Leo Laporte Keynote @ #PubCon ’11: Let Your Fans Market For You

Welcome to AIMCLEAR‘s coverage of #PubCon 2011! Ahh, PubCon – what can you say about such a veteran staple in the search marketing industry? One that draws hardcore search nerds and beloved tech rockstars in droves to the middle of the desert each year? The Center South Hall of the Las Vegas Convention is overflowing with friends, old and new, from all walks of our industry – and AIMCLEAR was front and center to kick things off.

On that note, the kickoff keynote to this year’s PubCon Las Vegas was delivered by technology broadcaster and noted online personality, Leo Laporte. Host of “The Tech Guy,” a nationally syndicated program, Leo toured the packed keynote room through how he’s grown to market TWiT, his broadcast network, without people noticing it – based on lessons learned from  TechTV, a a 24-hour cable and satellite channel that dissolved in 2004 .

AIMCLEAR live-tweeted this opening keynote via @merrymorud, @beebow, @lindsaylorraine, and @mollycryan (as the saying goes, 16 40 fingers are better than two 10 – I suck at math). Read on for the full recap.

After a thoughtful welcome and introduction by Brett Tabke, Founder of PubCon and WebmasterWorld Inc., Leo took the stage and began with a fascinating statement:

“This technology stuff, I don’t really get it.”

Orly? He went on to ask the audience, “What do you tell your parents you do for a living?” This got some chuckles from the crowd. “My mother tells people I work with ‘computers,'” Leo continued, which seemed about accurate. Most people who aren’t in our industry, search and online marketing that is, don’t fully understand what we do for a living.

On that note – Leo pointed out that perhaps even folks within this industry don’t really have a clue just what it is they do. Why? The technology we employ in our everyday professional lives changes so rapidly, it’s almost impossible to keep up with it.

People Don’t Like Marketers
…And they don’t like being marketed to. And yet, Leo points out, we’re all marketers. Not just the people in the keynote room- everyone. When you get up in the morning, brush your teeth, comb your hair, put on a nice shirt – that’s a form of marketing. You’re marketing yourself to the world and the people you will encounter that day.

So, we all do it (market). The trick is to do it without people noticing you’re doing it.

A Brief History of Marketing & PR
“The whole concept of marketing & PR has an interesting history,” Leo began. “Changes in advertising are happening all the time- it’s valuable to know where it all came from.”

  • 1918 Sears Catalog was very straight forward – it showcased features and benefits of the products therein, and including information for persons interested in buying any given product.
  • Then, along came Edward Bernays (nephew of Sigmund Freud…) who devised a concept that companies / marketers can, basically, manipulate people / consumers into doing what the former wanted. Bernays also coined term “PR,” wrote first press release, figured out how to market successfully (understanding that the goal of successful marketing is to trick people into not knowing they’re being marketed to). So yeah. He was kinda a big deal.
  • Delicious / Fun Fact: Bernays wrote a letter to 5k doctors convincing them that eating bacon is part of a hearty breakfast. He was subsequently able to incorporate into a press release promoting the consumption of bacon as part of a healthy breakfast, the glorious “statistic” that “4 out of 5 doctors agree, eating bacon for breakfast is good!” Basically, thank Bernays for your current obsession with bacon / America’s obesity problem.The rest… is history… greasy, delicious history.Bernays actually did the same thing with cigarettes, making popular the concept of women smoking in the 20s and 30s. He released a press release promoting and solidifying this concept, which was, at the time, quite unheard of.He also did the same thing with mouthwash and it’s proper place in society.

    Need we go on?

Then… came the Internet. The Internet brought about this revolution of brands having to be authentic when marketing to people. We as consumers are becoming more savvy every day, and with such a constant flow of information, from brands, from past consumers, from friends — marketers just can’t afford to be phony. We (consumers online) can’t be fooled 🙂

“The best way to market is to get someone to do it for you,” Leo noted.

The Thing About Broadcast Channels…
Generally speaking, they all start out too niche. Think Bravo, A&E, MTV, etc… they all started out targeting a very specific group of viewers, but in order to grow, they had to cater to a wider demographic. So, they all broadened their content horizons. (When’s the last time you remember hearing music on MTV? Get it?) In doing so, they risk reaching no one.  Such was the problem with Leo’s TechTV.

Lessons From Leo:

  • When you target a niche, you can serve it well if you understand them. They will LOVE you, maybe even evangelize you.
  • The geeks targeted by TechTV were so excited by this network because at that time, no one was satisfying their needs.
  • Said geeks were bummed out when TechTV started to fail. But due to the downward slope, TechTv felt they had to broaden their horizons – in doing so, they lost touch with that niche.

Discussing this issue with another fellow, Leo was given the advice:

“Brand is the refuge of the ignorant. Advertisers don’t want a smart audience. They want a dumb audience they can trick.”

In other words: You can’t do programming for intelligent people, because then advertisements don’t work. The viewers are too smart. Therefore – we need to think of a new way of advertising, of reaching people that doesn’t require them to be morons.

Applying These Lessons To TWiT

  • Leo knew his niche audience was still out there. He decided to really super-serve the niche.
  • From there, it grew very rapidly – quarter million listeners every week. He was tapping into an audience who really wanted it! Able to do this on the super-cheap. His advice: If you can keep the costs low, serve audience directly, keep ’em engaged, and do very well, you can make viable business.
  • Based on community feedback, they added video functionality. (When serving geeks, best practice is to make content fully available in every form possible.
  • They eventually supplemented the broadcast with ads, making sure advertisers knew they had to come to users / listeners as peers, offer them product useful to them. Advertisers had to talk about features/benefits, offer free trials (best practice). This is all old school marketing. Traditional marketing. And guess what? It worked!
  • Advertising revenue grew! From 300k/year to 600k/year, – now into the millions! At first, they had to convince the advertisers to come back each year – but they did, because they saw results!

Engaged Community = Brand Evangelists
Leo thinks of what he and his team does as “micro/niche broadcasting.” They’re not trying to reach a broad audience, but instead, a very narrow audience. “This has changed the business of broadcasting,” Leo contends. “Instead of building a group of passive listeners, we’re cultivating an engaged community, starting a dialog.”

By reaching an audience that is totally engaged in the content, the community ends up marketing it on their own. They spread the word, they tweet, they Facebook, they engage their circle of friends – they make it happen.

The Beauty Transmedia Storytelling
In other words – cross-platform storytelling. For example George Lucas and the Star Wars franchise. You can engage those characters – those stories – though books, action figures, movies, video games – a multitude of entry points! By giving a single franchise multiple entry points, you’re giving your community a variety of ways to engage the content. Instead of telling users, “This is how you get the show,” Leo gives users many ways to participate in the content. With TWiT, you can download audio, download video, watch videio live, participate in live chat (great! facilitates conversation between listeners and hosts), read transcripts – options make people happy.

Another Key Takeaway: This type of approach to “marketing” / community management means you doesn’t have to figure out what’s more important to your community – they all figure it out for you. Your community will naturally gravitate towards what type of content they love, what social platforms they like.

If you have a small niche audience, you can fairly assume that the people who engage and express their opinions are speaking for the majority of your community.

Making Your Community Feel Valued
TWiT also has a Wiki, with over 3.5 million edits made over the last few years. Giving the community a sense of ownership, of co-managing of content, makes them feel valued.

Similarly, a goal of TWiT was to become the CNN of Tech. Leo’s team wanted to build a 24/7 studio, with $350k estimated costs.  Well… it ended up costing $1.2 million. TWiT went to the audience and hosted a fundraiser a la: “Buy a brick, inscribe it for $X!” They ended up raising $250,000. Invaluable to help build studio, and made the community feel valued!

Another way Leo engages the audience is by inviting folks to come visit the studio during a live show. Why not?

A Closer Look At TWiT Team
Mantra: A single engaged viewer is worth 10, maybe 100 loosely engaged viewers. As it happens, Twit doesn’t have a marketing budget, or an in-house community manager… but everyone they hire is an active tweeter. He points out that TWiT wouldn’t consider hiring them if they weren’t already playing in the social media field. Leo doesn’t have to ask them to help promote TWiT or engage the community. They do it naturally, they want to do it. It’s the same with the community itself – his niche geek community is already very social online.

TWiT’s main strategy is to create great content for people who want to engage, give them ability to share across many channels, and encourage you to spread the word!

Technology Helps Reduce Overall Costs
Reducing the cost of doing what you’re doing is important, too. Otherwise… how will you make money? Thankfully, digital technology and the Internet are changing the playing field for all media. This is obvious for all industries – they’re  being democratized by the Internet. TWiT does TV quality broadcast for 1/20th of the cost as some competitors. It’s possible for TWiT to do with virtually no money what it’s cost CNN millions of dollars to do (build an engaged community).

Super Obvious Overall Takeaway, In Case You’ve Missed It: Create great content for your (ideally, niche) community, create multiple entry points, encourage them to share, let them lead the way, let them market your brand!

And, generally speaking, with that- Leo wrapped up, unleashing a room full of eager… um… marketers… out into wild (that is, convention center) for a full day of tip-top sessions right here at PubCon. Check back in AIMCLEAR blog for more coverage, and tune into the #PubCon hashtag for round-the-clock live-tweets. This is, after all, Vegas 🙂

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