Start Up Blog

The single truth about viral activity – It’s just scenery

Posted in entrepreneurship by Steve Sammartino on June 20, 2014

The internet is an infinite ever expanding place. We all live inside of it, move around it and want our share of attention and activity from it. The ultimate thing we all seem to want (even if secretly) is to get everyone to pay attention to our blog post, video, social feed, pithy statement of insight and all other forms of digital output. That’s the promise of something going viral. Because if we get that attention, if everyone catches on and shares our work, we’ll be on the path the greatness. We’ll have broken through the masses and be able to leverage the focus on us. Turn attention into a relationship. That’s the promise of being shared on the Verge or Buzzfeed or Viral Nova. But here’s the truth about that piece of viral marketing. It doesn’t work, it rarely has impact and is a fleeting moment, a shooting star, a moment from which the utility is the moment itself. It expires quickly.

What we need to imagine is this. The internet is a giant beach. We are all grains of sand on that beach. Some of us try to be more than a single, undifferentiated grain of sand. We agglomerate, co-ordinate and try and turn ourselves into something worth noticing. Maybe we become a beautiful sea shell. Beautiful enough for the the people walking along that beach to stop and take notice. They might see us, pick us up and inspect the sea shell. Comment on the sheer beauty, show their friend who they happen to be walking along the beach with. We get passed around, and we become the moment. They might even take the sea shell – save it – put it in the pocket and take it home, because it’s valuable – add it to their ‘favourites’. But what we must really understand is that they will keep on walking. The passer by is not there for us. Even if they are walking along the beach (the internet) to see and find interesting things, we can only ever be one of those things that makes their journey interesting. They continue on with whatever it is they are doing and onto their destination.

sea shell

Viral activity, in real terms is just scenery. And I should know. I’ve had a number of blog posts with more than 100,000 views. I’ve had 2 videos with millions of views. And I’ve been featured on all those websites mentioned at the the start of this blog post. And the over riding lesson is that people get on with their lives. Viral marketing is only effective when there is a formula for repeated impact – a business model around it, which is not easy to do. If we want the impact that we falsely believe viral marketing can create, then we’d be better off focusing on utility and frequency. That is creating something which has utility for the people beyond the moment. Utility which is worth coming back for again and again. And what that takes isn’t luck, it’s more about hard work serving others over long periods of time.

 

How to lose a customer

Posted in entrepreneurship by Steve Sammartino on January 20, 2014

I’ve been using a certain weather app on my phone for some time. It is called Pocket Weather AU – Lite. It is the free version. A few times when I have clicked in to check the weather, it has given me this pop up screen below:

Pocket Weather

This time in good faith, I thought I’d click through and see what the offer was. To my disappointment, it was a simple ‘buy our paid version‘ of the app. No benefit, no exclusivity, nothing had been unlocked, no reason, no thanks for using. Just their way of asking me to upgrade. Now if you ask me there cannot be a more insulting way to incentivise a customer to upgrade. Tell them they are a cheapskate, pretend to offer something better, and then give them nothing for using the service for a few years.

Here’s what I did. I deleted their app – got another equally good free weather app, and wrote this blog entry about what I think might not be the best way to engage an audience your doing business with. Some things these guys might want to consider:

  1. If you don’t want your app to be free, then make it a paid version.
  2. Insulting people is not a very effective way to get them to upgrade financially to a software or web service.
  3. Making promises of exclusivity and non existent benefits is generally not a good idea.
  4. Understand the economics of excess supply. There are a zillion other free weather apps and my cost of moving to another service is close to zero.
  5. But mostly respect people, and maybe make them some kind of offer or reward for loyalty if employing a fermium business model.

I prefer to be positive in life, and have not even enjoyed writing this entry. Maybe that’s the over riding lesson. Don’t lie, treat people with respect and  positivity and they just might give you more money.

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Derivative Success

Posted in entrepreneurship by Steve Sammartino on January 12, 2014

While success is a relative term, there is a simple way to know if we’ve built something we can regard as a huge macro success. And that is when others are claiming derivative success within the platform we have created.

Examples could include:

  • A top downloaded iPhone app
  • X million views for a Youtube video
  • A featured post about your project on Boing Boing
  • Being person X on platform Y

Once someone can be regarded a success because they have used what we’ve built well, that’s when we know we’ve really changed the world.

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Short media memory & piracy

Posted in entrepreneurship by Steve Sammartino on January 11, 2014

Kim Dotcom sent out a tweet a couple of days ago on how to stop digital piracy. It was the most succinct realistic view of the digital market place I’ve read. While the stop part might be an overstatement, it would certainly minimise it. I’ve taken his points and listed them below:

How to stop piracy:

  1. Create great stuff
  2. Make it easy to buy
  3. Works on any device
  4. Same day global release
  5. Fair price

The last four on this list really speak volumes. But the thing which is really standing out to me on this list, is that most media companies seem to have forgotten the reasons why they did things a certain way prior to the digital era. Most of their decisions were based on what was possible. The limitations on selling their goods were physical realities. Although these physical realities no longer exist, they seem to have forgotten why they did things a certain way. That way was the only way. The stability of the media system pre-web seems to have distorted their minds to the point that they forget the ‘why’. I’m going to reference the recorded music business to show how their rigidity has failed them. In fact the digital world is actually what they always wanted, and that piracy is not the problem, but the industry’s poor memory.

Make it easy to buy: In a digital age, the best advice anyone can give, is to sell it in as many places as possible. This is always the case for any mass market product. Rewind back to the pre digital music industry and you’ll remember that record companies would sell their records in any store that would stock it. Kmart, Target, Walmart, the local independent record shop. So long as it was out there they were happy. Sales representatives were judged on the number of distribution points they got their stock into. But for some reason they seem to have forgotten this fact. They now decide to hold back on potential distribution points for no apparent reason. The early iTunes revolt being the easiest example we can all remember. Totally counter to what they did before the format changed. So why the music industry don’t embrace this and make it ‘easy to buy’ is beyond me.

Works on any device: It used to be really hard for the music industry to do this before digital. They had to invest in manufacturing for vinyl records, then cassette tapes, then beta, then VHS, then CD…. but they did it and moved quickly to have their content available in all formats. So why the change of heart now? Why don’t they move as quickly as they used to? This is especially strange given that they no longer have to make physical stuff to make their content available on any device. Or even worse, when it’s already loaded up onto a content platform and they restrict usage depending on the device you a re retrieving it from. Vevo on youtube is the classic example. If a song won’t play on my mobile via Vevo, I’ll just listen to a another song. No revenue for you! It’s much easier to do now than it was then.

Same day global release: If you can, then you should. Simple. Here’s the thing the recording industry has forgotten about their pre digital staggered global release programs. Every new market (country) they entered had extra associated costs with it. They used to have to make more stock (records, CDs) to sell. Pay to get their content promoted on TV and radio. (Now we’e all immediately aware of of any big music launch once it happens) They had to change the formats to suit particular markets. They had to ship records on boats for 4+ weeks across oceans. They wanted to be sure the record would be a hit before they invested all the money into wider market expansion. They had reasons to delay global release plans. Reasons largely around stock, promotions, production and mitigating financial risk. None of these reasons exist today.

Fair price: When people get a raw deal, they find an alternative. They even cheat. People know the costs of content distribution are minuscule compared to the pre-digital era. This ought be recognised more than it has been in many digital channels. I truly believe most people will pay a fair price. And in the words ‘fair price’ I would like to add the idea of purchase without friction. Simple ways for us to give you our money so we can get on with enjoying the content. Not a million hoops to jump through. I’d go as far as saying that most people want to pay those who bring them joy with their output. In a world of zero cost digital duplication, then fair pricing  would mean taking out 100% of the now removed physical production costs.

Once we get over the fact that anything which is both digital and good will be pirated by some people, then we can get on with business and just know it’s a fact of life. A cost of doing business. We shouldn’t let it paralyse us into avoiding new methods.

The laws of nature tell us much about piracy or lost revenue. If we don’t distribute the output it goes bad. Stored water which isn’t sent out via distribution channels evaporates, natures form of piracy. The longer we wait, the more we lose.  We can add to this the frustration distributors have with non global release plans.  So much so that distributors are becoming makers (Netflix) because they can’t get what they need.  The end result is a great demarcation with all things digital. If we can’t get it, we’ll make it ourselves or source it elsewhere. The best approach would be to embrace the reality omnipresence and immediacy. 

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Seinfeld Today = Digital Training

Posted in entrepreneurship by Steve Sammartino on May 14, 2013

I’m totally in love with Modern Seinfeld on Twitter (@seinfeldtoday). Each day I tune into the stream hoping for some more tweets which serve up 140 more characters of Seinfeld goodness. For the uninitiated, Modern Seinfeld is an ‘unofficial’ tweet stream in which each tweet is the synopsis for a fictional modern day Seinfeld episode. It really is the stuff of genius.

Seinfeld Today - on Twitter

But it has another possibly unintended benefit. It’s also a short cut to an understanding of the world we live in. For anyone who has been asleep for the past 15 years, and missed out on the revolution, then all they need to do is tune into this twitter feed. 397 tweet reads later and they’ll be all over digital pop culture. Check out these doozies below as examples:

Screen shot 2013-05-13 at 5.52.54 PMScreen shot 2013-05-13 at 5.53.56 PMScreen shot 2013-05-13 at 5.54.47 PM

The other cool thing, is that the real Jerry hasn’t done anything ridiculous like asking them to take it down due to copyright infringement. Which is exactly what we’d expect from many old world media owners.

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Retail Apathy: Target

Posted in entrepreneurship by Steve Sammartino on May 13, 2013

On the weekend I went into a Target store to purchase an Esky for a pitch presentation I was doing where the reference was brands becoming generic terms for a product. Rather than walk around a giant retail floor, I thought I’d ask a staff member where I might be able to find one. I approached a staff member and asked. He was friendly and attentive. He almost cared and he said:

“To be honest, that is a seasonal line. I know we have them in summer, but I’m pretty sure we don’t carry any stock in winter. But, to be sure let me check.”

He then reached for his internal walkie talky and spoke with a colleague.

“Yeh, like I said we don’t have them this time of year. Sorry man, maybe try Bunnings.”

So while he was civil, approachable and nice he didn’t solve my problem. He didn’t even offer to to walk to me to where these items would be on the shelf during the warm season. (He was very busy fixing a shelf) He suggested I go to a competitor, which can be a valid customer service response, but certainly was not on this occasion and here is why:

I didn’t believe what he told me. In my 40 years I’ve been in enough department stores and discount retailers to know I’ve seen them ‘out of season’. I know enough about how poor Australian retailers are at selling excess stock to think there might just be a few left overs. I’ve also had enough retail staff give me false information over the years to test my intuition and have a look around for myself. So I did that and below is a picture of what I found. A wall of Esky type chillers.

Esky

And they got my sale, despite their retail apathy.

But it’s a pretty bad situation when the customers know more about a retail store than the people who work there. It got me thinking about how many times this must happen through the entire store. How many customers are sent away, told an item is not in stock, or don’t even know what product the customer is asking for? Multiply this by 305 retail stores, 10,000 items in store and thousands of uninformed, uninspired staff and it is hard to see this type of retailer competing with on-line options. How can a staff member even know what’s in store as well as a search engine can on line? They simply cannot.

For retailer to survive the transition to online the first step is for them to realise that it’s actually not about product and price point. It’s primary about the experience and how much the people that serve customers actually care. Both of which are deliberate strategies that are not born at store level.

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Worlds colliding

Posted in entrepreneurship by Steve Sammartino on April 15, 2013

In 2013 I think we can all agree that there is no digital. There is only life. We all now move seamlessly between our digital and analogue selves. The transition is unnoticeable and omnipresent. It’s a surprise that most marketers and even some tech startups fail to realize this.

Key hint: If you have an on-line strategy something is wrong. The strategy is the strategy.

The increasing number of layers and channels is just another example of our world increasing in complexity and contextual differentiators. Something that will only continue on its current trajectory. And it is not just about retailers getting their digi-on. It’s also about those who live on line understanding how they can enter the physically world – it’s still where we humans live!

The advertisement below inspired this post. A  great example of a few hallmarks in advertising:

  • Humour when relevant
  • Customer centric strategy
  • Real world integration

Sadly most Australian retailers are still yet to realise we operate in a new world.

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A 2 way revolution

Posted in entrepreneurship by Steve Sammartino on February 21, 2013

Industrial and bricks and mortar businesses are overcome by their need to ‘get on line’. Guess what? Digital and startup businesses need to ‘get off line’. It turns out that this revolution is a two way street. The new eco system is wide, and we ignore either side at our peril.

Here’s a fun example of the digital getting physical:

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There is no digital

Posted in entrepreneurship by Steve Sammartino on January 16, 2013

While it is clear that the birth of the omnipresent web has changed our business infrastructure, it’s not clear that most people understand the truth about digital as it pertains to business, brand or startup strategy. Here’s a simple phrase to help remind us:

There is no digital.

There is only ‘life’. We seamlessly move between a variety of technologies in our day. As we have done since the beginning of time with all forms of technology. We don’t have a digital life and an analogue life as much as we don’t have a sitting on a chair life or a sitting on the floor life. A chair is just a piece of technology like the latest shinny thing in our pockets is. And it’s about time we started recognizing that a digital strategy is a flawed one by definition. All that exists is a strategy that makes sense – one which is technology agnostic. One that achieves objectives by considering all of the methods and tools at our disposal.

The days of digital strategy are over. Anyone who doesn’t get digital, doesn’t get strategy. We need start to think again in terms of utility for the audience – it’s only when we focus on their needs that we can ever hope to be a solution in their day.

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Aziz Ansari – another digital direct disciple

Posted in entrepreneurship by Steve Sammartino on September 27, 2012

After the blog post from yesterday I happened upon a Cool Hunting interview with young comedy powerhouse Aziz Ansari. His approach has also been one of going direct to fans and paying attention to the changes in the digital landscape. His interview below has some cool insights, and a few laughs to boot. Oh, by the way, the Youtube channel from Cool Hunting is worth following as well.

What other entrepreneurial examples of web first & direct are you guys seeing?

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