Beware of marketing assumptions

I’ve had the pleasure and privilege of speaking at the Hawai‘i Tourism Association’s annual conference in Honolulu, a gorgeous city. I’d not been to Honolulu before, so it was fascinating to walk around a city in which Japanese is more or less the de facto second language. Signs, menus, directions – all have Japanese versions next to their English versions. It’s been great to practice my very rusty Japanese skills.

Here’s the interesting assumption people make about me. Shopkeepers, store owners, and other tourists assume I speak Japanese. It’s reminiscent of when I went to Seoul, South Korea and struggled to get around because I don’t speak Korean, but I look the part. Shopkeepers would ask me questions and I’d have to reply, “I’m sorry, I’m American. I don’t speak Korean”. Boy, did that confuse people.


I actually took to carrying that around as a graphic on my iPhone as I walked around Seoul.

The shopkeepers in Honolulu make an assumption based on how I appear and greet me in Japanese. Because everyone’s wonderfully friendly, we simply switch over to American English once I exhaust my very meager Japanese skills. I’m fairly certain that it’s apparent in my Japanese accent as well that it’s not even close to my native language. (I once had a Japanese teacher in college who said my Americanization of Japanese sounds made me sound like an inakamono, a country bumpkin)

However, this begets a marketing problem in general: when you make assumptions before the customer gives you data, you risk miscategorizing your customer. Just because you get referral traffic from a social network does not mean the customer heard about you solely from the social network. Just because someone subscribes to your email newsletter does not mean they want to buy something from you. We as marketers have come to rely on passive data, on machine-provided data, leaping to conclusions that may be incorrect.

This becomes even more troublesome in the algorithm-driven world we live in. As machines take on more and more of the responsibility for pattern matching, they build assumptions of their own (or are pre-programmed with our assumptions). For the most part, customers will not tell you that your algorithms are wrong. They will simply see mis-targeted marketing and vanish silently to a competitor.

In your marketing technology, in your marketing automation, do your best to let your customers give information first. Listen. Ask. By not assuming, you may be able to avoid potentially embarrassing mistakes and serve their needs better and faster.


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3 Ways to Maximize Conference and Event Marketing

One of the real world marketing questions I’m asked often is whether events and conferences matter, from a marketing point of view. Do they help to generate business? The answer is a qualified yes – as long as you do it right.

PodCamp Boston 5

First, if you don’t know why you’re going, don’t go. “Because our competitors are there” isn’t a great reason. Ask if your audience is at the show. The easiest way to establish this? Look at the previous year’s hashtag on social media and who used it, then randomly sample the Twitter biographies of people who used the hashtag. If their names and titles are your audience, then you have a reason to attend the show.

Events are excellent for introducing your company to the target audience, but you have to provide ways for people to have those introductions.

To make the most of the show, you need three key elements. The first is the spotlight. Obtain this however you can, if you are committed to attending the event. This may mean earning a speaking slot or paying for it. This may mean a significant sponsorship that ensures show organizers will name drop you repeatedly throughout the event.

The second element is the anchor. This is the exhibitor booth. At some shows, particularly larger ones, sponsorship and exhibiting are separate animals. You need an anchor at the show, a physical location you can use as a base of operations, a rally point, and a focus. When you have speakers on stage, it’s easiest for them to say, “If you have questions after this session, come meet me at Booth 176” rather than have them loiter around, especially if the show has a packed schedule.

The third element is the foot soldiers, the street team, the ground staff you have at a show. These are the folks who move around the show floor, providing intelligence, gathering competitors’ collateral and speaking to competitor sales personnel. Your army can help staff the booth in a pinch, but also goes out and networks with attendees. For those connections that are relevant and valuable, foot soldiers can direct people back to the booth or to a speaker’s session. Foot soldiers also use social media effectively during the show, sharing other speakers’ content but heavily promoting your own. Given how many conferences feature social media leaderboards for most retweeted speakers, content, and people, your foot soldiers can play a key part in being seen.

With these three elements in force, you can maximize your appearance at a trade show. People will remember you, connect with you, and quite possibly do business with you. The very best executions of this plan make you so prominent, you’re on equal or greater footing than the show itself.

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Travel Day: DIY Sodastream Soda Maker

David B. Thomas inquired, based on a Facebook post I’d made a month or so ago, about how hard it was to make your own Sodastream-like machine at home. The answer is, not terribly hard – and much more cost effective in the long run.

One of my annoyances at the Sodastream I owned was that I had to change out the canister every month or so; it made about 30 liters of carbonated water, which was okay. The cost per liter was about 50 cents a liter, which is still a savings over the grocery store.

In typical hacker fashion, I asked, what if I could do this myself? What if there were better gear? It turns out that of course, there is significantly better gear to be had – from the beer world. Beer kegs tap CO2 and/or nitrogen all the time to add that last little punch to a brew. The equipment is surprisingly simple.

What you need:

– A CO2 canister. Most welding shops carry these. I paid $100 for a 10 pound canister. Unlike a Sodastream, this should let me make between a liter and two liters of soda per day for over a year, possibly close to two years.

– A length of hose with clamps to connect the tank to…

– A pressure gauge regulator. This tells you how much pressure is in the tank, and lets you set the pressure for your soda water. I usually set mine to 40 PSI.

– A ball lock and hose. This goes from the regulator to your bottle of soda and connects to…

– The Carbonator. This plugs into the ball lock and is what connects your soda bottle to the whole business.

– A used soda bottle, clean and free of cracks. This is the best part: you get to recycle. Sodastream bottles aren’t dishwasher safe, so over time they can get nasty, and of course, buying a new one costs a fair bit for what’s essentially just a plastic bottle. A used soda bottle obviously can hold soda (at much higher pressures), so recycle!

When put together in order, you get this:


The trick with making soda at home is to have the water be ice, ice cold. I usually fill the soda bottle with about two cups of fresh water and then place horizontally in the freezer. This makes a giant ice cube. Once thoroughly frozen, fill to the point where the side of the soda bottle begins to curve. Then attach to the carbonator, turn on your gas, and shake vigorously while the CO2 dissolves in the water. After a minute of vigorous shaking, turn off the gas, remove the bottle, and enjoy!

Enjoy your DIY sodastream maker!

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