, but I can honestly say it’s worth it.

The Ryan Holiday book, “Trust Me, I’m Lying” is good as long as you understand what he’s saying and don’t walk away from it going, “Wow, journalists are dumb! The media sucks!” No. That’s not the point. The point is there’s a particular process to get news coverage that existed (and still kind of does) today that can be exploited for a variety of troubling societal and business reasons.

The other magazines and books I mentioned aren’t to show off; I just mention them because my larger point is this: If you’re going to hire someone to do your marketing for you, where they get their information from is incredibly important; Especially if they are pulling their information from unexpected places (an old biography of Abraham Lincoln) or from excellent case studies from wildly successful people (“Made in America”).

So, “Who do you read?” is the question you want to ask when determining who to hire.

You also want to ask them for case studies. “What have you done?” is the second, and arguably more important, question to ask. Past performance and past campaigns, especially in marketing, don’t carry as much weight as you think because every company, brand, product, not-for-profit, etc. is different. But it’s important to ask for references and to look at previous work.

I know. This all seems like common sense, but the fact that the question appears as often as it does on Quora tells me it’s not.

Reputation Design

This will get me some shit for sure, but you should always hire an employee (ideally) or a freelancer (less ideal) to handle any aspect of marketing that you’re looking for help with.

An agency can be great. The problem is a lot of the big agencies today are too busy chasing rebates and automating themselves out of existence that I have real concerns about the overall health of the advertising industry at the moment. And the trends suggest I’m not the only one with those concerns. A lot of brands are parting ways with their agencies and moving the marketing work in-house or creating their own agency like McDonald’s just did.

So keeping in mind the caveat that everyone is different and has different needs, my own preference is that you hire someone internally. Especially because marketing takes time.

I’m going to repeat that because over the past year I’ve encountered many people who don’t seem to understand this: Good marketing. Takes. Time.

If you’re doing content marketing, unless you’re spending money to support it, you’re looking at six months at least before it starts to take root, and even then, maybe even a year before it starts generating the kind of results you’re going to be happy with. The same is true for SEO. Unless you’ve got the cash to juice it, SEO takes months and even then, you need to stick with it because things change all the time between Google, Bing and others like DuckDuckGo.

PR, social media, Influencer Marketing, Digital Reputation Management and word-of-mouth? Same deal. I like to roll those all together and refer to it as “Reputation Design.” Reputation Design takes at least a year to get it right. You CAN see some success before that, especially if you have the money, but all those things require an extensive infrastructure to be built, and most people don’t know how the fuck to do that.

And, you guessed it, the people who do know how to build the infrastructure to launch and operate a successful reputation design campaign will tell you that it takes time.

So, you can hire an agency and spend a ton of money, or you can hire people internally and control costs because you know it’s going to take a while to lay the groundwork.

Better still, the stuff I dump into the bucket of “Reputation Design” (Word-of-mouth, PR, Digital Reputation Management, Social Media, Influencer Marketing), works the best when it’s baked into the internal functions of your organization. Not when you bring in an outside party that doesn’t understand you, your culture, and your organization and frankly, they don’t care to understand it in most cases. They just want your money.

By hiring people to work internally for your company, you’re able to have the Reputation Design conversation early, meaning you can bake it into the product as you develop it. That’s the big joke with “Growth Hacking.” “Growth Hacking” is bullshit. “Growth Hacking” is word-of-mouth Marketing with a new fancy term to describe it because some asshole in Silicon Valley thought there was an opportunity to cash in on the general ignorance and distrust of marketing people among the tech crowd.

That dislike and distrust come with good reason. Do you want to know why? Because in the first dot-com Bust, a lot of tech companies went under because advertising and marketing agencies like Razor Fish were bankrupting them. (This is even more insulting when you recall the guys behind Razor Fish, a marketing agency, couldn’t explain to 60 Minutes what they did at their company before the bubble burst.)

So, I get why “growth hacking” became a thing, but you should know it’s just “Word-of-mouth Marketing” and the idea that you should bake that, and PR and influencer marketing, into your product as you develop it. Not when it’s finished. Which is why you want to have marketing employees working for you internally.

All of this stuff takes time, and the sooner you start doing it within the internal structure of your products, the better your results will be.

(Also: Before anyone throws shade at me for coining the term reputation design, I got nothing to sell you. If you want to read my book, email me, and I’ll send you a free .pdf copy of it. BJ@BJMendelson.com. The only reason why I invented the term was because I was lazy and got tired of writing “Digital Reputation Management and Search Engine Optimization” on a Chicago startup’s marketing collateral.)

How Do I Measure The Success of What I’m Working On? (Part 4)

How Do I Measure The Success of What I’m Working On? (Part 4)

This is the last installment in a four-part series about measurement. I get asked a lot by people how to figure out if their marketing efforts are working or not, and so this is my answer. You can catch Part 1 here, Part 2 here and Part 3 here.

Give it 90 Days

You might be wondering, “OK. I know what to look for to measure success, but how do I know if the campaign is a failure or not?”

No volume, no velocity. Sure. Obvious signs of a failure, but what about this patience thing? How long should you give any campaign before you decide to pull the plug on it?

Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart wrote a concurrence in Jacobellis v. Ohio. In the case, the Supreme Court was attempting to define obscenity because the state of Ohio was trying to ban a film from being watched because the state said the film was “obscene.”

In the concurrence, Stewart was trying to explain how he knew something was pornography or not, and he said, “I know it when I see it.”

I know our data-obsessed culture isn’t very big on gut instinct and feelings, but that’s what I go with. You should always trust your gut.

I know. Like the rest of this advice, that’s easier said than done, but it’s the truth. And look, I don’t always follow the obvious advice either. Nobody’s perfect. We all fuck up. Just recently this company wanted me to work for them, and I met one of their executive team members and everything in my gut was screaming, “You’re not going to get along with this person, don’t work with them,” and I said yes anyway. It was a huge mistake. I should have trusted my gut, but I didn’t. So I know when I say stuff like that, it sounds obvious, but the challenge for you and I is to be mindful of what we’re doing every day. If our gut is telling us, something, you have to stop and listen to it over all the other noise that bombards us on any given day.

Of course, if you design the marketing campaign correctly, it should NEVER get to the launch phase where you have doubts about it. That’s a post, or maybe a book, for another time.

But let’s say the campaign somehow gets past the planning phase and you still have your doubts. Then you see people aren’t responding in the way you had hoped. Or how about this. Given that this world is wild and unpredictable let’s say something happens which just completely blows any chance of this campaign working, no matter how well planned or executed it was.

What I suggest is this: You launch the campaign and give it 90 days. A month is not enough time to carefully evaluate anything. Diffusion among people regarding ideas that stick and resonate with them takes longer than that. (My hunch, not yet backed up with data, that’s why I’m researching for the book right now. I suspect the research will show that I’m right on this.)

At the end of 30 days, if something needs to tweaked, you can make those tweaks on Day 30, which resets the clock. So that brings you to Day 60, where you can recalibrate again. If after the second recalibration things aren’t working, then you can safely kill the campaign. I think that’s more than fair. 90 days is plenty of time to test, evaluate, tweak, and test again while also giving the campaign enough time to diffuse among your target audience (and the people you want your target audience to share the campaign with.)

Just Do It

I’ve spent most of my life broke. My family wasn’t poor, but we were broke. And then I went to college just as the dot-com Bubble Burst, and then got married just months before the Great Recession started. (One of the key reasons we got divorced was money. The other was that I was an asshole.)

I tell you that because when we talk about promoting yourself, your business, your cause, whatever it is you’re looking to share with the world, I know these things cost money.

And don’t buy into that crap that you don’t need to spend money on marketing, PR and advertising. You do. The game you’re playing is rigged. You may not need to pay for those things if you were accepted into Y-Combinator and had access to all their resources and connections, or if you went to Harvard, but for the rest of us? You gotta put money into this, and that can be scary because we don’t have a lot of it to work with.

So when I talk about volume and velocity and talking to your customers, and picking the metric that matters most, the suggestion I want to make is this: Be patient. I don’t believe any campaign is a success unless it makes its money back. Or, the campaign pays off in some other way. I should be clear here: Not all marketing and PR campaigns are done to make money. For example, your goal may be to get something, like a deal with a record label, or to show people within your industry that you know what you’re doing and can walk the walk.

You may, also, not make money back in the way that you think. I made more money speaking and consulting than from book sales, for example., So it’s possible that if you do make your money back, it may not come from the source you expect.

Now that being said, you have to give it time. That’s not something our metrics obsessed culture is comfortable with. Good marketing, advertising, PR, sales, it all takes time. That’s why the velocity metric is so important. You might get real hot out of the gate, but then that’s all the activity you ever see. The only way to know for sure is to allow for these campaigns to breathe. Set the budget, and then let it go to work for you. Don’t second guess it or get bent out of shape if it takes a while to see results.

You may find that the volume increases slowly over time, and then the velocity of that activity spikes and then stays spiked because success breeds success. But you can’t get to that point if you panic and cut the legs out from your campaign because the MBA types get nervous.

That was Ray Kroc’s attitude with McDonald’s. He knew he’d make the money they spent on marketing back. Can any of us argue that he didn’t?

So set the money aside for the campaign, take a deep breath, and do it. If you did everything else right (and we’ll talk about “everything else” soon), then you won’t have anything to worry about.

How Do I Measure The Success of What I’m Working On? (Part 3)

How Do I Measure The Success of What I’m Working On? (Part 3)

(This is part three in a four part series on how to simply measure the success of a marketing campaign. You can read Part 1 here and Part 2 here.)

Regardless of what metric(s) you choose to use, the thing you have to look at with them is volume and velocity.

When I get asked whether or not a campaign is working, those are the two things I look at.

Let me explain.

I was writing what we would now call “viral” content back in the early ‘00s. I was lucky in the sense that places like Boing Boing, College Humor, Fark, Something Awful, Gorilla Mask, and a whole bunch of other link aggregators would link to different comedy articles I would write.

But back then you didn’t have a good metric to measure things. You had website “hits,” but hits was always a bullshit metric. You had unique views, but even today that’s not the best metric either because the traffic can be faked. For example, you could just buy traffic and then turn around and say, “Hey! Look at all these unique views I have!” Don’t think for a second those days are over because ad fraud costs companies billions each year, and much of that is caught up in fake traffic through bots and other sketchy sources.

The other thing is that unique view doesn’t matter if those viewers leave (or “bounce”) quickly and never return. That’s what I’m always telling people about places like Buzzfeed. Sure they get a lot of traffic ( a lot of which they were paying millions of dollars for Facebook ads for at one point), but if you’re an advertiser for Buzzfeed, and all the traffic they send you bounces within seconds of arrival and never returns, what’s the point? Why are you paying for that? All those unique views they have? They don’t matter if that’s the case.

So back then I came up with metrics of my own to figure out how I was doing: Volume and Velocity.

Volume

I knew something I wrote, like The Universal Breakup Card or a column called “What Would The Hulk Do?” performed well based on the volume of emails I received.

Today, you don’t necessarily need to go with emails as the metric; I prefer it because I don’t have to sweat the algorithms and wonder whether or not my emails are reaching my customers (and vice versa), but regardless of the metric you pick, you want to look for an increase. The bigger, the better during the campaign you’re running.
So if “What Would The Hulk Do?” got linked by College Humor, I would immediately see a huge increase in the number of emails I was receiving from people who liked the piece.

That’s volume. Is there a spike in the metric you’re following during the campaign you’re working on? IF yes, then you know it’s working. Is that a perfect measurement? Nope. Not at all. There are always variables outside your control that could influence performance, but is it an acceptable flawed metric in a world filled with deeply flawed metrics? You bet your ass it is.

Plus it’s easy for anyone to measure. The increase in in-store traffic? The increase in emails? The increase in sales? The increase in Twitter followers? The increase in press coverage and mentions? Increase in potential business opportunities coming your way? Pick whichever one you want. It’s dead simple, and anyone can happily and easily use this as a simple metric to measure their campaign’s success or failure without getting caught up in all that MBA bullshit of measuring things to death and finding things to complain about in order to protect someone’s ego or play office politics.

By the way: When people like to complain about marketing, advertising, and other fields where they can’t readily quantify them, they like to break out this old chestnut, “Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted; the trouble is I don’t know which half.” The quote is often attributed to John Wanamaker, who was an early pioneer in retail and advertising. What often gets lost to history by the assholes who use this quote is that Wanamaker put a TON of money into advertising to promote his stores. So the remark, as funny as it is, doesn’t reflect the reality.

Wanamaker, like a lot of early advertisers, used volume and velocity to measure their success. If they ran an ad and saw an increase regarding the metric they were using’s volume and velocity, they knew the advertising worked. If Wanamaker sincerely believed he was wasting money on advertising, he wouldn’t have been a leading pioneer in the industry.

Velocity

As you might have guessed from the name, this one is all about speed. During the campaign, the speed in which you’re getting email signups, or in-store traffic, whatever it is you’re measuring, is the thing that matters most.

Because speed will tell you one of two things; If the campaign starts off red-hot regarding the volume of whatever it is you’re measuring, but then falls flat on its face, you need to go back to the drawing board. Something is flawed in the campaign. The goal of any campaign is to generate long term results that sustain themselves. Short bursts of activity are nice but expensive and not practical for any of us to pursue.

You don’t want to rely on viral hits. It’s not sustainable. It’s REALLY nice when it happens, and I’ve been lucky since I was 18 to have a string of them, but you can’t count on it. There are too many variables beyond your control to consistently replicate a viral hit. You might get one, two if you’re lucky, but after that, unless you’ve got the money, press connections and business relationships, it ain’t happening after that.

So you look at velocity. If you start off hot and then the campaign fizzles, you know you have to rethink it.

If you launch a campaign and it stays hot, and the volume of whatever you’re measuring continues to grow at a faster and faster clip (because success breeds success), then you have a hit campaign on your hands.

So, I know. This is probably sending quantitative people up a fucking wall, but I don’t care. I think for the past 20 plus years we’ve allowed the MBAs, tech people and some enablers in the advertising and marketing industry to pollute the waters and give us all these dumb metrics to pay attention to. I’m asking you to do something big.

What I’m saying to you is to try something, pick the metric that matters most to you, talk to your customers about whether or not that something you’re trying is working, and then look at the volume and velocity surrounding the metric you selected.

If there’s a lot of activity and it’s sustaining itself over time, then you have a hit campaign on your hands. If it doesn’t, and your customers are NOT citing the campaign as the thing bringing them in store or to whether it is you want to drive them, then you know you need to retool things.

Is this common sense? Yup. But as you might have heard me say over the years, common sense isn’t so common. And thanks in no small part to the years of bad advice we’ve all received, I think it’s important someone advocate a very simple, back to basics approach to determine what works and what does not.