The Thrill of the Hunt

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It’s that one weekend where my wife and I follow along in the amusing and pointless hiding of plastic spheres filled with candy so our children can run around giggling, laughing, and shouting as they hunt for their ‘treasure’.

Too Well-Hidden

Yes, it’s Easter weekend and culture has deemed this a time for a bunny to place eggs (makes no sense to me) in obscure locations for young children (and I admit, some older children) to go sleuthing in a total safari, big-game hunt. The result?

Approximately 80% of all hidden gems are found with 20% hidden so well, even the person responsible is unable to remember where it was placed.

No doubt it will be found months later when weeds are being pulled or the lawn is being mowed. The last plastic egg, faded by the weeks in the sun, with some candy wrapper remnant inside (the chocolate long-since melted).

Marketing Related?

Even as I watch these excited kids bounding with enthusiasm around the yard I can’t help but think to myself how much this relates to marketing. As a marketer we hide ‘eggs’ all over the backyard of the internet. We carefully tuck them away in the form of well-placed articles, neatly packaged comments, a tweet, or other social media post. All types of little ‘easter egg’ marketing nuggets.

Sometimes we take great care in placing one, and other times we almost casually toss them around and hope they land in a good spot. But we always have a goal in mind. We’re leaving them for someone else to find. Sure, we may leave some out in the open, easy to retrieve, easy to consume. But we also plant some slightly beneath the surface, a reward for those who dig, for those who look a little deeper. Then we watch, and we wait.

We watch as eager, excited customers bounce around from place to place looking for the products they need.

We hope they find the items we’ve left and we hope, just as my kids do when they find a new goodie, they come running towards us to show us what they’ve found. We want our customers, finding the treats we’ve left for them and running to us for more.

Hide them well

I’d encourage you to keep the analogy in mind the next time you’re working on a piece of marketing. Remember the 80/20 rule I jokingly referred to above. It may very well be that 20% of your hard-work is never found or uncovered. Or maybe it will remain hidden, lying in wait for just the right person to come along and find it, days or even weeks later. Be a thoughtful marketer. Take the time to carefully consider your ‘easter eggs’, plant them where your customers will look, but don’t overload them either. If the backyard were to be covered in easter eggs then the game would be no fun. It would become a mundane, almost tedious experience and no kid in the world would enjoy it. The fun is in more than just collecting tidbits, the fun is deeper, the experience, the feeling of accomplishment its as much the journey as it is the reward at the end.

I love marketing, I love the feeling of sharing the excitement with others. The joy which comes from planting the treats, writing the posts, and making the game. All for the hunters out there. Because there’s nothing better than preparing for, and watching others’ enjoy the thrill of the hunt.

WordPress, One Billion Dollars, and You

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The tech news blogs were hot today with stories of Automattic seeking an additional round of investor funding which would place the company valuation at a cool one billion dollars ($1,000,000,000). Let’s look back quickly at a couple reasons why WordPress has proven to be so successful and then how you can apply it to your business.

Automattic is best known as the company behind the popular open source content management system WordPress. Matt Mullenwig, the founder of WordPress and now CTO at Automattic has displayed a very clear vision for how the organization should be run. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not perfect. In fact, I have had several strong disagreements with WordPress decisions through the years, but I can’t argue with their success.

I have enjoyed the opportunity of chatting about WordPress with Matt and picking his brain for his reasons behind some of the decisions they’ve made and I can’t deny it certainly makes sense. I absolutely respect their focused determination to provide an unchanging, stable platform for their users. Matt made the comment once how WordPress “sought to sustain the technical debt so the user would not have to.” I think that’s a valuable insight into some of the core principles WordPress maintains.

Let’s look quickly at some other parts of that philosophy:

Design for the Majority: WordPress has clearly identified their target market. They focus heavily on the “non-technically minded” This is the user base they build software for. Clearly defined, easy to identify, and focused. And it’s important to note they recognize this majority is not represented by the 1% vocal minority. They seek out their target audience by listening to them at events around the globe. One-on-one, in-person, listening; to more than just those loud individuals online.

If you run a business, be sure you know your specific target market. And no, everyone in the world over the age of 12 is not a target market. And listen. Listen to what your majority says, and be cautious to not fall into the trap of listening to only the vocal minority.

Striving for Simplicity: WordPress has several points of their philosophy which deal directly with this notion of simplicity. They don’t add option on top of option, they don’t add everything requested into the core, and they seek to improve each release by becoming easier to user. Does this sound like any other familiar and wildly successful company? If you thought of Apple, you’re right. In their very first marketing brochure ever the headline was:

“Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.”

Sounds similar right? Steve Jobs was obsessed with the idea of simplicity in design and he built Apple around that same core value. It was successful for them. WordPress has wisely positioned themselves to take advantage of the same important rule. 

Remember this when organizing and deciding on your business goals. Don’t add in everything you’re asked for by your customers. Be thoughtful and pay attention to your overall product. Make sure you stay focused on your goals and be ridiculously driven by accomplishing them.

Bill of Rights: The last aspect of the WordPress philosophy focuses on the license and distribution of their software. They believe in Open Source. They’ve determined the values of offering a free product which can be easily shared, changed, distributed, and copied. They believe in the value of community and the importance of sharing with all.

Other open source projects have led the way in this area and proven how successful this can be. Linux, the world’s most widely used server operating system, was built on this same principle. The four freedoms, as they are frequently called, have shown time and again the value of open source and how the world has been improved as a result.

Consider open source when building your business. You may not open source your core technology because you feel you have an advantage but there are plenty of secondary tools you will use or build which you could open source and “give back” to the community. Don’t overlook this opportunity.

I encourage you to read the full philosophy of WordPress. Looking at the list I think there are several elements which have helped them as they have grown as an organization over the years. Then, once you’ve read it – you should seek to apply some of the similar ideas for your own business.

Is WordPress worth one billion dollars? I couldn’t say, but I can tell you this much – the core values they have determinedly followed and maintained through the past decade are a great model to follow and I wish them nothing but success as they seek to fulfill their philosophy. Can you say the same for your business?

If Only I Had

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I have seen the quotes, the tattoos, and the posters shouting “No Regrets!” Unfortunately it’s simply not a reality – at least in my life I’ve not found that to be true. Instead as the title suggests I find myself often thinking, “If only I had…”

I’m going to be perfectly honest. I have and will continue to have regrets. Not because I wish there were things I hadn’t done, but rather regret that they didn’t work. Does that make sense? Yes, I learned from my mistakes and I am very glad to have made them. But that does not mean I am glad they didn’t work they way I wanted. And I regret that. As I look back on those times I will most certainly say If only I had done this or that.

It’s simple really. There are two ways to look at the phrase, If only I had.

1. If only I had done something differently.
That means I attempted something. I tried. I may have failed but I tried. I am looking back on an experience and learning from my failure. There is benefit in questioning your choices and determining if you could have done something better. I like this option.

2. The second option is not so good. If I didn’t attempt an idea.
If I quit before even trying and look back and say, If only I had tried. I consider that a failure. Because I didn’t try. This is the option where I should have been better. I should have tried. I don’t like living with this regret. It says I was too scared to try. I let my fear dictate my actions or the opinions of another keep me from doing what I thought would have worked. Could it still have been an epic failure? Absolutely. But I wouldn’t be wondering what if…

So it’s quite simple to me. I don’t have a problem with saying “If only I had.” I have a problem with not trying. Next time you’re looking back on decisions you made and times you’ve failed I encourage you – it’s ok to analyze and learn from your mistakes. Question yourself. But don’t give up before you start. Don’t regret that you didn’t try.

Understanding Your User

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It’s easy to build a business to meet your needs. You know an industry, a market, or a technology and you want to use that knowledge to build a business. Don’t fall into the trap of designing your marketing plan around yourself.

Not the Man in the Mirror

You are not selling to yourself. Or rather, you shouldn’t be. Instead of talking about your business as if you were talking to someone who understands everything you do – focus on finding your target audience and then understanding what they do or don’t know. Never forget you are the expert. If a user understands everything you do then they most likely don’t need your services.

It’s Easy

Growing your understanding of your audience is easy to do, but it takes time and more importantly it takes thought. Many small businesses fail to understand the importance which should be placed on understanding the user better. You need to stop looking at yourself but focus instead on the ones who need you. Here’s a few ways to help you get started.

Ask Grandma

It’s very easy to find out what other people think or know about you or your business by asking someone from a different age demographic. This is in no way disparaging the elderly. Rather we’re highlighting the differences in life lessons and experiences between generations. Tell an older person what you do and see what questions they have. Be sure to write them down and then figure out how to improve your pitch to answer those questions before they ask them. Ask and then listen. That’s important, you shouldn’t ask them then continue directly on with your own thoughts. You need to ask and then patiently, quietly, listen to what they say. They have different views and different life experiences and if you truly listen you’ll find incredible opportunities for improving yourself.

Play Make-Believe

Most kids play make-believe when growing up. I know my kids do it all the time. I laugh sometimes as I overhear them. They have completely different lives, new names, new ages, new likes and dislikes. And all just for fun in their game. What an absolutely perfect example of what small businesses should do. Pretend to be your own ideal customer. Give yourself a new name, a new age, a new life. Figure out what this “new you” is looking for and then figure out how your business meets a need. It’s a simple concept, for kids it’s simply called make-believe, for adults it goes by another name – personas. I’ll discuss this in depth in a future article. Suffice to say for now, build personas. Play make-believe.

Change it Up

Don’t be afraid to make changes. You can always revert them back if you find they are not working. As you seek to understand your user you need to see what works and what doesn’t. What resonates with them and helps them to understand you and your business. A popular way of doing this involves employing A/B testing (again too much to cover in this post alone). Give your users different experiences. See what works for them and what doesn’t. Learn your users likes and dislikes. As you change it up it’s important that you monitor, report, and improve. Don’t simply make changes for the sake of change. Instead make changes because you believe it will enhance the user experience. You have to monitor the outcomes. You have to be willing to roll things back if they don’t work. But you shouldn’t be afraid to make changes.

Understanding your users should be one of your primary goals as a business owner. Figure out what they want. You’ll find if you take the time to learn your user better you’ll be able to attract the right user. Don’t waste your time selling yourself and your business to someone who is not your ideal customer. Save time, save money, and build the right user-base. All it takes is a little effort, and a few new ideas to start the process of understanding your user.

The Ugly Truth About Open Source

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When using open source software it’s important to recognize the limitations and struggles you’ll encounter. Open source is not equivalent to perfect software. Let’s discuss the ugly truth about open source software.

We all agree the importance open source software has come to play in our world. In fact, as mentioned previously it’s quite the buzz word. But that does not imply perfection. In fact there are many reasons why open source is not perfect and I’ve written previously about 5 ways you’ll fail at open source. I assume you’ve all read that article, have protected yourself against those failures and have pushed boldly on into implementing open source in your company or organization. Congratulations.

Woohoo

If you’re anything like me when I started with open source you’re probably a bit like a kid in a candy store. All the different software products you can now use, and so many of them free and open source ready to be used. It can be overwhelming, and exciting all at the same time. No doubt you’ll start downloading, forking, installing and playing with more than just one. And here’s where the dark side starts to creep in. Here’s the one key takeaway from this entire post:

Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should.

Failure to Integrate is the often neglected side effect of all these open source products. You’ve downloaded and installed 3 or 4 different tools you like. All of them have great features, but now what do you do? Does each user need to login 3 or 4 different times? Does each application have a completely different ‘look and feel’? Your website can quickly become a disjointed mashup of different applications. You’ll find areas that overlap between them as well. Now you have a website where there are multiple ways to perform the same action, but each looks different. Your users will be confused, frustrated, and possibly irritated when trying to complete an action.

Side Note

Now all of you who are programmers or coders know there are ways to solve this. We can easily write a new application using Composer and Packagist to build a single application with the various bits and pieces we want. And yes, that is a great way to build a cohesive full-service solution which takes advantage of all the open source projects without the integration failures. But I’m looking at the site maintainer, the builder, the end-user who is looking at completed projects ready for installation and use.

When organizing your site and exploring the great wide open space of open source technology and products, please exercise self-control, caution, and a bit of discretion. Your goal should be to use open source for your organization’s success and do so effectively. Be sure the end result is a cohesive site which is easy to use, conveys your brand objective and doesn’t leave the user feeling unsure of your mission.

I believe in open source

I completely encourage every business to use open source. The rewards are tremendous. The software available is incredible and the value you can add to your company is huge. Absolutely explore the various offerings. What I find myself most often recommending is setting up a testing server just for the installation of the many different tools you want to try (or just use online demos).

Remember, your staging or production server is not the place where you test software. Once you’ve played around with it, and you decide it’s a tool you want to use on your site – talk to your developer about integration. Find out what it will take to integrate it seamlessly into your existing website. Discuss the areas of overlap and how to handle them. Make a plan. Focus on your end user experience and how to make it a simple, intuitive website. Use open source the right way.

Childlike Bravery

At times I sit and watch my oldest daughter Kate in utter amazement. She boldly attempts things without any fear of failure. I cringe on the inside and think to myself all the millions of ways it could go wrong.

One particular instance comes quickly to my mind. She was only 7 at the time and had been taking violin lessons for only a few weeks. There was a recital in which some of the older and more experienced students would be participating and her instructor asked her to join them and play a few simple songs. Now, obviously Kate, practiced. She practiced hard.

The day came when she was to play and I was convinced she was not far enough along in her lessons to undertake the daunting job of playing publicly in front of a crowd. Especially not on the violin. It truly is an unforgiving instrument (trust me, I’ve heard hours and hours of practice). And yet, to my shame, Kate boldly stepped up to the center of the stage, placed her violin on her should and proceeded to play the two songs she had been practicing. And she did wonderfully well.

Reflecting on that performance now I’m struck with what I would consider childlike bravery. It’s something I think becomes lost as we become older. We lose the ability to place ourselves in uncomfortable or challenging situations. As adults we try to shelter ourselves from potential failure. We convince ourselves that we’re protecting ourselves from embarrassment – and perhaps we are. But at what cost?

If we were to exhibit more of a childlike bravery where we boldly step forward and attempt things without the fear of failure. If we dare to place ourselves outside our comfort zone, challenge the status quo and truly be brave on the stage in front of the crowd…what could we achieve. Perhaps we would fail.

Perhaps we would be met with jeers and scoffing. But possibly, just maybe we would do wonderfully well.

The Other Side

But that’s only half the story. Here’s the other half. As her parent I consider it my duty to protect her. To somehow take it upon myself to keep her from failing as though I’m doing her some favor. It’s a difficult task because I find myself wanting to stop her too often. But that’s not truly protecting her, that’s doing her the greatest disservice imaginable. Taking away her possibility of failure also takes away any chance of success as well. Keeping her from trying also takes away her optimistic bravado. I take away her childlike faith.

Even as adults we should be careful in the advice we give to others. Be mindful to not squash the dreams of someone else in an effort to falsely protect them. Taking away the possibility of failure will also ruin any chance of them realizing success. We should encourage each other to dream and explore and attempt great things. And so I encourage you – be bold. Try something new. Don’t be afraid of failure. Follow your heart and be brave.

The Importance of the User Experience

Below is the slide deck from a presentation given in Atlanta, GA. The animations and movies fail to play, but the basic gist is still relevant.


Bad UX Examples

Good UX Examples

I also referenced the Android UI/UX discussion presented at Google IO. You can watch this UX presentation on Google Developer.

Drawing lines

There exists an age-old dilemma and constant battle which takes place in just about every online discussion: Where to draw the line, call for a cease fire, and end a thread. 

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I’m convinced there is no easy answer. In fact, I’m also convinced the answer varies from one discussion to the next – and from one community to the next. In the world of open source communities (the circle I most frequently travel in) this is an often difficult decision to make. Obviously we want to ensure that everyone has equal opportunity to have their voice and their opinion heard. But clearly we don’t want to encourage bitterness, personal attacks, or hurtful comments either. The job of mediating the discussion should not be the job of a single person but rather should come naturally to those involved in the discussion. Wait a minute – did you read that?

I believe the responsibility for mediation in a discussion falls on the shoulders of the people actively involved in the debate.

Even when discussing very passionately the belief and viewpoint you have – you need to always be in control of your own words. Be careful to not fall into any of the common logical fallacies

Perhaps even more important then not sidetracking a discussion with one of these fallacious arguments is the ability to moderate your own comments to the issue at hand and not turn on a person or emotional plea. I admit this one is hard. Especially when believing strongly about something, but perspective is key. Always keep the relationship in mind. And always keep in mind how the debate appears to other people not involved. 

When discussing a topic in an open and transparent environment, there are sure to be others watching. Not only are they interested in the outcome of the debate but also interested to see how the community handles itself in conflict. 

The hardest line to draw is the line in front of yourself. And then be bold enough to step back from it.

Speaking of drawing lines, I’d like to close with a short humorous video regarding an engineer’s approach to drawing multiple colored perpendicular red lines. 

Unique Presentations

It’s one of the most frequently asked questions I receive when speaking at an event. “Do you reuse your presentations?”

My answer is one I’ve thought about carefully and can answer quickly. No. But I don’t usually leave my answer at that. I like to explain my reasoning why. As I said, it’s a question I have been asked often because it’s certainly the simple thing to do. I travel around the globe speaking in remote parts of the world and many times on the same or very similar topics. Isn’t it smarter to practice, practice, practice the same talk to deliver it with ease and confidence? I’ve decided something different.

Boring Talks.

I believe the problem with this concept is – rather than becoming more prepared, I would tend to become lazy, not thinking or preparing but rather relying on my past deliveries and that it’s an old slide deck I’ve done many times before. And the result would be an uninteresting, boring talk. 

Lessons Learned

This means I must spend the time to prepare for each and every talk. It also means it will take even more of my time because I must, must practice. My high school speech teacher would be proud. He instilled the principles I still use today:

  • Never Write It All Down
    Obviously, it’s important to make an outline, be sure to be clear and concise with your points and make sure you’re coherent. But you should never write your speech out word for word. This makes you attempt to memorize and lose your intensity.
  • Practice and Practice
    Don’t leave it to chance. You should always practice your entire presentation from start to finish. Outloud. You can use a mirror, you can video yourself, but you must vocalize your presentation and practice what you plan to say.
  • Be Self Aware
    You should always know what your body is doing while you speak. Don’t fidget. Keep your hands calm and relaxed. Be aware of any pacing, rocking, or unnecessary body movement.

There are of course many more lessons I’ve learned but I will leave those for another post.

Show Them What They Mean

I believe I am sending a message to the audience when I prepare a presentation just for them. Because it’s more than just a slide deck (as mentioned above), it’s the time, the thought, and more. All these things tell the audience I care about them; they are important to me; and I respect and value the time they are giving to me. It’s a responsibility and an opportunity that shouldn’t be taken lightly or done with a sense of apathy.

Be Real

Most importantly, you can easily be real, and passionate about your message if you follow these steps and prepare fresh presentations for each of your talks. Try it, you may find your next speaking opportunity to be your best ever.