27 Jan

A reading list for marketers, Part 1

So you want to know more about marketing, huh?

I’ve always found that reading books is helpful – strange, I guess, given the way that so much media consumption has moved online, but I definitely feel that there is something about the process of reading a book that helps me to absorb more and think more deeply than, say, jumping around through multiple tabs on a web browser. Perhaps it has something to do with Nicholas Carr’s argument that the internet is altering the way our brains work?

Anyways, I digress. Over the next several weeks I will be publishing a list of some books that I’ve found useful in clarifying my understanding of and approach to marketing. I make no claims that this is a definitive list, merely that these books have helped me to develop how I see marketing; most are not even ‘marketing books; strictly defined, but I will try to explain their relevance.

Here’s part one of the list:

Anderson, Chris, The Long Tail: How endless choice is creating unlimited demand – A ground-breaking work for anyone wanting to understand how the internet has radically upended the traditional hit-driven sales model; without the physical constraints of traditional retail locations, online retailers like Amazon can offer a much greater choice of items, and consumers have responded in kind, allocating their spending to niche products in an unprecedented manner. For marketers, the lesson is simply that something doesn’t have to be a ‘hit’ to make money, and that there are great opportunities available in fulfilling niche desires.

Ariely, Dan, Predictably Irrational: The Hidden Forces that Shape Our Decisions – In this title, Israeli behavioural economist Dan Ariely explodes our assumptions of the rationality behind our decision-making, instead showing that our minds make decisions based on emotions that don’t take into account the outcomes of their choices (with a great example being, as all marketers should know, the tremendous success of ‘Buy One Get One Free’ offers). A treasure trove of information as to how the human mind actually works, as opposed to how we would like to imagine that it works.

Christakis, Nicholas and James Fowler Connected: The Amazing Power of Social Networks and How They Shape Our Lives – Another title that is not a business book per se, but instead a fascinating exploration of how we are connected to each other, how our lives are a complicated web of relationships, and how ideas, behaviours, and tastes can spread through our social networks. An excellent resource for any marketer looking to use word of mouth to spread the news about their products and/or services.

Read More »

26 Jan

Dan Calladine on the Future of Media

Those of you who read my dissertation will remember that some of the most interesting quotes came from my interview with Dan Calladine, Head of Digital Futures at Aegis. Anyways, via We Are Social, I see that Dan has just released his latest Next Generation Media Quarterly presentation, which is well worth checking out for anyone interested in the key media trends of the moment:

It’s a fascinating compilation of facts, including quite a bit of stuff I didn’t know (and I tend to think of myself as pretty well informed). For instance, I was pretty staggered to find out that there are 842 million mobile phone subscriptions in China! I was also very impressed to find out that Zynga’s CityVille game took less than a month to overtake FarmVille. I could go on and on, but instead you are better off clicking through or downloading the report and have a look for yourself – you won’t be disappointed!

24 Jan

Create your own map on LinkedIn

Randall Helms' professional network

This is really neat:

If you’re a LinkedIn user, you already know the power of your professional network.

What if you could visualize what your network looks like? Would your connections form clusters or groups? Wouldn’t it be great if you could see the way all your connections are related to each other? Even be able to identify the elusive hubs between your professional worlds?

Now, you can! This week, we’re introducing a new LinkedIn Labs product, called InMaps

What a great idea!

If you’re a LinkedIn user, you can set up your own map by going to the InMaps section of LinkedIn Labs.

My network is at the top, and it’s pretty neat how effectively it slices up people – the big blue group on the right are MBA connections, the purple group are old work colleagues, the group in green are my London friends, the light blue are one set of family members, and the maroon are another group of family members.

Not particularly earth-shattering, but pretty cool stuff nonetheless.

24 Jan

Free Isn’t Always Worth It

Last week on the always-excellent Bassmusicblog, ID put up an astute post up about some of the problems with giving away music for free:

Over the last couple of years, and in the last 12 months especially, the idea of giving away free tracks has become massively more common. Three years back, it was pretty rare – a name artist would give away a remix that never came out and everyone would jump on it. Now, it’s a pretty established PR tactic …

What’s the effect of all this? Well, the first thing is clearly that the novelty value of free stuff is wearing off. Giving something away for free isn’t really something that’s going to guarantee some publicity any more. You now have to market it too, to some extent …

(We are) in danger of muddying the waters between ‘free’ and ‘paid’ even more. An increasing percentage of music is now available for free (legally) and it’s starting to make the divide look even more of a bizarre construct than it already was. Why is this track free but that track is 99p? Is it better? Why can you download this track for free from the artist’s soundcloud, when you can also pay £1.29 for the same track in the same bitrate from beatport? It’s probably going to lead quicker to the situation (which I believe is coming anyway) where music will basically be free, and those who want to donate to the artist, can do.

If you click through to the post on Bassmusicblog, you’ll see that I’ve already added a few thoughts of my own on this topic, which I would now like to use this space to expand on.

Read More »

21 Jan

10 from 2010

Princes Street Gardens, Edinburgh, Christmas 2010

Sometimes late is better than never …

Last year I published 51 posts on this blog, so I thought that it would be useful to do a recap of my ten favourite posts from the year.

Hopefully these posts will be interesting, useful, and thought-provoking, so without further ado, here are my 10 from 2010:

01. Suitably Social: How FMCG Brands Can Best Use Social Media for Engaging with their Customers – No question as to what my most important post was last year! This was the post where I published my MBA dissertation, the culmination of months of work. Drawing on a massive programme of secondary reading as well as the results of 18 interviews conducted with brand managers, academics, consultants, and people at digital and marketing agencies, this paper provided some common sense best practice principles for any brand working with social media. A must-read.

02. Interview: Brett Keintz, Head of Social, Groupon – One of the hottest social media companies of 2010 was Groupon, the social discount service; indeed, before the year was over Groupon had turned down a $6 billion offer from Google! Therefore, I was very fortunate to be able to interview Brett Keintz right after he had become the Head of Social there. It’s definitely worth reading if you would like to know what one of the leading practitioners thinks about social media marketing.

03. A few thoughts on group buying – Having read my interview with Brett Keintz, it’s worth turning next to this post, where I lay out my thoughts about the Groupon model as well as a few predictions for the future of it and similar services.

04. Why should companies blog? – Blogging may have become less fashionable as newer forms of social media have emerged in recent years, but that doesn’t mean that blogs can’t help companies to achieve their marketing goals. In this post I went through some of the reasons why companies should blog, and how to achieve success with blogging.

05. Who’s listening? – One service that has attracted a lot of hype is Twitter, but how do you actually measure how influential your tweets are, or can you actually do so? In this post I looked at some recent research and hinted at some of the key questions that anyone hoping to use Twitter for marketing purposes needs to remember.

Read More »

19 Jan

About Me updated

In case you are curious, I’ve now updated my About Me page to more accurately reflect what I’m now up to. Please have a look, and remember that if you would like to get in touch, I can be reached in the following ways:

Email: randall@randallhelms.com
Twitter: @sonicrampage
LinkedIn: Randall Helms

19 Jan

Edinburgh in the Snow (A Photoblog)

The Meadows in the snow, Edinburgh, December 2010
The Meadows, Edinburgh, December 2010

Before I go on, if you want to read something interesting about social media, try Royal Pingdom’s fascinating report about the key numbers relating to the internet in 2010. Really, really, thought-provoking stuff, particularly the estimate that 107 trillion emails were sent last year. Wow! Every now and then people suggest that email is dead, but I am never convinced by those arguments – it may no longer be a central part of the online experience, but is that any reason for it to be consigned to irrelevance?

Anyways, the point of this post is not to discuss social media (which I will be doing more of in the days to come), but to do something different, namely to post a follow-up to October’s post of some photos that I took on a walk around Edinburgh with my wife.

These pictures were all taken on sequential days in early December, right after the worst snowstorm to hit the city in over fifty years … when the snow still looked beautiful, since a few days later it had turned into a combination of horrible grey slush and fearsome sheet ice. Anyways, the pics include some from walks that my wife and I took through the part of Holyrood Park near our Meadowbank flat, as well as a walk we took from Morningside through the Meadows.


no images were found

17 Jan

Waffling – A Small Thought for the Day

stop waffling with your social media marketing
‘Waffles’ by Flickr user fritish, used under a Creative Commons license

Here’s a little thought for the day: sometimes all you do to make a message effective is to make it simple.

This applies beyond social media to any kind of marketing.

For example, at one point early on in the process of writing my dissertation, I was having a lot of trouble getting interviews arranged.


Because my message contained far too much waffling – I was burying my prospects under way too much information far too early. In my eagerness to explain myself I was overdoing things – they didn’t need so much information about the project, so I stepped back, simplified my message, and then reaped the rewards when I contacted the next group of potential interviewees.

If you are having a hard time getting your message through to people, try stripping it down to the essentials, and then see what happens.

You’ll be surprised.

13 Jan

Don’t be afraid to experiment!

social media omelette
To make an omelette, you need to break eggs

Although most marketers by now understand the value of social media to their work, many other professionals remain skeptical about the value of applying social media to areas other than marketing.

Social networking, that’s just what people use to slack off and not do their jobs, right?


OK, not completely wrong, but perhaps one of the most common misconceptions is that social media is a combination of an internet fad, a productivity sinkhole, and a load of marketing hype, without practical use for business purposes.

To be honest, it is all of those things, but it is also much more.

How so?

Well, because social media is not any one thing but a set of tools that connect people so that they can more easily share information, ideas, etc. Some of these ideas are good, some are bad, but, as such, there are still many social media tools that can assist a business to achieve its goals.

Read More »

10 Jan

Where will social media be in five years?

In the future, social media tools will be better integrated into all aspects of online life
In the future, social media tools will be better integrated into all aspects of online life

One social media service that’s been getting a lot of attention recently is Quora, a social media questions-and-answers site.

Sure, the concept is not exactly new, given the long-term existence of sites like Yahoo Answers, but what Quora has done successfully is to attract a lot of really interesting and smart people from the technology, media and marketing worlds and create a space for some very good conversations.

Being a less stupid Yahoo Answers is not a bad thing!

One of the nice touches about Quora is that it allows you to automatically follow your Facebook and Twitter contacts that are active on the site, so if any of you want to follow me, you can do so here.

Anyways, I’ve been adding my answers to various questions, on everything from the history of dubstep to the characteristics of the typical UK Twitter user to the question of when will publishers stop printing books. It’s fun!

One question that I’ve answered that is particularly germane to this space is the issue of where will social media be in five years time, and I think it’s worth taking the time to expand on my answer in this space.

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