If You’re Going to Spam Me, Just Get Close

I’ma marketing guy, so I’m ok with targeted spam. I get it. It’s hard for sale people to get good leads, so blasting the heck out of potential customers, with a relevant message, in hopes of stumbling across someone looking for your services, well that doesn’t offend me all that much.

And I’m even ok with auto-email programs that insert my company’s name into a generic email to make it look like they were specifically looking for me.

But the key word up there is, “relevant.”

Best described as, “opposite of relevant,” this email doesn’t make any sense at all.


“Subscription companies like University of Washington have a common issue, churn due to failed credit card transactions. Most of the time these failures happen at no fault of your customer.”

Well I had no idea. Thank goodness someone finally figured out the issue plaguing universities across the country – the students are churning out due to bad credit cards. I thought it was a decrease in state spending, an excessive amount of tenured professors or a drop in donations. Turns out it’s the credit cards. Who knew?!

It’s too bad I don’t know the person at the UW who is in charge of keeping all the parents’ credit cards on file. Seems like we could solve some real problems.


For example, here’s some spam that actually could be relevant.


MKTG 555 Students – Here’s What You Need to Know

One difference between graduate school today and 10 years ago is that you can go to Google (or Bing) and find out a little about your instructors before you show up for class. And when your instructor pays his mortgage by helping clients with their marketing strategies, then he’ll probably be pretty easy to find.

So excellent work in finding this blog. This is the kind of entrepreneurial drive that will make you successful in the class. If you read enough, I bet there are some things that can be helpful. Like, you’ll probably learn that the quickest way to a low grade is to say anything positive about the Oklahoma City Thunder in my class.*

*Legal Disclaimer – This is not a true statement. I will not alter your grade based on which NBA team you support. It’s more correlation than causation.

It’s should be another fun quarter. I’ll do what I can to introduce you to the people and events that make Seattle a vibrant scene for start-ups. And we’ll all look at a ton of entrepreneurial marketing strategies that can be emulated. I’m looking forward to meeting all of you.

PS – Here’s a reward for being proactive. The first trivia question for determining group priority is this: What is the name of the City of Seattle’s Startup Liason?

A “Spirited” Discussion About Marketing

I tend to enjoy listening to panel discussions more than most people. And I like them even better when I’m the one who gets to ask all the questions.

On June 19, the Seattle Chapter of the American Advertising Foundation hosted an event with four of the city’s strongest small craft distilleries. When they asked me if I’d moderate this panel about how to market a small craft distillery, I thought they were kidding me. But they were serious, and I excitedly prepped for a topic that I had not previously done much business research on.

Our panelists were fantastic (left to right):


Here are a few bullets I took from the event:

  • The one piece of advice every small batch distiller will give you is, “Don’t start a small batch distillery.”
  • “Taste” can only get you so far. You have to have a decent flavor, but you are selling a brand, not what you taste like.
  • Your brand needs a story. Sparkle Donkey Tequila has the made up history of “El Burro Esparkalo” and then follows that up with a legend of, “In the modern era, Sparkle Donkey Tequila has come to mean many things to many people. But above all it means celebration, fertility, and quality.”
  • Winning awards is good for a boost, but you need a great follow through campaign to keep it going.
  • Great quote: “Whiskey is what beer wants to be when it grows up.”
  • Advice for anyone who thinks they can make tons of money in the burgeoning cannabis industry: “If you think there are a lot of forms to fill out for liquor, the cannabis guys have no idea what’s headed their way. We love that it’s getting legalized. The Liquor Control Board has so many headaches with them, they barely pay attention to us anymore.”
  • Fact: “40% of people in the bar do not know what they want to order when they walk to the bar.”
  • Make your bottle bright and easy to see against all types of backgrounds in all types of light. Don’t let it hide on the shelf.

The hashtag #AAFInsights has more of these nuggets if you want to roll through them.

Thanks to the AAF for letting me moderate. It was a blast and I hope people in the audience had as much fun as I did.

AAF Seattle Distilling a Brand

How Marketing is Like Little League

Every spring, tens of thousands of dads, friends, uncles and even moms embark on the gratifying, frustrating and always surprising journey of coaching a Little League baseball team.

Other than Crossfit and Fantasy Football, there may not be an activity that is so mind-absorbing to you – and that absolutely no one around you wants to hear about. No one outside your bubble of coaches and parents cares about little Jimmy’s amazing catch in center field.

But I wouldn’t be me if I didn’t subject you to my thoughts on the matter in this little forum. And my thoughts revolve around how coaching 9 year old baseball players is a lot like running a marketing program.

Andy Little League small1) Every channel / kid is different: Coaching would be easy if you could just get out front of the audience, give a little spiel about how to turn your hips when swinging, and watch everyone respond in perfect union. But one kid is going to interpret that message as, “Pretend like its a hula-hoop” and another is going to hear, “Keep my feet perfectly still like they are in cement and turn my hips.” Just as every online or offline channel you choose needs its own nuanced content, you must also shape your message for the kids.

2) No matter what you do, some audiences are just not going to do what you want them to do: You can test images, graphics, copy, videos and more. Your content can be fabulous, and still there’s a percent of the market that will ignore, or not understand, anything you try to get across to them. You can explain over and over again, “Run through first base.” You can do drills in which they run through first base. You can have quizzes and ask them what they are supposed to do when they get to first base. During the game, 11 out of 12 kids will run through first base. And the 12th kid is still going to slide, come up short, be out by 2 feet, end the rally and the coach will have to resist throwing his scorebook through the fence.

3) You will have some successes you shouldn’t have, which makes it hard to change: A 9 year old doesn’t know how good he can be. He looks around and sees he hits better than most of the kids despite only keeping one hand on the bat, and says, “That’s good enough.” You beg and plead, “You will be a better hitter if you keep that 2nd hand on the bat.” And so he takes one swing in batting practice, keeps both hands on the bat, misses the ball and decides that sample set is large enough that he’s never going to listen to you again. He shouldn’t be able to hit with one hand, but since he can, he won’t change. We have marketing campaigns that are “doing ok” so we may be resistant to change. It shouldn’t be doing well, but we can’t ensure we’ll do better. And when we dip our toes in the water and have a day of less success, we revert back to what we know.

4) There is always a team with greater resources who looks impossible to beat: In our league, we have the team that plays hard and fast with the rules. The team knew of an all-star player, kept him out of the draft, and then had him join their team later when no one was looking. In 9 year old Little League! Plus, the kids of all the coaches are all 1st rounders that got placed on the team with their dads. So by very definition, they have 4 first round quality players and everyone else has one, maybe two. Your marketing team has less money than Starbucks, less brand power than Coke, fewer distribution channels than Microsoft and can’t afford Apple’s Brand, Design and Ad Agencies. That’s just the way it is. You have to be smarter, see who it is you can beat, and possibly just accept you may not beat everyone.

5) The losses will be hard to take but the wins will be fantastic: Something is always going to surprise you. The kid who never gets a hit will make it to first – and even run through the bag! The center fielder will track down the longest ball hit against you all season and make an amazing catch. The first baseman staring at the kids in the other dugout will make a back handed stab. You just never know where these unexpected gems will happen. You’ll want to take credit for them, but just enjoy the win. It doesn’t matter if the idea for the ad came from the copywriter, admin, customer service rep or janitor. It’s a team win when it works, no matter how and why it happened.

Those are my 5 takeaways. I’m sure I’ll think of more, but like most Little League baseball games, this post has dragged on too long and we’ve seen enough pitches already. I’ll just be thankful if someone of them were strikes.

Deciphering the Online Ticket Broker Algorithm

Online ticket brokers such as StubHub.com have been around long enough that they are a standard ticket buying or selling experience for many fans.

Can’t make a game – stick the tix on StubHub. Need tix for a game – grab them off StubHub.

The model is brilliant. They charge the seller 15% commission, and then they charge the buyer a 15% tax as well. Say you post 2 tickets for $50 ea, so $100 total. The buyer sees a price of $57.50 each and pays $115, with StubHub taking the extra $15. Then StubHub sends you a check for $85, keeping the extra $15. That’s a 30% commission on 2 tickets changing hands. But the program is still the easiest marketplace around.

But there’s an interesting next level to this marketplace. How do the sellers decide when to post and how much to offer?

This Thursday and Saturday, the NCAA West Regional will be in Anaheim, CA. Two of the participants, San Diego St and Arizona have large alumni bases within driving distance. The Arena holds 14,000 people and is officially sold out. On Monday morning, the lowest ticket price on StubHub was about $225 and there were about 790 tickets.

Since then, the number of available tickets has fallen to between 450-500, but never lower. Meanwhile, the price has dipped into the $150’s. So while theoretically the supply is falling, so is the price.

So who is keeping the supply set at around 500? How many tickets are actually being moved? It looks like StubHub is automatically dropping the prices by a certain % every few hours. Then when old tickets get purchased, new ones are getting posted by the brokers. That way there’s never a listed supply that encourages people to keep waiting. The incentive is to jump on the listed price before the supply dwindles more.

So I wonder if it’s StubHub limiting supply, or the brokers themselves. Based on its 15% x 2 commission model, StubHub certainly has the incentive to keep prices as high as possible. But it also has incentive to make sure all the tickets get sold. So somewhere is a Pareto optimal equation for StubHub that isn’t necessarily optimal for buyers and sellers.

I assume they don’t open up their API’s, otherwise someone would have built the “Farecast for StubHub” by now. Until they do, all you can do is keep an eye on it yourself.

Why Start-ups Shouldn’t Pretend to Recruit Agencies

In the Entrepreneurial Marketing class I teach at the UW, we talk about how start-ups need to be scrappy with their money. Without aa lot of money to spend, we need to make every dollar stretch. We talk about the fact that we often can’t afford to hire an agency.

One of the ways to temporarily sidestep the need to hire strategic services from an agency is to look at campaigns you find compelling, and model your own plan after them. If you’ve noticed a company, it may be possible to reverse engineer their thought process (or their agency’s) and generate similar success. Emulation is a form of flattery.

However, one thing we DON’T advise students to do is “pretend” to be hiring an agency, send out a bunch of RFP’s, and have them do free work for you. Yes, this seems like a scrappy thing to do. Submit your problem and solicit proposals and ideas from 10-20 small to mid-range agencies. You’ll get a few hours of free consulting and brainstorming from each one, and get to form an overall strategy out of the ideas you like best.

Your VC and investors may think this is a fabulous idea. $10,000 in free consulting is a huge win, right?

But I’d argue that long-term (and even short-term), you can do your brand a pretty large disservice when you do this. Here are a few reasons why:

  1. As a Start-up, your plan is going to involve Influencers and Thought Leaders. When an agency tells you they can recruit “Thought Leader X,Y and Z,” they are saying they have a personal relationship with them already. When you get free work from the agency and then tell them you aren’t hiring anyone, you’re not creating a neutral relationship with the agency world, you’re building a negative one. These Thought Leaders you need to recruit will already have heard about what kind of company you are from the people whose time you wasted.
  2. When you become successful, you will get a larger VC round and have more money to spend on marketing. Then you really will have a budget in which to hire an agency.  But this time when you send out your RFP’s the good agencies will remember how you treated them in the past and decline to participate. Yes, you will get responses to your RFP, but you’ll be getting them from companies that need the work.  You want to hire agencies that turn down work, not the ones who can’t keep it.
  3. You are going to work at other companies in your career. When you are a junior person and your CEO sends you out to burn a bunch of cycles from the agencies, he/she is sending you on that mission so they don’t sully their own name.  We agency people are horrible gossip hounds. We’re going to share stories about the person who sent us on a wild goose chase.
  4. And finally, it’s just not good start-up karma.  Most agencies are like little start-ups.  They have to be scrappy themselves to go get the next piece of business. They have to balance how much staff to have on hand because they always either have just a touch too much work or a touch too little. Their teams are usually either overworked or worried they are going to be laid off. So it’s just bad to make these people do free work for you. As a start-up, do you want to have customers with no intention of buying your product to burn your salespeople’s time? No.

So start-ups of the world, I suggest you resist the urge to get free work from people under the guise of an RFP. If your CEO and VC are making you do this, pause and think what kind of nefariousness they are committing themselves. Is that the kind of company you want to hitch your star to?


What the MLS Should Have Done on Wednesday

I’m pretty sure I threw this idea out a few years ago, but apparently MLS Commissioner Don Garber isn’t a regular reader, so I’ll post a modified version again.

The day before and the day after the Major League Baseball All-Star Game are the only 2 days in the calendar that none of the major 4 sports leagues have a competitive game. If I was the MLS, I would use the day after the game to my full advantage. Every sports bar in America is starved for something to put on their screens. Every couch potato is stuck trying to choose between the Espys and a 30 for 30 marathon.

So I’d run 3 continuous hours of MLS coverage, with every team playing at basically the same time. The mechanics would look something like this:
– Game 1 starts at 8:00pm EST.
– Each game would start 10 minutes later.
– At your peak, you’d have 9 games running simultaneously, with the llast game starting just as the first game was in its final 15 minutes.
– You would be able to cut away Red Zone style to each goal, which would probably come every 5 to 10 minutes.
– You’d have 90 straight minutes of games in their final 10 minutes. 0-0 and 1-0 games are exciting in their dying embers, so you could have a lot of nail-biting finishes to entertain the average sports fan who doesn’t usually watch soccer.
– By 11:30 Eastern, people would have watched a lot of good finishes, seen a lot of highlights, seen fans in 9 different stadiums, and received at least a little education about what makes people like soccer.

You’re missing a great chance MLS? What do you think? What is there to lose?
Lamar Listening

Lessons From Launching New Products

We started toying around with the idea of Relaborate a little more than a year ago, in late 2011. In the beginning, we weren’t really sure what was going to happen with it, but everybody we talked to seemed to think it was a really cool idea.

These last months have been a great education in learning the differences between a “really cool idea” and “something that I immediately want to invest money in.”

There are a lot of hurdles to jump through to raise money. It’s not about the idea. It’s about being able to quantify an addressable market, convincing people your team is solid from top to bottom, and showing enough of the product that they can see the potential without criticizing the present MVP version.

It’s been a long and funny road, and I’m sure like any entrepreneurial organization, we’ve made some missteps along the way. But here we are in April 2013, with a brand new release of the product that we really think is starting to live up to the expectations we had when we first conceived it. And other people are saying nice things too.

So I guess my moral for this personal blog post is that it’s never just about the idea. Ideas are easy. People invest in execution. So if you have something that you’re sure will be a success, keep plugging away at it. Don’t expect to be rewarded for simply having an idea. The real effort is in taking that idea and making it something somebody else will understand and use.

They say there’s a very thin line between being an entrepreneur and simply being insane, and we probably straddled that line a few times in the recent months. After all, to start a new company you have to build something that no one else thinks is worth building, or they’d be doing it themselves. There’s something a little inherently nuts in that.

So if your reader of this blog, I expect you to run over to Relaborate.com and sign up for the trial of our new product. Read this blog and if you know me, I’m sure you’ll end up getting a discount (if you ask). Let your marketing people test it out, and if you end up bringing it in your organization, you know I’ll be the first one by you a round of drinks.

Relaborate Photo Search

Speaking Today at Market Mix 2013

I hope to see some of you today at MarketMix 2013. I’ll be speaking in one of the Breakout Sessions, talking about how to add Storytelling to your Content Marketing Plan. If that’s not enough incentive, I also brought along Rebecca Lovell of Vittana and Billy Pettit of Pillar Properties.

If you want to cheat, here’s the presentation I’ll be giving.