Monday, July 21st, 2008

The path less travelled by

in: Communicate, Create, Standing out, Startups

What can a bookstore teach Canadians about positioning their companies?

Marketing is increasingly about attention, and less about product.

Most competent people can build a competent product or service. But in today’s world of instant attention, it’s often more about how to succeed in the market than how to get the product right.


I had lunch a couple of weeks ago with Robin Axon, formerly of VenturesWest (and candidate for the coolest cyborg name of a VC ever.) We were chatting, as often happens among Canadian entrepreneurs, about The Canadian Ailment. Despite tremendous competence in product design, we never seem to make it North of the Border in the same way the US does. Even US bookstores, apparently, know this instinctively.  But more on that later; back to Robin.

He had a pretty clear theory about what ails us, which I’ll paraphrase (badly) here:

Canadians try to succeed with a product, but Americans succeed with a market strategy.

Read more…

Wednesday, July 9th, 2008

Targeting and repetition

in: Communicate, Create, Standing out

The Nova Scotia Liquor Commission is trying to sell more wine.


This campaign does three things really well. If you’re trying to put together a marketing effort, you should:

  • Know the purpose of your marketing effort. A lot of times I have clients tell me, “we need to do some marketing.” They’re often surprised when I push back. But unless they know what outcome the marketing should have — and how to measure it — it’s a waste of time. The Nova Scotia Liquor Commission clearly wants to sell more wine, and can measure sales of wine that accompany beer purchases.
  • Know your target audience. This picture’s taken in the gigantic beer fridge. There’s no wine in this room. It’s where the men go to get cases of beer. Nagging reminders from housewives with facemasks and towels on their heads might be stereotypical, but their target market notices them.
  • Repetition, consistency, and simplicity. Every message is a variation on, “while you’re getting beer, bring some wine home for your wife.” There’s no way to mistake it. It’s something even a beer-obsessed weekender can grasp.

When it comes to beer, nothing beats Nova Scotia brewery Alexander Keith’s focus. They even have a bar (the Lower Deck, the “official home” of Keith’s.) Revel in these gems where a mad Scot channels Mike Meyers, some of my favorite ads of all time.

Spilly Talker

Label Peeler

Who’s With Me?

Beer Eulogy

Beautiful. “Often, I’d dreamt of a lake of beer. But not like this. Never like this.”

BTW, the actor who played this Scotsman was arrested on charges of child pornography, and Keiths has since pulled them. Sick bastard, but the ads are no less funny.

Saturday, June 14th, 2008

The purpose of your first slide

in: Communicate, Funding, Standing out

I was talking with the CEO of a startup last week and we were going over funding slides.

There’s always an overview slide up front. According to common wisdom, this is supposed to “tell them what you’re going to tell them.” But I have a slightly different take on it.

Sure, you have to say what industry you’re in, how much you’ll make, how you’ll make it, and why you’re the one to make it happen. And do all that in a couple of sentences. But your first slide has a different, more important purpose.

The purpose of the first slide is to change their mindset from “I have to sit through this” to “I get to sit through this.”

Read more…

Monday, June 2nd, 2008

Scarcity rocks

in: Communicate, Create, Standing out

I wrote an article a while back about Linkedin and Notchup. The short version: With a particularly viral offer, Notchup used Linkedin to harvest and enrol 900,000 users in around 3 weeks.

kk-hotdonuts.jpgMany of the blog comments that came back concerned scarcity. The whole premise of Notchup was to help recruiters find the hottest candidates–the ones who weren’t looking. They figured that it was worth paying to talk to this talent, and with a decent paycheck at the end of it, even the most tight-mouthed candidate would be willing to part with some personal details.

But with popularity, the cachet of “reach the people who are hard to reach and not looking” goes away.I call this the Krispy Kreme problem. A friend of mine handled operations for the donut maker years ago (sort of the opposite of high tech), and he wondered to me one day whether the fact that you could get their donuts pretty much anywhere was a bad thing. He was right.

Unfortunately, scarcity doesn’t scale.

Read more…

Thursday, May 22nd, 2008

Air Canada gets it wrong

in: Communicate, Create, Standing out

I have a love-hate relationship with Air Canada.

I fly their planes a lot, since I’m usually starting from Montreal or Halifax. I love the fact that frequent travelers get access to their lounge without an extra fee, even when it’s a partner’s lounge.

03212008001.jpgBut frustrated by ridiculously broken enrollment and online booking processes (things like having to convince their call centers that yes, in fact, the screen in front of me does say “server error.”) I switched my loyalties to United, who get it right much more often.

On the other hand, Air Canada has great planes, with power and screens. I was starting to warm to them again; they’ve overhauled their entire website. It still has problems, such as the complete failure of their mobile booking process (apparently intended to send a barcode to my phone.) But it’s getting better.

And then they go and break my heart again.

Read more…

Tuesday, May 20th, 2008

DNS parking 2.0: 10 other places you should register your name

in: Communicate, Standing out, Startups

It’s not enough to register your .com, .org, and .net any more.  Here are some places we’ve been camping out recently, reserving names and keywords before someone else does.

Unlike the domain name world, where ICANN can regulate egregious violations of copyright, it’s unclear how naming disputes will be resolved by many of these sites. So it’s the first-come-first-served Wild West of the nineties

  • Twitter: RSS for people. If you don’t own the Twitter ID, someone else will.
  • A place for your stuff, with your name. URLs use the format
  • Facebook: Groups in Facebook have names, and you should own yours.
  • Myspace: Despite Facebook’s buzz, Myspace still has lots of users. Get a page.
  • Paypal: If you’re taking payments, then people will be more comfortable if they’re paying someone with the same name.
  • Eventbrite: Running an event? You should probably use the name of your event before it’s taken.
  • Pownce: The other Twitter.
  • Digg and Reddit: If you’re going to comment on things and be a part of the community, go grab those.
  • Slideshare: If you’re going to post presentations using this service, you may want the name to go with them.

I’m off to register some names.

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