Six Pixels of Separation - The Blog
July 21, 2018 5:16 AM

Six Links Worthy Of Your Attention #421

Is there one link, story, picture or thought that you saw online this week that you think somebody you know must see?

My friends: Alistair Croll (Solve for InterestingTilt the WindmillHBS, chair of StrataStartupfestPandemonio, and ResolveTO, Author of Lean Analytics and some other books), Hugh McGuire (PressBooks, LibriVox, iambik and co-author of Book: A Futurist's Manifesto) and I decided that every week the three of us are going to share one link for one another (for a total of six links) that each individual feels the other person "must see".

Check out these six links that we're recommending to one another: 

Feel free to share these links and add your picks on TwitterFacebook, in the comments below or wherever you play.

By Mitch Joel


July 20, 2018 8:13 AM

It's Pretty Simple: Make Better Ads

If only it were that simple.

But, it kinda is, right? For over two decades, I have repeated the same mantra: people don't hate advertising. People hate crappy advertising.

Unfortunately, the world is littered with too much bad advertising.

Customers can't see the forrest from the trees.

Is bad advertising the reason we're seeing the rise in subscription and streaming services like Netflix and Apple Music? It may be part of the opportunity that Netlfix and Apple have capitalized on, but it's not the core reason. The core reason is that advertising - for the most part - is created as a group effort. Group brainstorms or voting on creative by group has rarely (maybe never?) delivered anything that wins in the market. And, if we're going to acknowledge that advertising is an art form. And, make no mistake about it, advertising is one of the toughest art forms that we have in the world, if you think about it. The role of advertising is to interrupt a consumer's experience and plant something on them that is both memorable and makes them want to take (some kind of) action over whatever experience they were engaged with before being interrupted. That's a tough ask. Consumers don't seek out advertising in the same way that they do with other art forms (music, TV show, a podcast, a magazine, etc...). That makes the creation of it an even tougher ask. The history the advertising industry is (sadly) littered with brilliant (but burned out) individuals, because of this unique stress.

It's a tough job, but it's a satisfying one (when done well).

On the other side of this advertising paradox, are these publishers. Think about it. Over the past few years we've seen the music industry suing their listeners (Napster much?). We've seen the newspapers suing the ad blockers. We've seen ad blockers allow brands to get their ads through (but only if they pay the blockers). We've seen Facebook throttle the content of brands, even though their consumers have "liked" (and/or agreed to get) this content... and it just keeps going on and on.

So, what exactly is going on? 

If the better brand publishing experience is less ads. If brands are being pushed to create more content and less ads. If publishers want more native advertising. If subscription services are running ad free. If all of this (and more) is happening... and it is... what's a brand to do? Don't kid yourself, being great at content marketing is a tough, long-term strategy that takes a myriad of talent skill groups and a lot of money to make effective. One YouTube video does not offset a strong advertising campaign, in terms of effect. Some might argue (my hand's raised here), that getting together a great YouTube channel that resonates and builds an audience is a multiple tougher than pulling together a great ad campaign. Yet agencies, publishers and even brand leaders are pushing for this.

So, what choice does your brand have?

Make better ads. Make the best ads. Build the most creative teams to get the best insights, and push that creativity for all that it's worth. Don't annoy. Don't interrupt. Be strategic. Be in the right spaces for the right audiences (technology has certainly delivered on that promise). BUT... and here's the big BUT... don't blow it with junky creative that is me too, derivative, uninspiring and unoriginal. It will only drive to one result: underperformance (and being totally ignored). We beg our teams to do great work. We beg our C-level suite to lead us to incredible new heights. We beg our agency partners to bring the best insights and innovations. Why do we still (and continually) settle for bad ads?

Make better ads. They will work. They will be enjoyed by consumers. You consumers will want more. You got this.

By Mitch Joel


July 18, 201811:20 PM

The New Retail Economy

Retail is in more trouble than they care to admit.

This will come as no surprise to you, but it's way easier to buy stuff online than go to a physical store. Nothing revolutionary there... or is there some innovation that retailers are missing? Just this week, I was reminded of how far the arena of shopping has changed.

Instance #1: I've rekindled (pardon the pun) my passion for my Kindle device. I used to read books exclusively on my iPhone using the Kindle app. I've shifted back to using the physical Kindle Paperwhite. And, because it's summer and all, I'm reading like a fiend. My Kindle needed a case. I happened to be strolling through the local mall one day, and none of the stores had anything. I found myself in the downtown area later that same week. Same challenge. Nada. On Amazon? A million different choices. One, which was not a Amazon "official" had the magnetic latch (so it opens and closes without needing to hit the power button) and was able to turn into a stand (which makes for great reading while chomping on my morning oats). Fifteen bucks and it showed up in less than 24 hours (thanks, Amazon Prime).

Instance #2: I fly. A lot. I found myself needing a strange contraption/adapter for my my iPhone X. Because there is no headphone jack (it's lightning bolt only) and because on certain airlines you're not allowed to use Bluetooth headphones (what's up with that?!?!), I wanted an adapter that would enable me to listen to my music with a wired lighting bolt jack and - at the same time - allow me to charge the iPhone. These adapters are plentiful for those with the traditional wired headphones, but for those with lightning bolt only? Not so much. If you're confused, here's what I am talking about. Same scenario as above. Same mall. Same downtown core. No retailers carried anything remotely close to it. Under fifteen bucks and it also showed up in less than 24 hours.

Retailers can't beat Amazon.

That would be the obvious message. It's not. Retailers may not be able to beat Amazon, but to be clueless about these products or pretend like they don't even exist, is what creates the most friction. It's hard (very, very hard) to have a fully-engaged and knowledgable staff. We all need more empathy for these retailers. Still, instead of "that doesn't exist"... "I've never heard of it"... and on and on... why don't retailers train their staff to say these seven simple words: "let me look that up for you!"

Engagement is better than disappointment.

This is a moment of power at the retail level. Imagine if the retailer said, "I can get it for you. It will be $15 and I'll have it here tomorrow." Even if all the retailer is doing is buying it on Amazon and reselling it to the customer (and, even if the customer knows that the retailer is doing that), what's wrong with that experience? Sure, it's easier for the consumer to do it on their own, at that point. But the effort is what counts. The effort creates an engagement. That engagement furthers the brand experience. The brand experience goes from "this retailer doesn't get it" to "at least they did everything in their power to make me a customer." There's a brand chasm that exists between those two retail experiences (whether it ends in a sale or not). So, Amazon can be the enemy of retail or it can be used as a tool to keep the retailer's staff more informed... more engaged... and out in front.

Amazon solves all retail problems.

This is a major problem for retailers. Still, retailers can make this work. A few months back, I was in the market for a backgammon set. It became a mini-adventure of checking out game, hobby, toy and gift shops in the area. Nobody had what we were looking for. Amazon had multiple choices. I would prefer to support to local merchants, but they were unwilling to help me solve the problem. This pushed me to Amazon. Of course, every shopping scenario is different and some people prefer the personal touch to one-click shopping, while others prefer the speed and comfort of online over the parking lots and lines at the cash register. This isn't a one size fits all solution. It's more about the mindset of retailers. You can be mad at what Amazon has done to fundamentally change consumer's buying behaviours or you can empower your staff to embrace it, use it for knowledge, offer it as a service and augment your retail experience.

Sometimes using the competition is the best way to discover better innovations for yourself and keep the customers flowing in.

By Mitch Joel


July 16, 2018 8:32 AM

The Most Important Questions About Your Brand

"The Scientific Revolution has not been a revolution of knowledge. It has been above all a revolution of ignorance. The great discovery that launched the Scientific Revolution was the discovery that humans do not know the answers to their most important questions." - Sapiens - A Brief History of Humankind by Yuval Noah Harari.

It's true, isn't it? It's like science suddenly screeched up on to the sidewalk and dumped knowledge all over our front lawn like some scene out of Goodfellas with a rat squealer rolled up into a old carpet. But that's not the case, is it? And, in this case, science is much like business... but nobody wants to act this way. We should. People in business (especially executives) want us to believe that they have all the answers and have BTDT (been there/done that). 

If it's good enough for science, it should be good enough for brands?

Let's come at business problems with more ignorance, shall we? We don't have all of the answers. Technology does not answer all (or any) of the real questions. If both of those statements were not true, every act of marketing that brands put into the marketplace would perform beyond our wildest expectations. So, let's paraphrase that excellent line above from the book Sapiens, and turn it into our brand mantra:

"To revolutionize our brands, we must accept that we are ignorant. Our greatest discovery is that we don't know the answers to the most important questions." Great... now what?

Now comes the hard work. Like science, it becomes a process of questions... testing them vigorously and realizing that what seems like a solid hypothesis might be easily debunked next week, next month, next quarter, next year, next decade... or maybe hundreds of years later. In the early days of advertising, it became clear that if you make something sound much better than it is (... lie about it...), the sale is done, and who cares what comes post sale? That worked (but not for long). The era of television advertising brought with it the science of mass reach and repetition. It became clear that the louder your brand is, and the more times you can get that message in front of a potential consumer, the better your sales would be. That worked (and it worked for a long time). Today, that model may still work for some, but it won't for many.

What does this means for your brand today? 

Two choices:

  1. Do what everyone else is doing.
  2. Ask the important questions. Admit that you don't know the answers. Experiment until you hit on something that works.

The second choice is the hard one.

If your brand is feeling stuck, it's easy to just advertise your way out of the problem, without realizing that you're probably just creating more problems. We do this because we fallback on our knowledge and experience. We do this because we're afraid to admit our own ignorance (especially if there's a team that we're leading). We do this because we don't want to admit that we don't have the answers to our most important questions. Success comes from finding the answers to these questions. Success comes from trying to figure out what - exactly - the most important questions are. Here's a promise: when you uncover these most important questions, I'll bet that your current slew of tactics don't really answer the call. At all.

You know what you have to do. Forget your knowledge. Embrace your ignorance. Dig for those most important questions. We've all got your back.  

By Mitch Joel


July 15, 2018 8:35 AM

The Domain Name Game With Bill Sweetman - This Week's Six Pixels of Separation Podcast

Episode #627 of Six Pixels of Separation is now live and ready for you to listen to.

A strong brand and corporate name is critical to demonstrating your uniqueness in the marketplace. The competitive forces are at play. Many people believe that all of the good names are already taken. The problem, of course, is that even if you can secure a strong and original brand identity, getting the right domain name can be costly, time consuming and extremely frustrating. Thankfully, there are smart people like Bill Sweetman who love the domain game. I've been fortunate to know Bill for over a decade. He's a former digital agency professional (who was in the space almost twenty years ago), before switching to his true passion: domain names. His company is called, Name Ninja. He is focused solely on helping individuals and brands get the domain names that are best for them. He is a very successful and respected domain name industry business leader with extensive experience in the domain aftermarket (or secondary market) of premium domain names, including domain pricing, distribution, and sales. A self-confessed domain name fanatic, Bill registered his very first domain in 1994 (which he later sold) and has been perfecting his "Domain Karate" moves ever since. If you've ever wondered how the domain business has become so wild and hard to navigate, you do not want to miss this. Enjoy the conversation...

You can grab the latest episode of Six Pixels of Separation here (or feel free to subscribe via iTunes): Six Pixels of Separation #627.

By Mitch Joel


July 14, 2018 5:36 AM

Six Links Worthy Of Your Attention #420

Is there one link, story, picture or thought that you saw online this week that you think somebody you know must see? My friends: Alistair Croll (Solve for Interesting, Tilt the Windmill, HBS, chair of Strata, Startupfest, Pandemonio, and ResolveTO, Author of Lean Analytics and some other books), Hugh McGuire (PressBooks,... Read more

By Mitch Joel


July 13, 2018 6:32 AM

Business Growth And A Better Mindset For Success

How do you define "success" in the work that you do? Better still, how does your business truly define success? Of course, money, profit and margins are huge barometers, but what about success from an attitudinal standpoint? I recently finished... Read more

By Mitch Joel


July 11, 2018 7:15 AM

The Future Never Comes When You Can't Nail The Present

It's all about the basics. You know this. Your business knows this. To build a brand... you must know this. But the present is often harder to nail down than the future.  Case in two points... Case One: One of the... Read more

By Mitch Joel


July 9, 2018 7:53 AM

The One Thing About Content That Nobody Really Talks About

Does your content move? I could not be more excited that Jerry Seinfeld is back with a new season of Comedians In Cars Getting Coffee. Some people like sausage. Some people like knowing how the sausage gets made. If "sausage"... Read more

By Mitch Joel


July 8, 2018 8:19 AM

Daniel Pink Puts The Science Into Timing - This Week's Six Pixels Of Separation Podcast

Episode #626 of Six Pixels of Separation is now live and ready for you to listen to. It's hard not to be a fan of the work that Daniel Pink does. He is the author of six provocative books (Free... Read more

By Mitch Joel