Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Friends on the Net

I deal with computers all day long. I read and type emails. I research. I note. I message. I make connections. I teach and share. I promote and advertise. I question and respond. At times, I’ll even preach. All of it happens while sitting at my computer, connected to the Net.

Since I’m doing it staring at a computer screen, I often forget that some where out beyond the Great Internet Cloud (GIC), what I’m sending is going to be received by a live human being.

The other day I was having a conversation (a real, live, face-to-face one) with a good friend, and he was commenting on how technology changes the way we interact with people, the way we make friends. He said that now that we can connect with millions of people, we often have more friends, but the relationships with those friends are more shallow.

I made a mental note of his comment, and I found a lot of validity in it. For example, you can go to my myspace page and see that I have about 450 friends! Woo Hoo. I hardly know any of ‘em! I’ve got a ton of people in my IM friends and contacts list. Over half of them are listed by iconic names that I don’t remember.

You can go to my website and sign up on my mailing list! There’s several hundred more right there. Are they my friends? Some of them, true, but most I don’t know at all.

I participate in a lot of online forums, like yahoogroups, myspace, and many others. I do it mainly to promote my site and my music, but also because I like meeting people. I’ve got hundreds of online friends that way, too.

My website has even generated some fan mail, even from as far away as India and Russia.

Now, it’s been technology that’s allowed me to “meet” these many people (probably on the order of a couple of thousand, if I were to add it all up. If it weren’t for the ‘net, I would never be in contact with any of them.

But it’s true that in the vast majority of cases, our relationship is really shallow. In most cases, I’ve never met them face to face, If they faded off a forum, or stopped visiting my website, I wouldn’t “miss” them, per se. Just the same if I stopped sending them my newsletters.

I don’t think, however, that the technology has made my relationships more or less shallow, on the whole. I mean, if you think about it, in your daily life, you encounter lots of people, and some of them you encounter more than once, some on a regular basis. A few of those you connect with, you spend time with, and you become friends. Even fewer of those get deep enough to be very close friends.

I think it’s the same on the ‘net. I encounter lots, and very few are those that I invest enough time into to be come truly close friends.

I think, though, that technology has changed even that. A few anecdotal examples: When I was in High School, I had a very good friend. As usually happens with HS friends, we drifted apart. He went into the Military, I went to college, etc.. A few years ago, he hits me on the IM. Ever since then, we chat two or three times a week. I haven’t “seen” him since the early ‘80’s. But now we are closer friends than we ever were, even back then. And just through the chats.

I can think of some other friends I’ve made through musician’s groups where our contact has been wholly electronic. I’ll probably never meet these people face-to-face (one, in fact, lives in Finland). Perhaps it’s the anonymity of the communication that makes it so open, or just the fact that we’ve invested time in communicating with each other. In either case, those friendships are just as deep as my face-to-face friends, in some cases more so.

So, where am I going with this?

As you are out on the ‘net, flying though the GIC, remember that it is a human on the other side that’ll be reading your message, seeing your ad, or your website. What will they think? How will they react?

The success of your business depends on building a relationship with the people on the other side of that cloud. And, in reality, your own sense of well-being can be enhanced as you develop true friendships with the people out there.

The technology hasn’t really changed how we make friends, at the core, it’s just facilitated it.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006


This is a word that gets thrown around a lot, but I’m not really sure what it means. I mean, I could look it up in the dictionary, but what does it really mean? Is it my beliefs? Is it the things that are most important to me?

I hear the word thrown around a lot in election years. Ads on TV tell me that this candidate supports my values, and that the other guy is actively working to destroy them. His opponent presents his views the same way. How do either of them know what MY values are? Sometimes I think they’re just assuming, and other times, I think they’re trying to manipulate them, that somehow by making the ads strong enough, I’ll be convinced to change whatever my values are to match theirs.

I also hear companies throwing the word around, implying essentially the same things. “We value the same things you do, and the competition is just out for your money like the greedy, hungry dogs they are!”

Well, it’s not that bad, but you get the idea…

Values-based marketing, then, is when a company’s promotions and advertising is directly connected to some kind of perceived belief system. You see it all around. It could be a Christian bookstore, or a health-food store. It could be the vending machine that says that it donates half the profits to the Boys and Girls Clubs. It’s the company that sells flags in election years, the store that sells yellow ribbons in wartime.

Values-based marketing can be a very effective tool, in the long run, for marketing your products. If, and that’s a big IF, it’s done right. Here are some things to keep in mind:

1. Identify your audience

One of the problems I have with the political campaigns, especially, is that the ads blast out to everyone, and assume that my values match theirs. When that’s not the case, it comes across as criticism, like they’re insulting my values. The truth is, that I’m simply not one of their audience. If you don’t identify your audience first, you can end up alienating a lot of people and the very least, wasting a lot of advertising effort and money. Know who you’re looking for.

2. Identify their values

Once you know who they are, you need to know what their beliefs are. If you’re going to connect your products with those beliefs, it’ll be difficult without knowing them. How does that group feel about themselves, their families, the world? What is important to them?

3. Compare your own values to your audience’s

If you’ve picked your product and your business based on your own passions and interests, then you’ll find that when you do the first two steps, you, yourself, are a part of your audience. If that’s the case, then you’re in a good position to market to their values, because you share them. You’re connected to them. You live them yourself. This will also make you more believable.

If you check your own list of values against that of your audience, and you discover that they clash, you might want to reconsider using values and beliefs as a part of the marketing process. You might want to use other strategies.

4. Show how your products enhance their ability to live their values

This is the essence of benefits-driven advertising. When you do your promotions, your websites, your ads, your press releases, you want to focus on how your products or services will enhance your customer’s ability to live their values. For example, if your audience values education for children, then science kits and books might be promoted to show how that will help your children learn. Point out how educational video games are better than shoot-em-ups.

5. Use Charitable Giving Carefully

A very easy way to appeal to values is to promise a portion of the proceeds go to a particular charity. If you do this, make sure to contact the charity and see if they have any policies for that. In essence, by tying in to their name, you are implying an endorsement. Also, when I see signs like that, the skeptic in me always wonders what actual percentage of what I pay goes to the charity. It might not be a bad idea to be a little more specific.

Also, it helps if the recipient charity is in some way relevant and related to the topic of the site. You should at the very least choose a charity that impacts your audience. Is your audience women? Then maybe breast cancer research. Christians? There are a huge number of churches and Christian charities. You get the idea.

6. Avoid insincere exploitation.

People aren’t stupid. They can spot insincerity, and it will impact your business. If you followed through with steps 1, 2, and 3, it will show in your promotions. Otherwise, you’ll be seen as someone just trying to make a fast buck off of someone else’s kindness and faith.

7. Carry on in the face of criticism

Even if you ARE sincere, there will be those who doubt your motives and will criticize you. Others who oppose your beliefs may try to distract you and derail you. But if you are committed to your values, carry on, and you’ll succeed not only in business, but in fulfilling your values in your life. And that’s a powerful place to be.