Saturday, September 26, 2009

The Way of All Things

I wouldn't say I enjoy funerals, even if I did, but I consider them an opportunity. They are an opportunity to reflect, to learn, and to grow.

I've been to quite a few funerals this year, and will probably continue to do so, not just because I have a lot of friends, or because I'm a particular age, but mainly because I belong to several social and community circles.

Funerals are the ultimate reflection of community. They are never pre-scheduled, frequently at inconvenient hours, announced almost exclusively by word of mouth, and the person being honored often can't ensure that certain guests get the invitation. Despite all of this, universally, and miraculously, almost everyone seems to get enough notice and attend the event.

Funeral attendance is a telling reflection of a person's life and social status. The largest funeral I attended was of a woman who was a fairly well-known figure in her community. When her husband passed, a year later, his was a tenth of the size. Clearly, if the order had been reversed, things would have looked quite different. Funerals for the young are always crowded with peers and parents' friends. Once you pass the age of 90, even your younger friends may not be around to see you off.

What I have learned, above all, is that funerals are truly about community. The attendance at your funeral reflects directly the attendance in your life.

If you have lived your life, as most of us do, as an individual, you belong to two main community groups: your family and your work communities. Typically your friends are individuals, or a loosely-connected group.

By nature, we feel alone much of the time, even when we are surrounded by people. Think of yourself at any type of social event. There you are, surrounded by people. Either you have found the group of people you know and will stick to for most of the event, or you are doing your best to make conversation with new people, or debating whether you should go say hi to that person you think you know from somewhere... you get the picture. This is how our lives look most of the time. We are surrounded by people, yet our individual life seems to be flowing in its own solitary direction.

By being active in an organized community, we can ease the feeling of being alone. For me, that community is at my synagogue, Hod v'Hadar, a place where you have the feeling of togetherness. Most of the funerals I go to, in fact, are for members or relations of the people in that community. It's not spoken and not questioned. We simply attend all of one another's life cycle events. I can't think of any other place I've been where the community is so solid and so simple.

To tell the truth, it took me quite a while to accept this. Today, we have very few structures that are permanent in our life, and so few communities that support us unquestioningly. It's astonishing, really. I wonder how much life used to be like that, when we lived in small communities, that we simply had to accept everyone in the community, go to all events, and support one another however we could. It seems the more we have materially, the less we connect.

It's telling that this level of support happens in a framework where there is a specified structure for face-to-face meeting at a minimum of once a week. It's hard to imagine any online community with this kind of commitment. Indeed, it's quite clear to me that even my most intimate online friends are not likely to be in a physical position to attend my funeral. Most of my online friends wouldn't even relate to who my family is, if one of those people should go the way of all things.

In short, there's not a day that goes by that I am not grateful for the real-life community I have in my congregation. As well-connected as I may be, and as many close friends as I may have, there is simply nothing to compare with a community with norms and rituals set up to accept, support and handle the inevitable ebb and flow of life.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

After the Holidays

Those of you who know me personally know that I've been looking for a new job. The company I was working for had to cut back dramatically, you know the story. (Director or VP Marketing, for those of you who are hiring or know of openings.)

If you live in Israel, you also know that the holidays are upon us. They started last week, and they end in mid-October. And everyone knows that last month was August.

While I've been looking for a job, one of the phrases I've heard from people is that "things will pick up after the holidays". Let me be more specific. The people I've heard that most from are job seekers and placement agencies, not companies.

For all of you "After the Holidays" people, I have to wonder, is that how you run your business? Or your life? Just to put that in tangible terms, if you are an "After the Holidays" type, this is how your calendar year looks, if you live in my country:
  • January (minus the first week, rest of the world still on holiday)
  • February
  • March
  • After the holidays
  • May
  • June
  • After August
  • After the holidays
  • November
  • After the holidays in the rest of the world.
If you are an individual, you also have events like ""After the kids settle in their new school," and "After my mortgage is paid", etc. Businesses also have things like "After the big trade show," and "After so-and-so gets back from overseas." It's easy to see how at least half of your time can get wasted by "after..."

News flash: customers aren't waiting for your holidays to buy products or get their existing products serviced. The love of your life isn't waiting until your mole has been removed to go out and date other people. Your kids grow at the same rate regardless of the calendar date.

Successful companies aren't waiting until "after" to do their business. If they need to fill a position, they start advertising for the position. I've had interviews in August. I've had interviews right smack in the middle of the holidays. And this week it I got it: these are the kinds of places I want to work. Places where when they need to fill a position, they do it. They work around this guy's flights and that guy's vacation, and this holiday and that event. What needs to get done gets done, without excuses, and without delay. Without "after".

Look at your own life. How often do you find yourself saying "After..." or "Someday..."? Look at the price you are paying for waiting. And then, get off your rear, and do it. Today.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Unaffiliated: Why I'm not an affliliate marketer (and probably will never be)

I took some time over the summer to learn about Internet Marketing through something called the Thirty Day Challenge. It was a low-pressure but time-consuming course (offered free in August) that teaches you to make your first dollar on the Internet. I have to admit that I didn't finish the entire course, though I did a good part of it, and I didn't make my first dollar yet.

I learned a lot about Internet marketing, and much of the content is definitely applicable to what I do as a regular marketer. In general, it was also fun.

The two main takeaways I got were: (a) Affiliate Marketing is a real job, not some scam; and (b) Affiliate Marketing is not for me.

Just like any kind of marketing, your job as an affiliate marketer is to get people to know about and buy stuff. I think affiliate marketing is actually a lot tougher than regular marketing, because of the massive competition. The bottom line is that you are selling stuff that is already out there to customers who are probably looking for that stuff, and they could find it through you or through other means. If you aren't totally on it, some other affiliate marketer is going to be on it, and that customer will buy the stuff without your getting a cut. Or if they click through on your site, and then they decide to buy a different model, you don't get a cut.

It's pretty brutal. There are some ways to make good money on affiliate marketing, but you have to know what you are doing and have an advantage over the masses.

But that's not the main reason I don't really connect with the idea of affiliate marketing. The main reason I don't connect is because it doesn't appear to me as something adding real value to the world. Again, no offense if you are in this field and you love it or are doing well at it. But for me, affiliate marketing is fundamentally reallocation rather than creation.

I recently saw an online video of a talk by Umair Haque discussing "perceived value". Perceived value is what we learn about in business school, and it revolves around the idea that if a product is perceived to have value over a competitive product, that is worth money. In other words, you pay more money for a can of Coca-cola than a can of no-name-cola, because you perceive these to have value. Haque says, fundamentally, that perceived value isn't value. In other words, if all you are doing is putting a fancy label on it, you aren't creating anything of value in the world.

I'd go even further and say that a can of cola has no value at all, or negative value, if your health is considered.

Haque actually postulates that businesses that don't add real value will fail. I'm not sure I believe that, though I would certainly like to.

At any rate, when it comes to affiliate marketing, I just don't think that my blogging about the awesomeness of flea jump-ropes and pointing you to the site to buy them is really adding value in the world. You might all value my opinion. You might find it slightly easier to find the right flea jump-rope for you. Probably not. Probably it would have more value on the Amazon review for flea jump-ropes rather than on my blog where I get a percentage for pointing you to Amazon.

I do believe that there are zillions of products that can be created and marketed through the Internet. Creating a new product that answers a real need -- that's where value is. If you can create a better flea jump-rope, because you are the expert on flea jumping, you should create the product, not plug a different product. That is a contribution to the world.

When I was doing the course, one of the guys on my team said "It is everyone's dream to have their own product and sell it through the Internet." He said that as if: we are doing affiliate marketing because creating your own product is harder. He might be right, too. In any case, if that's your dream, that's what you should be doing, not something that appears easy and, at the end of the day, doesn't add real value to anyone.

So that's my take on affiliate marketing .Again, no offense to anyone, and I'd be glad to hear your comments below.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Spooky Spokeo

It was only a matter of time before all you had to do was know someone's email address and you could find out all about them in one click. Recently Guy Kawasaki posted a blog on a new service, Spokeo, that ostensibly does just that.

The idea is, you put in an e-mail address and the service calls up all the social networks and finds the person in those networks. You can it out (with limited info) for free here. The price for the full service is reasonable: just $2.95 a month.

Unfortunately, it works rather poorly. I don't want to be harsh on the Spokeo Folkeo, but I am totally on all the social networks and they didn't even get my name right. I mean, my e-mail adddress is rebecca@ and they still didn't get my first name right. (They got my son's name with all my info, actually.) There's no place to fix this. Even when I fixed it on the original site where I had that name listed, they didn't update. BTW, the site they are considering authority is Flickr. Not Yahoo, even. Flickr. Now on the upside, if your priority is photographs of people, maybe Flickr is a good authority. Still, I don't think that most people would associate the words "authority" with the site "Flickr".

Further, they don't check the social networks very well. They found me on 5 social networks, when I know I am registered on 15 and use 6 of them regularly. I don't have a grasp of exactly what technical challenges are involved in this implementation, but it doesn't seem too difficult to check for me in the network using my e-mail address. OTOH, if you don't actually know my name, and you are searching by name, that could be an obstacle.

I checked Spokeo for a few of my friends and colleagues, and found similarly disappointing results. For a few extremely well-networked people, the results seemed fairly good. It's hard for me to say, because one of my social-networking friends came up with participating in 9 networks. I am "friends" with him on 6 or 7, so I can't make an assessment if 9 is good coverage for him, but I suspect not.

I won't comment on the fact that Spokeo doesn't have all of the major social networks listed. This is a new product, and I'm sure with time they will get additional sites searched. However, considering they are already charging a monthly fee, I'd expect the engine to work better at least on the sites they claim to cover. Still, I think the general business model is sound and I am looking forward to seeing them with a more mature product in the future.