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Weekend Reading: The 11/11 Edition

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This weekend, I will be re-reading the Claude Hopkins classic Scientific Advertising. Sure, it's from 1923, but it's still dead-on today. It's important to stay connected to the roots of modern marketing, because despite the incredible technological changes we've witnessed in the past century, the actual science of persuasion, connection and conversion sure hasn't changed much. That's why marketing students in 2010 are still reading the work of David Ogilvy. A few days ago, I came across this excellent interview with Ken Roman about his decades of experience working alongside Ogilvy at his legendary agency. It's a long read but well worth it -- the opportunity to listen in on a living legend for free is hard to pass up. A few of the best bits:

"Ogilvy didn’t learn much from academia, he sought out smart people and interrogated them and he remembered everything...the thing that made Ogilvy different from most other people is that he never stopped learning."

"Make sure you have a big idea, a campaignable idea An idea that will last for many years and then make sure you judge your ideas on the basis of their results in the market place as opposed to awards."

"David really believed and preached respect for the consumer...the consumer is not a moron, she’s your wife.  You wouldn’t lie to your wife, don’t lie to mine.  He preached respect for the consumer in many ways."

Of course, there's a lot about Ogilvy that does not translate for our Internet era. As Ken Roman notes in the interview, "he wouldn't be into anything digital or online because he didn't understand anything in terms of new technology. He really didn't even understand television." Well, fast forward to 2010 and it's a whole new ballgame. Few business models make that more clear than the start-up website, and this week, we've got a remarkable story about Doing It Right online....



A remarkably thorough Fast Company article about a controversial niche:
WeedMaps, a service that lets medical marijuana patients locate and review all the "dispensaries" in their area. The reason they're in Fast Company magazine is simple: they've been in business since August 2008, and they're currently making $400,000 a month. This is a textbook case of identifying, monetizing and dominating an online niche, and an enjoyable read, too. The key take-away points:

1. It's always better to be first.
As their CEO bluntly puts it, "there's no doubt we're the largest because we're the oldest." Indeed, every competitor they have is built on exactly the same model.

2. Service staff keep the users happy, sales staff keep the lights on.
WeedMaps only has a staff of 12 people who are mostly tasked with maintaining the site, dealing with user complaints and, uh...weeding out fake reviews.  Of course, most user complaints come from people who are basically non-paying customers. The real money comes from charging the dispensaries for listing their information, but that requires far fewer man-hours to maintain. (They are currently hiring, though.)

3. Tiered services and products fattens your bottom line. WeedMaps really hit their stride when they expanded from charging a flat $295 a month for listings and started offering premium packages.  The proof is clear enough: $400,000 a month is drawn almost entirely from recurring monthly fees, not advertisement. Being able to offer businesses on a budget a basic package has been a valuable introduction: later, as dispensaries grow, they keep "buying up" into higher premium levels.

Finally, the folks at Fast Company gave us another gem this week: a preview chapter from the next Heath Brothers book, Switch: Don't Solve Problems, Copy Success. If you missed their last book, Made to Stick, it's by far one of the best marketing books of the past decade -- seriously, it's that good.  We're definitely looking forward to Switch.
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