Wednesday, March 4, 2015

SMX West Expo: Why do you charge for your expo?

So you're hosting a conference and you decide to charge for exhibition attendance, what's your strategy? Often, a baseline charge is a good way to make an event more exclusive, providing the exhibitors with a filter that reduces the number of people who attend simply to sell the exhibitors something.

Put differently, if you're hosting an exhibition, you're exhibitors would probably rank conference attendees as their best prospects, people who use the products or are in the industry as second best, and the least desirable being the vendors and businesses that attend simply to sell products or services to the exhibitors -- exhibitors, publications, consultants, shipping companies, suppliers. We've even had people come in off the street collecting bags of booth give-away stuff -- on occasion.

An on-site charge can go a long way to prevent this kind of traffic.

However, I'm trying to imagine the "bad" traffic in that mix trying to sell to companies exhibiting at a search marketing conference. Now weigh that against the potential "walk-in" customers to an exhibition that might actually benefit from the products or services that a company exhibiting there would display. If I were an exhibiting company, I would be pissed. Or rather, I wouldn't be a repeat exhibitor.

This is to you, sponsoring companies of the SMX West Expo -- I won't be visiting the expo because they decided to charge for expo admission. I don't know anything more about you or your business. Google, Yahoo, I didn't get to speak with your team there. AimClear, Alight Analytics, Marin Software, SEORadar, Moz, Yext -- I missed seeing your booth. If you were trying to reach me, your marketing dollars were wasted. Were I in your shoes, I'd express some concerns.

SMX West: The Secret Conference

As a marketing pro, I get a lot of emails promoting conferences. One of the great rules is that, if you go to a conference once, you're going to get email from the conference forever forward. I think that the last Macworld I went to was probably in 2010, but I still get emails from them every year.

That's what makes the SMX West conference even more baffling. Searching my inbox, the last time that I received an email from the SMX group was all the way back in 2011. Contrast that to the RSA conference where I probably get an email a week. There are two possible take-aways from this:
  1. The SMX Conference marketing team has a strategy, and that strategy doesn't include emailing people to alert them to the conference. Perhaps they don't like email or don't want to spend on email. Perhaps they only know search. Or simply underscore the importance of search. Either way, at this point, if I hadn't looked for the conference I wouldn't have known anything about it.
  2. I am not their target demographic. Sure I manage search marketing programs. Sure, I've been to their conference before. But maybe I don't spend enough. Maybe I'm not buying a particular set of tools that they believe in. Maybe I'm not somebody who's going to spend $2K on a conference. 
All of that being said, it's unlikely that I will be pointing out much of anything valuable in terms of marketing take-aways from this event -- except perhaps as a case study for the most invisible promotional efforts.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

SMX West Search Marketing Conference: Marketing FAIL

A funny thing happened to me on the way to the SMX West Conference Expo -- I got ready to register to attend the expo only to discover that they wanted to hit me with a $50 registration fee. Why? Because the conference started today. If I had registered yesterday or before, I would be eligible for the "early bird rate" of free. What a difference a day makes.

The irony is that several years ago, I actually walked the show when it was in Santa Clara. It was worthwhile enough that I probably would have attended again had other business commitments not kept me from attending. Essentially, I was out of town when the show was going on for the past couple of years. Enter 2015 and a conference that had enough traction with me to have me dive in and figure out when it was scheduled. Imagine my surprise to discover that the event it taking place right now. "Awesome," I thought. "I'll head over there right now." Then registration and styme.

At this point, I think it's important to talk about just what exactly that $50 registration fee means. Sure, I could pay it. I could expense it and it wouldn't come out of my pocket. But I'm not going to spend it. For me, what that $50 fee does is actually more of an insult than it is an obstacle. In a single pricing decision, I have been moved from attendee / potential customer to offended critic.

I'm sorry for the companies that have paid to exhibit and participate in this conference. I will not see you. My colleagues will not see you. If you had anything new or interesting to offer, we won't learn about it.

The Problem with Google's Campus Development Proposal

So the news of the week is that Google has proposed a significant overhaul of its business campus over in the Shoreline area of Mountain View. From Mountain View's The Voice,
Google gave the Voice a look at the plans Friday morning for a 3.4 million-square-foot campus to hold 10,000 new employees, the first buildings Google will have designed and built in Mountain View, despite the city being home to its headquarters since its inception. 
Of course, Google isn't the only one proposing new development, Google, LinkedIn and five real estate developers have submitted plans to build millions of square feet of new offices. Along with Google's proposal, there are a host of other civic improvements that they've bundled in too. The crazy thing about all of this is not the unique architecture, it's really more about trying to imagine another 10,000 people going in and out of that area each day. As anyone who has tried to navigate the intersection between 101 and 85 during rush hour knows, even with Google buses hauling thousands of Google employees in and out, the area is still a congested mess. Even if you consider their current numbers where about 1/3 of Google employees arrive by Google bus, that's still another 5000 or so cars trying to squeeze their way into the area.

The reports on the radio were all making a big deal about housing -- where are all of these new Googlers going to live? The reality is that that's really a minor part of the story. Unless the downtown Mountain View train station is redeveloped to look more like Tokyo station, with multiple train lines running through in multiple directions, the Magic Eightball prediction for traffic in the area is FUBAR.

The other funny thing about this is the "this will bring 10,000 new jobs into the area" message, the great canard of the "tech boom". The real truth underlying this "boom" is that this "10,000 jobs" number is not "people that need a job here in the area" -- this is not a new factory hiring local workers to come in and operate the machinery -- it's more likely 10,000 prestigious college graduates and international Visa holders brought in from everywhere else. I know that sounds like a joke, but having lived in Mountain View for fifteen years, I've had many Google neighbors but none of them lived here before they were hired by Google. In short, for most of the "new generation" of tech companies, there is a simple rule -- if you already live here, you're probably too old (unless you're a student at Stanford or Berkeley).

Don't get me wrong -- I think that the new architecture is interesting and would be a welcome addition to the office park. But beyond those buildings, those open spaces and those bike paths, there needs to be a lot more investment in how people get around. Money being what it is, I expect that it is unlikely to expect "the character" of Mountain View to remain the same as it was even 10 years ago, but what it's destined to become is a mess unless the infrastructure to support all of this is developed.

FitBit FAIL: Why I will not buy another FitBit device

A couple of weeks ago on a Sunday, FitBit got me again. Friends were talking about steps, we were talking about playing along on the competitive step tracking, and I was poised for a week of tradeshow activities -- usually good for 20-25K step days. And so, on the way to the airport, we popped into Costco to pick up some new FitBit units.

We needed new hardware because we had both gone through the inevitable losing the FitBit experience... twice. Enter the latest in chapter in our Fitbit saga, the Fitbit Flex. Initially, when we were looking at the Costco packaging, it looked like a great deal -- we could get three Fitbits for $100. Then, somebody in the store explained to us that it was only one Fitbit with three wristbands (the packaging is not particularly clear about this). So, somewhat discouraged by getting less of a deal than we expected, we decided to move forward. In the parking lot, we soon discovered that the multiple color options was not, in fact, much for multiple color options -- instead, just two color options and a second size (the bands come in small or large). And as we continued to the airport, be began to muse as to the purpose of including so many wrist bands -- do they wear out that quickly? Are replacements expensive? So many product mysteries.

My trip was a short one -- just down to Anaheim for the night, set-up the next morning, then back. By the time I had left security at John Wayne airport, I realized that my new Fitbit Flex was gone. Your first instinct is to go back to security and look for it, but when you know that you didn't take it off in the first place, you can bet that it fell off sooner than than. When we first bought the units, we wrestled with trying to get the little plastic snap through the rubber wristband -- why not use a traditional watchband clasp? My complaints at that time were only a fraction of what they were once I realized that the crappy snap-in design didn't stay on my wrist.

Part of the reason why we purchased the Fitbit from Costco was their excellent return policy -- the idea that if we didn't like the wristband unit, we could return it easily. Sadly, when you have lost your Fitbit, you can't really return it for it's sucky design.

Perhaps the most ironic Fitbit thing -- I remember sitting through a session at Dreamforce where they were talking about what a great customer experience Fitbit provides using the marketing features in When a person activates a unit, Fitbit sends them an email. You might think that Fitbit would send you an email when they suddenly see your activity stop. Then again, that's probably an indication that you lost yet another Fitbit. Feedback? no. Need help? no. Discounts on replacements? no. Loyalty? none.

I'm done.

Saturday, February 28, 2015

The Problem of Money

Earlier this week, there is news about another reporter quitting eBay Founder Pierre Omidyar's start-up media organization, First Look Media. Pando covers this with more detail, as the larger story has been something that Paul Carr has been following for a while.

For me, there is another thematic thread here. If you think back to when they were building this organization -- the promises and the prospects -- it was kind of like the story of building a modern dream team of media players. Rock star investigative journalists all pooled together in one old-media crushing modern empire that would rewrite the laws of news and journalism. And the first thing would be to sign these all-star players to big fat new contracts.

As is often the case, fat money is a harbinger of doom. Whether you want to look at sports and the performance of athletes in a contract year versus the year after they sign their fat new contracts or those newly signed top draft picks that never actually turn out to be the next Michael Jordan.

But what's driving the mega-contract opening bid? After all, anyone who's ever bid on eBay knows that you don't open big; instead, you swoop in near the end in an effort to win by inches.

But there's a second part to this equation; what's going on inside of the head of someone that signs one of these huge contracts. On the one hand, as employees negotiating salary, it's often essential to try and get the most money that we can on the way in the door. If it's a long term hire, this number works as a base that will, most likely, be followed with a very low percentage incremental increase year after year. And if the opportunity has a short life span, it's well worth getting what you can from it while you can. That being said, the kind of hire we're talking about here is different.

Like many other Silicon Valley opportunities, when these media people are moving into this new venture, they are going start-up. They stand at the beginning of the road to building something. In the start-up world, this often translates into equity versus salary. Equity versus salary isn't just about money, it's about gambling whether money today is worth more that potential returns down the road. And that, fundamentally, is about belief in the idea, belief in the potential. To buy into return, you must see a future. This isn't like investing money. You have only one of you, one unit of your time and effort that you can commit at a time. Equity is a win or lose investment.

To that end, when you're in for equity, salary matters less because you've already bought in. You've drank the Kool-aid. Which brings us to the second question in this "all-star" relationship -- if you believe in the idea, why would you want or need fat money to make the move? And, more to the point, what does that huge offer say to you?

From the guy with the money to the guys signing on, I don't think that there was ever a shared Kool-aid experience. This has been about guns for hire and the offer you can't refuse. And when you find that kind of offer on the table in front of you, you probably don't want to refuse. Unlike a select few, most of us need an income. But when the fat money comes, remember, you're probably in for a short ride -- don't expect an in-flight meal and no need to bother with the Kool-aid.

Friday, February 20, 2015

Friday Night Lights vs The Wire

Recently, I finished binge-watching Friday Night Lights on Netflix. While I made it through the entire series, there were several times when I came really close to abandoning it. While I felt like it captured some interesting elements of the small town America story, what I had the most trouble with was the overall narrative structure. For me, Friday Night Lights stands in sharp contrast to The Wire, which we just finished watching for the first time last year. In contrast to Friday Night Lights, we didn't really binge-watch The Wire. Instead, we watched that show together, savoring each episode like the rich deep flavors of a complex dish.

My biggest problem with FNL was that it quickly became very predictable -- and not in a good way. Essentially, the story runs on a sort of sign wave, with the set-up for a character with a personal issue or a struggle, rising tension, then a resolution that returns the character to the root "good person" that we know they are. Put into a different framework, you might say good person, troubled by sin, then they face their moment of crisis, resolve and absolved. The underpinned framework is that all of these characters are good at the core, it's just these sin events that take them to bad places.

Contrast that with The Wire. In The Wire, we see characters that all have very dark sides. We have a plot line that gets set with problems and challenges. In the flow of a season, we often see a large story arc with characters thematically trying to do what they think is best for the larger good, only to see these efforts actually undermine a larger good -- one that we, as viewers, know was just around the corner. And the characters, we learn to like aspects of them, but also understand that they are not good. There is no black and white morality in The Wire; instead, it's rich with ambiguities that underscore the complexities of humanity. It's original sin. We are all tainted. It is inherent in our humanity.

For me, the contrast between these two series was so palpable, I began framing my thoughts on the two works a couple of weeks ago. But what struck me more was when I was reading the article I referenced in this previous post. In reflecting on the differences between conservative and liberal experiences with comedy and nuance, I could see more clearly why one series might be better for conservatives and one for liberals. FNL has a clearly defined moral structure. There is story and resolution. There is no nuance. In contrast, The Wire is all about nuance. There is no grand moral hand at play in The Wire.

It's not unusual for people to dislike things that we love. Opinions and tastes are diverse. At the same time, it can be challenging to internalize the idea the these same people may be experiencing those things in a completely different way. As marketers, we often draw upon empathy to imagine that we understand the thoughts and the brains around us, to experience the story through another's eyes. This is a reminder that, even as we step into another's shoes, we may be stepping into a wholly different universe where the logic and physics that we understand do not exist.