Your marketplace is changing. Are you keeping up?

A friend of mine observed that I tend to change my brand a lot: Longtime readers will know that I’ve shifted various aspects of my blog and my brand over the years.

The reason for this continuous shift isn’t a lack of definition about who I am or what I do; it’s not because I have nothing better to do; it’s not because I’m addicted to change. Rather, I’m constantly testing and experimenting. Here are some of the things I’m always testing:


  • Content value: what do I like to talk about?
  • Content potential: What services do I offer and how do I communicate value in line with those services?
  • Content impact: What gets read, clicked, backlinked, and commented on?
  • Site stickiness: How long do people stay?

Marketing effectiveness

  • SEO: Where am I showing up in search engines?
  • Sales funnel: How am I doing at each stage in my sales funnel? Is my funnel full and is everything moving along? the way it should be?
  • Sales results: How are my proposals doing?
  • Niche markets: Am I reaching my potential customers?
  • Longevity: Am I keeping up with industry and buyer shifts?


  • Page load speeds: Do pages load quickly?
  • Error messages: Are people actually seeing my content?

I haven’t picked these items randomly, and they’re just a sampling of a larger group of things I’m paying attention to in my business. But these are all — for one reason or another — factors that have my attention. And although I’m not slavishly pouring over stats and code every day, I do devote time to those elements. I figure, if I get these things right, I’m most of the way there.

And here’s why I do this: I want to get and keep customers, but I also realize that the marketplace is always shifting. We can’t stay the same because the world will pass us by. Business owners need to stay on top of the trends in their industry (trends that they and competitors are experiencing, which will influence how they deliver their products or services) and in the marketplace (trends that customers are experiencing, such as buying habits).

That’s why I seem like I’m always tweaking my brand. Yes, it drives down the consistency of my message. That is a risk. However, I think there is a significant upside as well: I’m not likely going to “age out” of my marketplace. And, I’ve worked hard to keep my finger on the pulse of the market so I know where it’s going.

You would do well to make your own informal list of things to track. Start with an overall idea of what your industry is all about and what your marketplace is demanding. Then, start thinking about what your marketplace will be demanding next week or next year and experiment today with some small brand shifts.

Lifestyle games: Putting the “fun” into “social media”

You’re probably already familiar with Foursquare, the social media site that lets you “check in” to venues and leave tips and to-dos while generating a stream/timeline of where you go and what you do.

I like Foursquare. I think it combines two powerful forces on the web right now: social and local. It gives you the ability to share with those around you in a way that can be practical and valuable (for your friends and for you). Regular use of tips and to-dos, as well as the marketing opportunities that businesses can enjoy because of Foursquare, makes this site a potentially powerful tool.

But Foursquare is also a game. The game seems to be an integral part of the site — people collect points and badges (even though they have little use right now). In fact, Foursquare even says they’re a game.

Foursquare isn’t a game in the same way that, say, chess is a game, or World of Warcraft is a game, or Monopoly is a game. It’s not a separate environment with distinct rules and winners and losers. Rather, it’s a social utility that has an element of gaming to it: Incentives and a dash of fun… more like an environment where good-natured competitiveness and one-upmanship can thrive.

Recently, I heard about another site that offered something similar: It, too, is a social utility with a gaming element.

EmpireAvenue is a site that helps users put a value on their social “footprint’ while at the same time acting as a sort-of stock market where you can buy and sell shares in people.

I just signed up to check it out (so I might not have all of my facts nailed down) but it basically works like this: You sign up and get some money (“eaves”, I think they’re called). You can buy shares in other people. The price of their shares rises and falls based on — (well, I haven’t fully figured that part out yet) — something to do with their social network.

What’s also interesting about EmpireAvenue is that they have a monetization model that could be very beneficial for social influencers down the road.

Like Foursquare, it’s not a game but a site that has a practical purpose but in an incentivized, enjoyably competitive environment.

This has me wondering if we’re seeing the beginning of a new trend. For lack of a better word, I call it Lifestyle Gaming — that is, the addition of a gaming element to something you would normally use in your life, perhaps to enhance your lifestyle.

There are Foursquare alternatives out there (off the top of my head: Loopt, Gowalla, and Facebook Places) and they don’t have the gaming element that Foursquare has. And, there are social media valuation/measurement tools out there (Klout is my favorite) that again does not have the gaming element that EmpireAvenue has.

Are there others that I’m not aware of or have overlooked? Where might we see additional Lifestyle Games appear? Are there current sites that would benefit from the addition of Lifestyle Game attributes? I’d love to hear your thoughts on this!

Good news for businesses… in 1 – 3 years

Good news for entrepreneurs (or, at least for people planning to become entrepreneurs in the next 1-3 years).

During periods of economic growth, consumer spending injects cash into the economy, and free-flowing cash is exactly what makes an economy stronger.

Entrepreneurs and economists are concerned right now because people aren’t spending money at levels needed to bolster the economy. According to the Financial Post article “Fed stuck in zero-rate game (Paul Vieira, Sept 20, 2010 — No longer online), “consumers are opting to pay down debt instead of spending on goods”.

It’s one of those things that sounds strange even though it’s true — paying down debt isn’t as good as spending… at least when it comes to economic growth. Instead, consumers are a licking their economic wounds and understandably getting credit histories in order. They’re forgoing purchasing in the short-term to fix their personal credit.

Although entrepreneurs and economists are understandably worried, I think it’s good news — for those with a 1-3 year view. Once people have paid off some debt, they’ll start spending again… And I believe they’ll start spending with exubrance. By the time they start spending again, they’ll have long forgotten why they weren’t spending, AND, they’ll have improved credit ratings and credit limits and buying power.

I believe this is a great time to start a business or deepening the positioning of a current business. If you can survive The Great Debt Payoff, I think you’ll reap some serious rewards down the road.

Is your retail business leveraging this trend?

Retail businesses rely on customers coming into their stores and spending money. Getting more customers spending more money is the name of the game.

With the exception of advertising, advertising, and more advertising, a lot of retail stores don’t do much else. (There are other options but they’re not always done well). However, a recent trend is creating some interesting opportunities for retail stores and if you run any kind of B2C store, you might want to consider how this trend applies to you.

The trend is the “haul video”. A haul video is a video posted online where a buyer goes through their purchases and talks about them: Maybe why they bought they, where they bought them, how much they paid, and how they feel about the purchase.

To a lot of people, this might sound pretty weird. At first glance you wonder “who would watch that?” But it makes sense after further consideration: Who among us doesn’t want to share the great purchases we found, and who among us doesn’t want to look with envy to others. It’s like shopping without the expense! And retailers should like this because haul videos are made at the perfect point: The buyer is thrilled with their purchase and looking to further justify the money they spent but have rarely even used the items and are not yet experiencing buyer’s remorse. It’s exactly the time in a purchase lifecycle when you want to get a testimonial… and that’s what a haul video is.

Yes, it seems voyeuristic; yes, it seems like excess commercialism. But retail stores should pay attention because these videos are popular! The video below, for example, is basically a 16 minute discussion of clothes this girl bought… and it’s been viewed over 340,000 times at the time of this writing. (You don’t have to watch the whole thing… just watch the first couple of minutes to get an idea of what haul videos are all about).

This is just one of them. Mitch Joel, of Six Pixels of Separation, says that YouTube is tracking over 150,000 of these videos and 2 of the most popular contributors have a combined viewership of over 75 million views for their haul videos. Those are some significant numbers.

So, what does that mean for retail stores? Here are some ideas:

  • Cross-post haul videos on Facebook, Twitter, etc. Set up a YouTube channel and invite people who include your store in their haul video to post in your channel.
  • Encourage your buyers to post their haul videos. Start a wall of fame where buyers can post their haul videos and send you a link that you post. (Heck, if you have some extra monitors laying around, why not loop a couple of haul videos?)
  • If you have an email newsletter (you have an email newsletter, don’t you?) add a link to the haul video.
  • Offer incentives for those who post haul videos: Discounts are good but I think an exclusive invitation-only evening where popular haul videographers come to your store and make on-the-spot haul videos.
  • Above a rack of clothes, post a notice that says: “Reviewed by…” and list the names, screenshots, and domain names of haul videographers.
  • Hold a contest for haul videographers and give away a shopping spree and a camera.
  • Set up a camera in your store and invite people to create a haul video before they even leave.

To an entire group of shoppers, the haul video extends and enhances the shopping experience. To retailers, it creates a new opportunity to engage your customers and prolong their attachment to your store while generating some exciting testimonials.