Tuesday, December 15, 2009

411 on WWGD

WWGDImage Source

I ordered a copy of What Would Google Do? By Jeff Jarvis (sans handsome t-shirt) shortly after it was published. And then it sat on my desk for a while. A long while. That’s not a rare occurrence for me. I had -- and still have -- the best of intentions for the last 10+ business books I bought but my to-do list between my company and my family is never-ending. Sometimes tackling it feels like shoveling while it’s still snowing.


As you probably know, I’m working on a book of my own about lessons learned from Google titled, “Everything I Know About Marketing I Learned From Google.” FYI, my publisher -- with whom I’ve just agreed to terms and will reveal as soon as the signed contract arrives -- cut “I Need” from the title to make it shorter. Surprised they didn’t recommend going with EIKAMILFG given that acronymization is all the rage these days -- not to mention, the success-to-date of WWGD.

At first, I didn’t want to read WWGD for fear of clouding my own creative process. So I was fine with my copy sitting untouched in the business book graveyard that my desk has become. Then, after seeing Jarvis speak at SES Chicago last week --
and fortunately managing to stay dry in the front row -- I realized how closely aligned our points-of-view were and knew it’d be a sin to not consider what he wrote as I get deeper into my manuscript.

Overall, I really enjoyed WWGD. And it was a surprisingly quick read. If only writing 240 pages were that easy as reading them!

In this post, I’d like to share some of Jarvis’ best pearls of wisdom. I’ll add context to his quips and sprinkle in some of my own thoughts to make this more of a narrative. By no means, should this be a cliff notes for WWGD, though. If I’ve piqued your interest here, please buy the book.


First, lest you think my book will be a case of Same Shit Different Book, let me point out some of the key differentiating factors...

In WWGD, Jarvis discusses how Google has changed the world. In EIKAMILFG -- rolls right off the tongue, aye? -- I will focus on how Google has changed the marketing world.

In WWGD, Jarvis lays out 40 “rules” for businesses operating in a Google world. In EIKAMILFG, I’ll lay out 20 lessons for marketers operating in a Google world.

In WWGD, Jarvis spends a lot of time talking about the how the news, media, and journalism fields have been impacted by the Big G. That’s clearly because those are the industries he knows best. In EIKAMILFG, I’ll spend my time talking about marketing and advertising. Those are the disciplines I know best. (Jarvis does devote a chapter to advertising, btw, and I’ll share my thoughts on that later.)

In WWGD, Jarvis takes a sarcastic and borderline snarky tone -- which makes for a more entertaining read, I might add. In EIKAMILFG, I’ll take a more prescriptive and borderline ironic tone -- as epitomized by the heavy use of emdashes -- that should be quite familiar to loyal Search Insider readers.

In WWGD, Jarvis laments that he cannot follow his own rules -- “If I had eaten my own dog food -- you wouldn’t be reading this book right now, at least not as a book. You’d be reading it online, for free, having discovered it via links and search. You’d be able to correct me, and I’d be able to update the book with the latest amazing stats about Google. We could join in conversations around the ideas here... If only books enabled links."

For EIKAMILFG, I’m taking a reverse approach. Links will enable the book. More specifically, tweets will enable the book. I’ve set up @LearnFromGoogle to gather and share -- or, as Jarvis might say, curate -- relevant bits of tid relating to lessons learned from Google. Many of these tweets will be printed in the margins of my book, providing additional insight and, hopefully, a dollop of humor to the narrative.

I’ll also be posting excerpts from the many interviews I’ll be conducting with various industry influentials throughout the process of completing my manuscript. Look for those on LearnFromGoogle.com. In turn, based on the response from the community, I’ll cull out the most popular and provocative quips and pepper them into the most relevant sections.

There are, of course, many similarities between WWGD and how EIKAMILFG is shaping up. Many of Jarvis’ rules map to my lessons. For the record, though, I completed my series in MediaPost of marketing lessons (Part 1, Part 2, Part 3), product development lessons, general business lessons (Part 1, Part 2, Part 3) and dating lessons prior to reading WWGD so know that these are all original thoughts.


Before we get into some of my favorite nuggets from WWGD -- and, for what it's worth, I think Jarvis could give Rishad Tobaccowala a run for his money in the sound-byte department -- I want to circle back to the thread around Jarvis’ view of advertising in a “post-media” Google world.

Jarvis thinks ad agencies are doomed. He is of the mind that “your product can be your ad and your customers are your ad agency.”

I fully support tapping the wisdom of crowds to create advertising and cite Doritos in my book as an example of turning over the keys to consumers -- of course the irony there is Frito Lay still had to shell out millions for the Super Bowl media slot. Nonetheless, I still think there’s a place for advertising beyond just making good products and there’s a place for agencies beyond just making good ads.

In fact, I think the model for the agency of the future is Rishad’s own Denuo, a firm that appropriately carries the tagline, “Tomorrow Tangible Today.” And irony of ironies, Rishad is cited on numerous occasions in WWGD, even getting the final word in the second-to-last chapter comparing Apple to Google in that they both want “Godlike power.”

As Jarvis astutely observes, “Agencies will resist change until the economics of the industry change. Because agencies make a cut of what they spend, they are motivated to spend more on ads rather than to replace ad dollars with more valuable relationships between brands and customers.”

Here’s the thing about Denuo, though. They don’t spend a dime on media! They actually get paid for intellectual capital -- aka, ideas for ways to create more valuable relationships between brands and customers. Imagine that!

Sure enough, the agency of the future won’t be buying spots and dots -- that’s Google’s job now. They’ll be idea factories. And Denuo is proof that you can make money from your ideas.


OK, here are my favorite Jarvis-isms from WWGD…

On the notion of a “post-media company”: “Unlike Yahoo, Google is not a portal. It is a network and a platform. Google thinks in distributed ways. It goes to the people.” As Jarvis put it at SES Chicago, “Homepages are bullshit.” Indeed, the lesson for marketers here is that it’s arrogant to think that -- unless you’re Apple -- consumers want to come to you. Of course, that’s why Apple is my poster child for lesson #1, “Relevancy Rules.”

On the Dell Hell he raised: “I asked the Dell team whether this approach was efficient, fixing problems one blog kvetch at a time. They insisted yet.” This reminded me of the Broken Window Theory used to fight crime in NYC under Bratton’s watch. The idea was that if you started to arrest people for jumping turnstiles and clean up graffiti, there would be less crime in the subway and that would lead to less crime in the neighborhoods and so forth. In another ironic twist, Dell is now seemingly the poster child for social media -- although I have cautioned people about fawning over Dell’s Twitter sales figures.

On dealing with angry customers: “You hate the idea of not being in control of this conversation. But remember: When you hand over control, you start winning.” I’ll try and keep this in mind when my daughter gets old enough to argue.

On Google’s real breakthrough: “The single greatest transformative power of the internet and Google has little to do with technology or media or even business. It’s about people and making new connections among them. It all comes down to relationships.” Accordingly, the lesson of Google is not technology and algorithms, it's relationships and connections. Brin and Page’s Stanford paper that set the stage for Google was an algorithm based on humans voting with links, appropriately -- and humanly -- named Backrub. I believe so much in the power of relationships and connections, I bet my business on it.

On the significance of platforms (quoting Meg Hourihan, co-creator of Blogger): “What we say isn’t as important as the system that enables us to say it.” I struggled with this for a while. And then I remembered, without Blogger, you wouldn’t be reading this.

On the state of today’s news industry: “If the news business were invented today, post-link, everything about it -- how news is gathered and shared and even how a story is structured -- would be different. For example, in print, reporters are taught to include a background paragraph that sums up all that came before this article, just in case a reader missed something. But online, reporters can link to history rather than repeat it, because one reader might need to know more than a paragraph could impart whereas another reader, already informed, may not want to waste time on repetition.” Jarvis was clearly ahead of his time here. Just last week, Google unveiled an “experiment with a different format for presenting news coverage online” in partnership with the New York Times and Washington Post. In a nutshell, Living Stories aggregates various stories related to a larger news topic and changes the assembly of the page(s) based on what you’ve previously read. In another move to change how news is gathered, AOL just launched Seed.com -- a new distributed model for content development.

Many times throughout WWGD, Jarvis refers to a “virtuous cycle” created by Google. This ecosystem perpetuation is, more than anything, what I believe makes Google so successful…

1. On usage and market-share: “The more we click on search results, the smarter Google gets; the smarter Google gets, the better its results are, and the more we use Google.”

2. On the AdSense ecosystem: “The more Google sends traffic to sites with its ads, the more money it makes; the more money those sites make, the more content they can create for Google.” (Not to mention, the more money they can afford to spend with Google.)

3. On Googlejuice (love how he says it in one word like Beetlejuice... every 3rd time I read the word, I expected Michael Keaton to pop out):The more links, clicks, and mentions you get, the higher you rise in Google’s search results, offering you potential for even more clicks.”

On how media companies try and put themselves and their content at the center and invite audiences in: “That’s not how their customers think of their worlds. People draw their me-spheres with themselves at the center and everyone else -- especially those who want their money -- on the outside.” Amen. Want to see this for yourself? Just do a focus group with the closest teenager on Facebook.

On this whole notion of privacy: “The more public you are, the easier you can be found, the more opportunities you have.” As I’ve said before, come the middle of the century, we won’t be building houses with curtains.

On the old role of government and media in organizing us: “The next generation of organizational enterprise -- the Facebooks, Flickrs and Wikipedias -- don’t organize us. They are platforms that help us organize ourselves.” Obama showed signed of getting this during his campaign but it’s gonna take more than a WhiteHouse.gov blog to keep the grassroots rootin’.

On blogs and its impact on the new media: “The writers are starting to outnumber the readers.” Alas, I know this all too well as I look at the Google Analytics reports for GoodWordBadWord.com!

On the commoditization of media: “Serve the niche well rather than the mass badly.” That’s what I told myself I was doing with GoodWordBadWord.com!

On middlemen and other “proprietors of inefficient marketplaces”: “Google isn’t their competitor. Google is the weapon their competitors wield.” Take that Murdoch!

On abundance breeding quality (another virtuous cycle) in movies and TV: “Once the people were given choice and control, they would tend to pick the good stuff. The more choice they had, the better the stuff they picked. The better the stuff they picked, the more Hollywood was forced to make good shows for them.” Gee, Golly, Glee.

On not waiting until products are perfect to release them: “Beta is Google’s way of never having to say they’re sorry.” Wish I could pass gas in beta!

On Google’s “Don’t Be Evil” credo: “As interaction explodes, the costs of evil are starting to outweigh the benefits… When people can talk openly with, about, and around you, screwing them is no longer a valid business strategy.” I certainly know where Michael Arrington stands on this one.

On the impact Google has had on our day-to-day lives: “Google has made us impatient people, more than we know. If we can get any of the world’s knowledge in a blink, why should we wait on hold or in line or until your office opens.” I, for one, have developed a serious case of Google-induced A.D.D.

On business models: “Beware any strategy built on protecting cannibalization, for it probably means the cannibals are at the door and ready to eat your lunch.” Hope the folks in Redmond filled up on breakfast!

On disclosures: “It could be corrupting if bloggers recommend products only to sell them. But the blogger’s brands and reputations are at stake. If I buy a wine you push and it’s bad, I won’t trust your judgment again. But if I find a new wine I like, I’ll give credit to you and to the store that made it possible.” I thought long and hard about this when launching my business with the model that has me getting paid by the companies I recommend. But then I realized the market would keep me honest. One bad referral and the brand is permanently damaged -- not to mention, I only get paid based on completed transactions.

On the Google philosophy: “Create and manage abundance rather than control scarcity.” Not sure how the digital velvet ropes for new products like Google Wave apply here.

On why Google is always pushing for faster, free-er Internet (quoting Larry Page): “If we [Google], have 10% better connectivity in the U.S., we get 10% more revenue in the U.S.” This reaffirms my business lesson, “Find your golden goose and then give away the farm.” As I suspected, “Someone at the Googleplex has calculated the amount of money Google makes for each new Internet page view -- not page view on a Google property, page view anywhere on the Internet. And I can assure you that amount is more than any other company in the world. I can also assure you that amount multiplied by all the new Internet page views generated each day is not less than what Google is spending on these programs.”

On Googlifying the airline industry and fostering social connections on flights: “Remember, your company is the company you keep.” I chuckled thinking about this one as, just this morning, I had my seat reassigned on a flight from Chicago to New York planting me next to an old friend of mine whose company I think I'll keep.

On Googlifying education: “I imagine a new educational ecology… where the skills of research and reasoning and skepticism are valued over the skills of memorization and calculation.” In my day, the TI-82 was the reason we argued it was stupid to memorize facts and formulas, today it’s Google.

On the Googlification of government: “The information government knows must be online with permanent addresses so we can link to, discuss it, and download and analyze it.” Not so sure I’m with Jarvis here. Seems like an Al-Qaeda wet dream -- well, if there were 72 virgins in it too. I certainly agree that a more open government is a better government -- and, in that sense, WhiteHouse.gov is an accomplishment -- but there’s got to be a firm line drawn in the sand when it comes to information sharing.

To be sure, Jarvis adds: “I’m not suggesting that government should be crowdsourced. I don’t want rule by the mob, even the smart mob. The internet requires filters, moderators, fact-checkers, and skeptics. So will the conversation that powers the country. That is the definition of a republic: representatives as filters.” Now there’s a notion I think we can all agree on bi-partisanly.

On privacy, again: “Privacy is not the issue. Control is. We need control of our personal information, whether it is made public and to whom, and how it is used. That is our right, at least for matters outside the public sphere.” I couldn’t agree more. That’s why I sold my non-personally identifiable information on eBay a couple years ago.

On redefining selfish behavior: “For all these reasons and one more powerful than any of them -- ego -- we will continue to reveal more of ourselves online. We will want to speak and to be discovered. Our online shadows become our identities. To stand out from the crowd, we need distinct identities. I’ll bet we’ll soon see parents giving children unique names so they can stand alone in Google searches.” Consider me guilty as charged! My daughter Eliara was the recipient of a made-up name landing her top rankings on the search engines.

On sharing the mundane of one’s personal life on Twitter and the like (citing Leisa Reichelt): “Ambient intimacy is good for friendship. It makes us feel closer to people we care for but in whose lives we’re not able to participate as closely as we’d like. And on a practical level… It also saves a lot of time when you finally do get to catch up with these people in real life.” I explored this phenomenon in my post, “Happy Birthday! Love, Your Wall.”

On whether Google is making us smarter or stupider: “Is what I do now better or worse? I’m not sure that judgment is meaningful. I learn differently, discuss differently, see differently, think differently. Thinking differently is the key product and skill of the Google age.” Hmm, seems to be a lesson learned from Apple here, whose slogan, “Think Different,” -- which I dubbed one of the best slogans of all time -- see right rail on GoodSloganBadSlogan.com -- stands the test of time.


OK, let’s close it out here. At 3,200+ words, I’m starting to wish I’d have poured tonight’s creative energy into my own book!

All in all, WWGD is a compelling read and, again, if any of the nuggets I’ve served here have tickled your palette, I urge you to buy the bird.

And please sign up to be notified when my book is published in Fall of 2010. I can only hope it’s worthy of being mentioned in WWGD’s company -- and that I can have some pimp merchandise of my own.

As for the rest of my manuscript, for better or worse, going forward I’ll be heavily considering What Would Jeff Jarvis Do?

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