Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Losing Control of Marketing

As I’m thinking about what might be next for me, I’ve been spending a lot of time on social networking sites like Digg, Facebook, StumbleUpon, You Tube, and a variety of blogs.

It is amazing how much marketing has changed in just the last year or two. You Tube is barely three years old, and yet it has become the holy grail for marketers. Almost no corporate blog goes back more than 1-2 years, yet having one (or not) has become a symbol of whether a company “gets” the new rules for customer interaction (or not).

Every day innovative companies are tapping social networking sites to speak directly to their customers – and more importantly to allow their customers to speak directly back to them, completely unfiltered.

The best marketing campaigns have now become relay races where a company tosses out an idea or discussion point – which may not be fully formed – and then customers react...Hopefully start passing the idea-baton themselves within their online communities, and in a best case scenario, the company completely loses control of the idea and it emerges 10 million views later as the top video on You Tube.

The entire campaign could play out in one day.

One sign of success is the company completely losing control of its own marketing, freeing it to take on a life of its own.

Losing control of marketing must be a scary thing for many companies, and is certainly a departure from the old days of careful corporate image management, sanctioned talking points, and endlessly tweaked key messages. I wonder if companies can afford to take time to be scripted anymore, with things moving so quickly in the online world.

For young startups, or unknown companies trying to establish themselves, the inherent risk of losing control online is a no-brainer. Social channels are a low cost way to reach a wide audience, and unleashing the right content can catapult a company out of obscurity. Gone are the days when it takes millions and millions of consumer marketing dollars to build a brand.

I wonder how much You Tube and Facebook spent on marketing in their early days? Not much.

These companies have transformed viral marketing into social networking.

With the right blend of interaction and contribution of authentic content, people will agree to become your online “friend,” and when you say something, people might listen, talk back, and pass it along with their own spin. Loss of control.

Despite the seemingly pervasive nature of blogging, You Tubing, etc., a quick survey of the Fortune 20 showed that they haven’t dipped more than a pinkie toe in the water – only 3 of the 20 have blogs on their corporate websites. You Tube fared slightly better with 4 out of the 20 having their own channels. However, most of the top 20 have RSS feeds and several offer podcasts. This is a step towards the direct information access that is much-valued in the online world, but it is a one-way step. A way to keep control over marketing.

You have to hand it to the brave companies who have dived-in and put themselves out there. Some of the comments posted to their online blogs are brutal. From telling GM that their car concepts suck to hammering on IBM that their customer service is nonexistent. Customers are definitely talking back. It must take a brave PR person not to hit the delete button on some of these comments. I think the smarter companies realize that creating a company-sanctioned space for this honest feedback will enhance brand loyalty. A topic for a future blog might be to ponder what companies should be doing with these comments.

Some companies may feel compelled to try to keep control to protect their brand, but I’d argue that marketing control might be gone forever, and this is a good thing for the customer. Smart companies are figuring out how to embrace this. It is also worth noting that the majority of the companies who may think they are holding onto marketing control are the inspiration for independent You Tube channels and blogs of their customers making fun of them...

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Are You In Debt to Oxygen?

There are some sleepless nights that go along with thinking about big life goals to be achieved before one turns 40.

I was at the gym working out with my trainer Naz after a particularly sleepless night, since getting into athlete shape is high on my list of things to accomplish in the next year. I’d barely slept the night before, so I was dragging my flabby abs sluggishly across the gym floor, as Naz urged me to continue on between sets with no rest.

“Don’t rest, keep going, tough it out!” he urged, not knowing how seriously I was contemplating murder.

”50 squats. 50 jumping jacks. 25 push-ups. As fast as you can,
no rest. Go. Go. Go!”

Since he’s a bit of a hottie, and I wanted to impress him, I pushed hard through the sets until I was completely out of breath.

As I stood gasping to suck in more air, he suddenly exclaimed,

“Yes! That’s what I want! Oxygen debt!”

“Oxygen what?”

Oxygen debt. A phrase I’d be willing to bet most dedicated gym-toilers have never heard of. I’ve been working out consistently for at least 15 years, and consider myself to be knowledgeable on fitness, how the body works, and what to do to stay in shape. Yet the science behind this simple phrase was completely unknown to me, and when I searched for information on the Internet, I could only find one obscure article about the myth of the Fat Burning Zone that explained it in laymen’s terms. On Amazon, the only books about it were written for hardcore weightlifters, certain not to be read by average people just looking for the best way to stay in shape and maximize workout time.

So, here’s how oxygen debt works, in simple terms: We’ve all learned through bestsellers like “The Fat Burning Zone” that supposedly it is better to work out at a low intensity for longer periods of time. This causes the body to start converting fat into energy. Unfortunately, since your heart rate is staying relatively low, as soon as you stop working out, you stop burning calories.

However, when you work out at an extremely high intensity for a short period of time – say 20 – 40 minutes – and work out so hard that you are literally out of breath, you create a situation where your body is out of oxygen and has to “borrow” it from other places in the body. This is known as “oxygen debt.” Having borrowed the oxygen from other places in the body, it has to then pay it back. Which it does for the next 24 hours after the workout stops. And, this is the key aha moment: while it is in the recovery period of paying the oxygen back, you continue to burn about 10-15% more calories than you would at a normal resting rate! For 24 hours you are burning 10-15% more calories than normal.

For me, this means that after a 45 minute session with my trainer, during which I’m probably burning between 500 calories at a high intensity, I’m burning another 400 calories or so in the 24 hours after the workout ends just sitting on the couch. This kind of jump in metabolism can lead to dramatically increased results in the gym with shorter workouts. Maybe I’m the only one late to the party on this, but I just don’t think many people understand this.

I'm sure hardcore fitness buffs, weight-lifters, etc. are aware of this, but I'm talking about the average gym-goer who is dutifully doing their 45 minutes of low-intensity cardio a day. As I looked through Amazon, I found a few books on boosting metabolism, which is certainly not a new phenomenon, and they briefly covered high intensity exercise, but for me understanding the link between being out of breath during exercise and the resulting increased calorie burn afterwards was the motivation I needed to work out much harder.

If I were in the fitness business, I’d be working on a book on this pronto. This is the kind of information that fitness phenomenon’s are made of!

In the two weeks since I learned how this works, I’ve lost 5 pounds and increased my muscle ratio by 3% while working out for less time and eating more! This totally works for me.

You could argue that it is really hard to workout at a higher intensity, which is true, and that is why it is easy to buy into the myth that lower intensity workouts burn more fat—lower intensity workouts are easier! However, as with anything in life, if you want to achieve a goal you have to power through with no excuses, so go for it!

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Is Turning 39 More Daunting Than Turning 40?

I recently turned 39, and it has set off a flurry of both mental and physical activity. Suddenly there is a backlog of things to be accomplished before I hit the big 4-0:
  • Finish the novel I've been working on for 8 years
  • Get in amazing physical shape before all my body parts start to head south
  • Figure out my next big career milestone or...
  • Decide to quit my job altogether and see where that leads
  • Have more and better sex...ahem...

I'm not dreading turning 40. I look and feel fabulous, I'm successful professionally, and am pretty happy overall. But still, I feel frenzied to finish these and other items on my list before the big day, like a report card is about to be issued for my life and I'm going to have to pull several all-nighters to get a passing grade.

I felt similar when I turned 29. I was renting a studio apartment in the Marina neighborhood of San Francisco, and suddenly after that birthday, I became frantic that I DID NOT want to turn 30 living in a studio apartment. As I recall, my pre-30 checklist looked like this:
  • Buy a house
  • Get a dog
  • Get promoted to Director
  • Have more and better sex...
Turning 30 was about entering the adult sphere more fully. Taking on more responsibility, and leaving behind the transitory existence of renting to put down roots and focus on an advancing career.

Now with almost a decade of adult-living behind me, I dream of quitting my job to work for myself and throwing financial caution to the wind, doing bikram yoga every day, getting my novel published and discussing it on Oprah, and seeing if I can get my body fat down below 20%.

Obviously the stakes get higher as each decade of life passes, and even though I will probably not abandon my hard-earned career, it feels like for me the 40's need to be about exploring alternative opportunities.

I have several women friends who are also taking a hard look at what an alternate life would look like for them. Some birthday inspired, others just restless, all of us wanting some unnamed, intangible "more."

I believe that you have to make things happen in your life, so that is what I'm about to do. Yesterday I had a random thought that if I bought www.publishingpaige.com, it could serve as a public inspiration and repository for the actions I'm taking to achieve this new life. Today, the web site is live, and my inspiration feels more directed.

Can I get there? What does it look like? I have no idea, but that is the inspiration for this blog, so stay tuned.