• 31Dec

    crystal_ballIt’s the time of year when all good pundits dust off their crystal balls to predict what the coming year will bring. I have been looking on the Web to see what the PR gurus are offering as PR predictions, and there seems to be some consistency:

    • More consolidation of PR agencies as big agencies gobble up smaller ones;
    • Growth will return, although with a cautious optimism as the year starts out slowly for some; and most interesting
    • The current boom in social media will morph into something more substantial and more sustainable.

    Some PR pundits are predicting a social media gold rush as new social media players flood the market seeing attention, which could mean a boom for PR as well. Here’s Lou Hoffman’s prediction as cited in Media Bistro:

    “Virtually every Ph.D. student who can say ‘algorithm’ and chew gum at the same time devotes their thesis to building a social media monitoring tool. Each is convinced he or she has cracked the code on the best way to capture every word, visual and action that transpires in this alternative universe called social media. These 500+ companies scamper to find a PR agency, creating a dotcom-like boom for the PR industry.” Lou Hoffman, CEO, The Hoffman Agency

    I believe that we will see the luster of social media start to dim as companies start looking to get more from social media branding. As David Mullen points out in his blog, Communications Catalyst, PR professionals will start to learn that the blog/Facebook/Twitter holy trinity is what he calls a “three-trick pony” for social media. PR professionals will have to go beyond the social media basics and dig deeper into their clients’ business and their brand to drive awareness and create value.

    I agree with Mullen that if PR agencies don’t crack the code on social media soon, the emerging new media ad agencies are going to dominate here. I have already seen a number of agencies successfully step into the social media arena and offer very effective programs as an extension of pay-per-click and web marketing programs.

    Once again, PR is going to have to demonstrate its real value to stay in the game in 2010. If you have been reading this blog, then you know that traditional media outlets like newspapers are either going under or struggling to survive, which means our role as media professionals has to evolve with the times. Mullen predicts that the lines between advertising and PR will start blurring. They are already are. In tough times, you have to be able to demonstrate that your communications program will add to your clients’ bottom line. Smart ad agencies and marketing agencies are creating programs that do just that, and they are using tactics like social media to do it. With the value of media relations increasingly in question, I see a turf war brewing between PR and other marketing and advertising agencies for client programs.

    So it looks like old fashioned values are going to be new again. It’s up to smart PR people to take a hard look at their clients’ programs to identify where they can provide that deeper value that has a positive impact on sales. And they have to be able to show that value by measuring the results. We all will need to improve our game and remind ourselves the rules haven’t really changed with the  New Year.

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  • 28Dec

    soapbox-imageThe face of journalism as we have known it is undergoing a facelift. Print publications are under increasing pressure to find new revenue streams, which is placing new pressure on newspapers and magazines to adapt their journalistic approach to meet the needs of both advertiser and subscribers.

    One indicator was a recent report in the New York Times that the Dallas Morning News now has sports and entertainment editors now reporting the general manager – advertising – rather than the managing editor – editorial (with thanks to Marc Hausman, The Strategic Guy, for bringing attention to the article.) As Marc points out, this is a new reality for magazines and newspapers, it also points out an age-old problem.

    Any of you who have ever worked as a journalist know that you are frequently pressured to make concessions for advertisers, or for the publisher. During my years as a trade journalist I often ran into challenges around stories that might reflect badly on advertisers. The editorial decision was usually based on whether the impact of the news outweighed the potential wrath of an advertiser, and every publisher approaches this problem differently. However, ever since the beginning of the printed pamphlet, editors have had to deal with similar challenges. Even today, in some parts of the world if you print the wrong opinions the local rulers might throw you in the dungeon. In the United States we enjoy freedom of the press, and we rely on that principle to promote contrarian views and to allow the press to serve as societal watchdogs. But there really is no such thing as objective reporting. Every publication has a viewpoint and a perspective, and it’s up to the reader to read between the lines.

    Consider the impact Rupert Murdoch has had on the Wall Street Journal. According to a recent article in the UK’s Guardian, The New York Times is claiming that since Murdoch took over, the newspaper has adopted “a combative style more often associated with Fleet Street than the North American market.” The same arguments have been levied against Fox News, Murdoch’s North American broadcast presence. Much of the criticism against Fox News centers on its inability to separate reporting from editorializing. I don’t think the argument is whether or not media outlets are biased, but rather whether they are candid about their opinions and make it transparent when they stray from objective reporting.

    And the explosion of online news outlets just complicates things. Now anyone with a computer can call themselves a publisher and start posting editorial content. If they want to make money on that content, then they have to strike a balance to attract an audience, and any biased reporting they introduce will limit their appeal to both readers and advertisers. There’s nothing new here. It’s just the same challenges publishers have always faced but using a new medium.

    So the fact that newspapers like the Dallas Morning News are making changes in their editorial approach to attract advertisers is not new, and it’s not surprising. This is a survival tactic, and one that I expect will be adopted by other publications in one form or another. But this isn’t really a fundamental change, but acknowledgement of a trend that is as old as publishing. Money talks, and always has. It’s up to the reader to be informed and be wary, and to identify the opinion, whether advertorial or editorial.

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  • 25Dec

    YouTube Preview Image Although this clip is from 2008, it’s even more relevant today. Here is a little holiday fun and inspiration from Old Saint Nick for all those good girls and boys who have been working so hard at online marketing, branding, and public relations in 2009. Here’s hoping we all have a more prosperous 2010.

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  • 23Dec

    fishy_arizona_republicIs anyone else worried about the future of the newspaper industry? I have been a newspaper reader for most of my life, and even I have found that I am getting almost all of my news online these days. And with the advent of handheld, wireless computers like the iPhone, more and more of us are going to abandon the daily printed product in favor of online information.

    If you look at the numbers, the decline and fall of the printed newspaper seems inevitable. According to Reflections of a Newsosaur, a blog site started by Alan D. Mutter, a Silicon Valley CEO, college professor, new media pundit, and former journalist, newspapers are dropping like the proverbial flies. In his latest post, Mutter notes that 142 newspapers ceased publication in 2009, compared to 37 in 2008. Not only does that reflect the loss of 90,000 jobs, but it also means that some communities no longer have access to a local news resource. In other, larger markets, it means that where there were conflicting voices debating in print and offering alternative viewpoints, now there is one newspaper reporting events and shaping public opinion. (Does anyone else remember when the New York Times was actually a local paper and there were a dozen dailies competing for newsstand space in New York City?)

    Of course, hope springs eternal in the publishing business. As Mutter points out, the power of the newspaper monopoly and the magic of the bankruptcy court have kept a number of newspapers afloat. I have heard some second-hand stories from those laid off from the San Francisco Chronicle that while the Hearst Corporation does its best to create a profitable newspaper/Web hybrid, it may only be a matter of time before union demands kill the dream.

    But as Mutter and the numbers indicate, the optimism of newspaper publishers seems unquashable. As Mutter notes in his previous post:

    “A positively effervescent survey of more than 500 newspaper publishers yesterday predicted that advertising sales would drop only 0.2% in 2010 after plunging 28.4% in the first nine months of this year.”

    Of course, this is magical thinking on the part of newspaper publishers. Print advertising revenue is drying up as more brands move online. And why not? Isn’t it more efficient to drive a banner ad/pay-per-click marketing strategy with social media support? Shoppers are increasingly going online first, and so is the advertising.

    So what are newspapers going to do to survive? I have been watching the experiment that the San Francisco Chronicle, my home town newspaper, has been conducting for more than a decade. SFGate was one of the first online newspaper sites (it recently celebrated its 15th anniversary), and as the Chronicle’s print circulation has slowly been eroding, SFGate has been picking up online momentum. The SFGate site had 124.6 million page hits in September of this year. At the same, the number of regular contributors from the printed newspaper writing for the online site is dwindling. A number or regular columnists and reporters have moved on, and SFGate is bringing in more newswire content, freelance contributors and community leaders to provide content; sources that are cheap or free. And there is still no guarantee Hearst Newspapers will find a way to make SFGate profitable.

    Still, I am confident that a new form of successful newspaper will emerge from the current chaos. You may remember the birth of USA Today? At the time, the concept of launching a national news daily seemed revolutionary. That’s nothing compared to the revolution we are witnessing today. And as with most revolutions, those who are flexible and can adapt to changing times will thrive, including professional journalists and public relations professionals.

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  • 21Dec

    Building a social media strategy for clients is like building any other PR program – you target your message to the outlets that matter to your audience and your objectives. So where you want to build social media buzz helps you identify where you get the most value, whether it is with your professional contacts on LinkedIn, or through vertical outlets such as IT Toolbox or BankInnovation.net. Of course, there are those mainstream media outlets where all clients crave coverage, such as the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal. It looks like Facebook is starting to develop the same regulation as the “must have” social media site for any social media strategy.

    A recent survey by Anderson Analytics revealed that Facebook has become the coolest place on the web for college students, despite the fact it is continues to grow in popularity with their parents. The Anderson Analytics 2009-2010 GenX2Z American College Student Survey conducted this fall shows that 82 percent of college men and 90 percent of college women ranked Facebook as “cool,” and  other social media sites including MySpace were ranked as “lame” by comparison. Consider the growing number of adult users migrating to Facebook, including these college students’ parents and even grandparents, and you have a bona fide phenomenon.

    “Once a trend goes mainstream, it often gradually loses its ‘cool’ factor among young people, and they move on to the next ‘big thing,’” said Tom H.C. Anderson, managing partner of Anderson Analytics. “Our data indicate this is not the case with Facebook.”

    The same survey revealed that college students are participating less in blogs (down 5 percent from 2008) and discussion boards (down 8 percent), which bodes well for microblogging. Twitter continues to grow, although growth has flattened a bit in recent months.

    What’s also interesting is we are seeing a media convergence on Facebook. The survey shows that 70 percent of college students had watched entire television episodes or feature film streamed online. In fact, for the first time a streaming media site, Hulu.com, ranked in the top 10 sites in the survey. And there is a natural symbiosis between Facebook and streaming media sites like Hulu and YouTube. There is a Hulu widget on Facebook and popular shows, like the Simpsons and Family Guy, are streamed on Hulu with fan pages on Facebook. The convergence is organic.

    And popular brands who “get it” and understand how to engage are seeing a boost from Facebook. In the Anderson Analytics study, both McDonalds and Coca-Cola ranged first among college students, and they also had more Facebook fans than their number two competitors. (Coke’s Facebook fans outnumber Pepsi twenty to one.)

    What this survey reveals is that social media in general and Facebook in particular have become a real marketing force, not just to reach college students but for all ages. Extending your marketing program with a social media presence is a cost-effective and sure-fire way to expand your brand footprint.

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  • 18Dec

    press_releasesI have to admit, I have had a good couple of days this week. I have been working with a client looking to break into government computing, and one of their sales executives was presenting at the Government 2.5 conferences this week. In our weekly client call Monday morning, I piped up in my best Mickey Rooney/Judy Garland voice, “Hey boys and girls, let’s put out a press release!”

    Okay, I know a press release on a brief pseudo sales pitch at a niche conference isn’t strictly speaking news. But it does offer a chance to create a market presence in a new niche with a new message. Let’s face it, press releases aren’t just for press any more, and they haven’t been for some time. The press release has become the quintessential marketing device for some companies looking to capture the imagination of a well-targeted market segment, and raise their Google rankings in the bargain. It’s a good tool to make a market statement in a format that gets better exposure than a lot of web content. Of course, that doesn’t mean you have to write a news release about every new sales idea that comes along; even Web news still has some standards.

    I thought this particular opportunity warranted a news release because it would create a number of new opportunites, including (in no particular order):

    • An opportunity to outline features and benefits as they suit a new market.
    • An opportunity to develop a new set of key words and search phrases to help drive new Web traffic in a new market context to promote SEO.
    • An opportunity to reach out once more to our core press and analyst group to remind them that the client is not letting moss grow under their feet but they are aggressively tapping a new market.
    • An opportunity to refresh the social media channel and tell Twitter and Facebook followers what we have been up to.
    • In general, an opportunity to feed the Web!

    The release itself was relatively simple to write, and since it was largely internal approvals were a breeze. So within 48 hours we had it on the wire, and distributed it to a few select editors tracking related topics.

    And we got a payoff! An editor responded to my e-mail indicating he was working on a similar story on a related technology in a different market: “This looks intriguing. Do you have clients with similar issues in my area of interest?” Or course we do. The interview is pending.

    So press releases pay off in a number of ways, and very few of them have anything to do with actual press. With the birth of the Web, the rules have changed.  You need to understanding how and when to apply the format to promote brand and market awareness.

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  • 14Dec

    Conducting interviews can be a tricky business. I used to do a lot of interviews in my days as a trade journalist, either trying to fill in the blanks for a new product announcement, or to develop a bigger story around an emerging company or technology platform. As a PR professional I also do a lot of interviews with client customers to gather information for press releases and case studies. These kinds of interviews are usually fairly straightforward, since companies are usually anxious for publicity and will give you whatever information you need for a story.

    However, the real trick to good interviewing is getting your source to reveal more than they are normally willing to share; to provide that additional nuance, anecdote, or fact that will make your story more compelling and give you an angle that no one else has. This is usually more art than science, but there are some lessons to be learned from people who conduct interviews for a living.

    One interesting source of interview inspiration I stumbled across recently was a presentation by Marc Pachter, Cultural Historian for the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery. (And once again thanks to TED for providing such fascinating insights from EG, the Entertainment Gathering, for all to see.) Realizing that the art of portraiture is dying, Pachter has been interviewing famous Americans to create a series of video portraits.

    Some of the insights that Pachter shares in this lecture offer additional insights for both interviewers and interviewees (and that means you, mister senior executive). A good interview gets to the persona underneath the professional; the insights that goes beyond the infomercial. A good interviewer will try to break the subject out of their public cocoon and get them to break out of the public narrative. This is a lesson from which many executives can benefit – there is always an advantage to showing a personal or human side to help cement the relationship with the interviewer and his audience.

    If you haven’t seen it, rent Frost/Nixon and watch how the two actors spar in the interview scenes. This is a classic example of trying to get the subject to break the narrative. Nixon’s objective is to stick to the narrative; the public story that will protect his reputation. Frost’s objective is to get to the personal story underneath the public figure. It’s fascinating to watch, and actually tells you a lot about effective interviewing techniques.

    I also found Pachter’s story of the interview with Claire Booth Luce quite interesting. There is an unspoken adversarial relationship between interviewer and subject, no matter how friendly the interview. In the case of Pachter’s interview with Luce, she was concerned about having to share the spotlight. Effective interviewing is like a dance with give and take. You have to be able to give something of yourself and surrender some control to the interviewer in order to tell your story. And if you are conducting the interview, you have to be willing to work with your subject and give them a platform for their key messages before asking permission to dive deeper; to get that extra information. It’s a power exchange, and if you understand the rules, you can control the interview and get what you want out of the exchange, whether you are conducting the interview, or trying to tell your story.

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  • 10Dec

    If you have visited this blog before, you may recall a posting in October that profiled the lawsuit filed by ZL Technologies against Gartner Group. In the original lawsuit, ZL technologies challenged the validity of Gartner’s Magic Quadrant methodology (which ultimately resulted in poor rankings for ZL’s product).

    Well, this week I received an update from ZL Technologies. (They must have added me to a mailing list based on my blog post – gosh, does that make me a journalist? More likely it makes me a pawn in SL Technologies’ misguided marketing efforts, but I digress.) Apparently, ZL has amended its lawsuit, arguing that Gartner’s research is based on more opinion than fact. In earlier court testimony, Gartner alleges that its Magic Quadrant reports are opinions not based upon fact, although their marketing materials indicates that the opinion is actually based on a body of facts. This from the cover note from ZL Technologies that I received this week:

    “While this case is focused on ZL’s dispute with Gartner over the erroneous statements in Gartner’s publications, the issues here also implicate Gartner’s larger business model. Gartner plainly admits that it attempts to leverage value from its largest clients, many of whom are also vendors covered in the company’s research. ZL’s legal filings describe how that business model causes Gartner to favor those large companies at the expense of identifying the best technologies, thus misleading not just the vendors who are inaccurately reviewed by Gartner, but the consumers who base their IT purchasing decisions on Gartner’s biased research.”

    So, basically, the lawsuit is alleging bias based on the size (and presumably the spend) of Gartner’s clients.

    Well, duh!

    This is not a new challenge. One of the lessons that I have learned working in trade publishing, both as an editor and as a PR professional, is that money can’t buy me love, but it can buy me access!

    YouTube Preview Image

    If my client is a major advertiser with a publication, I know that it usually is easier to get a hearing with the editorial staff. The same is true with analysts. I have represented a number of smaller clients who don’t buy market research. I set them up with very successful analyst meetings, and more often than not the technology gets included in the next report. However, the quality of the coverage will be better if you have access.

    And let’s face it, the big vendors get access because they pay for the privilege. If I am a Gartner subscriber, then I can contact the analysts when I need an opinion or when I want input on a new product. That’s what the subscription is for. And because it is a paid engagement, the analyst will learn more about your company, its strategy, and its products because that’s why you pay him. Whether it’s intentional or not, access tends to promote bias – the fact that analysts have more contact with and insight about paying clients probably means that those clients will get better treatment in reports. It’s human nature.

    So does that mean if you can’t pay to play, you don’t play at all? Of course not. Analyst research continues to provide an invaluable service to the marketplace. However, the analysts’ role is changing. I recently attended a Forrester Research discussion about predictions for the market in 2010. One of the insights that came to light was that more and more technology buyers are turning to social networking to find new IT solutions. They are going to LinkedIn and their peer networks asking about the best enterprise proxy servers or how to deal with cloud computing. There was a time when the first place these buyers would go was to their friendly neighborhood research analyst to get their take on the market. Now the analysts are becoming market validators more than predictors. The social media networks are providing information on the latest trends, and the analysts are handicapping the players.

    So what does all this say for the ZL Technologies lawsuit? Although the lawsuit is alleging research bias, the real issue is how much power Gartner has in making or breaking sales in a specified market. Is this lawsuit just sour grapes on ZL’s part because they didn’t get the ranking they wanted? Probably. Gartner uses a number of factors in handicapping vendors in any market, including how deep their pockets are (i.e. will they be around tomorrow to service what they sell), and how good their marketing and sales strategy is (which helps assure they will be around to service what they sell). That’s part of the reason that it’s hard for start-ups to rate well in analyst comparison reports, no matter how innovative their technology.

    So from the e-mail I received this week, it strikes me that ZL is using this lawsuit as a focal point for its marketing program. I am sure they are getting a lot of attention from the lawsuit, but I doubt that they are selling much e-mail archiving software as a result.

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  • 07Dec

    tweet-retweet-450One of my clients recently sent me a link to a recent study by PR powerhouse Weber Shandwick profiling the Fortune 100’s failure to adequately harness Twitter as a marketing mechanism. The report calls for a Twittervention to help the Fortune 100 wake up and hear the tweeting of their customers and partners.

    According to the study, 73 percent of the Fortune 100 had a total of 540 Twitter accounts, but 76 percent of those accounts failed to post to Twitter that often. They also gauged that 52 percent were not actively engaged, as measured by the number of links, references, retweets, etc. What’s more, 50 percent had fewer than 500 followers, 15 percent had inactive accounts, and 11 percent had inactive “placeholder” accounts to prevent “brand-jacking.

    As the report says:

    “Think of Twitter as an uber corporate cocktail party. The influentials, celebs and dealmakers you invite will stay only if the conversation is entertaining, valuable and interesting. So, what makes good conversation? The key is listening and engaging.”

    Apparently the listening and engaging aspect is where most corporations fail in their social media strategy. Best practices dictate that Twitterers not only tweet about subjects that are important to them, but they must follow other conversations and retweet and reply to others using the @username convention. More than half of the accounts did not meet the engagement metrics outlined by Twitalyzer, and three quarters (76 percent) had posted fewer than 500 tweets.

    I suspect the social media failing of all corporations, large and small, is due to a lack of a cohesive strategy. Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, and other media outlets can be powerful tools to promote a conversation with customers, prospects, and others, but the challenge is what are you going to talk about and who is going to manage the conversation. For example, further analysis shows that 26 percent used Twitter for a one-way data flow, 24 percent of accounts were for brand awareness, 16 percent were for sales purposes, and 9 percent for customer service. Eight percent of Fortune 100 Twitter accounts were being used for thought leadership, and 14 percent were used for other purposes such as recruitment of employee information dissemination.

    There are innumerable possibilities here as to how you can harness Twitter and other social media outlets to advance your business. But who manages the conversation? Sales? Marketing? HR? Corporate Communications? Every department has a stake in social media, so managing social media is an interdepartmental discipline. But who sets the rules for use, for what you can and cannot say? Does it come from legal? Human Resources? The CIO’s office? The CEO’s office? Again, it depends, and most likely it will involve input from multiple senior management authorities to make sure that the company’s social media activities don’t violate policies and procedures or, worse, government regulations.

    As the Weber Shandwick study points out, there are five essential steps to true engagement: listen, participate, update, reply, and retweet. But before you can engage, you need to have a gameplan, establish some guidelines for conversation, and designate spokespersons. Granted, you can always open the door to everyone who wants to engage in the conversation, and I know of a lot of companies whose employees tweet on a regular basis. But if they are tweeting on behalf of the company or even about the company, you have to give them a playbook to protect your business and your brand, and help you advance your social media strategy rather than hinder it.

    Social media levels the marketing playing field. Even if the Fortune 100 can’t connect the tweets, there’s no reason you can’t. Develop a strategy, a playbook, and policies and procedures and turn your social media mavens lose. The results will prove worth the effort.

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  • 03Dec

    solutionsMobileAs a reminder that social networking is permeating all aspects of our lives, I saw an interesting article on SFGate.com this week about the mobilization of social media. Smarter telephones such as iPhones and upgraded Blackberries are placing more computing power in your pocket, and advertisers and marketers are anxious to adopt new strategies to get your attention while you are on the move.

    The Gate article talks about using mobile social media applications to track your friends in real-time. You check your mobile tracker and find out that the gang is at your favorite watering hole, or one of you BFFs is getting coffee at Starbucks. With the new GPS and and smart phone capabilities being built into today’s mobile handsets, it’s easy to pinpoint anyone with a mobile phone. Combine the tracking capability with social media and the world can follow you anywhere:

    “We’re seeing a renaissance in mobile services,” said Alok Deshpande, co-founder of Loopt, which was started in 2006. “People are trying it for the first time and seeing what they can do. A lot of that evolution was catalyzed by improvements in the iPhone and new BlackBerrys. That changed the game a lot.”

    As the article notes, it’s going to take some time until one service or another reaches the critical mass of a Facebook or Twitter to be a viable mobile social media platform. The same is true in the world of instant messaging. To be valuable, your posse has to be using the same service, whether it’s Skype or Yahoo or MSN.

    Now let’s throw mobile marketing into the mix. When you combine the ability to track mobile presence with data delivery, advertising can turn your cell phone into a personalized billboard. You are walking by Old Navy and “buzz,” there’s a clothing special just for you. You are near Amici’s pizza and “beep,” they have a linguini lunch special. If you haven’t seen it, the mall scene from film “The Minority Report” has some of that same creep factor. Imagine if advertisers were able to target you by taste and interest as well as location. This is as close to one-to-one marketing as I want to get.

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    I have to wonder about the tolerance of mobile users for cell phone advertising. I know I find the random text messages from my service provider annoying to say the least, but the novelty factor may overcome initial objections, particularly if the mobile ads can be targeted to your areas of interest.

    So I am wondering if we are ready for a world where microblogging and micromarketing converge. You can check on your friends on the go, using your handheld computer with the build-in GPS to track them and check in in real time. At the same time, marketers can stalk you in the real world, serving up cybersuggestions based on your online history and location. It’s an interesting variation on the concept of free, perfect, now articulated by Rob Rodin, CEO of Marshall Industries over a decade ago. The basic idea is that the Internet has engendered the demand for instant gratification; I want what I want now, exactly as I want it, and I don’t want to pay much for it. Clearly, technology is changing the rules of marketing for all of us.

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