Creating categories and definitions by doing, not debating

I just read a post by Peep Laja which talked about the old advice of inventing a new category to be able to charge more for your products than just slotting into a predefined definition, followed by a post by Neville Hobson on an attempt to redefine what PR means. And both have reinforced my belief that you only create new categories and redefine existing ones by actually going out and doing stuff.

As much as I can have respect for the people who get caught up in debates about what PR, Social Media Marketing, Content Marketing, Transmedia, SEO, etc all should mean exactly, the simple fact is that noone cares. Seth Godin talked about successful modern marketing beginning with product planning and development, but still many businesses and consumers see marketing as part of advertising.

When I try and define what I do for people, it comes out as:

  • I write for my own projects
  • I write for other people’s projects
  • I market my own projects
  • I market other people’s projects
  • I run training courses in writing and marketing
  • I run training courses in writing and marketing for other people
  • I provide research for my own projects
  • I provide research for other people
  • I host my own websites
  • I provide hosting for other people
  • I manage my own paid advertising campaigns
  • I manage paid advertising campaigns for other people
  • I manage affiliate campaigns for other people
  • Or I do: Writing, Journalism, Blogging, Natural SEO, Paid SEO, PPC, Content Marketing, Social Media Marketing, Training, Tutoring, Affiliate Management, Community Management, Analytics,

Either way, it means I should need the world’s biggest business cards. I don’t.

Dan Thornton business card - AKA TheWayoftheWeb.net and HotModMedia.com

It's me. And a quick meeting or search tells you more...

 

But actually, what tends to happen is that my client list has grown from referrals from existing clients or from people finding out about me for one area of what I do, and those that are more rewarding for me in terms of enjoyment and financial rewards grow more quickly than areas that I might not favour, so over time my reputation in some areas will naturally build and lead to more focus.

 

Defining what you and your brand do:

Rather than worrying too much about an exact definition, it’s better to have an idea which you and any employees can broadly follow, but also be flexible within. I always loved the idea of my former employers at Absolute Radio, which was that we were ‘a digital entertainment company with audio at it’s core’, and targetted ‘reluctant adults’. That meant we always focused on sound and sound quality first, and always prioritised those people who were incredibly passionate about their interest (music, comedy, sport), but it didn’t matter whether we had an idea for a website, mobile app, radio station, or anything else, as long as it involved the best possible audio and delighted the right people. And in a challenging market for all broadcasters, it seems like they’re doing better than ever.

But noone ever tuned in because of those definitions – they tuned in because they liked what they heard as a result.

Too often I speak to companies who declare that ‘their customers don’t do it that way’ – and it turns out that actually it’s because they don’t allow customers to interact that way for some reason.

Or that customers ‘just don’t get what we’re trying to do’. Or that ‘clients just don’t understand’.

 

Building brands – do stuff, monitor, do more stuff:

You don’t build a brand simply by having logos or mission statements. Those are brand assets. What builds a brand is making stuff available, seeing how people respond and then building on it. Google didn’t define itself as a search engine, it set out to index the world’s information. Apple didn’t say it only made personal computers – it put design into technology, whether it’s a Mac, iPhone or iPad. The legendary production line methods of Ford went from one colour of car to over 1000 different variations for the Ford Transit van alone.

Geek Pride

Obviously to be successful, it’s not enough to be different – the recent demise of Saab is one example of how you can be known for being unusual but still fail due to not managing sales and costs effectively. But that name will still stand out for many years for a lot of people, and it’s easier to optimise a supply chain than to become known for brilliance and character.

Look at Amazon – offering web servers, books and Kindles. Artists such as Hugh McLeod, Tom Fishbourne, or Penny Arcade. Authors like William Gibson. Musicians from Robert Johnson to Hendrix to Skrillex. 37Signals and Wunderlist are as much about design as project management. I’m already incredibly excited about HiutDenim because I know Howies and The Do Lectures.

Put stuff out there and look at the response, using the wealth of data that is available and complimenting it with the right research.

 

Industries and reputations:

Some industries stuggle with their reputation. Obviously banks and bankers aren’t particularly well respected at the moment, and neither are journalists.

At the same time, SEO and Social Media ‘snake oil salesman’ has become a common criticism for digital marketing.

And yet I know brilliant journalists, SEOs and Social Media specialists who are incredibly well-respected and constantly in-demand because they do brilliant things consistently well. I’ve also had meetings with top marketing and SEO agencies which ended in disaster because they seemed to spend all their time talking a good game in public, but not delivering on it directly in a client meeting.

I actually have a couple of lists which are close to my heart – one is a list of companies I’d love to work with, whether as a freelancer or even possibly as a full-time employee because over the years I’ve known them, they always done things brilliantly (I also have a list of companies who seem to squander their potential and wish they’d let me help sort it out).

And I have another list of individuals I’d love to work with on a project at some point – it’s grown to quite a size over the years, with everyone from creative talents to hard-headed business people. And pretty much everyone on the list has worked on multiple projects, sometimes concurrently, but what they’ve done is always interesting or exciting or innovative or profitable – often all four.

The simple fact is that I don’t worry about crap definitions of the industries I nominally work in. And I’ve stopped worrying about being painted with the same brush as the snake oil salesman. If a million people see a great example of content marketing, or social media, or SEO that I’ve been involved in, then that’s far better mechanism for change than debating definitions.

The top 10 UK PR blogs – TheWayoftheWeb #4

Apparently TheWayoftheWeb has been listed as one of Cision’s Top 10 UK PR blogs.

I picked up on the list from the #1 blog, the excellent NevilleHobson.com, and all ten blogs are definitely worth reading. It’s interesting to be included as the preface to the list reads:

‘Covering the latest developments in communications technology, the impact of the web on political dialogue and the convergence of PR with other communications activity, the blogs listed below represent the most visible, engaged and social of the UK PR blogosphere.’

It’s interesting because I’m a marketeer, journalist and blogger, but I’ve never officially been in PR – although obviously I’ve worked closely with a large number of PR agencies and people over the years.And I’ve helped out with writing the occasional press release.

But I am interested in where it’s possible to distinguish between PR and Marketing, and the methods and effects of good and bad PR, as it’s a huge element of success in my marketing role. And I’m learning as much from the incredibly talented PR team at Absolute Radio as hopefully I’m able to share with them.

What’s interesting has been discussing how the methods they’ve used for great success with mainstream print and digitial media are pretty much identical to the methods I use for non-mainstream digital media (blogs, forums, social networks etc).

It’s also why I’ve thought for a while about the simplest way to describe what I do as a whole, including both my professional career, and my independant digital endeavours, and it basically comes down to specialising in ‘content creation and distribution’, which sounds far less sexy than PR, Marketing, or Social Media. But basically I enjoy coming up with ideas for content (text, audio, video), putting it together (writing, recording, editing, crowdsourcing, implementing ways for UGC to be encouraged), and then getting it to relevant people (digital publishing, SEO, blogger and forum relations, linking, seeding, etc).

It’s not the tightest definition, considering the amount of roles and workload that it covers, but it seems to be the one that works as I look at my skills and interests.

Conversation about definition: Marketing, Blog, Bloggers, Public Relations (PR)

Aside from an exponential increase in my involvement on Twitter, and setting up FriendFeed on an experimental basis, probably my most interesting discussion at the moment is with Brendan Cooper, the creator of the PR Friendly Index.

Having submitted this blog, I was curious whether it’s non-appearance was down to performance, or definition (I promise I was curious, rather than complaining!). Which led onto an interesting and good natured discussion about the definition of blogs, bloggers, PR and influence. I doubt there will ever be an exact definition for any of those terms which won’t cause disagreement in one quarter or another, but I thought Brendan’s views were pretty interesting, and wanted to post my latest response here, to hopefully get some other feedback on my own attempts to define the indefinable.

So, here’s my own humble take on blogs, bloggers, influence and PR. Which does raise the question for me of whether marketing and PR co-exist any more, or whether it’s an artificial split in the business of building relationships and conversations around a specific brand/topic/product:

Influence: Interestingly, I’m very deep in researching the usage of Net Promoter scores, Buzz Monitoring etc, to look at how to track influence and engagement as far as is currently possible (Nothing will ever be close to 100%!). I do know from discussions with some firms that they’ll be providing some limited free tools in the future, which may help track influence above and beyond popularity and linking. I’m influenced by a lot of things that I don’t end up linking from my blog due to time, effort etc.

Blogs: For me, it’s any site which is updated chronologically in one ‘flow’. Any news site is chronological, but articles etc will be spread across sections. A blog can cover numerous areas of interest, but everything is covered in one main stream of information which can then be split out. Rather than a homepage aggregating from the various sections. If that makes sense!

Bloggers: Anyone publishing a blog, whether paid/unpaid, corporate or not. And certainly a journalist can also be a blogger and vice versa. For me, the definition seems to come from what, where and how their content is displayed. Again, going back to my definition of a blog (which is very much a work in progress). I’d hesitate to define it by technical functionality, such as RSS, and certainly look to define it more by form (Any definition of over 100 million examples is going to be fuzzy in some way…)

PR: Definitely the trickiest one. Should it be classed with Marketing/Customer Retention? Is there even a place for it now? I’d argue that to define a discipline by the fact it doesn’t analyse as deeply as another is probably doing it a disservice, but it’s difficult not to. Certainly journalism, PR, marketing, advertising etc are all increasingly about relationships and conversations rather than purely broadcasting. I’m still stunned by at least one PR company I deal with banning employees from using Facebook for example, rather than encouraging the use of every tool to target press releases as accurately and individually as possible. But where the line comes between targetting press releases to journalists and bloggers, and marketing something to bloggers and consumers, for example, is very, very fuzzy. Maybe the terms for PR and Marketing should be merged and then discarded. Engagement and communication? Enunication? Communigagement?


I’m expecting some Entrecarders (I know you’re out there) to weigh in on Blogs and Blogging! And I hope Communigagement and the like don’t take off…but if they do, I want credit! Engagication?

Any comments I do get, I’ll aggregate and combine with the conversation with Brendan.