Warning: Before You Do Anything Else, Search!

I’ve been meaning to write this post for a while, because the topic is so important. Search, in any of its forms, is fast becoming one of THE skills to master for the 21st Century. I first heard Rich Schefren a few years ago at a private conference refer to it as “search literacy”, and the idea has stuck with me ever since:

Given the overwhelming, ever-exponentially-growing flood of information in the age of the Internet, being able to perform sophisticated searches is becoming so important that it isn’t too far-fetched to call it a literacy issue. Without these skills, you are in a sense in danger of becoming functionally illiterate in this brave new world.

Those individuals (and by extension businesses) with advanced search skills will be running circles around those without, because it saves so much time to search intelligently, and because a lot of answers can be found that are simply impossible to find otherwise. In a way, this separation into the search haves and have-nots has already been occurring over the last 5+ years.

And by the way, all of this isn’t simply about Google. Not at all. In a moment, I am going to walk you through a number of examples of advanced searches, and some of the tricks and techniques underlying them. But before I do, let me stress one other thing:

Even if you do only the most simple of "everyday" keyword searches, you are already going in the right direction. In fact, if you aren’t doing it already, make it a point for the next two weeks to stop yourself at every turn and ask: "Could I be doing a search right now to speed this up?"

I think you’ll find that the answer is almost always YES, and that it will be well worth your while to develop this as a new habit (a habit takes about 30 days of repetition to form).

Simply search for everything, and avoid using "manual" searching, i.e. avoid scrolling through documents, web pages, and lists both with your mouse and visually, asf. to find passages/names/etc. you’re looking for. Search options exist in Word, in your browser, on blogs, on Twitter, on Facebook, everywhere. Yet often we don’t use them, and the authors of software/Web tools don’t put sufficient front-and-center emphasis on search capabilities/ease-of-use.

For example, in your browser, never again manually search through long Blog comment threads or other large pages/articles manually, use your browser’s "Find" function and type the first few letters of your name or keyword, etc.

Granted, Gen-Yers on average are likely far ahead of all older generations when it comes to matter-of-cause use of Google, etc., however I doubt that even they know in large numbers about the kind of in depth, advanced search I am about to show you.

General Search Operator Considerations

Let’s first consider the most important search techniques by way of the so-called search operators. These may sometimes be accessible indirectly through a Web form under the heading of "Advanced Search", but originally they represent a kind of mini-programming language for telling the Search Engines what you want them to bring back. (Search Engines from here on shall include the "Search Function" in Web services other than stand-alone search engines.)

These are the "logical"/Boolean operators you may remember from math class or Logic 101 (fun, I know, but you really want to know a leetle bit about this, at least in these practical applications). Why know about these when you could also get most of the same results from using the Advanced Search forms?

Remember, this is about LITERACY. You want to become fluent in a secret language of sorts, and true command and mastery only come from truly delving into the heart of the matter. Plus, you will find that it is almost always faster to type queries into one search box than typing bits and pieces into Advanced Search forms which tend to look a little different for each service.

So let’s get started. I have made all of the examples clickable links, so that you can study the results. All results should be very similar on Google, Yahoo, and Microsoft’s Bing (formerly Live):

Continue reading “Warning: Before You Do Anything Else, Search!”

Brand Naming Lesson From The NCAA’s March Madness

The last few weeks have seen the annual "March Madness" surrounding the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament, with the conclusion only days away.

While the competition is fun to follow, especially if your favorite team or alma mater is still in the running, I’d like to draw your attention to some factors in play, hidden in plain sight if you will, that add to the excitement:

While there are countless multi-round tournaments in any number of sports, only the NCAA has evolved a truly outstanding "portfolio" of brand names surrounding the tournamant and its stages, each of which make use of the principles of good brand names (first discussed here), foremost of the principle of "rhythm, rhyme, and speakability" including by way of alliteration:

First there is the already mentioned "March Madness" to describe the entire procedure. Then there are the named tournament rounds, the "Sweet Sixteen" (what is sometimes called a 1/8 final), the "Elite Eight" quarter-final, and the lastly the "Final Four" semi-final.

Note that in large part due to the alliterations, the NCAA terms roll of the tongue much more so than the traditional, generic terms.

Now you may be saying, "why does this matter so much, I don’t even care about basketball…"

It matters because enjoyment derived from saying a brand name is a strong predictor of the both the viral success as well as the depth of imprint in the consumer’s mental real estate of that name. Making it enjoyable to repeat, to say or think more often, will accelerate the spread of a meme through a population, and embed it more thoroughly in the individual.

Rhythm and rhyme, including alliteration (which you could see as a form of front-loaded rhyme), are pleasant and also more memorable to our unconscious minds (that is the reason why you still remember most advertising jingles to this day).

It doesn’t hurt that each NCAA "brand name" is reasonably short, while also still being sufficiently descriptive/evocative of the things they are referring to.

In fact, they even take out some of the complexity of having to think of the somewhat confusing traditional "quarter-final", asf. terminology (number of teams left devided by 2), in favor of simply counting the number of teams still in the tournament. Simplicity is typically good. Simplicity wins.

Yet none of the names are too generic to hurt differentiation in your mental real estate. And they all are easily understood, requiring no spelling out (unlike this massive brand name failure). But the alliterations providing a certain rhythm and rhyme are ultimately the most important drivers in this case.

The end result is, more people talk about March Madness and its rounds, more often.

It is very likely that you were already familiar with these NCAA Tournament "brand names" EVEN IF you’re not particularly following basketball. Now that’s strong branding. You would do well to apply these powerful principles to your own brand naming.

If you can’t get all of them lined up for a given name, apply as many as you can. One thing we do know is, "March Madness" is a winner…

Pownce Shuts Down: A Branding Post-Mortem

Micro-blogging service and Twitter competitor Pownce is shuttering its site. Presumably the company was purchased by SixApart (makers of the MovableType and TypePad blogging software and service), and its technology will presumably be rolled into a SixApart offering at some point in the future.

Pownce never reached the critical mass of Twitter despite having arguably better technology (though at the much lower user numbers a true load testing crucible like experienced by Twitter this year never happened), which prompted me to look into the branding aspects of this "failure to thrive":

While "Pownce" is by no means the worst Web 2.0 start-up name out there, it’s also far from ideal. The name SOUNDS good, but presents spelling problems. You don’t want your early adopter users and everyone else to have to spell your company or site name every time it is passed on. You may think that this seems like a minor detail, but for almost any Web start-up concerned with mass services, velocity of the spread of the idea is paramount.

Pownce also likely fell prey to what I call the "too cute by half syndrome", in that the name may relate to the posture/spelling of the hacker term "pwned", which means to "own a computer by root access through password hacking", and by extension just to "own someone or something" as in beating them thoroughly in a contest. So the name may have made for a cute geeky insider joke, but either way did little to advance the mission of the company to spread their micro-blogging service faster than its competitors (of which some like Twitter had a head-start).

The name also does little to describe or even merely allude to what the service was doing for its users, unlike Twitter, which with its name and bird imagery created a story in people’s minds that Twitter was about super short, rapid, distance-independent messages, which came to be known as "Tweets": The image of birds hectically twittering away to each other in a dizzying symphony of missives was concrete enough that more people hearing about and/or testing out Twitter almost instantly got the point.

Even though there are large numbers of people who test Twitter and subsequently think that Twitter is, well, for the birds, the point is not about a potential user ultimately liking the service, just whether the brand name immediately helped them get what was going on or not. This is the kind of thing that ultimately gets you awareness saturation, like being mentioned NIGHTLY on CNN, etc. (you can’t buy something as good as Anderson Cooper constantly mentioning your service, as in "check out our account on Twitter…").

(By the way, I am in the process of updating an original "Twitter for Business" private forum post of mine to put up on the blog, which explains about a dozen ways in which Twitter can be used advantageously for your business. Stay tuned.)

The English language already has the idiom of "the place was all atwitter with the news of the …" and similar constructions, further helping the meme of fast, rumor-like spreading of news to stick. "Pownce" evokes no such allusions, instead it at best brings up ideas of "pouncing" on prey. Not something that seems to have much to do with the goal of the service, which their slogan stated was: "We send stuff to our friends."

Again, I repeat, Pownce had some superior technology features compared to Twitter (including allowing the sending of image, audio, and video files, and several other value added features), but it failed to capitalize on it and grab mind and user share. This branding stuff really does matter!