Marketing Lessons From Patagonia: Review of Let My People Go Surfing

The following article is a guest post by Jess Spate.

let my people go surfingUntil quite recently, Yvon Chouinard’s name wasn’t well known outside of the extreme sports community. He was respected largely as a leader in the Yosemite National Park rock climbing scene during the ‘Golden Age’ of the 1960s and the blacksmith who created new rock climbing gear that made getting up high safer than ever before. The first company he founded- Chouinard Equipment Ltd- is long gone but still enjoys a great deal of respect amongst rock climbers.

However, Let My People Go Surfing has more to say about Chouinard’s second, more popular venture. Patagonia clothing is sold in outdoor stores from the USA to France to Australia, and almost everywhere else. Sales are in the hundreds of millions of US dollars per year. It’s seen as high-end stuff, expensive but worth the money.

From the start, Patagonia was not quite your average company. It was one of the first to commit a serious percentage of their profits to environmental causes, one of the first to address health issues in the employee cafeteria, and one of the first to introduce on-site care for the children of the workers.

The book’s title reflects a real Patagonia policy. If it’s sunny and the surf is up, the workforce is free to take an afternoon off, get out there and enjoy it. They can take up to two months of paid leave per year as long as they spend it working for a not-for-profit cause. The company also offers each and every employee $2000 dollars to put towards the cost of an environmentally-friendly car.

The question most business-minded people will ask is this: How can any company afford to give away a minimum of 1% of all sales, pay for so much employee time spent maintaining hiking trails and preserving wilderness, take such good care of the workforce, and still make a profit?

Let My People Go Surfing has a lot to say about how to run an ethical company successfully (and Patagonia has not always been safely in the black), but one of the strongest messages is that environmental and social responsibility do not have to be a drain on company resources. They can be fantastic marketing assets.

Ethical consciousness has never been higher amongst the general public. In Britain, where the trend is very strong indeed, four out of every five shoppers recognize the Fair Trade symbol and know what it means. About 50% of the adult population regard themselves as ethical consumers. Even in the USA, where it’s less pronounced, more than $300 billion dollars are invested in funds that declare themselves to be socially responsible.

Chouinard’s book provides a fascinating insight into the way ethical behavior can be used to build a brand. It’s essential reading for any marketer who wants to reach out to the growing number of environmentally and socially minded shoppers out there.

Jess Spate works for Appalachian Outdoors, a Pennsylvania-based outdoor clothing and equipment store. They sell a wide range of Patagonia products, and are also involved in their own environmental and social projects.

Where Starbucks' Marketing Went Wrong

onward bookIn Howard Schultz’s book Onward, he talks about how Starbucks rebounded from troubling times that included hundreds of store closures and thousands of layoffs, to get back on track to growth and strong profits. Schultz who started out in marketing at Starbucks before buying the company from the original owners and shifting the business strategy to serving beverages, talks a lot about branding and customer experience in the book. Despite his emphasis of maintaining a strong brand however, the never ending expectations of continued growth and poor marketing decisions have led to many mistakes that have hurt the strength of the Starbucks brand.

Automatic Espresso Machines

To increase efficiency and reduce customer wait time, Starbucks switched to automatic espresso machines that resulted in a loss of “romance and theater” that was originally envisioned. Schultz helped to restore the experience by making the process more manual, so that baristas could provide more of a performance for customers.

Breakfast Sandwiches

Schultz was not a fan of the introduction of breakfast sandwiches and was animate about getting breakfast sandwiches out of Starbucks. He talked about the smell of burnt cheese overwhelming the aroma of coffee that killed the brand story of an authentic European coffeehouse. Schultz was able to get rid of breakfast sandwiches temporarily, but decided to bring them back to increase sales per transaction and after the cheese was adjusted.

Licensing Stores
Schultz emphasizes the pressure Starbucks received from Wall Street to continue to grow and this probably led to the licensing of Starbucks as mini-Starbucks in grocery stores. Schultz explains that they decided to not franchise Starbucks stores to maintain consistent quality, but Starbucks’ stores within a store are not much better. Licensed stores are staffed by the licensee’s employees, who often provide substandard service that leads to a customer experience that is inconsistent with real Starbucks stores.

No National Advertising

Traditionally, Starbucks has stayed away from national advertising through major media. Strong brand awareness, word of mouth, and the addictive nature of coffee helped Starbucks get away with not advertising as much as other major brands for several decades. However, their lack of advertising hurt Starbuck’s ability to communicate important differentiators. For example Schultz talks about how Starbucks stresses using only high quality Arabica beans rather than the inferior Robusta beans, however many customers who didn’t know this complained of a burnt taste. Schultz also talks a lot about social responsibility such as providing healthcare for all employees and buying fair trade coffee, but a lot of customers are oblivious to these efforts. Schultz began to change his thinking about advertising and hired BBDO, which has produced some effective national ad campaigns.

Instant Coffee
Schulz talks about how there was great resistance to the idea of instant coffee over concerns that it would hurt the high quality and premium positioning of the Starbucks brand. Despite Schultz’s desire to differentiate Starbucks Via from instant coffee and Starbucks attempts to create a new product category, customers still perceive it as instant coffee.

Where Starbucks’ Marketing Went Right

My Starbucks Idea

My Starbucks Idea allows people to submit their suggestions to Starbucks and ideas are voted on by the community. Listening to customers through the My Starbucks Idea community has led to helpful insights and some ideas that were implemented to improve the customer experience.

Content Marketing in the Digital Age: Six Pixels of Separation Book Review

The following article is a guest post by Brett Alan.

six pixels of separation bookIn a world where Internet marketing advice becomes obsolete in a matter of weeks, it’s rare to find a book with marketing insights and tactics that are as relevant and effective today as when they were first published nearly two years ago. Books about online marketing with this kind of an extraordinarily long shelf life are usually reserved for works that garner lofty descriptions such as “game changer”, “illuminating” and sometimes even “classic”.

In my opinion, Six Pixels of Separation by Mitch Joel is one such book deserving of the praise “classic” as it has helped lay the ground-work for how I market my business online.

If you’re not familiar with the Six Pixels of Separation, I would plainly describe it as a play book for small business owners, entrepreneurs, or professionals that want to understand the why and at a high-level the how of content marketing in an increasingly digital planet.

At the crux of Six Pixels of Separation, Joel weighs in the importance of all the popular permutations of content marketing, including blogging, podcasting, video marketing, and social media. Joel recommends finding the style of content that best matches your individual strengths in the beginning of the process and slowly building a brand over time by attracting an audience through long-tail searches and social media.

Yeah, yeah, I’m sure you’ve probably heard some of these concepts before. Just keep in mind that this was published back in 2009. Some bloggers are still treating the concept content marketing like some shiny new idea. That’s part of the reason I believe Six Pixels of Separation is deserving of classic status.

But if you’re still not convinced you want to spend time reading Joel’s 304-page masterpiece, here are what I consider to be the most important crib notes:

You are the Media

It wasn’t all that long ago you had to either have special access or lots and lots of money to get your message out. Now you can communicate for almost nothing and if you work hard and long enough, build an audience and finally a business all online. You’re lucky to be born when you were.

Attention Does Not Equal Trust

Just because you’ve managed to get 100,000 people to watch a YouTube video because you recorded your 4-year-old son kicked you in the balls doesn’t mean any of these people will ever want to buy anything from you. Keep that concept in mind before when you start envisioning your brand.

More Work, More Opportunities

The harder you work and the longer you publish content the more opportunities your business will have of succeeding. Just make sure you’re working hard on a business that actually makes sense.

The Free Economy

In my opinion, Six Pixels of Separation acts as a nice introduction to the New York Times Best Seller Free by Chris Anderson. If you’re not familiar with the concept in the book Free, Chris Anderson makes the case that it’s in the best interest of some businesses to give their products away at no cost, while focusing on monetization through back-end offers or product upgrades to make money.

Mitch Joel’s beliefs align closely with the concept outlined in Free as he encourages publishing copious amounts of free content to attract, educate, and entertain an audience. Ideally, a small percentage of this audience will eventually convert to paying customers when they’re ready.

Deeper Connections

At some point in your life, you probably wanted more information than traditional media would allow. For me back in high school, I couldn’t get enough factoids about my favorite WWF wrestlers. Developing consistent content allows you to build deeper relationships with your most hardcore fans. Two hours of Monday Night Raw once a week might be good enough for 99% of the population, but for the most passionate 1% of your audience publishing more in-depth content makes sense, especially when the top 1% of your audience could be making up for 80% of your profits.

The author Brett Alan operates an SEO reseller business at Visit the website to read his regularly updated blog.

Breaking Down The Idea of ROI in Social Media

Jason mKey from Sparkplug Digital wrote an excellent review of Olivier Blanchard’s first book, Social Media ROI. With over 67,000 tweets and years of blog posts at The Brand Builder, Blanchard clearly believes in the value of social media and his book can help you present a strong case for using social media in business.

social media ROI bookIn his new book, Social Media ROI, Olivier Blanchard attempts to demystify the biggest question that sits on top of the minds of many business managers: what exactly is the ROI of social media? And more importantly, why should my business be using social media and how do we justify the investment? Blanchard, a frequent speaker on the topic, comes from a marketing and brand management background and is best known for his BrandBuilder blog.

Social media success doesn’t happen by accident.

In the first chapter of Social Media ROI, Blanchard gives us a refresher course on what social business is and why it’s important. Unlike many drab social media books (and there are plenty of them) the information presented here is well received and there’s a level of depth in the given examples that’s just not present in other books. The amount of detail presented throughout is a pleasant surprise.

The wide scope of social business

Later on in the book Blanchard dissects how social media can help sales, customer service, PR, and other specific areas of business. Real world examples of setting up KPI’s, establishing goals, and tracking progress are made. It’s easy to talk about these subjects, but I like how the author took the extra step to show us how it’s done. The fourth section of the book in particular, on measurement, is extremely detailed. Emphasis is placed on discovering the difference between what can be measured and what should be measured and what a financial and non-financial outcome looks like.

Defining ROI

The reason why many will and should pick up this book is for the section that defines exactly what ROI is and what it isn’t. ROI is simply a financial calculation, no more and no less. The problem with social media ROI is that we often get caught up trying to define it as something more than a business metric. ROI isn’t relationships or influence or anything that falls outside the realm of hard financial numbers.

Blanchard explains how ROI can’t be tracked until the return (the R) has been yielded. Here’s a quote directly from the book:

“If an executive asks you to predict the ROI of your program before you have even put it into play, before it has begun to yield results, consider it to be a trick question.”

The social media ROI question isn’t going to dissapear and it’s ever important to grasp what it really is, when it’s an appropriate part of the discussion, and the role it has in business moving forward (especially in the eyes of top tier decision makers). This is a great read for those looking for answers and clarity on the topic. Social Media ROI lives up to high expectations and is as thorough, if not more, than any other book on the topic.

Jason mKey is the senior manager of social media marketing at Sparkplug Digital, a Seattle marketing firm providing SEO, PPC, and social media campaigns.

How to Leverage Content For Marketing Results: Takeaways From Content Rules

Content Rules BookCreating remarkable content has been an important aspect of effective marketing for a long time, primarily in the form of major media advertising, but the recent rise of search engines have increased the importance of creating remarkable web content. Content Rules by CC Chapman and Ann Handley explain how to effectively create web content that can result in measurable increases in marketing results.

Content Rules is a worthwhile read if you are new to marketing with web content and if you want to learn how you can leverage new media such as blogs, podcasts, and video to generate online leads that can turn into sales. The book provides a lot of practical tips that will help lower the learning curve and help you get started. There are several useful case studies at the end of the book that provide evidence of content marketing producing real results for some of the largest companies as well as small businesses. This book is packed with substance with relatively little fluff. If you are experienced in marketing with content there are still some useful ideas that can help you be more effective in content marketing.

Here are some of my favorite quotes from the book:

“Produce really great stuff, and your customers will share and disseminate your message for you”

Creating great content that adds value to people’s lives will encourage readers to spread your ideas through email and social channels.

”What you create online will be searchable indefinitely”

If your content is deemed worthy by Google to be kept in their index, your article or content can show up in search results years after you have created it and continue to attract customers to your site.

”Give more valuable, helpful, and remarkable content to consumers than anyone else in my field.”

By creating more valuable content than your competitors you can establish your company as a thought leader which often leads to a perception that you are an industry leader.

”The key is to reuse and repurpose. Ask yourself, ‘How can we repurpose content development effortsto yield as many assets as possible?”

If someone at your company creates a valuable presentation, the content can be repurposed as a video, a webinar, or even an re-imagined as an article or ebook.

”Your content shares a resource, solves a problem, helps your customers do their jobs better, improves their lives, or makes them smarter”

A key to creating content that people will want to read, share, and link to is to focus on adding value to people’s lives.

”Provide the information that answers your prospects’ questions and concerns.”

Creating a frequently asked question section that links to a different page for each question can be a great way to answer questions from customers. People often use search phrases in the form of a question, so your FAQ page that matches a common question can help drive search traffic to your site from people who are actively looking for a solution.

“Your video content, in particular, is 50 times more likely to appear on the first page of search results than your standard text-based content.”

This statistic supports the opportunity of creating video for high search engine visibility. Since there are a lot fewer videos than text pages on the Web, you can increase your chances of ranking in search engines by producing relevant videos.

”Adding that single call to action, Make says, tripled the number of leads HubSpot generates from its blog.”

Hubspot adds a call to action to every blog post that moves the reader closer to becoming a customer by signing up for an upcoming webinar or downloading an ebook.

9 Best Marketing Books of 2010

2010 was a good year for marketing books even without perennial favorite Seth Godin who switched to the self-help category with Linchpin. I was able to read more marketing books this year thanks to the Kindle app for the iPod Touch which allowed me to have access to my digital library from anywhere. I think The Referral Engine was my favorite marketing book of 2010 because there were a lot of actionable insights that I could use in my business immediately. Here are the Best Marketing Books 2010top 9 marketing books that I read in 2010.

The Referral Engine by John Jantsch
John Jantsz, who is the creator of the successful Duct Tape Marketing blog, podcast, and book explains how small business owners can develop a system to increase referrals. There are lots of great examples of businesses that have been very creative in creating a sales force from their own customers.

Flip the Funnel by Joesph Jaffe
Argues why customer retention should become the new customer acquisition as the basis of a successful marketing strategy.

Switch by Chip and Dan Heath
This followup book to Made to Stick was compelling through its use of great stories to explain effective ways to change people’s behavior.

Marketing Lessons from the Grateful Dead by David Meerman Scott and Brian Halligan
What can marketers learn from one of the most successful touring bands of all-time? Apparently a lot, if you read this book. Online marketing experts David Meerman Scott and Brian Halligan share these lessons while also featuring other innovative marketers as examples.

The Upside of Irrationality by Dan Ariely
Dan Ariely, one of the most brilliant economists of our time, continues his discussion of irrational human behavior in this followup to the great book Predictably Irrational.

The 24-Hour Customer by Adrian Ott
Examines the use of time as a major factor in consumer buying decisions and how marketers can use time, or lack thereof, to their advantage.

Marketing in the Age of Google by Vanessa Fox
Presents a strategic overview of search engine optimization without getting too far into the technical aspects. Definitely the best book to read to get a good grasp of SEO fundamentals.

Content Rules by CC Chapman and Ann Handley
Discusses how to build great content at a company and use this as an effective marketing tool.

Branding Basics for Small Business by Maria Ross
This is an excellent book on branding principles with tons of great examples of businesses that have developed strong brands by doing branding right. Although intended for a small business audience, I found that the book had great takeaways that could be applied to any size company.

Other books that I had on my list of books to read from 2010.

UnMarketing by Scott Stratten

Real-Time Marketing and PR by David Meerman Scott

Opportunity Screams by Tom Asacker

The Little Big Things by Tom Peters

ProBlogger by Darren Rowse

Engage by Brian Solis

Fascinate by Sally Hogshead

Do you have any recommended marketing books from 2010. Please leave them in the comments!

Full Disclosure: I received a review copy of The 24-Hour Customer.

Takeaways from Marketing Lessons from the Grateful Dead

Grateful Dead Marketing BookMarketing Lessons from the Grateful Dead is a short and sweet book on a self-explanatory subject. The authors David Meerman Scott and Brian Halligan dissect how the Grateful Dead became one of the most successful touring bands of all-time, partly though unconventional marketing and business approaches that can be applied to modern marketing. Here are some of the memorable ideas from the book.

Give away content for free

During concerts, The Grateful Dead would encourage fans to record their songs, a stark contrast to the rest of the record industry that often prohibits concert attendees from using recording devices during shows. The Grateful Dead fans were able to share their experience and their passion with their friends by sharing their recordings, which probably resulted in many more fans.

Takeaway: Give away valuable content and it can generate demand for your product or service.

Do the opposite of the competition

There were many examples of how the Grateful Dead debunked conventional industry practices. Instead of performing the same scripted list of songs every night, they improvise and play songs that often aren’t their greatest hits. Instead of banning third parties from selling Grateful Dead merchandise outside their shows, they partnered with them and encouraged it. Instead of using a concert ticket broker, they sold tickets directly to their fans.

Takeaway: If everyone is your industry is doing the same thing, do the opposite to stand out from the crowd.

Reward your best fans

The Grateful Dead offered a mail in ticket service for fans in which they did not know the location of the seats until they received them. David Meerman Scott comments that although the location of their seats seemed random, they were always better than the second class citizens who purchased through Ticketmaster. This commitment to fans helped build loyalty from their best customers.

Takeaway: Reward your best customers to build a lasting loyalty to your brand.

Build Community

You may think building community may be easy for a rock band but how do you create community around a simple product or service. In another book by David Meerman Scott, he describes the fan club of the WD40 which has over 70,000 members which demonstrates that you can build a community around almost anything if you take the right approach. The Grateful Dead quickly developed a community of loyal fans who were known as Deadheads. Long before there was Facebook, The Grateful Dead sent out a newsletter to help fans stay informed and connect with each other. “The fans could opt in, connect with each other at shows, share common interests, be informed of upcoming events, feel like they were part of a community”. The Grateful Dead created a sense of community that was so strong that the common interest often turned strangers into great friends.

Takeaway: If you can build a community that connects fans with each other, your company can add additional value to customer’s lives and increase brand loyalty.

5 Best SEO Books to Build Your SEO Skills

The following article from The Marketing Spark, provides 5 books that you can read to become knowledgeable on the hot topic of search engine optimization. Whether you want a comprehensive 700 page book that covers the tactics or a book that explains the high level strategy and why SEO is important, see the following recommendations.

Best SEO booksSEO can be difficult to learn due to the sheer volume of information that is available and the constant changes that search engines make to their ranking algorithms. SEO can be boiled down to 3 important goals: creating valuable and relevant content, getting quality links, and making your site easily accessible to search spiders. However, there is a ton of information that can help you accomplish these goals more effectively. Books are good sources of building a strong understanding of important SEO concepts because they are trustworthy and well organized. The downside is that some of the information may become obsolete by the time it goes to print. Here are a few of my recommended books for learning SEO:

Marketing in the Age of Google

This is a great primer for learning the principles of SEO at a high level. Vanessa Fox discusses the basic concepts of SEO and how it fits into a marketing and business strategy. It also makes a strong case for why SEO is important for companies to excel at.

Search Engine Optimization All-in-One For Dummies

Don’t be fooled by the name; this is an in depth and comprehensive book on SEO that is co-written by one of the most prominent names in the SEO field, Bruce Clay. It consists of 10 books in one and is over 700 pages, so it covers a lot of ground and was released recently in 2009.

The Art of SEO: Mastering Search Engine Optimization

Probably the best book on SEO that is currently available, The Art of SEO provides a detailed and comprehensive education on SEO from theory to tactics. At over 500 pages it also covers a lot of information and is written by some of leading voices in the SEO field including Rand Fishkin and Eric Enge.

Conversation Marketing

Written by Ian Lurie from the popular blog of the same name, Conversation Marketing provides an introduction to internet marketing strategy. Ian Laurie is great at explaining SEO in a fun, entertaining, and easy to understand way. You can also read the entire book online for free.

Search Engine Optimization Secrets

This upcoming book by the former head of SEO at SEOMoz, is sure to be a solid SEO book based on Danny Dover’s track record. He contributed to the popular Beginner’s Guide to SEO, which is a free online guide to SEO and has helped SEOMoz become a market leader in SEO software.

Charles Sipe is an SEO Specialist at Sparkplug Digital, a Seattle online marketing company that helps companies increase organic traffic from potential customers. Sparkplug Digital provides free basic SEO audits to discover opportunities for SEO improvement to drive relevant traffic to your site that turns into customers.

A Concise Guide For Effective Branding: Branding Basics for Small Business

Branding Basics for Small Business by Maria Ross is a really good book on the important concepts of branding and will probably not get as much attention as it deserves because the title sounds like a text book. This book provides a good guide that outlines exactly how a small business can develop a strong brand. The ideas are also applicable to larger organizations and this is a good refresher for marketing professionals to remind them about what makes a strong brand. Ross presents a lot of great examples and case studies such as Honest Tea and Dry Soda in the “Brand at Work” features.

Here are some ideas that I really liked from the book:

Why Does Your Company Exist?

Part of creating a strong brand is understanding why your company exists in the first place. Besides just making money, many successful companies have a strong mission that drives what they do on a day-to-day basis and provides employees with a purpose for coming to work. Maria suggests Marty Neumeier’s advice to ‘Write the obituary of your business in 25 years and outline what you did that was great and why the world is a better place because your company existed.’ For example, Virgin Airlines exists to “make flying fun again” and this provides a guide for everything that they do.

Make Your Brand Simple

Maria writes “If you can’t boil your single greatest asset down to one thing no one else can say, you need to put more thought into your positioning, your product mix, or the audience you serve.” Unfortunately, many brands are too complicated and can’t be boiled down to one idea. For example, what is a Chevy? Maria asks “What is the one thing that sets you apart”. If you can identify that one thing, it can really set you apart from a crowd of similar offerings.

Integrate Brand Into Everything

Maria writes “A brand is exactly two things: It’s the promise your offering makes to people, and the cloths that promise is dressed in.” To deliver on your brand promise, your branding can not stop in your marketing department. Maria suggests that marketing work together with HR so that the company attracta employees that “truly live that brand inside and out”. I think that a rude employee cancels out the very best advertising and not delivering on the promise of your marketing messages will result in a disappointed ex-customer.

There are many more great marketing quotes from the book that I may tweet at some point, but in the meantime checkout the book Branding Basics for Small Business.

Marketing In The Digital Age: Review of Net Profit

The following article is a guest post by Matthew Buckley.


David Soskin’s internet business guide, Net Profit: How to Succeed in Digital Business, is in a minority amongst the many such books and how-to guides that have been published in recent years. This is because, rather than being written by a professional author or a marketing solutions guru who has no actual experience of the field, David Soskin’s book comes from someone who has worked successfully in the field, developing and managing


The book starts with the story of the dot com crash, the casualties of which David Soskin uses to teach what does and does not work in online business. The book moves swiftly on to cover the most important factors in any business, online or off; your customers and target market, your product, the necessary skills, the investment and returns and marketing. The book finishes off with a look at the global market and the future of digital business

This is not a book for people who already know it all, although they could probably benefit from the lessons and observations within. A complete novice to internet business and internet marketing solutions can pick up the book and follow it easily. The book is thankfully lacking in jargon and technical speak, which is an impressive feat, considering the in-depth information on exactly how internet companies work, spend and profit.

David Soskin also puts his money where his mouth is in terms of the internet as a valuable resource. The book is peppered with references to various websites that illustrate the lessons and advice of the book, so it may be best to read it with a laptop on hand to get the full picture.


David Soskin emphasizes that an internet business is still a business, and all the skills and work-practices that you may know from brick-and-mortar ventures should not be forgotten, but carefully analyzed for if and how it will fit into the online model.

It is in chapter 6 that David Soskin’s most useful advice emerges. He clearly and concisely explains how marketing in the digital age is both similar and different to that which has gone before, and offers concrete examples and advice on the marketing solutions that will grow an internet business and make it profitable.

The bottom line of David Soskin’s message is encompassed in the title “Net Profit”; a business is only successful if it makes a profit, and that is the most important thing any budding online entrepreneur should bear in mind.