We love print (books, magazines, newspapers, etc.) as much as anyone but…

Long story short… This post is the result of a “conversation” with a person who is a Director of Merchandising/Advertising Sales at the world’s largest book and entertainment distributor.” He/she certainly seemed like an intelligent and thoughtful individual. Over the course of our chat I was hit with thoughts of: That’s great but what took so long to figure out that the biz should be focused on how the market (read: the guest) sees things; What about SalesForce.com or some other CRM for managing relationships with external vendors/clients; No wikis? No internal blogs? No off the shelf technology tools to share info across depts? It was difficult to believe that the world’s largest was stuck in the mid-90’s.

The real clincher was towards the end of this meeting when he/she was asked about the book industry also going digital (after watching their music distribution sales crash). The answer was something along the lines of, “Books are different. Sure it makes sense for reference materials online but other than that people want to hold books. I love books.” The articles in the NY Times (see below) were then mentioned and to that he/she said, “Well, my kids still read books. I don’t think books are going away anytime soon. There’s going to be room for all three formats. Print, digital and audio.” Mind you, somewhere in the middle of all that (denial?) he/she mentioned seeing Amazon’s Kindle and being very impressed.

While it’s no one wants to doubt the insights of someone with 20+ years of publishing industry experience let’s take a look at some of the facts:

1 – “First It Was Song Downloads. Now It’s Organic Chemistry” by Randall Stross (New York Times, 27 July 2008).

2 – “Literacy Debate: Online, R U Really Reading?” by Motoko Rich (New York Times, 27 July 2008).

3 – Amazon.com, the largest seller of print books in the world, is the inventor of the Kindle. Enough said. It anyone understand where print is going (and also has the market clout to nudge it in a particular direction) it is Amazon.

4 – Amazon.com also bought Audible.com (www.Audible.com) a couple months ago.

5 – #3 + #4 = Amazon isn’t exactly making pro-print moves. Nor are they in denial and/or fearful of the coming of digital books.

6 – There is NO WAY Amazon wants to be in the warehousing and shipping of books business. There is MASSIVE overhead in that and if they could shift to servers and hard drives they’d be far better off. Even having such orders dropped shipped is a pain in their butt when compared to digital. Regardless of how much they might love print, they have to be focused on what is best for their shareholders.

7 – Sony and others also have their version of a digital book “player” available. It’s only a matter of time before Apple tosses their hat into that ring too.

8 – It was explained that this said distributor was actually growing. But if they’re growing in shrinking segments than it probably means that they’re picking up volume from others that are closing, or at the very least struggling to keep up. Overconfidence under such circumstances can eventually be dangerous if/when the tide changes. The CD based music biz was actually pretty damn healthy pre-Napster, pre-iTunes, etc. And then the CD hit the fan.

9 – If the book biz is so healthy, why is Borders suffering? Why has B&N expressed a lack of interest in buying them?

10 – Microsoft’s XBox 360 platform is morphing into more than just a gaming platform that plays games via physical media. The mighty Sony and the PS3 is close behind.

11 – Netflix and others (with brains, deep pockets, no legacy systems and an intimate understanding of the power of the internet) are trying to use the internet to break into the movie download biz. Movie files are hundreds if not thousands the times the size of book flies.

12 – Print isn’t very green friendly. We’re all looking to cut back on the consumption of resources. Newspapers and magazines are already struggling (for other reasons) but as more and more people migrate to non-print the tipping point for print books can’t be far away.

13 – Even Dell has announced a new MP3 player and is expected to also introduce a music download site. It’s only a matter of time before digital books become part of someone’s growth plans aside from Amazon. Music downloading is already crowded and differentiation is few and far between.

By no means is anything on this list new or spectacular. It’s actually the fact that it is so long and so obvious in many ways that makes this distributor look like a sitting duck. The bottom line is that if my biz model was being attacked from so many sides by so many movers & shakers I’d be a bit more concerned about my bread & butter.

Hey, we love print (books, magazines, newspapers, etc.) as much as anyonel. Just like we love vinyl records and even CDs. But after seeing the physical music industry get run over by the consumer’s dash to digital everyone should now understand that what company management believes doesn’t matter. It’s the market that defines the need and where things will go. So if digital is: cheaper, easier to buy, more convenient, always available, always in stock, lighter, etc. than it’s hard to imagine print books not being hit sooner rather than later. With the control becoming concentrated in fewer and fewer hands the makings of another Goliath slaying is probably just around the bend. That said, we wish “the world’s largest book and entertainment distributor” the best of luck. They’re probably going to need it.

10 Ways to make your web site project go smoothly

Yet another great “Top 10″ article/guide from Tech Republic (www.TechRepublic.com). Sorry, no time to comment this morning but this one speaks for itself anyway. To read the full article (in pdf format) please click here.

Scott Holt asks, “How can I sell better?”

This entry references a Q&A in the July / August 2008 issue of Fortune Small Business (www.FSB.com). Unfortunately, for some reason the article isn’t available online. The gist of the question is, Mr. Holt owns a custom sewing shop (Sewing Solutions in Spring Lake, Mich) and feels he must learn to sell in order to attract new customers. He asked FSB for advice.

We’d all agree that learning to sell is never a bad things. But frankly, most of the recommendations maade by FSB are pretty disappointing. Here are some AU suggestions for Mr. Holt:

1 – Get a web site! After reading the article and having some thoughts we tried to contact Mr Holt directly. He is on LinkedIn but nothing for Sewing Solutions. GoDaddy (www.GoDaddy.com), as well as many others, offers some very reasonable build it yourself packages. There’s really no excuse to be a biz – small or big – and not to have a web site in 2008.

2 – Use an email that uses the site’s URL. Also be sure to have a signature that reminds people who you are, etc.

3 – In the article there was a recommendation to focus on one of the more profitable specialties. Wrong! Focus on the one(s) that are worth focusing on. If the size of the most profitable market is too small then all the profitability in the world probably won’t keep you in the black. The other thing to consider is, which one is growing. As a rule of thumb it’s better to get a small piece of an expanding market then jump into a market that’s on the decline.

4 – As an extension of #3, figure out what the market/customer wants but isn’t being met and see if you can deliver that. Maybe there’s a semi-related niche that might be worth addressing? Yes, it’s helpful to have some focus but before moving forward with a sales pitch it’s best to stop, take a step back and then figure out what the target REALLY should be. Unfortunately, it appears that FBS gave Mr. Holt what he wanted (i.e., advice on how to sell) but they should have at least taken a look at what he needed first.

5 – It wasn’t clear whether Sewing Solution is B2C or B2B. If part of the biz can be B2B then investing time in establishing relationships with various “gatekeepers” (e.g., theater owner, awning installers, etc.) who could refer biz to SS would probably make sense. Winning one gatekeeper could mean many customers. As for B2C, the article is correct,  that’s typically sheer persistence. That said, without a web site it’s going to be hard for people to find Mr. Holt and SS.

6 – Regardless of whether it’s B2C or B2B, investigate the use of a CRM (e.g., www.FreeCRM.com or www.Zoho.com) or establish some sort of personal system to make sure you’re following up, making time to generate new leads, thanking previous customers, other reminders, etc.

7 – Aside from LinkedIn see if there are any other networks, communities, etc. in your area that are worth joining. Most often the step before the sale is networking. People like to deal with people they know (and trust) so get out there and get to know more people. Ideally the right people.

8 – Podcasts. There are tons of great podcasts on selling. Business Week’s Savvy Selling is great. There are many others. If anyone has any other recommendations for good podcast please leave a comment.

9 – Last but not least… for ongoing progression read this blog regularly :)

Well Mr. Holt we hope this helps. Btw, do you fix soccer nets? Nearly every net we’ve ever seen needs some work. Maybe such repairs would be a good way to offer a “loss leader” and get your name out there?

Keep your distance: ONEsite.com and WebHero.com

We’ve been investigating and evaluating soc-net solutions the last couple weeks. A heads up seems to be in order. ONESite.com and WebHero.com are people you do NOT want to deal with. In theory it’s a nice platform but the support is anemic, the product is buggy, and they’re not very upfront about too many things. In short, don’t waste your time with them. There are a number of far better alternatives.

Does the home page still matter?

Another goodie from Chief Marketer (wwwChiefMarketer.com) is Dave Friedman’s “Does the Home Page Still Matter?”. At the risk of ruining your moment the answer is no.

Size matters?

We got a newletter from Chief Marketer (www.ChiefMarketer.com) and decided to read Grant A. Johnson’s “In Email Copy, Length Matters”.

This is the letter that was sent to Mr Johnson. It’ll be interesting to see what his reply is. If he even replies. IMHO, his three points are trumped by AU’s six points and those six use less words.

Hello Grant

I don’t have time to test so I’m gonna have to hit you with the less is more version :)

IMHO there are really 6 important factors and one can not be defined without considering the others.

1) *Quality* of copy. Discussing quantity is ok but not really as important. In other words, one line of great copy is better than three lines of good copy, and certainly superior to five line of crap.

2) The type of message being delivered. e.g. Sale vs. new arrivals vs. some other news. Obviously some things entail more detail than others. That said, if you can’t distill it then go back to the drawing board. I’m not suggesting anyone to dummy it down, just keep ideas bite sized.

3) The target market. e.g. Never a buying customer but on your list vs. new customers vs. repeat customers. Each will probably have a different attachment to the brand and thus a different “attention span” and/or willingness to be engaged.

4) Images. As they say, “A picture paints a 1,000 words.” If it can be easier said with an image than sack the copy and let ’em see rather than read.

5) Presentation. For example, it’s best to purposely break up copy at non-paragraph points just to make it easier for the eye to digest. Looks matter. Looks can kill :)

6) ALWAYS put yourself in the readers’ shoes. The receive ALWAYS defines the communication. Be objective and don’t assume they share your passion for the subject matter.

As a rule of thumb I find I’m most like to read Headline > then a brief summary > and if I want still more info I’ll click the Click Here For More link. Therefore, it’s most effective to put the headlines at the top and if it’s important then keep it “above the fold”. Always assume the reader won’t even open the email. They’ll probably  just scan it in their view pane. Finally, defiantly assume that even if they do open it they won’t scroll.

Thanks for your thoughts, etc. And thanks for listening to mine.

Mark Simchock
Chief Alchemist
Alchemy United
Princeton NJ

Saturn’s new vehicle, the Astra

Here is some food for thought that was just submitted via Saturn’s Contact Us form:

I drive a Subaru WRX 5 door so I am obviously a fan of the hatchback. And given the price of gas it’s great to see others giving up their never-really-needed-that-much-size-anyway SUVs and getting a bit more sensible.

A couple weeks ago I was coming back to Jersey from Upstate NY and spotted an Astra on Route 287 south. Wow! Nice stuff! I punched the gas to get a second look. Yeah, it had passed me in my WRX turbo. Long story short, I just picked up a brochure from a local Saturn dealer. Wow! What a disappointment. Seriously, copy like “Remember the feeling when you first got your license? Remember…” has to be a joke.

Correct me if I wrong but this vehicle looks to be targeted to a college, post-college, young professional type. This is probably their first new car, right? It seem doubtful that given their age and budget that: (1) they’ve forgotten much of anything (2) they have probably yet to really experience references such as luxury, the thrill of driving a (European?) road car, etc. I have to be honest and say I am totally confused as to who this copy addressing? The target market or their parents?

Then the colors… Not only is there no orange, yellow or something really exciting but how on God’s earth did you mange to have two colors both with silver in the name? How pathetic is that? The names themselves are pretty boring as well. You spent how much designing this car and Artic White is the best you can do? Funny enough there’s not a single image of the Astra “on snow”. And what about NEW? The cover has no reference to this being a new model. People – especially young wanna be hipsters – like new, do they not?

On the whole the message you’re trying to get across is too long winded. Much like this letter :)  Do you really think that people are going to read all that dribble on the cover? The car has great style, and you’re using all these words? What ever happened to “A picture paints a 1,000 words”? You should have went with something simple and to the point… It’s new. Truly exciting to drive. Fun to own. Saves on gas. Saturn’s industry leading warranty. Done! Now that hits all the key connection points. Why get fancy? Maybe you don’t really want to sell this car? As it is, this copy is too wordy and directed to the wrong target. You’ve got what looks to be a sharp machine that should be pretty easy to sell given it’s looks, price point and gas mileage. But you’re gonna blow it.

Oh yeah… Two more things… The Saturn site (www.Saturn.com) is pretty weak. If someone is about to drop $20k – $25k – that’s a good sum of change no matter how you cut it – then at least show them some “flesh”. Why is everything so confined to such a small area of screen space? I feel I need a telescope to really see what it is I might be wanting to buy. And what’s with all the distracting copy at the bottom of the screen? I know it’s probably required by your legal dept but that’s the best you can do? Are you selling cars or covering your ass? Two, the Astra REALLY needs some roof racks. Even if it’s an extra and/or after-market. Without an image of racks – with bikes, skis, snowboards, add on storage, etc – you’re really missing another opportunity to connect with the target market. Three, nothing on MySpace or Facebook either? What world are your marketing people living in?

Mark Simchock
Chief Alchemist
Alchemy United
Princeton NJ

p.s. Lucky for you I haven’t even read the whole brochure :)

The best SEO is still word of mouth

“Searching for More Traffic” by Jim Rapoza (eWeek, 15 April 2008) hits the SEO nail on the head. What’s unfortunate is that the majority of the people who need to read this aren’t reading something like eWeek. Kudos to Jim for his one page stroke of genius.

If it’s so easy why isn’t everyone doing it?

What is “it”? “It” is innovation. Why do we care? Because alchemy is AU’s take on innovation.

Let’s cut right to the chase:

1) Innovation for many people is a nebulous concept. Yes, so is love but no one is writing poems or pop songs that help us share and define the collective experience of innovation. Fortunately, the concept of alchemy – straw into gold, etc. – is in fact more clearly defined.

2) Even so it’s still subjective. One person’s innovation is someone else’s dumb idea. So while two people/groups might both be innovating it’s likely that they might as well just agree to disagree.

3) That said, egos as well as the human condition are probably the biggest deterrents to change and progress. Most people don’t like change. Even for the people who do appreciate innovation there’s often a knee jerk, small minded reaction to squash any great/better idea that isn’t their own. Unfortunately, we all know the type.

That said, KMWorld magazine’s (www.KMWorld.com) interview with John Kao, author of “Innovation Nation”, is damn good stuff.

Free is the new black

A bit late on getting around to posting this one, sorry. Let’s just say that Alina Tugend’s “‘Two for One’… ‘Free Delivery’… Hooked Yet? (NY Times, 5 July 2008) is well worth the effort. We humans might be at the top of the food chain but if we’re so damn smart why do we make so many decision that are actually not in our best interest? What would marketers do if we weren’t so damn stupid? Hint: If you stop paying for “want” purchases with plastic and use cash more often you’ll victimize yourself much less.

You say “Blink.” I say, “Sway.” “Blink.” “Sway.” “Blink.” “Sway.”

Grab your morning coffee and lead yourself to Marci Alboher’s “The Tyranny Of First Impressions” in the Sunday Times.

Without actually reading “Sway” it’s premature to draw any conclusions but it certainly  seems that this book is a twist on Malcolm Gladwell’s “Blink”. Or maybe at least the other side of the coin such that gut first impressions can also lead to mistakes. No surprise there, eh?

That said, there is also a substantial number of studies that clarify the importance of team work, group dynamics, etc. as part of the success equation. In fact, Jim Collins’ “Good to Great” said, “Get the right people on the bus” not “Get the most qualified on the bus.” If fact, if “most qualified” was the only criteria then all entrepreneurs would be MBAs and even Bill Gates would be out of a job since he is a college drop out. Lucky for us Bill stuck it out and hired himself.

Yes, these two brother have a point and everyone agrees that more objectivity – tests and the like – in the hiring process would be a good thing. On the other hand the reality is that the best answer is probably somewhere between total objectivity with regards to experience/talent and the subjective can this person fit into our organization? Many a great ball player has suffered after a trade. Just as many great ball players have come to life after being traded to the “right” team. There is far more to success than pure talent – which can be very subjective anyway – since it is widely said, “Past performance is no indication of future returns.”

As difficult as it is being human, we should all probably increase our efforts to be more  objective, as well as to be more attentive to what is and can be, not so much what was. Unfortunately, we also tend to trust most people and thus “Actions speak louder than words” is too often forgotten until it’s too late.

Big mouth strikes again. (The future has to start somewhere. Some time.)

In the June 2008 issue of Baseline (www.BaselineMag.com) Michael Vizard wrote a column that was very dismissive of cloud computing, the benefits there of, etc. I was so inspired by Mr. Vizard’s thoughts I posted a comment to the article on the web site, as well as submitted the same to Baseline’s letters@.

The print copy of the July 2008 issue came in the mail the other day and the Chief Alchemist cleared the editors’ hurdle! Again!!

To read Michael Vizard’s original column “The Chaos of Cloud Computing” please click here.

Just want to read my comment? Than just click here.

Ben & Jerry’s + Elton John = Damn good idea

Ya gotta luv this one… It’s fun. It’s creative. It captures the spirit of B&J’s. Ben & Jerry’s flavor honors Elton John. (As seen in the Rutland Herald.)

Being more effective at e-mailing

Granted, Lyris is a marketing outfit spinning their own brand of voodoo but these two posts make some great points.

Email Subject Lines: 15 Rules to Write Them Right

Creative Briefs: Your Map to Message Success

The Creative Briefs’ point that “haste makes waste” is especially appealing. Yes! Measuring twice and cutting once will beat the hare just about every time. Pick a target… Focus… Shoot… Listen to feedback… Reload… Fire again…

Loyalty Programs

The June 2008 issue of CRM magazine featured a worthy article on Loyalty Programs.

David Myron, the editor, lead in with “Fix the Problem, Not the Symptom”. While he makes some good points the key here is the last paragraph: “Clearly loyalty programs, when properly executed, can bring tremendous value to companies and their customers…” The fact is, you can substitute just about any guest facing business offering for loyalty programs and his statement would still be true.

The point is, a loyalty program is just one tool of many that is useful for connecting to guests. It is not a “magic bullet”, nor will it make up for any other deficiencies in The Guest Experience. In fact, just like anything else a business does – a LP should raise the bar, differentiate and/or reinforce the positioning & perception of the brand. Just blindly adding a generic “loyalty program” in a world overflowing with LPs is pointless. Unfortunately, me-too is too often the way of most marketers.

The featured article “Lollipop Loyalty” by Jessica Tsai is a good article in that it doesn’t just focus solely on loyalty programs. Ms. Tsai touches upon other aspect of marketing, as well as engaging guests, and how everything ties back to The Guests Experience with the brand.

In response to “A Proactive Solution for the End of the Day”

A local biz and entertainment weekly ran an essay last week by Mr. Patrick Walsh in the Interchange: Insights & Arguments – Essays & Soliloquies section.

While we all certainly appreciate that Walsh considers himself a poet – it’s in the byline at the end – he totally misses the point of day to day communication.

1) The effectiveness of a communication is determined by the receiver, not the sender. Period.

2) Language is a tool. To fault the tool because a sender abuses it is shooting the messenger. Pun and cliche intended.

3) While it is the best we’ve got, language is an imperfect tool. For example, someone says, “blue” and that might mean royal to some and navy to others. Cliches are nothing more than the handful of phrases that are part of the collective conscious. We share them, what’s wrong with that?As the cliche goes, why reinvent the wheel?

4) When trying to communicate, big words and obscure fancy phrases typically do nothing more than self-declare the sender as a “blow hard”. Is there anything more brilliant in its simplicity than MLK’s “I had a dream” speech?

It’s  agreed, creativity is a great thing. We should all try to be more creative, as well as try to communicate more effectively. But as dad likes to say, “There’s a time and a place for everything.” If every moment demanded poetry, it wouldn’t be poetry anymore. It would be business as usual. And isn’t that a cliche as well?

Making the black box a bit more transparent

Jon Rognerud: Search Engine Optimization “Free SEO Tools You Should Know About” (Entrepreneur, Entrepreneur.com, 13 April 2007). Not exactly the newest article we’ve come across but still worth a read as a primer.