The Reason To Do Creative Things

Somewhere along the line we were told that writing a book, making a movie, singing a song or creating anything was not worthwhile unless there were people who would pay us for it. But getting paid to create stuff is a relatively new idea and should not be the reason to, or not to undertake a creative pursuit. Throughout most of history the concept of earning money from being creative was not plausible but it didn’t stop anyone from doing it. Only recently has making money been a reason to do something creative.

In 1906 John Phillip Sousa held a very low opinion of the emerging and upstart recording industry during his lifetime. In a submission to a congressional hearing, he argued,”These talking machines are going to ruin the artistic development of music in this country. When I was a boy…in front of every house in the summer evenings, you would find young people together singing the songs of the day or old songs. Today you hear these infernal machines going night and day. We will not have a vocal cord left. The vocal cord will be eliminated by a process of evolution, as was the tail of man when he came from the ape.”

Author Lawrence Lessig comments, “Looking at the 20th century it would be hard not to conclude that Susa was right. Never before in the history of human culture had it been as professionalized, never before as concentrated, never before has the creativity of the millions been so effectively displaced, and displaced because of these “infernal machines.” We have handed over creating to those “professionals” and have left all the creation up to them.”

Writer Aldous Huxley concurred with his statement saying, “In the days before machinery men and women who wanted to amuse themselves were compelled, in their humble ways, to be artists. Now they sit still and permit professionals to entertain them by the aid of machinery. It is difficult to believe that general artistic culture can flourish in this atmosphere of passivity.”

Creative talent that demands payment is a very rare and very precious commodity. Not everyone has it. As a matter of fact, hardly anyone has it. But I don’t think that should stand in the way of us thinking of ourselves as singers, writers, painters and actors. Just because we will never be as good as Bob Dylan or Meryl Streep doesn’t mean we should limit ourselves.

Does encouraging people to pursue their artistic dreams do more harm than good? So many people will never “make it.” After all of their toil the outcome will at best be parked out in the “long tail,” selling only to our uncle Sam and a few demented fans. I think the fact that you want to, and can do it, is reason enough.

Amuse yourself by creating something instead of passively handing entertainment over to “professionals.” Do it because you feel like you need to regardless of any monetary gain.

Bill Watterson’s advice is essential: “We need to do more than find diversions; we need to restore and expand ourselves. Our idea of relaxing is all too often to plop down in front of the television set and let its pandering idiocy liquefy our brains. Shutting off the thought process is not rejuvenating; the mind is like a car battery-it recharges by running.”

 

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Mindfully Selected News

My consumption of news has decreased over the last few years and I think I’m becoming less informed. I think its my lack of interest in breaking news along with the new’s declining credibility.

Publishers are incentivized to push the extreme, breaking news because it’s how they get more clicks, and that means more revenue. There is such a need for publishers to keep the user’s attention that the “news” is more often click bait hyped to make them think it is important. Once the user is on the page the only thing important is not the article that got them there, but the ability to keep them clicking, so anything you read is surrounded by junk. I’ve frankly given up because headlines write checks that their articles don’t cash.

So much of the news is breaking news which is boring and incorrect. If you try follow anything breaking you have to wait through the whole thing just to get to the good parts with no guarantee that anything worth seeing will happen. Plus, what is first reported is typically incorrect, out of context and not understood.

The solution offered is usually to filter the news according to my interests. But I don’t want what I’m interested in, I want what’s important to know. The internet has no concept of “all the news that’s fit to print,” because there is no constraint in available space. Whatever filters I proactively place to make the news more relevant to me will always find a “top 5” no matter how unimportant it is. It is similar to the productivity-killing recurring meetings in the office – when an amount of time has been allotted, things will be found to fill the time even if they are irrelevant.

I only want the news that’s been vetted, acknowledged as worthwhile, analyzed and interpreted into the larger scheme of things. I want to learn about the way things work along with what is going on. I want a service that sends me an email only with news that is worth reporting. It would have no regular scheduled cadence. I’m wary of any publisher that promotes a “top 5” list of articles, because again, if it claims five articles every week, irrelevant articles will be found to fill the “top 5” quota — if I don’t get an email for a couple weeks even better, nothing worth knowing about has happened! Until this service exists I’m opting out of news site online and am going for books that are based on well-understood truth instead of the latest rumor.

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Fulfilling Demand vs Creating Demand

Fulfilling demand is advertising where you help people who are already inclined to buy make a final purchase decision. Creating demand is advertising that puts an idea in the person’s head to go out and buy something they hadn’t previously considered.

Fulfilling Demand vs Creating Demand

The reason why TV ads are so good at creating demand, I think, is because it’s in a medium aligned with entertainment. You’re passively sitting back, letting the TV take you where it wants, the ads act as mini stories that you’re already expecting to see.

The internet is much more of an active, informational and communication-driven medium. You go to the internet to find things out just as much, if not more, than for entertainment. This is why display ads generally suck – they don’t fulfill demand, and if they do any creating of demand it’s minimal because the user is not in entertainment mode, they are in research/communication/info gathering mode.

Content that is interesting/informational/helpful/entertaining is a little closer to nirvana – it can fulfill demand: people looking for answers can find them in your content, which hopefully refers them to purchase from you, and it can create demand: the content can be convincing enough to create a new need in their mind to motivate them to buy something. But quality content doesn’t scale in a linear proportion like paying for ads does and it’s hard to always be original.

We will reach advertising nirvana (maybe) once the internet more closely resembles television so that it becomes more of a passive medium while retaining it’s active capabilities, and some new forms of advertising are invented that better facilitate the two.

 

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The Bleak Reality Of Social Media Marketing

There once was a time when social media was the solution to all of advertising’s woes. Social media was to replace antiquated interruptive advertising techniques by allowing customers to have “relationships” with brands. Brands could “join the conversation” and let customers “tell their story” too. All of this “engagement” would be called “earned media’ instead of paid media. But reality has struck, we’ve all been duped (including me) and it looks like what really matters is what has always mattered: interrupting people with interesting ideas about interesting products.

From Forrester “Social tactics are not meaningful sales drivers. Forty-eight percent of consumers reported that social media posts are a great way to discover new products, brands, trends, or retailers, but less than 1% of transactions could be traced back to trackable social links.”

Sure, the same arguments are still valid: social media (and display ads) has an impact the same way TV ads have an impact – people just don’t click through as much so the influence doesn’t show up in the data. Another valid argument is that most brands still just aren’t using social media right: they post self serving drivel that no one cares about.

But consider this quote directly from Facebook: After instigating the biggest bait and switch in ad history, Facebook has the audacity to say in Time Magazine, “Like many mediums, if businesses want to make sure that people see their content, the best strategy is, and always has been, paid advertising.” Facebook itself concedes that trying to market a product by engaging a community with posts is ineffective.

Create your own site, for creating quality, interesting, unbiased content where you have full control instead.

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Corporate Blogs Suck, Do This Instead

The common advice is that you should include a blog to your ecommerce or business website. So attached to your site is a blog.yoursite.com or yoursite.com/blog. The reasons behind this are sound:

  • Build traffic through search engine optimization
  • Increase credibility
  • Enhance customer interaction

But there is a common problem with corporate blogs: they lack credibility. This is especially true of big companies. When the blog isn’t boring every visitor by incessantly talking about itself, PR wants to throw in the latest earnings report and then the marketing team wants to repurpose it’s email creative in a post about the monthly sale.

I think there is a better way to still get the benefits of blogging for your business without having a corporate blog: give your blog it’s own brand.

Instead of yoursite.com/blog, make a whole new site that’s sole purpose is to be the voice that speaks to your target audience. It’s hard to not come off unbiased when right next to your content you’ve got links to buy all your stuff right there. With a separate blog you can say all the things that resonate with your target audience while not worrying the brand managers that you’re going to be “off-brand”. At the same time you can still slip in links to your own business when it’s called for.

This may seem sketchy but it’s a standard business practice. Big companies that are no longer “cool” buy smaller ones who have more credibility in the marketplace. Nike would never tell you that they own the counter-culture brand Converse. Or the company that owns the posh ski brand North Face would never let customers know that they also own the skate and surf company Vans and the cowboy brand Wrangler.

Keep yousite.com/blog for all the lame content that no one reads if you want to so that you can appear “relevant”. But build a different blog outside of your brand. If you can, build a few. Retailers need to become publishers online instead of relying so much on other content sites to post their links and serve their ads.

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You Bid On Keywords Not Search Queries

I think the distinction between queries and keywords is important. A keyword is the flat, literal, lowest-common-denominator word that you want as much commercial intent in it as possible. A search query is the actual phrase that the user puts in the search box. More often than not search queries are absurd. The keywords you select are just as much about what queries you don’t want your ad to show up for, as the queries that you do want your ad to show for.

As seen above, search queries of all types are swimming through a stream and you lure the ones you want your ad to show up for by using keywords, match types and negatives.

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You Can Do Better Than Brand Marketing

Often online marketing budgets fall into two camps: direct response and branding. The purpose of direct response is pretty obvious – to make money at a return that is aligned with the business’s goals. The other camp – branding – I’m kind of convinced is always a waste of money (at least the conventional idea of brand marketing is).

Boiled down to it’s most simple terms, advertising is when you are trying to persuade someone to purchase your product. Too often the idea of a “branding” campaign is something that is far from persuasive – it mostly consists of showing people your logo. Persuading someone is about highlighting the product benefits and differentiation with similar products. Customers rely on their own experience with products more than anything else. Showing your logo to more people is not enough to overcome the inertia of  purchasing habits and get someone to make a change. Persuasion isn’t easy; trying new things is high on the list of things people most want to avoid.

From the Ad Contrarian:

“Next we have to realize that successful brands are by-products. They don’t come about by “branding.” They come about by doing lots of other things well. Like making great products; satisfying our customers; differentiating our products in advertising.”

Trying to quantify the value of branding ads usually ends up being very anti-climactic. You can count the amount of impressions that were delivered to the targeted demographic, use click-through-rate as a way to evaluate relevancy – of those that click through you can measure page depth, return visits, bounce rate – all of which give you an idea of the kind of impact you made on the visitor – hopefully an indication that they will buy from you next time when they are ready.

So why would anyone want to do “brand advertising”? Because your direct response budget has such high return on ad spend targets that you end up only advertising to those people at the bottom of the funnel – you’re preaching to the converted. You’ve got to pay to add more people at the top of the funnel right? Yes, but you can do better than “brand advertising.”

Maybe it’s just semantics but when you think about your next media buy, your display ads, or the next bit of content you create, make sure that it has something to it that will persuade someone to buy instead of having the sole purpose of “branding.”

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The Big Flaw With A/B & Multivariate Testing

Multivariate testing allows marketers to test unlimited combinations of elements on a web page in a live environment and measure the significance of those changes on the site’s conversion rate by allowing the visitors to vote with their clicks.

The typical mindset for testing content on a website is to find which variation of site elements performs the best, and then implement those changes permanently: make a test, discover the winner, turn the test into what 100% of visitors see, and then move onto the next test.

There is a big flaw with this mindset: it assumes visitors don’t change preferences over time. The winning variation was good this week but that is no reason to think that it will be the winning combination the following week. One of the least understood aspects of e-Commerce is how much web visitor behavior changes from one time interval to another.

Giving the test more time to run doesn’t really solve this problem because all visitors who visit once the test has been declared over could be different than the ones that visited during the test. A winning variation is only winning during the time it was running.

The solution is to have the variables run constantly. A winner is never declared and implemented permanently because there isn’t only one clear cut winner. As the seasons and visitor preferences change, the system changes with it. For example: the combination of variables that are successful in the summer, when the products are full price and customers weigh pros and cons, read reviews and analyze costs to benefits, will be very different than the variables that succeed during holiday, when visitors are under a time crunch, want nothing more than a low price and to get in, buy and get out.
For this reason saying something like, “we need to do some testing to make sure our site is in tip top shape for holiday,” can cause some serious problems. How visitors act now is not how they will act then.

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The Limits Of Data Driven Marketing

Online marketing has up to this point claimed that big data which allows more precise targeting is the solution to all of marketing’s woes. I think that data can go a long way but there is a point when more data isn’t the answer. Focusing on the data too much can have some negative impacts.

First, left to their own devices, the data-driven direct response people will compromise and dumb-down everything to the point of complete blandness with the excuse of “it’s what the visitors want!” People don’t always know what they want. This is something that Steve Jobs knew well according to Guy Kawasaki:
“Apple market research” is an oxymoron. The Apple focus group was the right hemisphere of Steve’s brain talking to the left one. If you ask customers what they want, they will tell you, “Better, faster, and cheaper—that is, better sameness, not revolutionary change. They can only describe their desires in terms of what they are already using—around the time of the introduction of Macintosh, all people said they wanted was better, faster, and cheaper MS-DOS machines. The richest vein for tech startups is creating the product that you want to use—that’s what Steve and Woz did.”

Second, as soon as managers pick a numerical metric as a way to measure whether they’re achieving their desired outcome, everybody starts maximizing that metric rather than doing the rest of their job.

Third, data isn’t enough to motivate others. From Seth Godin: “In my experience, data crowds out faith. And without faith, it’s hard to believe in the data enough to make a leap. Big mergers, big VC investments, big political movements, large congregations… they don’t usually turn out for a spreadsheet. The problem is this: no spreadsheet, no bibliography and no list of resources is sufficient proof to someone who chooses not to believe. The skeptic will always find a reason, even if it’s one the rest of us don’t think is a good one. Relying too much on proof distracts you from the real mission–which is emotional connection.”

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What SEO Is vs What SEO Is Sold As

What SEO is vs what SEO is sold as

Generally, SEO is simple, but not easy. The majority of it is common sense stuff. You can learn the lion’s share of SEO tactics directly from Google here.

But, SEO is not necessarily common sense to the average non-tech savvy business owner and unfortunately SEO is often sold as something only experts with very technical expertise can do – sometimes even thought of as “secrets to rank higher in Google”.

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