Friday, March 27, 2009

A Few Lighthearted Thoughts for Friday

With the current economic climate, jobs, places to work, and work environments are often the subject of thoughts and conversations. Sometimes I just wish that I could convince my brain that -- just because it makes sense to me, that doesn't make it reality. Here are few examples:
  • As you pass by that company with an office just down the street from your apartment thinking...
    "They are close to where I live. They should hire me, then I could walk to work."
  • Driving by Google, seeing the people on bicycles and the college campus atmosphere and thinking...
    "This looks like such a relaxed place to work. They should hire me. I am such a great person to have in a relaxed work environment. We would get along great."
  • Seeing new products come out of Apple, getting excited and thinking...
    "Apple has such a great focus on innovative thinking. It would be very exciting to work. They should hire me. I really like their products and I've used them for many years."
  • Seeing a company like VMWare, emerging as a start-up, and thinking...
    "This place looks cool, and it seems like everyone is impressed with their products. The people who are in the company in the early stages are coming away with a nice chunk of valuable stock. They should hire me. I'd be good at having valuable stock."
Now it could be that this kind of thinking is normal, but you know that you've gone off the deep end when you explore the idea of using that kind of logic in a cover letter to the company.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Do they pay these guys to be angry at Google?

Over the weekend, I came across this article, Why Advertising is Failing on the Internet by Eric Clemons. According to the bio posted on Techcrunch, he is a Professor of Operations and Information Management at The Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania. A quick synopsis of the post is that traditional advertising models don't work on the Internet and that advertisers need to find alternative approaches. My first pass through the post left me feeling like I was rereading Seth Godin's Meatball Sundae, but without the fun.

The thing that caught my eye though, was his assertion that the way that Google makes advertising money is through "misdirection." Apparently, he also had an earlier post on Techcrunch where he went that concept in more depth. Here's how he explains that revenue model.
Misdirection, or sending customers to web locations other than the ones for which they are searching. This is Google’s business model. Monetization of misdirection frequently takes the form of charging companies for keywords and threatening to divert their customers to a competitor if they fail to pay adequately for keywords that the customer is likely to use in searches for the companies’ products; that is, misdirection works best when it is threatened rather than actually imposed, and when companies actually do pay the fees demanded for their keywords. Misdirection most frequently takes the form of diverting customers to companies that they do not wish to find, simply because the customer’s preferred company underbid.
When I read through this, I couldn't help wondering if he had access to the same Adwords results that I did. Here's a thought for you -- if Adwords was powered by misdirection, do you know what you would find behind every Google Adword -- porn. Or snake-oil enhancement products and get rich quick scams. But you don't. Why, because for Google and Adwords, relevance is important. Pick a word and follow their ad format, and you can advertise on any word you want. And you can run that ad until nobody clicks on it for an extended period of time; then, lacking an complete disregard for your willingness to give them money, they stop serving your ad.

If you want another example, pick a product or a brand and do a search -- do you see the major competitor in the paid search listings? There's no ROI. The program described in Clemons' post is closer to the old Yahoo/Overture model -- and once was the only time that they got my budget money.

One of the reasons why I'm such a fan of Google's Adwords as a program is specifically because of the way that relevance is handled. But one thing that I suspect that many people miss, one thing that seems like it's under-represented in Clemons' post, is the secret sauce that powers Google Adwords -- the brains of the user. Good Adwords don't draw clicks by traditional advertising or direct mail tricks -- free, limited time offer, new. Instead, the thing that draws people into Adwords clicks are listings that are actually related to the thing that they searched for. Clickers aren't being suckered, they're drawn in because somebody was found ROI in paying for improved listing visibility.

Anyway, you know what they say...
Opinions are like Adwords -- no matter how unique, specialized, or unusual you think yours is, there's probably somebody who thinks that they should outbid you and have the top spot.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Internal Marketing and the Downturn

Here's another Down-From-Above, Up-From-Below Scenario. What often strikes me as interesting is the subtext of the downturn is what affect it has on an organization's internal marketing. For many organizations, a tight business climate translates into "top-down" implementation and control instead of "bottom-up" collaboration and cooperation -- lots of control freaks and non-contributors running around trying to 'touch the machine' and appear important.

To be clear, I'm not talking decisions like whether "we're going to have to stop providing dinner" or free juice, less expensive coffee or something like that. Say what you will about all of those little things and whether or not they have an impact on the health of the business, that isn't the point that I'm getting at. What I'm really talking about is more about the difference between a strategy of engaging the organization in more of a grass-roots responsibility strategy versus the top-down hyper-controlling approach that I suspect too many execs take.

Here's a great example of Up-From-Below marketing in this story published in The Boston Globe. I've snipped out a couple of sections from the article, but the entire piece is nice -- worth a read and you might even want to forward it.
A head with a heart
By Kevin Cullen, Globe Columnist | March 12, 2009

It was the kind of meeting that is taking place in restaurant kitchens, small offices, retail storerooms, and large auditoriums all over this city, all over this state, all over this country.

Paul Levy, the guy who runs Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, was standing in Sherman Auditorium the other day, before some of the very people to whom he might soon be sending pink slips.


He looked out into a sea of people and recognized faces: technicians, secretaries, administrators, therapists, nurses, the people who are the heart and soul of any hospital. People who knew that Beth Israel had hired about a quarter of its 8,000 staff over the last six years and that the chances that they could all keep their jobs and benefits in an economy in freefall ranged between slim and none.

"I want to run an idea by you that I think is important, and I'd like to get your reaction to it," Levy began. "I'd like to do what we can to protect the lower-wage earners - the transporters, the housekeepers, the food service people. A lot of these people work really hard, and I don't want to put an additional burden on them

"Now, if we protect these workers, it means the rest of us will have to make a bigger sacrifice," he continued. "It means that others will have to give up more of their salary or benefits."

He had barely gotten the words out of his mouth when Sherman Auditorium erupted in applause. Thunderous, heartfelt, sustained applause.

Paul Levy stood there and felt the sheer power of it all rush over him, like a wave. His eyes welled and his throat tightened so much that he didn't think he could go on.

When the applause subsided, he did go on, telling the workers at Beth Israel, the people who make a hospital go, that he wanted their ideas.

The lump had barely left his throat when Paul Levy started getting e-mails.

The consensus was that the workers don't want anyone to get laid off and are willing to give up pay and benefits to make sure no one does. A nurse said her floor voted unanimously to forgo a 3 percent raise. A guy in finance who got laid off from his last job at a hospital in Rhode Island suggested working one less day a week. Another nurse said she was willing to give up some vacation and sick time. A respiratory therapist suggested eliminating bonuses.

"I'm getting about a hundred messages per hour," Levy said yesterday, shaking his head.
In the 'For What It's Worth' segment of this post, I have to say that this type of Up-From-Below engagement should be standard operating procedure, not just a tool you pull out when the water gets neck deep.

It's Like Brain Surgery - So Easy, Anyone Can Do It

As a marketing pro, one of the most annoying things is getting involved in one of those projects where someone who doesn't do marketing thinks that they know how to do your job. Often, the offenders get worse as people higher up the corporate ladder get involved. While you probably wouldn't dream of telling someone in the accounting group how to depreciate an asset, that doesn't seem to prevent the account guys from asking you why you need a 24" monitor in your tradeshow booth instead of a 19" one, that your booth needs informational posters, or that the light gray carpet should be dark gray. Or, from the product marketing side, trying to convince the engineer that you need to add a feature to the product because several customers have asked for it -- "yes, but why do they need that?"

So why does this happen exactly? I can't say for certain, but I have a few ideas. For fun, I'm going to start to build a list. Here's my first pass:
  1. People think marketing is easy. There are no visible formulas, no complex math calculations, no obvious structure that the outside observer might look at, become intimidated, and think, "I have no understanding of what is going here. If I comment without understanding, I will look like an idiot."
  2. People confuse process execution with actual understanding. For many people, it's easy to learn process. By following steps, like a recipe, they can repeat a pattern faithfully and precisely without ever scratching the surface to get to the underlying why that glues it together. Many teachers/schools/education tracks also reinforce process over understanding.
  3. Marketing does not follow a straightforward formula of process equals result. A simple example of this -- Hollywood has a "factory" designed around building successful movies, but they still manage to produce a significant volume of movies that totally suck.
  4. Many people have a difficult time observing complex, multi-threaded dynamic systems and predicting results. Here's an example -- imagine driving to work, piloting your vehicle in traffic. As you travel, you're controlling your car, you're also interpreting what other drivers are going to do with their vehicle. Safe driving requires sorting through the patterns of vehicles and predicting behavior, then adapting your intended path to travel safely and efficiently through the traffic. Now imagine those drivers that seem to pilot their vehicle like their unaware of other vehicles. Traffic has the potential to be very complex, so we impose a system of rules to make the behavior predictable, but markets, products and people aren't bound by those same rigid rules.
  5. People confuse marketing with universalizing their own tastes, not developing an empathetic understanding of others. We all wind up dancing with this issue from time to time -- meals at The French Laundry have to conform to Thomas Keller's sense of what tastes good. But when you're targeting an audience, you're using your ruler to ensure that it was built to that planned audience, not merely a projection of you.
I'll leave it here for now. If you come up with more, leave a comment.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Bit off More that I Could Chew

This morning I was back working on this blog post on Down From Above versus Up From Below that I've been working on for about two weeks. I realized that what I was trying to characterize and the way that I was trying to approach it is too broad to be rolled into a brief blog post. Now I'm thinking short downloadable e-book or something like that.

With my blog-posting frequency, you might expect that this means the project has been shelved, but I don't think so -- the whole thing has been actively churning in my head for a couple of weeks. That being said, here is the business school Reader's Digest Cliff Notes version. Call it a bullet-point outline of some of the premises.

  • Down From Above versus Up From Below is a thematic tool that can be used to describe the authority by which we make choices.
  • Down From Above revolutions happen when Above is not in tune with a broad base of Up From Below.
  • Effective marketing attempts to understand the internal drivers that comprise Up From Below
  • Modern Down From Above attempts to use the illusion of Up From Below to sell Down From Above.
  • Up From Below revolutions gain energy when Below learns that their decision architecture is being manipulated or that the Architecture of Above is based on lies, deception, or misrepresentation.
  • Individuals are very passionate about Up From Below
So there you have it. Now I can move on to other things. I'll also keep you updated on how this project is progressing.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Science, The Brain, and Influencing Behavior

Recently, a couple of items came up that seemed oddly harmonic with a blog post that I've been working on regarding marketing and influencing behavior. Here are a couple of links and a couple of comments.

1. Jonah Lehrer was on Fresh Air the other day promoting his book about the science of the brain and the decision process. He's one of the guys behind the RadioLabs broadcast that I linked to. His blog is The Frontal Cortex and it's worth checking out.

2. Once again, I can't say enough good things about John Moore's blog, BrandAutopsy. I went ahead and added him to my new Twitter account, and that reminded me to go check his blog again where I found this great post on Nudges.

3. John's post lead me to the Nudges Blog. It's put together by Cass Sunstein and Richard Thaler, and it's an excellent read. There's tons of great stuff about influencing decisions and behavior. They've also added a couple of new terms to my vocabulary -- Choice Architecture and Decision Architect. Check it out -- they may influence the way you look at what you do.

Annecdotes on Television, On-line Video and the Gaps Between

I want to start this post with a note about a television show that I've been fairly amused with recently -- Leverage. Leverage is a dramatic TV series on TNT and a great example of how a huge chunk of the "TV worth watching" is on the cable networks. I'm no TV critic and I can't say that you'd enjoy the show as much as I have -- that's not really the point of this post. Instead, what I wanted to do was characterize my content viewing process and provide what may be an interesting insight into online versus broadcast use cases.

One aspect of a series, particularly one that has an evolving storyline, is your entry-point -- where did you learn about it, where did you come in, and how long did it take to get you to watch repeated episodes. With Leverage, I actually happened to catch the season premier -- drawn in by a pre-episode advertising blitz and a convenient time that didn't conflict with other shows that I might normally watch. The first episode was amusing -- enough that I thought I might try to watch the show again when it came on. Of course, it's worth noting that the era of planning a schedule around a TV show is long gone.

Multiple Opportunities to Keep Up With the Current Episode
Now I should preface all of this with, I may be the only person on the planet without a DVR, but I don't have one; so, if I don't catch a show during the window that it was initially broadcast, the most chance that I have to see it is when it is re-screened. This is one thing that the cable networks like USA, TNT, and Sci-fi do well in terms of making their programming much more accessible. By repeatedly broadcasting the week's episode of Monk, Burn Notice, Psych, Leverage, or the Closer, these shows have opened up to me simply by outperforming everything on the other channels. Re-screening won't save a bad show, but it increases the likelihood that I might give it a change.

That being said, I didn't catch another episode of Leverage until the other night when I came across the season finale while flipping through the channels. Once again I found it amusing and I was disappointed that I missed the entire season. Being the resourceful computer guy that I am, I started looking for ways to view the series online. Rather than dwell on the implementation details, let me just say that I found and watched the entire series online. And for those of you that have never watched a TV series by staring at your computer -- it's really not bad. In fact, it's pretty cool and can be even easier than watching it on the entertainment system.

One other aside on this that's probably worth noting is on rights management, broadcasting, and the availability of this content. As a viewer, people inside TNT might argue about the revenue that they lost with me not watching their ad-supported broadcasts, but I missed those. They also might argue that by watching these episodes, they lost some potential revenue from sales of DVDs. However, as a viewer I would counter with a different perspective. With viewing access to the previous series episodes, I was able to immerse myself in the series and become a fan (or at least interested enough to attempt to schedule and watch it when it begins airing again). I've done this with series in the past -- Battlestar Galactica, Dr. Who, Heroes. I also have not bought any broadcast-series DVDs even though I've thought that it might be nice to watch the all of the episodes in Monk and some others. Still, by whetting my taste for this content, I have moved into their broadcast-watching audience (or probably will watch if I'm in front of the TV).

When Online Video Doesn't Work
So here's part of the story that triggered me to write this post. During my efforts to watch the series, I attempted to use the published streaming video approach. My first stop was (in that way, I think that their ad campaign has been effective). Hulu had a listing for Leverage that linked to the TNT web site, so off I went to the TNT site. While I attempted to watch one of the full episodes, I kept having problems with the video -- the site wanted to force me to download a Flip-for-Mac wmv converter plug-in component, but an older version than the one that I already have installed. Sensing that it might be a PC thing, I decided to fire up VMware and attempt to watch in running as a PC -- but it still wanted additional components. I updated Windows, installed Flash, and it still wouldn't work. At that point, I just gave up. Later, while looking at some TNT FAQs, I came across a note that said something like, "sorry, no support for Mac. We can't support DRM using the Mac. Nobody has a Mac anyway, beat it."

In an era of YouTube, when I can go to just about any site and watch streaming video, "Sorry, our online video just doesn't work" just doesn't cut it. To me, the funniest thing about the, "I'm sorry, you've got a Mac. We don't support Mac. Get a real computer," is how dated the message feels. Whether it's iTunes, the iPod, the iPhone or Apple's continuing consumption of PC marketshare, you can't ignore Apple. And while I still come across some web-based services that only work on the PC or with IE, today's web is all about it-just-works interoperability and applications (and organizations) that don't respect that have a growing image problem.

Monday, March 2, 2009

I'm on the bandwagon

I signed up for a Twitter account over the weekend. As I start to work with it more, I'll see if I can add a Twitter component to the blog. Right now I'm still trying to see how it fits with my day-to-day activities, so once I get a better sense of that, I'll have a better idea of how it fits with the content here.