Is HitTail the story, or is Connors?

ML Sep 21, 2006

Just yesterday, HitTail was pointed out on the Incredible Video blog as an innovative service with an innovative approach to marketing. Not long ago, we impressed the Web 2.0 Blog Network with our “very Web 2.0 promotion techniques” including quality intern work, the YouTube video and Digg article (not written by us). And earlier this month, such promotion almost exploded in our face, only to be turned into a “great job gentlemen” kudos post by Business Blog Consulting. And in the very first days of HitTail’s birth, Gordon Gould, contributor to Weblogs, Inc., cited us for our impressive PR outreach.

So, while I love the news about HitTail, I’m equally excited to see that the public relations firm that incubated the product (yes, a PR firm did this) is receiving its share of the attention. For anyone looking for a public relations firm that really gets it, and has technological know-how, online outreach capabilities and search savvy, I encourage you to check out Fair warning: PR like this doesn’t come cheap. Connors is the PR agency that launched, Priceline and others. It’s always looking for the next big thing and has a pretty good track record in determining whether you might be just that. It’s worth contacting them (us) just on that basis alone–to see whether you make the cut to reach stage-2 in prospective client development.

So, what’s my (Mike Levin) connection to Connors?

Yes, I’m one of their vice presidents. To make a long story short, I joined Connors to make “being found in search” an “of course!” component of public relations. And in the process, I formalized a long tail keyword optimization method that I have been developing for years, and tweaked it to sustain the server load incurred by some clients who had massive traffic on their sites (already–before even using our SEO services). In doing so, I realized that I had created a widely appealing and under-utilized tool that could help the great masses of bloggers build their natural search traffic and bring some real method to their site expansion strategies.

So, I proposed to Connors that I break it out of the custom SEO services and turn it into an overture to the world. Because you see, my long tail marketing methodologies were developed in difficult markets with very sexy, clearly differentiated products. This made it possible to construct a staggeringly clear sales pipeline where search-hits led to discussions led to quotes led to sales led to ongoing loyal customers led to word-of-mouth led to blog posts led to more search hits. Connors had pretty much everything but the sexy product. Connors is exceptional at PR, but the field of public relations is greatly undifferentiated. Connors fame comes from its impressive track record and ability to excel as a small “boutique agency” in NYC (as opposed to larger, perhaps less personal agencies). But in my mind, to build a decent pipeline of prospective clients, I needed that sexy product to establish the large mouth to the sales pipeline funnel.

So, there you have it. We were sitting on top of a sexy product in the form of one tiny little nuanced piece in our greater SEO services machinery, but it was difficult to communicate and had scaling issues (we all saw Google Analytics go down in its earliest days). So, I got to work solving both those issues.

As fate would have it, the release of Chris Anderson’s book, The Long Tail, was imminent. So we created the positioning and messaging around our product to make sure people understood it in the context of the keyword tsunami that is the long tail. The P&M; became sort of a spiral development cycle, where each time I learned something new, I refined the message, never overly-committing to one course. Over time, I realized that I had a crossing-the-chasm issue, where the biggest danger of HitTail was impaling itself on its own early adopter success. For this thing to take flight, it needed to cross over and be embraced by the early majority. This manifested in the features and user-interface in countless ways that are almost transparent to the user and sometimes result it being dismissed as simple. But that’s just the point–simplicity is a characteristic necessary for mainstream success. We didn’t want to be the Rio of MP3 players. We wanted to be the iPod.

So, with the product ready for public beta and with the final difficulty of the mainstream value proposition to be communicated effectively, I locked myself in a room and didn’t come out until I scripted the demo, learned Macromedia Flash, narrated the script, animated it and figured out how to do the highest quality YouTube video upload possible (which turned out to be Xvid encoding at the exact required size).

So, we linked this video in from every page of the HitTail site, and we’ve been watching the view-counter steadily grow. Now, we’re not as popular as the 30-million visits to the evolution of dance video (stunning), but we are at aprox. 1,600 views. YouTube deals with the bandwidth issue, the email-to-a-friend feature and has a built-in audience. What more could you ask for?

But not to harp too much on the creative use of YouTube. The point I’m making with this post is that Connors not only had the creativity to make its own perfect fuge for a its own viral public relations campaign, but it also is on top of all the Web 2.0 tools that help, from YouTube to Technorati to Squidoo. And where the available tools fall short, Connors jumps right in with its own custom development efforts, achieving remarkable feats that don’t see the light of day outside services provided directly to its clients–such as building our own wayback machine for serps, and spinning out complete search-optimized Website as alternative output from any existing content management system.

People love to play “let’s pile on the PR guy” because PR gets a bad reputation from the bad practitioners. But because of PR’s very un-orthodoxy, it’s exactly the right field to lead the marketing evolution.

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