Who is listening to you? You might be surprised

That takes some effort to listen and be aware of what the opportunities actually are but if you ignore them you do so at at your own peril.


Throughout my career as a professional communicator I come across clients who are absolutely sure they know who their audience is. Invariably they are wrong.Let me give you an example.

Many years ago I counseled a semiconductor company that had a great business selling components to Apple for the iPod. They sold almost 30 percent of all their product to Apple. They knew that Apple was never going away.

In our research into the effectiveness of their content we found what seemed to be a discrepancy. We knew that there were multiple product groups that the client’s technology would fit, but they were focused only on the iPod team. We told them they needed to start a focus on development teams.

They responded, “We know who to talk to, you just concentrate on putting out press releases.”

Six months later, at a trade show, two Apple team managers came by the client booth to take a look at a new codec chip and after a brief introduction one of them said. “It’s too bad we didn’t know about this two months ago. It would have been a perfect fit for a new product we have coming out.”

One year later, Apple introduced the iPhone. One year after that, Apple switched to a competitor’s chips for the next generation of iPod. The client lost all of Apple’s business. Today, that client is part of their competitor having been bought out after their stock tanked about 5 years ago.

The moral is that there is always someone listening, or who needs to listen, to what you have to say. It is your job to figure out who that is and what they need to hear.

A good communication strategy requires looking at all the potential customers and influencers in a particular market. You might be concerned only with the companies and people that will buy your product, but you might not be thinking about the ultimate user of the product; or the people that provide the pieces of your product that you don't manufacture; or the service companies that are distributing your product; or the people that actually influence all of those people. Each of those “publics” can determine the fate of your organization as much, if not more than the immediate customer.

Now you might believe that one set of information is enough for all groups, but you would be wrong. In the case of the client, they were focused on the needs for one application of their technology. when there were, in fact, multiple applications. The iPhone project managers may have been hearing that information somewhere inside Apple, but it wasn't targeted at their product. It needed to be communicated in a way those project engineers could relate.

That takes some effort to listen and be aware of what the opportunities actually are but if you ignore them you do so at at your own peril. Just remember: what you don't know may actually kill you.

Bring real estate marketing into the 21st century

Footwasher Media has been looking into the arena of real estate marketing and communication for the past couple of years and has come up with a few interesting observations.

First and foremost is the reality that most realtors are far behind the curve adopting modern, digital communication. Websites are purchased as standard, so there is little differentiation between them. Metrics are employed but rarely studied. Social media is used sporadically and superficially. A very small percentage are breaking the mold and using digital tools with great success, but around 90 percent are far behind.

That last statistic tracks fairly well with the Content Marketing Institute’s numbers on general adoption of digital marketing and communication across all industries as of 4 years ago. At that time you could look at any industry and the numbers were the same as realtors today. However, current numbers put adoption of modern best practices for all industries at around 35 percent, so the real estate industry is falling far behind.

To a degree that is understandable. Most realtors are private business people who associate with real estate companies (e.g. ReMax, Century 21) that provide the independents with office space and a certain level of generic marketing services, allowing the realtors to focus on their business, but even the largest companies are behind the national curve.

Surprisingly enough, when you go outside of tech-heavy centers like Silicon Valley, Los Angeles and New York, realtors get a bit more savvy and adventurous with technology. We have found realtors making seven-figure incomes in low-population areas of Montana using the most cutting-edge online tools and video to promote their business while realtors in the hottest markets of the San Francisco Bay Area struggling to make ends meet but dismissing the advantages of digital media altogether.

Granted these markets are nothing alike, and struggles boil down to more than just the use of social media.  The real estate market in Montana is not nearly as active and complicated as it is in San Mateo County where a two-bedroom bungalow goes for the same price as a 400-acre ranch with a five-bedroom home outside of Bozeman. And while you would be hard pressed to find a dozen successful realtors in that area of Montana, San Mateo County boasts hundreds of realtors fighting tooth and nail to make a living.

Keeping all that in mind it seems counter productive to dismiss tools that could give you a competitive advantage over everyone else. We met with one realtor that adopted blogging and advanced website metrics in San Carlos, California several years ago. Today he essentially owns the entire San Carlos market, which is filled with some of the most expensive homes on the San Francisco Peninsula. He is grudgingly acknowledged by other realtors as the most successful business they know, and yet they still refuse to adopt his practices.

There are reasons for that, none of them good.

In our discussion with realtors over the past two years the fears and misconceptions expressed by even the most tech-savvy include:

  • Social media is for kids

  • It's a fad

  • Real estate is local

  • It can’t help me/I don’t have the time

  • I don’t understand it

Lets break those down:

It’s for kids: The biggest audience on Facebook in the US are people over the age of 30. Most people, according to any reputable real estate company, begin to start thinking about buying a home in their 30s. Given it's the prime demographic for realtors, wouldn’t it make sense to have an active presence on it? Now, in truth, every realtor we’ve talked to does have some sort of presence on Facebook but they all say they don’t use it to promote their business but to demonstrate their knowledge of the community. That’s a good reason to do it but it ignores the potential to find highly targeted and motivated customers.

It’s a fad: Um, OK. Social media companies are among the strongest drivers of the American stock market for about five years now. Congressional hearings are being called to discuss their impact on national security, privacy, and the economy. We are pretty sure they aren’t going anywhere soon.

Real estate is local: Absolutely and social media and web search, including Facebook, NextDoor, Twitter, etc.  have been proven to be the quickest way to reach local audiences and people looking at moving into certain regions.

It can’t help me/I don’t have the time: We lumped these two together because the second is the more honest version of the first. Yes, setting up and learning how to use the tools available take a considerable amount of time away from doing everything the way you have always done it. Change takes effort, but as the example of the San Carlos realtor demonstrates, once done it is virtually self-sustaining and highly profitable.

I don’t understand it: Ding! That’s the most honest response of all of them. Most of us live in an understanding of how media worked in the 20th century and thing it still works that way today. That’s wrong and it’s also why most people get confused about social media.

In the 20th century, people had only three television networks, a couple newspapers, and a handful of radio stations to get information and for advertisers to promote business. Today, there are hundreds of television networks and a dwindling number of newspapers and radio stations. The technology exists, allowing customers and clients to ignore all the outward bound marketing messaging a business produces and look only for what they want. 

In social media, however, their search and content consumption is analyzed by algorithms and information is pushed to them, which can allow realtors to deliver information about their services to a highly targeted and motivated audience. All that needs doing is to take the time to understand how it works and set it up. It could take a few weeks of concerted effort to do that, but after that, it pretty much runs itself.

This last point is the primary purpose of Footwasher Media: helping our clients understand and implement the tools that make it possible.

Want to learn more? Contact us. 


Don Tuite (that's "toot") retires and the changes in journalism continue

Don Tuite formally announced his retirement on April 17 in Electronic Design magazine and it is a bitter sweet moment. Don and I converse regularly on social media and we both live in Redwood City so he's not leaving my life at the moment, but I remember when he first came to Electronic Design after many years as a working engineer. 

We had a couple of phone conversations about clients and stories he was working on when we both discovered that we were in the same town. From then on, Don had an open invitation to come down, have coffee, walk in our nearby park, and even take one of our team on a flight in his private plane (which she called the thrill of a lifetime since she had always wanted to become a private pilot).

The conversations about technology, politics and social change is what I really enjoyed about Don's visits and calls. We never stayed on the subject very long. Once we got the business done it was on to other topics. It was the discussion of how media was changing, however, that got me thinking about my own public relations business and what value it had, and eventually brought me to the place that I knew I had to shut it down, fire all the clients and start focusing on what was needed to be said, not what a corporate committee wanted to say.

Most of the other marketers journalists I talked to during that time didn't have a lot of good things to say about me and what was forming in my head, but Don was one of the few who were not judgmental or dismissive. As a true scientific mind he response was always "you might be right."

His final column rightly reviews the changes he saw in the past decade and reminds me of the discussion we had a decade ago about Marshal McLuhan and adds the work of a mathematician that fed into McLuhan's work... something I never knew. It was a good justification of my decision.

So I get what the rest of you don't, the opportunity to continue my relationship with smart man and a good guy. Congratulations Don. Looking forward to what you're are going to do with your time.

Communication takes another hit in EDA

Disturbing, though not surprising news out of the EDA industry this week.  I've stated a few weeks ago that Cadence has been going through another round of culling in the marketing departments and last week I learned that Synopsys, too, has been quietly downsizing marketing (why market when you're number one and your competitors aren't even trying).  Haven't heard a peep out of Mentor, but with Carl Icahn barking at their heels they have other problems... and Magma cuts it's marketing budget every year so that's nothing new.

None of that is disturbing, though.  At a recent company meeting in Cadence fairly recently, the executive team did a panel presentation on where the company was heading.  My sources (confirmed twice) reported that after the presentation, one brave soul rose to ask someone to clarify the vision for the company (because it just wasn't clear in the presentation).  Charlie Huang, chief strategy officer took the microphone and said, "We are going to follow the same strategy we have had for the past 20 years..."

And not a peep from EDA360 guru John Bruggeman. 

The entire premise of EDA360 is that business in EDA has to be done differently and it is a premise I completely agree with.  I've said before that I thought the philosophy Bruggeman brought to Cadence was bold while not entirely original, but definitely a direction Cadence and the rest of the industry needed to consider seriously.  I've also had my doubts that the powers that be and have always been in Cadence -- and the rest of the industry -- would ever allow the vision to see reality. 

The vision of EDA360 was pretty sweeping.  in Bruggeman's own words:

"First, the EDA and semiconductor industries have until now focused on design creation. With $100 million development costs on the horizon, there will be far fewer creators. Many designers will become integrators who make heavy use of pre-designed IP [intellectual property] to build SoCs and systems. EDA tools so far have only addressed creators, and this must change.

"Second, EDA until now has primarily focused on helping creators overcome the productivity gap. This work must continue, but what integrators are most concerned about is a profitability gap. Closing this gap requires new tools and approaches that can reduce design costs and bring in more revenue.

"Third, design going forward will be driven by apps. People will start with the applications and then build, or source, highly optimized hardware/software platforms. The traditional approach, in which hardware is built first and software and applications are tacked on later, has become too inefficient and costly. Thus traditional design tools and methodologies must evolve, and EDA360 will accomplish that."

So, doing things as you have for the previous 20 years...? Not so great an idea.  And yet, that is the plan.

I'm not picking on Cadence, just to be clear.  The entire industry's vision is sclerotic.  The EDA360 team came in with what was, essentially, a revolutionary approach to make the industry grow again.

But all of this is still not the disturbing thing.

The disturbing thing is that I have know some pretty amazing marketers and communicators in EDA and just about all of them have given up on the industry and are leaving.  Some, who are out of work now, have resolved never to return.  That means the ability to communicate with the market is leaving the industry altogether.  That's not good.

EDA is an important industry, but it's not set for growth anytime soon with the current leadership.  That makes Icahn, possibly, its savior... as distasteful as that may be. 

Why you don't (or do) like social media, part 1

I've always been surprised at the negative reaction most marketers have had toward social media until I finished up leading my third seminar session on the subject and it suddenly became clear to me.  For most marketers, and even several journalists, the underlying mechanism of social media is foreign.  

The oldest form of human communication is simple conversation.  Human language was developed to exchanges ideas and desires between individuals and within small groups.  That is how we have connected with each other for millennia.  It looks something like this:

Social Media for Magma.009-001

The flow of information is multidirectional and no one is in control of the outcome. The upside of this kind of communication is issues can be resolved in realtime.  You get true concensus. The downside of oral communication is that when you express an idea, you can get a negative response ranging from a simple disagreement with your premise to a punch in the nose. Those looking to avoid confrontation would amass a "tribe" followers that, if strong enough, could enforce an opinion without risking armed conflict.

With he advent of mass communications in the invention of the written language, something started to change.  It now became possible to avoid getting a negative reaction to a concept by just ignoring any written response.  Over the centuries, mass media has downplayed the conversational aspect of human nature and created a one-way flow of information that looks like this:

Social Media for Magma.010-001

The flow of communication is one way.  You can give the impression that there is a dialog in a Q&A session in a live speaking engagement, or in a talk show by allowing call-ins, but that is highly controlled at the front end.  The upside of this paradigm is one person or entity can create an impression that this is the way of things without receiving any input, positive of negative, and possibly create a "tribe" that will follow your position, sometimes to the death.  The downside is that you have to guess at what your audience will accept as truth, overcome competing messages and never really learn if what you are saying is truly resonating with the audience.

The first form of communication is the most natural.  It is still going on today, although the influence of the second makes it more difficult to reach concensus.  The second form of communication is unnatural, but it is also the accepted paradigm of today.  It is the way companies do marketing, they way broadcast companies create programming, the way clergymen speak to their congregations and probably the reason that, after all the centuries, humanity is no where closer to developing a consensus on anything.  

Social media attacks that paradigm with a natural flow of communication, but on a much broader scale.  That's why marketers and journalists often chafe at embracing the practice.  What I have learned from this revelation... is something I will take up in the next post.  Comments, as always, are welcome.