Tag Archives: Marketing

What is communication?

Communication breakdown is not always the same. ✎ By Wayne K. Spear

It is the hardest simple thing you will ever do.

That is why communication failure is at the root of many ills.

And, yet, in our hearts and minds we human beings believe that communication is an ordinary, ever-day act—as natural to us as breathing.

Well, what if your communication strategy has emphysema?

Think about this: homo sapiens is older than words, by many thousands of years. We evolved to communicate without a verbal language.

Emotion, gesture, posture, and facial expression trump verbal communication. We need these so much that in the age of social media we have found ways to interpolate them.

Every face is an open book.

Our communication styles vary. We each have a language of our own. Asperger syndrome is a communication style. The language of poetry is another.

Understand, and be understood. This, in a phrase, is the goal of all communication.

Relationships, marriages, and politics all depend upon effective communication.

Businesses fail when their internal and external communications are shoddy.

The work of managing internal communication is Organizational Development.

The work of managing the effective, bi-directional flow of information is Public Relations.

The work of understanding your audience’s needs and perceptions is Marketing.

Figure 1: the three modes of communication

Figure 1

Do you understand yourself and your communication style? Do you understand the audience? Are you a seller speaking the language of sellers, when you should be speaking the language of buyers? Do you have the right message for the wrong audience, or the wrong message for the right audience?

What does communication mean to you, and to your business?

Mining for your data gold

To give is to receive. ✎ By Wayne K. Spear

CC image “Data storage—old and new” courtesy of Ian on Flickr

Do, Dare.

To the English-speaking reader, it looks like an inspirational slogan.

In Latin, it is a verb. Do, Dare, Dedi, Datus: I give, to give, I have given, I am given.

Data are things given.

We live in a world of data. As you navigate the Internet, you give. You are given.

Do, Dare, Dedi, Datus.

You give yourself away. Your Google searches, your browsing history, your conversations with friends.

User-generated content, marketing, and advertising are converging. You are the copy writer and the content marketing department and the customer.

The ads that you see on Facebook are echoes of your posts. This is called re-marketing.

Too much is given, and yet not enough. Your age, gender, location, and income. Your web history. Your click-throughs and conversions and bounces. Your likes and favorites.

Adaptive marketing seeks to tailor the browsing experience to the individual user. The problem is not lack of data, it is abundance.

The future belongs to the experts—to those who can interpret data. You are the expert on you.

That’s why you must become the snitch and the mole and the collaborator. We are all collaborators in this work of giving ourselves, and others, away.

Collaborative filtering is used by Amazon to recommend books. If you and I both enjoyed reading Y, the fact that I enjoyed reading X suggests you, too, will enjoy reading X.

Once upon a time, your personal details were gold. They were secrets surreptitiously mined. You had to be taken, without your awareness.

Then you learned to give. You became data. There was no more guessing at your inner life, drawing upon hit-and-miss clues like your age and zip code. You knew where your gold was, and you gave it away.

The future is convergence and integration and collaboration. You are the creator of the advertising script woven into your friends feed, the conductor of a private focus group, the expert. You are the giver of all that is gold.

Brother can you spare a two-dollar bill?

Use value versus perceived value. ✎ By Wayne K. Spear

There are about 1.5 billion US $2 bills in the world. A $2 bill is worth $2.

Two-dollar bills are scarce, yet you can get one at any time from a bank.

When most of us get one in a transaction, we put it in a drawer, because we perceive it as valuable. Perception yields scarcity, and scarcity yields perception.

How did 2-dollar bills become scarce?

The answer is use value. When US notes were introduced, in the late 19th Century, you could buy most anything with a dollar. The two-dollar bill lost a use-value battle.

This is why there are no slots in an American cash register for a two-dollar bill.

Because people are creative, they manufacture use value for two-dollar bills. This is called a Spend Tom Campaign.

A two-dollar bill stands out. The person who uses it gets attention. Attention is value.

Tip: give a waitress a two-dollar bill, and she’ll remember you.

In the past, companies have chosen to give their employees $2 bills to draw attention to their economic contribution to the community. Two-dollar bills have been used as a marketing tool by the tourism industry, by sports teams, and by champions of the Second Amendment.

Scarcity and attention. The power of perception. Find something with perceived value that is scarce but readily available, and leverage it as a use value.

A story teller must be tenacious

Pitch, pitch, pitching at Heaven’s door. ✎ By Wayne K. Spear

What’s the story?

An account and a message and a performance and a bond. The most powerful stories communicate values, identity, and purpose.

Pitches, vision statements, business plans, novels, movies, and cultures are made of story.

Stories matter, and so we care for and communicate them.

There are many theories about communication that say a message has to be heard multiple times before it sinks in.

Some say three—others, more.

Thomas Smith’s 1885 book Successful Advertising says 20.

Rarely is it once.

Book browsers are much more likely to buy when they’ve heard of the author, even when they can’t recall what they’ve heard.

When I was in college I had two room mates. One of them (I didn’t know which) had bottles of near-empty shampoo cluttering up the shower.

I decided to send a message.

Each week I bought a bottle of shampoo and put it in the shower. In two months, I had eight bottles of shampoo cluttering the shower.

That’s when my room mates started to get the message.

Here is what the television and film producer Lisa Meeches said to me about her grandfather:

He told me that not everything I thought of would be successful, but to continue trying, and to persevere. He used to use the word tenacious. To be tenacious and to have tenacity as a story teller.

Lisa Meeches
Photo: Lisa Meeches, by Fred Cattroll

Tenacity means to hold on, to retain, to have firmness of purpose.

Know your story, and never compromise its integrity. Be respectful, and don’t beat your audience over the head.

But also be open to finding new ways to tell your story when your message doesn’t get through. Persevere and adapt, without losing site of your values, identity, and purpose.

A story teller must be tenacious.

How the media failed at marketing and made us sick

The Internet did not kill Old Media ✎ By Wayne K. Spear

First, a Venn Diagram.


Proximity is physical distance, Influence is the degree to which something directly affects you, and Control is your ability to do something about it.

At the centre, where the spheres intersect, are far-away events that have little effect on your life and that you have no power to control.

This intersection is the news.

News appears to break the rules of sticky marketing. Since the job of media is to sell eyeballs to advertisers, breaking these rules is a bad idea.

What exactly is it that the media sell?

Before we explore this question, here’s a quotation from Hoover Adams, of the Dunn Daily Record, reproduced in Chip and Dan Heath’s Made to Stick:

I’ll bet that if the Daily Record reprinted the entire Dunn telephone directory tonight, half the people would sit down and check it to be sure their name was included.

I don’t need to explain why the New York Times doesn’t print the Manhattan phone directory, or why the Wall Street Journal doesn’t run stories on happenings around my dining room table.

But if the Wall Street Journal did do this, I’d read with keen and active interest.

Local is a hook. Hooks are sticky—our eyeballs get snagged and we can’t turn away.

The most powerful hook is your name. You can’t not read something that has your name in it.

If tomorrow’s New York Times had the headline “Spear Considers Bold Business Move,” I would buy ten copies.

Come to think of it, reprinting the phone directory is likely a good strategy, in an era when news media struggle merely to survive.

Spending your time focused on things far away, well outside the sphere of your life, that you have no power to control, is the path to mental illness.

At the very least, it’s a recipe for gloom, negativity, cynicism, and resignation.

A healthy person’s Venn diagram intersects at nearness, influence, and control—focused on the people and events that they can influence for the better.

In fact, sticky marketing can be condensed into a kindred formula: you must demonstrate how your product, service, or message solves a painful problem of your audience.

No wonder we loathe a media that is forever bringing us bad news from across the world of things we have no power to change.

Worse yet, the bad news from across the world is emotionally charged.

Emotion is a powerful hook.

In fact, it’s one of the six “hooks” of Made to Stick:

1 – Simple
2 – Unexpected
3 – Concrete
4 – Credible
5 – Emotional
6 – Story

This is the answer to our question What exactly do the media sell?

Powerful, emotional hooks. Outrage, scandal, indignation, horror, pathos, fear.

Lacking the prospect of proximity, nearness, and control, these hooks produce mental fatigue and malaise.

Our logical mind recoils. We ask “why exactly are we reading the news?” We come to the realization that the news, in fact, is best ignored.

Perhaps, then, the Internet did not kill Old Media, or at least not in the way we had thought. Perhaps it was all a marketing failure.

What is a brand?

When a brand is owning the thoughts in someone’s head ✎ By Wayne K. Spear

It’s a big question, but the simplest (and, I hope, not simplistic) answer is that a brand is the experience of a customer in the presence of a product.

Have you noticed those smiling, laughing people in Coca-Cola ads? There’s nothing remarkable about water, CO2, and high-fructose corn syrup. Combined, they produce an unexceptional, sugary drink.

But love, belonging, and joy are remarkable. We crave them. So every Coke ad sells them to us. And it’s the same with everything. Every successful brand in history has sold basic human desires—the stuff we’re hard-wired to need and want.

Affection, approval, acceptance, love, security, hope, sex, beauty.

Then, in the 2000s, we began removing the products.

I’m sure you’ve seen that viral post which started at TechCrunch:

Uber, the world’s largest taxi company, owns no vehicles. Facebook, the world’s most popular media owner, creates no content. Alibaba, the most valuable retailer, has no inventory. And Airbnb, the world’s largest accommodation provider, owns no real estate. Something interesting is happening.

Maybe what’s happening is that brand is now entirely separable from product.

There has always been a degree of separation. The product was never the brand. The experience of the customer in the presence of the product was the brand.

Increasingly, however, the product is someone else’s business.

Here’s an interesting way of looking at it, in a Seth Godin post “Templates for organic and viral growth”:

Invent a connection venue or format, but give up some control

Show it can be done, but don’t insist that it be done precisely the same way you did it

Establish a cultural norm

Get out of the way …

Many of Seth’s examples are not businesses, but his description is nonetheless relevant to the TechCrunch post.

The idea is that every time someone wonders “What happened to that girl in high school?” they’ll think Facebook.

Every time someone thinks “I need a cab,” they’ll think Uber.

Every time someone thinks “I’m going to Australia and I need a place to stay,” they’ll think Airbnb.

None of these companies delivers the product or service. They have, as Seth puts it, got out of the way.

Their brand is ownership of a cultural norm—even of a thought itself, as the examples above suggest.

Imagine if every time someone thought about x [“I wonder what happened to my high-school girlfriend”], it evoked your brand [Facebook]. And then a stranger far away produced and delivered the product [your high-school girlfriend, in this example] under the umbrella of your brand.

Instant connection, all unbeknownst to you. And you get paid.

Invent a way for people to connect, show them it can be done, establish it as a cultural norm, and get out of the way.

Branding, 21st-Century style.

Long live the gatekeepers

Gatekeeping is a Unique Value Proposition ✎ By Wayne K. Spear

Content marketers have a big problem.

Over 95% of website visitors aren’t paying attention. They don’t “engage,” they don’t “convert.”

They land on a web page, and they move on.

Ask any marketing pro. You have, at best, five seconds.

1 … 2 … 3 … 4 …

… and they’re gone.


It was a case of cosmic improbability that they were ever on your website in the first place. There are hundreds of millions of websites in the world. Every day there are many thousands more.

Every Google keyword search is the spinning of a giant roulette wheel. And keyword searches are what’s driving most traffic to most websites.

This is why we have Internet content marketing.

And it’s getting tougher every day for the marketers, as more online content generates more market fragmentation.

But not really. The Internet is, in fact, tiny.


Yes, tiny—because most of the Internet doesn’t matter. The marketing people have confirmed this, over and again.

We skim and then skip over 99% of it. How much of the Internet do you really use?

Maybe one one-hundredth of one percent?

In reality there are a few major “channels” on the Web, just as there were a few major players in the days of Old Media.

We’re not yet finished sorting out who the big players are going to be, but there will be big players.

And so, our topic today is: the common wisdom is all wrong.

There are still gatekeepers. There are going to be gatekeepers. And gatekeepers matter—maybe, in fact, more than ever. Because the gatekeepers simplify, and make sense out of, the tangled information jungle.

This is the textbook definition of marketing—having a unique value proposition.

Gatekeeping is a Unique Value Proposition.

Google is a gatekeeper. It’s not the only one, but it’s one of them. And we love it because it is a gatekeeper.

How do you cut through the noise? How do you identify and connect with an audience? How do establish your brand in a crowded marketplace?

These are marketing questions, and the answer is: become a gatekeeper.

Plus ça change, plus c’est la même.

Why This Writer Sucks at Marketing


HERE AT waynekspear.com, I lift the curtain from time to time to disclose my thoughts on the writing life as they apply to this website. As with any public undertaking, there’s much going on behind the scenes at this word factory of mine. Today I’m considering the marketing of a writer, and how poor I am at – and why I think I continue, as a matter of principle, to be poor at it.

Continue …

Death by Exposure

EARLIER IN THE WEEK, journalist Nate Thayer posted an entry to his website titled “A Day in the Life of a Freelance Journalist — 2013.” Now, this is not any old journalist we’re talking about. Nate Thayer has written for dozens of highly regarded publications. He’s won meaningful and serious awards for his investigative journalism. The man interviewed Pol Pot.

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