“Private” LinkedIn Profile Frustration

Dear LinkedIn User,

Why, WHY would you mark your profile as “private”? This is equivalent to spending the time and money to put an ad on a billboard, and then throwing a large opaque sheet over to whole thing! Further, why, WHY would you take the time and effort to register as a user, and then leave out any information about your company, position, work experience,  specialties and other pertinent information? Again, you wouldn’t spend the time and money to create a billboard ad and then leave off the company name, logo, website and phone number.

LinkedIn is a tool for professionals to promote and discuss professional endeavors. It’s not a place for pictures of kids or parties, discussions about religion or politics, or any other unprofessional topics. Because you’re discussing professional endeavors, it would stand to reason that you would want your customers and colleagues to be able to find you and join the discussion. Unless you’re a high-profile CEO on the level of Bill Gates or the President of the United States, it’s highly unlikely that you’ll be receiving such a high volume of inquiries and connection requests that you won’t want to accept them. Further, if you know a professional and regard them with esteem, why wouldn’t you accept their request to connect? It’s said that you are often known by the company you keep. With the internet making the world a smaller place, wouldn’t you want to show that you keep company with intelligent, hard-working people? Making more connections on LinkedIn allows you to keep a finger on the pulse of your peers and industry leaders, helps you find qualified, job-seeking professionals, allows you to expand your opportunities for business and professional growth.

There’s nothing more frustrating than finding a colleague online, only to discover that they’ve made it nearly impossible to connect. A sparse profile with extreme privacy settings is useless, so take the time to fill out the information and find some people to connect with. We’re beyond the Yellow Pages, but the concept is the same: don’t place an ad where people can’t see it, won’t see it, or don’t care to see it… you’ll never improve your standing!

Thank You,

A Fellow LinkedIn User

QuakeCon Marketing Genius

I dropped into QuakeCon 2010 last week, and was amazed at the marketing genius displayed by the gaming industry. My husband used to attend the mega-LAN party annually in high school and college, and I would visit and take in the vendor booths and case modifications. However, those past years had nothing on what I saw this past weekend! The conference took over several ballrooms, with one entirely dedicated to industry booths that housed game consoles, advertised a new gamer-friendly mouse, show-cased cars, and had platforms with announcers tossing free swag into the air every 5 minutes. In the adjacent room, thousands of computers and gamers occupied a darkened BYOC (Bring Your Own Computer). So why the Marketing genius? Let’s take a look:

In the middle of their target market. If you could bring thousands of your target market together and give them the opportunity to try your latest products, wouldn’t you? These conferences are sponsored by big names in the gaming industry, providing a free experience to thousands of their customers. They use their booths outfitted with the latest game consoles and software to whet their customers’ appetites for the next best thing. Better still, they give customers the opportunity to order new products on the spot with a conference discount included.  They have achieved the illusive “opt-in” from their customers, allowing them to bombard their target market with welcomed ads and messaging. How often do you get customers EXCITED to see your sales pitch? It’s a marketer’s dream!

Reaching tomorrow’s market. QuakeCon has moved beyond just hard-core gamers, attracting the mainstream population with the promise of freebies, cool graphics, and interesting computers. I saw lots of families walking around the conference, with parents toting their 2 year old kids around the booths. Talk about fostering relationships with your next generation of customers! These kids are seeing your product and company message with parent approval from a young age, prompting them to start wanting your product much earlier. We didn’t get into video games until well into elementary school, but the digital age has brought toddlers into the market. While the toddlers may be a little young for your product right now, you can bet that the early exposure will turn them into buyers in the near future.

Group Think Rules. When you amass 3,000 members of your target market, give them the latest industry toys, and tell them to have fun for the next 3 days, group think abounds. Members see the best graphics, the coolest cases, the sharpest monitors… and they want more! These sponsors have brought in some of the best gamers in the world to demo their latest products, and their target audience shifts focus as a whole unit. When they see their idols using sponsors’ products in person, the excitement for the sponsor grows. Couple this excitement with the ease of communication via Twitter, Facebook and gaming forums, and you’ve got droves of customers thinking that you’ve got the best product out there. How often can you get a substantial portion of your target market to agree that you’re awesome? How often can you get them to run to all their friends and tell them to come NOW to buy your product? Again, a marketer’s dream!

While I’m not a gamer, I can appreciate the QuakeCon experience. Moreover, I can commend the organizers on a well-executed event that continues to offer companies a prime outlet to connect with their customers.

The Cowboys Experience

I was privileged to attend a pre-season Cowboys game in the new stadium last night… AND watch from an event-level suite with reserved parking. It was a treat to say the least, but as a non-football fan, I spent most of my time watching the people behind the scenes and pondering the many facets of marketing and business at the game. Football fan or not, you can’t help but enjoy the experience.  So let’s recap some of the most prominent features of the evening!

First, private suite and reserved parking are a HUGE revenue stream for the stadium, as patrons sign 10 year deals to the tune of several hundred-thousand dollars per year, yielding a couple million bucks for the life the deal. Not too shabby straight out of the gates. Event-level suites come equipped with a personal attendant, theater viewing seats about 30 ft. from the end zone, 3 flat-screen TVs, and a fridge stocked with your choice of beverages and food. The entire suite boasts expensive, high-end items, from logo-bearing bathroom “paper towels” that are more like cloth than paper, to granite counter tops and mahogany cabinets in the mini-kitchen. This particular suite also ranked important enough to warrant having at least 3 account executives or PR people drop by to make sure everything was perfect. It also warranted a visit from several of the Dallas Cowboys cheerleaders for an impromptu photo op, with a free online viewing and printing gallery for the suite attendees. I was also intrigued and dismayed to realize that Pepsi landed the stadium beverage contract, not Coke. I’m a Coke fan all the way, so I was a little frustrated that my favorite soft drink was not available in the suite.

All of these aspects are put together by people in different marketing, sales, customer service, and business disciplines to create a seamless, fun-filled experience. But digging further reveals a pretty complex web of business savvy and creativity. Everything is perfectly choreographed and scheduled, with subtly that most would not notice. When you join the Cowboys team, your life is no longer your own, which leads me to also ponder the corporate culture.  I would love to get a look at the inner-workings of the Dallas Cowboys experience. Here’s a few areas where these business people excelled:

Knowing the customer: The account executive are assigned a small number of suites, so they know the owners by name. We were guests of the owner last night, and the account executive recognized that the person in charge last night was not actually the owner of the suite. She did, however, recognize that person as the person who normally sends her the check for the suite bill. This woman knows all the key players in the organization of the suite owner, and makes sure that every person feels important. She’s on a first-name basis with some of the wealthiest people in the US, and knowing your name is just the beginning of the level of care these people take to find out and meet your needs.

Providing a quality product: Everything in the suite was the best of the best, ensuring that clients feel like they’re getting what they paid for. But it’s not just about the quality of the tangible items, it’s about the overall quality of the experience. If you pay to feel like a VIP, the Cowboys team will treat you like a VIP from the moment you arrive at the parking gate. Private elevators and security personal outside the entrance of the suite help owners feel that their exclusive tickets really ARE exclusive. They want to feel like they’re sitting directly in the action, and with seats right on the field, you can’t get much closer without putting on a helmet. The consistently high-quality product keeps clients coming back for more, by purchasing additional suites and services for future seasons.

Strong branding. As soon as you exit the highway, you start to see signs in Dallas colors with directions to the stadium. The stadium parking signs are numbered in Dallas-blue and adorned with the signature Cowboys star. The suites have logos on everything, and the color schemes match the uniform colors of the players and cheerleaders. The Dallas Cowboys infuse branding to touch every one of your senses; everything you touch, everything you hear, everything you see, reminds you that your experience is being provided by the Dallas Cowboys. You walk away feeling like you’ve made a strong connection with the brand.

I could go on about the cool experience and the complex business savvy of the people who made it all happen, but I think it’s best to encourage you to check out the new stadium if you get the chance. I hear they’re hosting the Super Bowl this year… what a “suite” experience that would be!

“Fancy” Ads

While reading through a trade magazine, I came across a competitor’s ad that read, “We don’t do fancy advertisements because you shouldn’t be expected to pay for the overhead. We have some of the most competitive… rates in the industry.” I thought this was an interesting take on advertisements. A lot of people try to go for the catchiest slogan, flashiest colors, boldest fonts, and generally try to wow you. I think this ad did its job just as well as the “fancy” ads: I took a moment to read it, I’m taking a moment to write about it, and I might be willing to see if they really are passing savings along to their customers. This particular industry is less concerned about frills than they are about functionality and meeting Federal standards, so a no-nonsense approach can be a winner in this arena.

Further, this ad reaches its target audience by speaking in a language they understand, with an offering that they care about. And, after all, isn’t that what ads are supposed to do? As a marketer and scrapbook-enthusiast, I tend to want to make everything “pretty”. But at the end of the day,  I am really aiming to sell a product or service to my target audience. While it’s not my favorite ad, and it certainly won’t win any awards in the ad community, I must concede that this particular ad delivered their message successfully to their core audience.

The Copycat Wars

I’ve recently posted several articles about companies employing a “copycat” strategy, including references to BK vs. McDonald’s, and Starbucks vs. Peet’s Coffee. An article posted by CNN yesterday sparked this post about my thoughts on a trend of “copycat” wars. CNN titled the article “How Bing is out-innovating Google“, and discussed several new features of the Bing search engine. So, if Google continues to dominate the search engine space, why would it appear that they are copying their competition?

The CNN article notes that Bing utilizes categories to display search results, which contributes to its’ mission of being a “decision engine”. A year later, Google started categorizing results in a similar format instead of their traditional blue links down the page. Further, they’ve started to stray from their traditional white background and “Google” logo to more colorful options in both background and logo. They also copied Bing by announcing that they would incorporate Twitter feeds into their results, an announcement that came hours after Bing’s announcement of the same feature. Everyone touts Google as the end-all be-all of the search engine world, but Bing is creeping up slowly and surely.

While offering similar features is often an industry standard, employing the exact same tactics as a competitor can be detrimental. You don’t want to be the last one to jump on the bandwagon, as it tells your customers that you don’t have the latest and greatest at all times. Why use version 1.0 when I can upgrade to version 2.0 with better service?  It also looks a little desperate and lazy to just copy your competitors’ advertising, ideas, and timelines. This type of copycat strategy makes it difficult to distinguish your brand from everyone else in the industry, and you don’t want to be the one that no one remembers. Further, when a company makes a side-by-side comparison, it encourages their customers to make similar comparisons, which is dangerous when you’re the last one to implement a new feature or idea. It also encourages scrutiny of your weaknesses in direct comparison to your competitor, where most companies prefer to offer up their strengths for customers to judge. I’m interested to see if the copycat wars continue, and how many industries are permeated with this type of advertising. I think it’s a dangerous road, especially for the top two players in an industry to stop trying to differentiate themselves. For all the time, money, and effort that goes into a brand and a reputation, I think it’s unwise to let the fate of your company be determined by your competitor.