Monday, December 14th, 2009

My Money Where My Mouth Is

My Money Where My Mouth Is
Email to a friend Comments (27)

It’s awfully easy to profess expertise when you’re playing with someone else’s money. Perhaps that’s part of why we remain skeptical at smashLAB. There are some great new tools out there, but that doesn’t mean it’s easy to build a brand. That’s why we take on our own projects: so we have some skin in the game.

Promises

I shouldn’t be parading this as a virtue, but I believe it to be one. By testing things out for ourselves, we’re better equipped to understand them when we make suggestions to clients. Sure, each experience is highly specific and not always transferable. All marketing suffers from this—particularly in a digital context. The rules about what works are increasingly becoming more difficult to plainly define.

Some are making big promises, and I worry that’s unfair to clients and ultimately damaging to those who make them. SEO companies perhaps suffer from this dubious legacy the most; having (as a whole) made a great many promises that have proven hard to live up to. This has caused many to look at that entire practice as a shady one, even though this is at times quite inaccurate.

Making a promise doesn’t take much. Living up to it does though. As some of you know, I’ve recently penned a book on a particular way to look at marketing and building one’s brand. Writing it was a lot of work. Now it’s my opportunity to test it—with smashLAB being the guinea pig.

Challenge

Let me start with a little bit of context. Over the past few years this blog has gained a tiny bit traction. We’re not talking “Digg” numbers or anything, but given that I average a post every few weeks, we do okay. Monthly traffic varies from around 15,000 uniques up to somewhere north of 50,000. (The latter being a bit of an exception.) For a series of essays, that seems pretty reasonable in our minds. Plus, it seems that a lot of readers return to this blog regularly, which we’re grateful for. Overwhelmingly, though, we’re unknown.

This book was a bit of an experiment. Frankly, I’m pretty happy to just know that we were able to put it together—a task that felt pretty daunting at some moments. Additionally, we chose a somewhat different (and likely more harrowing) road by self-publishing it. Yes, we had support from friends and a great editor who lent their hand along the way; nevertheless, we have been forced to learn more about things like ISBN numbers and the book industry in general than we had ever really cared to.

We didn’t have a defined marketing budget for the book; nor do we have the support that a respected publisher can afford. Although you can buy Speak Human online, you won’t find it at a book store unless you ask them to order it in. (At some point in the future I’ll explain our reasons for self-publishing, and share a few of our findings related to this strange process.)

Hypothesis

I’ve noted that this was an experiment. Well, we’re now on “phase two” of that experiment. While the first part was pretty vague and largely involved us trying to write something sensible and useful, this next leg actually puts our observations and beliefs to the test. It seems that a lot of marketing writing is concentrated on what I’d characterize as unreasonable expectations: do this, be outlandish, watch profits roll in. Speak Human proposes that it doesn’t work like that, and that the real success is found by consistently and honestly messaging in an effort to build brand loyalty over the long term.

It often unnerves clients when I state that most marketing is an educated guess. If you really pressed any marketer, though, they’d probably say the same. No matter how much strategy and science is behind marketing, it’s hard to replicate successes, simply due to the number of variables involved. In light of this, there’s an “Outliers”-like element to Speak Human‘s thesis: find your story, stay the course, adapt as necessary, keep working. If you get lucky, great! But, you don’t pin your organization’s hopes on going “viral.”

We’re applying this same thinking to the marketing of Speak Human, and I’ve taken to calling it the “band in a van” approach. We’ve done something we believe in and are proud to have our name on. Now we have to get “out there” by spreading the word with interested folks, and hustling up interest: one gig at a time. No magic, no free rides, no multi-million dollar ad campaigns; just a decent product and a lot of sweat.

My bet is that the book will (at best) see modest sales in the first year. It’s not big on promises or instant results, so folks aren’t going to race to buy it. On the other hand, this also means it’s less likely to be a flash in the pan. There’s a lot of good information in it. As folks see that, we believe they’ll pass it on to friends and we’ll see sales slowly climb.

Methods

Aside from spamming people about the book, we haven’t struck the possibility of anything from our marketing arsenal. Ultimately, we think any approach should be up for grabs. We will, however, concentrate on methods that resonate with our message (doing so wouldn’t be “speaking human,” would it?).

We’re leaning towards more direct and personal (go figure) approaches to get the word out on the book. Part of this involves a videocast in which I share candid and sometimes unflattering examples. Like this one:



(There are more of these on the YouTube Channel.) We’ve also set up a Twitter feed and Facebook page for it, but only because they seem like tools that will help facilitate better discussions. Actually, I make a lot of fun of the “fan” notion on Facebook, but the discussion forums and such are awfully handy, and hard to pass up.

On the notion of those discussion forums, you’ll note that they’re dead, dead, dead right now. That’s part of the fear with this thing. Marketers often talk with glee about setting these things up, as though they’ll instantly result in online discussion and community. I’ve seen first hand how hard it is to get people to commit the time to do this sort of thing. I’m hoping that questions like, “How does your organization speak human?” or “Which company is the least human?” might get some folks to post a thought or two.

We are also using some selective advertising on our sites, and in targeted purchases. Our budget for this is very low. Currently it’s capped at $20/day. (Let’s be real here: one can’t expect much return on a lunch’s worth of daily advertising.) We don’t see advertising as a big part of this; instead, we’re trying to spur real discussion for the book. As little as we may like it; that will simply take some time. On that note, I should also mention that we’re putting a great deal of effort into connecting individually with bloggers, in hopes that they’ll give it a read and make note of the book if they feel so inclined.

Commitment

If you read this blog regularly, you’ll know that I think the web marketing world is filled with charlatans and con-men. For every honest practitioner, there are a hundred others who tossed out a website filled with jargon and are lurking in wait to capitalize on some unsuspecting sucker. Perhaps I say too much on this topic, I just hate hearing from the small business owner who paid exorbitantly for a promise that was simply unrealistic, and never delivered on.

We do this work for a living and have helped a number of folks along the way. Still, I’m quick to point out that each situation is different, and that when it comes to brand building and marketing, there’s always much more to learn. This is one of those experiences, and I want to put some of our own money on the table.

On December 14, 2010 (exactly one year from this date), I’ll post a follow-up to this article. In it, I’ll share the results of our hypothesis: that something can be effectively marketed by creating a useful offering and then concentrating on personal approaches, without need for the traditional “machine.” I think this will work, but honestly, I don’t know how it’s going to pan out. Then of course, I think that’s the fun of it: there’s plenty to be learned, and I’ll share all of the findings, be they positive of embarrassing.

As I make this commitment, I’ll admit that it isn’t without some trepidation. When it’s your cash and reputation at stake, this notion of transparency gains some actual weight. It feels more like being “naked” when you say you’ll put it all out there. I invested nearly a year into just writing this book. If I can’t use the same ideas I’ve espoused to make this book a success, it sort of invalidates any claims I’ve made, doesn’t it? Yup, on the walk to work today, I thought this post was worth skipping. Where’s the fun in that, though?

Want to lend a hand?

If you’ve enjoyed ideasonideas, I ask you to put aside $20 and buy the book. We’ve put a lot of effort into it, and have filled it with as much hard-won (and hopefully useful) information as we could. You’ll probably get something out of it, and even if you’re really well read on the topic, it would make a lovely gift for any entrepreneurs you know.

It would also be nice if you could tell me (and anyone else who’s interested) what you thought about the book. If you’d be so kind, I’d love it if you might write a review on Amazon.com—be it glowing or critical. After this many months of looking at the same concepts, it’s hard to tell which parts work, and which ones are simply tangents.

And, of course, that’s the biggest variable in this whole exercise. If it turns out that the book sucks, all the marketing in the world won’t save it. I’ll let you be the judge of that, though.

Follow @karj to hear about these posts first.

Comments & Trackbacks

  1. Pingback: Tweets that mention ideasonideas - Eric Karjaluoto discusses design, brands and experience » Blog Archive » My Money Where My Mouth Is -- Topsy.com

  2. Mark says:

    I received the book as a gift from my Amazon wishlist.

    As a read of ideasonideas, I'd been well aware of and excited about the book, learned more about the book on Twitter, and responded on Twitter to boost awareness.

    While I don't think the book is groundbreaking, it's provided some thought-provoking inspiration that I've found valuable. I would recommend it (and will do so on Amazon once I finish it).

    I have been tempted to take a red pen to some of the grammar that slipped past editors, though!

  3. Sadly, those errors in grammar never seem to end. With each read new ones popped up. Ugh! At a certain point I just had to let it go, though. :-)

  4. Mark says:

    And look, a grammatical error of my own:

    As a reader of ideasonideas...

    Seriously, I have been enjoying and finding worthwhile insight in the book, and the personal anecdotes do set it apart.

  5. Bryan Rees says:

    Eric:

    I've been reading your blog for quite some time now and was very excited when I saw that you were writing a book.

    Just wanted to say that I'm in the middle of reading the book, and have enjoyed it so far! I think it's a very personal and 'gimmick-free' account of so much that we've lost in recent years.

    Thanks!

  6. That's perfect! We were certainly going for "gimmick-free." I'm glad that came through. :-)

    The personal part of it made the writing easier, but I did wince a little as I put in that bit on page #166.

  7. Haris says:

    Are you going to release PDF version of the book?

  8. I don't think so. We considered it, but it's not really great as a PDF. Something like 37signals' Getting Real seemed like a better fit, given that it was a little shorter. Speak Human would be a painful read on screen.

    Additionally, there's a little greed at work here--well as much as one finds in self-publishing books, which I assure you is a highly profitable endeavor. ;-) We give away a lot on this blog (there's roughly three long books worth of content here). As such, we'd really like to make few dollars from Speak Human. As a PDF, I fear that it would be pirated heavily.

    We have contemplated making it available as an ebook via Amazon and such. It will be a while before we do so, though. That whole arena seems rather cloudy still, and we need to clear up some of the rights issues before we do so.

    Believe me, though, we do see the paradox here: the digital company that only releases a "dead tree" version of their book.

  9. Haris says:

    I really want to read the book but faster shipping options costs $50 on Amazon. :(

  10. Haris says:

    Shipping is more expensive than the book itself. Even the 30 days shipping costs 90% of the book price. :(

  11. Eeep! $50 is certainly a lot for shipping--sorry about that! Heck, it's my book, and even I wouldn't pay $50 to ship it.

    My suggestion is to go with one of their less expensive options. It seems that they're often arriving faster than the anticipated delivery date--at least that's what I'm being told.

    Additionally, you might have better luck through Amazon.co.uk: http://www.amazon.co.uk/Speak-Human-Outmarket-Getting-Personal/dp/0981348203?tag=sm01e-20 or even Barnes & Noble: http://search.barnesandnoble.com/Speak-Human/Eric-Karjaluoto/e/9780981348209/?itm=1&usri=speak+human

  12. Haris says:

    Bought the book!

    "Estimated delivery date for this item: January 13, 2010 - February 3, 2010"

    I hope it's worth the wait. :)

  13. That's a heck of a wait--hopefully it arrives a little early! Thanks for buying it; I do hope you find it useful! :-)

  14. Haris says:

    Barnes and Noble is offering much quicker shipping option for an extra dollar. I am going with them. :)

    Thanks for the alt links.

  15. Jay O'Hare says:

    You were right about pirating of eBooks alright Eric. Just found that 37Signals book in about 2.5 seconds!

    Scary stuff indeed.

    - I will delete it though :0)

  16. Travis Fleck says:

    I was ready to buy the book before the last section in this post. Putting yourself, ideas and business to the test must have been extremely tough and is well worth a little encouragement and support from your avid readers. Not many people are willing to publicly walk the walk. That takes some balls. If the book is anything like this blog, sign me up.

    And done...ordered the book before I finished writing this response.

  17. Nice of you to say so--and also nice of you to buy the book. Thanks Travis!

    I could be wrong, but my feeling is that there's too much marketing writing out there that makes it seem easy, or like there's a single solution that works for everyone.

    My hope is that this book helps to dispel some of that, and remind folks that clarifying their message, consistently spreading it, and taking the time to connect, can pay off.

    The tough part, though, is that even if it's sensible, it probably isn't the sort of story that's likely to sell a gazillion books. People like the idea of easy solutions; I'm of the opinion that looking for such a "magic bullet" leads a number of companies astray.

    Partially, I'm just curious about how this all turns out. We don't really know much about marketing a book. We'll likely learn a great deal along the way. Plus, the possibility of a “semi-public” failure ups the ante a little. ;-)

  18. Nathan Beck says:

    Hi Eric,

    As you know I was highly anticipating the book and ordered it the minute it appeared on amazon.co.uk.

    Although only just over halfway through it's been a fantastic read. Honest, personal and friendly and full of sensible insight that, as you state several times in the book, is largely obvious but rarely considered and acted upon in the real world.

    I inted to finish it in my time off over Christmas and will be more than happy to review it on my blog at http://www.redswish.co.uk and Amazon. It's well worth the money and on top of the great content you write on here I feel it's the least it deserves. You've certainly helped me to understand this crazy industry a little better!

    Thanks, and keep up the good work,

    Nathan

  19. Really nice to hear that! Thanks in advance for the reviews Nathan!

  20. Pingback: Links for Dec. 16, 2009. • Full Disclosure

  21. Garth "South Beach Pen Palooka" says:

    Ok since its Christmas somebody got to be Scrooge, right?

    I'm an off and on reader of your blog. I do like it a lot and I am tempted to buy the book but haven't done so for a number of reasons.

    I am avid reader of these books and I've found many of them are too rah-rah this is how I did it and you can to.

    I like buying books from book store because i get to scan it first to see if I feel like I'm going to get some real info or just more fluff.

    BTW, people might be surprised by how many of the books published by mainstream publishing companies are just schlock full of poop.

    So maybe do like the movie business and set up a pdf for downloading that contains excerpts from the book. (Are you in Google books?)

    This could be linked to an email list building campaign and maybe a bonus chapter or video for the book to make it worth the wait for long shipping times.

    Again I am kinda of taking a chapter from the film industry which offers bonus altenative endings for the movie, bloopers and interviews with the actors when you buy the blockbuster edition of the dvd.

    Also why not force some human contact?
    Something like doing a 'Brick and Order Tour"

    Kind of play off brick and mortar and the conflict with online.

    Here on your book tour you don't sign books and you have books at the store for sale.

    People come to order your book from your laptop in exchange they get to meet you take photos get some free advice.

    This might tie in nicely with your theme of human contact but also gets some books sold.

    Most authors have to buy books store and ship to each location they are going to. Lots of upfront money. This way you can still get some traction without some of the costs.

    Some other ideas along this line could be that if they come to see and buy from your laptop a donation is given to an non-profit that matches well your human contact theme.

    Also instead of lugging books around how about instead book covers?

    These would be special edition book covers that they can only get from you that can replace the regular cover that might come with the book.

    You also sign it as well or instead of the traditional book signing about signing the receipt?

    Since people won't have the book they are merely ordering it from you you can print out their Amazon receipt and sign that!

  22. I like a lot of those ideas Garth--my only criticism is that they may put too much weight on my signature/presence. Frankly, I can't imagine that many people actually care about whether I've signed it. (I could be wrong, though, and that would be nice.)

    As for the preview chapters you've suggested, I'm totally on board with that. You can read the first chapter here: http://www.speakhuman.com/look-inside or you can read the eighth chapter here: http://bit.ly/6czu1j.

    I can't guarantee that you'll love the book, but I can assure you that I've tried to keep it relatively free of the "poop" you mention. :-)

  23. yael miller says:

    I think you're smart and I like what you write (I'm one of your 'regular readers'), but your video in this article was twice as long as it needed to be.

    Regardless, I won't miss the opportunity to read your book and hope to make the purchase in the next few weeks. Are you pursuing any PR approaches? I'm sure you know some heavily-trafficked bloggers who might be cool with mentioning your book. How about John Walker (murketing)?

    I happen to like the cover - it sits comfortably with covers of famous books like 'The Tipping Point' and 'Buying In'. It would attract me on a B&N stores shelf, I'll bet.

  24. Thanks Yael! I think you're probably right about the videos. They're a bit of a work in progress--still working to find my groove. ;-)

    I have been connecting with some bloggers, but I think it will take a while for them to make much mention. Realistically, there's a little lag in between receiving a book and finding the time to read it... and then make note of it.

    Thanks for the kind words about the cover--took us forever to finally say "good enough" on that one.

  25. Hi Eric, I will check out the book, looks like a good read and $20 is hardly going to break the bank, especially considering the effort that went into it.

  26. Nice--thanks!

  27. Pingback: Our Bookmarks: Dec 14 - Dec 20 | Border Crossing Media

Voice Your Opinion

Thoughtful and critical comments are welcomed, and we ask that you use your real name (just seems fair, doesn't it?). Offensive, derogatory, and dim-witted remarks will be removed or result in equally mean-spirited finger-pointing and mockery.

Required

Not published