The Birth of HitTailing

ML Jun 16, 2006

So, I’ve got 3 blogs that I contribute to. My personal blog at mikelev.in, the Connors blog, and the HitTail blog. Lately, I’ve been pouring myself into the HitTail blog, because I feel for the first time in a long time that I’m involved in a “cause”. This post is about some of the highlights of the passion that fuels HitTail.

I sure wish the Internet and blogging were around during the demise of Commodore Computers, my first technology passion and cause. I was not a Commodore 64 guy as so many of my peers, although my age is about right. Instead, I hopped on the bandwagon circa 1987 with the Amiga Computer. The Amiga, with it’s “before-its time” hi-color, multi-tasking, video and animation capabilities made me crazy for a device that I almost resented people calling a PC.

The Amiga was not a computer. It was a crazy-elite, creative, break all expectations sort of technology that made Mac and PC people discount what they saw before their very eyes as “impossible”. PC’s can’t do that, therefore the Amiga is not a PC. It must be some other thing, so that their worldview did not shatter. For me, those times were easily as exciting as the Internet revolution that came almost a decade later.

This is about when I started reading Sun Tzu’s Art of War and Guy Kawasaki’s Selling The Dream. I became active, and eventually president of the local user group for Amigas that met out of Drexel University. I went to Drexel for college, and to work for Commodore as the college student liaison that actually got to work out of Commodore’s international headquarters in West Chester, PA. For those who remember back that far, Drexel was the first college in the country to require all incoming students to buy computers–and they chose Macs. So, irony here was so thick, you could cut it with a knife. And if Commodore did its job of keeping the Amiga technologically relevant, I would still be working for them today.

In fact, when the writing was on the wall, I want to the Bahamas to speak at their shareholder meetings TWICE to deliver warnings of how technologically competitive the landscape was becoming. At one meeting, a fellow shareholder, Richard Ash, was forcibly ejected for insisting that Roberts Rules of Order be followed. It was in that atmosphere, I had to tell Al Haig and the others that it was time to support more than 256 colors at 640×400 resolution (what was then High Res). The last trip was in 1992, about when everything really fell apart. It sucks trying to keep a ship that you’re passionate about from sinking. Friends claim it was one bad Christmas season. I claim it was years of being out of touch with the new pace of innovation.

The years that followed went by like a blur. I basically missed being one of those Silicon Valley bubble boys, because I decided to hitch my wagon to the Scala star, and bet on the digital screens that were hanging from ceilings in business rather than the ones on our desks in our homes. In other words, I promoted digital signage, which is just now maturing as a market. But in that time, Scala was my passion, and I developed skills far and wide, from being a production manager saving the company millions in unnecessary printing expenses, to marketing, making the company millions in new business relationships.

And the later is what indirectly led to HitTail. For in the digital signage industry, the prospective customers are spread thinly across the entire Earth. You are just as likely to find your next prospect in Iceland as in Malaysia. China, South America, Australia, Africa, and certainly all over Europe–you just never knew where the next sales inquiry was going to come from. It was a unique marketing challenge. Where do you advertise? What tradeshows do you attend?

And finally, THIS is where the passion for a company coupled with a passion for a marketing technique–the only technique I could identify where we could accomplish the formidable mission of aggregating enough of these thinly dispersed sales leads to constitute a significant market. The technique I’m talking about is of course, Search. This was in the days of AltaVista, InfoSeek, Excite, Lycos, and a bunch of others–a totally different set of names than today’s players. Certainly PPC wasn’t on the scene until GoTo’s arrival. So ad-buys online were still fairly expensive, and not a real option for Scala.

So, I took a piece of global company revenues, and set to work bringing in every prospective customer on the entire planet. I intended nothing less than delivering to Scala EVERY prospect in the digital signage market–period. Prospects, likewise didn’t know where to turn to in order to find vendors in this space. Scala’s marketing challenge dovetailed perfectly with the prospect’s challenge. And general Internet search was the (then, not so obvious) solution.

So once again, you had an alternative platform (Search ~= Amiga), and the irony of promoting in the middle of hostile territory. In those days, a sales person thought that if a sales lead came in over the Web, then it couldn’t actually be serious. Oh, what a mistake. Anyway, I was MUCH more successful in my second professional passion then my first, and where Commodore fell, I was able to deliver the world’s aggregate sales leads of the digital signage industry to Scala–much to the chagrin of their competitors, and to my delight (did I mention I was on sales commission?).

So, that being accomplished, I was ready for my next challenge. The task of collecting the world’s thinly dispersed sales prospects for a single market in order to make it worth developing didn’t have a name. I was deeply involved in search engine optimization and a forum called “Search Engine Forums” at the time. But that was no name for what I did. It implied a shadowy world that was in an arms race with the search engine companies, like Google and Yahoo. My techniques on the other hand were reputable. I was proud to talk about them to the Google engineers that I had the occasional chance to talk with at the Search Engine Strategy conferences, which by that time I started attending. What I created was far bigger than collecting leads for one company in one super-niche.

Then, a buddy who had followed his dreams to New York called me up to meet the people at his company. He saw the connection between public relations and search that I had yet to make. I knew that a number of the things that I did were PR-like. I even made the connection between Google PageRank, Reputation and PR. But the overwhelming power of this connection was not clear until I came up and met the people of Connors Communications. Then, the light went on. The spark of the then-wavering passion was re-ignited. The optimistic rose-colored glasses that I learned to look through by Guy Kawasaki combined with the “win while it’s easy” mantra of Sun Tzu. And I knew New York inside a PR firm that was serious about technology AND search was the place I had to be. So, I loaded up my truck and I moved to Chelsea.

For two years, I re-worked and re-invented my methodologies, working with Connors clients, purging any practices that seemed spammy, adding practices that seemed consistent with public relations, and generally putting together a formula for search engine optimization that where you didn’t have to pay tribute to the Search Gods, yet, you could have year after year of fertile crops without incurring their wrath. I was totally passionate about this, and knew I was coming out with something that could easily rival AdWords in terms of marketing phenomenon’s. The problem was (and still is) to some degree communicating it. But I do that plenty in other posts.

And that brings us back to where I began this rambling post. I’m surrounded by wonderful, supportive team, in terms of programmers and PR folks. And it’s really exciting to be this close to the Media. It gives just such a different feeling than being in Exton, Pennsylvania. We’re regularly meeting with clients in the 5-block radius of Rockefeller Center, and that gives a real “media” flavor to HitTailing–avoiding what I view as the more Valley-oriented Web 2.0 fad mentality.

While I hope to pick up the meme sheep in what I’m doing here, what I’m really after is the massive herds of marketing department buffalo. In other words, HitTailing is on its way to becoming a Trend, and not just a Fad. The chasm still looms ahead, and most of you who are reading at this early point are the early adopters. But instant communication, and the free-first model leads to instant market-creation. So, we’re in the path of the Tornado, which we should be able to ride over the chasm quite nicely. So, jump on the HitTailing bandwagon, and come along for the ride.

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