Why the Case Study needs to die

princess and the frogThe case study as an element of marketing communications has outlived its usefulness. It’s one of those things that exists as a short-hand for ‘how xyz company benefited from using our product/service’. We’re used to case studies from text books we read at school or university. We’re drawn, to like moths to a flame, to use the term on websites because it has (fake) intellectual weight. It sounds impartial; ‘case’ as in ‘legal case’, ‘study’ as in ‘serious examination’.

Who are we kidding?
A case study on a company’s website is never going to be impartial and it probably isn’t even that exhaustive a study either.

So what do we call them?
How about ‘customer stories’ or ‘customer success stories’? Let’s face it, we’re never going to write about failures of our product or service to meet a need.

What makes a story?
The 5 Elements of a Story are well known, pick your explanation. I’m rather partial to the version that uses the medium of hiphop.

In short: Setting, Plot, Characters, Conflict, Theme

Instead of writing a bland case study these elements, and the fact that we’re calling it a story not a study obliges us to make it interesting and readable.

Who does this already?
Smart companies like MailChimp present their customer successes like this and you can find plenty of examples in business books. You know those business books that are hard to put down? Books like Guy Kawasaki‘s How to Drive the Competition Crazy, Seth Godin‘s Free Prize Inside, David Meerman Scott‘s New Rules of Marketing & PR and others (feel free to add your favourites in the comments below). In these books we hear about how a person overcame a problem, presented in a way that illustrates the writer’s point. These aren’t dry ‘case studies’, though they’re often referred to as such in reviews, perhaps because to call them stories might seem childish.

Further reading
For some detailed learning of why thinking in terms of storytelling, pick up a copy of Ann Handley and CC Chapman’s Content Rules. My Kindle app tells me the word story appears 100 times in the book, that’s how serious those guys are about storytelling.

Let’s remember why we’re doing this
We put content on our websites to be read, not to tick off an item on a to-do list and fill a hole in a sitemap. We owe it to our readers to be interesting, in return for their attention.


image credit: Frog King by freno via Creative Commons on Flickr

Guerilla Marketing in Real-time

I’ve long been a fan of guerilla marketing. Maybe it’s my parsimonious nature. Or maybe it’s just the fun aspect of it.

The original book on Guerilla Marketing is 27 years old but its central concept is more relevant with every passing year. Real-time is this year’s buzzword and makes it into the title of David Meermen Scott’s latest book, Real-Time Marketing & PR.

I’ve not read the book yet but from all the examples Scott has given on his blog and in interviews it’s clear that real time marketing is essentially guerilla marketing at internet speed.

So how do you do it? Seize opportunities the instant they present themselves? How do you even find these opportunities? Simple – either buy a lot of screens and try and spot things like that scene in The Matrix where Neo and Mouse are looking at the glyphs on the screen, or you learn how and where to pay attention.

Right now in Paris conference speakers and attendees are arriving at the Le Web conference. These people are digital media and marketing thought-leaders. And they can’t get online in their hotel rooms. What’s the opportunity here? Anyone with the ability to get them net access, right this moment, (bars or cafés, companies with offices nearby, mobile internet providers) gets themselves a lot of goodwill and favourable coverage.

But how would a business be able to find (let alone react) so fast as to benefit from this opportunity? Setting up a marketing radar is a good start. Keeping tabs on upcoming events in your neighbourhood, find the hashtags for conferences taking place on your doorstep, run searches on twitter for them, follow the people tweeting about it. Dig deeper and read reports, reviews and summaries (and tweets, if twitter would let you go back that far) of previous years’ events to find out how you can be useful to these guests in your city.

Marketing Students guilty of negligence?

Marketing BooksAs a marketing graduate I read with interest David Meerman Scott’s views on how many marketing professors could be guilty of malpractice in the way they teach the subject.

Part of me agreed, I remember in a tutor group session explaining Chasm Theory to my fellow students and the lecturer. But then I thought ‘how come I knew about Chasm Theory and other students didn’t?’

The answer is simple – and this advice holds for students of any subject: read around your subject. Voraciously. Find online discussion groups (this was 1996, I was on Guy Kawasaki’s Rules for Revolutionaries mailing list and the contact with real-life tech-savvy marketers was invaluable and inspiring to me). Nowadays there are many more forums, mailing lists and groups to get involved in. Authors, like David and Seth Godin have blogs so you can keep up with what they’re thinking about in-between books. Not that one has to wait long for something to read these days; it seems there’s a new ‘New Marketing’ or Social Media Marketing book published every week. The biggest problem is keeping on top of all this material.

For this reason I would have to disagree, marketing professors shouldn’t be sued for malpractice – they teach to a course, a curriculum set well in advance and based on a course prospectus. I get that the text books are long in the tooth, I think it’s great that David’s New Rules of Marketing & PR is on the reading list for a number of marketing programmes, it should be on more. So should Purple Cow. And How to Drive the Competition Crazy, because the marketing set texts are dry and stuffy. The practice of marketing on the other hand is not – it’s the lifeblood of an organisation. Books that encourage you to try something new, be remarkable and give recent real-world case studies prove that.

Is there still a place for Kotler?

Absolutely. A lot of Marketing Management is just common sense couched in academic terms, but it needs to be ingested. Some of it just begs to be overturned (one of my favourite essay approaches was using contemporary case studies to prove a particular assumption wrong) but for a book like ‘New Rules’ to make any sense, don’t you have to know what the old rules are? Don’t you need an idea of what kind of predictable moves the competition are likely to make? (Admittedly an assumption on my part – that the competitor’s marketing team are still running on Marketing 1.0.)

Shiny object syndrome

The presenters of the marketing podcast Marketing Over Coffee often refer to ‘Shiny object syndrome’ – the way that some people obsess over the latest new toy/social network/location-based game. There’s a danger in pursuing the shiny object too fervently. if marketing lecturers had spent a semester teaching Second Life, a few years back, how would those students feel about that module now? I was taught basic HTML as part of my marketing course. It was somewhat superfluous for me, but for the rest of the class? At least they understand the difference between H1 and P tags. If the lecturer had taught Pagemill (yes I’m that old) instead, how much use would those lessons be now?

What to do?

I was impressed to learn that my alma mater now includes real-world marketing experience as part of the course. Students are, under adult supervision, given a small budget to market a local business. Assignments like this will favour students that read around and are familiar with the more efficient methods that Marketing 2.0 brings. Universities could provide recommended reading lists, but that takes away the initiative from the student. Marketing students ought to be mavericks, railing against the hegemony of Kotler et al. Anyone who isn’t is doomed to play by the old rules. Any student that doesn’t take their education seriously and relies on their professors for all their learning is themselves negligent. So what’s the answer? Drum home the message READ AROUND YOUR SUBJECT!

Image credit: Hubspot via Creative Commons on Flickr.

Quit bugging me

hand over mouthKeeping with the theme of email marketing (see this post about spam from a couple of days ago), this time from the customer’s perspective.

Every year or so I order a few IceBreaker and Bridgedale items from Sierra Trading Post, an outdoor clothing outlet store. Over the course of a year they email me pretty often with details of sales and special ‘we miss you’ discount codes. This is great and I’ll usually order using one of these codes, saving 25% off their already excellent prices. What bugs me is that right after I order I seem to invoke some sort of mailing avalanche. I get an email every one or two days, with another discount code, or a reminder that the discount code they sent me two days ago is about to expire.

I don’t want to unsubscribe from their list because I like receiving the codes, just not right now, plus it seems rude to unsubscribe when they’ve saved me so much over the years.

Meet me half way
What I want is an option that is somewhere between unsubscribing and having to receive then delete/ignore their emails for a while. What if there was an option for “keep me on the list, but don’t send me stuff for a couple of months, unless it’s a really impossible-to-refuse offer”.

I am not a number
Mailing frequency is a difficult thing to get right, it’s tough to gauge what’s best, but mailing managers (and the services they use) need to realise that the people they’re sending to are human beings, not just a number on a list.

Respect your audience
Seth Godin’s post a couple of days ago sparked by his experience with Drugstore.com highlights the fact that you need to respect your subscribers and the fact that every time you send them an email you ask for a piece of their attention. It is essential to keep things relevant to them and recognise their needs. Sometimes they need you to back off, not forever, but for a while.

The next opportunity I get with a client to work on their mailing list practices I’m going to implement a ‘chill period’ whereby someone can say ‘yes, I want to be on your list, but don’t send me stuff for 2 months’.

Image credit: M Lyn

One man’s Spam is another man’s lunch

No Spam pleaseEmail marketing is both one of the most cost effective methods of reaching your customers and the most loathed.

Email marketers have to contend with over zealous junk mail filters, spam crusaders that seek to destroy them and list subscribers who forgot they gave permission. It’s so much easier to ‘report as spam’ than it is to unsubscribe.

I’ve used email marketing myself. I also hate spam. I will only use opt-in lists for this reason. Yet that doesn’t stop recipients of emails I’ve sent replying with torrents of abuse for daring to darken their inbox, and those are the ones I’ve heard from.

Many users will just instruct whatever spam filter they use to block an email. Depending on how that spam filter works, that action gets reported and if enough people do that, the sender of the email gets blacklisted. In the case of an opt-in list this is sailing pretty close to a collective act of defamation.

When users mark an email as spam, and that blacklists the sender and prevents other subscribers, who would gladly have received (and may even have been looking forward to) that email from benefiting from the content of it.

There is a solution, though it’s only partial, in the form of FBL or FeedBack Loops. Setting them up is a little complicated, though is often included in the service provided by reputable email marketing providers. I say partial because it only provides a solution for large email providers/ISPs like AOL, Comcast, Hotmail and others (a non-exhaustive list can be found here), and has to be set up with each ISP, per sending domain. An entry on the FBL for an ISP means that when one of that ISP’s customers reports your message as spam, instead of you getting blacklisted, you get a report, requiring you to unsubscribe that user. An FBL however makes no difference if the recipient of an email isn’t using their email provider’s web interface, a third party spam filter

What is needed is a concerted effort by providers of spam filtering solutions, internet service providers (as users of those spam filters), email client developers (web and desktop) and email marketing vendors. All it would take is a recognised standard email header for ‘unsubscribe address’ and ‘unsubscribe URL’, which email client software, or the spam filter in use, would interpret and communicate with, instead of placing a black mark against the sender. The email marketing vendors (or the DIY sender) would handle the unsubscribe submissions. The list might get smaller but the deliverability goes way up.

This appears to be the way Google are going with their unsubscribe option in Gmail. Criticism of this by email marketers is levelled at the wording and operation – equating unsubscribing with reporting spam. It fits with Google’s usual m.o. of trying to simplify a process as much as possible, as long as the sender does what they’re supposed to.

Who loses out? People who don’t play by the rules. Everybody else wins. The spam filter providers have shorter, easier to process blacklists. Email providers and email marketing vendors spend less time processing blacklist removal requests and finally the end user who wants a mailing is guaranteed to receive it.

Image credit: Thomas Hawk

Back to School

Graduation DayA few weeks ago I sat an exam for the first time in many years. It was the online certification test for Inbound Marketing University, a project driven by Hubspot, providers of a web based software solution that is designed to assist SMEs with, well, inbound marketing. The ‘professors’ of Inbound Marketing are all high level practitioners in their relative fields – it reads like a who’s who of ‘new marketing’ types.

What’s Inbound Marketing anyway?

Inbound Marketing is the antithesis of many elements of traditional marketing – it’s about creating relationships and establishing a presence, making potential customers aware of you in a more natural way than interruptive tactics like TV advertising.

Course overview

The course was broken into three areas, Get Found, Convert and Analyze. I’ll give an overview of each.

Get Found is centred on being there when people are looking for you, meeting them on their terms, in their places like Twitter and Facebook, but it’s a permission based relationship – someone chooses to follow you on Twitter or become a fan on Facebook because of the value you provide to the community through the content that you create. The stand-out class in this section was David Meerman Scott’s, if you’ve read his books, New Rules of Marketing and PR and World Wide Rave then you already know it, but his approach is dead on. Another key component to the Get Found section is search engine optimisation with two very strong classes on the subject.

The Convert part of the course is all about how you handle leads, whether someone is ready to buy or not, there is a way to strengthen the relationship. Providing useful content doesn’t stop once you’ve got someone interested. The classes covered landing pages, lead nurturing and email marketing.

The Analyze part of the course was handled in one lesson and if I have any criticism of the course, it was in this area. There was only one class on this and it kept things pretty simple. That’s not a criticism of the class in itself – everybody needs a 101 in analytics and it had important and valuable lessons. However if you want to get really deep into the analysis however you’d be better served by picking up a copy of Web Analytics an Hour a Day by Avinash Kaushik (Google Analytics evangelist) and pre-ordering his forthcoming second book too.

Effort and reward

I gave myself two weeks to get through all the classes in and took the exams on the first day of the period in mid August. People who took it in the first exam period in June had a little less time to take it all in – the live webinars were spread over two days. Whilst you miss out a little on the experience by watching the classes later instead of live, don’t be put off because of that at all. You’ll find a lot of the ‘ask the teacher’ questions you come up with during the course of the class are asked by others at the end anyway.

I am pleased to say that I passed the exam, with a decent score and I’m proudly displaying my Inbound Marketing Certified Professional badge in the sidebar of my blog. I would like to publicly thank everyone at Hubspot for the immense effort that that put into this project, all the professors that created such excellent classes and a hat tip for the infrastructure sponsors that made it possible.

If you’re interested in taking the qualification, jump on over to Inbound Marketing University, read up a little more, watch one or two classes, create an account and get notified when the signups are open for the next exam session in October. Happy studying!

Image credit: Robert Crum

I’m inquisitive but I’m not desperate

cavemanI’m wondering when the tide is going to turn on the matter of requiring users to fill in lengthy forms in order to download a software demo, an e-book, a white paper or in some cases even a brochure.

You’ve gone to all the trouble of getting someone to your site – whether that’s by SEO, an advert or just random luck. You promise a download, often with just a click. Then you start asking for my inside leg measurement.

When I see a form like this, I immediately wonder: ‘Do I get what I asked for immediately? Are my details vetted before I get it? Are my details getting added to a mailing list?’

When are site owners (or their retarded designers/developers/consultants who say ‘and we can gather names by getting people to register for this’) going to get it? What’s important to you, getting your information/product/idea into people’s hands, hearts and minds, or building a list that is ultimately worthless junk? Are you that worried about counting the number of downloads and think the only way to do it is to require someone’s details? And once you’ve given someone access to it, who is to say they won’t spread it round ‘virally’ anyway? Or do you wish you could stop that too?

I’m reserving a place in a particularly nasty circle of hell for cheese-ball ‘internet marketers’ that plaster ‘download my free internet marketing e-book’ links all over their ugly web pages. That’s not marketing, it’s a pitiful attempt to build a list that you can pimp whatever MLM scheme you’re getting affiliate commission for this week and you are no more marketers than a barrow-boy at a street market is.

For a great insight into this, read Chris Guillebeau’s piece on Why People Hate Marketers.

Still need convincing? David Meerman Scott makes it abundantly clear in his free pdf e-book Lose Control of your Marketing, (that you can download without filling in a registration form): “You need to think in terms of spreading ideas, not generating leads”, a one line summary of this post about business to business e-books.

Now I know this stuff is new, that you might face resistance to free up the access to your downloads – your CEO wants hot sales leads and names on a mailing list. OK, how about you have a ‘sign up to get it’ link and a straight ‘I don’t want to sign up but I still want it’ link. What this means is you’re going to get proper sales leads, not Mickey Mouse and Bob McBob (my default) and you’re also going to reach the huge percentage that simply won’t fill in forms. If Apple can learn that they don’t need the email address of everyone who downloads QuickTime or Safari, then you can get over your dependency on list-building and start sharing properly. You’ll be amazed at the difference.

Till then, yours,
Bob McBob

p.s. If you’re one of the good guys, comment here and share your experience of how opening the gates worked for you.

Photo credit: Beautification Syndrome

Five Must read marketing/internet/social media blog posts from this week


guy reading noticesI’ve had my head down working and absorbing information this week, reading books and blogs. Here are five helpful/useful/relevant and informative posts from the past week that I recommend – much more worthwhile than anything I would have written this week!

Christopher S. Penn: How powerful is your social media?
A warning not to drink too deeply from the pitcher of social media kool-aid

David Meerman Scoot: What we all really want is ATTENTION
The various ways to beg borrow, steal or earn attention

Search Engine Land: Fights In The Google Monopoly Debate Miss Key Points
Great overview of the current state of play with Google and the ways it’s claiming not to be a monopoly.

Seth Godin: Can You Change Everything?
Huge list of things you can do to make a difference and get yourself out of a rut.

Topspin: Twitter Emerges as a Viable Direct Marketing Channel
Informative piece detailing how Twitter has moved needles in sizeable ways for a couple of bands.

Photo credit: blandm

Get outside your comfort zone


2793349195_24fccd46caWe’re all guilty of sticking to what we know; whether it’s in our choice of where to eat, or which brand of breakfast cereal we buy, and the way jobs and careers go we often find ourselves ploughing a very similar furrow. I’m all for specialisation – that’s how you get to be the best in your field. A deep network of contacts and domain knowledge are excellent reasons to hire someone.

But what if you were to get outside of your chosen vertical for a while? Whether that’s giving some marketing advice to a friend or family member, helping out at a non-profit or a small local business that you use. Doing this gives you the opportunity to test out your marketing abilities in a completely different direction.

In our day-job we (should) know the customer inside out. Things are a little different when you’re presented with the challenge of marketing to a customer base you don’t know so well — even if you’re one of them. It’s then that you can strip away the accumulated domain knowledge and get back to applying basic principles, testing your assumptions and truly stretching yourself. You might be the world’s best marketer of widgets but that’s almost irrelevant when you’re marketing a gourmet deli. It’s time to apply what you’ve learnt to a completely different niche and see just how universal your skill-set is.

Whilst I’m in transition between jobs I’m using some of the time to reach out to small businesses which can’t afford big-shot marketing consultants and don’t have all the skills in-house required to shift their marketing up a gear. Both of the business owners I’m working with have agreed to me posting details of my work for them here and I look forward to chronicling the development of their marketing and (hopefully) the lift this gives their businesses.


Photo credit: jhaskell

Helping out your competition

busy restaurantSparked by a comment on twitter recently by Justin Levy, co-owner of a restaurant and social media proponent.

I own a restaurant and we’re doing great due to SM. But I see a lot of restaurants closing which sucks to see happen

he was replying to this question by Dave Ferrick:

Last few local restaurants I visited in the past 3 months said they’re closing down despite excellent service. SM Gurus where are you?!

The sad truth of a weak economy is that discretionary spending is one of the first things to get cut – we go out a little less and we spend less when we do. Restaurants are one of the first businesses to feel the pinch, certainly the more up-scale and generally ‘better’ ones. Conversely, McDonald’s and KFC are doing bumper business.

If you’re a restauranteur and you’re weathering the storm ok, consider who else you could help. Let’s face it, people won’t eat out at your place every time they eat out. You probably eat at other restaurants yourself, to check out the other guys, or maybe just for a change. If you’re a tex-mex joint, why not work with your favourite local sushi place? It’s possible for restaurants to succeed by working together – you’re not competing in the traditional sense that McDonald’s and Wendy’s and Burger King do. If most of the restaurants in your neighbourhood go out of business that’s not going to help you in the end – people will go to other neighbourhoods to eat because there’s not enough choice where you are.

Where I live there’s a loose chain of restaurants under the Ambiente banner. They have their own identities, unified by a core brand. Why is it a loose chain? Check out their site – there’s no more than two restaurants of any single concept – Brazilian, Cafe Savoy, Pasta Fresca, Pasta Caffe and Living Restaurant (think TGI Fridays’ menu but with more class). Each restaurant is a franchise, odd – when you consider what they’re really franchising is an umbrella brand rather than an operating manual driven system like McDonald’s. But it’s more than that – there’s co-marketing/cross pollination going on, on a variety of levels: gift certificates valid in all the restaurants, postcards for the other restaurants in the reception areas, city centre maps showing all the locations, advertising for the other restaurants in the rest rooms. They also have supply-side deals that bring them cost savings and consistency.

Granted, Ambiente is an integrated franchise operation but it’s clear to see that together these restaurants combine to create something much bigger than each could achieve on their own.

How far you go in co-operating with your fellow restauranteur is up to you – whether you teach them how to use social media to reach out to their patrons in the same way you are, share some of your marketing ‘special sauce’, do some co-promotions, run tasting stands at local events together, or just work with them on a basic reciprocal level of ‘when you hand the customer their check, also give them a coupon to come try my restaurant’.

If you’re doing any of this, or any of this applies to you and is helpful, let me know. If you’re interested in exploring the possibilities presented here and would like to talk through how you could make them work for your business, get in touch with me via twitter or by email – my inbox is always open.

Photo credit: Punch Pizza