The following post is the first in a series of posts on 21st century business principles. In this series I will be looking at a singer/songwriter, a company, a book, an entire industry and a blogger/thinker who have all denounced the old ways of business as usual and are busy paving new ways to success in the 21st century.


Joe Purdy - a 21st century businessman

“…this new world has weeded out so much bullshit.” – Joe Purdy

Joe Purdy just might be the quintessential 21st century businessman. Without the assistance of a label at any point in his career he has been able sell more than 800,000 direct track downloads on iTunes [¹], land several of his songs on major television shows, such as “Lost”, and from the ground up – almost one show at a time – build a loyal base of fans willing to spread the word of his music virally across the Web. How has Joe managed to accomplish this? I believe it is because he has an understanding of this new world we are living in and has stayed true to one of the most important 21st century business principlesoriginality.

In today’s hypercompetitive environment it is easier than ever to come up with the same business or product as the next guy. Most of the traditional barriers to entry have essentially fallen. For every Groupon there are seemingly dozens of BuyWithMe’s, Living Social’s and… you get the picture. The problem with this is that it leads directly to commoditization and there are no real reasons for people to choose one business or product over the others. Joe, on the other hand, has been radically original in not only his songwriting, but also in the management of his career. As I mentioned before, he is a truly independent artist who has not been willing to compromise even a single note of his music in order to sign on with a label. He is original in that he writes all of his own songs and performs them using a variety of instruments. He is original in that he records, produces and distributes all of his music himself.  He is original in that every one of his albums is up on his website for anyone to listen to before purchasing. In fact, he is so original that he released his latest album free to download in the month of December!

You might still be asking yourself why originality is so important or, better yet, how some of the examples I offered benefit Joe? Originality, like all 21st century business principles, is not about the short-term or transactional mindset. It is about building something unique, full of authentic value, that people will latch on to and actually benefit from. What Joe has done instead of taking the quick buck is craft heartfelt, original music that will only increase in value over time due to growing “attention scarcity“. With the explosion of media being created your stuff better stand out and you better know how to nurture a strong community if you want continued attention. By allowing fans to listen to albums on his website he is essentially reducing a cost or risks on their part. The cost being the fans having to search for information about the album and the risks being the fans having to illegally download it or end up purchasing something they are not even sure they will like. Why am I bringing up how his fans benefit? Because smart businesses today have “outside-in” perspectives or the goal of “delighting clients“. Simply put, in a world where marketplace power has shifted from seller to buyer it makes a lot of sense to focus on the foundation of your business — customers. As for releasing an album free for its first month, I think Joe intended to generate some good old fashioned buzz.

Historically, what Joe has accomplished has been pretty much impossible. The major labels, radio station owners and critics played such a big role in deciding what music was going to get to the listeners. I believe that he recognized the changes taking place in the music industry early on and jumped at the unique opportunity in front of him to be able to make music the way he wanted. By leveraging social technologies Joe has been able to build up his brand, better engage his fans and, ultimately, sell his music — himself. This same opportunity is in front of every business and individual today willing to recognize that the changes the music industry has faced are taking place in essentially every other industry imaginable. The question is can you be original enough to capitalize on this…?

21st Century Business Principles

Exploring the five most important 21st century business principles.

What are 21st century business principles? In a series of posts to follow I will be attempting to answer this question, as well as, highlighting what I believe are the five most important 21st century business principles that an individual or business can adopt. I have recently been reflecting (an underutilized activity) on what has caught my attention over the past year or so while also taking note of the specific ideas, writings, people, etc. that I have become most interested in. What I found was, despite how different some of these interests happen to be from one another, they all have one thing in common — they are followers/promoters of 21st century business principles.

We are living in a transformative time that some are comparing to the advent of Gutenberg’s printing press or the dawn of the Industrial Revolution. It has certainly been a challenge for many of us, personally and professionally, to adapt in this ever-changing world we now live in. The way I’ve come to see it at this point is, to quote Andy Dufresne, one can either “Get busy living or get busy dying“. The five interests of mine that I have decided to focus on in this series are pretty diverse — a singer/songwriter, a company, a book, an entire industry and a blogger/thinker — and, as you will see, they have all clearly chosen to get busy living.

I believe that each one of them owes their success to the fact that they have denounced the old ways of doing business and have welcomed this new world that they are playing a part in building. You will see that some are actively defining and promoting these 21st century business principles while others seem to be simply following their passion. It is due to individuals and businesses such as these that I have been able to realize that it is actually a very exciting time to be living in — one ripe with opportunity. With that said, I am going to leave you with the principles I will be exploring individually over my next five posts:

  1. Originality
  2. Openness
  3. Pull
  4. Passion
  5. Meaning

I recently came across this short video in which marketing strategist/author, David Meerman Scott, talks about his latest concept “real-time marketing“:

I found this video particularly interesting because the conversation dealt with email marketing. When asked how real-time marketing could be applied to email marketing Scott’s reply was, basically, that email marketers would benefit from losing their campaign mentality and beginning to play off of what happens to be going on in the news/world at the moment. A strike while the iron is hot type of thing. Does your business sell a great, new line of snow shovels and two feet of snow was just forecast? Why not send an email to your customers letting them know? While I don’t think campaigns and long term planning should be dropped all together by email marketers (neither does Scott), I do think that this is a great idea. It is just another example of how marketers/businesses can become more human and actually make an effort to help their customers out.

This was also the direction that the second half of the interview went in and there were a couple of pretty interesting comments worth thinking about. At one point the interviewer actually says to Scott, “Everything you’re saying I would do as a person, but maybe not as a marketer” to which Scott replied, “Companies don’t really do it.” Why? Why do marketers, and more importantly businesses in general, feel the need to treat people unlike… people? This is a pretty big question that I have been thinking/reading about a lot lately and I will be attempting to answer this in an upcoming post. I think what we can all agree on though is that marketing can do better and so can businesses.

I had a couple of things in mind when I wrote the title for this post. First, how much time should marketers be spending on listening to what their customers and/or prospects are saying about them? Because they are saying a lot. And second, how much of the marketing industry is actually listening to the change taking place in consumers’ attitudes towards how they are being messaged? People are sick of irrelevant/annoying ads, spam cluttered inboxes and cold calls during dinnertime. The days of mass marketing are over and traditional, push based marketing tactics are giving way to the “power of pull.”

The initial idea behind this post actually came from a tweet I sent out awhile back. I had just read a NYT article about a Zappos ad campaign and I wanted to share a part of it that I thought was pretty damn smart (they advertise on the bottoms of plastic bins in airport security lines!). A couple of hours later I received a tweet from Zappos that simply said “:-) Thanks for the support!”. They were listening and I bet they are listening to what everyone online is saying about them (and probably their competitors, as well).

What’s the big deal? Well, for me, it’s the fact that they respected me enough not to send a follow up tweet with a hard sell on shoes or scrape data from my Twitter profile, match that up with a list of email addresses they purchased and then spam me with an irrelevant offer. They realized that I had no intention of buying shoes at that time. I think Zappos is a company that “gets it” and that they are listening. I think they are building a business, as well as, a brand for the long term and won’t let short term, old school thinking get in the way.

What do you think? Did they miss a chance to offer me some sort of limited time coupon offer or to try and sign me up for some sort of email newsletter?

In a previous post I wrote about content creation becoming an increasingly important way for businesses to drive traffic to their websites and generate leads. As I continued to explore that idea I stumbled across more and more posts/articles that were all basically saying the same thing — every company is a media company. This concept has been around for some time now and I’m honestly surprised at the small number of businesses taking content creation seriously. I think it is pretty obvious though that many (ultimately all) businesses will begin to see the advantages and eventually start gathering, distributing and publishing content relevant to their respective industries.

Realizing this I began to wonder what it meant. What would the Web look like if virtually every business and individual was publishing their own content? I barely have enough time in my day now to slog through my work email, personal email, RSS reader, Twitter feed, Facebook feed and the ever-growing number of websites/blogs I frequent. It is going to be crowded.

Will it even be worth it then for businesses to create their own content in an environment that is sure to have an extremely low signal-to-noise ratio? Of course, but what I (and many others much smarter than myself) foresee becoming a very important compliment to content creation efforts is the art of  “content curation” — the qualification and selection of the best/most relevant content on any particular topic. For businesses this means to not only publish content on their latest product releases or case studies. On top of that, why not curate the best content on the Web related to your industry in order to provide a valuable resource to your customers and prospects?

Media companies will need to catch onto this a lot sooner than general businesses for a lot of reasons. But for the smart businesses who have already begun to map out content creation strategies it would be in their best interest to start thinking about content curation as well. Already there are products popping up that enable businesses to automate the curation of industry content and there are some great examples of businesses leveraging crowds to do the curation for them. Of course, there is always the old-fashioned way of doing the curating yourself.


If anyone happens to stop by, and has read this far 😉 , I would love to hear your thoughts, opinions, ideas, etc. I pretty much use these posts as a brain dump for things I’ve been reading and thinking about, but it would be nice to connect with others and learn from them or build on these ideas.

My first job on the Web was in email marketing and I’ve been involved with it to some degree ever since. I have been trying to think up a juicy post on the subject and I think I have finally got it.

I believe it’s time to take the word “marketing” out of the term “email marketing”. Brilliant huh? Here’s what I’m trying to get at. Email is a channel or a communications tool, not simply a form of direct marketing. I think email has received such a bad rap over the years because one of its first real business uses was to direct market to customers. Businesses became so excited at how cheap and easy to do it was that they didn’t put any thought into it. You know, the old “throw enough sh@t at a wall, some of it will stick” approach. This, coupled with list purchasing practices and the lack of overall creativity, really turned off a lot of people to their inboxes.

Well, times have changed and email is as important as ever.  It’s time we stop using the catch-all term “email marketing” when discussing ways to utilize the email channel. “Email is the digital glue”, is a quote I really like from a video series filmed by Ellie Mirman at this year’s  Email Summit. Off the top of my head I can think of three great ways to use the email channel that are not direct marketing related.

  1. With all of the social media hype a lot of us have forgotten about email. Email is by far the most used channel on the Web for sharing content. I see this firsthand at Boston.com and one of our partners, ShareThis, recently put out some great data on sharing including how people share (email led the pack accounting for 46% of shares).
  2. Transactional emails are a huge opportunity area for businesses of all kinds. They are the best performing emails because they contain something of value for the recipients and, if integrated into a product/service the right way, they can also provide a lot of value for the sender (business). Take Netflix’s transactional email that is sent once a DVD is returned as a perfect example. Yes it’s nice to know your DVD has been received, but the real value here for both the customer and Netflix is the rating functionality. I’m willing to bet that a large percentage of user ratings come from these transactional emails and we all know how important these ratings are to Netflix’s business model.
  3. Sites leveraging “group buying power” have had a lot of success lately by providing users with great daily deals. I think it is pretty obvious that users are not proactively navigating to these sites everyday and since RSS hasn’t caught on with the mainstream yet email has been the flagship channel delivering these daily deals to them. Much like transactional emails this is a great example of directly integrating the email channel with your product/service.

What do you think? Is email as important as ever and are my three uses of the channel at all valuable? If anyone’s out there… (I’ve always wanted to type this) fire away in the comments.

That does sound a little strange doesn’t it? You might be wondering what the heck I’m talking about, but hear me out. I believe that one day every company might have 2 CEO’s — one in the traditional sense (Chief Executive Officer) and a newer breed that I’ve daftly labeled the Chief Editorial Officer, who will be responsible for overseeing their company’s content creation or publishing efforts.

Now, I don’t claim to be much of a writer (if you’ve read this far you have probably come up with that same opinion on your own) or to have an editorial mindset, but I have worked in the online media business for a while now and I have followed the “death of newspapers” meme pretty closely. So, I do understand what is happening in this industry. For a long time I felt bad for all of the journalists losing their jobs and having the industry change right in front of their eyes, but lately I have been thinking differently. I think these folks have a really unique opportunity in front of them.

Why? Because content creation is becoming an increasingly important way for businesses to drive traffic to their websites and to generate leads. Today publishing and getting content in front of an audience is literally only a few mouse clicks away. Traditional media companies are becoming less and less effective ways to reach these audiences (think TV or newspaper ads) and it’s becoming very easy for businesses to reach their customers directly (think RSS equipped blogs or product focused webinars). There are some companies out there (HubSpot, for example) leading the way in educating the B2B marketplace on the importance of content creation, but I believe we still have a long way to go before most businesses start to take this seriously. Before they start to craft jobs geared towards writers/editors and map out a high level strategy for their content generation efforts.

So, if I were a journalist I would be excited about the forthcoming boom in content creation that will come from companies themselves rather than media properties. I would define my niche and make sure I understood the way the web worked in order to be ready for the opportunities that will eventually be out there in the job market. If I were a company looking to generate targeted web traffic and qualified leads (are there any that aren’t?) through more effective and cost efficient methods then I would be looking to scoop up these folks before my competitors did.

Maybe it would be a little silly for companies to one day have 2 CEO’s though, so I’m open to title suggestions for this new breed. How about CPO’s (Chief Publishing Officers)?

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